Archive for January, 2009

If you hoped for change, you’re about to get it good and hard.

The Obama administration has asked the military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff to cut the Pentagon’s budget request for the fiscal year 2010 by more than 10 percent — about $55 billion — a senior U.S. defense official tells FOX News.

Last year’s defense budget was $512 billion. Service chiefs and planners will be spending the weekend “burning the midnight oil” looking at ways to cut the budget — looking especially at weapons programs, the defense official said.

Some overall budget figures are expected to be announced Monday.

Good people are smoothing up alternatives for whatever USN size of the sandwich will be (yes, I like to mix my metaphors – wait for the volcano one).

Just use a USN 30% of the total as a baseline – $18.3 billion. What do we throw into the volcano first?

Posted by CDRSalamander in Policy | 105 Comments

Welcome to the premiere post of Meet the Author! I am very pleased to have e-interviewed Dick Couch about his latest work, The Sheriff of Ramadi: Navy SEALs and the Winning of al-Anbar.

What inspired you to write The Sheriff of Ramadi?

I became interested in The Sheriff when I learned of the intensity of the fighting in Ramadi/al-Anbar, and that the SEALs were taking to the streets to fight with the Army and the Marines. This is the first time SEALs have ever done this. Early on, I felt it would be the story of courage in the face of certain defeat as things were very bleak in the summer of 2006. The courage was there, more than I would have imagined, and it turned out to be a pivotal victory in Iraq.

How did you convince the Navy SEALs to talk with you?

That’s not hard for me as I have a good reputation for respecting privacy issues and telling an accurate story. And they forgive me for my oversights. It also helps that I’ve, been there, done that, and have a drawer full of T-shirts–most of them very old T-shirts.

Who should read The Sheriff of Ramadi?

I think its a good read for anyone who wants to understand the role of a direct-action force in a major counterinsurgency battle. It’s also revealing look at the role of snipers in urban battle. And of course, it’s a good text for the multi-dimensional role of Navy SEALs in an insurgency. And finally, on a macro scale, the lessons of Ramadi will be most useful as we turn our attention to Afghanistan.

You have written 6 fiction books and 6 non-fiction books. Which type is easier to write?

Without question, fiction. When I write novels, I get to go hang out with my imaginary friends for a few hours every day. Good fun. Non-fiction requires research, travel, and the responsibility of getting someone else’s story right. It’s a 110,000 word term paper.

Any future books in the works?

I have a short, non-fiction work on tactical ethics which I’m finishing up; then perhaps another book on SOF training–maybe the Rangers this time.

Dick Couch is a rare find. He is a scholar and practitioner having served on active duty with the Navy Underwater Demolition and SEAL teams for five years.

Posted by Fred Fry:

Here is a little diversion from some of the recent good conversations going on at the USNI Blog. I am going to take things in a slightly different direction. Partly to give a little appreciation as to how things look from the viewpoint of the ships being attacked, and partly to see what kind of other ideas this fine group of readers might come up with as ways to keep or delay pirates from boarding a merchant ship.

Sure, most of these ships are flying foreign flags and not directly America’s problem, but the cargo they carry might just be needed by US forces somewhere in the globe. Or, as in the case of the M/V FAINA which is currently being held by pirates, the cargo carried, tanks and weapons, is best kept out of the hands of pirates and their network ashore. Like it or not, merchant shipping comprises part of the US Military’s supply lines, just like those truck convoys attacked in Pakistan comprises part of the supply lines for US and NATO troops in Afghanistan.

I look forward to constructive criticism of what some might consider goofy, stupid or even dangerous suggestions. Just keep in mind that the obvious defense, arming merchant ship crews, is forbidden or too difficult rules-wise to be a valid option. That leaves either doing nothing and welcoming pirates aboard, diverting traffic away from the area entirely, or some other form of defense.

So, here is a revision of a previous article I wrote concerning my thoughts on Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates. This is just some ideas to get people thinking on just how best to beat back armed pirates.

Keep in mind the following three stories when reading the article below:

The Admiral talked about the “golden thirty minutes”. If the allies can get a ship or an aircraft to a threatened vessel within thirty minutes of notice the pirates can usually be deterred and the attack averted.America’s North Shore Journal


PIRATES have today hijacked an escorted German LPG ship with 13 crew in the Gulf of Aden.

The 4,316dwt Longchamp was en route to Asia from Europe, escorted by a naval convoy, when it was boarded by seven armed pirates this morning, owner MPC told Fairplay.

The crew are 12 Filipinos and 1 Indonesian, a company spokesman said.

He told Fairplay that no injuries were reported and that company satellite data shows that the ship is approaching the Somali coast.

MPC would not confirm reports that the ship was fully laden.

Longchamp is managed by Bernhard Schulte.Fairplay


Ship captain reported ‘executed’ – PIRATES executed a ship’s captain after he resisted capture off the coast of West Africa, Fairplay can confirm today.

“A guerrilla attack on a commercial vessel retaliated on the captain and executed him, a source delivering a high-level briefing on piracy told Fairplay. “We are worried about the transfer [of piracy] from East Africa to West Africa.”

The Greek ministry of shipping named the captain as Theodoros Mastaloudis.

A news agency report said yesterday that pirates had killed a Greek master of an unnamed ship on Saturday off the coast of Cameroon but gave no details.

His vessel had come to the rescue of another ship being attacked by pirates, Reuters reported on Monday. Fairplay

From these three stories we have: Confirmation that there is a price to pay for doing anything that might upset a pirate’s plans; That the Navy sees as one of their main challenges/goals is getting to a ship under attack within 30 minutes; And that even nearby naval protection/escort is not 100 percent protection from being taken by pirates. So at the end of the day, some merchant sailors are finding themselves with nothing to defend the ship except their best creativity.

Given the information above, a merchant ship should plan on having to defend their ship on their own for at least 30 minutes while waiting for help to arrive. Recent attacks on merchant shipping off Somalia show that determined pirates can take over a ship in minutes, if there is nothing standing in their way. This means that they need some short-term solutions that they can deploy to delay attacking pirates from getting onboard. In this most recent hijacking of the LONGCHAMP, being part of a convoy escorted by naval forces was not enough to prevent being taken over by pirates. In the end, they also needed to be able to protect the ship themselves in addition to having a naval vessel acting as their bodyguard.

Most merchant ships do not carry firearms but they do carry other sorts of projectiles. One merchant ship managed to disable a pirate boat by hitting it with a distress flare (or flares or perhaps even other flaming projectiles). The pirate boat caught fire and the pirates ended up being rescued/captured by the Danish Navy and are currently facing prosecution in the Netherlands. All ships have flares and many probably also carry extra expired flares. These are not little flares that you find on weekend warriors in harbors around the US, but pretty impressive ‘industrial strength’ flares that probably make pirates pause after having one shot at them. (However, doing so, might subject you to execution as noted in the story above.)

OK, that is a good start, but you are going to need a lot of flares to put up a sustained defense for a half hour. Your going to need something else.

One suggestion that I have made before was to use ‘Pepperball’ paintballs:

The PepperBall® system is unique in the industry as the first non-lethal weapon to combine multiple effects to accomplish its objective safely and without permanent injuries or death. Since late 1999 PepperBall has been deployed in thousands of situations around the globe, successfully filling a gap in the use of force continuum where no other tools are available.

The PepperBall system consists of a PepperBall launcher and projectiles. The launchers are high-pressure air delivery systems. PepperBall projectiles are hard plastic spheres built to burst on impact. Live projectiles are the foundation of the system and are filled with enough PAVA (Capsaicin II) powder to irritate a suspect’s eyes, nose and throat. As such, the PepperBall system combines a unique kinetic impact technology with pepper powder irritant as a non-lethal deployment device for peace officers. We call this combination of affects Chem-netics™ and hold multiple patents protecting our technology.

Chem-netics makes PepperBall systems effective tools for gaining target compliance. PepperBall projectiles are launched from several types of launchers appropriate for the intended use. These launchers use high-pressure air (CO2) to launch the projectiles. Because the projectiles break upon impact they do not penetrate skin, making this weapon safe even at contact range.Link

One reason that this looks like an effective defense is that the PepperBalls can be ‘delivered’ through a fully automatic paintball gun. (Video link here) A paintball ‘gun’ is not a firearm and most likely would be easier to carry onboard.

Hell, looking at the following video, any sort of fully-automatic paintball gun is sure to have a good deterrent effect. (Video link Here) Even better if you can get them to fire marbles as well, not that paintballs don’t already hurt. And unlike when playing paintball as a sport, there is no rule against hitting pirates in the head with paintballs.

One drawback to these items is that they need to be sourced from ashore, including an adequate supply of compressed gas bottles, ammunition and spares. So, until you can get your hands on something like this, what can your engineering crew build onboard? How about some sort of potato gun. Not for chucking potatoes, but instead to shoot Molotov cocktails, nuts and bolts, ice blocks, sections of pipe, or whatever that will force them to duck for cover.

Taking a page from the Sea Shepherd eco-terror group, how about tossing bottles of butyric acid onto the pirate skiffs? No, maybe not that. After all, if it won’t stop the Japanese from whaling, it certainly is not going to stop a pirate from attacking. One recent lesson learned from a repelled pirate attack on the Chinese ship was that broken glass on deck prevented the pirates from moving around freely because many of the pirates had no shoes and they were afraid of damaging their feet. So, how about showering approaching pirate boats with crushed glass?

Then of course there is the LRAD acoustic device. This is the weapon that the unarmed security team on the M/V BISCAGLIA unsuccessfully used to defend the ship against the pirates. The security company panned the device as ineffective but given that the devices are in use in Iraq and elsewhere, I am going to discount their panning the device as nothing more than an attempt to shift blame.

It was the M/V BISCAGLIA incident that reminded me of a list I had made up a while ago of how to defend a ship against Greenpeace protesters:

Greenpeace keeps getting away with this because ship’s crews are not given the GreenLight to repel them. Here are some ways to protect the ship if you find yourself being attacked by Greenpeace: (Note: Anything you do is your responsibility, although it is Greenpeace that forces you to act.)

– Use fire hoses and fire monitors. Add Foam or soap to make everything slippery. Deliver the soap inside water balloons and then use the hoses to foam it all up.

– Use the anchor wash if there is an attempt to secure themselves to the anchor chain.

– Use paintball guns. For more effect, shoot Pepper balls. [Noted above]

– Have the engineers whip up a couple potato cannons. Instead of potatoes, you can try ice cubes for a shotgun effect.

– Make use of expired flares. Just don’t shoot them skyward.

Originally Posted on Maritime Monday 76

Of course Somali pirates are not Greenpeace protesters, but the list above is a little better than nothing at all and sending a constant stream of material/scrap metal their way might be enough of a deterrent for them to seek a less challenging target, or at least delay them until naval forces arrive to take over the situation. So thinking about this failed defense of the M/V BISCAGLIA, I came up with a couple more ways to defend against pirates if they manage to get alongside:

– Molatov cocktails thrown onto the deck as they come alongside

– Drop the pilot ladder into the sea with a pirate or two, three still clinging to it

– Drop twistlocks and whatever else that is heavy on them

– Fabricate gravity-powered ‘missiles’ out of large diameter pipe that can shoot through the pirate vessel’s hull with the front end cut at an angle like a hypodermic needle to hole the pirate boat. (Not too large that it is not easy to move around the deck and deploy, but large enough to fly through the hull when it hits.)

I would think that the pirates are at their most vulnerable when they are alongside trying to get onboard so this is probably where they should be hit if they cannot be kept away. They are also in a position where if they were to attempt to damage the ship they would most likely become casualties in the process as well.

The suggestions above are of increasing effectiveness as the freeboard of the vessel increases, giving gravity a greater punch as whatever is tossed over the side strikes the vessel.

One option that does not seem to have been seriously discussed yet is having the Navy offer to place armed marines or other military teams onboard some merchant ships for the transit through the pirate area. They can board on one end, ride to the other end and then catch a ride back on another ship. Now lets say you could get these armed teams onboard merchant ships. Just how well armed should these security teams be? Technically, there are two targets. The pirate vessel itself and the pirates onboard the vessel.

To this point, most defensive actions seem to target the pirates. Perhaps the better move is to target their boat with enough firepower that can disable or sink it. This probably means deployment of a heavy machine gun or some sort of rocket or missile that can hole their boat with one shot. Or how about a couple Marines with a 40 mm grenade launcher as part of their gear?

The MGL (Multiple Grenade Launcher) is a lightweight 40 mm semi-automatic, 6-shot grenade launcher developed and manufactured in South Africa by the Milkor company (renamed Rippel Effect in 2007). The MGL was demonstrated as a concept to the South African Defence Force in 1981. The operating principle was immediately accepted and subjected to a stringent qualification program. The MGL was then officially accepted into service with the SADF as the Y2. After its introduction in 1983, the MGL was gradually adopted by the armed forces and law enforcement organizations of over 30 countries; it has since proven its effectiveness in harsh environments ranging from rain forests to deserts. Total production since 1983 has been more than 18,000 units.

The MGL is multiple-shot weapon, intended to significantly increase a small squad’s firepower when compared to traditional single-shot grenade launchers like the M203. The MGL is designed to be simple, rugged and reliable. It uses the well-proven revolver principle to achieve a high rate of accurate fire which can be rapidly brought to bear on a target. A variety of rounds such as HE, HEAT, anti-riot baton, irritant or pyrotechnic can be loaded and fired at a rate of one per second; the cylinder can be loaded or unloaded rapidly to maintain a high rate of fire. Although intended primarily for offensive/defensive use with high-explosive rounds, with appropriate ammunition the launcher is suitable for anti-riot and other security operations.Wikipedia

Using military personnel will overcome a major obstacle in the way of arming merchant ships, namely, it is damn near impossible to get private armed security teams to and from these vessels due to weapons restrictions.

There are already a number of naval vessels in the area conducting anti-pirate operations. Just have a couple stationed at the edge of the pirate areas and then have willing ships embark defensive teams onboard who can ride the vessel through the area and then be collected on the other side by another naval vessel stationed for that purpose. The team can then hitch a ride back to their ship on another cargo vessel going the other way. But this is how it would need to be done, at sea deployment, if done at all. As a bonus, naval vessel can better be tasked for hunting the pirates down and less so on escort duty as these boarding parties essentially turn the ships into additional units to protect the rest of the convoy. There is no need to place them on all the ships. Just having them on some ships (Such as the most vulnerable targets) will make pirates act more cautiously, never knowing if the ship they are about to attack is armed or not.

There is no simple answer here but surely there is more that can be done by the vessels to better prevent more ships from being taken by pirates. So what other ideas are out there?

Kennebec Captain’s post “The (Unarmed) Defense of the Biscaglia” was the inspiration for this post.


Originally posted here: On Defending Unarmed Merchant Ships Against Pirates – 1 Dec 08

Released today – click on image for full document:

When asked on his command’s relationship with the U.S. Public Health Service and NGO’s like Project Hope and Operation Smile, MG William “Burke” Garrett III, commanding general, U.S. Army Africa, told USNI Blog:

Yeah, great question. One of the things we’re trying to do is build relationships now with organizations that are operating and connecting business in Africa to include nongovernment organizations, humanitarian organizations of all types.

Of course, being a military organization, there’s going to be some that are resistant to our outreach and that’s entirely understandable. But General Ward has charged us with doing no harm, in terms of interfering with activities in Africa that are being conducted by nongovernment organizations, or other U.S. government agencies and organizations.

So we are very careful in that regard as we move forward. But in many cases, we’re trying to get after the same ends in terms of bringing positive change to Africa. And where we can partner, we’re certainly interested in doing that. And likewise, we absolutely respect and understand the nongovernment organizations that have no desire to associate with a military organization.

Do no harm sounds good to me. What has been your experience working with NGOs?

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 4 Comments

I routinely receive “Two-and-a-Half Minute” presentations from various Coast Guard programs at our weekly All-Flags briefing. I thought readers of the USNI Blog would find this week’s topic particularly interesting. 

The Cooperative Maritime Strategy states:

…maritime forces will be employed to build confidence and trust among nations through collective security efforts that focus on common threats and mutual interests in an open, multi-polar world. To do so will require an unprecedented level of integration among our maritime forces and enhanced cooperation with the other instruments of national power, as well as the capabilities of our international partners. Seapower will be a unifying force for building a better tomorrow.

One way we are doing this in the Coast Guard, working closely with the DOD and DOS, is through our Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program. Through FMS we:

  • Build partner capacity
  • Gain access and influence
  • Improver interoperability and standardization

Value of Coast Guard Foreign Military SalesThis is the Cooperative Maritime Strategy in action! 


The FMS program is currently running 32 procurement projects valued at $96.8 million. This is nearly a three-fold increase in dollar value since 2006! Since its establishment in 1997, the program has delivered 201 vessels with another 88 pending.

The maps below show the strategic reach and impact of this effort, and these are not all inclusive. Other nations receiving FMS vessels include several Caribbean Island nations(9 vessels), Central America(13), Bangladesh (21), Pakistan(5), Philippines(3), and Sri Lanka (1). The sales and deliveries are closely coordinated with our international training program and delivered as a “Total Package.” This includes, spare parts, documentation (pubs and manuals), as well as training.

Foreign Military Sales to South AmericaCoast Guard Foreign Military Sales to Africa, Europe and the Middle Eastern nations

The FMS program marries international engagement with good stewardship. By increasing the customer base of a specific platform we reduce the risk of our acquisition by achieving economic order quantities and stabilizing production rates. This particularly valuable as we progress with our recapitalization program. We are currently assisting Mexico in procuring the new CASA Maritime Patrol Aircraft and there is strong interest from several nations in South America, Africa and Asia to purchase our new Response Boat – Small, Response Boat- Medium and patrol boat platforms.

Just one more small but significant way the Coast Guard is working to do its part…

Related posts from iCommandant:

Out of Hemisphere Deployments

Coast Guard in Iraq

Dealing with Piracy — What is your Endgame

Counter-Drug Symposium — Transnational threats that require transnational solutions


USNI Blog recently participated in a DOD Bloggers Roundtable with Maj. Gen. William “Burke” Garrett III, commanding general, U.S. Army Africa. Regarding the role of the Army Reserve and National Guard, MG Garrett had this to say:

…the Army Guard and Reserve both offer capabilities that we desire to bring to bear in Africa. As I, as you may know, or may not, U.S. Army Africa has no assigned forces. I have a planning and contingency headquarters, a main command post, and a contingency command post. But our mission, our role is to bring to bear all the capabilities of the U.S. Army in Africa, active, guard, and reserve.

The guard and reserve both provide niche capabilities especially that we’re interested in. And I’m talking about things like civil affairs teams. I’m talking about well-drilling units, those kind of things that you don’t find in the active force.

There’s also a very good state partnership, or series of state partnership programs we have in place in Africa and that’s where the National Guard has teamed up with a country in Africa, essentially a twinning or pairing of a state with a country. And we have, as I recall, about a half dozen right now states that are signed on to partner with African countries. And the mechanism for that partnering is the National Guard. And we are very eager to grow that and gain more interest and participation in that partnership. 

You might also note, just an anecdote, we’ve got a young captain, Captain Al Suffalo (sp) who is from the North Carolina Army National Guard and we have borrowed him for about five months. And we’re going to put him on a ship, a U.S. Navy ship that’s going to be operating around the littoral areas of Africa for the next five months. And he will be their civil affairs coordinator. Every time they roll in to port to do an activity this young Army captain is going to step forward and organize that effort. And while he’s doing that he’s also determining where we can come back later and provide a larger Army Africa effort to reinforce the activities down there.

So bottom line is the Guard and Reserve bring a great capability to bear and we’re very, very excited about our new partnership with both organizations.

When asked in a follow-up, if his command had more requests for help than they could answer, MG Garrett replied, “At this time, yes.”

Full Transcript of the DOD Blogger Roundtable here.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Army | 1 Comment

With the lights going out all over the Pentagon, the Navy’s quest to get the most from every volt is in high gear. Big Navy wants everything possible shut down–and the message is clear: if your command, your installation or your department save enough, rewards will follow. Pressure to conserve will only increase if SECDEF Gates, as expected, moves forward on energy conservation and hires a DOD Energy Czar.

But before earnest Commanders start trying to power-down everything, we need to know more. What, exactly, are we conserving? How thorough has our analysis of savings actually been? Could turning certain things off be, in the longer run, more costly?

My sense is that our analysis of energy savings vs. say, the deferred cost of maintenance or the simple cycling wear ‘n tear on certain systems hasn’t been very thorough.

A tidbit from Captain Bruce Lindsey’s article in the January ’09 Proceedings, “Recapitalizing Too Early,” pushes that point, and unintentionally suggests that fuel conservation, at times, comes with a cost:

“An asset that is cycled more often fails before a similar asset that runs at a steady state for a time period exceeding the MTBF [mean time between failure] limit. For instance, a ship of the LPD-4 class that operates its boilers for six straight months has a lower MTBF rate than an LPD-4 that is constantly bringing its boilers up and down as it completes training exercises…”

And, in a photo caption:

“During operation Enduring Freedom, the Dragonfires of Sea Control Squadron (VS) 29 achieved the highest mission rate ever reached by S-3 aircraft–and double that of any other Navy aircraft. It did this with the second least expensive maintenance costs of any aircraft in the airwing by not completely shutting down the aircraft’s avionics and engines between sorties.”

These are practices that would make the average energy-reduction-czar throw a fit. Of course, it’s all well and good to save energy–and reducing energy consumption is a simple way to cut expenses. And, with the military enjoying the dubious distinction of being the largest energy consumer in the Federal Government, there’s plenty of savings to be had.

But, aside from encouraging Navy-wide compliance with basic, well-documented energy efficiency guidelines, the DOD Energy czar needs to help operators distinguish between smart conservation and…well, simple waste. Somebody needs to sit down and crunch the numbers–did the fuel burned to keep the S-3 aircraft running offset the maintenance savings? What’s the fuel cost of aggressive maintenance?

We simply don’t have a good handle on those numbers quite yet, and we need to. That’s one big reason why DOD needs an energy czar. Let’s save, but let’s also be smart about saving…

It has been kindly suggested we naval blogging types need to elevate our game to add some thought provoking, intelligent content to produce debate and stimulate some intellectual creativity towards challenges facing our naval forces. I admit I’m still struggling to find my groove here in these pages, but I have every intention to rise to the challenge.

The New Media Office in the DoD has a blogger roundtable on Thursday with Rear Admiral “Terry” McKnight that I will be privileged to participate in. The conversation will most likely revolve around piracy off the coast of Somalia. By the time most of you read this post, the discussion will be over, but allow me to share my thoughts that I am going to attempt to turn into questions.

I am very concerned with the idea the US Navy will be fighting pirates off the coast of Somalia. It isn’t that I don’t think the US Navy should do it, and it isn’t that I don’t think the US Navy could do it effectively, rather I am concerned the US Navy may not be ready to do it.

I think the various agencies and military services have done a marvelous job building the legal framework to fight pirates with. That President Obama has the domestic political capital to instruct the Navy to take offensive action against Somali pirates suggests that patience towards dealing with the problem has paid off. When considered in context that this is even possible only 2 weeks into a new Presidential term and accounting for the domestic rejection of the military policies of the previous President, to suggest this is remarkable is to undersell the diplomatic and strategic success. It can also be called historic.

I am an observer of the US Navy, so I am observing the slow but deliberate movement of the Boxer Strike Group and the Stennis Strike Group towards the Middle East to replace the Iwo Jima Strike Group and Roosevelt Strike Group already there. I’ve have had an opportunity to speak with Commodore Peter Dallman, Commander, Boxer ESG/Amphibious Squadron Five, and I am left with the impression all three maritime services have put some real intellectual power into how they intend to address this issue tactically. The Navy currently has an LPD-17 Command ship that includes a company of Marines, some MP folks, some Coast Guard detachments, and is supported by one of our destroyers. With Stennis CSG and Boxer ESG, the Navy will probably transfer the Command role to another LPD-17 class, potentially bring in a Coast Guard cutter to help with the problem, and have a carrier strike group with an extra large number of helicopters. When I read the tea leaves, I think the Navy is about to have tremendous capabilities available to do some good against the very visible, international maritime challenge of piracy.

But I still have concerns. When you say Somalia out loud, what comes to mind? Here is my short list.

I look at Somalia and I see complexity. On one side we have the rise of an Islamist movement built on the warlord system we have never worked well with in the past taking control of the Somali government. On the other side this internationally visible criminal syndicate is conducting piracy on the high seas against international shipping, taking hostages for ransom, and through success has forced governments to dispatch the largest international naval armada since Gulf War I. Stuck in the middle we have the United Nations involved in several ways. First, the World Food Program is feeding hundreds of thousands in Somalia, and without the food shipments starvation is assured. The UN Security Council has authorized international naval forces to take action to curb piracy even including into sovereign territorial waters. We continue to see human smuggling from Somalia to Yemen that is observed by the United Nations, a massive human migration pattern by sea and a sign of the desperation in Somalia. They are also sounding the alarm about illegal fishing and dumping, without success. We have EU NAVFOR, a legitimate EU naval operation to fight piracy. We have the first naval deployment by the PLA Navy in centuries taking place off the coast of Somalia. We have the first consistent naval operation by Russia since the end of the cold war. We have seen some rather extraordinary political back handsprings in Tokyo so the Japanese can send a ship to Somalia under their constitutional model.

But the complexities run much deeper. When the Parliament in Spain passed legislation to send Spanish forces to join EU NAVFOR in April, they didn’t even hide the reason they did so was to protect their fishing fleets, which btw, are often cited as an example where Europeans are illegally fishing in the economic exclusion zone off the Somali coast creating the piracy problem in the first place. When the PLA Navy escorted a tanker owned by a company in Taiwan, it became a cross strait political incident. The French have a diplomatic agreement with Puntland authorities to hand off captured pirates for trial, even though Puntland isn’t even a sovereign government. No one really talks about why the US supported Ethiopia against the last Islamic government of Somalia, even though it was not a terrible reason considering that government was allowing terror cells to train in Somalia. There is no reason to expect this new Islamist government to be any different. Most experts are advising that stability will require an Islamist government, but those same experts rarely discuss how the large criminal syndicates which essentially own the coastal cities are thriving both economically and are not suffering from the violence the rest of the nation is. While the piracy activities are criminal, they also represent a commercial, secular population of Somalia that US diplomats can’t ignore as a potential political alternative worth considering. The Islamist groups forming the new government and the pirate syndicates do not like one another, so expect contention. Given how well funded the pirates are, that means we could potentially see a deadly civil war, which also means those well funded pirate organizations may soon find themselves in the market for bigger weapons.

Why is every boat in the Gulf of Aden either white or some shade of a faded color? Because there is no paint, no one can afford it, no one meaning both pirates and fisherman. All the boats look the same, and there are 5000+ fishing boats in the maritime areas where piracy is being conducted. Put another way, this challenge consists of an enemy that blends in with the local population.

I look at the coast of Somalia and I see government forces, irregular forces, civilians, NGOs, tribes, clans, syndicates, multinational political influence, international legal influence, international economic interest, etc.. as the physical and human terrain of a conflict zone. I see a populated space with a range of peace, law enforcement, military, environmental, and diplomatic missions as a requirement for both fighting any type of war or enforcing any type of peace. Anyone who casually reads the COIN debates at the Small Wars Journal or Abu Muqawama should quickly recognize exactly what I’m talking about.

The US Navy is about to engage, with CTF-151 leading the way, in what those who study COIN instantly recognize as complex environments (CE), and as one might expect when discussing naval forces, the complex maritime environment is found in the populated, ungoverned littorals. Does the Navy even have a definition of a complex maritime environment that accounts for government forces, irregular forces, civilians, NGOs, tribes, clans, syndicates, multinational influence, international legal influence, etc.? What does the Navy FM 3-24 look like and does it even begin to cover this scenario?

I am concerned the Navy doesn’t have a definition of a complex maritime environment anything similar to what we see in the complex maritime environment off Somalia, which is why I have trouble finding faith in the Navy’s established set of requirements for dealing with littoral challenges, which is why I have questions whether the Navy has ever really wrapped their head around what the littoral means to them. Without a definition to properly establish requirements in addressing complex maritime environment challenges in the littorals, it raises the question whether the Navy really knows how they want to deal with these types of irregular challenges. Does Somalia represent the Navy’s trial by fire?

I am observing the approach we are taking to Somalia and I keep thinking I’ve seen this before. The Navy believes unmanned technology, airpower, and space power instead of distributed manpower on the sea at the point of contact can effectively scout and provide presence for the human terrain in this conflict zone. One officer told me that at sea there is less chance of collateral damage so air power can manage these problems. Really? Tell that to the Indians, or the Russians, because right out of the gate both countries ran smack into collateral damage politics by applying the standoff warfare theory to the irregular warfare challenges naval forces face in this complex environment. We observe signs that they will soon adapt to helicopter superiority, is the Navy ready to adapt when the enemy makes the 3rd or 4th tactical evolutions, or will helicopters get shot down like they did over Baghdad?

The Navy envisions addressing complex irregular warfare challenges in the future with a half billion dollar, 3000 ton, speed optimized, aluminum hulled, stealthy, barely armed, low survivability standard, unmanned technology mothership with a small crew and a bridge surrounded by glass. In other words, the Navy believes mobility, technology, stealth, speed, air power, and every other maneuver warfare centric metric is the best way to address the human terrain of the complex maritime environment of the littorals where irregular challenges are most likely to occur. Apparently sustained presence of manpower, distribution of manpower, survivability of maritime forces, endurance, and persistent personal engagement with manpower; some of the most important aspects to successfully engaging complex land environments against irregular forces; doesn’t appear from this section of the cheap seats to be on the Navy’s radar yet.

Maybe my concerns are overblown, and I pray they are, but I keep thinking I have read this book before and it was called Iraq and Afghanistan before the ideas that became FM 3-24 were developed. I firmly believe the US Navy is going to find a lot success early on in efforts to take on the pirate problem, but after the first few tactical evolutions by the other guy, I think the Navy may quickly find itself in some bigger trouble than they are ready to deal with.

Okay, I’ll yank the band-aid…

My email inbox is afire, message boards are muttering, posts are being made based on this here blog and comments on Steeljaw’s post. The bottom line is that a flag officer’s comments are getting some play around the blogosphere. Kudos to the man for engaging; stand by for return fire, I guess. New media is sometimes more like the JOPA sitting around with a beer than Dust Covered Minutiae Quarterly, but you can’t miss those golden nuggets you pick up with the JOPA. If we on active duty don’t get engaged effectively with new media, and I don’t mean by “information prevention” methods, then we cede any relevant arguments to whoever actually shows up and is effective. Worse, we could shut down the “forceful backup” we should be getting and wind up with silly decisions that cost a lot or drive the sailors crazy. We could also find ourselves in the same situation that a former Air Force Chief of Staff did in realizing the need to engage with media too late to learn and make public communication mistakes at a junior level (from an article in the Autumn 1998 Airpower Journal) :

Of all the freedom-of-speech cases involving high-ranking military leaders, that of General [Michael] Dugan is, to me at least, one of the most troublesome. On taking up the reins as chief of staff of the Air Force in the summer of 1990, General Dugan announced publicly that he wanted senior Air Force officers to be more open with reporters: “I think that the leaders . . . need to be upfront, they need to take the gaff that goes with it.”

This policy of openness would prove his undoing. In September 1990 during a tour of US forces deployed in the Gulf preparatory to Operation Desert Storm, General Dugan took the risky step of making himself and five senior generals of the Air Staff available for press interviews focused on US strategy, with particular emphasis on the prominent role to be played by airpower. The resulting story made front-page news in the Washington Post on Sunday, 16 September 1990, with the headline reading “U.S. to Rely on Air Strikes If War Erupts.”

In his autobiography My American Journey, Colin Powell, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, summed up what he regarded as the objectionable positions expressed by General Dugan during the interviews: “Among the things Dugan was quoted as saying in the Post article were that ‘airpower is the only answer that’s available to our country’; that the Israelis had advised him ‘the best way to hurt Saddam’ was to target his family, his personal guard, and his mistress; that Dugan did not ‘expect to be concerned’ with political constraints in selecting bombing targets; that Iraq’s air force had ‘very limited military capability’; and that its army was ‘incompetent.’ ”

The next day, Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney peremptorily relieved Dugan, charging the general with “lack of judgment” in disclosing “operational details” and in addressing “decisions that may or may not be made by the president in the future.”

The need to engage with media is more important in a war where the enemy looks at the information effect before he executes. From the .pdf file in this link:

We typically design physical operations first, then craft supporting information operations to explain our actions. This is the reverse of al-Qaida’s approach. For all our professionalism, compared to the enemy’s, our public information is an afterthought. In military terms, for al-Qaida the ‘main effort’ is information; for us, information is a ‘supporting effort.
David Kilcullen,
Countering the Terrorist Mentality,
New Paradigms for 21st Century Conflict

However, an officer interacts at career peril even in public affairs issues, making it terribly difficult to warm to thinking about media. (An example discussion of this, from a 2004 post).

Here’s a small roundup of response to the admiral’s comments.

  • Small Wars Journal is happy about the shout out. They deserve it; they’ve done good work. Don’t get cocky, y’all.
  • Galrahn responds more directly, with a assertion of credibility and standing, and an implied challenge for the blogosphere to be taken seriously by Big Navy.

    But here is an unavoidable truth. No one from the Navy has ever contacted me to suggest information I am presenting is inaccurate, but both the industry and members of Congress have. If the Navy is frustrated about the accuracy of information on blogs, then quit conceding the conversation to others; engage it. It isn’t like the authors on the blog are hard to reach, the email address is posted on the top of the blog.

  • Lex responds with a different challenge: for Big Navy to catch up with new media.

    But there are senior officers out there who would dearly like to constrain the limits of what’s considered acceptable debate. Used to be folks could vent on the pages of the Naval Institute Proceedings, and we could have a real professional discourse. Then a couple of heretics got burned, and everyone else got a whiff.

    There aren’t any easy choices when you get to the three-star and above ranks: There are never enough resources to go around, someone has to decide, and everybody else is charged with making it happen. Otherwise it becomes the State Department, and we’ve already got one of those.

    Still, there’s something to be said for transparency in the airing of alternate viewpoints. Flag officers, brilliant though they often are, tend to live in a bubble, surrounded by those who have a vested interest in ensuring them that everything’s fine, no reason to worry. Step away from the window.

  • Maggie hopes she isn’t the target of the broadside.
  • Jules Crittenden takes the comments “mainstream” (blogosphere-wise, anyway) and gets an Instalanche for his trouble.
  • CDR Salamander also rounds up and mentions CAPT Toti’s cautionary article about publishing and avoiding being the one used to pour encourager les autres.
  • Update: Spencer Ackerman weighs in as well, emphasizing the value of the conversational nature of blogging as journalism vice straight reporting.

Posted by Chap in Cyber, Navy | 25 Comments
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