Archive for February, 2009

Yesterday’s (17 Feb 09) Department of Defense Blogger’s Roundtable (currently on top) featured Capt. Charles Michel, Chief of the Office of Maritime and International Law, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters and Capt. Michael Giglio, Chief of Law Enforcement, U.S. Coast Guard Headquarters and the discussion was “Global Anti-Piracy Efforts” – some from the law enforcement side and some from the international law side. Transcript pdf and an mp3 of the discussion are available at the site.

I have posted excerpts at my home blog here. Here’s a sample:

So what it actually involves and the challenges that have been there in prosecuting pirates is, number one, identifying the appropriate legal framework and, from that perspective, there actually is an appropriate legal framework for the prosecution of pirates. It’s contained in either customary international law or the 1982 Law of the Sea Convention.

And pirates are subject to universal jurisdiction: i.e., every state on the planet can prosecute pirates. But every state has to have two things: They’ve got to have domestic law in order to prosecute pirates and they have to have a willingness to prosecute those pirates.

If you are interested in the containment of piracy off the Horn of Africa (and other places) and in bringing captured pirates to justice, the discussion should be of interest to you. There are not many places where the legal issues facing the anti-pirate forces are so well discussed.

Some of the treaties and conventions discussed are 1958 Convention on the High Seas, United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, and Convention for the Suppression of Unlawful Acts Against the Safety of Maritime Navigation, the Djibouti Code of Conduct and Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.

h/t: MznBluShu

2nd of a 3-part series

USNI Blog continues its talk with Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, USAF.

Operation Southern PArtner Group Photo

Operation Southern Partner Group Photo

Q: What is the Air Force’s relationship with the U.S. Public Health Service and NGO’s like Operation Smile and Project Hope?

Seip: AFSOUTH has a strong relationship with the US Public Health Service and with non-governmental organizations such as Project Hope. Last year, Air Force medical technicians accomplished more than 30 medical engagements across the region, partnering with a number of non-governmental organizations, local Ministries of Health and USPHS.

This year, we’re unveiling even more of these initiatives during medical engagements in Peru – the first-ever “RIVERINE” medical deployment – and Guyana during New Horizons 09. We’re also partnering with University of Arizona Medical School to ensure our missions have lasting and measurable impacts on local populations by tracking progress over several years and sharing medical studies with local health organizations.

In addition, our team will often transport donated school supplies and medical equipment on board USAF aircraft to ensure clinics and schools are outfitted with much-needed items (in accordance with applicable US law and DoD regulations). Working together with NGOs we’re ensuring our projects aren’t simply a hollow building – from day one they’re ready to support the community with all of the equipment and supplies needed to operate.

It’s very exciting to see how this cooperation between the public, private sector and military is taking shape – Col Scott Van Valkenburg, the AFSOUTH command surgeon, is pushing to include more of these NGOs and State Department organizations in our missions. The rationale is simple: together our efforts can have a profound, positive effect on the citizens we treat during our medical missions – it makes sense to partner with these organizations.

Q: What is the role of the Air Force Reserve and Air National Guard in Soft Power?

Seip: The Total Force is already deeply involved. A large percentage of the Airmen who participate in our nation’s Soft Power missions are from the Air National Guard and Air Force Reserve. Many of the Airmen on board the USNS Comfort were from the National Guard and Air Force Reserves, 50% of the aircraft and personnel participating in the NEWEN exercise were from Reserve units and dozens of the medical deployments in our area of focus are conducted by Guard and Reserve Airmen.

These professionals provide a wealth of knowledge and experience to enhance our team and benefit every operation – and their role is growing. A recent example is the signing of the State Partnership Program agreement between the Texas National Guard and the Chilean military. The ceremony will take place in April, opening the door for increased cooperation between Guard units in Texas and the Chilean military during exercises, exchanges, humanitarian response and training events. State National Guard Bureaus have had a long history of Soft Power initiatives with more than 20 agreements in the State Partnership Program in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus alone.

There’s even a full time Guard Colonel and Reserve Colonel on our staff to help us ensure we fully integrate these forces into our plans. Our command is so integrated with the Total Force that it’s not even a consideration – Airmen and equipment come from Active Duty, Guard and Reserve units on virtually every mission – I don’t even ask where a person comes from because, in my assessment, they’re all equally skilled and part of the team. The Total Force keeps achieving the AFSOUTH mission as the top priority.

Q: Is there a role for the Civil Air Patrol in soft power?

Seip: Sure. The Civil Air Patrol is a unique organization that shares a great synergy with Airmen. During domestic disaster response efforts, they’ve played a major role within the United States and I foresee they’ll likely expand these efforts. Many Americans are unaware of CAP’s heroic assistance to our nation during natural disasters, combating the flow of illicit drugs and securing our borders in cooperation with military and law enforcement organizations. The CAP has a breadth of experience and skill set that perfectly aligns with our nation’s Soft Power objectives so I see their role continuing to increase. I’d welcome the CAP on any of our missions!

Q: What were some of your lessons learned from last year’s Operation Southern Partner?

Seip: The first iteration of Operation Southern Partner was incredibly successful. We learned a lot about how to execute this mission from a logistical standpoint. Anytime you’re deploying more than 80 Airmen from 25 different career fields to four countries in two weeks, there are challenges.

More importantly, USAF Airmen learned from partner nation Airmen through the sharing of ideas, tactics, techniques and procedures. We never claim to bring all the answers to the table; instead we come to the table with a mindset of “What can I learn from the Airman seated across from me?”

If you are interested in learning more about Operation Southern Partner, click here.

The final installment of my interview with Lt. Gen. Seip continues tomorrow.

From a news story covering the USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) humanitarian deployment to Haiti back in 2007.

Due to greater presence of tuberculosis (TB), Comfort’s radiology department is greatly reducing the crew’s risk of exposure to the disease by conducting chest X-rays on everyone who embarks the ship.

TB is a contagious disease that affects the lungs and is spread through the air. Comfort’s previous screening process screened only the patients who embarked the ship. In Haiti and the previously visited country of Colombia, the radiology department had to develop a more efficient screening policy.

“We’re getting patients and their escorts – now we screen everyone,” said Cmdr. Kevin McCarthy, a radiologist attached to Comfort. “The policy was changed because Colombia and Haiti were known to be our biggest TB stops.”

Cmdr. McCarthy wasn’t telling the entire story regarding the policy with his last comment in that news story. You see, USNS Comfort (T-AH 20) had previously had a serious TB outbreak on the ship during a deployment by the hospital ship to support Haitian refugees. TB spread through the ship because that is the nature of air on big ships, and had it not been a hospital ship the TB outbreak would have been more difficult for the Navy to realize what was happening.

Lets consider this in the context of this health update from Doctors Without Borders:

In addition to famines, droughts, floods, and unrelenting conflict, the absence of public health services has resulted in enormous unmet basic health needs for a large majority of the estimated population of over 11.5 million. Women and children under five are particularly vulnerable. In Somalia, 1,000 out of every 100,000 women die giving birth; and more than one in five children dies before their fifth birthday.

What little medical services exist are privately owned and costly – out of reach for most Somalis. Many suffer from easily treatable diseases that can be fatal without access to healthcare, such as diarrhea and respiratory tract infections. Somalia also has one of the world’s highest prevalence rates of tuberculosis (TB). The neglected tropical disease kala azar claims the lives of thousands and there are regular outbreaks of measles, cholera and other epidemics.

Hopefully none of the pirates captured have TB, because based on what I have seen regarding the makeshift prison setup on USNS Lewis and Clark (T-AKE 1), it seems to me it would be a pretty terrible thing if that ships crew came down with TB considering that is also the ship interfacing with every other ship in the region.

I don’t know if we are keeping the pirates in a section of the ship where the ventilation system is connected to the rest of the ship, but I hope it is something that has been considered. I also do not know if there is an x-ray or radiologist on the ship, but perhaps there should be? I’m not trying to over hype an issue, nor do I know if this is even an issue. I’m simply noting that Naval forces don’t generally take and hold prisoners in large numbers for long periods of time at sea.

America’s defense debate is, in part, propelled by a small set of dedicated trade publication or outside-the-beltway reporters. These unhearalded folks often lack the means (or the inclination) to introduce themselves to their readers.

At WEST 2009, I had an opportunity to sit down and interview Zachary M. Peterson, the Managing Editor of an influential navy news publication, Inside The Navy (a piece of the larger “Inside Defense” constellation). So, as part of my ongoing effort to introduce some of the people who cover naval news (some previous interviews are here and here), allow the USNI blog to “break behind the byline” and introduce Editor Zach Peterson:

Springboard: What is your background?

Mr. Peterson: I earned a BA in history and political science from the University of Western Ontario. Liberal arts degrees are often maligned, but I never viewed my undergraduate work as the ticket to a professional job but rather a foundation for additional learning and I think that was the right mindset. After college, I returned home to Michigan where I attended graduate school at Michigan State, receiving a Masters in journalism. While in grad school, I had the opportunity to cover state government for a news wire and Michigan Public Radio. This experience landed me in Washington and in turn, covering the military. A fundamental understanding in how government works is required to successfully report on military policy and procurement because politics are so entwined with everything the services try to do.

Springboard: What story/stories did you enjoy most? Which one(s) had the biggest impact?

Mr. Peterson:  I enjoy spending time in the field or on ships with the operational forces. The chance to participate in training with Marine Corps foreign military advisers or ride a ship in the Persian Gulf are rare opportunities to experience, for a brief moment, what it’s like be in the military, which is essential for someone who has no military background.

The stories I think have the most impact are the ones where issues are brought to light before they are covered by the mainstream media. Examples include writing about the Mine Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP) before it was an acquisition program and more recently, the impact on individual augmentees serving on the ground in places like Iraq and Afghanistan are having on the Navy’s overall readiness at sea.

Springboard: When thinking about your news coverage, where/how has the Navy been successful in making your work harder? How/when does the Navy help make your work easier?

Mr. Peterson: Of late, the Navy seems to have a hard time discussing what the service needs and wants in terms of shipbuilding. It’s difficult to write about plans to build a (fill-in-a-number) size fleet when the most detail the Navy is willing to give about its future thinking is a “313-ship floor” and a “balanced fleet.”

On the up side, the Navy generally does a good job making admirals and other senior officials available for interviews and providing opportunities to get aboard ships or out to bases to meet personnel and see things firsthand. Good public affairs officers are a valuable asset, who provide background information and resources often difficult to access otherwise, while unhelpful PAOs can make a journalist’s life difficult and hamper well-rounded reporting.

Springboard: What advice would you give to people who want to follow in your footsteps?

Mr. Peterson: For those that want to become military reporters, getting “in the door” is the most important thing. Regardless of military experience, that first job covering defense or the first few freelance articles, are crucial to developing sources and becoming familiar with the key issues. I didn’t know much about the modern Navy before I started at Inside the Navy, but quickly, through a full immersion of briefings, conferences, speeches and ship embarks, I built up enough foundational knowledge to feel confident talking to a senior admiral about the shipbuilding plan or aircraft recapitalization. Background reading is also important. A historical knowledge base doesn’t hurt and books like Ian Toll’s SIX FRIGATES; Max Boot’s THE SAVAGE WARS OF PEACE; John Keegan’s THE PRICE OF ADMIRALTY; Ronald Specter’s AT WAR, AT SEA; Robert Kaplan’s IMPERIAL GRUNTS and Tom Ricks’ FIASCO — to name a few — all help offer various glimpses into military history new and old.

Springboard: What are the key differences between your work covering the Navy and Navy bloggers?

Mr. Peterson: Blogs have proven to be a useful place to exchange ideas and generate discussion about important issues. But my work is held to a different level of accountability — both to my editors and senior managers — and to the readers. Those paying to read Inside the Navy have an expectation that the content is presented in the most objective manner possible, while bloggers have the ability to freely express opinions. Both have benefits to the reading public. In turn, the work I do gives bloggers the opportunity to post stories and comment on them, in some cases even compare and contrast reporting from several media outlets to illustrate the scope of information on a given topic available to those interested.


1st of a 3-part series

In a USNI Blog exclusive, I recently interviewed Lt. Gen. Norman Seip, Twelfth Air Force and Air Forces Southern Commander, on the USAF’s role in Soft Power. Seip is a passionate and inspirational leader and these traits will serve him and our nation well as the 12th Air Force “builds, enhance, and strengthen partnerships…” 

As you will see by our interview, the USAF is doing some great things in regards to Soft Power. Today’s post focuses on some general background information on soft power as well as funding issues.

Q: What is the U.S. Air Force’s definition of soft power?

Seip: Traditionally, Soft Power has been defined as the courses of action one nation uses (political measures, foreign policy, exportation of cultural values, etc) to influence or persuade another party to cooperate or adopt similar values. But I believe this is too narrow a definition, and that “influence” should never be part of the Soft Power

As I stated in Small Wars Journal, Air Forces Southern is zeroed in on Soft Power because of our area of focus; Central, South America and the Caribbean. Our objective is to promote security, enhance stability and enable partnerships across the Americas. Countering narcoterrorism, promoting human rights and providing humanitarian assistance to partner nations are some examples of Soft Power in action.

Q: What are some of the resources the U.S. Air Force has that can provide soft power?

Seip: Obviously the first resource people think of when the Air Force is involved is airpower….be it airlift, search and rescue or combat forces, the Air Force has a full array of airpower options to assist in Soft Power operations, but our most important resource is our Airmen….Officer, Enlisted, Active, Guard, Reserve and Civilians that make up our Total Force Team. I like to say that we build, enhance and strengthen partnerships with partner nation Air Forces ‘one Airman at a time.’

Although the notion is to first think of military hardware in relation to what the Air Force brings to the table, I prefer to think of Airmen as the key enabler in Soft Power operations. Airmen build bridges, both figuratively and literally, and are the most important part of making a Soft Power initiative successful. At any given time, more than 1,000 US Airmen are deployed in the AFSOUTH area of focus, working alongside other military members and in local communities to assist partner nations during dozens of training, outreach and infrastructure operations.

Airmen provide expertise, innovation, and a high degree of professionalism to every operation they’re involved. Whether it’s flying, engineering, maintenance, environmental, medical, rescue, chaplains, scientists or communicators, Airmen have a wealth of knowledge to share with partner nations. The personal relationships built between military members during Soft Power operations are integral to future military cooperation. When we send a team to assist a partner nation, it’s the spirit of the American Airman that I want people to remember.

Q: Do opportunities exist for the USAF to increase its role in Soft Power? If so, are they funded? If they are not funded, what soft power initiatives are on your unfunded programs list?

Seip: There’s always room for more resources – I run out of dollars long before I run out of opportunities to employ Soft Power initiatives in our AOF. I firmly believe that our great Air Force will participate in even more Soft Power initiatives in the near future.

Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom have taught our up-and-coming commanders that firepower isn’t always the most effective means of solving problems. These leaders are bringing this mindset to every command they join; sharing ideas for Soft Power programs that may have helped citizens in the Horn of Africa or Afghanistan and applying them to their new assignments. The Air Force’s global reach and airlift capacity makes us the ‘go-to’ provider during natural disasters, humanitarian assistance and the like.

Money isn’t always the issue – many programs don’t cost a lot, but pay huge dividends to participants. For example: legal exchanges between Air Force JAGs and lawyers in Latin America help to reinforce the rule of law; allowing partner nation Airmen to attend an NCO Academy or Squadron Officer School in the United States increases the professionalization of their corps; deployed Airmen cleaning up a reef near their forward operating location benefits locals and tourists alike; and environmental experts sharing inspection techniques with partner nations can help prevent future pollution. These are some examples of low-cost Soft Power initiatives we’ve found to be very beneficial to our partner nations – in the case of Soft Power, creativity is often more important than a big budget.

While I can’t speak for every command, in AFSOUTH we’ve been particularly fortunate in that military and civilian leadership understand the value and importance in funding Soft Power initiatives in Latin America and the Caribbean. In fact, just six short months ago AFSOUTH received funds directly from the Chief of Staff of the Air Force to execute Operation Southern Partner, the first-ever regionally focused subject matter exchange of its kind. The event proved so successful that our team is planning the next iteration to take place in June and again in the fall. This bi-annual event is focused on providing partner nation Air Forces with subject matter experts in areas they identify as value-added for their Air Forces. USAF members benefit by finding new perspectives on their career specialty and new ways of approaching problems common to Airmen.

For example, during medical exchanges in Chile and Uruguay, doctors from Wilford Hall shared trauma medicine techniques from their past deployments to Balad Air Base, Iraq. During the exchange, the American doctors also learned from their counterparts about new techniques in dealing with heart disease and emergency care. The American doctors were able to take these findings home with them and into their emergency rooms.
That’s success – effective Soft Power initiatives are two-way – we’re learning together with our partners.

Jim, this is only one example. I hope you can join us during the next Operation Southern Partner – to see for yourself Soft Power in action!

As for unfunded programs, our command is very fortunate to have Admiral Stavridis, the USSOUTHCOM commander, leading the Soft Power charge. If we’ve got an idea that might help benefit partner nations in the USSOUTHCOM area of focus, he works hard to find a way to fund these missions. I encourage our team to think of new and innovative programs to share across the region, and we haven’t turned down a good idea due to lack of money.

My interview with Lt. Gen. Seip continues tomorrow. Havy any questions on the interview so far? If so, please post them in the comments section.

Posted by Jim Dolbow in Soft Power | 2 Comments

CO Gonzalez Reacts

February 2009


The official USS Gonzalez blog has a thoughtful CO’s comment about the recent events aboard San Antonio and Port Royal.

Posted by Chap in Navy | 3 Comments

….and the follow on reports just get plain weird.

A French submarine was unaware that it had rammed and damaged a British nuclear sub in a mid-Atlantic collision until it was informed by the Royal Navy.

The French Navy claimed this month that Le Triomphant’s bow sonar dome was probably damaged in a collision with a submerged shipping container while returning from patrol.

It discovered that it had hit a British submarine only after one of their regular exchanges of information with the Royal Navy.

Awwww — come on. Someone being a cheeky monkey Limey? writes,

Close-up of a Fairey Swordfish Mark II, HS 545'B', in flight as seen through the struts of another aircraft.

Close-up of a Fairey Swordfish Mark II, HS 545. 

Royal Navy aviators and veterans, including Jock Moffat, the Swordfish pilot whose torpedo crippled the Bismark in World War Two, gathered today at the Royal Aeronautical Society in London to launch the One Hundredth Anniversary of Naval Aviation. The centenary year will be marked by a panoply of colourful events and activities throughout the UK.

The rest of the story can be found here as well at The Royal Navy’s Fly Navy 100.

Have you been a part of this glorious history? If so, comment away!

Over at my place I’ve been following a news story and am crossposting it here. Here’s a snapshot of how the story changed as the reports became more available, newest on top. We’ll know more tomorrow, but as of right now the stories are mostly unreliable. Bottom line as of this moment: Something happened to a French SSBN, and maybe something happened to a RN SSBN, and there might be a connection. It’s worth watching news stories like this just to see how the narrative frame is built, how the information presented changes, and what lasting impressions come from the trail of reports even if some reports are factually wrong.

Update: Earlier this week the story was that Le Triomphant bonked some kind of shipping container upon submerging off Brest, and that’s what caused minor damage to the sonar dome. Information’s pretty weak; first reports always wrong/always believed…

Update: Daily Mail confirms. They say the French boat’s sonar dome was wrecked in the collision.

Amphibian sailor Ken Adams heps me to an “exclusive” from the Sun UK (I know, I know). Single source, I can’t find anything in French on the web or English, it’s on Wikipedia already but only sourcing the Sun article. Removing the hyperbole and speculation, the article says:

The Royal Navy’s HMS Vanguard and the French Navy’s Le Triomphant are both nuclear powered and were carrying nuke missiles.

Between them they had around 250 sailors on board.

The collision is believed to have taken place on February 3 or 4, in mid-Atlantic. Both subs were submerged and on separate missions.

A senior military source said: “The lines between London and Paris have been hot.”

The MoD insisted last night there had been no nuclear security breach.

She was last night towed into Faslane in Scotland, with dents and scrapes visible on her hull. Triomphant limped to Brest with extensive damage to her sonar dome.

Update 16 Feb: Welcome Joel’s fellow bubbleheads! The post’s getting a little cluttered, so further updates are in the comment string.

Posted by Chap in Maritime Security | 8 Comments
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