Category Archives: Surface Forces

America's Small Stick Diplomacy

America’s Small Stick Diplomacy

120503-N-CZ945-496We might rephrase Theodore Roosevelt’s famous saying about “big stick” diplomacy thusly: Speak softly and carry a small stick, and you will go far—provided you have a big stick handy. That maxim has yielded good results for China in Southeast Asia. It could do so for the United States as well—if it manages its alliances and partnerships well and arranges its forces to match purpose with power.

Overpowering military might opens up new strategic vistas for the strong, letting them get their way while looking inoffensive if not magnanimous to foreign eyes. China has brandished a small stick in recent months, using unarmed ships from nonmilitary government agencies like China Marine Surveillance as its political implement of choice in the Scarborough Shoal imbroglio with the Philippines, and in its war of words with Vietnam over oil and gas exploration rights within Vietnam’s offshore exclusive economic zone, or EEZ. The EEZ is a 200 nautical mile belt (more in some cases) adjoining a coastal state’s shores. The coastal state holds exclusive rights to natural resources in those waters and the seabed underneath. Control of resources is critical to economic development—hence the passions expanses like the resource-rich South China Sea rouse.

Gunboat diplomacy without the gunboats sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? Here’s how small-stick diplomacy works. A country whose armed forces decisively outmatch a competitor’s can afford not to openly display those forces in international controversies. It can make the weak an offer they can’t refuse, and they have little recourse. It can hope to win without fighting—and get its way without even looking like an aggressor before the court of world opinion. Why unlimber the big stick when virtual coercion or deterrence promises the same results?

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The Great Green (Pierside?) Fleet

The Great Green (Pierside?) Fleet

Proceedings, July 2012

On 14 October 2011, Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus shared his vision of the “Great Green Fleet” at the Naval Energy Forum in McLean, Virginia. The Honorable Mr. Mabus remarked that “in the drive for energy reform the goal has got to be increased warfighting capability.” Increased warfighting capability through energy reform? Is this really possible under the secretary’s timeline of the next ten years, or will warfighters be left with another constraint on their way into the combat zone?

Secretary Mabus effectively communicated how energy reform in the Department of Defense could immediately reduce our nation’s dependence on foreign oil. But at what cost? For many in the armed services, “energy efficiency” might conjure images of turning down the thermostat, putting on a sweater, and learning to enjoy cold showers. For the surface Navy, an effective way to cut fuel consumption would be to remain pierside. While fighting wars, however, cutting corners and decreasing underway training time can cost lives. Metaphorical sweaters and cold showers decrease the Navy’s capability and do not meet the secretary’s intent.

The important distinction in the secretary’s remarks is that he established himself as a champion of energy efficiency, not conservation. Although military professionals may be masters of doing more with less, energy efficiency on board our warships will instead involve doing the same with less. Or, alternatively, doing more with the same: increased warfighting capability through energy efficiency.

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Scenes from Guadalcanal

Scenes from Guadalcanal

Guadalcanal1On the 70th anniversary of the Battle of Guadalcanal, The U.S. Naval Institute has collected a series of photos from the pivotal battle from our archives. more

Russian Ships to Syria

Russian Ships to Syria

In late June, Russians reportedly dispatched two large landing ships full of marines to their naval base in Tartus, Syria. However one of the ships at the center of the immediate media firestorm never left port and the other executed a normal training mission in the Black Sea before quietly returning to base a few days later. Russia is not above meddling in the internal affairs of other countries if it thinks it can get away with it, but escalating the Syrian conflict clearly was not in Russia’s national interest and was flatly contrary to all of its previous diplomatic activity.

 

Now less than a day after Russia allegedly decided to stop delivering arms to Syria until the situation calms down, media reports Tuesday said Russia is sending a flotilla of ships drawn from the Baltic, Northern, and Black Sea fleets to Syria. The move that would represent a dramatic change in tone from the past year, when continued arms sales to the Assad regime were considered sacrosanct, and while negotiations were being held in Moscow between the Russian government and members of the anti-Assad Syrian National Council.

 

View Russian Ships to Syria in a larger map

Russian sources indicate the following ships are part of the group that is heading towards Syria: the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, the frigates Yaroslav Mudry and Smetlivy (“sharp” or “keen-witted”), and three large landing craft carrying a contingent of marines (the names of those ships have not been mentioned in any reporting to date). It is worth noting that the landing craft in question, while unidentified, are clearly not the landing craft from the Black Sea Fleet that were at the center of the controversy in late June, but three different ships, from the Northern Fleet.

 

The media reports on the Russian fleet heading toward Syria have all originated with an Interfax story that quoted an unnamed)“military-diplomatic source” with knowledge of the situation. On this particular issue Interfax doesn’t have the best track record as it was the original “source” for the non-story in late June. Smetlivy is based in the Black Sea and if it is heading to Syria it will have to pass through the Bosporus sometime in the next few days. Until then, given past history and the strangely convenient timing of the announcement it probably is wise to remain skeptical.

By American standards this task force is not particularly impressive. By the greatly diminished standards of Russian naval operations, however, this is a significant concentration of ships. Two, Admiral Chabanenko and the Yaroslav Mudry, are among the newest and most capable members of the Russian fleet, coming into service in 1999 and 2009 respectively. Smetlivy, on the other hand, is more than 40 years old.

The precise mission of this Russian flotilla is unclear — assuming the flotilla is heading for Syria and isn’t a crude invention of bureaucratic infighting. Most of the ships will take around three months to reach Syria because they’re leaving from Severomorsk in Russia’s far north and face an extremely lengthy and circuitous route. Mudry will also take several weeks to reach Syria as it is being dispatched from the Russian naval base in the Baltic. The official line from Interfax’s unidentified source is that it is all a training exercise that is not in any way connected with the ongoing violence in Syria: the ships in question need to practice all of the tasks associated ferrying marines a lengthy distance. Some defense experts on Russia have speculated that the landing craft are carrying valuable military cargo, perhaps refurbished MI-25 helicopters. Other experts have speculated that the landing ships aren’t carrying any cargo but will instead be used to evacuate Russian citizens and military personnel, or even embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates.

While such speculation is interesting, considering how long it is going to take the landing ships to reach Syria it is unlikely that they’re on an urgent and time-sensitive mission. If the Russians were planning an evacuation by sea they would use ships from the Black Sea Fleet which can be in Syria in a matter of days, not ships that are many weeks of hard steaming away. Assuming that all of the ships in question are in fact heading to Syria, it is far more likely that the Russians are trying to show the flag and underline their continued interest in the country. Particularly after taking two steps, that are clearly anti-Assad in nature, meeting with the Syrian National Council and cutting off arms shipments Russia needs to avoid giving the impression that it is overly weak and conciliatory.

It is possible to say what this flotilla is not: a serious attempt to intervene on behalf of Bashar al-Assad and his swiftly destabilizing regime. None of the three warships heading toward Syria is a serious instrument of power projection: they are surface combatants with an anti-surface or anti-submarine focus. Even if these ships wanted to, they could not meaningfully impact the correlation of forces in Syria, anti-ship missiles being about the most useless weapon imaginable in urban guerilla warfare. The best guess is that the flotilla is yet another clumsy attempt to show the flag and highlight Russia’s continued importance in the region.

An Alternative Piracy Defense

An Alternative Piracy Defense

somalForce, or the threat of force, is an important factor in countering pirate attacks off Somalia.

That unsurprising conclusion can be inferred from the International Chamber of Commerce International Maritime Bureau’s (IMB) global piracy report for 2011. IMB noted that incidents off Somalia increased in 2011, but the number of successful hijackings decreased from 49 to 28. Pottengal Mukundan, director of IMB’s Piracy Reporting Center, credited “pre-emptive naval strikes, the hardening of vessels in line with the best management practices and the deterrent effect of privately contracted armed security personnel” with the drop in successful hijackings.

Vigorous action by international naval forces in the Gulf of Aden and northwest Indian Ocean, weather, and shipboard defensive measures likewise helped reduce attacks year-over-year during the first quarter of 2012. Increasingly, those defensive measures have included armed security teams embarked on merchant vessels; anywhere from 15 to 35 percent of the ships transiting the region now rely on them. And according to industry sources, no ship embarking armed guards has been hijacked to date.

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What Would Mahan Do?

What Would Mahan Do?

Alfred_thayer_mahan

“It seems demonstrable, therefore, that as commerce is the engrossing and predominant interest of the world to day . . . [t]he instrument for the maintenance of policy directed upon these objects is the Navy.”

— Capt. Alfred Thayer Mahan, USN

Much of today’s discussion of international relations is based on the core idea that globalization has radically changed the political landscape of the world. Today’s thinkers, writers, and strategists tell us that because the world is flat, and we are closer to each other than ever before, we are in uncharted seas. In 2011 LCDR Matt Harper suggested in an award-winning article in the pages of Proceedings that the economic ties between China and the United States, the “Walmart Factor,” made military conflict almost impossible. Recently the discussion has once again been taken up in the pages of Proceedings. In the April issue, Lt. Cmdr. Rachel Gosnell and Lt. Michael Orzetti wrote a piece suggesting that a great power conflict was still something that should be planned for in the 21st century. LT Doug Robb responded in May with his Now Hear This . . . “Why the Age of Great Power Conflict is Over.” He made a case familiar to readers of the contemporary writings of Tom Friedman or the idealism of Norman Angell early in the 20th century.

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Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for '82 Falklands War

Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for ’82 Falklands War

reagan_and_maggie

President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the White House in 1981 The Reagan Library Archives

While publicly claiming neutrality between Argentina and the U.K. during the 1982 Falklands War, President Ronald Reagan’s administration had developed plans to loan a ship to the Royal Navy if it lost one of its aircraft carriers in the war, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, told the U.S. Naval Institute on June 26.

Lehman and then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger agreed to support U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the loan of the amphibious warship USS Iwo Jima, he said.

“We agreed that [Weinberger] would tell the President that we planned to handle all these requests routinely without going outside existing Navy channels,” Lehman said in a speech provided to the U.S. Naval Institute he made in Portsmouth, U.K. “We would ‘leave the State Department, except for [Secretary of State Al] Haig, out of it.’”

Reagan approved the request without hesitation and his instructions to Weinberger had been simple, “Give Maggie everything she needs to get on with it,” Lehman said in the speech.

At the time, the Royal Navy had deployed HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes to the Falklands. Each carrier fielded five vertical takeoff Sea Harriers armed with American Sidewinder missiles — all major components of the U.K.’s air war in the Falklands.
The contingency plan to provide a replacement carrier was developed at the Royal Navy’s request.
“As in most of the requests from the Brits at the time, it was an informal request on a ‘what if’ basis, Navy to Navy,” Lehman said.

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Combat Fleets '82: Falklands Carriers

Combat Fleets ’82: Falklands Carriers

In the event of the loss of a British carrier in the 1982 Falklands War, the U.S. was prepared to loan a helicopter carrier to the U.K. Royal Navy.

Collected are the entries from the 1982/1983 Combat Fleets of the World of the British carriers and the ship the U.S. had prepared to loan the Royal Navy.

USS Iwo Jima (LPH 2)

USS Iwo Jima underway in 1984[U.S. Naval Institute Archives]

USS Iwo Jima underway in 1984
[U.S. Naval Institute Archives]

Builder: Puget Sound NSY
Laid down: 2-4-69
Launched: 17-9-60
In service: 26-8-61
Displacement : 11,000 tons light (17,515-18,300 fl)
Speed: 23 kts
Dimensions: 183.6 (169.5 wl) × 31.7 (25.5 wl) × 7.9 (hull) meters
Armament: 4/76.2-mm DP (II × 2)—2/Mk 25 Sea Sparrow launchers (VIII x 2)
Aircraft: 20-24/ CH-46 helicopters 4/CH-53 heavy helicopters 4/HU-1 utility or AH-1 attack helicopters
Electronic Equipment: Radar: 1/LN-66, 1/SPS-10, 1/SPS-40, 1/SPN-10 or SPN-43
Electronic Counter Measures: WLR-6, ULQ-6, 4/Mk 36 SRBOC chaff TACAN: URN-20
Machinery: 1 set GT; 1 prop; 23,000 hp
Boilers: 4 Combustion Engineering (LPH 9: Babcock & Wilcox); 42.3 kg/cm2, 467°C
Electric: 6,500 kw
Manning: 47 officers, 605 men +190 officers, 1,900 Marines

Remarks: LPH 9 conducted V/STOL suitability trials during 1972 and for
several years thereafter operated up to twelve AV-8A Harrier. The
ships have also aeted as carriers for RH-53 minesweeping helicopters.
One folding side elevator forward, to port; one to starboard, aft of
the island; 70-m hangar. Excellent medical facilities (300 beds). LPH
9 has an ASCAC (Air-Surface Classification and Analysis Center).
LPH 12, to a slightly different design, carries two LCVP in davits.
Two Mk 63 gunfire control being removed. Two 20-m Vulcan/Phalanx AA to
be added.

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A New Way for Mine Warfare

A New Way for Mine Warfare

“Any ship can be a minesweeper –- once,” goes the old naval joke, but top American commanders in the Middle East are not laughing. Amid the roller coaster of tensions with Iran and a new high-level order to confirm that it can “shoot straight,” the Navy is beefing up its mine warfare capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

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The North Korean Connection

The North Korean Connection

Big surprises often come in small packages and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) seems to be betting on this adage with its accelerated acquisition of midget submarines in recent years. Open-source reporting indicates that Iran now possesses at least 14 Yono-class mini-submarines. Iranians say these North Korean-designed boats are now being indigenously manufactured in their domestic shipyards. Called the Ghadir-class, production has accelerated since the reported launch of the first Iranian-manufactured unit in 2007 with four of these units launched in 2010 and, according to Jane’s Fighting Ships, another two were launched in the past year.

An undated photo of the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.

An undated photo of the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.

The lethal threat loaded in this small package is illustrated by the March 2010 attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The North Korean torpedo attack on the Cheonan broke the ship in half and killed 46 ROK sailors. Forensic evidence, provided by an international team of weapons experts, subsequently revealed that it was a North Korean manufactured CHT-02D acoustic-wake homing torpedo that was used to sink the South Korean ship. The connection to the threat from Iran’s Yono submarines is that many analysts suspect that it was a North Korean Yono mini-sub that launched the attack on the Cheonan. Each North Korean Yono mini-sub is believed to be armed with two such CHT-02D (21-inch) heavy weight torpedoes. It is likely the Iranian Yono units are likely to be armed with the same type of torpedoes.
The IRIN also has three relatively modern, Russian-built, Kilo-class submarines that were purchased in the 1990s. However, the recent emphasis on mini-subs may indicate either a shift in tactics and/or dissatisfaction with the Kilos. The cost, or size and complexity of the Kilos may have caused the IRIN and Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guard Navy force to seek a more reliable and tactically compatible alternative. The Yono mini-sub is by all observations better matched to the challenging conditions for submarine operations in the gulf than the much larger Kilos. Just as the North Koreans have found the utility of mini-subs in the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, the Iranians seem to be following suit in the Persian Gulf.

Iran seems to be putting their money where its mouth is when it comes to procurement. By all appearances its investments are matching its naval strategy of waging a guerrilla war at sea. For instance, the procurement of the Yono class boats is paralleled by reported investments in anti-ship cruise missiles, sea mines and the modification of hundreds of fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft armed with a wide variety of antiship weapons. The ambush tactics for which the mini-sub is designed seem to fit the pattern of recent Iranian weapons procurement and their expressed interest in building a robust anti-access/area denial capability. The relatively short range and endurance of the Yono-class boats makes these units compatible with the Iranian Navy’s coastal defense mission and their presence puts teeth into Iran’s claims to being able to close the vital Strait of Hormuz. It is also noteworthy that as a less than capital asset, these platforms are potentially more expendable than a high value asset like a Kilo submarine. The proliferation of these units, like that of their mini-warship FAC/FIAC cousins, suggests that the Iranian Navy may be willing to lose a few of these units in defense of the nation.

The proliferation of these units presents a number of tactical challenges to the US Navy. As with FAC/FIAC, there is a definite tactical quality to quantity. The sheer number of small but lethal threats that have to be considered when operating in the Persian Gulf, when added up, creates an overall high threat environment. Just like FAC/FIAC, only one Yono needs to slip through a friendly force defensive perimeter and get within torpedo range to possibly achieve success. The threat to friendly vessels is further exacerbated when operating within the confines of the Persian Gulf where, in most areas, the threat axis represents a 360 spin of the compass. Further complicating the problem for blue forces is the inherent difficulty in detecting these small targets amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the cluttered Persian Gulf waters. One conclusion is certain–the development of squadrons of mini-subs and FAC/FIAC are a warning sign that asymmetric threats are on the upswing in the Persian Gulf.