Archive for the 'Coast Guard' Category
The day I was issued my first Coast Guard uniform, I learned that I would need to make due with any size that that I was given. I was 17 years old and I had graduated from high school just two weeks before swearing in as swab at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Weighing 103 pounds at a height of 5 feet and 2 inches, I was easily the smallest person in my platoon. The day that we were issued Operational Dress Uniforms, a dark blue cargo pant and long-sleeve blouse, I was informed that they were out of my size and would have to give me a uniform two sizes up. I paid for fours sets of ODUs that looked like they were made for my older brother. The pants were a foot too long, and the blouse was baggy and frumpy, the sleeves falling well past my wrists. I just assumed that I would never look professional in a military uniform.
I didn’t complain about the oversized garb and learned to love wearing baggy cargo pants, especially underway on a cutter when I would stash snacks and notebooks in the pockets. I believed my small stature was a disadvantage until I started working in an engine room with low-hanging pipes and hard-to-reach valves. I could easily wriggle into tight spaces where most of my male coworkers would have banged their heads or gotten stuck. I worked with a male Damage Control Senior Chief not much taller than myself who was admired by all of the other engineers for his ability to squeeze into the smallest areas to weld, even while the ship was still underway. He was one of the most competent people I ever worked with in the Coast Guard, and he proved that sometimes the smallest person is the best person for the job.
As the Damage Control Assistant aboard a Coast Guard Cutter, I became the maritime law enforcement board team’s engineering liaison, leading groups of mechanics and electricians in inspecting the engineering spaces onboard foreign vessels that were suspected of smuggling cocaine. 100 percent space accountability was essential in these searches, and I was often the only person that could fit inside the empty fuel tanks to inspect them. Sometimes the openings would be so tight that I would climb into the compartment wearing only a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) full-face mask, crouch in the opening, and have my air tank and harness slid into the tank after me. Crawling through the slimy fuel tanks with my Gas Free Meter flashing and blaring alarms that the air was toxic, I would hear clean air streaming out of my mask because the equipment didn’t fit my face. I relied on the positive pressure of the mask to save me from the lethal gasses that were present in the diesel tanks. No matter how tightly the straps were pulled onto my head, the mask would leak. I knew that I had to share this firefighting equipment with 165 other people on the cutter, and that the ship couldn’t afford equipment specifically fitted for me, so I just did my job and didn’t complain about it.
I didn’t think much about the problem of ill-fitting life support equipment until I became a student at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (aka Navy Dive School) in Panama City, Florida. By that point, I had put on quite a bit of muscle and weighed a whopping 120 pounds. My dive school class consisted of enlisted Seabees, Coast Guard Officers, Navy Engineering Officers, Army enlisted personnel, and one civilian with a position in Washington DC supporting the Navy Diving Program. For the first time in the history of Navy Dive School, we had three women entering the SCUBA open water phase. After we had proven our strength and composure underwater by passing the notoriously difficult Pool Week, we were excited to hit the open water for some fun SCUBA dives on shipwrecks.
When I tried on the Buoyancy Compensators (BCs) that our class was issued, I realized that I was expected to wear the same gear that fit my 220-pound dive buddy. What was snug on him fit like a trash bag over my body, and without one hand holding my BC vest onto my body, the whole thing floated up around my face. The best the equipment guys could offer was to tighten up the middle section as much as possible on one of the rigs, and the smaller divers would have to rotate, keeping one hand on the BC to steady it from floating off. If this had been a dive off of a civilian vessel, I would never have worn that gear, citing safety concerns because it obviously didn’t fit.
An even bigger problem arose when I began training with the KM-37 surface supplied diving hard-hats. The neoprene neck sleeves attached to the metal ring that the helmet snapped onto were so stretched out that if I tilted my head downward, giant air bubbles rushed out the back of my neck and water rushed in. It’s difficult to do a job underwater when you can’t tilt your head. One day, a rushed student helping me with the dive gear above the water accidentally pulled the whole rig off of my head, the still-attached neck ring slid right over me. A watching instructor murmured, “That’s not supposed to happen. That’s really dangerous. It could come off underwater.”
I was told that the school just didn’t have the resources to fit minority students with smaller gear. I was dismayed to hear this again and again at my own unit in the Coast Guard, where I continued to wear a full-face mask that leaked on every dive, and BCs that were sized men’s medium. The recreational dive gear that I’d bought for weekend fun dives was sized women’s small. I was strong enough and fit enough to do the job of a Coast Guard Diver, and often my background as a shipboard engineer put me in a unique position of knowledge when working underneath CG cutters. However, my ability to work underwater was often hampered by ill-fitting gear.
I’m not suggesting that we change standards to accommodate women, far from it. Women should only do these jobs if they meet the same standards that have been upheld by men for decades. However, everyone in a position requiring life support gear should be afforded the same opportunity to wear equipment that fits, and sometimes that will mean buying different gear for smaller faces and frames. The Navy Experimental Dive Unit has already tested and approved smaller versions of the full-facemask that is currently used in the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as smaller BCs. It’s not a matter of bending the rules to accommodate women. It’s a matter of ensuring that all members of the unit have properly fitting gear. Sometimes the best person for the job is the smallest person; so let’s make sure they have the right gear.
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 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.
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.
“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.”
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.
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.
|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.
*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions
For those who have seen the Great Carrier Debate between Jerry Hendrix and Bryan McGrath, one thing was clear – both gentlemen had only scratched the surface of their thoughts on the topic.
At about the same time, the concept of “distributed lethality” had seeped its way in to the conversation. To examine both topics and to review the national security issues you should expect to see in 2015 will be returning guest, Bryan McGrath.
Bryan McGrath is the founding Managing Director of The FerryBridge Group LLC (FBG), a niche consultancy specializing in naval and national security issues, including national and military strategy, strategic planning, executive communications, strategic communications and emerging technologies.
Prior to starting FBG, Bryan founded a national security consulting line of business for Delex Systems, where he directly supported a number of senior clients in the Navy and the Army. Additionally, he provided critical insight on Navy policy and acquisition preferences to commercial clients, including major defense contractors and small technology firms negotiating the “post-earmarks” era.
A retired Naval Officer, Bryan spent 21 years on active duty including a tour in command of USS BULKELEY (DDG 84), a guided-missile destroyer homeported in Norfolk, Virginia.
In his spare time, Bryan is a well-published commentator in the fields of national and maritime strategy, with policy papers published at major think tanks, and articles placed in nationally marketed periodicals. He is a frequent panelist at symposia that deal with naval issues and is frequently quoted by major press organizations.
Bryan earned a BA in History from the University of Virginia in 1987, and an MA in Political Science (Congressional Studies) from The Catholic University of America. He is a graduate of the Naval War College.
This Sunday join us for our 5th Anniversary Show. No guests, no agendas – just us talking about what 2014 had to teach us, and looking towards what 2015 may have in store for everyone in the national security arena. This is a great time if you ever wanted to call in to ask either one of us a question on a topic you wish we would address … or just to say “hi.” Just be warned, we might ask you a question back. It’s what we do.
5pm EST. 4 Jan 14.
By Mark Tempest
Believe it or not, this week is our 250th Episode of Midrats.
In celebration, we’re clearing the intellectual table, going to open the mic and see where it takes us.
From Kobane, to Coastal Defense, to Ebola and everything in between and sideways that’s been in the national security news as of late, plus whatever else breaks above the ambient noise – we’ll be covering it.
As with all Midrats Free For Alls, we are also opening the phone lines for our regular listeners who want to throw a topic our way.
Come join us Sunday as we try to figure out how we got to 250.
The Arabian Gulf (AG) has evolved into a proving ground for expeditionary patrol boat operations. In the future, reduced high-end combatant availability, a truncated LCS fleet, and the growing importance of the kinds of littoral and irregular warfare operations that favor patrol craft capabilities will likely sustain or increase demand for patrol craft in overseas contingency operations. Both the Navy and Coast Guard should pause to reflect on some of the enduring lessons-learned from operating patrol craft in the AG for the last twelve years to ensure that future patrol craft crews are well-prepared for operating in politically-sensitive, high-threat environments.
Patrol craft might seem like unlikely instruments of US seapower in a region where Carrier Strike Groups frequently deploy to quell regional saber rattling, but their versatile capabilities actually make them well-suited for supporting Naval Forces Central Command (NAVCENT) missions in the AG.
Using patrol craft in overseas contingency operations added unique dimension to the maritime campaign of Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF). Prior to OIF, the last time the Coast Guard deployed patrol craft out-of-hemisphere to support combat operations was the Vietnam War, when it sent several 82-foot cutters to disrupt Viet Cong maritime supply lines. The Navy also has limited recent experience with forward-deploying patrol craft. Prior to OIF, the Navy ultimately declined to deploy the Cyclone-class PCs for their original purpose as a special operations platforms, and the PCs remained stateside spending much of their time supporting Coast Guard law enforcement patrols. Five of the PCs were even crewed and operated as Coast Guard cutters for several years.
For nearly a decade, the primary mission for Coast Guard and Navy patrol craft was securing Iraq’s maritime domain from terrorism, foreign incursion, and smuggling as part of Combined Task Force-Iraqi Maritime (CTF-IM). The destruction of Saddam’s navy at the outset of OIF created a critical maritime security vacuum in an area with hostile neighbors, a high risk of terrorist attack, and two offshore oil terminals that distribute nearly all of Iraq’s oil (more than 80% of Iraq’s GDP) to the global market. Up to six US patrol craft remained constantly on station in Iraqi waters providing perimeter defense for Iraq’s oil terminals, patrolling along the disputed Iraq/Iran maritime boundary, training the new Iraqi Navy, Marines, and Coastal Border Guard, and boarding vessels suspected of smuggling weapons or other contraband into or out of Iraq. As the Iraqi Navy gained more experience and assets, it gradually assumed responsibility for patrolling its waters. The Iraqi Navy formally took over maritime security duties from CTF-IM on December 31st 2011.
Demand for patrol boats did not diminish with the handoff of the Iraqi Maritime mission. Instead, their stock actually went up, in part due to shrinking budgets and a westward rebalance that reduced US Navy big deck deployments to the AG region.
The Navy recently deployed four more 179-foot Cyclone-class patrol coastals (PCs) to Bahrain, bringing the PC presence there to ten of the total fleet of 13. The Coast Guard continues to operate six 110-foot Island-class patrol boats (110s) from Bahrain, which work alongside and perform many of the same missions as the Navy PCs. Commenting on the recent shift of more PCs to 5th Fleet, a Navy spokesman stated that the PCs were fulfilling several missions previously assigned to destroyers and other large surface combatants to free up the latter for more pressing tasking elsewhere.
Past as prologue
The handover of the Iraqi Maritime mission was the end of an era for AG patrol craft, and the recent arrival of more PCs to the region heralds the beginning of a new one. The present transition period presents a good inflection point to distill some of the lessons-learned from the Iraqi Maritime mission and other AG patrol craft operations, and apply them to anticipate some of the challenges that patrol craft may encounter in the as they assume a more prominent role in NAVCENT operations.
Following are five lessons that can be gleaned from over a decade of AG patrol craft operations. There are many more worth consideration, and hopefully others will contribute their insights to further the discussion.
One of the many memorable quotes by General Mattis is a phrase that he gave his Marines in Iraq to live by: “be polite, be courteous, but have a plan to kill every man you meet.” Ingraining that kind of mindset might seem extreme, but it is a necessary adaptation to the reality of irregular warfare in which combatants and terrorists disguise themselves amongst the civilian population.
Operating in the AG requires a similar mindset. Commanders must have a plan, not necessarily to kill, but certainly to react decisively to a provocation or attack. Dense maritime traffic, a constant terrorism threat, and frequent harassment by irregular Iranian forces compound to make discerning and responding to potential surprise attacks a vexing challenge.
Distinguishing a possible threat from normal maritime traffic is especially difficult in the AG, where dhows are ubiquitous and used for every purpose conceivable. Getting from one place to another invariably involves threading through constellations of dhows that tend to maneuver erratically, ignore radiotelephone calls, rarely display navigation lights, and bear few identifiable characteristics to distinguish them from thousands of others. Further, patrol craft crews do not have the benefit of a combat information center, organic air reconnaissance (at least not yet), or signals intelligence capability that a large combatant tends to employ to assist with maintaining situational awareness. Knowing what to look for and developing an instinctive coup d’oeil to sense when a dhow might not be “just a dhow” takes training and experience that should begin well before arrival in the AG.
ROE decisions: Anticipate early, practice often.
Rules of engagement (ROE) for AG operations were recently the subject of international media attention after a boat crew from the Coast Guard cutter Monomoy fired a warning shot at an armed Iranian dhow. A crewmember on the dhow reportedly trained and readied a crew-served weapon at the Coast Guard crew as they approached in the cutter’s inflatable boat, and a Coast Guardsman in the boat fired the shot in response. The incident was instantly sensationalized with headlines such as “US Coast Guard Fires on Iranian Sailing Vessel.” A flood of comments on several media sites reacted with sentiments that ranged from indignation that the Coast Guard did not respond with more force, to conspiracy theories that insisted that the incident was an attempt to cause a Gulf of Tonkin-like casus belli to precipitate war with Iran. The Monomoy incident provides an excellent opportunity for discussing the challenge of making judicious ROE decisions in the AG.
AG missions require operating in the difficult grey area between combat and peacetime. Maritime infrastructure protection, boardings, freedom of navigation exercises, etc. require close interaction with other vessels, which means limited time to react if attacked. Well-rehearsed response procedures must complement appropriate ROE and weapons postures to enable a unit to defend itself and others in such an environment. However, operating in a hypersensitive political area like the AG means that any action perceived as unjustified or excessive can undermine fragile partnerships or an existing modus vivendi and ultimately compromise mission success. ROE responses must thus strike the right balance between security and restraint.
Patrol craft in the AG often feel the opposing pressures keenly. Interactions with the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (aka IRGCN, the maritime arm of Iran’s irregular military force loyal to the Ayatollah) are a frequent occurrence. IRGCN vessels are notorious for trying to provoke US warships into using force in order to inflame anti-Western sentiment, and run-ins with them require a high degree of restraint. Excessive restraint however, can also prove costly. The consequences of either too much aggression or too much caution in a given situation are illustrated by the following scenarios.
On April 25, 2004, the Navy PC USS Firebolt detected a suspicious cargo dhow approaching the security zone around the Khawr al Amaya oil terminal and sent a joint USN-USCG boarding team to investigate. Before the boarding team had a chance to embark and assess the threat, the explosive-laden dhow detonated. Two US Navy sailors and one Coast Guardsman were killed, with four others wounded. The outcome would have been far worse if the dhow had reached its intended target. Had it not sent the boarding team, USS Firebolt and the point defense on the oil platform would have had only a few minutes to determine whether to use deadly force on a vessel that showed no obvious outward signs of hostility. As it turned out, the consequences of a “false negative” (i.e. assuming the vessel was not actually a threat and deciding not to fire on it) would have been catastrophic.
The alternative possibility (false positive)—can also be tragic and diplomatically disastrous. The most notorious example from the AG is the USS Vincennes mistaking Iran Air flight 655 for a hostile aircraft and shooting it down, killing all 290 passengers. More recently, in 2012, the USNS Rappahannock opened fire on a small vessel that continued approaching the ship at high speed despite warnings to steer clear. The Rappahannock’s.50 caliber gunfire killed one Indian fisherman and wounded three others. Both actions were time-critical decisions made with imperfect information, and both resulted in loss of innocent life.
These and other similar examples weigh heavily on commanding officers, who own responsibility for the outcome of every ROE decision. Placing patrol craft on the front lines of AG operations places a heavy burden on junior Commanding Officers and their crews to make the right call in tense, uncertain situations. Rehearsing ROE scenarios in realistic, scenario-based training should be a core component of the pre-deployment workup cycle, and the training should continue on a frequent basis once in-theater.
Lessons 1 and 2 apply with particular emphasis during small boat operations and boarding evolutions
Boarding vessels is a common evolution for patrol craft in the AG. Boardings serve several purposes, from enforcing UN mandates (searching for weapons or contraband), to simply interacting with mariners to “take the pulse” of an area from the local’s perspective. Referring back to lesson 1, however, no boarding in the AG is ever “routine.”
Whatever the mission, boarding teams and boat crews are vulnerable as soon as they launch. Their communications and defensive capabilities are limited, as are their options for exfiltration once the boarding team is onboard another vessel. Large combatants often have the luxury of launching multiple boarding teams simultaneously, and even an armed helicopter or UAV for additional cover. Patrol craft are limited to one boat crew/boarding team and must provide cover with the ship.
Whenever possible, patrol craft need to keep the boarding team close enough to protect them from a surprise attack. If operational necessity requires sending a boarding team beyond that range, it is imperative that they are properly equipped to defend themselves and cognizant of their surroundings. If there was ever any question as to why, the 2007 HMS Cornwall incident removed any lingering uncertainty.
In March of 2007, IRGCN speedboats ambushed a UK boarding team from the HMS Cornwall operating near the Iran-Iraq maritime boundary and demanded their surrender. The Cornwall was miles away at the time, and the Lynx helicopter that had been providing overwatch for the boarding team had returned to the ship to refuel. In accordance with their “de-escalatory” ROE, the UK on-scene commander ordered the team to give up their weapons and allowed the Iranians to apprehend them. Although all 15 personnel were returned unharmed after two weeks in captivity, the kidnapping created a high profile incident that continues to haunt operational commanders conducting boarding operations in the AG. Following the incident, the British First Sea Lord commented that the boarding team had acted appropriately under the circumstances, a view that excited much debate in naval circles.
The HMS Cornwall case contains important lessons on selecting and validating ROE, decisions regarding outfitting and close support requirements for boarding teams, training for contingencies, communications, and vulnerability assessment calculations. All of the above should shape the policy for training for and conducting small boat and boarding operations in the AG, with additional emphasis placed on mitigating the limitations inherent to patrol craft for protecting boat crews and boarding teams operating beyond the vicinity of the ship.
Hone diplomatic skills and cultural understanding
Promoting stability in the Arabian Gulf requires a combination of deterrence and diplomatic engagement. The engagement side involves frequent security cooperation and training exercises with other maritime forces in the region. These exercises are an important dimension of CENTCOM’s strategy, but they are easily undermined by a lack of cultural awareness.
Security cooperation is a delicate mission, with success often measured by a partner nation’s willingness to maintain a cooperative relationship. The cultural peculiarities of the AG demand a high degree of understanding to facilitate positive interactions and avoid embarrassing breaches of decorum.
Cultural awareness training must be a high priority for maritime forces deploying to the AG. This is perhaps even more important for patrol craft crews since they tend to work closely alongside partner nations in a peer-to-peer role. The training must go much deeper than a background lecture on the Koran and overview of NAVCENT policies during Ramadan. A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower (CS-21) describes a more comprehensive approach:
“A key to fostering [expanded cooperative] relationships is development of sufficient cultural, historical, and linguistic expertise among our Sailors, Marines and Coast Guardsman to nurture effective interaction with diverse international partners.”
The US military learned the value of cultural awareness training in more than decade of COIN-intensive warfare. However, more of that expertise needs to make its way to maritime operations. Some examples of how we could improve in this area include plugging patrol craft crews in with foreign area officers, training with role players in a variety of likely foreign nation engagement situations, and adding a limited language component to pre-deployment training that builds a basic, area-specific maritime lexicon.
Adapt training to cultural realities.
Improving the security capabilities of partner nations is a necessary Phase IV objective in a campaign plan and an important steady-state mission, as recently reinforced by Presidential Policy Directive-23.
In planning maritime security force assistance missions, let no one doubt what a massive undertaking it can be to build a degraded naval force back to functional capability. Rebuilding the Iraqi Navy was a multi-year effort that required tremendous resources, patience and time. One frustration in the process was working around cultural friction points such as Sunni/Shia integration and officer/enlisted relations. Other norms that a western military might take for granted such as preventive maintenance, personal protective equipment standards, motivation, and punctuality, did not translate directly across cultural boundaries.
A popular passage by T. E. Lawrence, aka “Lawrence of Arabia” attempts to place these challenges into context.
“Do not try to do too much with your own hands. Better the Arabs do it tolerably than you do it perfectly. It is their war, and you are to help them, not to win it for them. Actually, also, under the very odd conditions of Arabia, your practical work will not be as good as, perhaps, you think it is.”
Prescient insight, perhaps, although one wonders how Lawrence would have assessed the Iraqi military’s recent performance.
Returning focus to the tactical level, the takeaway for crews performing training and advisory roles is to anticipate cultural friction points (consistent with lesson four), set expectations accordingly, and determine ways to mitigate them. Success must focus on whether or not the force, once equipped and trained, can adequately secure its maritime domain. How it does so will vary. Setting expectations that do not align with intractable cultural realities will lead to frustration and undermine success.
Closing Thought – A Way Ahead for Patrol Craft in Contingency Operations
The long-term role for patrol craft in overseas contingency operations appears uncertain. They have proven their value in AG missions, but there seems to be no plan to give them a permanent place in the US forward-deployed seapower arsenal. The Navy’s long-term acquisition plan does not include anything to replace the PCs. (The Navy has added patrol vessels such as the Coastal Command Boat and Mark IV, but those vessels are much smaller and designed for nearshore operations.) Once the PCs reach the end of their service life, the Navy will not have a ship in its inventory between an 85-foot nearshore patrol vessel and a 400-foot LCS.
The Coast Guard, meanwhile, recently launched the tenth of its planned fleet of 58 new 154-foot Sentinel-class Fast Response Cutters (FRC). FRCs are a major capability upgrade over the legacy Island class, but so far there are no indications that any of them will be dedicated to an expeditionary or out-of-hemisphere role. That FRC’s potential for expeditionary operations should be closely considered, consistent with the following guidance in the 2010 Naval Operating Concept:
“The Coast Guard inventory must maintain sufficient capacity to support geographic combatant commander TSC plans, expeditionary requirements requested through the Global Force Management process; and overseas contingency operations; in addition to its full suite of statutory domestic missions.”
One potential opportunity for sea-service synergy might be for the Navy to acquire some Sentinel-class ships and create an expeditionary patrol craft squadron based in Mayport (along with the remaining three PCs and proposed eight LCS’). Mayport could serve as a USN-USCG expeditionary patrol craft training facility, focused on developing the skillset required to employ the vessels in overseas contingency operations. When not deployed out-of-hemisphere, the expeditionary patrol craft squadron could hone their skills in the SOUTHCOM AOR where additional maritime assets are sorely needed.