Category Archives: North America

Analysis related to USNORTHCOM

Determining Success: TRADEWINDS 2015 and Lessons Learned

By W. Alejandro Sanchez.

Between May 31 and June 24 of this year, U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) carried out joint naval exercises with its partners in the Greater Caribbean. The annual exercises, known as TRADEWINDS, brought together units from over a dozen countries. Without a doubt, multinational military exercises are useful as the personnel involved in the maneuvers learn new techniques from each other as well as how to work together. Nevertheless, a major concern is how well the lessons learned are properly applied to real-world operations.

The Exercises

TRADEWINDS 2015, the 31st iteration of these month-long exercises, took place in two phases: first in Saint Kitts and Nevis and then in Belize. U.S military personnel trained with their counterparts from 18 other nations, including Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, nations from the Greater Caribbean, Mexico, and even overseas partners like the Kingdom of the Netherlands and the United Kingdom (which both have territories in the Caribbean). Caribbean multinational agencies also present included the Regional Security System (RSS), the Regional Intelligence Fusion Center (RIFC), and the CARICOM Implementation Agency for Crime and Security (IMPACS), among others. According to SOUTHCOM, the exercises were aimed at strengthening “the capacity of Caribbean nations to respond to natural disasters, humanitarian crises and counter transnational organized crime.”

There have been several reports that enumerate and explain the nature of the exercise. For example, off the coast of Belize, the navies from Belize, Mexico and the United Kingdom carried out a simulated vessel boarding, search, and seizure operation. Mexican naval personnel from the Mexican Navy ship ARM Independencia, travelling in an interceptor boat, boarded the British vessel the HMS Severn and “simulated [the] arrests of a group of merchant mariners who tried to resist.” Other exercises included crowd control, safety techniques like clearing buildings, and gunnery with a 50-caliber

Members of the Dominican Navy participate in .50 cal exercises aboard a USCG Cutter. (Source: USCG)
Members of the Dominican Navy participate in .50 cal exercises aboard a USCG Cutter. (Source: USCG)

machine gun. A June 10 video posted in the Coast Guard Compass, the official blog of the U.S. Coast Guard, shows USCG personnel aboard a patrol boat from Grenada, explaining various techniques to their counterparts regarding how to understand the sea states and navigate effectively as they pursue a suspicious vessel.

In addition to praise from SOUTHCOM, the exercise has enjoyed the public endorsement and support from various Caribbean governments. For example ZIZ News, a Saint Kitts news agency, quoted Captain Kayode Sutton of the St. Kitts and Nevis Defence Force as saying, “the support from the government [in Basseterre] has been tremendous… Mr. Osbert DeSuza, the Permanent Secretary in the Office of the Prime Minister… visited the Exercise Control Centre and he received a brief as to what is going on for the entire exercise, the training, all the exercises that are going on right now.” Meanwhile, Guyana deployed its navy’s flagship, the GDFS Essequibo, to the exercise’s maritime phase, highlighting Georgetown’s commitment to display the best it has to offer to operate along its regional allies.

How to Determine Success?                                                    

During the TRADEWINDS 2015 opening ceremony in Saint Kitts, Lt. Col. Patrick E. Wallace, commander of the

Lt. Col. Wallace addresses partner nations as part of the 2015 Opening Ceremonies (Source: SOUTHCOM)
Lt. Col. Wallace addresses partner nations as part of the 2015 Opening Ceremonies (Source: SOUTHCOM)

St. Kitts and Nevis Defense Force, declared, “I stress that the knowledge and skill that comes from this exercise is essential … However, just as important, is the strengthening of multi-nation

Mexico's ARM Independencia. The vessel participated extensively in this year's TRADEWINDS exercise.
Mexico’s ARM Independencia. The vessel participated extensively in this year’s TRADEWINDS exercise.

nating with each other will be similarly successful in real life-or-death situations. As one retired Colonel from the Peruvian military told me, “ultimately, the only way to know if an exercise is successful is if you test the lessons in real life.”

Making a multinational exercise successful so it can be properly applied in the real world includes coming up with realistic scenarios, as explained to this author by John Cope, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for National Strategic Studies at the National Defense University. He suggests that what’s needed are  “players (other than the US) had a major role in shaping the exercise scenario and the organization of the event so that the exercise emphasizes what they see as their needs rather than what the US/SOUTHCOM thinks are their needs, also the non-US players assume important positions in the structure of the exercise.”

A SOUTHCOM press release announcing the beginning of the exercises went over the two operational phases of TRADEWINDS 2015. But there is also a third phase, the “Key Leader Seminar,” designed to facilitate a discussion of the other phases and the way ahead. Ideally, a comprehensive report will be drafted regarding the lessons learned, as well as lessons that still need to be fully learned, from TRADEWINDS 2015. (In the interests of full-disclosure: in preparation for this commentary, I contacted SOUTHCOM for further information on the lessons learned aspect of TRADEWINDS 2015, but received no reply.)

Numerous military agencies, both U.S. and international, have published reports discussing how to properly adapt lessons learned from both exercises and operations. As the Establishing a Lessons Learned Program Handbook by the Center for Army Lessons Learned ponders, is a military organization “willing to openly discuss its mistakes, and is it willing to share those mistakes across organizational lines to make everyone better?” If not, it will be very difficult to implement an effective [Lessons Learned] program… The act of ‘saving face’ precludes individuals from admitting their mistakes.”

Hopefully phase 3 of TRADEWINDS 2015 included an open and honest discussion between representatives from the participating militaries, where there was not only praise for the event, but admitting, even if it was off the record, which areas they still need improving, in order to work in greater cohesion with the security forces of neighboring countries. Cope explains that, at least

A Coast Guard vessel from St. Kitts participates in a boarding exercise with a U.S. vessel. (Source: USCG Blog)
A Coast Guard vessel from St. Kitts participates in a boarding exercise with a U.S. vessel. (Source: USCG Blog)

regarding the Caribbean, a base for institutionalizing operational and tactical procedures and processes that worked during an exercise may already be standard across various regional states. “Where CARICOM countries are struggling to perfect common approaches is in standardizing procedures for strategic and operational planning and strategic/political decision making. Their comprehensive disaster management process and experience with the Cricket World Cup have helped Caribbean countries, but leaders continually change.”

A PR Campaign?

Part of the problem may be simply a lack of a consistent PR campaign by regional navies (and security forces in general) to highlight the effectiveness of exercises. In other words, if a narco-speedboat is detained in the Caribbean by units of the U.S. and Jamaican coast guard services, it would be helpful if a subsequent press release could tie the hypothetical successful operation with lessons learned from TRADEWINDS. Another initiative would be to invite high-ranking government officials as well as journalists and other experts to the exercises as they take place, as this would help showcase the level of cooperation militaries from different states can achieve. This would have the added benefit of serving as a prime example to support similar exercises in the future.

At a time of budget constraints and with SOUTHCOM being the lowest-priority command center in the U.S. military, said agency needs to better demonstrate to Washington that its activities, including multinational exercises, are beneficial for both U.S. and regional security.

Concluding Thoughts

This discussion is not meant to question the validity of TRADEWINDS specifically, but rather to address multinational military exercises in general. The U.S. conducts quite a number of these in the Western Hemisphere, such as UNITAS, PANAMAX, Continuing Promise, and Beyond the Horizon/New Horizons.

Multinational exercises are important but a strong link has yet to be made between a successful naval exercise (i.e. in which units from two nations operate together to stop a suspicious vessel in the Caribbean), and whether the lessons learned from said simulation were successfully applied in the real world. Given the ongoing amounts of drug trafficking that flow through Caribbean waters, putting these lessons learned to the test would not be difficult.

Ultimately, SOUTHCOM is not lacking in exercises to increase its relations with regional allies in the Greater Caribbean and rest of Latin America; but it seems that the agency could do with a better PR campaign to explain how effective these exercises are in the long run.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a Senior Research Fellow at the Council on Hemispheric Affairs (COHA) where he focuses on geopolitics, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere. Follow him on Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez.

Where is Defence in Canada’s Federal Election?

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The following piece is written by the Conference of Defense Associations Institute’s David McDonough, and can be found in its original form here. It is republished with their permission.

On 2 August 2015, Prime Minister Stephen Harper asked Governor-​General David Johnston to dissolve Parliament – and dropping the writ for what promises to be one of the longest election campaigns in recent history. As I write this, the election is now in full swing, with the first leaders debate having taken place a few weeks back (and an unknown number to go), all parties ramping up their fundraising and “ground game,” political ads increasingly dominating the airwaves, and still with almost two months to go.

All three major political parties (Conservatives, NDP, Liberal) have already staked out different positions on key security and defence issues. The Conservatives have now promised to expand the Reserve Force from 24,000 to 30,000 personnel in its next mandate, which represents a return to its original 2008 Canada First Defence Strategy promise, albeit at a much quicker rate. The Liberals, on the other hand, have pledged $300 million annually for military support programs, including lifelong pensions for injured veterans.

Of course, it remains to be seen if the next government’s funding envelope will increase sufficiently to fulfill either campaign promise. Interestingly, rumours already abound that the NDP may soon propose a small increase in defence spending, which would represent an important turnaround for a party historically ill-​inclined towards national defence and overseas military operations. But whether such rumours materialize as campaign promises, and are actually acted upon, is more uncertain.

Yet what is most noticeable about the campaign so far is that defence has been a relatively quiescent topic – a fact that many informed commentators have noted. Even in the 2011 election, political leaders were quick to raise the issue of Canada acquiring the controversial F-​35 aircraft (or, in the case of the government, to defend that decision).

Today, the government faces an even more uncertain procurement record – not least when it comes to fleet replacement for the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN), evident in the continuing delays in the acquisition of major surface combatants, Arctic ships, and supply ships.

Members of Her Majesty's Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK. Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems. ET2015-5751-04
Members of Her Majesty’s Canadian Ship SASKATOON carefully maneuver the ship around a large piece of ice while travelling through the Amundsen Gulf on August 22, 2015 during Operation NANOOK.
Photo: Cpl Donna McDonald, AETE Imagery Data Systems.

Indeed, some worrisome gaps in naval capabilities have now emerged, given the decommissioning of its supply ships (sorely needed for the RCN’s blue-​water operations) and destroyers (with their crucial command and control and area air defence capabilities). The sole remaining destroyer, HMCS Athabaskan, was damaged in a storm earlier in the year and is currently being repaired in Halifax. But some say the ship is no longer seaworthy, and even with repairs, few people expect it to remain operational for long – perhaps not even until its planned retirement in 2017.

The procurement problems might be most acute for the RCN, but they are far from confined to naval matters. One need only look at the Royal Canadian Air Force’s (RCAF) fighter-​aircraft replacement. Several years after announcing the F-​35 with great fanfare, we appear to be no further along in selecting (let alone procuring) a replacement aircraft for our aging CF-​18 fighters and the government continues to meagrely extend the life of its current air fleet.

Fortunately, we have had some recent good news on procurement, such as the long-​delayed acquisition of the CF-​148 Cyclone maritime patrol helicopter and the commissioning of an interim supply ship to be built at Davie Shipyard (as well as leased ships from Spain and Chile to handle refueling along the east and west coasts, respectively). Furthermore, the successful HCM/​FELEX modernization of RCN frigates, which will entail crucial command and control upgrades and improved air defence systems, partially compensates for the loss of our destroyers.

Yet such announcements do little to hide the many procurement failures over the past several years. The government even seems to have tacitly accepted such a criticism, as shown by their efforts to fix defence procurement with the 2014 Defence Procurement Strategy, although little in the way of concrete evidence on improved efficiency and effectiveness has resulted.

To be sure, it is still very early in a rather extensive election campaign. As such, discussion on the absence on defence issues seems premature. The Munk Debate between political leaders scheduled for September will focus on foreign policy, and one would expect that defence procurement and the country’s broader security policy will be discussed in more detail. Neither the NDP nor the Liberals have put out their own defence policy platforms, and both will likely speak more openly about such issues once their platforms are finally released.

Even then, however, defence issues will likely remain far from the forefront of policy platforms in this election. Simply put, as important as such issues may be, elections are almost never won or lost on defence, national security, or foreign policy in Canada – as all political parties are well aware. It is the economy that has been the pivot by which elections are often determined, even if a case can be made that security and defence should then be a close second. However, one needs to go back to Diefenbaker’s defeat in 1963 for the last time such issues took centre stage in Canada.

On top of that, as Steve Saideman has recently said, 2e1ax_vintage_entry_maclean-s-election-debate-1“[n]one of the three parties are going to want to actually talk about this.” The Conservatives are unusually weak on the defence procurement file, so it is only natural that they would prefer to focus on other issues. The NDP might be keen to criticize the government’s handling on this issue. But their supporters will likely be wary of the party drifting too close to the military, especially in light of the more centrist positions the party has staked on economic matters in recent months. And the Liberals have their own historic baggage, given that it was under Jean Chrétien that many of the challenges facing the Canadian Armed Forces began to mount.

Still, if it was only a question of procurement management, both the NDP and Liberals would likely show greater emphasis on this issue, especially as it does not reflect well on the Conservative claim of being competent and sound managers of government. But, as the Parliamentary Budget Office notes, the real challenge facing Canadian defence policy and procurement is a financial one – specifically a budgetary shortfall of between $3342 billion, which ongoing procurement delays and management issues have increased. Consequently, it is likely that neither opposition party will be eager to address such an issue; not the NDP, which have never been close to the military and are now eager to show their fiscal bona fides, and not a Liberal Party currently reminding the electorate of their past stewardship of the economy.

In that sense, the absence of defence issues in this election really comes down to a question of money. Simply put, addressing defence challenges requires a greatly expanded defence budget (or at least a significantly altered force structure, which might no longer be “multi-​purpose” or indeed “combat-​capable,” if one is not careful). And it is likely that no political party would be willing to countenance such a prospect.

The Conservatives would prefer to offer promises of significant funding in the future, with no guarantee such a promise would be kept. If rumours are to be believed, the NDP might accept a minor increase in funding – although this will likely result in a modified force structure geared towards less combat-​focused operations, as described in a recent Rideau Institute-​CCPA report – and which I have criticised elsewhere (here and here). It remains to be seen what approach the Liberals will ultimately pursue, but it is difficult to be optimistic.

Political parties focus on getting votes. And unless voters cast their ballot on issues on security and defence, such matters will remain of secondary (if not tertiary) importance. This is an unfortunate situation. It would certainly behoove politicians to treat such issues with both thought and seriousness, as part of their responsibility to safeguard the country and its citizens. And, given the sizable number of serving and retired military personnel and their families, many of whom still pay close attention to such issues, they might even find an unexpected electoral benefit of treating security and defence like a statesman rather than a politician.

Of course, if the past is any indication, I also don’t really expect things to change any time soon. It is not without reason that Winston Churchill stated that “Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all the others.”

This article originally featured at the CDA Institute and can be found in its original form here

David McDonough is Research Manager and Senior Editor at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute, and a research fellow at Dalhousie University’s Centre for Foreign Policy Studies. He received a PhD in Political Science from Dalhousie University in 2011. He tweets at @DS_McDonough. (Candidate Image courtesy of Mark Blinch/​Reuters; Images of Vessels courtesy of the Royal Canadian Navy webpage).

‘Indo-Asia Pacific’ Explained: An Assessment of US Maritime Strategy 2015

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In March 2015, the United States published a new maritime strategy document titled ‘A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower’ (Strategy-2015). It supersedes the one of the same title published eight years ago in October 2007 (Strategy-2007). It is the first maritime strategy to be released after the US announced its ‘Rebalance to Asia’ in 2011, and comes amidst seminal developments with far-reaching geopolitical and security ramifications. This view-point attempts to analyze Strategy-2015, including in comparison to Strategy-2007.

Jointness and Political Interface

Strategy-07 was the first-ever combined strategy of the three US Sea Services (Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard). Strategy-2015 maintains this feature, with is appropriate since the maritime environment is essentially ‘joint’’, and therefore, any strategy relating to the maritime realm cannot be a single-service articulation. Besides, due to fiscal uncertainties the US is facing today, an inter-service synergy is necessary to avoid duplication of resources and optimise investments for capability development.

Notably, unlike the 2007 document, the new strategy contains a ‘Preface’ by the Secretary of the Navy, which indicates an enhanced political interface with the Sea Services, possibly in terms of both oversight and support of the higher national leadership.


The new strategy contains an explicit focus on the region that it calls the “Indo-Asia-Pacific.” While US officials have been increasingly using this phrase, the 2015 Strategy document is the first official articulation. The inference is two-fold:

• First, it denotes the realisation of the ‘inadequacy’ of ‘Asia-Pacific’ to address the emerging geopolitical, economic and security dynamics of the rising Asia.

• Second, while the phrase ‘Indo-Pacific’ has become more prevalent in Asia since 2007, the US preference to use “Indo-Asia-Pacific” indicates that it wishes to be part of Asia’s ‘rise’ and derive the attendant gains.

Ends, Ways and Means

The term ‘strategy’ is defined as an articulation of ‘ways’ and ‘means’ to achieve the ‘ends’. In this context, Strategy-07 was merely a ‘primer’ to strategy. It referred to ‘ends’ in very broad terms, without going into specifics of security challenges. It avoided naming countries, either as adversaries, or allies and partners. While it mentioned maritime threats like piracy, it did not contextualize these with specific areas. It was also frugal in expounding on the ‘ways’ and ‘means.’

In comparison, Strategy-15 is a detailed articulation. It echoes the spirit of the US ‘Rebalance’ policy in terms of China’s naval ascendency as both an opportunity and a challenge. It seeks to temper Beijing’s revisionist stance and dissuade its politico-military assertiveness through multifaceted engagement. It is also more forthright in defining the “military challenges”, such as the “Russian military modernization (and) aggression” and the (Chinese) “anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities that challenge our global maritime access….” Furthermore, it is more explicit on the ‘geography’ of piracy, the effects of religious radicalism and the fundamentalist groups. In terms of the ‘ways’ and ‘means’ too, Strategy-2015 reveals as much as a document in the public domain possibly can. It provides much detail on the US plans to allocate forces for the ‘Rebalance.’

Strategic and Operational Access

Since the middle of 20th century when the US rose to superpower status with the ability to influence events worldwide, unimpeded strategic access to the global commons and freedom of operational manoeuvre have been the cornerstones of its military strategy.

While Strategy-2007 did acknowledge the operational salience of dominating the realms of space, cyber and the electromagnetic (EM) spectrum – as integral to sea control, for instance – it conceived strategic access largely in the geospatial context: sea, land and air. Strategy-2015 goes beyond this to seek access and freedom of action in any domain—the sea, air, land, space, and cyberspace, as well as in the EM spectrum. In all likelihood, this is a declaration meant to counter China’s declaratory policy of A2/AD in the western Pacific, including the asymmetric challenges in the space, cyber and EM domains that Chinese military forces may impose upon their US counterparts.

Forward Presence and Partnership

Strategy-2007 had laid much emphasis on forward presence of the US Sea Services as essential for a major power like the US that seeks inter alia to shape developments in its areas of interest, be better prepared to respond to adverse contingencies, deter and dissuade potential adversaries, reassure allies and friends.

While maintaining the emphasis on forward presence, Strategy-2015 also explains how the US intends to achieve this more effectively, both operationally and fiscally. It adds that the forward naval presence would enable a quick and seamless access to the US joint military forces, if and when the occasion demands.

Given that resource limitations envisaged by the US Sea Services, ‘forward naval presence’ is closely enmeshed with the need to develop partnerships with local maritime forces. The Thousand Ship Navy (TSN) concept propounded by the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Mike Mullen in 2005 was rephrased as the ‘Global Maritime Partnership’ (GMP) initiative in Strategy-2007. As a set of informal arrangements, the GMP was also intended to “send powerful messages to would-be aggressors that we will act with others to ensure collective security….”

Strategy-2015 furthers the appeal for the partnership, now rephrased as a “global network of navies.” The document effectively communicates to the potential partners the rationale for such “plug and play” cooperation with the US forces sans “commitment.”

Force Design and Employment

Strategy-2015 describes “a force that balances warfighting readiness with our Nation’s current and future fiscal challenges.” This statement seems to be the mainstay of the force design and employment strategy of US Sea Services.

Strategy-2007 had laid down the intent to “tailor” maritime forces “to meet the unique and evolving requirements particular to each geographic region.” Strategy-2015, possibly driven by fiscal prudence, seems to have adopted a less ‘ambitious’ approach. It aims only to “align (existing) capability, capacity, and platforms to regional mission demands…by ensuring that our most modern and technologically advanced forces are located where their combat power is needed most.” It also seeks to enhance the effectiveness of naval forces by employing “new warfighting concepts… and…. innovation.” The innovations stipulated by the document include increasing forward-basing of forces “to reduce costly rotations…” and developing modular platforms like Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to enable swapping mission modules in lieu of costly ship rotations.

In sum, Strategy-2015 is not only a quantum improvement over the preceding strategy document of 2007, but also sets a model for the other existing and emerging major powers to emulate in the interest of transparency in military concepts and capability development. Such transparency is essential among maritime-military forces that operate in the international medium, and particularly those belonging to the “Indo-Asia-Pacific” region that is becoming increasingly volatile, as recent developments indicate.

Captain Gurpreet S Khurana, PhD is the Executive Director, National Maritime Foundation (NMF), New Delhi. The views expressed are his own and do not reflect the official policy or position of the Indian Navy, the NMF or the Government of India. He can be reached at

The Coast Guard and Maritime Strategy

By Peter Swartz

In Prof. James Holmes’s recent CIMSEC review of CAPT Pete Haynes’s splendid new book on U.S. Navy strategic thinking since the end of the Cold War, he called for bringing the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) into the Maritime Strategy narrative.

He’s in luck: The same set of CNA [Formerly Center for Naval Analyses] studies that CAPT Haynes used for his book also addresses that very issue. The CNA studies were written in 2007 in the wake of the publication of the U.S. Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS21) maritime strategy and were completed in 2011, while CS21R (the maritime strategy’s revision) was in gestation. They cover the development of U.S. Navy strategy from 1970 to 2010, the context to same, and include sections on USN relationships with each of the other services, including the USCG.

As designed, the CNA studies are being used as an adjunct to the Navy’s current Strategic Enterprise initiative and as a basis for a burgeoning literature on recent U.S. naval strategy, including CAPT Haynes’s dissertation and book, and Dr. Sebastian Bruns’s masterful dissertation (in English) at the University of Kiel. A copy of the material on USN-USCG relationships, extracted from four of the studies and then integrated as a discrete stand-alone document, is available here.

Peter Swartz is a retired U.S. Navy Captain and for more than 20 years has been with CNA, which includes the Navy’s Federally Funded Research and Development Center (FFRDC). He is the author of the U.S. Navy Capstone Strategies series, a comprehensive analysis of the Navy’s capstone strategy, policy, and concept documents from 1970 to 2010. He has also authored other studies on U.S. Navy and U.S. Coast Guard plans, policy and operations, and is the CNA scientific analyst for the Navy’s OPNAV Strategy and Policy Division (N51).