Drones for Maritime Activisim


Phase 1: Stop illegal driftnet fishing in the Med. Phase 2: Keep those pesky children out of my flowerbeds.
First we stop driftnet fishing in the Med, then we get those pesky children out of my flowerbeds.

The Black Fish is a non-governmental organization (NGO) “working for the oceans that has integrated the use of unmanned air vehicles in support of its marine wildlife protection operations.  Blackfish’s UAS were provided by Laurens De Groot’s organization ShadowView, which supplies UAVs to non-profits for conservation projects.  The group flew initial demonstration sorties with a quad-rotor over a harbor and is looking to improve their UAS capabilities to fly longer-range missions over the open water in an effort to expose illegal driftnet fishing in the Mediterranean
The Black Fish joins the ranks of a growing number of NGOs using drones for maritime activism, specifically UAVs for surveillance operations, including Sea Shepherd Conservation Society, Earthrace Conservation, and Greenpeace.

This article was re-posted by permission from, and appeared in its original form at NavalDrones.com.

The Shifting Center of Gravity for Piracy in Africa

Maritime Criminals in the Niger Delta
                       Maritime Criminals in the Niger Delta

The NGO Oceans Beyond Piracy recently updated their report, The Human Cost of Maritime Piracy, including data from 2012.  Discussing the impact piracy (or more accurately, “maritime crime”) off Somalia or West Africa has had on merchant seaman, the report has received much exposure from the press by pointing out that in 2012 more pirate attacks occurred in West Africa than off Somalia.

The shift of piracy’s center of gravity from the east to west coast of Africa may shed light on more than just the current hotspots for maritime insecurity, but also demonstrate how commonly held assumptions regarding the impact state failure has on maritime security may be overstated or false.  For much of the last decade, the conventional wisdom has been that “failed states” or “ungoverned spaces” are breeding grounds for illicit activities like terrorism, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and piracy.  However, academics like Stewart Patrick and Ken Menkhaus have argued that illicit actors may in fact find that “weak but functioning” states are more attractive environments to operate in than failed states, as weak states, despite their problems, have the necessary linkages into the global economic system that failed states lack, and that illicit actors need to be able to profit from their activities.

More importantly, it is much more difficult for external actors to interfere in the internal affairs of a weak state than a failed state.  Without a functioning government (excepting the self-declared states of Somaliland and Puntland), there has been nothing to stop foreign intervention in Somalia against terrorists or pirates (such as Ethiopian and Kenyan invasions, occasional raids against pirate camps by Western militaries, and an African Union-sponsored peacekeeping force).  In West Africa, meanwhile, much of the violence has been conducted within the territorial waters of Nigeria or its neighbors, and conducted by Nigeria-based gangs.  While the various Gulf of Guinea states are planning talks to hammer out the details of a regional counter-piracy strategy, it is unlikely that sovereignty-conscious states like Nigeria would be willing to accept outside intervention by Western navies in the region.  Ultimately, there is nothing stopping a foreign power from using military force against pirates in Somalia if they desire, but a similar course of action in Nigeria would be much more complicated by the fact that there is a functioning government in Nigeria, even with Abuja’s somewhat limited ability to assert its authority in the Niger Delta.

Lieutenant Commander Mark Munson is a Naval Intelligence officer currently serving on the OPNAV staff.  He has previously served at Naval Special Warfare Group FOUR, the Office of Naval Intelligence, and onboard USS Essex (LHD 2).  The views expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the official viewpoints or policies of the Department of Defense or the U.S. Government.

PS:  Oceans Beyond Piracy report is worth a read because it shifts the focus from the typical economic costs of piracy and whether the piracy in Somalia has hurt the bottom line of the maritime industry to the real victims, the poorly-paid merchant seamen who have truly borne the cost of maritime insecurity as piracy has exploded on both the east and west coasts of Africa.

Uncertainty and Australian Force Structure Planning

By Peter Layton

When talking about current defence and security matters there seems strong agreement on at least one characteristic: the future is uncertain. Of course that’s true, and many things could potentially happen but, even so, what does this uncertainty mean for Defence?

Eggs in one basket2Defence could choose a single future scenario, press on with it, and hope for the best. A fundamental problem in basing force development on a particular anticipated future is that if those specific circumstances don’t materialize, the force acquired might prove quite ineffective. This happened to Australia in the grim days of 1942. The inter-war emphasis on acquiring warships to be based in Singapore for coalition naval operations (PDF) proved completely inappropriate to the actual circumstances that arose. Precious time and resources were squandered preparing for an eventuality that didn’t happen, while consuming resources that could have created the force structure actually needed.

This force structure dilemma, being ill-prepared for the future that actually occurs, is evident in the varying advice given about the implications of the rise of China. Some recommend building a bigger defence force ‘just in case,’ others opt for going amphibious (and in Japan as well), others say to engage while creating a force structure around hedging, yet others don’t see the need for worrying over a military response at all. These alternative courses reflect real uncertainty amongst professional analysts, defence staffs, foreign affairs specialists, and commentators over whether China’s rise will be peaceful or not—and what the appropriate response is if not. It seems that realists fear that war’s inevitable while liberal thinkers see much value in deep economic integration with the People’s Republic. The real answer is that no one yet knows; there are many possible futures, depending on the choices that China and the rest of us make.

One way of thinking about this is to accept this uncertainty and survey the space of possibilities (with credit to LTG Noboru Yamaguchi for pointing this out). To take extreme positions, China will become either a peaceful great power cooperating with all or a revisionist great power aggressively remaking Asia. In either circumstance the role of the United States will be highly influential in determining what Australia and many others will do. America could remain deeply engaged in the Asian region and be strongly intent on shaping the regional order. Conversely, it might retire from the field of play and focus its efforts elsewhere. What do these four alternative futures look like for us? Maybe like this (click to enlarge):

Seen this way, most futures seem OK. Three range from the really good ‘Nirvana’ to the ‘we’ve done this before and survived’ Cold War Redux. The Home Alone future is, however, a really bad one. Should we then accept this worst-case analysis and structure our defence force for it? If we did, then surely the worst that could happen is that Australia will be unnecessarily poorer than it should be? Not quite. The danger of going that route is that others might follow—they might think we know something they don’t or that we harbour aggressive intentions ourselves. For example, developing a nuclear capability would certainly draw attention.

How about force structuring around the competition-heavy Cold War Redux possibility? Such a force would be in case an aggressive China arose and the U.S. embraced a new containment strategy that we’d become a part of. If we really thought such a future was likely, then extensive trade with the ‘enemy’ would be most unwise as this would simply be supporting a hostile military build-up—a notion that might have historical resonance as well. Sharply constraining trade though would inflict some real economic damage on us as we missed out on much of the financial gains from China’s rise. Worse, it might also set off a security dilemma in which China sees the west bulking up its power projection and containment capabilities and talks itself into a major arms expansion. We need to be careful that we don’t inadvertently create the future we fear.


Should we then hope for the best and force structure for the better alternatives? This though runs significant risks if the future turns dark, as it did with the Japanese attacks in late 1942.

A potential answer lies in adopting a robust force-development strategy that aims to meet the different challenges of the four possible worlds, identified with all their differences, albeit set against the constraints of limited resources. Such a strategy doesn’t presuppose an ability to identify the most, or indeed the least, likely outcomes. Instead, it seeks to build a force structure that resembles a market, with a range of capabilities that covers a broad array of possibilities and evolves over time, with some succeeding and some failing. In this approach, a robust strategy isn’t an ‘optimum’ strategy, this being inherently impossible in an uncertain environment (except in retrospect). Instead, it tries to meet strategic needs within a limited resource base by being designed to evolve over time as strategic circumstances change.

How many eggs in how many baskets? There are of course some problems with this approach. It needs some real intellectual thought—always a scarce commodity—and it isn’t ‘set and forget’. The external environment needs continuous monitoring so that the force structure can be steadily tweaked as the actual future progressively arrives.

The value of the approach lies in realising that the future could be good or downright terrible, but that we might be able to tilt the probabilities towards the better futures. In using our instruments of national power and in building a force structure we can act to nudge the future in the direction we prefer. With an understanding of what might happen, we’re better able to work towards achieving such an outcome.

With such an optimistic thought comes a word of warning. While this focus has been on China, security even in the Nirvana future might well include dealing with tyrannical regimes, failing states, transnational terrorism and civil wars. There’ll be a need for effective and efficient armed forces in whichever alternative future arrives, it’s just their shape that will differ—and whether we’re prepared or not.

Peter Layton is undertaking a research PhD in grand strategy at UNSW, and has been an associate professor of national security strategy at the US National Defense University.

This post first appeared at the Australian Strategic Policy Institute (APSI)’s blog The Strategist.

Reconfiguring the US-ROK Naval Strategy for the Wartime OPCON Transfer (Part I)

On June 1st, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Republic of Korea (ROK) Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin met to discuss the creation of an “alternative joint operation body…similar to that of the current South Korea-U.S. Combined Forces Command.” According to the Yŏnhap News Agency, should this change occur, the ROK Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff will lead the new combatant command with the “top U.S. commander in South Korea serving as his deputy.”

Although I have written previously that the United States should retain the wartime OPCON (Operational Control) for the sake of flexible strategic responses against the DPRK, it appears unlikely that the joint decision between the United States and the ROK to transfer the OPCON to the ROK military will be reversed. So how can the U.S.-ROK naval forces successfully adapt to the change?

Answering this question necessitates that we first examine the existing ROK naval capabilities. To the extent that the ROK Navy’s (ROKN) capabilities warrant our attention, it can be argued that this is due to the ROK’s recent military build-up. It should also be noted that the ROK’s naval might can be seen as a reflection of its commercial interests abroad. Indeed, Terrence Roehrig avers that the ROKN’s blue-water capabilities, as seen in its commitment to the ongoing counter-piracy campaigns in the Gulf of Aden, might suggest a link between and its naval might and the ROK’s need to protect its commercial interests and its international standing as a middle power. While there may be some truth to his argument, a more plausible explanation might be that naval power still remains “the best possible means of ensuring the region’s safety without triggering any further escalation.” After all, the ROKN has more than proved its mettle during limited naval skirmishes in the late 1990s and early 2000s over the contested Northern Limit Line (NLL). It is not surprising, therefore, that the ROKN remains the most battle-hardened of the four ROK armed service branches.

Nonetheless, the ROKN still has a long way to go before it establishes itself as a truly independent armed service. As the sinking of the corvette Ch’ŏnan and the shelling of Yŏnp’yŏng in 2010 suggest, the ROKN still lacks the ability to conduct anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and to successfully counter DPRK’s asymmetric threats. The ROKN’s operational shortcomings are particularly troubling in that they were highlighted by the Korean People’s Army Navy, suffering its own limited operability due to its aging fleet and lack of unity within its command structure.

However, as my January piece for the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs and Michael Raska’s East Asia Forum article argue, the greatest barriers to service excellence for the ROKN may be South Korea’s uneven defense spending, and operational and institutional handicaps within the conservative ROK officer corps. Because the ROK Armed Forces remains Army-centric, whereby its command structure and logistics fall under the control of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (ROK CJCS), who has always been an Army general,[1] the ROKN has yet to achieve autonomy as a truly independent service within the existing arrangement. Such barriers do not bode well for the ROK’s most battle-hardened service branch because it ultimately stymies much-needed flexibility and creativity.

In light of both Kim Jŏng-ŭn’s constant threats and the newly proposed Combined Forces Command structure, readjustments at both operational and strategic levels may be required for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to successfully deter further acts of aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. One such readjustment, given ROKN’s weaknesses in its ASW capabilities and counter-asymmetric warfare, would be to redirect ROKN’s focus away from its blue-water ambitions to bolster its coastal defense capabilities. But doing so would jeopardize ROK’s maritime interests abroad and would foster the uneven growth of ROKN by encouraging uneven emphasis on one naval element at the expense of another.

Phase 1: A PHOTEX; Phase 2: The World!
           Phase 1: A PHOTOEX; Phase 2: The World!

Instead, a more pragmatic alternative would be for South Korea and the United States, together with Japan, to establish a combined fleet. While it is true that South Korea and Japan remain at odds over historical grievances and the territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima, given that the three navies frequently interact through joint exercises, such as RIMPAC, and other exchange programs, so the creation of such fleet in the face of a common threat should not be ruled out. Under this arrangement, each navy would buttress inter-operability by sharing its unique resources and culture with each other. Indeed, the proposed combined fleet would enable ROKN admirals to effectively exercise wartime command over their own fleets, while at the same time help them learn from their sister navies [see note below]. Even more important for the United States, given that “the U.S. operation within the Korean Peninsula is likely to remain a peacekeeping one,” such arrangement would “ensure that [the United States Navy’s] presence is seen and not necessarily felt.” Last but not least, the proposed combined fleet could serve as a quick reaction force in the event of unforeseen crises.

Ultimately, in order for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to effectively counter the threats posed by the DPRK, the ROK Armed Forces itself must undergo a radical transformation. Doing so necessitates that it gradually move away from its Army-centric culture to accommodate jointness among the four services. It must also come up with a coherent budget to sustain its capabilities.

In short, the 2015 wartime OPCON transfer may pose challenges for the U.S.-ROK naval forces to successfully counter and deter future provocations by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Nevertheless, it also presents an opportunity for those who would seize it. Perhaps this evolution in the extant U.S.-ROK alliance may allow the ROKN to truly come of age as an independent fighting service.

Jeong Lee is a freelance international security blogger living in Pusan, South Korea and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings have appeared on American Livewire, East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and the World Outline.

Note:  In a subsequent blog entry, I will explore ways in which the US-ROK Navies, together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), can best optimize their capabilities within the aforementioned combined fleet structure.

[1] There has been one exception to this rule. In 1993, Kim Young-sam appointed an Air Force general to serve as CJCS. However, after much resistance from the Army officer corps, no general or admiral from any other service has served as ROK CJCS since 1994.

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.