As I observed the news last week, the most interesting news in my opinion came out Thursday when the Associated Press ran an article discussing US political goals to get an United Nations Security Council resolution to hunt down pirates on land in Somalia. According to the AP article, “The resolution proposes that all nations and regional groups cooperating with Somalia’s government in the fight against piracy and armed robbery ‘may take all necessary measures ashore in Somalia.'”

That is interesting, because Reuters ran an article on Friday suggesting that Somalia would back the US plan to hunt pirates on land. I think it is fair to say that Somalia has been an unofficial front on “The Long War” for awhile now, unless we have been shooting Tomahawks into Somalia for no good reason. Unlikely. For the most part the activities in Somalia have been covert to date, SOF and CIA in nature, and not a conventional military operation. Should the UN pass a resolution authorizing US military action against pirates on the ground in Somalia, I think we can officially remove the “unofficial” label regarding Somalia as a front in the global war effort, even if this front isn’t against the extremists targets the other fronts focus on. Indeed, by definition, when we send military forces into a foreign country, is it inaccurate to suggest we are essentially going to war?

I think that creates an interesting dynamic to the Somali piracy issue, because apparently the activities of these pirates can create a situation where our nation commits ground forces in a war. I think everyone understands that piracy is best solved on land, not at sea, and yet the US Navy hasn’t really even tried to solve the pirate problem off Somalia at sea. Here is my issue, I agree for the most part with the camp best represented by Commander John Patch, U.S. Navy (Retired) in the December issue of Proceedings that piracy is at best, trivial in context, and based on any realistic cost estimate it is virtually impossible to figure out how piracy off Somalia costs more than around $200 million annually, adding insurance costs and all. With that said, I find it particularly frustrating that the US Navy is being outflanked tactically and humiliated politically by the savy tactics of a bunch of Somalian fisherman still early in a new career change. If these guys can outflank us at will on the seas, we are in for a world of trouble in the future when trained professionals do it with larger strategic ends in mind.

The US Navy’s maritime strategy prints in both bold and italics for emphasis a mission statement: We believe that preventing wars is as important as winning wars. Yea? Well I’m not sure I believe that is true, because actions don’t match words.

To be candid, the policy of the United States has been to ignore Somali piracy and view it as a nuisance, which in fairness is probably the best word to describe the problem. However, we are now seeking a political mandate by the UN Security Council to exercise military options that can be realistically described as war. Understanding that the solution to Somali piracy is on land, is our national effort to get this political mandate by the UN for land forces action represent a failure of US Maritime Strategy in that we are clearly failing in our stated objective to prevent a war? Is the resolution actually a means to an end of winning the war against Somali piracy, therefore not a failure to prevent a war but success towards winning war? I’m looking at Somali piracy as an observer, noting that the economic impact is insignificant at best, will not reach the cost level of any military activity taken on the ground in Somalia anytime soon, and noting the EU Atalanta Operation is already more expensive than the actual economic impact globally for the entire year to date. I’m also observing a political process unfolding that leads our nation to yet another front for ground forces.

With this in mind, I have a question…

If we weren’t being flanked tactically at sea by a bunch of fisherman who recently changed careers, would we be seeking a political mandate for war in the United Nations? Wouldn’t the ability to make a significant tactical level impact against Somali piracy at sea be a way to align our national strategy of dealing with this problem with the Navy’s own maritime strategy, and thus emphasize the part of the strategy that suggests “preventing wars is as important as winning wars?” It seems to me the problem isn’t piracy per se, rather the problem is that the US Navy is being outflanked by fisherman because our force structure has significant gaps that prevent the Navy from being effective in applying its own strategy.

Have I driven off the road with my line of thought? If not, then put in blunt terms, force structure decisions specific to our surface combatant capabilities is as of right now the enabler of failure for the United States Navy in executing its own maritime strategy.

The US Navy has Carrier Strike Groups to establish forward deployed aviation capabilities to meet just about any challenge outside major war operations that requires military power from the air. The US Navy has Expeditionary Strike Groups to establish forward deployed ground force capabilities to meet just about any challenge that requires a kick down the door entry force into another country.

So why is it the US Navy surface strike group lacks the capability to establish forward deployed sea surface capabilities to dominate the sea against the 21st century fishing profession of Somalia? Seems to me we have identified the place to start regarding where to fill the gaps in our naval capabilities, because as Julian Corbett makes clear, the natural state of the sea is contested, and it is up to Naval forces to be present and take command of the sea. It is time to organize a surface strike group model with the capabilities to take command of the contested sea.

Continued tomorrow.

Posted by galrahn in Foreign Policy, Maritime Security

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  • Byron

    As I’ve said here before, I’m all about a small ESG, LHA, LHD, LCACS, helos, Harriers, and Marines to kill pirates AT SEA. On land? In Somalia? There, I’m with Lex: wall it off, put in one door, don’t look for 10 years, if it’s quiet, open door, if not, another 10 years. I wouldn’t waste one service members life on that hellhole of a “country”. If someone feels the need to civilize Somalia, let the Africans do it.

  • sid

    It is time to organize a surface strike group model with the capabilities to take command of the contested sea.

    Building 55 half billion $$$ seaframesthatwedontconsiderwarshipseventhoughwecall themwarships…aka LCS…is NOT the answer.

  • Sid,

    Is spending $27 billion on 55 LCS at really the problem, or is spending $17 billion on just 8 Burkes the problem?

    With the LCS I get options, with the Burkes I get what I already have 62 of, with no options for growth.

    Think about it.

  • sid

    I’d say neither is the right move.

    Nearest term, build follow on Cyclones -modified for the littoral presence ops the originals are engaged in currently- for now. Such vessels in numbers will prove their worth.

    While putting the LCS mission of “mothership” in a more suitable hull. Stop the buy of current hulls to those funded. One not cripplingly compromised by the excessive speed requirement. One that can be built to a Level II standard of survivability and still carry a mission module.

    A hull most likely still able bend on thirty knots instead of the silly 40 plus.

    And a hull that can adequately take on the neo-FF role the LCS will certainly take on.

  • sid

    sorry…sure do wish this venue had a preview button 😉

  • Rubber Ducky

    The first available shipbuilding money should go to the arsenal ship. Ultra low cost, incredible firepower. Problem has always been that the concept doesn’t appeal to any of the warfare communities. We’re running the zoo for the monkeys.

  • sid

    RD, station a sparsely manned Arsenal Ship off Somalia, and the USN would have to take care it wasn’t hijacked!

    Galrahn is spot on in saying that it is numbers…manpower intensive numbers…thats needed for this kind of threat.

  • SeniorD

    Sid and Galrahn,

    If manpower intensive numbers are needed to reduce the piracy threat, why do we have ground-based Navy Security Groups? Aren’t they taking away needed manpower?

    It seems Bryon and I keep harping on the same subject. Namely the blue water, Carrier Defensive Force, what others call a Carrier Strike Group 100 airplanes and 6,000 men and women to launch and recover said aircraft, is intended to keep hostiles off the Carrier if said hostiles get through the Outer Battle Zone. Shallow/littoral warfare requires ‘sideways’ thinking to put war fighting hulls with the necessary shallow water draft and propulsion systems where they are needed most. Very few Surface Warfare components meet that specific need/requirement; see for example, the restrictions placed on Carriers in the Persian Gulf.

    The Tarawa is being decommissioned, why not turn that process around, put LCACS, Snakes and RHIBs on board and make her a floating support platform?

  • sid

    The Tarawa is being decommissioned, why not turn that process around, put LCACS, Snakes and RHIBs on board and make her a floating support platform?

    Makes eminently good sense to me SeniorD. However, I am sure the issue of “operating costs” would get brought up right quick.

  • Byron

    Sid, compared to sending a Carrier Strike Group and it’s logistics tail it makes excellent sense. Multiply that by ten if we’re fool enough to try and cure the ills of Somalia. And it isn’t manpower that would cure the problem, there is no cure. There is only making the pirates understand the econmics of pissing the elephant off: lot’s of dead pirates, no boats coming back, and the chance siting of Big Grey Ship and it’s brood of LCACs, Snakes, and Marines.

    Does anyone have a burning desire to open up the Somalia can of worms? Think Iraq occupied by members of the insane asylum, coupled with drug-crazed thieves. There is not even what remotely passes for any sort of governmental backbone there, no matter it be democratic or despotic. Forget going ashore. Let the African nations solve that problem if they wish to take it on. Our ONLY objective is making shipping safe from their depradations.

  • Byron

    And Ducky, you want to build an Arsenal Ship? Seriously? We can’t even field a flipping gunboat without nearing the half-billion dollar mark, you want to build an ARSENAL ship? Please, spare me!

  • PhrogsPhorever

    Putting more US Naval vessels in the Gulf of Aden is the wrong move strategically, whether you call them an SSG or Task Force or whatever you want.

    The piracy off Somali offers the opportunity for two new ideas to prove themselves. 1) AFRICOM and 2) Global Maritime Partnership Initiative. Here’s why…

    1) This is easy. Somalia is in Africa, its an AFRICOM problem. All coordination should be done through them. Yeah, I know, 5th Fleet is a CENTCOM fleet. Figure something out. AFRICOM can not gain credibility in Africa unless it is allowed to be responsible for Africa related issues.

    2) The NATO forces in the Gulf of Aden, the Indians, the Russians, potentially the Chinese? This is obviously the chance for the GMP to shine. What does the US need to do to make that happen? Take on a leadership role, which does not require large numbers of American hulls. The strength of American naval power compared to every other naval force in the world is our global reach. US needs to be providing the combat support to these allied (word used in the broadest sense possible) nations in the form of logistics support, ISR, and command and control coordination.

    The skies above the Gulf of Aden should be stacked with SH-60B’s from the limited American grayhulls we do send, P-3s based out of Djibouti, Global Hawks from USAF (wow, AFRICOM is Joint!). A single SSN below the surface to track movements of the big pirate motherships. Shouldn’t we be able to ID and track the pirate vessels? Once done US ISR vectors an Indian ship that’s willing and able to take action to the mothership and lets them handle the engagement. The Indian Navy looks good at home, which the equates to a diplomatic success for US because the Indian leadership knows we helped.

    Just some ideas.

  • PhrogsPhorever

    I forgot to mention, we have arsenal ships. They’re called SSGNs and you don’t need to worry about pirates boarding them unless they’re supported by Bond’s nemesis SPECTRE. I also don’t see how an arsenal ship would help in the Gulf of Aden.

  • sid

    Even the “Golden Age” of Piracy lasted a bare 30 years. Piracy has traditionally been a transitory problem, and direct naval counters have historically been quick reaction affairs.

    I would argue that stopping the flow of money -something not feasible in the 18th century- priority in this 21st century outbreak. Why not literally steal it enroute to the banks?

    Specific to the naval threat, E1’s ad hoc approach may be the best near term course.

    E1’s ideas mirror David Porter’s extemporized “mosquito fleet” quickly assembled (at a pretty stout expense though) to battle an early 19th century piracy outbreak.

    Of course, having the sage advice of somebody like CDR Chap on scene might just save a commander the problems Porter ran into “sysadmin”-wise…

  • Byron

    Phrog, you on AFRICOM staff? 🙂

  • sid

    sorry…let me try that href thingy again…

    E1’s ideas mirror David Porter’s extemporized “mosquito fleet” quickly assembled (at a pretty stout expense though) to battle an early 19th century piracy outbreak.

  • PhrogsPhorever

    Byron, I’m not even senior enough to consider a staff for my next tour. Just a JO with too much time on his hands.

  • Phrogs,

    I don’t disagree, and have written as much on my blog. Somalian piracy is an example where doing nothing works for our national interests while the rest of the world community builds a coalition to solve the problem. Trust me, many have not been happy with my position in that regard, the shoot first crowd in particular.

    That still doesn’t solve the capability gap being exploited. If we ignore that aspect of Somalian piracy, and I’m not saying we need to fill it today or specifically for Somali piracy, just that we can’t afford to ignore it… because I assure you every future competitor is taking note. We will see this again, we need to be filling this gap or expect to pay dearly for it. This is a capability anyone can exploit, as opposed to high end weapons only available to a select few competitors.