Tag Archives: south america

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.

Damen’s Presence in the Latin American and Caribbean Market, Part 2

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

Selling To Everyone

The list of Damen’s current clients in the Western Hemisphere highlights one curious fact about this company: the Dutch company sells its equipment to both U.S. allies and foes alike. Certainly, Washington sees no fault in Damen’s decision to upgrade Mexico’s naval equipment. On the other hand, the U.S. government probably frowns at Damen equipping countries that Washington is at odds with, such as Venezuela (which was declared a national security threat by the White House this past March). Similarly, Damen’s shipyard in Cuba, a country that was on the U.S. State Department’s list of states that sponsor terrorism until this past May, is not considered a positive development in Washington.

Nevertheless, Damen has remained neutral in Western Hemisphere geopolitics, as it has dealt with any government willing to pay. This issue deserves further analysis by stating two obvious facts: the U.S. and the Netherlands have generally enjoyed good security relations over the past decades, and Damen is a privately-owned company, which means that the Dutch government has limited influence in the contracts and initiatives it chooses to carry out. With that said, it is bizarre that Damen chose to build a shipyard in a country that has been at odds with the U.S. for decades, and is also selling vessels to countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, which have become a thorn on Washington’s side for years (in the case of Caracas’ for a decade and a half). Certainly, Damen does not need to take into account U.S. foreign policy in its business decisions, but it is nevertheless important to keep in mind how the sale of military equipment can upset regional geopolitics, particularly if this equipment is sold to nations that have carried out aggressive foreign policies in recent years (i.e. Venezuela).

Damen is Important, But Not A Pillar

While Damen has made a name for itself in the Latin American and Caribbean market, the shipbuilding company has not fully cornered this market, as it still faces a number of competitors.

One of Damen’s major competitor is Navantia. The Spanish company has been trying to sell Peru its frigate F-538 model as well as attempting to sell Colombia (and Peru) its F-110 frigate. The company already has a strong presence in the region, best exemplified by a 2013 contract to upgrade the motor system of a Brazilian corvette, the “Julio de Noronha.” Government-to-government exchanges are also common as South Korea has donated one of its corvettes, the now-called “ARC Nariño,” to Colombia. The Donghae-class vessel served in the Republic of Korea Navy for 27 years before it was given to the South American state.

Navantia Warship. Source: Navyrecognition.com.
Navantia Warship. Source: Navyrecognition.com.

Finally, the know-how of Latin American military industries is improving. Case in point, the Peruvian shipyards Servicios Industriales de la Marina (SIMA) is currently constructing a new training vessel for the Peruvian Navy, the “BAP Union” – a project worth around $50-55 million USD. Moreover, with support from the Daewoo International Corporation and the Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency, SIMA is building a new multi-purpose vessel for its Navy.

These examples stress how competitive the shipbuilding industry is in Latin America. Not only are there several major companies trying to sell brand new warships, but governments are also donating surplus naval technology. Furthermore, regional shipyards are rapidly improving their knowledge when it comes to shipbuilding, as we now have modern shipyards in countries like Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru and Venezuela  that are constructing their own vessels.

In fact, countries like Ecuador, Mexico and Venezuela want Damen to construct some vessels in their own shipyards in order for local technicians to learn from Damen’s experts. Certainly, none of these facilities are in a position to build a ship as complex as a carrier, but they can now construct smaller vessels, like patrol boats or support ships.

What this means for a company like Damen is that while it will continue to enjoy new contracts for the immediate future, it will have to continue developing more modern and improved equipment that its Latin American and Caribbean clients cannot purchase, maybe at a better price, from other suppliers, or even construct themselves in the not-so distant future.

A Need for Stronger Naval Forces

As transnational crime over the Caribbean Sea and other maritime crimes, such as illegal fishing, continue throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, it has become a major priority for regional states to have modern and capable navies and coast guards in order to protect their exclusive economic zones.

Certainly, it can be argued that the current purchases of some naval technologies are generally unnecessary, given that the region has enjoyed inter-state peace for decades (the last inter-state war in the region was in 1995 between Peru and Ecuador, while the last conflict with naval warfare was the 1982 Falklands/Malvinas War between Argentina and the United Kingdom). Moreover, while transnational crime remains a persistent problem, Latin America has enjoyed cooperation at the inter-state level for two decades (the 2008 Colombia-Venezuela incident notwithstanding). Given this period of peace, some may argue that these defense dollars would be better spent in social programs, especially since many Latin American nations, including Damen-clients like Honduras, are very poor and underdeveloped.

Unfortunately, the reality is different. First, Latin American and Caribbean nations must have some capabilities for deterrence as inter-state tensions continue, such as between Peru and Chile or even the aforementioned 2008 incident between Colombia and Venezuela. Second, transnational drug trafficking remains a major problem from Mexico to Argentina, particularly throughout the Greater Caribbean waters as cocaine is transported from Colombia and Venezuela to the U.S. and Mexico markets. Just last May, the U.S. Coast Guard and the USS Kauffman (FFG 59) interdicted almost 1,800 kilograms of cocaine in the Eastern Pacific.

USS Kauffman. Source: Mark D. Faram/Staff.
USS Kauffman. Source: Mark D. Faram/Staff.

Hence, it is necessary for Latin American and Caribbean naval forces, including their coasts guards, to have fast and technologically advanced vessels for both internal and regional security – which in turn would diminish their dependence on U.S. security aid. In this sense, the involvement of companies like Damen and Navantia in the Western Hemisphere is a necessity (at least until regional states can build their own high-tech vessels).

Final Thoughts

In recent years the Dutch shipbuilding company Damen has made a name for itself as a provider of high-tech, fast vessels, from multipurpose boats to coast guard speedboats, for various Latin American and Caribbean states. Their clients include nations with small defense budgets like Honduras and Trinidad & Tobago, to major buyers like Mexico and Venezuela. Nevertheless, Damen has not cornered these region’s shipbuilding markets, as there are several other companies selling their products, such as the Spanish Navantia, in addition to regional states enjoying growing maritime defense industries.

Moreover, while Damen’s sales to the region have generally controversy-free, the incident over the overpriced vessels sold to Honduras highlights the potential for corruption, i.e. kickbacks, in countries renowned for lacking good governance. I have been unable to confirm if there were other similar discrepancies in Damen’s other contracts in the Western Hemisphere. Nevertheless, countries like Venezuela are known for their lack of transparency (case in point, the billions of petro-dollars spent by Caracas to purchase Russian military technology) while Mexico is infamous for its corrupt state-run oil company, PEMEX. Given these precedents, there are valid reasons for concern over Damen’s deals with its Latin American and Caribbean clients.

Ultimately, the question comes down to whether the region requires new vessels. Inter-state conflict may be scarce, but it remains a possibility given recent tensions between regional nations (i.e. Venezuela and Colombia, Peru and Chile or currently between Venezuela and Guyana). Thus, it is necessary for nations to maintain capable deterrent capabilities. Additionally, these states must have strong navies and coast guards to crack down on maritime crimes that range from illegal fishing to transnational drug trafficking.

In 2015, the waters along Latin American and Caribbean states are far from peaceful and Damen’s vessels, while not the cornerstone of regional navies, are an important addition to hemispheric maritime security.

Read Part One here.

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. His research interests include inter-state tensions, narco-insurgent movements and drug cartels, arms sales, the development of Latin American military industries, UN peacekeeping operations, as well as the rising use of drones (UAVs) for civilian and security uses in Latin America. Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

Damen’s Presence in the Latin American and Caribbean Market, Part 1

By W. Alejandro Sanchez

Though shipbuilding is a competitive global industry, one company has become a major provider to the naval forces (coast guards included) of various Latin America and Caribbean states: Damen Shipyards Group. Damen is now a household name among Latin American and Caribbean navies as it provides multi-purpose vessels, patrol boats and speed boats. These sales have enhanced the capabilities of Damen’s clients as they face transnational threats.

While the defense budgets of Latin American and Caribbean states cannot be compared to those of the usual suspects (i.e. the U.S., Russia or China), a significant number of weapon deals have occurred in recent years between the Dutch-based company and these two regions.

Damen’s sale of technologically advanced vessels is a positive development for the region for a variety of reasons. Most notably, since Latin America and the Caribbean are enjoying a marked lack of inter-state conflict  (the last war between two regional states was in 1995), the region’s security forces are now focused largely on transnational crimes, particularly drug trafficking. Thus, it appears that Damen’s clientele will continue to grow for the immediate future as the company is looked upon as a reliable supplier of vessels necessary to combat criminal activities that occur at sea, particularly in the Greater Caribbean region.

Recent Sales

In order to discuss Damen’s effect on the shipbuilding industry and naval defense sector in Latin America and the Caribbean, a brief enumeration of confirmed deals and equipment delivery is necessary. This will also give us a clearer view of Damen’s clients.

  • The Caribbean

Damen has a number of clients in the Caribbean whose naval forces are more akin to coast guards rather than traditional navies. One good example is the Bahamas, which formalized a deal with Damen in 2014 for a variety of vessels, including four Stan Patrol 4207, four SPa 3007, and one roll-off ship Stand Lander 5612. The shipbuilding portion of this multi-faceted contract is valued at around $149 million.

The company has already delivered the four 4207 patrol boats. Moreover, this past January the Damen Gorinchen shipyard in the Netherlands received the hull for the Stan Patrol 3007. It is important for the 3007 to become operational soon as this vessel is urgently needed by Nassau to combat narcotics trafficking, a further example of how Damen technology is being utilized for positive security initiatives.

Another one of Damen’s clients in the Caribbean is Trinidad & Tobago. This past May, the government in Port-of-Spain ordered 12 new vessels for its coast guard, including four type Stan Patrol 5009, two Fast Crew Supply 5009 and six Interceptor speedboats. The deal is worth $189 million USD. In early June, the “TTS Point Lisas” (GC 23), one of the FCS ships, was delivered to the Caribbean government.

  • Latin America

When it comes to the mainland, several Latin American states are turning to Damen for naval equipment. For example, the Colombian Navy purchased one of Damen’s Swath-type vessels, which was constructed in Singapore.  Additionally, in 2014, Ecuador signed a deal with Damen to obtain two Stan Patrol 5009 for the country’s coast guard. The vessels are being constructed in Ecuador by the country’s shipyard, Astilleros Navales Ecuatorianos, under the oversight of Damen technicians. Additionally, Damen obtained a contract in early 2014 to construct a fourth Stan Patrol 2606 (the country already operates three),  which will also be built in Ecuador.

Additionally, Mexico and Venezuela have purchased various types of Damen’s vessels. Just this past January, the Mexican Navy received the Coast Guard vessel Tenochtitlan-class “ARM Mitla” (PC-334), which was constructed as a joint project between the shipyards of the Secretaria de Marina (the Mexican Navy) in Tamaulipas and Damen. The “Mitla” is based on the Stan Patrol 4207 model. This is the second of two vessels that Mexico and Damen are building together following a 2014 agreement. The other vessel is a supply variant of the Fast Crew Supplier 5009. Like the “Mitla,” it is also being constructed in Mexico’s Sonora state. These developments suggest that Damen has become an integral part of the country’s naval shipbuilding. Apart from the aforementioned vessels, SEMAR and Damen jointly constructed three other patrol vessels based on the 5009 model.

 Mexico’s new “ARM Mitla." Source: Cuartooscuro / Milenio.com.
Mexico’s new “ARM Mitla.” Source: Cuartooscuro / Milenio.com.

As for Venezuela, Caracas has ordered a number of new vessels for its Navy including a 2014 deal for 18 type Interceptor 1102 speedboats. The speedboats are being constructed in Cuba under the Havana-Caracas cooperation agreement. The first of these vessels arrived this past May and is currently undergoing testing. In addition, Damen has also constructed four support vessels for the South American nation based on the Stan Lander 5612 model. On February 2014, a new contract was signed for an additional eight vessels, a deal worth around $132 million USD. Finally, Venezuela’s military complex (UCOCAR) in Puerto Cabello is building five patrol boats based on the Stan Patrol 2606 model. The country’s navy already has one operational vessel based on that model, the “Pagalo” (PG-51).

Damen Interceptor 1102. Source: Damen.com.
Damen Interceptor 1102. Source: Damen.com.
  • Cuba’s Shipyards

It is important to note that Damen has a construction facility, Damex Shipbuilding & Engineering, in Cuba. The facilities, which were established in 1995, are located in the bay of Santiago de Cuba. Damen’s website explains that “the yard is equipped with one slipway provided with transverse parking facilities for new buildings and repairs and a lateral slipway for new buildings of up to 100 metres.” As previously noted, the shipyards have constructed vessels for Venezuela.

  • The Honduran Affair

It is important to stress that not all Damen deals have been scandal-free. This is best exemplified by a 2013 contract via which the government of Honduras purchased six Interceptor speedboats and two Stan Patrol 4207. The contract deal was reportedly worth almost $62 million. However in late 2013, the Honduran judiciary investigated it due to various irregularities, specifically the accusation that the vessels were overpriced  – according to the Honduran newspaper La Prensa, the vessels were overpriced by some $29 million. The newspaper argued that the Honduran Secretariats of Defense and Finance created a paper company called “Servicios Maritimos S.A.,” which was utilized by Florentius Antonious Florentius Kluck,  a Dutch citizen and honorary consul, as the intermediary for the sale.

In spite of these accusations, the deal ultimately went through, and the Honduran Navy has begun to receive the vessels. This is an important deal for Honduras since drug traffickers utilize the country’s coast for transporting illegal narcotics, and thus it is especially necessary for small Central American country to have vessels that can locate and seize the infamous narco-speedboats. Nevertheless, the details of the deal themselves are problematic, as the question its transparency and whether the Honduran government could have obtained similar vessels at a cheaper price. Even more, even though the Honduran judiciary never passed judgment on the  deal, scandals like the Honduran affair throw into question whether other contracts gained by Damen were due to shadowy middle men and nefarious deals.

Read Part 2 here.

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. His research interests include inter-state tensions, narco-insurgent movements and drug cartels, arms sales, the development of Latin American military industries, UN peacekeeping operations, as well as the rising use of drones (UAVs) for civilian and security uses in Latin America. Twitter: @W_Alex_Sanchez

Asymmetric Naval Warfare: Next Stage in the South Atlantic Conflict?

By Alex Calvo

More than 30 years after the Falklands War, the South Atlantic remains a focus of tension, given Argentina’s refusal to acknowledge the right to self-determination and rule out the use of force. In conventional terms, generally speaking the balance of forces has moved in favour of the UK, despite the current carrier gap (while two Queen Elizabeth II class carriers are being built) and deterioration of amphibious capabilities. British defence planners seem to rely first and foremost on the air and anti-aircraft assets permanently deployed at Mount Pleasant plus the few but powerful Royal Navy units in the region. Together, they seem to be able to deal with Argentina’s current order of battle in the event of an attempted invasion or blockade. For some, this is the end of the story, unless Buenos Aires rearms, starting with modern aircraft, which China and Russia may have offered according to different unconfirmed reports. However, there is no reason why any actor in a given conflict should stick to a particular strategy or mode of warfare. As the saying goes, “the enemy has a vote”, and given British conventional superiority (despite the lack of embarked aviation and deterioration in amphibious capabilities) Buenos Aires may choose to upgrade her strength in this field … or change tack and go asymmetric. Actually, that would not really be a novelty, since in the 1960s and 1970s a number of incidents took place featuring civilians and special operations. In 1966, a nationalist group hijacked a Dakota airplane over Patagonia and landed in Stanley Airport, and 10 years later Argentine forces set up a clandestine weather station on South Thule (South Sandwich Islands), which British authorities detected but kept quiet about to avoid an escalation. An echo of such actions was seen in 2011, when two Argentine civilians attempted to reach the Islands on a kayak.

Furthermore, events in the South China Sea over the last few years are a clear reminder of the many ways in which force can be used in disputed maritime domains. Thus, anybody following the South Atlantic must keep in mind the full spectrum of warfare, from non-conventional to sub-conventional, with all possibilities in between, and their myriad combinations. Defence planners will need to incorporate such assessments in their decisions on training, equipment, doctrine, and Rules of Engagement (ROEs). Otherwise, one may run the risk of preparing to fight yesterday’s war, as historians have more than once accused generals and admirals of doing.

Last year, in the spring and summer, clashes between China and Vietnam in the South China Sea / East Sea featured oil rigs protected by a large number of vessels, ranging from coast guard and other state ships to trawlers, while some observers also stressed the presence of naval and air assets. These clashes did not involve exchanges of fire, instead non-lethal kinetic means ranging from water cannons to ramming were used. This was in line with previous clashes between China and Japan and China and the Philippines, yet what was different was the numbers involved, and the deployment of specially-equipped ships. Some reports mentioned more than 100 vessels of different kinds, for example a 24 June 2014 Vietnamese report mentioned “44 coast guard ships, 15 cargo ships, 19 tugboats, 35 fishing vessels and five battleships” guarding a rig. Concerning special equipment, Chinese trawlers with “reinforced prows” featuring a “large metal object” appeared to be much better at pushing and damaging other vessels.

The question is then, could Argentine choose asymmetric non-lethal force over conventional rearmament? A number of scenarios come to mind, from the occupation of a minor island by activists, special forces, or a combination of  both, to the operation of trawlers escorted by non-naval state vessels. Things may get more complex with the involvement of third parties. Could Argentina grant a Chinese company a licence to explore for oil in the Falklands’ EEZ? Or to fish there? Could Buenos Aires then deploy non-naval state vessels (coastguard units or simply law enforcement personnel on board civilian vessels) to protect Chinese trawlers or even a rig?  To make things more complex, Taiwanese trawlers operate in the region, under license by the Falklands Government.

If this happened, British authorities may be faced with some of the dilemmas familiar to governments in the South China Sea. In theory asymmetric tactics may be dealt with by drawing a line in the sand, threatening to respond with conventional force. In practice, however, such a “tripwire” policy can be very difficult to implement given the natural reluctance to risk an escalation and appear as an aggressor before international public opinion if, for example, the life of civilian activists or fishermen was endangered.

Responding to asymmetric tactics may require a different kind of training, ROEs, and equipment than those designed with conventional operations in mind. An advanced anti-aircraft missile may be very useful in dealing with an inbound bomber, less so when confronting a civilian airplane full of activists. A nuclear submarine is a great asset when facing a surface combatant, not so much when what you see in your periscope is a trawler. To add to these challenges, defending forces must still be ready to engage in conventional operations. Furthermore, there is no reason why the other side cannot combine conventional and asymmetric tactics. By analogy with the USMC “Three Blocks” doctrine perhaps we may need to talk about a “Three Islands” doctrine.

While it may be too early to know what direction the confrontation in the South Atlantic may take, there are reasons to expect Buenos Aires to at the very least consider going asymmetrical. These include a much shorter time frame than that required for conventional rearmament, lower costs, and the possibility to graduate the level of confrontation, in the hope of securing political concessions without crossing the threshold of armed conflict. Concerning the British response, we can already see some evidence that London may be preparing for a new stage in the long-running conflict. In particular, for an scenario where Argentine special forces seize a minor island, which may explain the recent announcement that two Chinook troop-carrying helicopters will be deployed from next year.

 Alex Calvo, a guest professor at Nagoya University (Japan), focuses on security and defence policy, international law, and military history, in the Indian-Pacific Ocean Region. He tweets at Alex__Calvo and his work, which includes “China’s Air Defense Identification Zone: Concept, Issues at Stake and Regional Impact”, Naval War College Press Working Papers, No 1, US Naval War College,  23 December 2013, available at http://www.usnwc.edu/Publications/Working-Papers/Documents/WP1-Calvo.aspx,  can be found at https://nagoya-u.academia.edu/AlexCalvo