Archive for the 'Maritime Security' Category

Photo taken by author

Blue isles along the coast of Lagos, Nigeria

On a muggy and overcast day this past March, I set out to the Gulf of Guinea with members from the U.S. State Department in Lagos, Nigeria. It was just past sunset. Our pilot, an athletically built Nigerian with dark skin and a shaved head, greeted us on the pier and welcomed the delegation aboard his Boston Whaler. All of us were overdressed in suits and sweat was noticeably percolating through our shirts.

That time of day is particularly charming in Lagos. The water and the sky interweave in a deep cerulean palette, transforming the landscape into a wondrous countryside.

The smell of stagnant petrol consumed us as we sailed past bulk freighters and crude carriers loading cargo. Containers slammed onto chassis on the adjacent piers and oil sheens along with garbage and debris saturated the waterway. Throughout the channel, campaign billboards promoting President Goodluck Jonathan’s reelection were omnipresent



And the most dubious promotion of all: #BRINGBACKGOODLUCK2015, which was a campaign slogan based off #BRINGBACKOURGIRLS. This one did not resonate well in northeast Nigeria.

Off our port bow, donned in orange life jackets, were locals taxiing home together in motorized canoes. They stared at us uneasily as our boat sprinted past their starboard beam. A few yelled in detest when a member in our delegation snapped off a photo with his iPhone.

On the other side of the river, directly across from the commercial shipping terminals were residents of Lagos’ notorious floating slums. Many of the lagoon’s inhabitants are immigrants, who earn less than $2 a day and use the river to dump trash, excrement, and everything else they cannot keep on their makeshift homes. Our guide told us that the people along the sprawling bamboo community subsist largely as fishermen and workers in the nearby sawmills, cutting up timber that floats regularly into the city. They, too, looked perplexed when a boat full of whites drove by at 30 knots.

Image by © GEORGE ESIRI/Reuters/Corbis

Floating slums in Lagos

It took fifteen minutes to reach Takawa Bay at the southern entrance of Lagos harbor. We gazed southeast and saw scores of anchored ships dotted along the horizon like a cityscape at dusk. Our boat idled for a few moments, swaying to and fro in the trough of the seas and all of us were silent. A sea breeze kicked up and the cool air felt good. It was as if at that moment we could sense all of Nigeria’s potential in the idle ships a few miles distant, waiting offshore to deliver cargo and with it, a better future for the people ashore.

Our pilot turned sharply to starboard, sped up and headed back toward Lagos. My shock in Nigeria was total.

Over the past two decades, Lagos and several other ports along the Gulf of Guinea have evolved into a major hub for global energy supplies for North America, Europe, and Asia. With several natural harbors throughout the region – from Cape Verde to Angola – and a coastal terrain rich in hydrocarbons, the countries along this fertile coastline have flourished.

This uninterrupted growth had not come about by accident. Many West-African governments have enhanced their infrastructure, liberalized trade policies, and reduced barriers to emerging transcontinental businesses. As a result the Gulf of Guinea increasingly relies on the seas for their economic prosperity. After all, it’s their only lifeline to remain competitive in the global marketplace.

This transit hub and facilitator to the world, however, is threatened. Despite West Africa’s continuing economic boom, three years ago the Gulf of Guinea surpassed East Africa and became the region with the highest number of piracy attacks in the world. Nigeria is said to be losing a staggering $2 billion to maritime insecurity each year. Maritime experts agree that the nation loses $800 million yearly to unchecked poachers who come to take away fish from Nigeria’s Economic Exclusive Zone (EEZ), in addition to about $16 million to oil theft and $9 million to general piracy.

Given the limited number of ships providing security off the West African coast, narcotics traffickers are using West African ports to smuggle and then distribute drugs in Europe. Oil theft and illegal bunkering also continue to rise uncontrollably. According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, Nigeria loses between 40,000 and 100,000 barrels a day due to theft.

These attacks also tend to be violent. Unlike Somalia, where pirates attack ships transiting through the region, West African pirates typically prey on ships berthed or anchored waiting to berth. These attacks typically occur within twelve nautical miles. The International Maritime Bureau (IMB) and the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group have shown that more seafarers were killed in the first nine months of 2014 than the whole of 2013, when over 1,200 were affected.

This is a conservative estimate. IMB reported last year that about two-thirds of all West-African piracy attacks go unreported.

Piracy in West Africa are different from those associated with East Africa in a variety of ways. First, unlike Somali pirates who attach ships in transit, pirates operating in and around the Gulf of Guinea prey on ships berthed or anchored within territorial waters. As noted by the Oceans Beyond Piracy Group, this changes the character of operations tremendously. Pirates have access to infrastructure and robust intelligence ashore, which provide them with the content and structure of ships operating in the area. It is thought they have access to information shared with the maritime sectors in the region.

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Ghana Navy Moves to Counter Piracy and Drugs Smuggling in Gulf of Guinea

Robbery, kidnap and ransom, and oil theft are the three main piracy models being monitored in West Africa. Pirates hijack vessels and often force ship captains to navigate the vessel to an unknown location where the cargo is lightered to another vessel or a storage facility shore side. Eventually, the oil finds its way to the black market or in some cases, back into the mainstream supply to be sold domestically or in the global marketplace.

If threats of piracy are left unchecked, the economies of West Africa will suffer. The waters off Nigeria, Togo and Benin are deemed a “war risk area,” thereby pushing up insurance costs and deterring maritime traders from even entering ports.

Most scholars and military planners would agree the root of the problem in Nigeria stems from state corruption, lackluster job creation, and a hollow security force. With only a couple dozen ships and a poorly trained military facing Boko Haram on their eastern flank, it seems unlikely that Nigeria and the surrounding nations will be able to control this problem alone. Regional actors are taking promising steps, but their coordination efforts are not developed enough to thwart terrorist networks.

Nigeria received two 1700 ton P-18N offshore-patrol vessels in 2014, which are based on the Chinese Type 056 corvette. Built in China and fitted out in a Nigerian shipyard, the 312-foot warships complement the Okpabana and the Thunder, former US Guard WHEC class cutters transferred in 2014 and 2011, respectively.

The revised Cooperative Strategy in the 21st Century (CS-21R) aptly points out that the sea services must continue working alongside partner security forces to combat terrorism, illicit trafficking, and illegal exploitation of natural resources through initiatives such as the African Maritime Law Enforcement Partnership and the Africa Partnership Station. We should not delay in executing this blueprint – the moment is ripe for changes to West African maritime security. On May 29th, Muhammadu Buhari will succeed Goodluck Jonathan as the President of Nigeria. The election of Buhari has created a potential breakthrough for American diplomacy and with it, a chance for us to work hand-in-hand with the largest nation and economy on the continent. Through public-private partnerships, along with interagency work by USAID, America has the opportunity to establish a better long-term relationship with Nigeria’s incoming executive government.

Amphibious Ready Groups (ARGs) or destroyers are not needed to assist our partners in Africa. Afloat Forward Staging Bases, coupled with Joint-High Speed Vessels, Patrol Craft and Littoral Combat Ships can fulfill this mission with ease and bring the necessary equipment to the inshore zones that need the most attention. Utilizing UAVs like ScanEagle and Firescout will help discover patterns of piracy and provide security for oil platforms and anchored vessels throughout the region.

Navy SEALs and Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) should liaise with the Special Boat Service (SBS), a special operations unit of the Nigerian Navy. Their mission is focused on littoral and riverine operations, including reconnaissance and surveillance; covert beach reconnaissance in advance of an amphibious assault; recovery or protection of ships and oil installations subject to hostile state or non-state action; maritime counter-terrorism; and offensive action. In order to strengthen partnerships and protect international interests in the region, this must be done year-round.

If we don’t step in, then expect China to dominate the region with short-term investments that will fail to lift African nations out of poverty and conflict. The imbalance in trade is staggering. According to John Burnett of U.S. News and World Report, China made $75 billion in investments from 2000 to 2011 compared to our $14 billion. Given the number of natural resources throughout the region, it would be foolish for American business to sit out as the needs of economies throughout West Africa grow. But security is paramount for potential investment from the West.

Ensuring secure littoral sea lines of communication within Nigeria’s territorial seas require trust and over time we can help alter West Africa’s perception of the West. Like Americans, Nigerians are proud and stubborn. They want to solve problems on their own. Unfortunately, more than anything, West Africa needs a naval presence to help shore up their ongoing problems with piracy. Our Navy can and should do more, especially with an incoming president bent on ending corruption and improving Nigeria’s security.

This will be a war of attrition, but it’s a fight worth undertaking. After all, success in Nigeria means potential success for Africa, which translates to economic benefits throughout the continent.

PrintTake a moment and look at this map, what do you see?

At first glance, what you see is an invasion. That is exactly what it is.

Throughout human history, masses of people have been pushed out of one area, or attracted in to another. Trying to escape a more determined foe, a homeland that can no longer support its population, or simply attracted by a weaker neighbor that inhabits more desirable territory – people move.

Small scale migrations are always happening – what moves history are large scale migrations.
There are three things that need to exist in order to trigger large scale migrations; (a) a drive to leave a present home; (b) a more attractive location to move to; (c) a manageable barrier of entry that is less of a concern than the forces producing the drive in (a).

If (a+b)>c, then you have then entering arguments set to trigger a migration. The greater the magnitude of a & b, the stronger flux of the migration.

That is the reason that North-Central Asian Finns, Estonians, and Hungarians now reside in Central Europe. Why the Goths from Southern Scandinavia wound up taking a long route to North Africa. Why the people of Madagascar are ethnically closer to the people of Indonesia than right across the channel to mainland Africa. That is why you have Englishmen in the North Pacific, Germans in the South Atlantic, and every soccer team in Asia has someone related to Genghis Khan.

With the exception of the Goths, the Mongols, and the more recent events in the Western Hemisphere, all the major migrations through we know of occurred in pre-history. We can guess how these went, but let’s stick to those we know.

There are three different migration themes on how migrations start.

On two extremes are:
-The Dove: the peaceful migration of the initial waves of the Polynesian through Pacific – peaceful because in their islands from New Zealand to Easter Hawaii, there were no other humans (though the second wave to Hawaii by Polynesians was far from peaceful). This is the most rare.
– The Wolf: Red in tooth and claw Mongol invasions of, well everyone. The Iberian colonization of South America. Australian colonization. Magyar invasions of Europe. This is more common, but not the majority.

In the middle, and the one that is the most common in the way it starts, is;
-The Other: economic, ecological, or political migrants; North American colonization from Europe. New Zealand colonization from Britain. Gothic/Germanic population of the Western Roman Empire.

Those are the major examples of the most disruptive of The Other. There is a subset of The Other that is minor, bur as a result are not very disruptive and mostly positive and integrative to the host nation; the Jewish diaspera; French Protestant migrations following their expulsion from France; 19th & 20th Century Italian immigration to the USA.

The Other is the most common and the most successful. It usually starts with small populations of migrants who get a foothold and then grow as the host population, for a variety of demographic, economic, cultural, or political reasons, grows weaker. More migrants come attracted to the land, or given more reason to escape from their homeland – or more often a combination of the two.

In time, one of two things happen, once a critical mass is reached, either the host and migrant cultures blend together and almost without notice become one. The previously mentioned Italian, French and Jewish examples are like this. You could also add in the 19th Century German migrations to the USA – one of the more under told stories locally.

If the two cultures for religious, cultural, or more often political reasons cannot become one – then there is conflict, usurpation, and a new host culture take control. The Germanic populations in the Western Roman Empire, the Reconquista of the Iberian peninsula, and parts of the former Yugoslavia are variations of this.

That is also why Spanish was and now English is the language of Comancheria.

There is your broad, sliding scale; from Dove, to The Other, to Wolf. Just because something starts as one, does not mean it stays there.

The N. American pattern went from Other to Wolf inside a generation. New Zealand at one point or another saw all three. The normal result of mass migration is conflict – the exception is peaceful integration.

One would think that the historical example would lead to host nations to promote integration-centric policies. Sadly, that is largely not the case.

The largest barrier to this era’s migration success is a cultural malfunction where assimilation – a process that blends people together – is not the predominate mindset in the host nation, and as a result, encourages the sectarian tendencies of large groups of The Other. It is apartness, multiculturalism, and the – to use a very accurate description of the problem – Balkanization of land and people that will warp the trends toward conflict.

This is why nations are, in different ways, pushing back against this rising tide of migration. They know where this ends. The era of plenty of open land and expanding economic resources is long gone. More people after finite resources; this social science historical dynamic is well known.

The push back is relatively weak but growing stronger in Europe – but strong and getting stronger in Asia and other parts of the world.

Now that the table is set – look again at the map at the opening of this post. As most of the news reports reflect – there is a maritime crisis in the Mediterranean. This is only going to grow, and not just in the Mediterranean.

Australia has known for a long time and now the rest of Southeast Asia are seeing the problem in Asia is also largely a maritime one.

Clashes in 2012 between the state’s Buddhist community and Rohingya Muslims, a long-oppressed linguistic and ethnic minority in this majority Buddhist country, left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 people homeless.

The United Nations estimates more than 100,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar by sea since ethnic and sectarian violence erupted.

“I feel so sorry for them,” Kraiwut said. “It’s so different to when you see these refugees on land, and the conditions are so terrible.”

Late last week, residents on Koh Lipe Island in southern Thailand could be seen collecting food, water and clothes to take to the migrants on board the boats, but since then the military has told them not to take supplies out to the boats, or to talk to journalists about the situation.

A top Malaysian official has said the surge of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh seeking asylum in his country and neighboring Indonesia in recent days is unwelcome — and despite a U.N. appeal, his government will turn back any illegal arrivals.

“We cannot welcome them here,” Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jaafar told CNN by phone last week.

“If we continue to welcome them, then hundreds of thousands will come from Myanmar and Bangladesh.”

Last night, Malaysia and Indonesia, predominately Muslim nations, have agreed to temporarily take in these desperate people, but for nations already struggling with their own ethnic conflict, and knowing the dangers of opening the door, it is unlikely to be a permanent solution.

When you look at the dual force of demographics and poor economics in the nations the migrants are coming from – and combine that with a growing “no thanks, we’re full” mindset in already overcrowded developed and developing nations – are the world’s maritime powers ready to respond to the masses at sea?

When pulses of desperate migrants surge forth as conflict occurs in these tottering and dusty edges of modernity – what will be the response as the walls grow and thicken while the oceanic commons fill with the boats and bodies of migrants?

The politicians will eventually decide on a path. Any path will require the tools of national will – military, paramilitary, legal, and police power – to respond and act. That requires training, equipment, and procedures – all done in a multinational environment.

We might as well start increasing this part of our toolbox; the requirement is only going to grow. The mission you may not want, but may get anyway.
– Will we just block, send back and watch as more ships founder and drift?
– Will we intercept, tow, and divert?
– If the pressure-valve of migration is stopped, then the stress for resources and justice in the source nations can only lead in one direction – conflict. Will we be in the consequence management business even more – or like the international fleet off Smyrna (now Izmir), just hang out and watch the bloodbath?

A final note: why not mention the issue of immigration to the USA? Different problem in both geography, culture and scale. Much easier for a diluted majority Anglo-Saxon-Germanic culture to absorb migrants from mostly Catholic Iberianesque cultures than what the rest of the world if facing. As I grew up in just that environment – I don’t see the issue. We’re fine. Also, more of a land and as a result police issue. I’ll let the Army and law enforcement side of the house address that if they wish.

I have also lived at the edges of the unassimilated masses of N. Africans, Turks, and S. Asians that are swelling in Europe – I see the huge challenge those nations will have to learn to deal with one way or the other. The trend lines speak for themselves.

Last year on National Public Radio’s “Marketplace,” host Kai Ryssdal closed many of his interviews in the Corner Office segment by asking those captains of industry to describe what their firms do in 5 words or fewer. Intel CEO Brian Krzanich came close: “We make everything connected and smart.” Most didn’t come that close.

The CNO and his maritime counterparts at the rollout of the new maritime strategy

The CNO and his maritime counterparts at the rollout of the new maritime strategy

A couple of months ago, DoD and DHS teamed up to unveil “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower.” Admiral Greenert, General Dunford, and Admiral Zukunft got together at the Center for Strategic and International Studies with Admiral (ret) Stavridis to discuss the new strategy, and give those in attendance a chance to ask a few questions. They didn’t make it in 5 words.

The challenge for the Chief of Naval Operations: In 5 or fewer words, what does the Navy do?

To be fair, bedrock guidance for the at-sea service of a global power will probably have to flesh things out a bit, and the Cooperative Strategy certainly does: What does the Navy do? How do we aim to do it? How do we sustain those efforts into the future? Check, check and check, but at 48 pages it isn’t exactly accessible. To those of us who live, eat, and breathe Navy, it is clear and understandable. How does it resonate with the millions of Americans who do not spend their days poring over budget exhibits and JCIDS documents, but still pay taxes, vote and watch CNN?

The 5 word definition by itself is not important. The conversation is. The Navy doesn’t need this description to replace the “global force for good,” and 5 words is probably impossible. To paraphrase Ike: plans are worthless; planning is everything. It is important to our young talent pool who may choose to honor us with their service. Junior officers and NCOs will want to know why to stay. Taxpayers will want to know what they’re buying. So why 5 words? The Navy needs to hone its messages, and needs a barrier to drive creativity. Set the bar high, and force discussion, argument and compromise. In 5 words, no one will get everything they want, but everyone will have to make a strong case for it. So where does this exercise drive us?

The Navy needs champions, vocal leaders in the service, in Congress, and elsewhere to communicate a compelling vision of the value the United States Navy provides for the country and the world. Alfred Thayer Mahan’s compelling argument of the importance of Seapower left a lasting imprint on U.S. policy. He didn’t see the future in terms of hardware and tactics, but he didn’t have to. Presidents, Congressmen, and the people took note, and the United States funded and built a Navy capable of playing in a balance-of-power world. Champions of the Navy must articulate clear objectives and cogent arguments. While the QDR and 21st Century Strategy provide top-level guidance, they seem to indicate that we should be doing everything. If everything is a priority, then nothing is a priority, and we’re left with POM competition to determine our path. “Five words” discussions will force us to be brutally honest about what we want to achieve, what we can afford, and what the limits of American Seapower may be.

Another important group the Navy needs to inspire is young people, the workforce of the future. While pop-cultural generalization indicates Millennials seek out inspiration in their careers, the truth is everyone, of all generations, wants to be inspired. Everyone wants to believe that their contributions are meaningful. Access and aptitude for using technology and navigating the ever-growing web of information apparently makes Millennials more difficult to lead than the coffee house slackers and the “Me Generation” that came before them. This changes neither the Navy’s requirement to recruit and train a fighting force, nor the fierce competition with other services for talent. As economic recovery continues, recruiting and retention challenges will only continue to mount. Focus counts to anyone who considers joining the Navy.

While the economy may have taken a step forward from 2009, pressure on the national budget remains. Even though years have passed since 9/11, virtually no one will say that defense spending is not important, but increased funding for defense spending is not in the offing. Many tax payers will wonder if it is as important as it once was, and as critical as other agencies’ concerns today. The focus and debate stimulated by the 5-word question will help hammer out how best to spend limited resources. How do we put a price on readiness? How can we calculate the cost of a sufficient deterrent? We must prove to the country that we are making the most of our resources.

How would the CNO respond, in 5 words or fewer: What does the Navy do? (At best, they need to do it in 140 or fewer characters.) The answers may determine how the Navy is viewed, funded and used as a component of U.S. foreign policy, and the U.S. role in global affairs. Let’s start with the corner office challenge. How about “Deterrent and coercive force of American Foreign Policy in the Global Commons?” Twelve words. Missed out on humanitarian operations, and “coercive” seems a bit impolite. “Sea control in maritime domains?” Five words, but should the United States aspire to truly control the seas? Credit Mr. Ryssdal (a former naval aviator himself), this is a tough question.


“Never let a serious crisis go to waste.

And what I mean by that is it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”

Rahm Emanuel

We are living in a time of crisis. From the ongoing conflict in Iraq to the lingering threat of a Greek bond default, the American-led global order is confronted daily with multiple threats to its stability. These threats are occurring at a time when the resources required to manage these challenges are stretched increasingly thin. The US methodology for dealing with geopolitical crises remains largely unchanged since the end of World War II – scramble the diplomats, rally our allies, convene the UN Security Council, and reposition the aircraft carriers. Rarely have policymakers actually resolved the crisis. Rather, they work to restore the status quo ante crisis, or at least avoid the worst possible outcome.

There is, however, an equally valid alternative approach to managing the periodic occurrence of systemically destabilizing events, an approach that has been utilized successfully by other countries, if not by the United States. In the above statement Mr. Emmanuel was, consciously or not, paraphrasing a piece of popular Chinese wisdom; when written in Chinese, the word ‘crisis’ is composed of two characters. One represents danger and the other represents opportunity.

The Chinese have had ample opportunities to operationally deploy the “crisis-as-an-opportunity” philosophy since their reintegration into the global system in the early 1980s. Several crises have threatened China’s unique system of one-party rule; notably the 1989 Tiananmen Square demonstrations and the 1997 Asian financial crisis. In both cases, the Chinese Communist Party was able to adjust, if not necessarily reform, the institutional responses of its parent state. In order to ward off the threats to stability, it leveraged the conditions created by the crisis to the advantage of the ruling Communist Party.

Associated Press Ships of China Marine Surveillance and Japan Coast Guard steam side by side near disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea on Oct. 25.

Associated Press: Ships of China Marine Surveillance and Japan Coast Guard steam side by side near disputed islands, called Senkaku in Japan and Diaoyu in China, in the East China Sea on Oct. 25, 2012.

But nowhere has this quintessentially Chinese view been on display more than in the reconstitution of the Chinese Coast Guard during the Senkaku Islands dispute. The Chinese were skillfully able to leverage the dispute to improve inter-service coordination, refine their operating doctrines, and energize the bureaucracy of the Chinese maritime services to make critical reforms. This piece will not examine the broader geopolitical context of the current dispute, nor will it attempt to guess when or how the dispute, which began to flare up in September 2012, will end. Rather, the focus will be solely on how China’s maritime services have not only benefited from constant, low-level military operations other than war from a training and funding perspective, but also how the coast guard agencies fundamentally restructured themselves and become a more potent paramilitary force.

Eliminating Duplication of Effort

Prior to July 2013, the Chinese ‘coast guard’ was an amalgamation of six different agencies, subordinate to five different ministries, all ultimately operating under the aegis of the State Council, the all-powerful Chinese Interior Ministry headed by the nation’s Premier. These agencies were guided by notionally separate but often overlapping law enforcement functions. For example, China’s Fisheries Law Enforcement Command (FLEC) was established in May 2000 by the Agricultural Ministry to enforce China’s fishing laws, to coordinate fishery disputes with foreign nations, and to cope with major fishery contingencies both in rivers and lakes inside China as well as in China’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ). How did the FLEC’s mission differ from that of the China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) agency? The CMS was responsible for “patrol and surveillance work in sea areas and coastal areas under China’s jurisdiction” as well as preventing illegal acts such as violations of China’s marine rights and the damaging of the sea environment and maritime resources. As the Senkakus crisis (a territorial dispute with a fishing dimension) unfolded in 2012, both the FLEC and CMS deployed their respective flotillas to uphold their missions.

These were not small duplications of effort. Both of these agencies were capable of deploying huge materiel and personnel resources – estimates of the vessels in their inventories range into the several hundreds. Each agency had tens of thousands of personnel. These redundancies were further mirrored in the operation of the four other maritime law enforcement agencies –the Maritime Safety Administration, Rescue and Salvage Bureau, the Chinese Coast Guard (more on this agency later) and the Anti-Smuggling Bureau. Clearly, a lack of resources to manage disputes was not China’s problem.

Even before the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis began in late 2012, Chinese maritime experts noted that mission duplication and bureaucratic infighting were eroding operational effectiveness. In a piece written for the Guangdong Province Party news organ in May 2012, reporters Fang Kecheng, Zeng Huiping and Zhai Man cited the longstanding need for “a leader” among China’s competing coast guard-like agencies. They went on to recommend a “ministry of the ocean” be created to coordinate China’s maritime law enforcement policies and responses to foreign infringement of its sovereignty along its littoral regions. Though the authors acknowledge that the lack of administrative leadership reaches back to at least the 1980s, today “weak maritime law-enforcement is responsible for the current situation: Islands and reefs are encroached upon; resources are ransacked; and national dignity is infringed upon (Kecheng et al).” The article goes on to cite the need for force that can go toe to toe with the “Japan Coast Guard” which is held up repeatedly as a model of superior administrative practices and material superiority.

As the Senkakus crisis dragged on into 2013 it became clear that among all the competing coast guard agencies that China Maritime Surveillance (CMS) was the organization best equipped to assert China’s sovereignty in the region. For starters, the CMS has boundary enforcement as one of its core missions. Given the degree to which all coast guard vessels had been required to coordinate closely with the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) since the start of the crisis, the ascendancy of the CMS is perhaps less than surprising. When formally established in the 1960s, the CMS was headed by the deputy commander of the PLAN South Sea Fleet and continued to be administered by the PLAN until its 1981 transfer to the State Council. This history of operating with traditional naval units likely helped the CMS distinguish itself from the also-rans during the bureaucratic turf battles that have undoubtedly raged quietly since the start of the crisis.

In July 2013, the CMS’s position as China’s premier paramilitary coast guard force became official and the organization was rechristened as the Chinese Coast Guard, superseding the organization which had previously held that name. The new Chinese Coast Guard, under the aegis of the State Oceanographic Administration (SOA), was given the lead role in drafting and upholding the law enforcement regulations and coordinating the efforts of all ‘coast guard’ forces. The Chinese state press began to immediately trumpet the importance of this consolidation and praise the efforts of the new Coast Guard units to “sternly declare the Chinese government’s stance on its sovereignty over the Diaoyu (Senkaku) Islands.”

During the acute phase of the Senkakus crisis, new Chinese maritime operating patterns were observed and commented on by Japanese and Chinese press. Though the crisis was largely a duel between coastal patrol forces, the Chinese and Japanese navies also played a critical role. Destroyers and frigates of the PLAN and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) conducted overwatch of the coast guard skirmishes. Typically, the PLAN and JMSDF operated out of visual range of the Senkakus themselves, at approximately 40-70 nautical miles from the islands, monitoring the tactical situation via long range sensors. Several times a month from 2012-13, Chinese Coast Guard ships entered into the territorial waters of the Japanese-administered islands waters. The Japanese Coast Guard then sortied and attempted to intercept the Chinese vessels.

These incursions occurred at the time and location of China’s choosing, forcing the Japanese to assume a permanently defensive posture. During these incursions, the PLAN and JMSDF ships also drew closer to the Senkakus, ‘backing up’ their smaller compatriots – the nautical equivalent of relying on your bigger cousin to back you up in a bar fight. These tactics required both Coast Guards to coordinate closely with their respective navies. Both nations’ Coast Guard and Navy ships had to share tactical information and intelligence on enemy units and force distribution. This allowed China’s Coast Guard and its Navy to develop and modify joint tactics and doctrine in a simulated combat environment without risking sinking – vital training for a force seeking to increase its professionalism and effectiveness.

China was able to use the Senkakus crisis as an impetus for much needed administrative reforms while simultaneously improving joint operability between its coast guard force and the PLAN. The CMS ultimately overshadowed its competition and assumed the mantle of the Chinese Coast Guard. The leaders of the former CMS certainly have much to celebrate, but in the final analysis, it is the Chinese government that is the real winner. With a consolidated, streamlined and increasingly professional Coast Guard, the Chinese are more easily able to challenge Japanese sovereignty of the Senkakus. China likely transferred these lessons learned to other areas where it feels its maritime sovereignty is being threatened, including the South China Sea.


Hollow-StratCongress is in the process of reviewing the President’s Budget proposal for 2016. The services are in the process of defending that budget proposal by answering questions and providing briefings to Congressional Staffers and even, on occasion, to principal members. One of the fundamental questions we hear repeatedly is, “What if the Department of Defense is sourced at the fiscal limits of the Budget Control Act?” A more recent follow-on question is, “What if the fiscal monies provided are at the Budget Control Act level with supplemental funding provided via Overseas Contingency Operations funds?” The answers to both questions are fraught with long term risks that must be balanced very carefully.

Fundamentally, all four service Chiefs have gone on record saying that their service could not meet the strategic requirements of the nation – as detailed in the Defense Strategic Guidance – at any sourcing level below the President’s Budget proposal for 2016. They went further to say that the funding needs to be in the base account, vice Overseas Contingency Operations funds, to provide the stability and flexibility required for both short and long term investments. I’d like to address the imperative and basis for that concern.

Think of our Navy’s budget as a bowl of water placed atop a three legged stool. The water represents the warfighting capability of the Navy – both today and in the future. This warfighting capability is the core of our Navy’s ability to operate “where it matters – when it matters” all across the world. We’ve seen the need for this operational flexibility throughout our country’s great history – including as recently as last week when a Carrier Strike Group was quickly deployed off Yemen to prevent the sale of highly technical weapons that could result in a new, potentially catastrophic Sunni-Shiite war in the Middle East. That Strike Group has been successful because it had the ability to get to its required position quickly, with the appropriate weapons and fuel to stay and fight, and it maintains the ability to win in battle with another maritime force.

The stool that provides the foundational stability for the Navy’s warfighting capability is supported by three equally critical legs. The first leg is platforms – the correct number of ships, submarines, and airplanes required today and in the future. The second leg is modernization – equipment in those ships, submarines, and airplanes that enables them to fight successfully today and years from now. The third leg is people – skilled Sailors in the right places with the right training to operate those platforms now and in the future. As long as all three of those legs are adequately funded, we maintain balanced warfighting capability and our Navy can do its job.

When the overall Navy budget is reduced, however, the strength of one (or sometimes more than one) of those legs is reduced. That would equate to shorter leg(s) of the stool in my example. To keep the warfighting capability balanced, the legs must be reduced equally. The problem that we face in doing so is this: in an uncertain budget period like we face today, there is always an imperative to continue procuring the platforms we know we need in the future even as our budget is reduced in the near term. Fundamentally this is because of the long term planning (many years and even up to a decade) required to design and build a new ship, submarine or airplane. Based on history’s lessons we are relatively sure that the budget will come back up, but the question is when? When it does come back up we must be able to quickly and adequately invest in the other two legs to continue to have the warfighting capability our country needs. This potential near term imbalance is often discussed and the term most often used is “hollow”, as in a “Hollow Force.” We work hard across the spectrum of budget decisions to ensure we don’t allow that to happen. A Hollow Force is the last thing we need or want. As a result we continually adjust, year to year, the length of the three critical legs of the stool. The undesirable alternative which results from this delicate balancing act, and which requires much greater caution on our part, is the potential for a “Hollow Strategy.”

It is worth reiterating a couple of points that don’t often arise when either our Strategy or our Budget is under review. First, our Strategy (by definition) must serve as the guide for allocating our investments in current and future capabilities. A noteworthy corollary to this point is that the Strategy must also play a substantive role in determining the overall size of the budget (i.e. ensuring we have the resources necessary to make the strategy achievable). Secondly, our Budget investments today will ultimately determine our Strategy in the future. This point is clear if we consider the case of a strategy that calls upon non-existent capabilities; such an approach is clearly doomed to failure. These points together illustrate a crucial principle underpinning all considerations of Strategy and Budget – they are interlocked. With this in mind, it has been troubling that the discussion on BCA-level funding has included little consideration of the Strategic Impacts. Rather, the debate is always about whether or not we need the BCA cuts. As discussed above, our current approach will continue causing predictable harm to our Armed Forces’ ability to execute the Strategy – and defend our nation. Success in both Strategy and Budget means that the status quo of budget conversations must change.

The Defense Strategic Guidance (DSG) has ten core missions that the services must be able to execute to fulfill the overarching “DSG Strategy.” As the Navy’s total obligational authority reduces we continue to strive to be able to meet all ten missions. The truth is that base budget reductions below the level articulated in the President’s budget request – lead to an inability for the services to execute the DSG as written. This a slippery slope on which we need to be careful. We can’t ‘balance the stool’ (so to speak) during lean fiscal years and expect to have the capability that our strategic direction requires. This scenario illustrates how concerns over the National Debt can drive us, eventually, to a Hollow Strategy. Within the services we largely control how we spend the money Congress appropriates us. I believe the lessons we learned in the last three decades have taught us we cannot allow a Hollow Force to be the result of those investment decisions. When we consider the possibility of a Hollow Strategy, however, the services exercise much less direct control to avoid it because our strategic direction is provided from above. We do not want a “Hollow Strategy” and need to remain vigilant that we don’t inadvertently create one as we move forward. The specter of a Hollow Strategy looms ever closer, however, as we continue the conversations about Budget Control Act-level funding or even the related scenario in which some portion of the budget is provided in Overseas Contingency Operations funding. Absent a revised Defense Strategy, which accounts for funding which would be reasonably available in the base budget, the only real solution to this quandary is budget funding at the level in the President’s Budget request for 2016.


A Call to Write

April 2015


The Institute is pleased to have the guidance of a select panel of Navy Officers who believe this destination can continue to host the most important lines of thought concerning naval policy and the nation’s defense. LTJG Chris O’Keefe and a network of junior naval officers have agreed to assemble content for the USNI Blog, focusing specifically on key issues that they describe below in their inaugural post.

They are not strangers to the forum, and already have an impressive resume of posts and articles. They continue a fine tradition of important discussions on the USNI Blog led by a strong network of key Navy figures including guest bloggers from the naval blogging community, who were responsible for guiding the USNI Blog to three consecutive years of being named “Best Navy Blog” sponsored by and USAA. Our founding guest bloggers will continue to contribute as they desire.

Mary D. Ripley | Director of Digital Content

Bill Miller | Publisher

LTJG O’Keefe:

Since 2008, the Naval Institute’s blog has served as a key forum for thinkers and naval leaders to collaborate, argue, think, and write. The blog, with its essentially unlimited audience and condensed production timeline, helps ensure the Institute continues to play a vital role in shaping the dialogues that will shape the Navy of the 21st century and beyond. It is important therefore to periodically step back and ensure that the blog’s content sufficiently captures the critical discussions taking place throughout the Fleet. A small group of junior naval thinkers is working to facilitate this, and we would like you to join our ranks through thinking and writing.

Looking forward, we’ve identified conversations in the naval sphere that we believe are not getting enough attention, and that are ripe for dynamic debate. The four identified areas are:

-The navy and cyber

-Personnel policy

-Future war fighting

-Revitalizing practical professional notes

One of the flagship platforms for naval discourse is Proceedings. However, the capacity of the magazine is finite, and there are many discussions that simply may not meet the threshold for publication in a particular issue. The blog team is coordinating with the Proceedings editorial staff to develop a framework for two-way content flow between the magazine and the blog. A rising tide raises all ships, and just because an article doesn’t find the right home in the magazine does not mean that it is not a valid discussion piece meriting dissemination. Therefore, beginning shortly, authors who submit to Proceedings whose articles are not accepted for publication will be invited to submit to the blog team for editorial assistance and publication. At the same time, blog authors whose pieces are well received will be invited to contribute a larger, more comprehensive piece to Proceedings Magazine. Our essay contest winners will also begin to have entries published on the blog, and we will eventually sponsor online-only essay contests. Combined with other events, we hope broaden naval discussion by encouraging more people to write, speak out, and be heard.

The online blogging forum presents unique technological affordances compared to traditional mediums. In thinking about the implications of the blog’s digital existence, we were forced to reflect on how the digital has altered the form and practice of naval discourse more broadly. By extension, we were prompted to contemplate how the digital space has fundamentally altered naval disciplines. Therefore, as our first effort, we will be launching a conversation starting May 3rd about the Navy and cyber, and how this discussion should be framed and shaped.

Kasparov-DeepBlueWhy May 3rd? On that date in 1997 IBM’s Deep Blue began a 6 game re-match with chess champion Garry Kasparov. Although Kasparov won this match, an apparent bug in Deep Blue caused it to make a move that puzzled Kasparov. American statistician Nate Silver believes that “Kasparov had concluded that the counterintuitive play must be a sign of superior intelligence. He had never considered that it was simply a bug.” His confidence shaken, Kasparov would go on to lose the series, marking the first time under tournament conditions a computer had defeated a reigning world chess champion.

Deep Blue’s name is particularly appropriate for conversation about the Navy’s cyber domain, and this comes on the heels of the launch of the concept of all-domain access within the new maritime strategy. We already have a few articles ready in rough draft form, and have been in conversations with leaders at all levels in the naval cyber realm. We invite you to submit an article between 800 and 1000 words that would help shape the conversation on how we integrate the navy and the cyber domain.

In the next week we will announcing our revised blog submission policies and instructions on how to submit posts for publication. Whether you are a member of the nation’s Naval service, or an armchair admiral, the groundswell of naval thought is palpable, and we hope you will put pen to paper or open your laptop to join it.

Chris O’Keefe is an active duty naval officer who spends much of his spare time working to foster professional naval discourse by helping and encouraging current and future thinkers and writers.

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 19 April 2015 as we return live, after a two week hiatus, for Midrats Episode 276: “21st Century Ellis”

The next book from USNI’s 21st Century Foundations series is 21st Century Ellis: Operational Art and Strategic Prophecy for the Modern Era, edited by Capt. B.A. Friedman, USMC.

This book covers the work of Lt. Col. “Pete” Ellis, USMC who in 1921 predicted the coming war with Japan.

Included in this collection are some of his articles on counterinsurgency and conventional war based on his experiences in WWI and the Philippines.

Capt. Friedman will be with us for the full hour to discuss this and more.

Capt. B.A. Friedman is a field artillery officer in the United States Marine Corps currently stationed at Camp Lejeune, NC. He is pursuing a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies through the Naval War College.

You can join us at the date and time above, or pick the show up later by clicking here. If getting the show later on iTunes appeals to you, our iTunes page is here.

Please join us on Sunday 29 March 2015 at 5pm, EDT for Midrats Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC:

This week we will return to the “unsexy but important” topic, specifically that of “alternative naval platforms and missions.”

In part, the concepts that underlay Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons” are in practice on a smaller scale today. In most cases they are being conducted using Military Sealift Command assets and the Navy Reserve.

To focus on this part of our maritime power, our guest for the full hour will be Commander Chris Rawley, USNR. President of Periplus Holdings in his day job, he is also Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Afloat Mission Command and Control Units in the Navy Reserve, in addition to being Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or pick the show up later from our iTunes page here.


It’s Math

March 2015


150311-N-UF697-147Greg Easterbrook’s recent column “Our Navy is Big Enough” in the New York Times demonstrates that one lecture at the Naval War College does not a naval expert make. Easterbrook advances two arguments. First that the Navy, at 275 ships, is large enough to meet all of the nation’s naval maritime security needs. Secondly he states that the Navy’s proposed budget proposed budget of $161 billion is far in excess of spending requirements. That he would correlate the size of the Navy’s budget with the size of the force deployed demonstrates his shallow awareness of matters maritime. In both the case of the size of the fleet and the size of the budget, it all comes down to math.

The size of the fleet is measured largely against two separate standards. The first is the size of the force necessary to fight and win the nation’s wars. This standard often looks first to the capabilities a potential challenger might field and then estimates the size of the US naval force required to ensure US victory. Such analysis attempts to present the capabilities required to operate in a lethal and effective manner. Cost and efficiency factor into these calculations but not in a large way. Decisive victory is the objective.

The American navy derives it’s lethality from the brutal and exquisite nature of its naval platforms. Aircraft carriers have occupied the central position in naval force planning for more 70 years. These 100,000 ton behemoths carry an air wing of over 70 tactical aircraft and can strike targets with precision hundreds of miles away. As threats to the carrier have mounted over time, they have been increasingly surrounded and protected by a fleet architecture of cruisers and destroyers, generally four, equipped with the latest state of the art radars and missile defense systems. They are also protected by two nuclear powered fast attack submarines that prowl the ocean in search of opposing submarines and enemy shipping.

The number of conflicts to be fought also factors in. The United States has two coasts so, for most of the 20th century and all of the 21st, the nation has maintained a fleet in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. This lesson was well learned in World War II when the nation faced existential threats in both oceans. To fight and win the nation’s wars the Navy requires ships of sufficient capability and quantity to move to and from battle without interruption, factoring in projected combat and material casualties. Factoring our current carrier-based force structure and near peer competitors in both the Atlantic and Pacific theaters has results in a requirement for 10 carriers, 20 cruisers, 20 destroyers and 20 fast attack submarines as well as 33 associated amphibious assault ships and 30 logistical support for a total of 163 ships to meet the bare minimum requirements to conduct combat operations. This number allows no room for extensive maintenance, reactor refuelings, combat repairs or prolonged training and readiness exercises.

However, as Mr. Easterbrook has pointed out, no one has been foolish enough to take on the United States in one theater, let alone two, since the end of World War II. Surely no one would think of doing so today, or would they?

The reason they haven’t represents the logic behind the second standard of measurement for the fleet: The number of ships required to maintain the peace. The presence of the United States Navy convinces rouge actors on a daily basis that today is not the day to start a conflict with the United States. If our Navy were to fall so low as to meet only the bare minimum requirements for combat operations it would invite our competitors to question whether the United States was ready and willing to defend its interests, just as the drawdown in US ground forces in Europe has encouraged Russian adventurism there today. Our maritime interests span the globe. Some interests are commercial, some are security based, and many are diplomatic. Today the United States services these interests by deploying Navy ships to key regions to demonstrate US resolve. These regions range from the north Atlantic to the Indian Ocean and from the Black Sea to the South China Sea. Altogether there are 15 specific geographic regions that require frequent demonstrations of US interest. These operations assure friends and allies of continued US support as well as remind competitors of the breadth and depth of US power. Some of these regions require visits from our front line capital vessels, the carriers. Most require only frigates to show our flag and convey US resolve. This has been the manner in which Pax Americana has been maintained over the past 70 years.

To service the far flung regions, scattered as they are across the globe, requires a constant cycling of ships, generally one on station, one on its way home, one training to deploy and one in maintenance. Some of these requirements can be offset with forward based naval forces such as those that operate out of Japan, Singapore, and Spain, but in the end, when you crunch all the numbers through the force structure calculator, you arrive at a the naval force of 355 ships. It’s math, and a particular simple form of it at that. However, there is another calculation, much more arcane, that needs exploring, the math behind a Navy budget.

There is a logic to the argument that to build a bigger Navy you need a bigger budget. It seems self-evident, but is not necessarily true. When the Navy decides to build one aircraft carrier for $14 billion, it is tacitly making a decision not to build the 7 destroyers or 28 frigates those same dollars could have bought. If we hold spending constant, or live with the confines of the Budget Control Act, and yet choose to buy increasingly expensive and technologically exquisite ships, then we are making a decision to buy fewer ships in the long run. This equation largely explains the decreasing size of the American fleet over the past 20 years.

Presently we buy one supercarrier every five years, and two destroyers, two submarines and four frigates every year. These are the combatants that occupy much of the conversation regarding the size and capability of the Navy. If, however, we were to purchase only one destroyer per year and invest the $2 billion saved in the construction of four additional frigates, we could rapidly grow the size of the fleet in short order. The Secretary of the Navy has stated his opposition to trading one type of ship for another, and I would agree with that. However it is possible to trade one type of ships for several of another type. This would still allow us to field high-end war fighting capabilities in balance with the need to build a larger Navy. If we were to take a really radical path and recognize that super carriers are too large, too expensive and too vulnerable to serve in combat and cease building super carriers while investing a portion of the savings in the construction of nuclear guided missile submarines to provide the lost precision strike power projection capability previously generated by the carrier’s airwing, we could afford to grow the fleet and shrink the Navy’s budget simultaneously. This is math as well and should intrigue fiscal conservatives.

In the end we must recognize that the shrinkage of the American fleet over the past generation has begun to create a power vacuum that is inviting others to challenge the longest lasting maritime peace since man took to the water in boats. If we are to maintain peace as well as remain prepared for war, we will need to grow the fleet. That we can do so while remaining within the current budget caps presents a significant opportunity for policy makers and supporters of naval power. It’s math that every American, including Mr. Easterbrook, should be able to understand.

Strategy is not for amateurs*

Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy’s Proper Role in it:

The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. “Barney” Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.

Please join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page here.

*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions

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