Archive for the 'Piracy' Category
On August 11t h, 2011 the M/V Caravos Horizon was attacked by “sea bandits” in the Red Sea, just north of the Straits of Bab al Mendib. The distress call was picked up by Combined Task Force 151 and Expeditionary Strike Group 5, and they determined that there were two naval assets capable of responding in the vicinity. HMS MONMOUTH, a British Frigate, and USS BATAAN, an American amphibious assault ship, both swung into action. The crew of the Caravos Horizon secured themselves inside a “citadel” as six “sea bandits” boarded and took control of the bridge of the ship.
Bay Raider 45, an armed MH-60S Knighthawk from HSC-28 Detachment TWO, was airborne flying regularly scheduled Search and Rescue duty with the BATAAN Amphibious Ready Group at the time of the attack. The Knighthawk was brought back to the flight deck to top off the fuel. Expeditionary Strike Group 5 ordered the BATAAN ARG to send a helicopter toward the scene of the attack to provide intelligence, survelliance, and reconnisance (ISR) and to report information back to BATAAN. Bay Raider launched and headed south to provide assistance to the mariners in distress.
The purpose of this post isn’t to re-tell the story of the event. Both HMS MONMOUTH and USS BATAAN released reports of the incident which can be found in the open press. The PAO’s put hard work into these articles, read them for the story of a successful boarding to retake control of the M/V Caravos Horizon. Instead of rehashing the story, here at the USNI blog we’ll look at the larger picture…what lessons can we learn about counter-piracy and naval irregular warfare?
In October of 2010 I was lucky to be invited to speak as a panelist at the Naval Institute’s History Conference “Pirates on the High Seas” during a discussion of the history of piracy and counter-piracy titled “Blackbeard to the Barbary.” In my opening remarks I highlighted three things that stuck out from the 200+ year history of the USN’s counter piracy missions: Platforms, People, and Partnerships. Specifically, having the right “low end/high end” mix of hardware to do the job, having professional and aggressive junior officers to lead operations, and having competent and willing allies to work with in the region. The combined Anglo-American response to the attack on M/V Caravos Horizon reinforces that these principles are as important in the twenty-first century as they were when Decatur, Porter, and Downes sailed in the nineteenth.
When it comes to the hardware involved in this successful operation, a key takeaway is the vital importance of rotary-wing aviation. Irregular operations rarely require the expensive, fast, sexy, high altitude TACAIR jets that you’ll find in Hollywood movies. They need the quiet professionals of the often overlooked naval rotary-wing community. Helicopters embarked on the ships that conduct counter-piracy operations are a force multiplier that provide the ability to respond rapidly, develop critical ISR, and finally to provide overwatch and maritime air support for boarding operations. Sending a ship on counter-piracy or irregular warfare missions without an embarked helicopter significantly degrades the unit’s capability.
The rapid response by the RN Lynx to the scene allowed for the development of early situational awareness which became a key factor for success. The follow on arrival of Bay Raider allowed the ISR net to be cast further away from the attacked vessel. It was able to find two skiffs, which they believed were the suspected “sea bandits.” Our Knighthawk remained overhead briefly as a visible deterrent, and the skiffs turned away from the shipping lanes and headed off at high speed. The two aircraft together could cover hundreds of square miles and help develop situational awareness far beyond the capability of a single surface combatant. When time came for the boarding, the ability to have Bay Raider provide armed overwatch and ISR while the Lynx conducted the insertion was an important element of protecting the boarding party and helping to ensure their success.
The MH-60S Block III Armed Helo’s that now deploy with amphibious assault ships like BATAAN come in the gunship variant. These aircraft have a wide range of armament options that make it a highly capable platform. You can buy nearly a squadron of them for the cost of one Joint Strike Fighter. The crews that fly them like LT Lee Sherman, LT Chris Schneider, AWS2 Joey Faircloth, and AWS3 Josh Teague, are trained in a number of mission areas that lend themselves to maritime security operations and irregular warfare. While the traditional mission of running the racetrack in the “Starboard D” holding pattern as the “SAR Bird” is still a central part of their job (after all, its where Bay Raider 45 started the day), the Armed Helo provides a widely expanded set of capabilities for Amphibious Ready Groups and is an ideal platform for naval irregular warfare.
The Knighthawk pilots and aicrewmen of the Helicopter Sea Combat community are trained for a wide range of missions and skills which lend themselves to successful naval irregular warfare. These include anti-surface warfare and special operations support, as well as the traditional rotary-wing missions of search and rescue and logisitics support.
It is important to note that the “deckplate” leaders of the operations were all junior officers that had been extensively trained and prepared to make combat decisions. Lt Harry Lane RM, commander of the Royal Marines boarding team, Lt Chris Easterling RN, aircraft commander of the Lynx, LT Chris “Texas Pete” Schneider USN, of Bay Raider, are three individuals quoted and identified in the press releases. That wasn’t simply because they were the ones that the PAO could find because they weren’t on watch. These junior officers, along with LT Lee “Chunk” Sherman who was the aircraft commander of Bay Raider 45, demonstrated that when tactical level leaders are given the ability to make decisions and to temper their aggressive nature with solid tactical risk management, operational level success is around the corner.
The partnership element to this operation is obvious. The USN and RN have been working together since nearly our service’s founding to combat piracy and threats to maritime security across the globe. During the First Barbary War the British bases in the Mediterranean were opened to American ships in support of our fight against the Corsairs. In the West Indies in the 1820’s and 1830’s American squadrons teamed with the Royal Navy to help fight the piracy from Cuba. At the end of the 19th century we supported one another in the rivers and coastal waters of China. Sharing the same battlefields over the past decade has helped bring tactics, techniques, and procdures closer together across the range of military operations.
What struck me was the quote from LT Schneider in the BATAAN article about the seamless nature of the combined operation. It mirrored a comment made by LT Sherman during debrief after the mission. He said that working together with the Royal Navy and Royal Marines, “was like we had done it all together before.” Seamless was a word used by both pilots. Our two ships have never seen one another, we never spoke before the moment that Bay Raider checked in with the Lynx over the radio, yet common procedures and decades of experience in combined operations allowed the junior leaders to adapt and flex for a rapid and effective operation.
There are other partnership elements of the mission that are also worth considering. The coastal states of the region are relatively quick to give permission for operations within their territorial waters when it is counter-piracy. This is a commonly overlooked element, during the 1820’s when the Spanish weren’t as cooperative off Cuba it made the work of the USN’s West Indies squadron much more difficult. The ability of the myriad of staffs and command organizations working in the region to work together is also vital. In today’s world of networked battlefields it can be easy for the networks to get overlayed on top of one another, and potentially tangled. With American and multi-national staffs all working the same geography and sea space, the ability to keep it straight and to respond efficiently in order to make decisions between the staffs is vital.
So Others May Live…Or Die.
The operation to secure the M/V Caravos Horizon demonstrates the critical role of the amphibious fleet and rotary-wing aviation to maritime security and American policy around the world. It also reinforces the idea that the right platforms, purposely trained and led people, and strong global partnerships are central to success in naval irregular warfare and in the hybrid maritime conflicts that the United States Navy may face in the coming decades. It must be said that for each aircraft and pilot there are dozens of maintenance professionals and supporting personnel that make our Navy’s global reach possible. Maintainers are the bedrock of the rotary-wing team that successfully completed this mission.
The motto of HSC-28 Detachment TWO is “So Others May Live…Or Die.” Whether as a search and rescue aircraft or a helicopter gunship, DET 2 is a best friend to mariners in distress, worst enemy to those who aim to disrupt maritime security in the regions where we operate. The pride that I feel in being associated with DET 2’s maintenance team, naval aircrewmen, and our pilots is endless. After four and a half months supporting maritime security and contingency operations off the coast of Libya, we have moved southeast, and for the foreseeable future we remain on station…
As is standard when working with the Royal Navy – tactically seamless and it moves as smooth as silk.
MONMOUTH launched her Lynx helicopter from 60 miles away to assess the situation. Lt Chris Easterbrook Royal Navy, pilot of the Ship’s helicopter “Black Knight” said:“Having heard about the distress of the CARAVOS HORIZON, we urgently launched to assess the threat to the merchant vessel and to provide real-time information to MONMOUTH. We stood off at a distance, relaying the current situation and taking photographs and video footage to aid the Commanding Officer’s decision making process. We had to make sure that we understood the situation onboard fully, in order to determine what level of threat the boarding team may face once embarked.”
At the same time, communications were established with the Master of the MV CARAVOS HORIZON, safe inside his citadel with his 23 crew. He provided information on what had happened to his ship, but was unaware of the current situation onboard and had not heard any activity outside the citadel.
Whilst approaching, MONMOUTH was also liaising with a nearby US warship, USS BATAAN (LHD 5), dispatched a MH-60S helicopter to assist and provide a wider area of surveillance. Analysing all the reports that were coming in, there appeared to be no sign of the attackers and only a ladder over the side of MV CARAVOS HORIZON was spotted.
A team of Royal Marine Commandos, backed up by a Royal Navy Boarding Team, embarked on MV CARAVOS HORIZON by helicopter and boats. They systematically worked their way through the vessel ensuring it was clear of intruders. Lt Harry Lane RM, the Officer Commanding the Royal Marines, said:
“I was immensely proud of the way my team conducted themselves. This was a time critical operation; it was late in the day and we had very few daylight left. At the very minimum we needed to get on board and into the superstructure of the merchant vessel before last light. We were able to achieve this with some very quick planning and the use of the RN boarding team to bolster our numbers.”
As soon as it became clear that the attackers had fled, the boarding team freed the crew from their refuge and handed control of the vessel back to the Master.
Communication, secure locations for the crew to hold up and wait, and more importantly a military that is willing to put tough men in harms way who are willing to execute violence to permit the free flow of commerce; simple concept that works charms. Works even better with allies who deploy with few to any caveats beyond standard Force-wide ROE.
BZ to all involved in this Combined action. As it should be.
As a side-bar; speaking of our friends at USNIBlog — I think we know some rotorheads that might be with the BATAAN.
If he doesn’t make his PAO get me pictures ……
Galrahn has a very interesting post on the subject of a story by Reuters that a low-profile UN report verifies the link between Somali pirates and, you guessed it, Al Qaeda. Go check it out. Well worth the read. I will elaborate here on some things that have been bandied about from time to time.
In that Reuters story, some revealing words from the UN Special Envoy to Somalia:
John Steed, the principal military adviser to the U.N. special envoy to Somalia and head of the envoy’s counter-piracy unit, said links between armed pirate gangs and Somalia’s al Qaeda-affiliated rebels were gradually firming.
“The payment of ransoms just like any other funding activity, illegal or otherwise, is technically in breach of the Somalia sanctions regime if it makes the security situation in Somalia worse,” said Steed.
“Especially if it is ending up in the hands of terrorists or militia leaders — and we believe it is, some directly, some more indirectly,” said Steed, a retired military officer.
To any who doubt that this money-making venture has grown exponentially of late, the next paragraph should erase that doubt.
Ransom demands have risen steadily in recent years. According to one study, the average ransom stood at $5.4 million in 2010, up from $150,000 in 2005, helping Somali pirates rake in nearly $240 million last year.
Certainly, the discussion of where the money is going is pertinent. However, the most salient remark from Galrahn’s post is his assertion that “Piracy just took a strange turn, and it would be nice to hear from someone whose title begins with “Admiral” or whose name is Ray Mabus.” While I might disagree with the word “just” in the first part of the sentence, the second assertion surely is true. Certainly this had to be an eventuality that we were planning for. If not, then serious examination of our Navy’s uniformed and civilian leadership is in order.
As far back as August, 2009, the issue of such a link was discussed, along with the true intent of the Somali pirates. Comments there, and at USNI’s Piracy Conference in the fall of 2010 were at times dismissive of the link between the pirates and Al Shabaab, even though connections between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda had been trumpeted by both organizations more than a year earlier, and Al Shabaab control of the coastal villages was alo well known .
Our hesitation in making the logical connection between a very-high-payoff, low risk venture and those who seek funding sources for their operations (and would not hesitate to coerce the unwilling into cooperation) always struck me as extremely naive. To discount the likelihood of the eventual link between Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab, and the Somali pirates is to refuse to understand the nature of our enemies, the ways in which international criminal enterprises work, and the lengths to which the United States and other nations should be willing to go in dealing with the pirates themselves and those who pull the strings ashore in Somalia and elsewhere. I remarked in August of 2009 that,
The old phrase “you’re known by the company you keep” is pertinent here. Al-Shabaab, and by proxy, Al-Qaeda, have major influence here. If the situation didn’t start out that way, it has certainly evolved there. Natural enough, to this point there has been immense profit to be gained with very little risk.
Indeed, according to the UN, there is proof that precisely the above has come to pass. It should be a surprise to nobody, but likely will be a big surprise to many. All I can prescribe for those folks is viewing The Godfather, Part II over and over again. It was simply a matter of time until Al Qaeda tapped into the revenue stream of Somali piracy. And it has likely been occurring for far longer than we can offer “proof” of.
Back to Galrahn’s point. What say you, Navy Leadership? State Department? Why are we finding out from Reuters? Let us hear from you on the subject, and what the intent is to deal with it.
Members of the International Somalia Contact Group held an ad hoc meeting on the Financial Aspects of Somali Piracy in Seoul last week. The meeting, the second one since the first session in Washington in March, was focused on the growing need for international cooperation to stop the flow of money to Somali pirates, prevent money laundering and gather information about the de facto powers behind the pirates, that is, the instigators of pirate activities and their sources of funds. The 80 participants, under the stewardship of Moon Ha-young, Korea’s ambassador for global counterterrorism cooperation, agreed to build a database on intelligence concerning Somali pirates and their financiers. All member governments of the Contact Group will be given access to the information in the database when it is completed and are encouraged to increase teamwork within their law enforcement agencies when investigating piracy.
Such proactive and cohesive action by several nations is a positive step toward countering the ever increasing threat of Somali pirates. However, as I had argued in this op-ed for The African Executive, piracy is a relatively cheap activity making it difficult to crack down on all the sources of illicit funds. Additionally, targeting pirates’ source of funds may have undesired impacts if they join hands with branches of al Qaeda or al Shabaab operating in the region to replace their lost income. Therefore, it is essential to also consider alternative methods, such as using the threat of sanctions and freezing corporate assets in cases of non-compliance, to stop ship owners from paying ransoms. This will serve as an incentive for shipping companies to choose safer sailing routes around the Cape of Good Hope and hire armed personnel to accompany their crew while long term measures that focus on helping Somalia and its neighbors achieve economic and political stability begin to take effect. The Office of Foreign Assets Control in the United States has taken explicit steps in the direction of sanctions and freezing assets of shipping companies that give in to pirate demands but the Contact Group must encourage other countries to do the same because US policies in isolation are unlikely to prove beneficial.
We have, many of us, the image in our heads of Somali pirates as poor, ragged, skinny teenagers with AK-47s and RPGs, crowded into leaky skiffs, somewhat ineffectually attempting the hijacking of merchant ships which pass close enough to the shore to be accessible. The smarter money has known for some time that this is hardly the case. Those “pirates” in the boats represent the very expendable low-cost labor end of an increasingly sophisticated and technologically capable system that has seen its profits soar in recent years, despite international efforts to clamp down on piracy off Africa’s horn. Which brings me to this very interesting article from Neil Ungerleider over at FastCompany.
It seems some of those massive ransoms collected by the pirates off Somalia in recent years is being reinvested in new technology, heavier and more capable weapons, and people with technical and language skill sets that have enhanced the effectiveness of pirate operations substantially. From the article:
In addition to random attacks on cargo and passenger ships, Somali pirates are increasingly relying on the use of GPS systems, satellite phones, and open-source intelligence such as shipping industry blogs in order to figure out the location of ships.
However, the most interesting weapon in the Somalian arsenal to western observers is the use of pirate-operated radar to locate targets at sea. Pirate “mother ships” with radar and advanced weapons capabilities have strayed far beyond the Horn of Africa to locales as far-flung as Madagascar, India, and the Persian Gulf.
Indeed, even with radar from pirate “mother ships”, it is a big ocean, but considerably smaller when you know where to look. Not surprisingly, penetration of shipping company and port operations data bases has been possible with money to pay those who have the capabilities, as well as:
…translators who interpret the bulk of information that filters in through the automatic tracking devices. These men, though not involved in the actual hijacking, decipher and break down information for the team. The ‘foot soldiers’ are given instructions that most often turn out to be successful. The men who call themselves Somali Coast Guards also invest time on the World Wide Web tracking and gathering vital information. For example, the pirate financiers visit the Maritime Bureau Website to check what strategies have been put in place to curtail their activities. They, in turn, feed the gang.
The article’s final paragraph should serve as warning to those whose philosophy is to ignore or pay off the pirates.
According to the European Union, a sharp uprise in Somali pirate attacks is expected in 2011, including the use of machine guns as an everyday weapon. Western governments are, in turn, stepping up their game–Britain is taking steps to provide merchant ships with weapons, which would be the first time since World War II that this has happened.
Such an appraisal, coinciding with US drone strikes in Somalia against Al Shabab targets, is cause for concern. The statement from the New York Times article that “American intelligence and military officials warn of increasing operational ties between the Shabab and the Qaeda franchise in Yemen, known as Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, or A.Q.A.P.” should stand as a warning that those who are gleaning profits from the pirates are more than just Somali warlords.
At last autumn’s USNI Piracy Conference, a number of speakers showed great hesitation in acknowledging any link whatever between Somali pirates, Al-Shabab, and Al Qaeda. However, to many of us in the audience who had watched our enemies for some time, and had in some cases fought actively against them either in uniform or as a part of our national security apparatus, the linking of these entities was a foregone conclusion. If the enterprise of piracy in Somali waters (and now well beyond) were profitable enough to be a major funding source for AQAP (or AQ in Yemen), they would involve themselves whether they were welcome and supported by the Somali pirates or not.
In his remarks at the USNI Piracy Conference, Keynote Speaker Stephen Carmel of MAERSK made a number of assertions to reinforce his notion that the Somali piracy problem was not significant enough to warrant anything but business as usual, which meant paying for ransomed ships and trying to avoid areas of known pirate activity. Some of those assertions have been proven tragically wrong in recent months, including this one:
The Somali pirates are a pure hostage for ransom crowd. That means… that the hostages always get released and generally are not horribly mistreated… I am not making light of the experience of those held hostage by Somali pirates – I am simply noting that the treatment of hostages at the hands of Barbary pirates was infinitely worse.
Which certainly calls into question Mr. Carmel’s entire argument.
So, Somali pirates are not a direct threat to US national interests, nor a significant threat to the international system of commerce. Somali pirates are also far less well funded, and far less capable of evolving into a large threat…
From a strict standpoint of the balance sheet, Mr. Carmel’s arguments may remain valid for some time, though for how long is unclear, and whether it is wise to wait for the tipping point is also a valid question. However, when improvements in capabilities that can exponentially increase piracy’s reach and impact are brought into play, especially when that reach means a greater potential as a funding source for our enemies, then the problem of Somali piracy has long since ceased to be one of the balance sheet. Advocacy of Dane-Geld as a means of minimizing such threats has little track record of success, and plenty of examples of a disastrous contrary result. With an adaptive and opportunistic enemy whose benefit from Somali piracy is becoming increasingly more direct, it is well past time to make serious our efforts to combat piracy in those waters.
Once again, that master of describing the human condition provides us a warning passed down through the millenia:
We never pay anyone Dane-Geld,
No matter how trifling the cost,
For the end of that game is oppression and shame,
And the nation that pays it is lost.
From Navy Times:
Navy: Helo fires on pirate skiff, killing 4By William H. McMichael – Staff writer
Posted : Wednesday May 18, 2011 12:09:56 EDT
The crew of a Navy helicopter launched from the destroyer Bulkeley fired upon and is believed to have killed four pirates who were in the process of attacking a crude oil carrier while it was transiting the Gulf of Oman on Monday, according to Combined Maritime Forces.
The interdiction took place at 10:35 a.m. local time. The Norfolk, Va.-based Bulkeley, assigned to Joint Task Force 150, had received a mayday call from the German-owned, Panamanian-flagged crude carrier Artemis Glory, which said it was being chased and attacked by pirates.
Bulkeley responded to the mayday call, first heard by a Royal Fleet Auxiliary ship and relayed to Combined Maritime Forces, by launching an SH-60B Seahawk helicopter assigned to Helicopter Squadron Light 48, Detachment 4, to investigate. When it arrived on station — a command spokesman could not provide the distance or transit time — the crew saw four individuals in a skiff firing at Artemis Glory, using small arms.
The helicopter crew opened fire on the skiff under what command spokesman Lt. Cmdr. Sam Hearn of the Royal Navy said was the principle of “extended unit self-defense” on behalf of the crude carrier. All four pirates are believed to have been killed, Hearn said. Hearn said he did not know which weapon system was employed but noted that the SH-60B is equipped with a single M-240 machine gun.
Officials do not believe the helicopter was fired upon by the pirates, Hearn said.
Hearn said Bulkeley did not pick up the bodies, and could not say whether the skiff was sunk. Once it was determined that Artemis Glory was out of danger, the ship continued on its way, Hearn said. The ship is transporting a cargo of crude oil from Saudi Arabia to China.
Much better result than the August 2009 incident when pirates fired on a US Navy helicopter, which did not return fire.
Show yourself a pirate, die at the hands of the US Navy.
As the Sikh Havildar in Kipling’s Kim explained when the Indian Holy Man asked him “What profit to kill men?”
“Very little – as I know, but if evil men were not now and then slain, it would not be a good world for weaponless dreamers.”
In the movie “The Departed” (or as Maggie would say, “Tha Dapaaaahhhted”), Jack Nicholson’s character of Frank Costello asks the question, “…when you’re facing a loaded gun, what’s the difference?”
That is the sort of question I am asking today. The title of this post references President Gerald Ford’s Executive Order 11905, signed in February of 1976, which contains Item (g) in Section 5:
(g) Prohibition of Assassination. No employee of the United States Government shall engage in, or conspire to engage in, political assassination.
Ford’s successor, President Jimmy Carter, and Carter’s successor, President Ronald Reagan, both signed similar measures reinforcing the prohibition on political assassination. Ford’s signing of the EO was certainly a “sign of the times” in the post-Vietnam American political landscape, which saw a distaste for the covert, and a distrust of US intelligence activities.
However, when Ford signed his order thirty-five years ago, and Carter (Sect 2-305 of EO 12036) his, 33 years ago, and even when Reagan reasserted those orders (EO 12333) almost thirty years ago, the existence of satellite-guided weapons of such precise lethality as we have today were inconceivable to all but those with the keenest technical imagination.
And there are other changes in the world around us. Then-Congressman Bob Barr (R-GA) proposed in January 2001, nine months before the 9/11 attacks, House Resolution 19, known as the Terrorist Elimination Act, which said, in part, “America must continue to investigate effective ways to combat the menace posed by those who would murder American citizens simply to make a political point”.
The attacks in recent weeks on the compound of Libya’s Muammar Ghadaffi have highlighted again the idea that precision weapons may be employed in a role that looks very much like political assassination. (It is not the first time for strikes on the compound of Libya’s ‘strongman’, either, with the El Dorado Canyon strikes of April 1986.)
While the NATO strikes of this past week against Ghaddafi’s compound may or may not have been conducted using US air assets, it is a certainty that US intelligence assets were involved in pre-strike and post-strike assessment. While Defense Secretary Gates maintains that the strikes were not aimed at Ghaffadi himself but at his command and control centers (of which the compound is one), I believe there is also little doubt that the location of the Libyan leader was carefully noted and may have been a determinant in the timing of the strike.
One of the realities which NATO is having to deal with post-strike is that even the most precise strike munitions will kill a great number of people who happen to be at the target. It is being reported that Ghaddafi’s son and some grandchildren were killed in the strike, which may or may not be as true as the reports of Ghaddafi’s “daughter” being killed in 1986. However, it is an opportunity for the Libyan leader to make political hay in the Middle East and in the world press as a victim of NATO persecution.
So the question I pose in the title is precisely the one I want to ask here. Is it time to repeal the Ford-era Executive Order, and those of Carter and Reagan reinforcing that order? We seem to have outlawed killing a leader like Ghaddafi with a sniper’s bullet, or other means of extreme prejudice, but have seen military policy evolve to where the same mission is attempted with a precision-guided munition that produces dozens, perhaps hundreds, of ancillary casualties without the certainty of killing the intended target.
Many foreign policy thinkers at the time of Ford’s signing EO 11905 in to law, and a fair number since, believed Section 5(g) of the law to be either one that would be effectively ignored, or one that would unnecessarily hamstring US leadership in the foreign policy arena by removing an option that was potentially highly useful for any number of reasons. I would submit it has been both of those, and it may be time to consider repeal of Section 5(g).
Because, to paraphrase Frankie Costello, “when you are trying to kill a dictator with missiles or a bullet, what’s the difference?”.
By popular vote, Naval Institute blog wins best Navy Blog from the military blogging conference sponsored by military.com and USAA.
This is entirely due to the guest bloggers who take time (unpaid) to share their voice on this blog and to those who participate in the comments to continue the dialogue…and to all of those who dare to read, think, speak, write, and blog…
In Defense News, US Marine Colonel Mark Desens, CO of 26th MEU currently operating off the coast of Libya, had some very interesting and incisive comments regarding the need for the F-35B STOVL variant of the JSF.
Desens and others noted that the F-35B would be a vast improvement over the Harrier. Not only does it carry more weapons and fuel, its sensors allow it to target enemy air defenses and vacuum up intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance data and feed it back to the fleet.
“When you look at the capabilities of the F-35B and how much it expands the tool box, that aircraft is going to push us way out in front of any future potential threats out there,” the colonel said.
But what really jumps out from Col Desens’ comments is the possibility that a smaller aircraft carrier with such a weapon as the F-35B could have efficacy as an alternative to the traditional supercarrier that has been the sole contestant in the US Navy’s aircraft carrier building arena since the commissioning of the Forrestals in the late 1950s.
More from Colonel Desens:
“It would be lovely to have an aircraft carrier here, but there are not enough to go round,” said Col. Mark Desens, the commander of the 26th Marine Expeditionary Unit, which operates the AV-8Bs aboard the Kearsarge. “What we do have is the opportunity to do a lot of things with this vessel, and we are accomplishing a tremendous return on investment with these six STOVL jets.”
“With an AV-8B or an F-35B, you get an immediate ability to start impacting a wide range of things,” Desens said. “As you look down the road, the need for a STOVL jet sells itself, because you are not going to get more aircraft carriers. An F-35B costs a lot less than a carrier.”Desens noted that a STOVL jet can also move ashore with troops as they push farther away from the beachhead, landing and flying from far smaller patches of ground than regular fixed-wing planes.
“You have tremendous operational flexibility if you are going to do a projected land war, like Iraq and Afghanistan, where those jets were sea-based…”
The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class super-carrier has been the symbol of US Naval power and influence for nearly four decades. However, the price tag for such vessels will continue to rise. The first of its class USS Gerald R. Ford is projected to cost upwards of $10 billion. While the Nimitz-class is expected to soldier on for several more decades, operating costs of the 102,000-ton, 5,000-sailor behemoths will continue to be a serious concern in this era of fiscal austerity.
With each crisis anywhere on the globe that involves US interests, the question that is invariably posed is “where are the carriers?”; the latest instance being a mere two weeks ago off Libya. But, does every situation in which the question is asked have to be answered with a Carrier Battle Group built around a CVN? Is it necessary to bring the extremely high-end solution to low- and medium- threat problems? Is that now what we see with billion dollar warships chasing pirate skiffs off Somalia?
During the Second World War, smaller flattops provided air assets to amphibious assaults and other operations in what we now describe as the Littoral, such as is being conducted in Libya at present. There were myriad reasons for this, but the predominant was the desire not to risk the trump cards, the Fleet Carriers, in confined waters and within range of enemy land-based weapons systems, any more than necessary. One would think a 21st century corollary of that rule is still a good idea in today’s A2/AD environment, particularly as we look to the western Pacific.
With the building of the America (LHA-6) class of amphibs, it is possible that the Navy has itself a hull form that could be adapted for the role of smaller aircraft carrier. At 45,000 tons, 844 feet long, with a beam of 106 feet, the Americas will be very similar in dimension, though with a higher displacement, to the famous Essex-class carriers of World War II, one might hesitate to label such a “light carrier”. Perhaps, in a redux of previous nomenclature, the former term “attack carrier” (CVA) seems most descriptive. As General Amos, Marine Commandant, noted in January of this year in a speech to the Surface Navy Association, the America class LHA is already “maximized for aviation” already. So let’s take the next step of logic.
An adaptation of that warship class, one dedicated to Naval and USMC STOVL aviation assets, one that does NOT have an amphibious mission, doesn’t require billeting for 1,700 Marines and their equipment, that doesn’t have a requirement for V-22 or attack helicopters as a part of its organic air component (but still capable of handling them if desired), a warship like that could prove exceedingly handy and valuable to a fleet which may be looking at a shortage of its heavyweights.
Of course, the obvious argument about efficiency of sorties is a consideration, but would a warship with a complement of STOVL fighters of the capabilities expected of the F-35B create a new baseline for measuring such efficiency of sortie generation? Would 60-65 aircraft still remain the minimum aircraft complement for efficient operation? I would love to see some projections using the F-35B to that end. The speed of the Americas might have to be enhanced, as the 22-knot capability may or may not be sufficient, but options may be available for more powerful propulsion systems to achieve desired speeds.
In addition, operating costs of such a ship would very likely be significantly less. A crew of 1,000-1,200 Officers and Sailors, with a suitably-sized air component is less than half that of the 4,500-5,000 complement of the Nimitz/Ford CVNs.
If the number of CVNs in commission shrinks to 9 or even 8 in the coming decade, which is a distinct possibility, we are left with a shortage of assets to cover a world-wide commitment. When the question is asked again, as it will be, “Where are the carriers?”, there are two answers that we should take great pains to avoid.
The first is “Rusting away in Philadelphia.”
The second is “Busy elsewhere, and not coming.”
A STOVL-dedicated CVA based on the America-class LHA may provide a cost-effective and combat capable alternative to the CVBG that may or may not be available when we need it. If we are to maintain a global power projection presence, as the Maritime Strategy asserts, the approach offered here deserves more scholarship than it has been given.
Martin Murphy, a piracy expert at the Center for Foreign Policy Studies, believes that Somali pirates are the biggest threat to the peaceful use of the sea since the Second World War. These pirates have attacked as far south as Madagascar and as far west as India. He argues that the number of naval ships protecting commercial ships near Somalia is like four policemen patrolling an area the size of Texas.
What do we do? I don’t think putting armed personnel on commercial ships will reduce piracy. First, approximately 11% of the world’s shipping passes through the Gulf of Aden. Arming enough ships to make the pirates think twice before attacking would be extremely expensive. Second, this is the Wild West. No rules of engagement exist for when we can attack the pirates and who can attack them. Imagine the uproar if a private security contractor killed an innocent Somali fisherman whom he suspected of piracy. And no one knows what to do with the pirates captured on the High Seas (technically, a U.S. Navy ship captain can hang the pirate from the yardarm, though that’s not going to happen). Lastly, Somalia’s per capita G.D.P. is $600. Averaging about $5 million per ship taken provides a huge incentive for Somali pirates to continue pirating.
Currently, we only react to piracy after the pirates have taken a ship- like the Maersk Alabama incident or the recent kidnapping of an American couple sailing around the world. The only long term solution to Somali piracy is to restore Somalia’s economy and ensure Somalia has a stable government. After the Battle of Mogadishu in 1993, the U.S. gave up on restoring the country. Dr. Murphy, the piracy expert, believes that Somali pirates have more sanctuary on land than any other pirates in modern times. Until a 2008 U.N. Resolution, the U.S. could not legally take the fight to the land. By encouraging legal industries like farming and fishing, the U.S. could reduce the number of Somalis who steal ships to merely to survive.
In conclusion, Somali pirates are not terrorists. They terrorize ships’ crews when they attack, and they kill civilians. But their motives for taking ships are purely mercenary. Terrorists, on the other hand, work to enact some type of religious or political change. Somalia may harbor Al-Qaeda cells because they are a failed state, not because the pirates want global jihad. The U.S. government does not list Somali pirates as terrorists; we should not fight them as such.