Archive for the 'Navy' Category
Three months after the unveiling of “A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower,” or CS-21R, America’s sea services are busy as ever. While the document did not change much from its predecessor, it has elicited questions from junior officers and enlisted around the fleet, such as “how does it impact my immediate job?” and “we still get MIDRATS, right?”
CS-21R is a must-read for officers and enlisted of every rank and rate. It paints a compelling picture of naval operations in this century that can help answer some of the “Why are we here and what are we doing?” questions we frequently ponder.
Although it is a strategic document, CS-21R has implications for warfighters at the tactical level. The actions of individual sailors and aviators on ships, submarines, aircraft, and on the ground can have a marked effect on the efficacy of our naval strategy. While the following list is not all-inclusive, it does serve to highlight how those executing at the tactical level of warfare can help achieve more widespread success and competency across both our service and the joint force.
1) Know your OPTASKs, OPORDs, PPRs, CCIRs, etc. Don’t rely on the roving Air Wing or Strike Group brief or the cockpit cheat sheet; actually read the documents, comprehend them, and help others do the same.
2) Understand the intelligence and “battlespace awareness” process. Most ships, squadrons, and other units have intelligence officers, but many are not using these individuals to their full potential. Remember that your Information Dominance Corps (IDC) officer hasn’t gone through flight training or your warfare-specific school but they have been trained to help improve your knowledge of the threats you may face or the people you may interact with. Help them understand what you do, and take the time to really understand what they do and need from you. What reports are they making with your information? How can you use your sensor to give them a better product and achieve mission success? They are as much a part of the kill chain or the OODA loop as you.
3) Never rest on your laurels. Constantly strive to consider how each platform and operator influences your sphere of operation. You should work for a symbiotic relationship as much as possible; for example, understanding the operation of radio equipment onboard a destroyer can help an F/A-18 pilot better communicate across the range of operations, throughout the battlespace. This is not an assignment that will be doled out to you by some prescient being; you must actively work to create your own synergy. Pick up the phone, send an E-mail, or walk to a space and take time to do thorough coordination.
4) No platform is an island. Do not do your job alone; you must work to include all other service, joint, and increasingly, multi-national operators in your processes and procedures. The time to “get on the same page” is before bullets and bombs start flying. Each squadron, department, and division should have applicable contacts in other units performing similar missions. For example, E-2C squadrons should proactively establish a dialogue with all elements of theater command and control, including AWACS, JSTARS, CAOC, CDC, and ASOC. This can either be “tasked” by a higher headquarters or voluntarily initiated by the unit itself; either way, make contact early, and keep it often.
5) Figure out how to do a Spartan mission. The Electromagnetic Spectrum is being legitimately contested by near-peer nations and non-state actors; this may have serious consequences as our military relies more and more on complex systems and trends towards technological complacency. Paper charts, communications brevity, and even lights and signals remain important media for mission accomplishment in extremis. Excellence in operating in information- and network-denied environments is crucial. This aptitude is not easily measured, but is essential to real unit readiness.
6) Take time to understand unit, service, theater, and national Command and Control (C2). More than bullets or bombs, information is the most critical commodity in today’s conflicts. How does that information flow? Where does it go? Who communicates? What is the dwell time of each communication? What is each communication supposed to sound like? Why does it behave this way? Taking time to understand “who’s who in the zoo” and establish good relationships can be the difference between success and failure in critical phases of combat.
7) Get innovative with mission planning. It is important to understand and respect the past actions of the threat, but always consider how the threat may evolve to catch you off guard when you least expect it. As General Stanley McChrystal advises in his book Team of Teams, “data-rich records can be wonderful for explaining how complex phenomena happened and how they might happen, but they can’t tell us when and where they will happen.” Be smarter than your enemy, not just more technologically advanced.
8) Leverage unmanned systems to maximize your lethality and effectiveness and to improve your survivability. Surveillance feeds from unmanned air and surface craft can also increase situational awareness, especially as platforms operate across domains (such as when a surface ship fires a Tomahawk missile at a land target, or a manned rotary wing aircraft is executing surface search against maritime targets).
9) The network is a means, not an end. Too many entities act with the belief that “the network will save us.” Use it for leverage, or to quicken your reaction time and increase situational awareness. But remember that you can’t fire a network at a ballistic missile or unidentified surface contact.
10) Ensure a thorough understanding among all theater players of your TTPs. NIFC-CA and other concepts increase the complexity of operations. Leverage capabilities and technology but keep the plan simple. This goes beyond immediate mission planning—ensure a level of understanding throughout all theater players on your TTPs and capabilities. If you are on the ground, and the only asset you can contact for air support does not understand what you are asking or speak your particular “language,” the time for teaching may be extracted at a price.
Tactical actions have strategic consequences.
Read. Think. Write. Debate. Then, Operate.
History in many ways is a kind companion. In times of relative quiet, she gives you subtle reminders of what is important. She will give you a subtle nudge with the knee with a nodding look with eyes towards something she wants you to pay attention to.
If you are a bit distracted or you find yourself in a noisy time, if that doesn’t work she may lean over and gently whisper in your ear with a poke to the ribs.
Though a gentle companion, she is not a pushover. She has her standards, and on occasion will be needy. She does not like to be ignored, patronized, or worse – left alone in a corner of the party as you drift off to pay attention to someone new and exciting who recently showed up.
No. The gentle companion’s personality starts to change at that point. You don’t want to get to that point and see how she reacts – no one will be happy, and by any measure you come off looking worse to all.
History is not there yet, but she is close. She has not resorted to stomping on toes or speaking loudly to deaf ears … she is still at the nudging and whispering stage.
After nearly 30-years of commissioned service, the USS Samuel B. Roberts (FFG-58) was decommissioned Friday.
The ship was named after Navy Coxswain Samuel Booker Roberts, who volunteered for a rescue mission to save Marines who had been surrounded by a superior Japanese force during World War II. He was killed during that rescue mission.
The USS Samuel B. Roberts struck an underwater Iranian mine in 1988, which blew a 15-foot hole in it.
One Ukrainian coast guard member was killed, five were injured and their commander remained unaccounted for Sunday after their cutter hit a mine planted in the bay of the strategic eastern port of Mariupol,
We should listen and respect her counsel. As we prepare to wander the party introducing ourselves to all the new and exciting arrivals, we should gather our companion’s hand in ours and invite her along.
She will be appreciative, and there is a good chance that all these new and exciting arrivals are not new to her. If she does not know them personally, she probably knows their family, line of work, and connections to others at the party.
She can save you time, trouble, and if nothing else, having such a steady partner by your side will make the evening a lot more pleasant, whatever may come.
Ignore her? No … don’t be that guy.
Today, June 8, a fleet of Allied and partner ships set sail from Gdynia, Poland, in one of the largest naval exercises the Baltic Sea and greater Atlantic Ocean area has seen in the 21st Century. In its forty-three year history, BALTOPS has been a means by which NATO and its partners have demonstrated an enduring commitment to regional stability and a Europe that is safe, secure, and prosperous.
In 1971, fewer than a dozen ships and only a handful of nations participated in the exercise. BALTOPS 2015 has 49 ships representing seventeen nations participating. I am often asked by European Allies what impact, if any, the rebalance to the Pacific will have on Europe? To put those numbers in perspective, last year, the Pacific Rim of the ocean exercise (RIMPAC), the world’s largest naval exercise, also had 49 participating ships. What is happening right now in the Baltic Sea is NATO’s own version “RIMPAC.”
NATO’s integral role in the exercise is seen in BALTOPS from the top down. For the first time in recent memory, the exercise is led by a NATO headquarters. As Commander of Striking and Support Forces NATO, I am now embarked on USS SAN ANTONIO (LPD 17), which is serving as the command ship for my STRIKFORNATO staff. The STRIKFORNATO staff has been mobilized from Lisbon and is operating from both here onboard SAN ANTONIO and HMS OCEAN, a testament for their expeditionary headquarters staff capabilities.
This, however, is not my first time to sail in these waters. As a Lieutenant onboard USS SEA DEVIL (SSN 664), I deployed to the Arctic Ocean in 1985. On our way home, we scheduled a port visit in Kiel, Germany. I was one of the primary OODs on the bridge for the long maneuvering watch through the Straits of Denmark, also known as the Kattegat, Skaggerak and Storr Belts. It was the best surface OOD training a JO could ever have with a completely different kind of traffic separation scheme, two superb chain-smoking Danish pilots, whose mantra was “speed equals safety,” as we maneuvered the boat through a multitude of ferries crisscrossing the channel at right angles to our track.
We made it safely into Kiel, but this was a different era and a different geo-political situation at the time. The Berlin Wall would not come down for four years and Germany was still divided. Many of the NATO Allies and partners participating in BALTOPS 2015 today were reluctant members of the Warsaw Pact in 1985. My how times have changed! Today’s BALTOPS includes 14 NATO Allies and three Partnership for Peace (PfP) nations aligned and unified for a common purpose—peace and security in the Baltic Region. The crowds of people that greeted our BALTOPS Fleet just days ago for the pre-sail in Gdynia, Poland were a clear sign that these relationships are solid and enduring.
BALTOPS is just one of the many ways NATO and its partners demonstrate a continued commitment to the foundational principle of mutual defense. While the number and type of ships have changed, it is this consistent message over the last nearly half century that has guided the exercise. When we talk about reassurance we are not just talking about capabilities, but a commitment that has been consistent throughout the years.
BALTOPS represents an excellent example of a global network of navies, a concept based on participation, robust exercises, relationship building, communication, and interoperability. BALTOPS demonstrates how these global priorities are expressed in a regional context, each participant contributing to the success of the whole.
Today’s BALTOPS Photo-Ex captured an image of this unified effort for all to see. A picture is worth a thousand words…
Yet, despite a review of Power Transition Theory examining why these states might come to blows, Ghost Fleet’s expedition into the near future primarily focuses on how such a great power conflict might be fought. Singer and Cole are at their best in teasing out the interplay between potential advances in emerging technologies – backed by impressive end-noting – rather than isolating the implications of a single capability. These range from Big Data and unmanned systems to additive manufacturing and augmented reality. The authors’ depictions of cutting-edge Chinese developments picking apart current U.S. weapons systems might make for queasy reading among some in the military. In this way it effectively serves to warn against complacency in presuming American technological superiority in conflict. But it bears remembering that success in employing the new capabilities detailed in Ghost Fleet, as in life, requires a level of creativity available (and not guaranteed) to both sides.
Singer and Cole also explore how the supposed American Way of War of grinding attrition, popularized by the eponymous 1973 Russell Weigley book, might fare in an age of offensive space and cyber weapons. In doing so they create intriguing portraits of empowered individuals (both socio-economically and skills-wise), expats, and a globalized defense industrial base on a war footing. Some of the most memorable scenes come from the juxtaposition of new capabilities with old operational concepts (occasionally set to the strains of Alice Cooper). Singer and Cole also ably confront readers with a reversal in the traditional role of U.S. forces in an insurgency and the ethical decisions it demands of them.
Ghost Fleet may be the authors’ first novel, but it’s not their first foray into helping tell a story. Singer has consulted on such projects as Activision’s “Call of Duty” video game franchise and honed his prose in such works as Wired for War, an earlier book on the future of robotics warfare. Cole meanwhile has been engaged in the development of insights on warfare by facilitating near-future science fiction writing at the Atlantic Council’s “Art of Future Warfare Project” (full disclosure: I had the opportunity to publish a short story of my own there). These experiences have paid off in a very enjoyable page-turner.
This is not to say Ghost Fleet is without flaws. One of the novel’s driving emotional stories, an estranged father-son relationship, never quite rings true. With an expansive and fast-moving narrative, a character here and subplot there trail off without satisfactory conclusion. Lastly, while the authors investigate many impacts of a war’s fallout on the U.S. Navy, including the resurrection of the ships of the book’s title and a call-up of retirees, they missed an opportunity to look at the complications a mobilization of existing Navy Reservists might cause. But such a minor sin of omission doesn’t detract from the overall merits of the work. Whether on a commute to the Pentagon or relaxing on a beach in the Hawaii Special Administrative Zone, readers will find Ghost Fleet a highly enjoyable, at times uncomfortable, and always thought-provoking read.
*It should be noted Singer and Cole don’t tie those nation’s current regimes to their countries’ futures, and in doing so remind readers that what would follow a collapse of the Chinese Communist Party is not necessarily more amenable to U.S. or Western interests.
Midshipmen have a hunger to learn and to exert ourselves intellectually. We want our lectures to simulate the level of in-depth analysis that will be expected of us in the Fleet.
We are second-class midshipmen at the US Naval Academy who, after eight combined semesters of 20-credit course loads, want more out of the Academy’s academic mission. We believe that the academic curriculum should remain challenging, but that it can be tailored with an emphasis on developing midshipmen into problem solvers. We understand there is currently a conversation in the upper echelons of Navy leadership about reenergizing the Naval Academy curriculum. We offer our opinions to provide experience-based input into these discussions.
Consider what many midshipmen perceive as one of the most mundane courses at the Naval Academy: navigation. Imagine if instead of passively listening to the lecture, our weekly assignment includes perusing the New York Times, selecting hotspots around the world that will likely elicit a US Navy presence. What Numbered Fleet claims responsibility for this area?
What capabilities do we have to respond? Logistically, how is the response executed? What grand strategy is associated with this response? What are the responsibilities on a junior officer level? Lessons are most engaging when the instructors are able to incorporate their own Fleet experiences to illustrate the relevance of the course material. The navigation instructors have the experience to take our thinking to the next level.
Integration of practical skills, professional knowledge, and complex international relations is key to engaging midshipmen in a productive manner. The majority of students sulk through the seamanship and navigation program uninspired and apathetic. Let’s revitalize these core classes to provoke thought and excitement about their future responsibilities as Navy and Marine Corps officers.
This renaissance can extend to the entire core curriculum, to include not only social sciences but also courses in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM). The academic culture of the Academy is currently no different than any other civilian college or university, where the core knowledge is learned in order to pass the class and to graduate. As future officers, these courses have the potential to not only give us baseline proficiency in the sciences, but to develop us into better problem solvers. Our objective is not to simply learn the material, but to practice a way of thinking representative of Navy and Marine Corps officers. Our core classes ought to have deeper value: developing an analytical thought pattern that will be applied to our future careers. The core does not need to be dry; it should be there to encourage critical thinking in all realms. Both the strategic implications of a surface warfare mission, as in navigation class, and the way we solve our physics problems are related in how we approach a situation.
Academics represent something more than just a grade; they are a critical proving ground for developing the way future officers solve problems and communicate ideas. Instruction at the Naval Academy must challenge midshipmen to think, to ask us the unanswerable questions and require us to defend our conclusion. There is a symbiotic triad between students, faculty and the institution that needs to exist for this atmosphere to be achieved. It is just as much the midshipman’s job to become individually invested in the material as it is for the faculty to stimulate productive discussion and the institution to revamp the curriculum to match the intellectual expectations of the Fleet.
We understand that there is a balance between time demands, quotas from the Fleet, logistical considerations of the curriculum and the egalitarian nature of the Naval Academy. We are not suggesting a heavier academic workload, or that the solution rests with a single group. Our goal is to spark a discussion on how to better foster a culture that produces critical thinkers which is collaborative between midshipmen, faculty, and the institution. By offering an opinion from a midshipman’s perspective, we hope to draw others into the conversation. The first step towards an environment conducive to this culture shift is a dialogue about how to maximize our four years in Annapolis.
Junior officers are expected to be professional problem solvers. The mission of the Naval Academy is to produce the most competent officers. Allow us to better uphold the mission by integrating this mentality into the classroom. To be proficient in this skill set, we need to practice now. Challenge us to think, to learn, and to take a vested interest in our futures as Navy and Marine Corps officers. We will match your level of intellectual intensity.
Midrats on 31 May 2015 at 5pm EDT U..S. is Episode 282: Summer Kick-off Free For All in which we discuss the sea services and other matters in 2015 so far and do a little prognostication about the future. Listeners who may actually know about such things are invited to call in or join us in the chat room. Come on along, it’s just for fun and to educate the hosts.
The fifth season of the HBO hit-series Game of Thrones is here! I’m excited, as are millions of die-hard fans across the country. To prepare for the imminent launch, I re-watched all four of the previous seasons, episode by episode. In that first season, an interesting event takes place, where a young man, Jon Snow, is given his duty assignment. He is about to take an oath to serve for life in the Night’s Watch. He has prepared for years to be a Ranger – a fighter and swordsman. Instead he is assigned as a Steward. Jon Snow is crushed. He hasn’t taken the oath of service yet, and he contemplates leaving the Night’s Watch to avoid a life of inglorious servitude as a steward. His friend Sam convinces him to stay, reminding him that service is about more than his own selfish desires. Jon Snow takes the oath later in the episode.
It brought me back to my own service selection. I dreamed for years and years of becoming a Marine Corps Officer. At the Naval Academy that fateful day in November of 2009, I received troubling news – I had been selected to become a Surface Warfare Officer. Over the years since I have often been asked if I wanted to become a SWO. My standard reply is that it was one of my top six choices. The humor gets me through the moment, and the conversation moves on.
I’m working now at the Academy, preparing to take over as a company officer this summer, just in time for the Plebe Class of 2019 to arrive for I-Day. I am a proud Surface Warfare Officer and I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I have been to more overseas ports than I can count over two deployments, have navigated tens of thousands of miles at sea, and served with some of the bravest, smartest and most loyal Sailors the world has ever seen.
Much of the conversation within the walls of the Academy frequently turns to an age-old symptom of the institution – cynicism within the Brigade. Midshipmen sometimes complain that they aren’t treated like future naval officers and that they aren’t doing real work to prepare themselves to become the leaders of those fine Sailors and Marines. “I’m going to fly jets, why do I need to learn about buoy systems in the Western Rivers” is just one example. In teaching leadership on the yard, we strive for every class to fight that mentality, to prove to these young Midshipmen that their training is exceptional and that they will be well prepared to lead upon commissioning. Sometimes I fear that we aren’t doing enough, that the Midshipmen are right, and that we are sending our future junior officers to the fleet without the preparation needed to fulfill their duties. For the graduating Midshipmen, winter is coming, and many aren’t ready to handle a sword.
I don’t know entirely where the cynicism comes from, but I have a theory. Everything for these Midshipmen centers around one key event – service selection. Competition is fierce within the Brigade. Classmates vie for position and jossle for rank as if they were in Westeros, the fictional land of Game of Thrones. There are only so many slots for SEALs, Marines, Submariners, Aviators, and today even SWOs. Midshipmen study diligently to get good grades, so that their order of merit is high enough to get the service selection they want. Many spend more effort on good grades to earn that service selection, but in doing so disregard the very skill sets required to be successful naval officers – pro-knowledge is an afterthought and weighted minimally when compared to calculus and chemistry. The drive for service assignment goes beyond academics, of course. They perform with vigor on the PT fields to notch themselves up for the same purpose. Those wanting Marines join the Semper Fi Society, those seeking to become SEALs test themselves and compete against their classmates in arduous screeners.
That day in November, the Firsties learn their fates. Most are overjoyed – a good thing, no doubt. A few feel despair. These are the ones we should worry about. These are the examples that feed the cynicism – working hard may not be enough. These are the few who enter the fleet sullen, downcast and doubtful. These are the ones most unprepared for their future roles, having spent all of their efforts learning about fire team movements and squad assaults instead of honing their shiphandling skills on the YPs. These are the few who, in my opinion, are the least likely to commit themselves to a full career of service and will leave at the earliest opportunity.
Even those who earn their top choice are too hastily prepared for the training to be effective, meaning that the Chief’s Mess, Department Heads, and Commanding Officers are burdened with teaching junior officers skillsets and professional knowledge they should have mastered at the Naval Academy. The unit leadership should be focused on advanced training – on defeating multiple threats simultaneously, mastering complex engineering systems and conditioning our new Ensigns and Second Lieutenants to become outstanding naval leaders. Instead, they are too busy teaching standard commands, basic maintenance protocols and general military socialization.
What if we changed something? What if we moved service selection to the end of Youngster (sophomore) year? By that time, Midshipmen will have been able to establish their grades, competed in screeners, etc., at least enough for the Academy to choose wisely between them. We could move PROTRAMID, a fleet-wide round-robin experience to expose the Midshipmen to the various communities to the end of Plebe year, just like the NROTC currently does, to allow our new Youngsters the opportunity to see what fits them best. Most Plebes know what they want to service select before they climb Herndon, while the rest of the class would have another year to weigh the decision.
This change has several notable benefits. First, it eliminates competition amongst classmates during their junior and senior years, allowing for greater opportunity to hone leadership and professional skills in Bancroft. Second, it provides two full years, instead of a meager four months, for Midshipmen to hone their practical skills, affording them the chance to excel in tactical and technical competence from day one in the fleet. Marine selectees will have two years to practice ground tactics. Aviators have two years to pass IFS, easing the burden on Pensacola and the subsequent stashing of officers on the Yard until flight school begins. SWOs can master navigation and shiphandling before setting foot on the bridge of a destroyer. Third, if we rearrange the course loads, we can eliminate the cynicism that arises from taking courses that Midshipmen see as irrelevant, such as Marine wannabes having to struggle through seamanship and navigation courses. Fourth, and possibly most importantly, it allows Midshipmen a choice. They now know what they will be doing for their careers and if those few who don’t earn what they want choose to leave before signing their commitment papers the next Fall, the fleet will benefit from a drop in uncommitted and unenthusiastic naval officers. If a Midshipman is so disappointed in his or her service assignment, he or she doesn’t have to come back to poison the well back in Bancroft, or worse yet, carry that attitude into the fleet. Furthermore, by encouraging choice, we disrupt cynicism about being treated like children – a Midshipmen knows full-well what he or she is getting into when they sign on the line which is dotted.
Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus recently spoke to the brigade about a number of institutional changes aimed at improving talent management and retention. He mentioned that the Academy is already moving towards a system that seeks to match talent to title and is less dependent on class rank. He and his staff clearly understand that change is needed, not only for its effect on the yard but also downrange in the fleet. This proposal provides an avenue for that change, even if it is one of many. In combat, a coordinated simultaneous time-on-top attack is always preferred to a slew of single efforts and I believe that changing the timeframe for service selection is a key weapon in the fight against complacency and cynicism to ensure we maintain the highest level of combat readiness throughout the fleet. Even if our ships rust and our airframes crack, our people must remain sharp and steadfast.
Choice is nobody’s enemy. While I don’t have the same flowing locks and sword skills as Jon Snow, I empathize with his decision. I didn’t want to be a SWO, at least not initially, but my call to service outweighed my selfishness. I figured that if I was going to be a SWO, I would try my damndest to excel at it. Under this proposed change, there will still be plenty of disappointed Midshipmen who put their country before themselves and will accept what they earned with grace and humility. They will remember that service and leadership are what count, not the uniform they wear or the devices on their chest.
The American flags whip in the wind as the sun creeps over the grassy horizon. The charcoal sits in reused plastic grocery bags at the end of the driveway. The grass beneath them is soft with early-morning dew.
In parallel, across the country this morning, American flags fly, too. Flowers placed on hallowed graves flutter slightly in the breeze. Mementos of the lives of brave American servicemen and women who paid the ultimate price are still in place on headstones, surrounding the heroes, keeping them company.
Yesterday, as it does by law every year, enacted in the last century, on the last Monday in May, America celebrated Memorial Day. This recognition stems from the Civil War, when compassionate groups of citizens would decorate the graves of soldiers who had died fighting for their cause. It has grown into an annual recognition of all our honored war dead, and a federal holiday that gives many a reprieve from the workweek.
Many use the day for celebration of the freedoms we enjoy, especially as the holiday coincides with long-awaited warm weather in much of America’s broad latitude. They use it as a day to reflect on family and friends, to fill their lives with familiarity and warmth.
Few of us can comprehend, though, the silent heartbreak of those whose loved ones have felt the pain of ultimate sacrifice. Their experience on Memorial Day is markedly different, but it is right and genuine and pure. To love a warrior is the sweetest tragedy; to live their memory the highest privilege.
Yet the great, silent measure of a nation is its remembrance of its heroes on all the other days of the year; not as a boastful measure of bellicose pride, but as an eternal example of highest achievement. Selfless service has long been idealized in words and opinion polls, now manifest in Facebook posts and Instagram memes, but we must do the hard work of living that notion and encouraging our children to live it through our own actions.
To honor and to serve; both are active verbs.
Billy Hurley discusses his time at the Naval Academy, his best moment in the U.S. Navy navigating the Suez Canal, his strong ties to his PGA sponsors and fellow players who support the military.
To the 2015 graduating class, “It’s just beginning now…as a Division Officer on a ship…how can you lead them…inspire them…how can you improve them?”
Did he hit golf balls off of a ship?
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
VOTE JONTHAN FOR EQUITY, INTEGRITY AND GOOD GOVERNANCE.
I ASSURE YOU OF FRESH AIR IN NIGERIA – VOTE FOR ME.
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.
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.
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.
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