All posts by Jason Chuma

The Case for a Constant NATO CSG Presence in the Mediterranean

European Maritime Security Topic Week

By Jason Chuma

The Carrier Strike Group (CSG), with its air wing, surface escorts, and auxiliary support vessels, provides capabilities with great flexibility and presents an overt symbol of modern naval power. From sea control to strike to humanitarian assistance, it can respond anywhere in the 71 percent of the world which is covered by oceans, and with staying power.

The Mediterranean has been one of the most strategically significant bodies of water throughout all of history. The Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and all of the European nations that amassed great fortunes using it as a trade route from the Middle Ages through the modern era have understood this. Even in very recent history, states have projected naval power from the Mediterranean into Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

The Persians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, and all of the European nations that amassed great fortunes using it as a trade route from the Middle Ages through the modern era have understood this. Even in very recent history, states have projected naval power from the Mediterranean into Iraq, Libya, and Syria.

The Russian Move

Russia has remained well aware of the strategic significance of the Mediterranean through its history. As it has been attempting to do for over 300 years, the modern Russian Federation established a permanent naval presence in the Mediterranean. Vladimir Putin’s ally, the Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, has allowed Russia to maintain a navy base in Tartus, which includes replenishment and repair facilities.

This is in some ways a return to Cold War positioning. The Soviet Union was able to project influence in the Mediterranean through ports in Syria, Egypt, and Libya. But following the end of the Cold War and fall of the Soviet Union, the Soviet Fleet returned to its home bases within Russia and virtually ceded the Mediterranean as NATO territory for the next 20 years.

Russia’s primary means of projecting naval power into the Mediterranean is the Black Sea Fleet. For this fleet to reach the Mediterranean, it must pass through the strategic straits of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles, which are under the control of Turkey, a NATO member.

After the Mediterranean was safely in western hands, NATO was able to withdraw forces from it. With the Black Sea Fleet essentially trapped behind the Turkish Straits, a great NATO naval force was not necessary to counter Russian influence within the Mediterranean. The U.S. Sixth Fleet became a shell of what it once was and the U.S. abandoned the Mediterranean as a strategic naval hub altogether. With the establishment of a permanent naval presence in the eastern Mediterranean, Russia has made a strategic move and this warrants a counter-move by NATO.

Russian aircraft carrier Kuznetsov takes part in operations against insurgents in Syria. (RT via Russian Ministry of Defense)

NATO naval presence within the Mediterranean is made up of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2), formerly known as Standing Naval Force Mediterranean (STANAVFORMED). This is an integrated force made up of vessels from allied nations which is available for tasking from Allied Maritime Command (MARCOM). Its tasking mostly consists of exercises, strategic port calls, and occasional disaster response. The size and makeup of SNMG2 varies depending on what is provided by contributing nations, but it is normally comprised of 4-8 destroyers, frigates, corvettes, or even small fast-attack craft, and one support vessel. This force is a far cry from the sea control, power projection, and disaster response capabilities inherently present in a CSG.

The NATO Counter-Move

NATO should maintain a continuous Carrier Strike Group (CSG) presence in the Mediterranean. A CSG patrolling the Mediterranean, especially in the eastern Mediterranean near Tartus, would be an overt display to Russia that NATO has not forgotten about the Mediterranean.

In the October 2015 policy study “Sharpening the Spear” from the Hudson Institute, the authors conclude that for the United States to maintain a naval hub in the Mediterranean, in addition to the current hubs in the
Middle East and Western Pacific, they would need 16 aircraft carriers. That would require six additional carriers to complement the current ten. 
Where could these additional carriers come from? The United States’ allies in Europe with navies that boast aircraft carriers and have similar reservations about Russian proclivities in the region offer a viable and cost-effective option. This is starting to sound like NATO.

For simplicity, we will assume that based on the Hudson Institute policy study referenced above, given that NATO has 16 aircraft carriers between them, a constant CSG presence can be maintained in the Mediterranean while the United States maintains the other two naval hubs.

Assembling a NATO Strike Group

The United States currently has 10 aircraft carriers in service, Italy has two, and France and Spain both have one. That puts the total count for NATO at 14, two short of the required 16. However, the U.S. carrier Ford is scheduled to be commissioned in April 2017 and likely to enter service in 2020, while the UK carrier Queen Elizabeth is scheduled to be commissioned in May 2017 and is likely to also enter service in 2020. So, nominally, in about three years, NATO could have continuous CSG coverage within the Mediterranean.

NATO can coordinate a requirement for certain ships to be in a surge-ready status. Over the next three years, this surging of CSGs could be periodically performed to demonstrate the ability of NATO to surge naval power in a crisis. This would be useful as a stopgap measure while additional aircraft carriers are being built, but this would not constitute a continuous presence. Virtual presence is actual absence.

However, demonstrated surges of naval force can still have influence. Demonstrating the ability to surge a CSG, especially a multinational CSG, can send a powerful message to an adversary. Luckily, surging an aircraft carrier from Toulon, Taranto, or even Portsmouth, UK to the Mediterranean is much more reasonable than surging one from Norfolk, Virginia.

Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender with French aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle. (Crown Copyright)

The majority of the above discussion has revolved around the aircraft carrier, and though it is a centerpiece, it is not the only component to a CSG. Not only should NATO members coordinate the deployment of their CSGs to provide continuous coverage of the Mediterranean, but should also shoulder the integration of surface combatants into combined NATO CSGs. This can enable even more flexibility and burden sharing.

In 2016, FS Forbin was attached to the USS Harry S. Truman CSG, and then USS Ross was attached to the Charles de Gaulle CSG. Both CSGs were conducting operations into Syria from the eastern Mediterranean. These are perfect examples of burden sharing and are a testament to the present day relevance of the NATO alliance.

Conclusion

NATO is predominately a defensive alliance, but this level of naval cooperation constitutes defense through conventional deterrence by showing that for any move the Russian Federation may make in the Mediterranean, NATO has a counter-move ready.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer. He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_ChumaThe opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: The USS Lincoln and Charles De Gaulle steam alongside one and other in the Arabian Gulf. U.S. Navy Photo. Source. 

The Mediterranean: Driving Russia’s Strategic Decisions Since 1676

Russia Topic Week

By Jason Chuma

Introduction

The two major military actions conducted by Russia in the past two years are operations in eastern Ukraine, including the annexation of Crimea in March 2014, and interventions in the Syrian civil war on behalf of President Bashar al-Assad starting in September 2015. These two interventions are normally discussed separately with separate strategic bases. Many view Russian operations in Ukraine to be in response to a perceived threat from NATO expansion eastward with the inclusion of former USSR member states or Soviet Bloc countries in 1999, 2004, and 2009. Intervention in Syria can be seen as a means of asserting great power influence in the Middle East, a region where the United States and the West is withdrawing influence.

These assessments of Russian involvement in Ukraine and Syria are at least partially correct, but there is one common thread they both share which Russia has been fighting for since the first Russo-Turkish war in 1676. Tartus in Syria and Sevastopol in Crimea are warm water ports which provide direct Russian access to the Mediterranean or access via the Black Sea and the Dardanelles.

Warring for Maritime Access

Even before Peter the Great, access to the sea – and especially ports which are ice-free year round – have driven Russian strategic decisions. Russia fought twelve wars between 1676 and 1878, primarily against Turkey, to establish unrestricted access to the Black Sea and attempt to establish direct access to the eastern Mediterranean, enabling easy trade routes with southern Europe.

By 1812, Russia had secured access to the Black Sea, but direct access to the Mediterranean was still elusive. This was significant because transit from the Black Sea to the Mediterranean requires the use of the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits, which was, and still is, under Turkish control.

Probably the closest Russia came to having unrestricted access from the mainland to the Mediterranean was during World War I. In the Constantinople Agreement, the United Kingdom and France agreed to give Russia control of Constantinople (Istanbul) and the Dardanelles and Bosphorus straits in the event of a victory by the Entente. The October 1917 revolution and subsequent Treaty of Brest-Litovsk which ended hostilities between Russia and the Central Powers removed them from the Entente and any hope of the Constantinople Agreement coming to fruition.

Russia's nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky navy sailors at Syria's Mediterranean port of Tartus. © Grigoriy Sisoev / Sputnik
Russia’s nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Veliky navy sailors at Syria’s Mediterranean port of Tartus. (Grigoriy Sisoev/Sputnik)

Similar to the U.S. 6th Fleet, the Soviet Union maintained a sustained presence in the Mediterranean via the 5th Operational Squadron. A small continuous Russian presence in the Mediterranean has been made possible through an alliance with Syria. Russia has maintained a naval presence in Tartus, Syria, since 1971, and managed to maintain that presence following the fall of the Soviet Union due to a deal that absolved Syria’s debts to the Soviet Union.

This naval presence in Tartus is extremely important to Russia because though multiple NATO members have direct access to the Mediterranean, Russia does not share this luxury. She is dependent on Turkey, a NATO member, for the use of the Bosphorus and Dardanelles to access the Mediterranean from the Black Sea. Maintaining a friendly regime in power through President Bashar al-Assad is key to maintaining a continuous Russian presence in the Mediterranean.

Sevastapol

The naval base at Sevastopol in Crimea was founded in 1783 by the Russian Empire. It was transferred to Ukraine, which was part of the Soviet Union, in 1978. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia set up a 20-year lease with Ukraine to maintain the Black Sea Fleet at Sevastopol. Sevastopol and Crimea are of key strategic value to Russia. It served as a staging ground for blockades and amphibious landings during Russia’s war with Georgia in 2008. Russia chose to annex Crimea in 2014 and ensure uninhibited access to the naval base at Sevastopol. By contrast, Russia did not annex Abkhazia or South Ossetia, two Georgian republics allied with Russia but not containing Russian naval bases.

photo_verybig_124365
A map depicting Sevastopol, the Dardanelles Straits, and the Eastern Mediterranean. (ogj.com)

Sevastopol and Tartus are key strategic bases for Russia. Russia, as a predominately continental power, has always had the challenge of not having great coastal access, particularly in the Mediterranean. The ability to operate beyond its own coastal waters is enshrined in Russia’s maritime strategy, Maritime Doctrine for the Russian Federation 2020. The strategy describes “naval presence of the Russian Federation in the oceans…display[ing] the flag and military forces,” and “in the Mediterranean Sea…sufficient naval presence of the Russian Federation in the region.”

Conclusion

Even if securing naval bases is not Russia’s only motivation in Crimea and Syria, it must at least be part of its strategic calculus. Russia has clearly demonstrated that restoring a strong naval presence is a national priority, and the Mediterranean has been a key maritime hub for western civilization for all of written history. Ensuring continued access to the Mediterranean for the Russian Navy must be at the forefront of any strategic thinking in the region.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: Warships of the Russian Navy’s Black Sea Fleet (Stringer / Reuters)

Management and Process Improvement: The Navy of the 1990s and Today

By Jason Chuma

On December 25, 1991, following a year and a half breakup of Soviet states, the flag of the Soviet Union was lowered at the Kremlin for the last time and the flag of the Russian Federation was raised. The next day, the Supreme Soviet voted the Soviet Union out of existence. It was a great victory for the United States and what was dubbed the “First World.” They were victorious in the Cold War, a different kind of war, but a war nonetheless. A war between east and west; a war between communism and capitalism; a war fought using all elements of national power – diplomatic, intelligence, military, and economic – which never erupted into combat between the major powers of NATO and the Warsaw Pact.

The End of an Era
(Oleg Nikishin/Getty Images)

Though the war did not involve combat, discussions of conflicts such as Korea and Vietnam aside, the U.S. military was in a near constant state of preparing for the Soviets to push through the Fulda Gap and for a great naval battle in the Norwegian Sea.

But suddenly, the adversary was gone. For nearly five decades the Soviet Union provided focus and direction for what to buy, how to train, and what to study. What now? In 1991, China was not the military power of today and the idea of a Global War on Terrorism couldn’t have been further from mainstream military thought. A look at the 1991 U.S. National Military Strategy makes only generic mentioning of terrorism and shows an isolationist view of China:

“China, like the Soviet Union, poses a complex challenge as it proceeds inexorably toward major systemic change. China’s inward focus and struggle to achieve stability will not preclude increasing interaction with its neighbors as trade and technology advance. Consultations and contact with China will be central features of our policy, lest we intensify the isolation that shields repression.”

The potential threat of China and the actual threat of terrorism did not reveal themselves in force until the early 2000s. The 1990s were a sort of rudderless decade for the U.S. military. With no major perceived enemy to fight, budget cuts commenced. Military spending in the 1990s quickly dropped by a third of its Cold War levels. Intervention in failing or failed states was the name of the game, and American technological superiority, specifically airpower, was the weapon of choice in places such as Iraq, Bosnia, and Serbia.

The Navy found itself without an enemy to confront at sea and with a rapidly shrinking budget. Control of sea lines of communication became assumed and the Navy gradually disarmed itself for fighting a major sea battle in the 1990s through decisions like discontinuing the UGM-84A submarine launched Harpoon anti-ship missile and converting remaining R/UGM-109B Tomahawk anti-ship missiles (TASM) into the Tomahawk land-attack missile (TLAM) R/UGM-109C. The last combatant commissioned equipped with anti-ship missiles was the USS PORTER (DDG 78) in1999.

Idle hands may be the devil’s workshop, but an idle Navy surely is the bureaucrat’s and the administrator’s. Without war or the real risk of war, Navy culture shifted. Instead of warriors patrolling the oceans and maintaining freedom of the seas from the Soviet Navy, it became about management and process improvement. The MBA became the graduate degree of choice and process improvement models such as Deming’s Total Quality Management – rebranded as Total Quality Leadership of course – became the norm.

Admiral James Stavridis had command of the USS BARRY (DDG 52) from 1993 to 1995. He maintained a diary while in command which was published as Destroyer Captain: Lessons of a First Command. Within it he makes some very astute observations of the Navy of the 1990s:

“[W]e have become a navy that specializes in safety, communicating, inspecting, engineering, administering, retaining, and counseling. There is too little emphasis on shiphandling, warfighting, battle repairing, and leading…As an example of how we are a bit out of whack is that if I charted my personal time, I suspect I spend virtually my entire day working the first list and precious little devoted to the latter…If I completely reversed my priorities – and focused exclusively on shiphandling and warfighting, I would be in some danger of being relieved for cause within ninety days…But in some not-too-far-distant decade, I think ships will be hit by cruise missiles, they will sink, men and women will die bad deaths. And hard questions will be asked about the Navy of the 1990s and its priorities and beliefs.”

Admiral Stavridis tells a grim but honest tale of the culture of the Navy in the 1990s, but is it a really a story of the past or is it a story of what has continued to this day? If you compared the Navy of 1995 and the one of today, what cultural differences would you see? Have we turned the tide and placed a focus back on mastering our trade of warfighting? The recent establishment of the Naval Surface and Mine Warfighting Development Center (NWMWDC) and Undersea Warfighting Development Center (UWDC) in 2015 is a positive start. Is attending the War College viewed as career enhancing? Recent discussions with officers indicate it may be currently viewed as not career hindering at the least. What is truly viewed as more important today: understanding tactical employment of a ship, fleet, or nation, or efficiently managing a major maintenance availability and developing and executing a shipboard training plan?

Yes, management of programs is a skill needed in any organization, especially in one as complex as the Navy and as unforgiving as life onboard a ship. But does it define that organization, is it what that organization’s culture is centered around, and can someone survive and even succeed in that organization simply being a manager and administrator instead of a leader and a warfighter? These are simple yet hard questions which must be asked in order to heed Admiral Stavridis’s warning of the Navy’s priorities and beliefs from the 1990s which have continued to today.

Harkening back to another famous admiral, Arleigh Burke, may help with some simple guidance from his Destroyer Squadron 23 Doctrine in World War II. These tenets (paraphrased for modernity) were the most basic guidance to his Commanding Officers while he was Commodore:

“If it will help kill [the enemy] it’s important. If it will not help kill [the enemy] it’s not important. Keep your ship trained for battle! Keep your material ready for battle! Keep your boss informed concerning your readiness for battle!”

Simple yet powerful tenets which serve to maintain the focus where it belongs, ensuring our ships and sailors are ready to sail into harm’s way to take the fight to the enemy. It becomes easy to be distracted by inspections, paperwork, and watchbill management. Items which are easier to audit and assess tend to get the energy and attention over warfighting effectiveness and combat readiness. Potentially at great peril during the next war at sea.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.

Featured Image: PACIFIC OCEAN (Aug. 30, 2016) Sailors on board the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson (CVN 70) render passing honors to the fast-attack submarine USS Pasadena (SSN 752) as it transits the San Diego Bay. Carl Vinson is currently underway in preparation for an upcoming deployment. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Sean M. Castellano/Released)

Taiwan’s Defense: National Interests over Semantics

The Diplomat has recently brought us a debate on international law – centering on the legality of military intervention on behalf of Taiwan during a conflict with the PRC. Zachary Kech kicked off by proposing that Japan’s recent reinterpretation of Article 9 of their Constitution to permit collective self-defense could allow for Japan defending Taiwan in the event of an attacked from China. This was followed by Julian Ku arguing that intervention by any nation on behalf of Taiwan against the mainland would be illegal since Taiwan is neither definitively recognized as an independent nation nor a United Nations member. Michal Thim quickly refuted those claims in an article, which is followed again by Julian Ku coming back with some clarifications on personal opinions and reiterates the original argument. Finally, Michael Turton and Brian Benedictus co-authored a somewhat convoluted argument that actually Taiwan’s unsettled status as an independent nation makes military intervention acceptable.

With no disrespect meant toward the authors, the merits of discussing this point are mostly academic. Though the debate may be stimulating to those with an interest in the topic and some might learn more about the subject of international law as a result of it, it has little to no bearing on practicality.

One of the key questions present in all of the articles is if Taiwan is an independent nation or an extension of mainland China and how international law views each situation. Clearly arguments can be made in support of both positions or else we would not have so many articles written about it in the past couple of weeks, but does it really matter? Whatever semantics used to describe relationships with Taiwan or China, the U.S. has active relationships with both of them.

Money keeps this machine running
Money keeps this machine running

According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative, China is currently the U.S.’s second largest goods trading partner with $562 billion in total goods trade during 2013 and Taiwan is currently the 12th largest with $64 billion in 2013. Would any of this change if the United Nations passed a resolution stating Taiwan was not an independent nation and officially a part of the larger mainland China? Of course not. Money, and more importantly national interests, will conquer over semantics any day.

Whether the U.S. or Japan would defend Taiwan if China decided to repatriate the island through military force should have nothing to do with semantics and everything to do with strategic interests. The strategic basis for protecting Taiwan or not is neither the subject of this article nor the debate at the Diplomat which inspired it. This article makes no comment as to should or would other nations protect Taiwan, but instead discusses could they.

There is so much talk about international law in the debate. International law, as opposed to simply international norms and conventions, has been in vogue since the fighting of two world wars and the founding of the United Nations. Why? Because law has an absolute and moral feel about it. If you are breaking the law then you are doing something wrong and others have a moral obligation to stop you. If you are following the law then you are doing something right and others have a moral obligation to support you. This grossly oversimplifies the complexities of international relations. Decisions are made to promote strategic national interests and all nations are not necessarily playing by the same moral and ethical code. In the domestic concept of law, you have a like peoples under a recognized government authority with enforcement power. This does not seamlessly translate to the international stage of co-equal governments with differing interests and no central authority with absolute enforcement power.

Welcome back
The Party welcomes you back

If China decided tomorrow to repatriate Taiwan with military force and the U.S. and Japan intervened, would they be protecting a sovereign nation from an invading force or helping to liberate a people from a government they do not want? This semantic difference might matter when deciding what article of the United Nations charter you are going to try to use for propaganda to gain support for your cause or generate opposition for your enemies or what the victor who writes the history will use to justify their actions in the history books. But in all practicality, nations should base their use of force on national strategy and not semantics.

LT Jason H. Chuma is a U.S. Navy submarine officer currently serving as Navigator and Operations Officer onboard USS SPRINGFIELD (SSN 761). He is a graduate of the Citadel, holds a master’s degree from Old Dominion University, and has completed the Intermediate Command and Staff Course from the U.S. Naval War College. He can be followed on Twitter @Jason_Chuma.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy.