All posts by Alan Cummings

General Quarters: Evolving Combat Casualty Care at Sea

By Alan Cummings

Medicine is a continuously evolving field, constantly learning from previous experience and improving. This is all the more true in the wartime trauma environment where resources are limited, conditions are austere, and time is either too short or too long. Our brothers and sisters ashore learned through Viet Nam and the early days of Iraq and Afghanistan that combat injuries will become combat fatalities unless personnel on the scene can stabilize the wounded for treatment by a higher echelon of care. As we consider a return to great power conflict and war at sea, our maritime forces should avail themselves of these lessons in order to prevent unnecessary losses of life in future combat.

A Revolution in Combat First Aid

Some wounds are almost always unrecoverable – penetrating head traumas, catastrophic injury to the thoracic cavity, or incapacitation of the central nervous system for instance. However, 20th century conflicts demonstrated that there are significant numbers of preventable battlefield deaths caused by two easily stabilized conditions: bleeding out (exsanguination) and sucking chest wounds (tension pneumothorax). Within one oft-cited research category (infantry casualties in Viet Nam), nearly 60 percent of preventable casualties were from exsanguination due to extremity bleeding and about 33 percent from tension pneumothorax.1

Fast-forward to the mid-1990s when special operation forces (SOF) medical providers began implementing a program known as “Tactical Combat Casualty Care” (TCCC). Their objective was to increase survivability amongst SOF elements by improving the trauma intervention capability and equipment of several, if not all, team members. Specifically, a greater emphasis was placed on controlling bleeding through properly employed tourniquets or hemostatic agents and alleviation of tension pneumothorax through needle decompression. As OIF and OEF repeatedly validated the effectiveness of TCCC in the SOF community, the training proliferated to conventional forces, becoming a cornerstone of modern deployment readiness. Consequently (and alongside other field medicine advances), the rate of service members being killed in action or ultimately dying of wounds is a fraction of previous conflicts.

Combat at sea will be somewhat different. For instance, penetrating trauma from discrete projectiles (e.g., bullets) will not be as prevalent as in land warfare, but similar wounds resulting from shrapnel or fragmentation will likely be common. Numerous additional and relevant mechanisms of injury are also possible during a surface combat scenario. Consider detonation of an anti-ship cruise missile close aboard or within the skin of the ship resulting in primary and secondary blast injuries, burns, blunt force trauma, as well as neurologic injuries without other outward signs of injury – all conditions similar to those seen aboard USS Cole.2 Individual crewmembers’ ability to intervene and stabilize some of these cases will no doubt improve survival rates as well as assist in maintaining combat effectiveness.

Behind the Times

While large deck warships (e.g. CVN, LHD) deploy with embarked top-of-the-line medical teams, the majority of the U.S. fleet does not. Cruisers and destroyers routinely put to sea with a well-trained independent duty corpsman (IDC, aka “Doc”) as the primary provider assisted by 1-2 junior corpsmen and a cadre of stretcher-bearers. LCS medical manning is even more constrained, usually a single IDC aided by a smaller number of stretcher-bearers. This has been an adequate arrangement for steady state surface operations (and the inspection-centric training cycles) of the past 30 years, but will not be sufficient if the fleet finds itself once again in a shooting war.

Outside of in-rate training for Corpsmen­ – which has already incorporated trauma lessons from Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.– first aid training aboard surface vessels has yet to advance much beyond U.S. civilian standards of care (basic first aid, CPR, and BLS). These standards do not account for the priority of combat operations over medical treatment, the increased lethality of combat and the shipboard environment, or extended timelines from point of injury to definitive care facilities (factors that led to TCCC’s inception). According to one Chief with extensive expeditionary experience and who has facilitated antiterrorism/ force protection (AT/FP) assessments of East Coast warships over the past three years, “Concepts of direct pressure, pressure points, and proper use of tourniquets are just not a thing out there.” Another Chief was told separately that pressure point manipulation for arterial bleeding was too advanced for shipboard use.

Surface force equipage has seen some TCCC-based upgrades in the past few years – better chest seals, hemostatic agents, and cricothyrotomy kits were improvements cited by a current IDC. However, mass casualty stations and first aid boxes are often still filled with antiquated equipment: less effective elastic tourniquets, basic gauze, medical tape, etc. While still helpful, there are better and more efficient tools available in the joint inventory. Additionally, if one were to ask a first tour junior officer or Sailor about an Individual First Aid Kit (IFAK), one might well receive a description of the small boxes commonly found at commercial retailers rather than a vital piece of military kit. These life saving pouches are not a standard-issue item and are often only present aboard vessels whose 1) whose Doc has encountered them (and their importance) elsewhere, and 2) whose discretionary budgets have permitted some quantity of acquisition (e.g. for armed watch standers).

What is most beneficial to the surface force, however, is the fact that casualty management is already practiced as part of general quarters, main space fire, or dedicated mass casualty drills. Rest assured, medical providers and corpsmen are thinking about these matters even when the rest of us are not. Additionally, Doc already has that cadre of stretcher-bearers who have been given an introduction to treating injuries, and there is already a system of pre-staged equipment outside of sickbay. These factors provide a ready-made infrastructure for the surface force to improve on.

TCCC for Tomorrow

The current medical manning construct aboard small deck warships has been adequate for non-combat operations in the post-Cold War era. The force is well-positioned to stabilize the occasional industrial traumas that can occur aboard vessels, or to manage larger groups of minor injuries. Since the 1990s, true tests of our readiness to simultaneously manage trauma and combat have been blessedly few: Cole in 2000 and Firebolt in 2004. Even then, both events were instantaneous and permitted crews to address medical emergencies without having to continue combat operations. That is an unlikely luxury during a strait transit actively contested by small boat swarms, or an open ocean patrol under enemy missile, torpedo, or gun attacks. 

The most fundamental change brought by TCCC was the universal carriage of an IFAK along with the training to use its contents. The kit itself contains the basic material to control traumatic bleeding, decompress a tension pneumothorax, and otherwise stabilize the service member until better care arrives or they are medically evacuated. The training aspect of this cannot be emphasized enough: classroom introduction to principles and equipment followed by periodic drills under varying levels of stress. Every Sailor afloat should don an IFAK with their general quarters kit, and be practiced on its use under stressful circumstances – i.e., loud, difficult, and strenuous– as part of combat drills.

An IFAK kit. (Defensereview.com)

In addition to IFAKs and training for the entire crew, the fleet needs to upgrade stretcher-bearer training from basic first aid to contemporary TCCC standards. Numerous curricula are already available to the fleet as well as training aids that have been developed through years of preparing ground troops. Similarly, mass casualty boxes and aid stations should be standardized with contents that will enable these TCCC-trained stretcher-bearers to implement the training they received. In deference to the different wound mechanisms likely to be seen in maritime combat, burn care supplies (e.g., Waterjel) should figure prominently in these kits.

Conclusion

What if the missiles fired in the Red Sea at Mason, Nitze, and Ponce had found their mark? Those reported Silkworm variants carry 300-500kg warheads. Would we instead be discussing a case study in TCCC rather than a recommendation? A smaller successor, the C-802 (160-300kg warhead), had recently struck the Swift while in service with the Emirati Navy and although casualty reports were minimal to none, photos of the damage (note the destroyed pilot house) make that assertion unlikely. It took collisions aboard Fitzgerald and McCain to give traction to problems long known to surface warriors and re-order some priorities. We do not need to suffer another such tragedy in order to update our ability to manage combat trauma at sea.

HSV 2 SWIFT, chartered by the U.S. Military Sealift Command from 2008-2013 and the UAE since 2015, was struck in October 2016 by a suspected C-802 variant resulting in the damage shown above. (Emirates News Agency)

Time will always be in short supply, thus prioritization is paramount in preparing crews to go to war. If we are returning to an emphasis on maritime warfighting, then we must be competent at more than just navigation and engineering. Like damage control, TCCC and other individual combat skills should be regarded as fundamental aspects of modern naval service – one more way in which we equip the man (and woman) rather than just man the equipment. The training, tools, and resources for TCCC are already available through the Navy’s medical and logistics systems, the surface force need only take heed of it.

Alan Cummings graduated from Jacksonville University with a BS in Physics. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. He is currently stationed as an intelligence officer at U.S. Southern Command The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy, Department of Defense, or any agency of the U.S. Government.

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References

1. Champion et al; “A Profile of Combat Injury”, The Journal of TRAUMA Injury, Infection, and Critical Care; Volume 54, Number 5, May 2003

2. Davis et al; “Distribution and Care of Shipboard Blast Injuries (USS Cole DDG 67)”, The Journal of TRAUMA Injury, Infection, and Critical Care; Volume 55, Number 6, December 2003

Featured Image: Sailors aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) participate in medical training as the ship got
underway in preparation to respond to potential tasking following the destruction caused by Hurricane Matthew in the
Caribbean and southern U.S. east coast. (U.S. Navy photograph by Petty Officer First Class Marcus L. Stanley)

Farsi Island: Surface Warfare’s Wake-Up Call

By Alan Cummings

LT Daniel Hancock wrote an article in 2008 titled “The Navy’s Not Serious About Riverine Warfare.” The U.S. Navy had ample opportunity to prove him wrong, right up until 2012 when the Riverine Force was subsumed under the Mobile Expeditionary Security Force (MESF) to create the present-day Coastal Riverine Force (CRF). Four years later, an incident like Farsi Island was the inevitable outcome of this ill-conceived and poorly executed merger. Both Farsi Island and the infamous merger were the manifestations of a culture that has lost its warrior spirit and has adopted an attitude to “man the equipment” rather than “equip the man.”

In the Beginning, There Were Riverines

The Navy re-established a Riverine Force in 2006 to pick up the mission from the Marine Corps’ Small Craft Company, who in turn traced its lineage through the Special Boat Teams back to the Navy PBR squadrons of Vietnam. These predecessor units proved themselves well in combat, with Sailors like BMC James E. Williams and HM2 Juan Rubio exemplifying the warrior spirit of small combat units.

Combat experienced SEALs, SWCCs, EOD techs, and Marines who were intimately familiar with the requirements of close combat guided the SWOs who were tapped to command the 2006 re-establishment. Riverine training requirements were not only relevant, they were tough and they were enforced. Sailors attended a minimum of four months of training (1 month for Riverine Combat Skills plus 3 months of Riverine Craft Crewman, Riverine Security Team, or Riverine Unit Level Leaders) before being assigned to a detachment that stayed together through the training cycle.

That training cycle was intensely busy but it was focused, repeatable across the squadrons, and offered a predictable sequence of development. Months were dedicated to training boat crews to work together on their individual craft, then with a buddy boat, and finally as a multi-boat patrol. Tactics were matured from live fire training at a static range ashore through underway maneuver with blank cartridges, and culminated in numerous live fire underway exercises where crews were engaging targets within 50m of troops being extracted from shore. It was challenging, dangerous, and realistic.

A “moto video” illustrating the live fire culmination exercises required of every Riverine detachment prior to the 2012 merger. (RIVRON THREE)

While the tactics themselves were important, greater value came from the emphasis on teamwork and discipline mandated by operating under these legitimately dangerous conditions of simulated combat. There was no room, nor tolerance, for a coxswain who failed to follow the orders of the boat captain or patrol officer (USN Investigation into Farsi Island Incident, Para IV.H.59). Such strenuous demands developed a sense of professionalism, ownership, and esprit de corps in each Riverine squadron. E-4 and E-5 Sailors who would have been given the barest of responsibility elsewhere in the conventional Navy were accountable for the men, performance, and tactics of their craft. Instead of being a grey-hull navigator in charge of 5 quartermasters, Junior Officers were detachment OICs and AOICs with 30-50 men, $4 million worth of equipment, and enough firepower to make Chesty Puller blush. The professional growth spurred by these responsibilities cannot be understated.

Death by Merger

The merger of the Riverine community into the MESF was a fundamental mistake driven by budgetary, rather than operational, considerations. The MESF provided a needed service to the Navy, but did so with a vastly different culture that bore the traditional defensive and risk-averse hallmarks of Surface Warfare, Inc.

First, the decision to disperse riverine capability across multiple commands complicated the manning, training, and logistics requirements later cited as contributing factors to the Farsi Island incident. The realities of budget constraints are unavoidable, but a reduction from three RIVRONs to one squadron would have met similar force reduction goals while maintaining standards and capabilities. The Navy decided against recommendations to consolidate the force around Riverine Squadron THREE in Yorktown, VA where it could have taken advantage of more than $3 million of purpose-built facilities, easy access to the York and James river systems, as well as a wealth of training support spanning from Camp Lejeune, NC to Fort A.P. Hill, VA, and Fort Knox, KY.

A 34' SeaArk assigned to CRS ONE escorts USS DE WERT (FFG 45) as she gets underway from Djibouti in September 2013. Credit: USAF Photo by SSgt Chad Warren.
A 34′ SeaArk assigned to CRS ONE escorts USS DE WERT (FFG 45) as she gets underway from Djibouti in September 2013. (USAF Photo by SSgt Chad Warren)

Second, a doctrinal comparison of the post-merger CRF Required Operational Capabilities and Projected Operational Environment (ROC&POE) to that of the pre-merger Riverine Force reveals a striking deletion of numerous warfare requirements, including:

  • AMW 14.3/14.4: Conduct: direct/indirect fires.
  • AMW 23.1/23.2: Plan/conduct/direct: advance force operations for amphibious assault.
  • AMW 23.3/23.4: Plan/conduct/direct: direct action amphibious raids.
  • AMW 35.1/35.2: Plan/conduct/direct: limited objective night attacks.
  • INT 3.3: Conduct: clandestine surveillance and reconnaissance operations.

These warfare requirements defined the essence of the Riverine community. Their deletion is clearly indicative of a climate averse to combat missions, and an intention to relegate the CRF to the MESF-style defensive missions.

A member of the CRF provide embarked security to USNS SPEARHEAD as it gets underway from Cameroon in February 2016. Credit: MC1 Amanda Dunford, USN
A member of the CRF stands watch as embarked security aboard USNS SPEARHEAD as it gets underway from Cameroon in February 2016. (MC1 Amanda Dunford, USN)

Finally, consider the following merger-era anecdotes illustrating the nature of the MESF community that assumed responsibility for Riverine operations:

  • May 2012: While discussing tactics, Riverine detachment leaders asked MESF personnel about the particular behavior of their 25ft escort craft while conducting live fire drills. The MESF personnel responded that they had never fired weapons off those boats, despite routinely deploying them to operational settings.
  • March 2013: During a company formation with personnel from a disestablished Riverine unit, the CO of the now-merged CRS tells them, “Stop looking for work. The Navy doesn’t need Riverines anymore.”
  • April 2013: The CORIVGRU ONE N7, a civilian with minimal expeditionary experience, instructs squadron training team members that the primary reason for using blank cartridges was to catch negligent discharges. He categorically dismisses points of opposition that blanks provided enhanced realism for the trainee (sound, flash, reloads, malfunctions, etc).
  • May 2013: CRS THREE (the parent unit of the captured RCBs) damaged a Riverine Patrol Boat (RPB) while returning from a static display in San Diego. The craft was damaged when personnel failed to lower its arches for overpass clearance. No personnel stationed in San Diego during this time were qualified on RPBs, but they chose to take it out despite objections of the qualified personnel in Yorktown.
  • April – December 2013: Three Sailors from CRS TWO commit suicide, with 14 more admitting suicide-related behavior. According to the Virginia Pilot’s review of the investigation, “Sailors told [investigators] the stresses of the merger were enormous, exacerbated by poor communication down the chain of command and junior sailors’ mistrust of their commanding officer.” The departed were all members of the pre-merger MESF unit and under unacceptable leadership.
  • April 2014: The CRF publishes a ROC&POE that misidentifies Joint Terminal Attack Controllers (JTACs) as the non-existent ‘Joint Tactical Area Communication Systems’ and the Foreign Internal Defense (FID) mission as Fleet Intelligence Detachment. These typos illustrate a fundamental failure of CRF doctrine writers to understand the context in which their forces operate.

Don’t Just Man the Equipment, Equip the Man

The unwritten theme weaved through the post-incident investigation is that Sailors up and down the chain of command failed to take their mission seriously. They failed to train adequately before deployment. They failed to operate professionally in theater. In the face of the enemy, they failed to act.

These systemic failures and the willful neglect of higher echelons are indicative of a culture that sees program management and certification as ends to themselves, rather than the means by which we prepare for combat. This is a culture that raises personnel to be technicians and managers first, leaders second.

Indeed, the officer in this situation “lacked basic mentorship and development from his entire chain of command. Left to his own devices, he emulated the poor leadership traits he witnessed first-hand…” (Para VI.K.6). The Farsi Island incident and the case study of the Riverine-MESF merger must be wake-up calls to the surface community. It is not enough just to man the equipment. We must equip the men and women who lead our fleet.

These leaders must be raised from the beginning of their careers, whether enlisted or officer, and enough responsibility must be delegated down the chain of command to enable this development. A combat mindset requires time and hard work, not budgets. Cultivating that mindset will require generational change, and a fundamental pivot away from our business and technology-centered force to one that embraces the concept of Sailor as Warrior.

Petty Officers 3rd Class Raymond Delossantos (left) and 2nd Class Jeremy Milford (right) of Riverine Squadron 3 instruct Paraguayan Marines on establishing security after debarking riverine craft during UNITAS 2012. Credit: Cpl Tyler Thornhill, USMC
Petty Officers 3rd Class Raymond Delossantos (left) and 2nd Class Jeremy Milford (right) of Riverine Squadron 3 instruct Paraguayan Marines on establishing security after debarking riverine craft during UNITAS 2012. (Cpl Tyler Thornhill, USMC)

But there is hope. There are Officers and Sailors out there who harbor the warrior spirit, ones who can serve as the example for others. For instance, the anonymous “RCB 805 Gunner #2” was the sole member of the captured crews to receive praise for “activating an emergency beacon while kneeling, bound, and guarded at Iranian gunpoint, at risk to her own safety.” Of those involved in this incident, she alone is worthy of the title Riverine.

Alan Cummings is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy. 

Featured image: Patrol craft belonging to the USN CRF are held captive by Iran in 2016, one of which displays the blue flag of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps- Navy. (IRIB News Agency via AP)

The Mumbai Attack: Terrorism from the Sea

This is an article in our first “Non Navies” Series.

Nearly six years ago, Pakistani terrorists from Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT, meaning Army of the Righteous) launched a sophisticated raid on the Indian port of Mumbai. Ten LeT operatives held the city captive from 26-29 November 2008, killing 164 people and injuring more than 300 others. Fascinating in its counterterrorism aspects, the Mumbai attack is particularly noteworthy for those of us in maritime professions because of how they got there: by sea. LeT highlighted in detail how an irregular organization can circumvent landward control measures by turning to the maritime environment.

A pre-26/11 U.S. Department of State fact sheet on Lashkar-e-Taiba.
A pre-26/11 U.S. Department of State fact sheet on Lashkar-e-Taiba.

Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) such as LeT succeed in irregular warfare by going where government authority is absent or insufficient. The Indo-Pak coast is no exception. The expansive region has supported the livelihood of fishermen and merchants for centuries, making it a permeable environment where minimal government presence was (and remains) tolerant of transient craft. Such an environment offers myriad advantages compared to overland routes where government checkpoints and patrols are far more rigorous. VEOs continue to pursue these overland routes for infiltration or smuggling, but LeT minimized the chance of their high-stakes attack being interdicted by Indian authorities when they chose to come by sea.

The raid itself wasn’t the first iteration of LeT’s maritime infiltration. For example, in late-2006/ early-2007 eight operatives rendezvoused at sea with Indian LeT members aboard an unidentified fishing vessel and returned with them to reconnoiter Mumbai. This gave them ample opportunity to assess the coastal pattern of life, including security presence and traffic density, as well as to gather imagery of everything from landing sites to target location from the perspective of the raiding party. Once ashore they split into two-man teams, just as the raiding party would do, observing the area by travelling from safehouse to safehouse. They were not discovered during the seaborne infiltration nor during the reconnaissance of Mumbai. However, two of the eight were arrested in March 2007 by the Jammu & Kashmir police (Jammu & Kashmir being a state in northern India). During interrogation the two suspects gave specific information about their infiltration of Mumbai as well as LeT’s desire to use the sea as a routine ingress. Neither this shot-across-the-bow nor corroborating intelligence provided by U.S. and Indian agencies proved sufficient to energize India’s maritime security agencies.

After more than a year of training on the Mangla Dam reservoir in Kashmir, the raiding party departed Karachi on 21 November 2008 aboard motor vessel HUSSEINI. They spotted the Indian fishing vessel KUBER two days later in Pakistani waters. Though their plan had been to hijack a Mumbai-based craft in Indian waters, KUBER’s Indian registry enticed them to seize it as an early opportunity. They were able to come alongside, possibly by feigning distress, and quickly commandeeredthe fishing boat. The raiding party embarked KUBER and transferred all of her crew except the master to HUSSEINI. The raiders started towards Mumbai after the equipment was moved aboard and HUSSEINI returned to Karachi. The four fishermen taken from KUBER were executed, their bodies left adrift on the sea.

The transit to Mumbai was filled with map reconnaissance, table-top rehearsals, equipment prep, as well as probable comms checks and intel updates from LeT’s ad hoc operations center in Pakistan. KUBER arrived off the coast of Mumbai unscathed and unaddressed by maritime authorities on the evening of 26 November. The master was bound and his throat slit. The raiding party assembled their inflatable Gemini boats (counts vary from one to three), transferred their equipment and began the 4 NM insert under cover of darkness. KUBER was left adrift with a GPS, satellite phone, and other materials that would prove instrumental in developing the backstory during the subsequent investigation.

It’s unknown where the inflatable craft parted company (assuming there was more than one), but multiple beach landing sites were used. In the truest sense of camouflage, the boat(s) were not colored black and green to blend into the night, but bright yellow to blend

One of the boats used by LeT to insert into Mumbai.
One of the boats used by LeT to insert into Mumbai.

into the menagerie of local craft- undoubtedly a result of the early reconnaissance. At one site the operatives cheerfully claimed to be college students. At the other site they responded gruffly to locals, telling them to mind their own business, possibly even displaying their weapons. They continued unhindered in both cases, abandoned their craft on the beach, and shortly thereafter waltzed into history as executioners in a horrific raid.

To recap: LeT reconnoitered by sea, trained on Pakistan’s inland waterways, departed a major sea port (Karachi), hijacked a fishing vessel illegally operating in Pakistani waters/EEZ, transited unmolested across 500 NM of Indo-Pak littorals, amphibiously inserted into the Mumbai metropolis unchallenged, and came ashore unnoticed save for a handful of local fishermen accustomed to illicit maritime activity.

LeT violated the Indo-Pak littorals with impunity and conducted a raid heralded as a wake up call for maritime terrorism. This raid indeed required a great deal of competence, but VEOs embracing riverine or littoral waters as a maneuver space should not have come as any surprise. Then and now, the Niger River Delta and the Gulf of Guinea were abused by criminal organizations on a daily basis; Philippine waters were plagued by Abu Sayyaf; Colombian Riverines routinely battled the FARC and AUF; and in the U.S.’s backyard were organizations trafficking drugs, money, and violence through the Caribbean, Western Pacific, and Rio Grande. Oceans and waterways are indeed the vital connective tissue of the world, but they are open for both legitimate and illegitimate business alike.

So how do nations prevent VEOs from gaining an advantage in the maritime domain? First, by viewing the fight against irregular enemies as more than a footnote to the Mahanian themes used to define influential maritime powers. Thirteen years of war in Iraq and Afghanistan have taught our landward compatriots a valuable lesson: maneuver warfare is on the back-burner and irregular adversaries are in. The world’s maritime agencies must adapt that lesson themselves or risk learning its reality firsthand in the aftermath of attacks like Mumbai, the USS COLE, or SUPERFERRY 14.

One way of adapting that lesson would be borrowing two key themes from counterinsurgency: presence and engagement. Simply put, government authority must be present to win. That’s easier said than done when talking about enormous littoral and riverine areas. The key must then be cooperation. Within a country, that means developing a culture of partnership amongst government agencies (e.g. Customs, Coast Guard, local law enforcement) to supplement each other’s presence and intelligence efforts. No one agency can be everywhere, but a network of agencies can cover waterspace far more effectively. That cooperation and partnership must also be extended across national borders since, as we have seen, VEOs are not bound by such borders. Here we can find a blend of Mahanian themes and irregular fights- countries who can project seapower beyond their local shores can train and enable

U.S. Navy Riverines discuss tactics with their Colombian counterparts using a hasty terrain model.
U.S. Navy Riverines discuss tactics with their Colombian counterparts using a hasty terrain model.

the local seapower partner nations, thereby strengthening both. But they must have the right tools (i.e., riverine and littoral units) with the mindset for the job, neither of which can be best employed until irregular warfare moves beyond its footnote status.

Next, local maritime communities must be engaged. The fishing and merchant culture which was mentioned earlier as giving rise to the permeable maritime environment may be the best asset for monitoring it. These tradesmen have numerous networks, both formal and informal, that if partnered with or sourced by human intelligence professionals may reveal nefarious activity (e.g., combat training on Mangla reservoir or strangers who are out of place in Mumbai). Additionally, reliable engagement builds trust, which in turn builds security by aligning the interests of local communities and lawful government for mutual benefit. If the government is the trusted partner of the community, then this is precisely anathema to the VEOs which wish to destablize the community or exploit the disconnect from government to conceal their operations.

VEOs and irregular warfare in the maritime domain are not up-and-coming prospects, they have been here for some time. High-visibility attacks such as the Mumbai raid bring them to the foreground every so often, but after the 24-hour news cycle returns to mundane matters these VEOs continue to skillfully exploit the world’s waterways. There is, frankly, nothing new about what has been said here. But for the time being, these suggestions bear reiterating so we can fuel the discussion and move the ball forward.

Alan Cummings is a 2007 graduate of Jacksonville University. He served previously as a surface warfare officer aboard a destroyer, embedded with a USMC infantry battalion, and as a Riverine Detachment OIC. The views expressed here are his own and in no way reflect the official position of the U.S. Navy.