Archive for the 'Coast Guard' Category
In an earlier essay , I described how technology will make the future littoral environment even more dangerous and increase the power and reach of smaller ships and shore batteries. I described the need to test and develop flotillas of combat corvettes and other craft and proposed a few platforms currently being built in the United States for use in this experimentation. My article continues the argument originally made by Vice Admiral Cebrowski and Captain Wayne Hughes in their path setting article on the Streetfighter concept. However, successful combat in the littoral environment will have to be a team sport. Fortunately, we have the US Navy and Marine Corps team who can execute this mission, if enabled to develop new capabilities and doctrine to employ them.
This paper is not an argument to kill the Liberty or Freedom class LCS/FF. It is offered for cost and capabilities comparison purposes only as the actual cost data is not for public release. The LCS is a capable mother ship for the operation of other smaller platforms, particularly helicopters. Further the LCS is a cost effective platform for open ocean anti-submarine warfare the corvettes we shall discuss here described here cannot do. We have much more work to do in fully exploring the applications of the LCS/FF.
The United States and her allies require capabilities and doctrines to operate in the littorals to provide on scene presence in areas of controversy such as the South China Seas. By being present we can shape the environment and prevent competitors from achieving effective control using salami slicing tactics and intimidation. If tensions arise to the point of requiring deterrence such forces can provide considerable numbers and resilience as to force an opponent to have to make a serious effort to remove the flotilla supporting littoral outposts. This will reduce the urge for “Use ‘em or Lose ‘em” scenarios which can rapidly escalate. If deterrence fails, these combined forces will pack a considerable punch and contest, if not remove, sea control. Over time such forces operating together could create their own Anti-Access/Area Denial (AA/AD) zone (creating a “No Man’s Sea” where both sides’ zones overlap), gradually advance our own zones and then peel away an opponent’s AA/AD zones.
A truism illustrated in the book The Culture of Military Innovation by Dima Adamsky is genuine revolutions in military affairs do not usually arise out of incremental improvements but in taking new capabilities and systems and employing them in a truly unprecedented configuration. This is the mindset we should adopt when considering how best to employ flotillas of corvettes in littoral environments. Flotillas should not be considered on their own but as part of a combined arms effort. We must change how we think of the design of the corvette and its employment with other joint forces. The flotillas, operated primarily by the Navy, should be supported by littoral outposts operated by Navy Expeditionary Combat Command and United States Marines. Their combination can be very powerful. To take full advantage of them, we must rethink how we operate the combined force. Here I’d like to examine first the flotillas and then the littoral outposts.
We must reexamine how we think of the corvette or light frigate. First let us address the definition of Corvette, which historically has ranged between 500 and 2,000 tons in displacement, though there have been variations on this theme. The more important factor is the effect of modern electronics and weapon systems granting smaller platforms enhanced capabilities, similar to what has occurred in aircraft. This provides the ability to adjust to the offensive environment of the sea by the distribution of capabilities in smaller profile platforms, however corvettes measure time on station in days not in the minutes aircraft do.
One of the most dramatic impacts of modern electronics is the increasing ability of smaller platforms to conduct scouting. Aerostats, towed kites, and small UAVs such as Scan Eagle give small platforms capabilities similar to larger platforms operating helicopters, etc. These smaller platforms have no need for the large flightdeck and hangar required for normal helicopter operations. They just need a small flat surface and storage area for rotary drones, nets and launchers for UAVs, or the UAVs can be designed to be recovered from the water. The MQ-8B could potentially be operated from a small flight deck with a small maintenance and storage hanger. This will drive the displacement requirements (and the resulting signature) for such platforms down considerably. Flotillas can then be further augmented in their ocean surveillance (“scouting”) missions by the use of land based aircraft, UAVs, Aerostats, etc. as well as carrier based aircraft operating further back.
Corvettes enabled in this manner can have the same surveillance capacity as any destroyer or frigate. By employing an aerostat or towed kite the corvette would have the ability to suspend a radar system at altitude. Because the power generation is on the ship, the aerostat or kite can have a very capable radar normally seen only in the largest UAVs or on helicopters. Further the greater altitude also provides the ability to control light weight visual sensor enabled UAVs like the Scan Eagle at far greater ranges. Combining the two systems grants the Corvette the ability to conduct surveillance on a large area with the radar locating contacts and the scan eagle visually identifying them. Thus we have gained the same capability which in the past would have required a large flight deck on a destroyer or frigate.
Complementing their scouting capability smaller platforms increasingly will have lethal firepower. The capabilities of anti-ship cruise missiles continue to improve. The distribution of firepower across multiple platforms will mean an enemy has very little opportunity to eliminate such a force without response. Similarly, defensive systems are becoming smaller and more effective. Thus the flotilla force is the littoral element of the Distributed Lethality concept designed for this deadly environment. The limiting factor for the size of corvettes is becoming less dominated by the weapons and more by endurance. Thus it would appear the knee in the curve between competing factors of size, endurance, signature, defensive weapons, offensive weapons, scouting capacity, etc. is between 350 and 800 tons.
The mission of such platforms will be challenging but necessary, particularly in light of aggressive salami slicing lines of operations which require presence to counter. In peacetime, flotillas of corvettes will maintain presence to shape the environment, assure our allies, be observable witnesses to aggression, and train others in conduct of sea control. In an environment of increasing tension, they remain on station to continue scouting, shaping, deterrence and assurance while giving larger signature platforms space to maneuver. At the outset of conflict in a real shooting war they have one mission… attack. Attack like Arleigh Burke planned and Frederick Moosbrugger executed but with updated tactics, techniques, and procedures which enable massed force from distributed forces (See Jeff Cares Distributed Network Operations). Ships will be lost; the question becomes what will be lost when the inevitable hits occur.
While it is tempting to continue the technological trend and employ such small platforms without crews, there are significant limitations which it appears solutions have not arisen. The first is the limitation of control of such vessels. Modern Electronic Warfare means the connections to small platforms will likely be severed. While artificial intelligence has made great advances it does not appear ready, or ready in the near future, to address the challenges and complications of operations at sea specifically for factors such as rules of engagement, fusing information, training allied forces, etc. Robots are not known for their imagination and ingenuity. Further there are considerable sociological prohibitions about lethal force capable platforms operating on their own. Robotics and automation should be designed into such platforms to augment the performance of and decrease the size of the crew, but not replace them. With secure line of sight communications, manned platforms could be teamed with unmanned platforms to provide sensors and firepower.
We need to decrease our dependence on hardkill systems. One of the potential driving factors of increasing the size of such platforms is the compulsion to place Aegis weapons systems on them. We may likely gain the ability to place highly capable sensors on smaller platforms. The move away from transmitting wave tubes on current passive electronically scanned array radars such as SPY-1 to more capable and lighter weight transmit receive tiles used in active electronically scanned array radar systems such as in the APG-81 on the F-35 fighter. However the limitation then becomes one of missile systems, etc. If a force is dependent on hardkill systems, it accepts the risk of not being able to defend itself adequately should active measures fail. Given the proven history of effective electronic warfare, decoys, etc. it would be prudent to take a mixed approach. However, decoy systems, etc. are only as effective as their ability to emulate the intended target. Fortunately, corvettes generally can have very small signatures and other platforms can have even smaller signatures.
Military history shows warships built for niche purposes are very successful in actual wartime though their operators often expand their use outside the original intended mission, thus the need for experimentation.
In the essay in Proceedings, I offered an example for purposes of comparison and analysis, an up-armed variation on the Sentinel class Fast Response Cutter (FRC) as an example of what a combat corvette could offer. Even when doubling the total ownerships costs of the FRC for the modifications described between 12 and 14 FRCs could be owned and operated for the cost of a single LCS and its helicopters. The FRC has an endurance which is competitive with the LCS.
Based on the displacement and design of the FRC, it could be outfitted with two to four ASCMs (perhaps the Naval Strike Missile), the 11 cell SeaRAM system, and decoy system such as the Mark 36 Super Rapid Blooming Offboard Chaff and/or the Rheinmetal Rapid Obscuring System (ROSY). Sensors upgrades would be a navalized version of the APG-81 or other AESA in a rotatable pedestal housing. Offboard sensors would include an aerostat or towed kite system with a surface search radar and/or UAVs similar to the ScanEagle. If these offboard sensor systems cannot be operated together from the same platform, then the corvettes can work in teams.
There are many factors which must be worked out. There may be other platforms more suited or complementary to this role, such as the Mark VI patrol boat, the Stiletto experimental platform, the SeaSlice experimental platform and the Ambassador Class missile boat. The upgunned version of the Sentinel class FRC could perform the role of its namesake, the day to day presence patrol missions in littoral regions, while a platform like the Stiletto would conduct sweeping attack and scouting runs in the event of conflict or the need to conduct a demonstration of resolve. Some of these platforms would not have to be manned. Those conducting high risk missions can be teamed with manned platforms to augment their scouting capabilities and firepower. The important point is the exploration of the concepts, tactics, techniques, procedures, and doctrine in wargames, campaign analysis, and fleet exercises to understand the impact advancing technology is having on naval warfare.
One threat to flotillas of corvettes is enemy submarines. Submarines would have some challenges tracking and effectively employing torpedoes against corvettes due to their small size, speeds, etc. Submarines would have to make modifications to their combat systems and torpedoes to address the flotilla. Submarines’ best opportunity to attack the flotilla would be in chokepoints. The flotillas can have an effective means of negating the submarine. Without sonar, it would appear the corvettes are very vulnerable, but simple tactics can negate the effectiveness of a submarine. As the flotilla approaches a littoral chokepoint they launch lightweight torpedoes pre-emptively in a snake search pattern in the direction of travel. The submarine will likely abort any effective targeting and have to run. Given the high rate of false positive contacts likely to be produced in littoral environments, just as many torpedoes would likely be expended by conventional ASW ships with sonar systems, etc. The number of torpedoes expended can be greatly reduced by the contribution of other forces as will be describe below.
The employment of flotillas of corvettes is only one element in how we need to approach littoral warfare. Equally, if not more, important to success in littoral conflicts is the employment of combined arms. The Proceedings essay briefly touched on the concept of Littoral Outposts as contributors to the effectiveness of flotillas. Such outposts deserve further exploration as they can contribute significantly to the success of future military conflicts and competitions.
Littoral Outposts composed of combined Navy, Marine Corps and other joint/coalition forces can contribute greatly to sea control. The Proceedings essay has already described how such forces can contribute to sea control employing shore based anti-ship cruise missiles, sensors, UAVs, etc. This is only the beginning. Such teams can contribute to ASW, AAW, and strike. Using denial, deception, hardening and mobility in the littoral environment these teams can present a difficult challenge to a competitor. All this would be accomplished by employing new technologies in new and innovative ways.
Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW). We’ve discussed organic responses from corvettes to submarines, but the littoral outpost can greatly reduce the threat of submarines to corvettes and other platforms. The simplest and most conventional solution is the employment of Forward Arming and Refueling Point (FARP) for submarine hunting helicopters. Such helicopters can be stationed ashore or aboard ships operating further back (such as the LCS). Technology also offers effective and innovative approaches to littoral ASW. Littoral outpost can launch a swarm of UAVs employing sensors to conduct grid searches of submarines or minefields in chokepoint areas. When a target is detected and prosecution is initiated the drones could potentially drop charges or these could be launched from shore based mortars. The charges can be very deadly to a submarine as demonstrated by the Hedgehog ASW mortar in World War II. In addition to the MAD UAVs, forces ashore can launch small Unmanned Undersea Vehicles (UUVs) which act as mobile sonobuoys. The effectiveness of such systems can be greatly enhanced by the survey of such chokepoints in peacetime to identify wrecks and other metallic objects which could generate false positives, etc. In times of crisis, Littoral Outposts and corvettes can work together to plant mines in the chokepoints thus creating a dangerous environment for submarines to operate in.
Littoral Outposts can have a significant impact on Anti-Air Warfare (AAW). Corvettes are vulnerable to Maritime Patrol and Reconnaissance Aircraft (MPRA). If allowed unfettered access to an area, MPRA has the ability to eventually find and pick out of the clutter small craft like corvettes and deliver weapons or direct weapons and platforms to kill them. The key to the success of the MPRA is time and unfettered access. Littoral outpost can nullify this in different ways. First we noted the size of a corvette limits the size (and therefore range) of surface to air missile systems. So while advanced light weight AESA radars can give a corvette the ability to search and locate MPRA, they don’t necessarily have the weapons which can reach out and touch them or drive them off. Littoral Outposts can be armed with such long range weapons and employ either their own air search radars or employ cooperative engagement systems to guide off the corvette’s track. Littoral Outposts can also employ short takeoff and landing aircraft such as the F-35B. If employing land based radars the Littoral Outposts can disperse the sensors and missiles so as to retain one when the other is destroyed. Or they can remain silent and be queued from land based aerostats or airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft flying from aircraft carriers or air bases further back. Just the knowledge surface to air missiles or aircraft may be hidden in Littoral Outposts can effectively nullify MPRA which are very vulnerable to such weapons and platforms. Taking advantage of denial, deception, hardening, and mobility Littoral Outposts can present a threat to enemy aircraft which is difficult to find, fix, and finish. However, MPRA do not enjoy the same environment when they are radiating to locate small ships in the clutters of the littorals.
Littoral Outposts can make significant contributions to strike. Marine and Navy Expeditionary forces working together can deliver offensives strike operations to sea or land. Employing mobile launchers such as High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) with different weapons (and increasingly in the future weapons which can change roles) Littoral Outposts can deliver fires to affect ships at sea and targets on land. The same HIMARS employed to launch surface to surface missiles can also launch surface to air missiles today. Many Anti-Ship Cruise Missiles (ASCMs) today can also perform land attack missions. Again the F-35B provides similar opportunities.
Combining flotillas of corvettes with Littoral Outposts and littoral transportation platforms like powered barges, the Joint High Speed Vessel (JHSV), Landing Craft Utility (LCU), and Landing Craft Mechanized (LCM); the US can create mutually supporting elements to conduct maneuver in the littoral environment. Employing denial, deception, rapid hardening (digging in), and mobility, joint forces can advance in the littoral environment in the face of Anti-Access Area Denial (AA/AD) capabilities in the hands of potential adversaries. Littoral Outposts operated by, with, and through allies create AA/AD zones of our own. Behind these AA/AD zones we can then operate higher profile platforms such as aircraft carriers, etc. From these zones, flotillas of corvettes and other seaborne platforms sortie out to conduct sea control/denial and strike operations. From these zones, Littoral Outposts conduct support and strike operations. Once the environment has been shaped, the littoral outpost forces advance with the support of the conventional navy and flotillas. The Littoral Outposts then create new forward AA/AD zones behind which the process advances continues.
As the combined force advances their AA/AD zones advance and enable the attrition of an opponent’s AA/AD system, particularly the sensors (such as MPRA) necessary to enable them. This process will gradually wear down an opponent’s AA/AD system. If our opponents have become too reliant upon AA/AD, they will find themselves in a vulnerable position. Thus in time a combined force can contribute to the peeling away of AA/AD systems and gain maneuver space for the fleet near an opponent’s shore.
A combined arms approach to littoral combat can be very effective. We should be taking advantage of the trends in weapons and how they enhance the lethality and reach of smaller and smaller ships and shore batteries. In essence we must expand the Distributed Lethality concept to embrace our USMC and NECC capabilities in the littoral threat environment. However, to be effective and achieve true revolutions will require changing the way we employ these systems and capabilities. By employing combined arms of flotillas and littoral outposts we and our allies can confront potential opponents with a powerful deterrence force. These forces can enable us to shape events and prohibit aggressive behaviors in peacetime. As crises arise, they provide a resilient force which cannot easily be defeated thus providing stability. Finally in actual combat they provide a deadly threat which can support the larger fleet objectives by contesting and peeling away an opponent’s AA/AD network.
Here we have only addressed the outlines of what the Navy-Marine Corps team’s potential for combined arms in the littorals. We should conduct wargames, experimentation, and analysis to explore the options more fully and identify what other joint capabilities can contribute to this deadly environment. These combined forces should be able to provide commanders with options to address an opponent’s competitive actions in pre-hostilities, deterrence, and if required open warfare. Much more work needs to be done if we are going to remain viable in this new deadly environment.
Please join us for a May Day show on – no shock here – 1 May 2016 at 5pm EDT for Midrats Episode 330: “Terrorists on the Ocean” with CAPT Bob Hein, USN:
When does the Long War go feet wet?
Given the track record of the preceding couple of decades, it was expected shortly after the start of this phase of the war after 911, that terrorists would take the war to sea. There was an incident now and then, but the threat never really played out to the extent we thought early on.
Recent events point to the possibility that this may be changing, in perhaps ways not originally thought.
What is the threat? Where is it coming from, and how do you deter and defeat it?
Our guest for the full hour to discuss will be CAPT Bob Hein, USN. We will use his latest article with CIMSEC, Terrorists on the Ocean: Sea Monsters in the 21st Century, as a starting out point for discussion.
Captain Hein is a career surface warfare officer. Over the last 28 years, he has served on seven ships around the globe and has had the privilege of commanding two of them: the USS Gettysburg (CG 64), and the USS Nitze (DDG 94),
He completed two tours as a requirements officer on the Navy staff for combatant modernization and for future logistics capabilities. He also served as the current operations officer for U.S. Fleet Forces Command. Additional tours include as an action officer on the Joint Staff, Joint Operations Directorate, and as Chief of Staff to the NATO Mediterranean Fleet.
He is currently the Branch Head for Strategy on the OPNAV Staff (N513) Captain Hein graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy with a bachelor’s in physical science. He also holds a master’s in national security affairs and strategic studies from the Naval War College, is a graduate of the Joint Forces Staff College, and a former Navy Fellow at the Brookings Institution. He is also the proud father of two Surface Warfare Officers; it’s a family business..
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.
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.
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 (EST) on 24 Jan 16 for Midrats Episode 316: “Getting Female Combat Integration Right With LtCol Kate Germano”
How do we get combat integration of women right? The quest has moved well away from “if” and in to “how.”
With an apparent broad disconnect between biological realities, cultural norms, and political desires, what is the right way for military leaders to carry out their orders while ensuring that combat effectiveness is maintained.
Our guest to discuss this and related issues for the full hour will be Lieutenant Colonel Kate Germano, USMC.
Commissioned in August 1996, LtCol Germano has served for over 19 years on active duty in the United States Marine Corps. A combat veteran, she additionally participated in numerous operational and humanitarian assistance and disaster relief deployments. Ashore, her duties including a year as the Marine Aide to the Secretary of the Navy.
She was selected for command twice, most recently as the commanding officer of the Marine Corps’ only all-female unit, the 4th Recruit Training Battalion. She holds a bachelor’s degree from Goucher College, where she majored in History with a pre-law emphasis. In 2011, she graduated with distinction from the Marine Corps Command and Staff College, earning her Masters of Military Science degree. She is actively engaged in the struggle to end gender bias in the military, and is a vocal proponent for equal rights and the elimination of double standards and lowered expectations for female conduct and performance.
Please join us at 5pm on 22 November 2015 for Midrats Episode 307: Our Own Private Petard – Procurement & Strategy with Robert Farley
This Sunday we are going to look at the big pixels that supports the entire national security infrastructure above it.
Using his recent article in The National Interest, The Real Threat to America’s Military (And It’s Not China, Russia or Iran), we will tackle the greatest challenge of a world power – those things it has no one else to blame for.
Procurement, strategy, and the choices we make. The run of the last 30 years of weapons development and strategic foresight has not been a very good one. Why?
Let the defense innovators among us take a moment for introspection and self-awareness. We are charged with institutionalizing and structuring ideas like “innovation” and “disruption” which are themselves often ad hoc and unpredictable; we gather in working groups, task forces, and cells to legitimize new ideas. So as we foster creativity and rapid implementation, let us ask: How long can the innovators really keep innovating before they fall into a rut?
Who among us really know when to walk away?
What are the ways that we find and develop the next generation of disruptive thinkers, and then step out of their way?
How can we prevent the game-changers from being assimilated into more traditional hierarchies and ways of thinking?
Do these tendencies towards complacency extrapolate to entire organizations, agencies, and corporate cultures?
Do innovative organizations have a shelf life?
If so, does that mean they should also have an expiration date?
Can we work within a structure and create something meaningful, with our full commitment and intention, while knowing from the very beginning that it cannot and should not last forever, at least if we really want to continue to innovate?
By Mark Tempest
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.
This week, the Wall Street Journal and several other news outlets reported that a small Chinese naval flotilla was operating off the Alaskan coast in the Bering Sea. Some reports have indicated that the flotilla includes three frigate/destroyer platforms, an oiler and an amphib. Although their impromptu visit coincides with President Obama’s trip to Alaska, the timing and presence of the Chinese navy in the Bering has raised a lot of questions.
For one thing, China and Alaska are not very close to each other. Dutch Harbor, in Alaska’s Aleutian Islands, is approximately 3,800 miles northeast of Shanghai, in another hemisphere, and across the international dateline. Additionally, China has no historic claim or significant cultural interest in Alaska. Unlike Russia, which once colonized Alaska, or Japan, which is in close proximity to Alaska and fought over parts of it with the United States during the Second World War, China has had no significant history or interest in America’s 49th state. Thus, one must ask why China has sent warships to a distant land it has no ties or apparent interest in.
For the last few decades, and since the 1995-1996 Taiwan Strait crisis in particular, China has embarked on an ambitious program of modernization and growth for the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). This has included the development and implementation of the PLAN’s first aircraft carrier battle group to support an eventual natively designed/home-grown carrier program, investment in new anti-ship cruise and ballistic missile technology, construction of new naval bases, and a ramp-up of domestic warship construction.
For most of the history of the People’s Republic of China (PRC), their surface fleet has primarily served a local, littoral role. Over the last decade, the PLAN has become increasingly involved in overseas exercises and efforts, and this confidence building has made it more comfortable with flexing its muscle and increasing its visibility abroad. In 2009 the PLAN began a more proactive role in patrolling the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden for Somali pirates, and has successfully intercepted multiple pirate vessels since then. In 2011 a Chinese guided missile frigate sailed into the Mediterranean and evacuated Chinese citizens from Libya. This past April, the PLAN sailed into Aden and evacuated Chinese and foreign citizens during the ongoing conflict in Yemen.
China’s recent chain of successful humanitarian and maritime security deployments has occurred simultaneously with several aggressive and unprovoked actions as well. In 2014, the PLAN was invited to participate in RIMPAC for the first time; it sent its newest and most advanced guided missile destroyer to participate, but it also sent a Dongdiao-class intel ship to spy on the exercise participants. For the last few years, China’s military has built artificial islands in the South China Sea to assert a claim to the area. During this time, the navy has significantly increased its presence in this region and has been in an increasingly aggressive series of standoffs with other regional navies over disputed territory, such as Scarborough Shoal, which both China and the Philippines claim.
According to the Office of Naval Intelligence, China currently has the largest and most ambitious naval warship construction program in the world. With yearly increases in defense spending, the PLAN is on track to become the strongest naval power in Asia and one of the most powerful in the world. China’s military, and the PLAN in particular, is growing exponentially. It is not surprising, then, that the PLAN is continuously endeavoring to increase their visibility and presence in naval deployments all over the world as they transition from a regional to a global navy. More than this, however, is China’s need to project power and portray itself as unhindered by the United states Navy’s global reach
The PLAN’s presence off Alaska’s coast during President Obama’s visit is meant to be a clear message to the world that China’s navy can sail off the coast of America’s largest state during a presidential visit in the very same way that the U.S. Navy sailed off China’s coast in 1996 during the last Taiwan Strait crisis. As China’s military continues to grow and increase in confidence and ability, expect these types of activities to continue.
Aviation Week. “Why Did China Participate in RIMPAC With One Ship And Spy On It With Another?” Accessed on September 2, 2015. http://aviationweek.com/
BBC. “Yemen crisis: China evacuates citizens and foreigners from Aden.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.
CNN.”China, Philippines locked in naval standoff.” Accessed on September 2, 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2012/04/11/
Time.”How China Is Battling Its Pirate Problem.” Accessed on September 2, 2015. http://content.time.com/time/
The Washington Post. “China sends navy ship to protect Libya evacuees.” Accessed on September 2, 2015. http://www.washingtonpost.com/
The Washington Post. “See China’s rapid island-building strategy in action.” Accessed on September 2, 2015.
There is a lot more going on in the arctic than a visit by President Obama over the course of the last week. No reason to comment on some of the photo ops, but let’s look at the one item of substance he brought forward in to the discussion;
President Obama on Tuesday proposed speeding the acquisition and building of new Coast Guard icebreakers that can operate year round in the nation’s polar regions, part of an effort to close the gap between the United States and other nations, especially Russia, in a global competition to gain a foothold in the rapidly changing Arctic.
Exactly spot on. Most here should be aware of the embarassing state of the neglect of our ice hardened forces in the north.
Five weeks ago, Ronald O’Rourke’s Congressional Research Service report, Coast Guard Polar Icebreaker Modernization: Background and Issues for Congress, laid the facts out on the table;
The Coast Guard’s two existing heavy polar icebreakers—Polar Star and Polar Sea—
have exceeded their originally intended 30-year service lives. Polar Star was placed in caretaker
status on July 1, 2006. Congress in FY2009 and FY2010 provided funding to repair it and return
it to service for an additional 7 to 10 years of service; the repair work was completed and the ship
was reactivated on December 14, 2012. On June 25, 2010, the Coast Guard announced that Polar
Sea had suffered an unexpected engine casualty; the ship was unavailable for operation after that.
The Coast Guard placed Polar Sea in commissioned, inactive status on October 14, 2011.
The Coast Guard’s third polar icebreaker—Healy—entered service in 2000. Compared to Polar
Star and Polar Sea, Healy has less icebreaking capability (it is considered a medium polar
icebreaker), but more capability for supporting scientific research. The ship is used primarily for
supporting scientific research in the Arctic.
With the reactivation of Polar Star in 2012, the operational U.S. polar icebreaking fleet consists
of one heavy polar icebreaker (Polar Star) and one medium polar icebreaker (Healy).
I don’t think it would be an exaggeration to say this is a disgrace for the world’s premier maritime power with significant economic and national security interests in the polar regions.
Other nations are not playing games;
The region, home to some of the world’s largest undiscovered hydrocarbon reserves, is becoming a new frontier for a geopolitical struggle between Russia and the West.
On 24 August, Russia kicked off a series of large-scale military exercises in the Arctic. A week earlier, Moscow informed the United Nations that it had laid claim to a staggering 1.2 million square kilometres of the Arctic shelf.
Russia also plans to reopen military bases it abandoned after the Soviet Union collapsed. Although the Kremlin insists its military moves are purely defensive, they come at a time of heightened tensions with the West over Ukraine that saw Russia increase its air patrols probing Nato’s borders, including in the Arctic.
… if Russia wishes to continue to be a leading oil and gas producer in the future, it must explore new oil and gas finds.
Russia’s traditional Siberian fields are aging and its liquefied natural gas plans are taking a hit, with more and more supplies appearing from competitors. And now that China’s energy appetite has stalled, the prospects of the oil price picking up soon are negligible.
If it is to survive, Russia needs other resources. These are found in the Arctic. For example, in September 2014, Exxon Mobil and Rosneft announced a major oil find in the Kara Sea, but cooperation had to be suspended due to the souring political climate.
In other words, Putin’s sabre-rattling over the Arctic is not just about diverting attention away from a troubled economy at home; it is equally about securing the country’s – and the government’s – long-term future.
That report from yesterday tops off the Russian moves for years.
Other nations are stretching their reach as well. Via WSJ:
Five Chinese navy ships are currently operating in the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska, the first time the U.S. military has seen such activity in the area, Pentagon officials said Wednesday.
The officials said they have been aware in recent days that three Chinese combat ships, a replenishment vessel and an amphibious ship were in the vicinity after observing them moving toward the Aleutian Islands, which are split between U.S. and Russian control.
They said the Chinese ships were still in the area, but declined to specify when the vessels were first spotted or how far they were from the coast of Alaska.
The Pentagon official said there were a “variety of opinions” on how to interpret the Chinese ships’ deployment.
“It’s difficult to tell exactly, but it indicates some interest in the Arctic region,” the official said.
Well Shipmate, that is a pretty safe statement.
We, as in the West, are at a distinct advantage here; NATO nations have the balance of the interest in the arctic; Norway, Denmark (Greenland), Iceland, Canada and the United States. We also face off against our usual sparring partner, Russia. Other nations who are poking around, like China, we should just monitor and report – but don’t get distracted.
Two challenges here are: 1) Keep NATO united in how we work together in the arctic (Canada and Denmark, call your offices). 2) Do not give Russia an inch on additional claims. #2 requires #1, so make that the first step.
Some steps we could take would be to have a greater variety of options – and perhaps a few with teeth – for our Coast Guard to have in their tool kit. I especially like the Danish Knud Rasmussen class Ice-Resistant OPV (Offshore Patrol Vessel);
Knud Rasmussen class Inspection Ship
Displacement: 1,720 tonnes
Dimensions: length 61m, beam 14.6m, draught 4.95m
Complement: 18 crew (but can accommodate up to 43 )
2 x 2,720 kW (3650 hp) at 800 rpm, B&W Alpha 8L27/28 diesel engines, 1 propeller
Range: 3,000 nautical miles (3,452 mi / 5,555 km)
Performance: top speed 17 – 18 knots (31.5 – 33.2 km/h)
* Standard fit (which is lighter than that of the Agdlek class). As noted, containerized armament can include a 76 mm gun (M/85 LvSa), ESSM, and EuroTorp MU90 (M/04 antiubaadstorpedo).
Did you catch that? Using the STANFLEX concept, it is scalable quickly to a limited but effective ASUW, AAW, and ASW capable ship.
We could always dream … but for now, let’s watch for follow-through on President Obama’s call;
“The growth of human activity in the Arctic region will require highly engaged stewardship to maintain the open seas necessary for global commerce and scientific research, allow for search-and-rescue activities, and provide for regional peace and stability,” the statement said.
The day I was issued my first Coast Guard uniform, I learned that I would need to make due with any size that that I was given. I was 17 years old and I had graduated from high school just two weeks before swearing in as swab at the United States Coast Guard Academy. Weighing 103 pounds at a height of 5 feet and 2 inches, I was easily the smallest person in my platoon. The day that we were issued Operational Dress Uniforms, a dark blue cargo pant and long-sleeve blouse, I was informed that they were out of my size and would have to give me a uniform two sizes up. I paid for fours sets of ODUs that looked like they were made for my older brother. The pants were a foot too long, and the blouse was baggy and frumpy, the sleeves falling well past my wrists. I just assumed that I would never look professional in a military uniform.
I didn’t complain about the oversized garb and learned to love wearing baggy cargo pants, especially underway on a cutter when I would stash snacks and notebooks in the pockets. I believed my small stature was a disadvantage until I started working in an engine room with low-hanging pipes and hard-to-reach valves. I could easily wriggle into tight spaces where most of my male coworkers would have banged their heads or gotten stuck. I worked with a male Damage Control Senior Chief not much taller than myself who was admired by all of the other engineers for his ability to squeeze into the smallest areas to weld, even while the ship was still underway. He was one of the most competent people I ever worked with in the Coast Guard, and he proved that sometimes the smallest person is the best person for the job.
As the Damage Control Assistant aboard a Coast Guard Cutter, I became the maritime law enforcement board team’s engineering liaison, leading groups of mechanics and electricians in inspecting the engineering spaces onboard foreign vessels that were suspected of smuggling cocaine. 100 percent space accountability was essential in these searches, and I was often the only person that could fit inside the empty fuel tanks to inspect them. Sometimes the openings would be so tight that I would climb into the compartment wearing only a Self-Contained Breathing Apparatus (SCBA) full-face mask, crouch in the opening, and have my air tank and harness slid into the tank after me. Crawling through the slimy fuel tanks with my Gas Free Meter flashing and blaring alarms that the air was toxic, I would hear clean air streaming out of my mask because the equipment didn’t fit my face. I relied on the positive pressure of the mask to save me from the lethal gasses that were present in the diesel tanks. No matter how tightly the straps were pulled onto my head, the mask would leak. I knew that I had to share this firefighting equipment with 165 other people on the cutter, and that the ship couldn’t afford equipment specifically fitted for me, so I just did my job and didn’t complain about it.
I didn’t think much about the problem of ill-fitting life support equipment until I became a student at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (aka Navy Dive School) in Panama City, Florida. By that point, I had put on quite a bit of muscle and weighed a whopping 120 pounds. My dive school class consisted of enlisted Seabees, Coast Guard Officers, Navy Engineering Officers, Army enlisted personnel, and one civilian with a position in Washington DC supporting the Navy Diving Program. For the first time in the history of Navy Dive School, we had three women entering the SCUBA open water phase. After we had proven our strength and composure underwater by passing the notoriously difficult Pool Week, we were excited to hit the open water for some fun SCUBA dives on shipwrecks.
When I tried on the Buoyancy Compensators (BCs) that our class was issued, I realized that I was expected to wear the same gear that fit my 220-pound dive buddy. What was snug on him fit like a trash bag over my body, and without one hand holding my BC vest onto my body, the whole thing floated up around my face. The best the equipment guys could offer was to tighten up the middle section as much as possible on one of the rigs, and the smaller divers would have to rotate, keeping one hand on the BC to steady it from floating off. If this had been a dive off of a civilian vessel, I would never have worn that gear, citing safety concerns because it obviously didn’t fit.
An even bigger problem arose when I began training with the KM-37 surface supplied diving hard-hats. The neoprene neck sleeves attached to the metal ring that the helmet snapped onto were so stretched out that if I tilted my head downward, giant air bubbles rushed out the back of my neck and water rushed in. It’s difficult to do a job underwater when you can’t tilt your head. One day, a rushed student helping me with the dive gear above the water accidentally pulled the whole rig off of my head, the still-attached neck ring slid right over me. A watching instructor murmured, “That’s not supposed to happen. That’s really dangerous. It could come off underwater.”
I was told that the school just didn’t have the resources to fit minority students with smaller gear. I was dismayed to hear this again and again at my own unit in the Coast Guard, where I continued to wear a full-face mask that leaked on every dive, and BCs that were sized men’s medium. The recreational dive gear that I’d bought for weekend fun dives was sized women’s small. I was strong enough and fit enough to do the job of a Coast Guard Diver, and often my background as a shipboard engineer put me in a unique position of knowledge when working underneath CG cutters. However, my ability to work underwater was often hampered by ill-fitting gear.
I’m not suggesting that we change standards to accommodate women, far from it. Women should only do these jobs if they meet the same standards that have been upheld by men for decades. However, everyone in a position requiring life support gear should be afforded the same opportunity to wear equipment that fits, and sometimes that will mean buying different gear for smaller faces and frames. The Navy Experimental Dive Unit has already tested and approved smaller versions of the full-facemask that is currently used in the Navy and Coast Guard, as well as smaller BCs. It’s not a matter of bending the rules to accommodate women. It’s a matter of ensuring that all members of the unit have properly fitting gear. Sometimes the best person for the job is the smallest person; so let’s make sure they have the right gear.
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