Archive for the 'Maritime Security' Category

11th

Presence vs Posture

April 2016

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A military that faces budget constraints must make choices. The US military is no exception. Is it more important that we fund a large force that can build relationships and spread out over every potential conflict zone? Or should we instead invest in capabilities that will make our individual units more lethal and survivable? In other words, do we build a lot of the assets we know how to build, or do we instead develop better assets that we can build in the future? Secretary of Defense Carter has referred to this debate in terms of posture vs presence (advanced future-forces vs large current-forces).

The fundamental question of this debate is whether war is more likely now or in the future. If we knew we had 50 years until a large conventional conflict, most would advocate investing in capability. That would allow us to build more effective forces for when we needed them. On the other hand, if we knew we only had 1 year, it would not be prudent to divert current readiness in favor of capabilities that wouldn’t be available in time.

The United States’ modern defense establishment has faced one real peer-competitor: the USSR. They posed a threat that was felt viscerally by the populace and the military that defended them. If there was ever a challenge that dictated a large number of ready forces, it was the Cold War. New technologies always had to be researched, but they would be useless if the operational forces couldn’t win a war that day.

When we look at a graph of US defense research spending as a percentage of total defense spending, this pattern is clear. Time periods where the blue line is below the red are when research spending was lower than the historical average.

Figure1

Data from SIPRI and AAAS

From the early-60s to the mid-80s, when the Soviet threat was large and immediate, research took a back seat to presence. Regular military spending outpaced research spending by a greater than normal amount. Then, America woke up in the 90s to a peerless world. Presence took a back seat to capability. The US military had breathing space to begin to think about the future. It used that breathing space to fund the technologies that would power a networked military that has yet to be seriously challenged in conventional warfare in the post-Cold War era.

In the 21st century, China has replaced the Soviet Union as the threat that focuses defense planners. So how does China compare as an adversary? Do we have the time we need to focus on capability, or should we go all-in on our currently operational forces?

Without going into direct capabilities, a fairly reasonable way to compare threats is to look at top-line military budgets. How did our spending compare to the Soviets’ and how does our spending compare to China’s? Let’s first look at the Cold War.

Figure2

Data from SIPRI and CIA

From 1966 to 1989, the United States was able to muster enough defense spending to approximately match that of the Soviet Union. There were long stretches where the US lagged the Soviets, but it was always fairly close. The rest of NATO seems to have consistenly spent somewhere between 50% and 60% of the Soviet’s budget. Combined, NATO and the US spent 20-80% more than the USSR.
Figure3

Data from SIPRI and CIA

Looking at these graphs, you see what looks like a close struggle, but one where the US and NATO are clearly superior. That was not at all the perception in the 60s or 70s, though. The nightly news in that era was gloomy. And the Soviet military really did pose a legitimate threat to an American-led world order. We talk today about China holding US aircraft carriers at risk. The Soviet Union held every city in America at risk. It was a global challenger as much as it sought regional hegemony. So the US strategy was to prioritize the readiness of the forces that it had. Not to prioritize the forces it wished it had.

And in the end, it is hard to argue that this was the wrong strategy. Afterall, the world is not a nuclear wasteland and America has enjoyed lone superpower status for the last 25 years. So if this is the threat picture that warrants “presence” oriented spending, what is a threat picture that warrants the opposite? This:

Figure4

Data from SIPRI

It is not terribly close. During the Cold War, the US and the USSR spent similar amounts on defense. The United States outspends China three times over, today. Additionally, China’s neighbors currently spend an amount equal to China’s defense outlays, not the 60% deficit that NATO could muster on its best days.

The trajectory of China’s spending is clearly up, while the United States’ trajectory is clearly down. But America presently enjoys a vast lead. And China’s neighbors are increasing defense spending, as well (albiet at a lower rate). Taking these factors into account, it seems as though the United States has a long time before it must worry about China challenging global order. China may be building “facts on the ground” that will be beneficial once it is a mature power (by flouting international law in the South China Sea), but it is not currently a serious challenger to the United States.

While the US and NATO once spent a combined 120% of the Soviet’s budget, the US and its Asian allies currently spend 384% of China’s budget.

Figure5

Data from SIPRI

If every trend stays exactly as it currently is (and that is already not realistic since China recently announced a reduction in military spending growth), it will take a decade before China poses a threat similar to that of the USSR.

China cannot currently contest our dominance in Asia in the way that the Soviets contested our dominance in Europe. During the Cold War, America waited to prioritize current-force spending until the Soviet’s military budget was about 80% of the American budget. China’s is currently at 35% of America’s.

If American strategy requires that its chief adversary be able to plausibly challenge its dominance in a region before it prioritizes current-forces over future ones, it’s clear that now is not the time for a buildup. With a minimum of 10 years before a new Cold War, and more realistically 20 or 30 years, the US military would be remiss to not fund future capabilities while it can.

The question then is relegated to one of magnitude. How much should the United States prioritize research? Let’s first look at where our current military budget is in comparison to where it’s been.

Figure6

Data from SIPRI

Defense spending has averaged 6.1% of GDP since 1949. It currently rests at around 3.5% of GDP. As you can see in the above graph, defense spending was high up until the end of the Cold War, shrunk greatly in the 90s, and then rose again during the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. With those wars now over, our budget is in a new trough.

Figure7

Data from SIPRI

Total defense spending as a percentage of GDP has only been lower for a brief time in the late 90s/early aughts. There is room to increase it if needed. And if there is to be an increase, it should go toward modernizing the force.

Research and development as a percentage of GDP lies at around .4%. The long-run average is .55%, but the R&D boom of the late 80s reached .7%.

Figure8

Data from SIPRI and AAAS

The late-80s investment in R&D produced the advanced military that was able to decimate Saddam’s Soviet-style military. It was sufficient to produce a force capable of decisive victory. Similar levels of investment will be required to produce similar margins of victory. What would it take to get spending back to similar levels?

It would require 70% more research spending, but would only increase the total defense budget to 3.8% of GDP from 3.5%. Which is far below the 6.1% long-run average. By reducing our current-force size in areas unlikely to contribute in a large, conventional conflict (the least likely scenario, but easily the most damaging), we could likely keep our overall budget similar to its current levels.

China is a threat to an American-led global order in the long-run. It will eventually be able to credibly challenge our core interests in the world. It, however, does not currently warrant the same defense structure than did the USSR. We still have time to ensure our forces are capable enough to win the wars of the future. And in their current structure, they would likely prevail in any surprise conflict that comes sooner. We shouldn’t restore our military to its Cold War size. We should worry about how we can build the military of the future.



p1-w2-vietnam-a-20140512There is something happening in WESTPAC that needs a closer look.

In addressing China’s push in to the sea, the Western response is almost reflexive – and bellicose. Via David Larter at NavyTimes;

The U.S. military’s top commander in the Pacific is arguing behind closed doors for a more confrontational approach to counter and reverse China’s strategic gains in the South China Sea, appeals that have met resistance from the White House at nearly every turn.

Adm. Harry Harris is proposing a muscular U.S. response to China’s island-building that may include launching aircraft and conducting military operations within 12 miles of these man-made islands, as part of an effort to stop what he has called the “Great Wall of Sand” before it extends within 140 miles from the Philippines’ capital, sources say.

In the closest Western nation to China, Australia, we have an interesting twist from their Latest White Paper;

Former minister Kevin Andrews has used today’s release of the long-awaited Defence White Paper to pressure the Turnbull Government to send warships within 12 nautical miles of contested islands in the South China Sea.

The 2016 Defence White Paper maps a course towards a total of $195 billion in Defence capability or equipment by 2020-21, together with a larger military force of 62,400 personnel, the largest in a quarter of a century.

Mr Andrews’ call comes just days after the Commander of the US Navy’s Pacific Fleet said it would be “valuable” if the Royal Australian Navy conducted “freedom of navigation” operations in the disputed region.

The Liberal backbencher said Australia must now follow the United States’ example.

“We have to exercise that freedom of navigation and means being prepared to sail our naval vessels, to fly our aircraft through that region and say we want unrestricted trade routes in this area,” Mr Andrews told the ABC.

OK. those are grey-hull ops, FON ops, and generally showing everyone you have a big stick.

What are the nations closest to China doing, those of a distinct Asian culture and a few thousand years of national history in dealing with China? They have grey hulls, they have warships – but it isn’t their navy by-and-large that they are sending out.

Let’s go north to south. Japan;

Japan has placed 12 of its coast guard vessels around the disputed chain of islands in the East China Sea. The deployment comes days after it inaugurated a new defence radar system in the region, and is meant to patrol the islands called Senkaku by Japan and termed Diaoyu by China.

The fleet comprises 1,500-tonne patrol ships – all of them newly inducted – and two Shikishima class helicopter carriers. All the newly-built ships, capable of high-speed manoeuvres, are fitted with 20mm guns and water cannons. Tokyo said the enhanced patrolling is to protect the waters surrounding the region, according to the Kyodo news agency.

Vietnam;

The stand-off between China and Vietnam over the former’s decision to place an oil rig in disputed waters in the South China Sea escalated on Tuesday when a Chinese coast guard ship rammed a Vietnamese coast guard ship. The Vietnamese vessel allegedly suffered several “gashes” in its metal hull according to the Wall Street Journal. No Vietnamese sailors were injured and the boat did not sink. The incident reflects a sort of escalation in the dispute. While a Chinese vessel rammed and sank a Vietnamese civilian vessel (a fishing boat) last month, Tuesday’s incident is a case of two coast guard ships from the two countries becoming involved in a physical altercation. In another incident, a Chinese vessel fired a water cannon at a Vietnamese ocean inspection ship. No naval assets from either side were involved in either exchange.

So far, neither Vietnamese nor Chinese officials have commented on the incident. The initial report comes courtesy of a Vietnamese TV news station VTV1.

Indonesia:

On Saturday, a large Chinese coast guard warship in Indonesian waters rammed a vessel that was being towed by an Indonesian patrol vessel. The vessel being towed was a Chinese fishing boat that had been illegally fishing in Indonesian waters around the Natuna Islands in the South China Sea. Another large Chinese warship arrived on the scene and forced the Indonesians to release the fishing vessel. However, the eight-member crew of the Chinese vessel had already been arrested, and are still in custody.

The Natuna Islands have always been sovereign Indonesian territory. They are far away from China, but because of the rich fishing grounds, China would like to use its military power to seize the islands from Indonesia.

They could be using their navy, but they aren’t.

When you have a grey hull, you are signaling that you consider this dispute a national security issue; a white hull signals that you see it as a legal issue.

As we plan to run up the battle flag at flank speed, we may want to ponder a bit why those closest to China are taking a different approach.



Please join us at 5pm (EDT) on 3 April 2016 for Midrats Episode 326: Undersea Lawfare with RADM Johnson, USN (Ret) and CAPT Palmer, USN

DARPA image

Since its ascendency to the premier maritime power, the US Navy – especially in the area of undersea warfare – has been at the leading edge of using technology to get a military edge.

During the Cold War, significant and steady progress in the first two steps of the kill chain against submarines, location and tracking, made the prospect of engaging superior numbers of Soviet submarine forces manageable.

We continue that tradition today, but to keep ahead of growing challenges, we have test. Build a little, test a little, learn a lot will stop dead in its tracks without testing in the real world. Computer simulation is only so good.

When it comes to submarines especially, you have to get in the water with them.

Knowing our technological track record an operating a generation or two ahead of some potential adversaries – are there ways they can negate our edge – or at least buy time while they catch up?

Are we vulnerable to potential challengers using national and international law against us? Undersea Lawfare?

Our guests for the full hour to discuss will be Rear Admiral J. Michael “Carlos” Johnson, USN (Ret.) and Captain Michael T. Palmer, USN.

As a stepping off point, we will be using their article in the latest Naval War College Review: UNDERSEA LAWFARE – Can the US Navy Fall Victim to This Asymmetrical Warfare Threat?

RADM Johnson retired after 33 years of service as a naval aviator that included combat in Vietnam, Libya, the Balkans, and the Persian Gulf. He commanded the John F. Kennedy Battle Group, CVW-8, and VFA-86. Ashore he served on the staffs of the CNO as Director of Aviation Plans and Requirements) and the J3 of EUCOM.

Captain Palmer is an active-duty JAG and an adjunct assistant professor at ODU. Her has served as environmental counsel to the CNO; U.S. Fleet Forces Command; and Commander, Navy Region Mid-Atlantic.

Listen live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can find the show later on our iTunes page.



Please join us at 5pm (remember Eastern Daylight Time) on 13 March 2016 for Midrats Episode 323: Building a Navy in Peace That Wins at War

The wartime record of the US Navy in under four years of combat from late 1941’s low point to the September 1945 anchoring in Tokyo Bay did not happen by chance. It did not happen through luck, or through quick thinking. It happened through a process of dedicated, deliberate, disciplined and driven effort over two decades in the intra-war period.

What were the mindset, process, leadership, and framework of the 1920s and 1930s that was used to build the fleet and the concepts that brought it to victory in the 1940s?

This week we are going to dive deep in this subject for the full hour with Captain C.C. Felker, USN, Professor of History at the US Naval Academy and author of, Testing American Sea Power: U.S. Navy Strategic Exercises, 1923–1940.

Listen live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here or later from our iTunes page



AusTop10Read and read widely.

Building off a comment during the last Midrats by our guest, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara, I took time this week to read Australia’s 2016 Defence White Paper. Follow the link and give it a read, what an superior bit of work by our fellow Anglosphere brothers on the other side of the world.

As outlined in a great summary video by the Sydney Morning Herald’s David Wroe, the White Paper is a clear eyed view of the world coming up in the next decade; a world that has dark shadows that demands a free people to have the ability to project hard power. Australia is well aware that defense spending in Asia is now above that of Europe. They are a continent sized nation blessed with resources, a high standard of living and with a thin population – surrounded by nations that are not.

I think this is just more than a paper, e should expect follow through;

Dr Malcolm Davis of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute said he believed Australia is likely to join the US in conducting formal exercises.”There is a strong possibility we’ll become more involved in the South China Sea, particularly through freedom and navigation exercises alongside the Americans or other regional partner.

Professor Medcalf said the paper “reinforced the view that Australia sees the South China Sea tensions as a legitimate Australian security concern”.

The paper underscored that Australia is a US ally and Australia is building security partnerships with a range of countries in the region; it mentioned Indonesia, India and Japan in particular as countries Australia would want to build stronger security partnerships with.

“The paper highlighted that Australia’s security environment is becoming more complex and uncertain and much of this is related to Chinese power and the way China’s using that power,” he told The Australian Financial Review.

A big part of this buildup will be the Royal Australian Navy … with a bit of a bone it its teeth it seems;

Professor Mohan Malik at Honolulu’s Asia-Pacific Centre for Security Studies points out that China’s strategic thinkers are counting on the countries of the region going through three phases in response to China’s new assertiveness.

He points out that leading Chinese analysts such as Yan Xuetong, Shen Dingli and Shi Yinhong believe that regional countries will soon abandon resistance and move to accommodation of China and then, finally, reconciliation on China’s terms.

With the US presidential campaign giving the world a deeply unsettling premonition of a President Trump, it’s a key moment for other responsible powers to demonstrate commitment to the rule of law rather than the law of the jungle.

Australia, through Turnbull’s white paper, is saying that it will step up. The naval build up would not be big enough for Australia to win a standalone war against China.

But it does increase Australia’s heft, complicate the plans of any enemy, and mark Australia out as an important ally in any common defence of the Asia-Pacific peace.

On China’s current trajectory of increasingly using brute force against its neighbours, every country will have to make the hard choice to decide its stance. When the Soviet Union challenged Europe, Finland yielded its sovereignty to Moscow on vital matters while Britain stood staunchly opposed.

The real significance of last week’s defence white paper is Australia has chosen not to be a feeble Finland but to be a resolute Britain.

This resolve should encourage Vietnam, South Korea, The Philippines and others in the area.

Of interest has been China’s reaction. A sample of quotes;

“China is seriously concerned about the contents in the white paper that touches upon the issue of South China Sea and is firmly opposed to the accusations against China ” said Wu Qian, spokesperson for China’s Ministry of National Defense (MND), at a press conference on February 25, adding that the South China Sea issue isn’t one between China and Australia, and the freedom of navigation in that region has never been and will never be affected for all countries, including Australia.

These remarks are negative and we are dissatisfied about this.”

Reading the document, you quickly determine that it does not take much to get the Chinese excited. Here are the quotes that got everyone turning their heads;

Territorial disputes between claimants in the East China and South China Seas have created uncertainty and tension in our region.

While major conflict between the United States and China is unlikely, there are a number of points of friction in the region in which differences between the United States and China could generate rising tensions. These points of friction include the East China and South China Seas, the airspace above those seas, and in the rules that govern international behaviour, particularly in the cyber and space domains.

Australia also has deep economic security interests in South East Asia. The region’s growth presents significant opportunities for Australia’s economy and prosperity. Two-way trade with ASEAN countries was worth over $100 billion in 2014. The waters of South East Asia carry the great majority of Australia’s international trade including to our three largest export markets in China, Japan and the Republic of Korea. Nearly two thirds of Australia’s exports pass through the South China Sea, including our major coal, iron ore and liquefied natural gas exports

Australia does not take sides on competing territorial claims in the South China Sea but we are concerned that land reclamation and construction activity by claimants raises tensions in the region. Australia opposes the use of artificial structures in the South China Sea for military purposes. Australia also opposes the assertion of associated territorial claims and maritime rights which are not in accordance with international law,

Australia has called on all South China Sea claimants to halt land reclamation and construction activities…

The absence of an agreed framework for managing the competing claims in the South China Sea highlights the importance of ASEAN and China agreeing to a Code of Conduct for the South China Sea as soon as possible.

Our third Strategic Defence Interest is in a stable Indo-Pacific region and rules-based global order which supports Australia’s interests. The Indo-Pacific includes North Asia, the South China Sea and the extensive sea lines of communication in the Indian and Pacific Oceans that support Australian trade.

There are more cards to play and elections to play out over the next decade, but there is one card that will be fun to watch. The Japan card;

Australia’s submarine industry has been given a much needed boost, with confirmation in the Defence White Paper that the Government will order 12 new vessels as part of its future submarine program.

Government yet to announce who will build submarines and where Japan, Germany and France vie for contract Government pledges to keep as much work as possible in Adelaide

But the much-delayed decision on who will build the subs, and where, will not be made until the middle of the year.

Japan is seen as the front-runner to win the $50 billion contract and the Turnbull Government has pledged to keep as much work in Adelaide as it can.

Japan. That would be interesting to watch.



Please join us on 28 Feb 2016 at 5pm EST, for Midrats Episode 321: The Year of the Monkey in the South China Sea w/Toshi Yoshihara:

Claims hundreds of year old in the South China Sea are being acted on today. Ethnic tensions that date back to recorded time are returning to the surface with renewed importance.

Regardless of what may be happening in the Middle East or Europe, China and the nations that border the South China Sea have their own set of priorities they will pursue this year.

To discuss the present state of play in the area and the events to look for as the year unfolds will be returning guest of the show, Dr. Toshi Yoshihara from the Naval War College.

Professor Toshi Yoshihara holds the John A. van Beuren Chair of Asia-Pacific Studies and is an affiliate member of the China Maritime Studies Institute at the Naval War College. Before joining the College faculty, he was a visiting professor in the Strategy Department at the Air War College. Dr. Yoshihara has also served as an analyst at the Institute for Foreign Policy Analysis, RAND, and the American Enterprise Institute. He holds a Ph.D. from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, an M.A. from the School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University, and a B.S.F.S. from the School of Foreign Service, Georgetown University. He is co-author of Red Star over the Pacific: China’s Rise and the Challenge to U.S. Maritime Strategy and other books related to maritime concerns in national defense policy.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or get the show from our iTunes page here



Please join us at 5pm EST on 31 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 317: “Naval Presence and National Strategy,” with Jerry Hendrix :

From the same school as “If you want peace, prepare for war,” a global maritime power must maintain a presence at sea. It must design a national strategy in line with its economic capability and political will, and make sure it mans, trains, and equips its navy in line with the design.

If presence is a critical function of a navy, how is it best accomplished, what are the tradeoffs, and how does it impact friends, competitors, and those sitting on the fence?

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and more will be Dr. Henry J. Hendrix, Jr, CAPT USN (Ret).

Jerry is a Senior Fellow and the Director of the Defense Strategies and Assessments Program at the Center for a New American Security.

When on active duty, his staff assignments include tours with the Chief of Naval Operation’s Executive Panel (N00K), and the OSD Office of Net Assessment From 2011-2012 he served as the Director and Designated Federal Officer of the Secretary of the Navy’s Advisory Panel. He also contributed to the 2012 Department Posture Statement to the Congress. Following the fall, 2011 Navy Inspector General’s Report on the state of the Naval History and Heritage Command, he was verbally ordered by the Secretary to assume the position of Director of Naval History.

Hendrix previously served as the Navy Fellow to the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. He has been awarded a Bachelor Degree in Political Science from Purdue University, Masters Degrees from the Naval Postgraduate School (National Security Affairs) and Harvard University (History) and received his doctorate from King’s College, London (War Studies).

Listen live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can pick the show up from our iTunes page here



 MC3 B. Siens

UPDATED: Correct time for the show is 5pm EST.

Please join us at 5:00pm on 3 Jan 2016 for Midrats Episode 313: Fleet Architecture and Strategic Efficiency with Barney Rubel discussing

How do you balance cost, risk, peacetime habits and wartime requirements in designing and using the world’s largest Navy?

MC2 Aidan P. Campbell

How do we maximize the most the utility of our platforms now, and create a future fleet best suited for what is coming up?

“Sea Control Ship” (1972 design)

Our guest for the full hour to discuss will be Barney Rubel, CAPT, USN (Ret.).

Robert C. “Barney” Rubel is a retired naval officer. From 2006 to 2014, he was Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College. Prior to assuming this position, he was Chairman of the Wargaming Department. A thirty-year Navy veteran, he received his commission through the Naval Reserve Officer Training Corps at the University of Illinois. He subsequently became a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet. He commanded Strike Fighter Squadron 131 and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

Listen live or pick the show up later by clicking here or by visiting our iTunes page here.



Please join us at 5 pm EST on 15 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 306: Author Claude Berube on his next book: Syren’s Song

This Sunday for the full hour our guest will be author Claude Berube to discuss his second Connor Stark novel, Syren’s Song. From the Amazon page,

Syren’s Song is the second novel featuring Connor Stark, and it promises to be just as engaging as The Aden Effect. This geopolitical thriller begins when the Sri Lankan navy is unexpectedly attacked by a resurgent and separatist Tamil Tiger organization. The government issues a letter of marque to former U.S. Navy officer Connor Stark, now the head of the private security company Highland Maritime Defense. Stark and his eclectic compatriots accept the challenge only to learn that the Sea Tigers who crippled the Sri Lankan navy are no ordinary terrorists.”

We will also discuss the craft of writing, how emerging real world events can influence the writing of fiction, and as we usually do with Claude, perhaps some other interestiing topics that crop up in the course of our conversation.

Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also catch the show later on our iTunes page here (though the episode number might be different because …?)



 Please join us on Sunday, 13 September 2015 at 5pm (EDT) for Midrats Episode 297: The Outlaw Ocean with Ian Urbina

Stowaways, poaching, piracy, smuggling, and murder – the global commons of the open ocean is as wild of a place as it is vast.

Using as a baseline his series on lawlessness on the high seas in the New York Times, The Outlaw Ocean, our guest for the full hour to discuss the anarchy of crime and violence on the high seas in the 21st Century will be Ian Ubina.

Ian is a reporter for The New York Times, based in the paper’s Washington bureau. He has degrees in history from Georgetown University and the University of Chicago, and his writings, which range from domestic and foreign policy to commentary on everyday life, have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Guardian, Harper’s, and elsewhere.

Join us live if you can or pick the show up for later listening by clicking here or (also for later listening) by visiting our iTunes page



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