All posts by Miha Hribernik

US Secretary of the Navy Talks LCS, Partnerships, and the Future of the USN

Last Friday the Secretary of the Navy, the Honorable Ray Mabus, participated in the latest Military Strategy Forum discussion organized by the DC-based Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS). Ever vigilant, CIMSEC dispatched a fearless one-man delegation to the discussion. Below are some of the highlights of the event with the SECNAV.

With a few topics off the table, including the situation in Ukraine and the ongoing fiscal year 2015 budget negotiations, the central theme of the discussion revolved around the Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) and its future. In contrast with the speech made by the Secretary of Defense on 24 February, the SECNAV presented a more optimistic view of the contested vessel design and its prospects. By 2016, four LCS are expected to be on extended deployment. The Secretary further argued that the LCS should continue to be built through the current five-year defense plan, and, once complete, that further decisions should be taken based on the ship’s record, taking in account the costs of replacing it. As the LCS is only now beginning operational tests, there is no reason why the next flight of the LCS should not be modified. The Secretary cited the example of the subsequent flights of the DDG 51 and the Virginia class attack subs, which differ greatly from the original design. However, if modifications ultimately prove inadequate, the LCS will have to be replaced.

The second topic of discussion centered on the future of the U.S. Navy’s ‘Rebalance to the Pacific.’ The branch plays a crucial role, as it can brings presence and capabilities to regions in a way that the Army or Air Force cannot without more permanent basing or training agreements. However, according to the SECNAV, in order to ensure presence the Navy needs four elements: People, platforms, power, and partnerships. All are important, but none more so than partnerships. The United States relies on information provided by its partners, and fused from a variety of sources. That requires constant communication, relationships, trust, and familiarity. It is therefore crucial that the United States should reassure its partners in the Asia-Pacific that its rebalancing towards the region is real. To this end, the share of the fleet in the Pacific will increase from 55% to 60% by the end of the decade, and the contingent of Marines in Darwin, Australia, will grow to 1000 over the course of this year. Significantly for those keeping an eye on Washington’s rebalancing to the Pacific, the SECNAV emphasized that their role will not be restricted to training with Australian forces, but will include greater engagement in that part of the world.

The third, and perhaps key, point of Friday’s event focused on the future of the U.S. Navy in general, along with the sustainability of its current size and operational capacity. Secretary Mabus is convinced that the Navy’s size will reach 300 ships by the end of the decade, and that once reached the number will be sustainable. He did, however, add that the era of unlimited budgets, common a decade ago, has come to an end. Despite emerging constraints, he believes a combination of measures can cut costs and keep a 300-ship Navy afloat in the long term. This includes relying on mature technology (and crucially, not forcing expensive immature tech on new ships), disciplining requirements to keep them somewhat constant, fixed-price contracts, greater transparency in procurement, and relying on stable and tested designs. Here, the decreasing prices of the Arleigh Burke-class destroyers was cited as an example to emulate; as an increase in bids from two to three ships per year cut unit costs, without sacrificing quality. Other measures include increasing the share of biofuel used by Navy ships, for which the branch is cooperating with the Department of Agriculture and the Department of Energy. Here, the U.S. “fracking revolution” will likely not prove much help, as oil and gas are globally traded commodities. Every time the price of oil increases by a dollar, it ends up costing the Navy and the Marine Corps another 30 million. The Navy hopes that at least half of all fuel used will be biofuel by 2020. Four biofuel companies are set to provide 163 million gallons, priced at 4 dollars a gallon. Although not expanded upon at the event, this initiative forms part of the “Farm to Fleet” program unveiled in December 2013. Although designed to contribute to America’s energy security, provide jobs to rural communities, and ensure a supply of low-cost fuel for the Navy, the program has already proven controversial due to its mounting costs, amounting to hundreds of millions of dollars.

Cost-cutting measures will become increasingly important as the size of the fleet increases. A new amphibious group is set to be ready in the Pacific by 2018, providing Marines – not only those in Darwin, but all over the Pacific – with a spectrum of new options, including an improved resupply capability.

The event concluded with a few interesting tidbits, including on the need for a national debate on the upcoming – and expensive – Trident nuclear missile modernization; the deployment of laser weapons (coming into use this year); and, the F-35C (the SECNAV sees no problem with it being delayed, as the Navy was always the last in priority and the Initial Operating Capability has not changed).

Miha Hribernik is an Asia-Pacific security analyst and researcher, currently working with the Atlas Economic Research Foundation in Washington, DC. He is also an Associate of the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels. Miha’s research mainly focuses on the foreign and security policy of Japan, and maritime security in East Asia – with an emphasis on counter-piracy information sharing networks such as ReCAAP.

Introducing the Izumo

 

Kyodo News/Associated Press
Kyodo News/Associated Press

Meet the Japan Maritime Self Defense Force’s (JMSDF) newest and largest member, the Izumo (DDH-183). With its 248-meter flight deck and 27,000-ton displacement, the new helicopter destroyer – capable of carrying up to 14 helicopters – dwarfs its 197-meter Hyuga-class cousins (the Hyuga, commissioned in 2009 and its sister ship Ise, which entered service in 2011).

As with Japan’s two other helicopter destroyers, the Izumo does not have fighter-launching catapults and is unable to support fixed-wing aircraft. Even so, eventual conversion of any of Japan’s three helicopter destroyers is not out of the question. Given the constraints of their design (such as small elevators and hangars), the conversion of the two older ships would be more difficult, while the Izumo’s larger dimensions could eventually accommodate aircraft such as the F-35B, the short takeoff and vertical landing (STOVL) version of the new fifth-generation fighter.

Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images
Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images

The launch is sure to cause concern in China, which remains embroiled in a territorial dispute with Japan over the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The islands are administered by Japan, but claimed by both sides. Although Tokyo has been careful to include tasks such as the transport of personnel and supplies in response to natural disasters high on the list of the new ship’s priorities, the destroyer presents a potent addition to the operational capabilities and strategic reach of the JMSDF. Crucially, it helps Tokyo keep pace with – or indeed, stay ahead of – China’s own rapidly growing navy. All recent and forthcoming changes to Japan’s defense policy aside, keeping pace with Beijing has proven a challenge as the country continues to feel the squeeze of its frail economy and the limits of its 1%-of-GDP defense spending cap. Even so, the Izumo may provide renewed impetus for those who believe that East Asia is already knee-deep in an arms race, as well as those who believe that Japan is emerging from its long pacifist slumber.

At the time of writing, an official reaction from Beijing has yet to be made, but it will be interesting to read in light of the still-fresh images of China’s second aircraft carrier under construction. Whatever the official line may be, the symbolism of choosing 6 August – the anniversary of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 – to unveil Japan’s largest post-WWII ‘aircraft carrier’ is sure not to go unnoticed in Beijing.

Below is a comparison of the ship with the Ise in a photograph taken by the author in Kure in March this year.

Despite their different angles, both photographs hopefully provide a decent overview of the two ships and offer sharp eyes enough material for comparison. Even from this distance, the difference in size is apparent. Any insightful observations from our readers are welcome in the comments below.

Miha Hribernik is Research Coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels and an analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed here are entirely his own.

ReCAAPing Japan’s Counter-Piracy Multilateralism

Given the recent tendency of many Japan watchers to focus on some of the more eyebrow-raising news from Japan – ranging from predictions of an ‘Abegeddon’ through possible constitutional changes to historical revisionism – it may be timely to shed light on one particular Japanese multilateral initiative that has seen increasing international interest. The Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) is the world’s first regional intergovernmental body designed to combat piracy and armed robbery (PAR) against ships. ReCAAP was born out of the Asia Anti-Piracy Challenge Conference held in Tokyo in 2000, which followed in the wake of the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis and the resulting spike in PAR incidents.

A concrete initiative to establish such a body was made by Prime Minister Koizumi during an ASEAN+3 Summit in 2001, and the ReCAAP Agreement was drafted by 16 Asian countries in 2004. It entered into force in September 2006, followed in November by the establishment of an Information Sharing Centre (ISC). This Singapore-based ISC serves as a hub for information exchange on PAR incidents between all contracting states. At present, ReCAAP has 18 such contracting parties, including four from Europe (Denmark, the Netherlands, Norway and the UK). As the first framework of its kind, the ReCAAP model has enjoyed significant success and served as a model for the creation of the Djibouti Code of Conduct (DCoC), and is now in the early stages of forming the basis for a similar information sharing mechanism in the Gulf of Guinea.

Information sharing via decorative fountains
                                                              Information sharing via decorative fountains

According to the latest available figures, the number of reported piracy and armed robbery attacks against ships in Asia – most of which occur in the waters, ports and harbors of Southeast Asia – continued to decline over the course of the first five months of 2013. This year thus continues the positive trend from 2011 and 2012 when the number of incidents began to decrease for the first time since their surge in 2009. Although not the only factor to contribute to the decrease, facilitating information sharing has proven invaluable in a region crisscrossed with maritime boundaries, exclusive economic zones (EEZs) and ongoing territorial disputes. Detailing ReCAAP’s information sharing and incident reporting procedure would be beyond the scope of this post, although some of its intricacies may well be addressed in more detail in a separate piece in the future. Until then, a general overview of the reporting procedure can be found here (appendix, page 26).

Despite its relatively modest funding (all of ReCAAP’s funds are obtained through voluntary donations by contracting parties), which will amount to approximately 2.2 million USD in the fiscal year 2013, ReCAAP’s three principal tasks – information sharing, capacity building and cooperative arrangements between contracting parties – have made a tangible contribution towards reversing the rising trend in PAR incidents in the region.

After having authored a paper on PAR in Southeast Asia and the role of ReCAAP back in March, I was glad to have the opportunity to welcome a delegation from the ReCAAP ISC at a round table organized by the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels on 21 June. Their visit coincided with a period of increased international interest in the Agreement and its work, as Australia is set to become the 19th contracting party this August. France and the U.S. have also expressed an interest in joining, which would increase ReCAAP’s membership to 21 and expand the range of its information sharing network from Asia into the Pacific proper. Finally, as the EU contemplates becoming a partner organization over the coming years, the role of Europe within the framework will increase even further.

As its information-sharing model sees increasing adoption in other PAR ‘hotspots’ across the globe, ReCAAP will continue to attest to the capability of Japan to engage with its neighbors in multilateral fora (both China and South Korea are contracting parties) and shape pan-Asian initiatives. With some of the recent changes in the country’s political-security milieu putting its neighbors on edge, perhaps the time is right for Japan to reaffirm this capability. The 2001 ‘Koizumi initiative’ was a success; has the time come for an ‘Abe initiative’? It could build on ReCAAP’s success or outline a new multilateral framework that would help safeguard the global commons, be it in the maritime, cyber, air or space domain. Crucially, such an initiative could assure the participation of Japan’s neighbors while giving Tokyo’s soft power a welcome boost in the process.

Miha Hribernik is Research Coordinator at the European Institute for Asian Studies (EIAS) in Brussels and an analyst at the geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat. The views expressed here are entirely his own. This post appeared in its original form on the website of the Japan Foreign Policy Observatory.