An Unlikely Alliance: Ukraine and NATO in the Battle Against Maritime Piracy

The Atlantic Council of Canada’s Aaron Willschick examines the unlikely partnership between Ukraine and NATO on maritime piracy, but warns that the former Soviet state has a long way to go if it wishes to be accepted into the West.

When it comes to maritime security, piracy has become one of the most prevalent issues for NATO to deal with. In considering which nations are most involved in combating maritime piracy, Ukraine is probably not the first name that comes to mind. As it turns out, this non-NATO, non-EU Eastern European nation is heavily involved in the fight against piracy at sea. Ukraine has even become a valuable ally to NATO in anti-piracy campaigns, something not exactly expected from a nation so closely aligned with Russia on the geopolitical map.

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev
NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen signs an exchange of letters with Ukrainian Defense Minister Pavlo Lebedev

Impact of Piracy on Ukraine

At the end of last month, NATO announced that Ukraine would actively take part in NATO’s anti-piracy operation in the Indian Ocean. Kiev has agreed to offer a frigate and a helicopter in the second half of 2013 for Operation Ocean Shield, the mission designed to deter and disrupt pirate attacks in the Gulf of Aden and the Horn of Africa. While it is not readily apparent, the impact of piracy on Ukraine is very real and a significant security concern for the former Soviet nation. From 2008 to mid-2012, over 140 Ukrainian sailors were victims of piracy, many of whom suffered brutal torture and abuse at the hands of their captors. Of today’s global security challenges, piracy may have the most disproportionately large impact on Ukraine. Even though Ukraine’s merchant fleet is relatively small at 1.8% of the world total, the country has somewhere between 80, 000 and 100, 000 merchant sailors at sea, or 8-10% of the world’s total. It also supports over twenty higher education establishments that train seafarers, and Ukraine is the third largest contributor of commercial crews in the world, second to Russia and the Philippines.

When taking into account demographics, Ukraine arguably has the world’s greatest concentration of merchant sailors in its workforce and thus, the greatest exposure as a country to the human cost of piracy. In addition, the Ukrainian economy also bears substantial costs. With 2, 782 km of coastline, one of the world’s best navigable river systems and considerable maritime trade, Ukraine’s economy is very dependent on its waterways. Piracy directly affects a large amount of the country’s maritime exports, which transit through the Suez Canal and into the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean. With such a large share of its goods exposed to piracy, Ukraine bears a disproportionate share of the estimated $7-12 billion annual cost of piracy to the world economy. With such high risks, insurance costs and protective measures add over $300, 000 to the cost of each trip. For ships that reroute around Africa, the cost is $1-$10 million per trip, not to mention additional travel time. These costs are made up for with increased transportation fees that cuts into profits for Ukraine exporters, shippers and producers and raises prices for purchasers, ultimately lowering the demand for Ukrainian products.

Counteracting the Costs of Piracy

Because of its lack of international presence, the only way that Ukraine can effectively combat the costs of piracy on its citizens and economy is through multinational cooperation. This is why Ukraine has become increasingly involved in a partnership with NATO. The first cooperation on maritime piracy occurred in October 2005 when Ukraine called to requests NATO’s assistance in responding to the capture by Somali pirates of the Ukrainian-owned vessel MV Panagia. Since then, the partnership has grown to the point that Ukraine’s Navy has deployed ships for extended operations with NATO’s Operation Active Endeavour in the Mediterranean on five separate occasions. Last summer Kiev and Brussels announced that Ukraine would join Operation Ocean Shield with the direct contribution of a ship-based helicopter and a group of naval Special Forces.

Further illustrating its commitment to counter-piracy, Ukraine co-hosted Sea Breeze 2011, the Black Sea’s largest annual multinational naval exercise, with the United States in Odessa. In response to common threats facing the world today, the exercise was dedicated to counter-piracy training operations, evacuation procedures and search and seizure training. Sea Breeze 2011 was also designed to improve regional stability in the Black Sea and strengthen maritime partnerships. Exercises such as these have helped to heighten Ukraine’s international profile and increase its credibility with western nations.

A Step to the West?

Some have interpreted Ukraine’s efforts against maritime piracy as an indication that the former Soviet state is serious about joining the West’s security framework. Not only has it become a close maritime partner of NATO, but Ukraine has also been active in the European Union’s anti-piracy campaign, Operation Atalanta. Ukraine’s work against maritime piracy is admirable and should be applauded. It also could act as a good starting point for the country to join NATO in the future and ultimately distancing itself from Russia. However, it is important to keep in mind that Ukraine is a nation that still faces many obstacles in its quest to join Western institutions. While recently praising the country for its work against piracy, NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen warned Ukraine that it must further commit to respecting democracy and the rule of law. Counteracting piracy is one thing; building and respecting democracy is another. Despite some progress, Ukraine still has a long way to go beyond maritime operations if it wishes to be taken more seriously by the West and gain acceptance into Western institutions.

Aaron Willschick is a Maritime Security Analyst at the Atlantic Council of Canada and a recent graduate from the MA program in European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. His research interests include the European Union, European security and defense policy, NATO enlargement to Eastern Europe and democratization

Evaluating China’s Anti-Ship Drone Swarms

The Project 2049 Institute recently released a report on People’s Republic of China (PRC) UAV advances, with a focus on how those capabilities could be used to threaten U.S. Navy carrier strike groups.  China’s expanding land- and sea-based UAV inventory runs the range from small tactical systems to medium-ranged Predator-class to unmanned combat air vehicles (UCAVs) still under development.  This anti-access/area denial capability, or A2/AD in naval parlance, represents just one of several layers of offensive systems the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) is developing to exercise naval hegemony in the Western Pacific. 
The report argues that “UAV systems may emerge as the critical enabler for PLA long range precision strike missions within a 3000 kilometer radius of Chinese shores.”  This 3000 km radius represents an area well into the so-called Second Island Chain, control of which is commonly recognized as a long-term strategic goal for the PLA.

China's ASN-229A ISR and Strike UAV, just one of many friendly drones you'll find in the Project 2049 report.
China’s ASN-229A ISR and Strike UAV, just one of many friendly drones you’ll find in the Project 2049 report.

The report details Chinese strategists’ plans to use drones of swarms in a variety of ways to defeat opposing naval forces.  Decoy UAVs would draw fire and reduce the inventories of anti-aircraft missiles.  Electronic warfare (EW) UAVs would jam shipboard radars and anti-radition drones would attack them.  Reconnaissance drones could then cue anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBMs) and armed UAVs in an attempt to overwhelm strike group defenses.

Defense against these swarms could take a number of forms.  First, dispersal of naval forces – over tens, hundreds, and thousands of kilometers – would prevent a drone swarm from doing too much harm to concentrated ship formations, also causing the PLA to prioritize its targets or disperse the swarm, limiting its effectiveness.  In an exchange against large numbers of low-cost drones, the engagement ratio, in both cost and number of weapons, is not favorable to air defense missiles such as those used by Japanese and U.S. Aegis ships.  A return to anti-aircraft cannon may be one option to reverse this asymmetry, though the introduction of directed energy weapons in the place of limited defensive missile inventories might be a better way to handle large numbers of incoming drones.  Interestingly, the U.S. Navy has announced it will deploy a prototype laser system, a previous version of which has been tested against UAVs, on USS Ponce in the Persian Gulf later this year.

It should also be noted that these systems would be susceptible to the same vulnerabilities cited by many observers of U.S. UAV operation: they can be jammed or spoofed, and the satellite or other communications links that control the drones can also be disrupted by various means. Finally, in the spirit of “it takes a network to defeat a network,” China would not have a monopoly on UAV development.  In time, PLA drone swarms would face large numbers of UAVs operated by other navies in the South China Sea.  Expect to see drones develop with air-to-air capabilities, defensive counter-measures, and programming to “sacrifice” themselves to protect surface fleets.

See more on China’s maritime UAV developments here.

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

April Analysis

BallotWe here at CIMSEC like on occasion to offer our members and readers a topic to focus on for a week or so as a challenge to tease out nuances and new insights. In the past we’ve delved into such subjects as 3D printing and sea-based nations. In April we’ll do so again, and these are your nominees. Please vote only once across all online platforms – voting ends Thursday, 3/28.

Note: unless otherwise specified these topics do not pertain solely to the U.S. Navy:

Innovation and Lessons Learned

ConversationsThere have been some interesting posts in the past week or so on spurring naval innovation that are worth the time to read.  An article we cross-posted Wednesday, by LCDR Jason Schwarzkopf, dealt with fostering broad, collaborative discussion on tactical and practical naval matters and it received a well-reasoned response from CDR Salamander at his synonymous site.

Another post, by Robert Kozloski, “The Politics of Naval Innovation Revisited,” laid out some of the fascinating political aspects of working through the bureaucracy to champion the innovation that might develop out of such discussions advocated by Jason (especially innovation of a material/technological nature).  One of the findings Robert highlights from a 1994 U.S. Naval War College paper is that:

“Programs that have the potential to be truly innovative will have a better chance of being fielded if promoted as evolutionary rather than revolutionary systems.”

Meanwhile at the Harvard Business Review, Maxwell Wessell discussed the (in his view false) business phenomenon of ‘high-end disruption’ in “Stop Reinventing Disruption,” and thereby laid out a good definition of classic disruptive innovation:

“Start with a barely-good-enough product that captures consumers too cheap to buy the existing, expensive product, then make it better and better until one day, it’s as good as, or better, than the incumbent product

These last two articles relate only tangentially to what I’d like to focus on for the rest of the post, but they make for good reads and help one understand how successful innovation typically works – through incremental and evolutionary, rather than revolutionary, approaches.  This is not to say true revolutions in naval affairs don’t happen – but to be successfully embraced by the bureaucracy (and not just a senior-level champion) they need to not be oversold and show initial incremental advantages that are cost neutral, or provide a cost benefit.

Returning to Jason’s post, he touches on something that I’ve also pondered – namely why there is no well-run site for professional naval discussion that can take things beyond UNCLAS.  There are plenty of UNCLAS models for how pieces of such a site could be structured, and most in enlisted/JO to mid-grade year groups have enough experience using such web-based tools that their absence from the professional sphere is all the more keenly felt.

Sailor Bob provides an example of the free-wheeling message board-format, but its unofficial nature means there is no formal on-ramp to capture and endorse the true kernels of wisdom and lessons learned that frequently appear.  This is not to discount the importance of the informal route, but the lack does nothing to alleviate the “perception of ideas flowing into a doctrinal “black hole”” that Jason notes, and it is of course limited to UNCLAS.

Blogs such as ours and journals such as USNI’s Proceedings also aim to host professional discussions and can focus thought on a particular issue or innovation.  Yet they are similarly UNCLASS and the time-delay to voice one’s thoughts, from hours to months, can markedly lag the near-real-time speed with which today’s generations expect to have conversations.  Yes, journals provide a valuable service by developing and refining ideas through peer-review, establishing a threshold of maturity prior to providing their endorsement that something is fit to print, and subsequently exposing the idea to a broader base of critique and consideration.

However, the core ideas in an article could (potentially) be exposed to many more readers and thinkers, more quickly, and go through many more cycles of reaction and refinement in the time it takes for a print version to come out.  Further, many with a great idea – or even just a nuanced piece of insight or feedback – may not, as Jason alluded, have the time to type out a great piece of literature.  In a sense it’s a trade-off between quantity and quality, but if done well the diminished quality is only in the writing polish as opposed to the ideas themselves.

Another model, which does a good job of rapidly focusing many minds on a single idea or theme, is the series of online wargames run out of the U.S. Naval Post-graduate School (NPS) called MMOWGLI – Massively Multiplayer Online Wargame Leveraging Internet.  These wargames have allowed anonymous-but-verified users to collaborate and contribute their two cents on topics from counter-piracy to electromagnetic maneuvers.  With official backing, NPS has been able to run a counterpart on the classified side.  The only distinct drawback that I’ve so far discerned (aside from the inability to participate of many on NMCI computers) is that determining the topic of MMOWGLI efforts is a top-down approach.  So if someone has a great idea for a topic not in discussion they have to wait and hope it falls under the purview of the next game.  In short, it can’t do everything, but is certainly worth sustaining.

In my last active duty assignment at N86/N96, one of my jobs was project manager for SWONET.  This meant essentially acting as liaison between the Navy and the contractors who actually ran the site.  One of my priorities was transforming SWONET into a more useful tool for surface warfare officers (SWOs), including swapping and sharing lessons learned – essentially a combination Sailor Bob/Google Docs for the professionally minded, leveraging the fact that it was access-controlled to emails and that discussions could be held at the For Official Use Only (FOUO)-level.  The contractors did a decent job of enhancing the site, and the message board was only one tool among many that were upgraded. Unfortunately, as we were rolling out the updated platform we ran into the Era of Austerity and the site was shut down as a cost-saving measure.

So what does this survey of web-based tools show?  First, that there’s no go-to site for collaborating with one’s counterparts or for recording someone’s bits of wisdom (or just data points), even at the UNCLAS level.  Second, that there are in fact demonstrated ways to do such a site.

In my mind a site can be developed at low cost in a way that accounts for the fears of stifled discussion if it focuses on these steps:

  • Host duplicate NIPR/SIPR sites at a command where the development of ideas is its core mission – whether an academic setting like NPS or the Naval War College, or tactically/operationally focused like NWDC.
  • Let users remain anonymous (once verified through NPC) with their own usernames.  This does not mean a typical terms-of-use regulating conduct need not be enforced.  Keep it professional, keep it respectful (regardless of rank – which would not be displayed), or lose your access.
  • In addition to the message board, provide an easy-to-use searchable repository of lessons learned to help provide quantifiable data.  This could be done by integrating the existing Navy Lessons Learned site with the discussion forum and making it more flexible.  While not every lesson learned will necessarily be reviewed by a flag, having one’s notes on a particular exercise or solution to a similar problem available for a counterpart in another command might be just as useful.
  • There’s further opportunity to leverage a single-stop “official” collaborative site, if it comes about – from letting users share copies of command instructions and useful forms, reducing time spent “reinventing the wheel”, to using the discussion forums to inform future MMOWGLIs.

One of the big lessons learned of the past decade of Navy experimentation with web-based tools is to focus on the tools that are lacking, rather than trying to duplicate what already exists (often for free) even if it is unofficial.  Right now, however, it’s clear that there are things that can’t be done unofficially and that only an official site can accomplish.

h/t to BJ for the HBR link.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.

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

Fostering the Discussion on Securing the Seas.