Archive for the 'LCDR Claude Berube' Tag

Many, many years ago, as a newly minted Ensign fresh out of the clutches of the Naval Academy, I participated in a wargame that considered one of the Cold War’s more dangerous possibilities. The wargame scenario postulated a combined attack by a Soviet Backfire Bomber regiment in coordination with an ECHO II class SSGN on a NATO convoy bringing reinforcements to Europe in response to a Soviet invasion. The game was run by Larry Bond, at the time known more for his design of the “Harpoon” the wargame ruleset. Having been accepted into the Navy Nuclear Power program with plans to join the Submarine Service, I was happy to act as the commander of the Soviet submarine. My partner on the red side was an insurance salesman from Baltimore, who when told of my service selection, offered that he had just written a novel on Cold War submarine operations that would interest me. He informed me that the book was about to be published by the US Naval Institute and should be available shortly. I muttered a non-committal response, all the while thinking that my teammate must think I was particularly dense, even for an Ensign, as everyone knew that the Naval Institute did not publish fiction. Having significantly damaged the NATO convoy by the conclusion of the game, I bade my partner goodbye, never expecting to see or hear from him again. Several months later when The Hunt for Red October topped the best seller lists, I could only mutter about being proven wrong. Yes, the Naval Institute really did publish fiction, and yes, I really had met the author, Tom Clancy, before he became world famous.

Many years later the Naval Institute’s practice of publishing high quality fiction featuring important concerns of the nautical world endures.  Syren’s Song by Claude Berube, a former US Navy officer and current director of the Naval Academy Museum, continues this tradition. Instead of considering the force on force conflict of warring superpowers at sea however, this volume examines the increasingly hazardous maritime realm in an era where the Western navies have stepped back from security missions they find too costly, onerous or merely uninteresting. Into this vacuum other guarantees of security will flow, and Connor Stark, the novel’s protagonist, leads his company, Highland Marine Defense through a series of fast paced and entertaining adventures to help tame the rising tide of lawlessness. In this account, a non-state actor’s naval contingent, the reconstituted Sea Tigers of the former Tamil insurgency on northern Sri Lanka, use a combination of ruthless devotion to the cause and a technological breakthrough to launch a devastating attack on the Sri Lankan Navy. Under the leadership of Vanni, a fearless veteran of the previous guerrilla war, the conflict is renewed with the dream of finally achieving independence. Flying his flag on a discarded but refurbished US Navy vessel, Stark and his company are contracted to assist the Colombo government until more formal assistance can arrive. In the process they are joined by an American Arleigh Burke class DDG, the USS LEFON, with a Commanding Officer and crew willing and able to assist Stark’s efforts for the Sri Lankan government. A dead shot investigator from the Department of State searching for the murderers of another Diplomatic Security Agent official joins their attempts. The combined forces come together to determine the source of the insurgent technological breakthrough, an effective if short ranged Electro-Magnetic Pulse (EMP) weapon, the location of the enemy naval base and the killers of the American Foreign Service Officer. The plot is fast paced as the author ties together the various strands of the story together, showing how the insecure maritime commons might not be exploited by any number of unseemly national entities, multinational corporations with ties to continental powers, and nefarious non-state actors. As might be expected in this genre, the heroes act heroically, the villains perform vile acts with much zest, the weapons do not jam and the shirkers earn their just desserts. There is even a gratuitous slap at the somewhat ironically named Littoral Combat Ships that have been sent to replace the sunken hulls of the much attrited Sri Lankan Navy, perhaps because no one else wanted them. All in all Syren’s Song is a satisfying read that keeps the gentle reader’s interest across the two hundred pages of action and analysis.

syren_coverPerhaps more important than the parts of the satisfying action filled intrigue are the background questions that frame the story but do not overwhelm the plot. What should be the role of private security companies (dare they be called mercenaries?) functioning in the maritime environment? How might these organizations operate with navies of smaller nations interested in protecting their own security and economic interests as well as the larger navies of more expeditionary states? What should the rules of engagement be when operating in the hostile and potentially highly lethal at the lower end of the spectrum of conflict? How might the maritime forces of non-state actors operate against more capable maritime forces that have had their communications capabilities degraded? The USS LEFON acts with, shall we say, somewhat more liberal authorities than US warships do in the current era of conflict that features only slightly less deadly threats and more secure communications with higher headquarters. Absent such lifelines, how should an American warship perform its duties and responsibilities to protect national interests and concerns? Is mission command merely a trite phrase that sounds intriguing in some doctrinal manual but at sea is executed only in fictional stories? These topical questions are answered decisively in this novel, but in the real world naval professionals need to think about these issues and come up with acceptable solutions well before the first round or missile goes down range, particularly if it is coming at their vessel. There may not be a Connor Stark and his elite cohort of sea going mercenaries to save the day, though one might surmise he will at least appear in a follow on book. There are too many nefarious actors yet to vanquish and unanswered questions to resolve for the Naval Institute to cut short Stark’s new career at Highland Marine Defense. Jack Ryan wants, no needs to know what comes next. You will too.

Jane Taylor at the U.S. Naval Academy

“The world is a vampire.” So begins every episode of Animal Planet’s top-rated program “Whale Wars,” about the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society’s efforts to stop Japanese whaling in southern waters. One of the crew members featured on Season Two was Jane Taylor, a 2002 Naval Academy graduate and former Surface Warfare Officer. During a recent visit to Annapolis, Taylor also took the time to answer some questions for the U.S. Naval Institute Blog. She spoke to a broader audience at USNA sponsored by the Forum for Emerging and Irregular Warfare Studies – that talk was taped by the U.S. Naval Institute and can be found at the end of this post. For additional perspectives on Sea Shepherd, readers are welcomed to read Chris Rawley’s posts at

USNI: The missions of the Navy and animal rights activists are different. Why did you apply to the Naval Academy?
Jane Taylor: In high school I participated in the Junior ROTC program; it was the Army side and I knew that I wanted to pay my own way through college so I applied for ROTC and the Service academies. I did know it was going to be Navy because I’m a water person and so when I got my appointment I accepted the Naval Academy based on the beautiful catalogue and my father urging me to go there as opposed to a civilian school with ROTC.

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Nigeria has the second largest oil reserves in Africa and is the fifth-largest exporter of oil to the U.S., approximately eight percent of U.S. oil imports, according to the State Department. This rich resource in the Niger Delta and Gulf of Guinea has been a source of internal dissention and attacks on oil and gas platforms, largely by the militant group Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta (MEND).

According to the 15th edition of the Naval Institute Guide to Combat Fleets of the World, Nigeria’s Navy includes two frigates, two Erin’mi-class patrol combatants, two operations patrol craft, three non-operational fast patrol boats, fifteen 25-foot boats, and some auxiliary ships. Last month, the Nigerian Navy acquired the former U.S. Coast Guard Cutter CHASE.

Whether the country assesses its assets are insufficient to deal with the threat or another reason, the Nigerian government has awarded a ten-year contract worth USD$130 million for maritime security. The awardee, Global West Vessel Special Nigeria Limited (GWVSL) will provide platforms for tracking ships and cargo, enforcing regulatory compliance, and surveillance of the Nigerian Maritime Domain. The firm is run by Government Tompolo, a former senior MEND militant.

The background of the awardee aside, the contract is opposed by some in Nigeria who believe that maritime security should rest with the Navy and Coast Guard.

This raises two issues: 1) if any state is unable to secure its waters or its commercial assets, who fills the maritime gap, and 2) if PSCs – or, rather, maritime security companies – fill that need, how should they be vetted?

The past few years have boosted the maritime security industry due in no small part to instability and piracy in the Horn of Africa and the need for shipping companies to hire more armed guards. More companies and countries have gradually, albeit reluctantly, recognized that armed riders may be a necessary addition to the cooperative efforts of state navies. (The Philippines just became the latest country to permit its flagged ships to use maritime security.)

I first interviewed Dominic Mee, CEO of Protection Vessels International, two years ago about maritime security companies offering escort vessels. “We would welcome more regulation…this would help the reputation of the industry.” Just last week, the Security Association for the Maritime Industry (SAMI) announced that its International Accreditation Program will include a three-stage process of due diligence that includes: financial and legal checks, physical verification, and checks on deployed operations (source: 4 February 2012). Such efforts might improve, as Mee said, the reputation of the industry and, more importantly, accountability.

Lieutenant Commander Berube is the co-editor of the recently published “Maritime Private Security: Market Responses to Piracy, Terrorism and Waterborne Security Risks in the 21st Century.” These views are his own and not those of the U.S. Naval Academy.

Last night the U.S. Naval Academy’s ship selection night was held in Mahan Auditorium where the future surface warfare officers from the Class of 2012 picked the ship for their first tour as commissioned officers. Setting the stage were Admiral John Harvey’s inspirational words about leadership and service in the Navy in every part of the world where “there is no place you will go that is quiet.”

Admiral Harvey also commented on the history at the Naval Academy, a place where all midshipmen, wrapped up in getting to the next class or event, will simply walk past some of the most remarkable items in our naval history – the cannons and monuments, the flags taken in battle, the portraits in Memorial Hall and elsewhere. In the course of everyday activities, “we lose the meaning of those faces in paintings, those names on a plaque.”

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