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The ‘Thousand Ship Navy’ is dead in the water, says former Expeditionary Warfare Chief


Back in the early part of 2007, the idea of the Thousand Ship Navy (TSN) was being thrown around circles of naval commanders like the answer to a particularly tough riddle.

Based largely on the notion that no single navy could “go it alone”, allied and partnered freedom-loving nations – along with commercial shipping companies and merchant vessels – were being eyed to meet tomorrow’s challenges by effectively merging together into a seafaring power so massive and unstoppable that Poseidon himself would slink off into the Mariana Trench and hide among the barnacles with all those other terrifying looking fish monsters.

In the words of many U.S. Government and Navy speakers, this was a concept that was “gaining traction” and for a while it seemed as though the sun setting over the horizon of our glistening oceans promised more than just another day ahead.

Of course, a few mere months later, the liquidity crisis hit and strategic budget folders landed on defence ministerial tables across the Western world. The bottom had fallen out – not just on the economy but also on the naïve suggestion that military growth would be able to continue unimpeded on a global scale.

The following year, as if to rub salt into the wound, Russia announced plans to increase production of both nuclear and conventional weapon systems – including 14 new warships – all while openly flirting with Cuba and Venezuela for fresh ties. To lump another problem into the mix, China also announced its intentions to expand its naval presence and began construction of an aircraft carrier, the first of several now being planned by Beijing.

china-cuba-relations“And our fusion cuisine shall destroy all other delicious competition.”

The U.S. had already been witnessing a decline to its fleet volume over the preceding seventeen years, dropping around 46 per cent of its ships since the Gulf War as a result of going largely unchallenged at sea for so long.

One would think that now, more than ever, a united naval group would be the ideal solution to a divided and deficient alternative. Yet, in the midst of an economic crisis, the prospect of being called out to operations for extended periods of time and to take up duties at the drop of a hat is not one that appeals to commanders or bean counters alike. Add to this the fact that even scraping together those few navies willing to pitch in would still leave the force short of a grand, considering the decline of ship numbers across the board.

Still not fully deterred, the U.S. Navy – led by Joint Chief of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, the poster boy for TSN – hoped to leverage India as a regional partner to help entice Russia and China into the operational concept and keep the dream alive. But Defence Minister A.K. Antony had other ideas and in 2011 emphatically shot the notion down, stating that India would not join a multinational force unless it was mandated by the U.N. or unless limited to small-scale dedicated cooperation. For those counting at home, this would be the final nail.

At this point, the powers that be began to play down the idea of even needing such a ubiquitous force in the 21st Century. Most notable amongst them was President Obama who clashed with Mitt Romney (remember him?) on the issue during a televised debate last year. Romney, as we barely recall, made mutterings of building the Navy back up to at least 350 ships, comparing the dwindling size to  levels not seen since 1917. Obama saw that ball coming and hit it out of the park as far as viewers and analysts were concerned, simultaneously launching “horses and bayonets” into the popular lexicon. The suggestion that modern technology could fill the gap was one that a young generation could readily identify with (because what can’t technology do for us these days?) and, regardless of fact or matter, made Mitt look like the old man on the sea.

old_sailor“Corporations and sailors are people, my friend.”

This month, Major General (Rtd) Harry Jenkins, a former Assistant Chief of Staff for C4I Director and the Pentagon’s Chief of Expeditionary Warfare Division (N85), and the man who literally co-wrote the ‘book’ on TSN for the Navy told Defence IQ that for now, TSN is in a watery grave.

“I think it was a good scheme, but the realities today are that there probably are not enough ships afloat in anybody’s navies to do that,” said Jenkins.

That said, something of the philosophy of the concept is – and could continue to be – useful on lower-key task force missions.

“Whatever you’re going to do in this area as part of that concept would be to bring together various navies of the world regionally. A good example would be the navies that conduct counter-piracy operations in the Indian Ocean, Gulf of Aden and that area. You see the same thing where partner nations have gotten together along the Straits of Malacca and making sure that sea line stay open.

“Those operations are going to continue but the idea of trying to tie everybody together is pretty hard.”

As economies march to a slow recovery, Jenkins believes the future will provide an opportunity to see “a subset” of TSN take effect but will be largely reliant on the region in question.

“Some areas have a lot of naval capabilities [locally], others don’t have as much. A good example would be the Western African states…So while there are bits and pieces of what we called the Thousand Ship Navy out there, I don’t see that coming together at all globally unless we have a major confrontation somewhere.”

 Barack-Obama-Hillary-Clinton-Afghanistan-Strategy-Meeting“So that’s fifteen to five in favour of war with Australia… Time to put Abbott’s little boat blockade to the test.”

What has arisen as an alternative to fielding a huge conventional naval force is the focus and expenditure seen on more numerous amphibious assets, where tactics have shifted to the protection or takeover of targeted areas of bottlenecked waters and island chains. Such a strategy has been picked up on universally and everyone from Japan to Iran is aware of just how much control can be leveraged by simply dominating the vital lanes, effectively hitting the world in its pressure points instead of trying to club it into submission over twelve rounds.

In the past few years, the number of nations that have invested into fresh amphibious platforms seems endless, including (to name just a few) Australia, Algeria, Chile, China, the Republic of Korea and Japan – the latter of which having announced in its recent defence review that it is now on a mission to dramatically expand its marine capabilities in light of Pacific tensions.

Vince Goulding, Director of the USMC Warfighting Lab’s Experiment Division previously described this investment as “critical”.

“With fiscal realities, we need to look at what force brings the most bang for the buck, and amphibious forces allows you to operate in all three domains. They’re the only forces that offer you that. Other forces typically require infrastructure ashore to accomplish their mission,” said Goulding.

“They’re not an intrusion on a nation’s sovereignty while they’re waiting for a crisis to occur. I would say their future is very bright if people open up their intellectual apertures of what the real required capabilities for our respective nations will be in the future.”

Indeed, the value of amphibious assets has now grown beyond the traditional role of power projection long associated with them. Among the roles that they have proven integral to undertaking includes maritime interdiction, anti-piracy, humanitarian assistance and disaster relief, all of which were demands once cited by proponents of TSN. This doesn’t even mention the benefits of surveillance range extension, fleet support, mine countermeasures and all number of other vital requirements that these same platforms can be moulded towards. Check out this infographic for a more “dynamic” overview.

The Thousand Ship Navy may never happen. But then again, history may look back on our situation and recognise that if the economic slump taught navies one thing, it’s that it wasn’t the size of the boat – or fleet – that actually mattered.

Involved in amphibious operations or the market providing these solutions? Visit for the opportunity to network with others doing business in this community.

3 EOD workshops that focus on home grown attacks


During the campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq, IED attacks on coalition troops climbed to the top of the threat ladder, owing to their prolific presence, their ability to be made easily and cheaply, and their fundamentally effective results.

Along with the drawdown, there is now a realisation that the theatre in which the IED remains a serious threat is anywhere and everywhere. In the months and years to come, homeland security measures will be faced with an increasing need to detect and defeat a device that requires little sophistication to take lives.

The question is whether the lessons and training methods refined in the deserts of the Middle East can be transposed to urban environments and the civilian response teams that often oversee them.

This year’s 7th annual Counter IED conference will be going further to assess the IED in the context of homeland security. Ahead of the conference, a day of interactive workshops will meet some of these issues head on, allowing professionals involved in this domain to both converge and converse openly on the topic.


The first two-hour workshop will explore training and retraining – looking at the broad scope disciplines, processes and capabilities that need to remain fresh as emerging asymmetric threats arrive at our doorstep. Mr Zach Kramer, C-IED SME, JMRC US Army Europe, will lead the discussion.


Following this, Mr Robert Shaw – who has trained ISAF forces and other authorities worldwide – will helm a must-attend session on predicting the future of EOD, assessing how the technologies and countermeasures will likely evolve and advising those involved in the discussion on how to use that information.


Finally, delegates will be treated to a visual walkthrough guide to attacking the network, arguably the key to closing down terrorist actions on a large-scale but also a more convoluted task than diffusing a physical bomb. Professor Caroline Kennedy-Pipe will help delegates address the challenge of crossing national boundaries, linking terrorist cells to organised criminals and ultimately undermining the “tangled web” of modern violent extremism.

Don’t want to miss out? Visit

Alternatively, email or phone +44 (0) 207 368 9737.

The Great Libyan Gold Rush

With the official bilateral visit of UK Defence Minister Philip Hammond to Libya last week, there comes the news of the “reborn” nation finally opening up its defence coffers with reports of a $4.7 billion budget approval designed specifically to modernise the rusting armed forces, following decades of underfunding and the overthrow of a paranoid regime.

While the British defence industry is certainly on the books to help begin the rebuilding of air defence infrastructure taken out by NATO two years ago, other nations are also being consulted on delivering rapid upgrades to Libyan forces during this time of vulnerability. Defence IQ confirmed with the Libyan Air Force that consultations with Russia and Italy are underway to provide new trainer aircraft. Meanwhile, the fleet of Libyan C-130s that have been embargoed in the US for over 40 years are finally being discussed, but the Libyans are veering away from the offer to trade them in for a C-130J replacement.

Those involved in air systems would do well to keep their ears open as other ministers book flights to the Middle East over the coming months. A country that once commanded one of the biggest forces in the region wants to return to its old glory, and unlike many nations across the world today with similar dreams, Libya has the resources to make it happen.

Read more on this development.

Interested in the integration of modern military air weapons and systems? Network with decision-makers in London this May at Air Integration 2013.


‘ARGO’: The other side of the story


Despite the latest cinematic adventure celebrating a successful joint personnel recovery operation thanks to the collaborative work of Canadian and U.S. agencies, we must not forget the far less successful endeavour to rescue others during this time.

In this article, James P. Farwell explores the long-term impact of Operation Eagle Claw, the aborted personnel recovery effort that cost lives and careers, including that of President Jimmy Carter. Could a single question that went unasked have turned this tragic story into a Ben Affleck worthy sequel?

Decades may have passed since this misstep, but personnel recovery remains a burning issue today with recent experiences in Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa demonstrating the importance of effective planning.

As such, many in the global personnel recovery field will be gathering in London for the annual Joint Personnel Recovery conference this May, where topics of discussion will range from training operators in isolated situations and developing the capability to rescue military and non-military alike from behind enemy lines.

For more information on how to be a part of this important conference, visit


Is Directed Energy Destined to Remain in the Realms of Fantasy?

By Mark Eastwood, Defence IQ

Earlier this week, during the monotonous morning tube journey into work which every Londoner dreads, I noticed that the man stood in front of me was reading a Military-based novel on his e-book reader. Glancing at the screen, I saw that the plot of the novel seemed to revolve around the debate over whether the United States should turn to non-lethal Directed Energy weapons in the face of some shadowy unknown enemy of the State for whom traditional ballistic weaponry had, seemingly, no effect. The protagonist made explicit reference to the Active Denial System (ADS) and seemed to be the only one arguing that this non-lethal directed energy weapon should be used.  Just as the man reading the book departed the train, I noticed that the main character was musing about the difference which would come with the inauguration of the first Female President; surely she, with all her clichéd maternal inclination, would see the benefits of using the non-lethal weapon. This led me to think about that very question – is a change of leadership mentality all that is needed to move Directed Energy Weapons into operation?

The answer is, of course, not simply that black-and-white. But, having looked at the history of Directed Energy Weapons (DEW) over the past decade, I would argue that until a significant change in the mind-set of policymakers occurs, Directed Energy Weapons will never see the light of day, regardless of how many technical problems are overcome.

Directed Energy Weapons have been in development, in one form or another, since Regan’s ill-fated Strategic Defence Initiative, or as it more infamously became known, Star Wars. Whilst the modern DEW has developed a long way since that system, the principles remain the same – harnessing energy, either a laser-beam or High Powered Microwave, and projecting it onto an object to render some kind of effect.

Early Directed Energy Systems were so fraught with technical issues that they remained firmly in the realms of scientists, and some of the more imaginative Sci-Fi writers, but over the past decade, technological advancements have made Directed Energy Systems much more feasible. Whilst military-grade Directed Energy weapons are still faced with problems over power, heat capacity and size, many would argue that once these issues are overcome, the world’s military will open their arms to these systems; marking a significant shift in the weaponry we see on the modern battlefield. And, whilst this may indeed be the case, I would argue that it is in fact highly unlikely.

The reason for this takes me back to the original point I made: Directed Energy Systems will not see the light of day until an organisational and governmental mind-set change is achieved. As discussed above, some would have us believe that this is not the case and that technical restrictions are the real inhibiting factor for Directed Energy. For such arguments, there is one significant piece of evidence which undermines their argument – The Active Denial System.

Mentioned in the Tube passenger’s book, the ADS is a system designed for area denial and crowd control. By emitting high powered microwaves, it is designed to heat a person’s skin to an unbearable level so that they have to flee from its range, but without being injured. The safety of the device when used against humans has been tested thousands of times, all yielding no unpleasant results. Indeed, so successful did the device prove in testing, that it was sent to Afghanistan for use by the US Military. Yet, for all the positives associated with the system, it was not used in Afghanistan and was quickly withdrawn. The reason for this? The policy makers and high-ranking military officials were worried about the bad-press using this system would generate. Stories of the US using “Death-Rays” against the Taliban and civilians in Afghanistan posed too much of a PR headache for the US and so the system, which had proved time and time again to cause no harm, was withdrawn.

Now, one might argue that this was a sensible decision given the bad press the US already received in Afghanistan. However, this doesn’t alter the fact that the current mind-set surrounding Directed Energy led to its withdrawal. Efforts to re-invent the ADS after this set-back led to it being introduced into an LA jail, as a method of riot control. However, one of the lead scientists involved in the project, told me that the project was pulled, “at the eleventh hour due to concerns from federal government over how the system might be interpreted”. Yet again, the mind-set of the political leadership, fuelled by death-ray science-fiction of the past, led to the withdrawal of the system before it was even used.

I find it hard to believe that this mind-set has changed so much in the past 12 months that any Directed Energy System which became viable now would be accepted immediately. In fact I believe that until Directed Energy can get away from its current associations, it is destined to remain stuck in the laboratory and the pages of fictional novels.

The future of Directed Energy Systems, both at a technical and a policy level will be discussed in-depth at Defence IQ’s Directed Energy Systems 2013 Conference. For more information, and to learn what the experts believe the future holds for Directed Energy, view the full agenda here.

An armoured vehicles news update…

Contributed by Kim Vigilia, Defence IQ

In recent news, the British Army has announced an order for 51 additional Foxhound Vehicles and Lockheed Martin has provided an update on the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle upgrade for improved lethality systems. Given these headlines, it’s clear that priorities for many western military nations are not only to provide necessary mine and blast protection for soldiers in Afghanistan, but also to ‘future-proof’ these vehicles up until 2040.

However, defeating the IED threat and securing future survivability are just two of the main issues facing land defence leaders. There are also challenges within situational awareness and communication enhancements, weapon station integration and the balancing act of creating the ‘perfect’ environment for simulating armour and mechanised training. Add to that the basic foundation and maintenance of supply chains and other processes to remain efficient and effective… the list goes on.

Taking these issues into account, the International Armoured Vehicles show (IAVs) has a programme which is designed to reflect these challenges and offers a platform on which senior leaders in land defence can discuss, debate and swap ideas on the potential solutions and where they foresee the future of armoured vehicles. Lieutenant General Jonathan Page, Commander FDT and Major General Andrew Sharpe, DG DCDC from the UK Ministry of Defence will lead sessions at IAVs where Foxhound and Warrior are sure to be key talking points.

Defeating the IED threat, once and for all?

According to the press release published by General Dynamics in regards to the Foxhound Vehicle order, “The value of the award is approximately $73.6 million, or £46 million.”  In light of the drawback from Afghanistan, that’s still quite a significant investment for a light weight vehicle which specifically features countering IED capabilities, confirming the fact that C-IEDs is still one of the most critical challenges for militaries to overcome.

IAVs has a dedicated pre-conference day to focus on Countering IEDs to complement the main conference plenary sessions at IAVs, which features a panel discussion with Commander Abdulrazaq Olapeju Kazeem, Commander of the Nigerian Army’s Headquarters Bomb Disposal Squadron as well as Major General Ruben Dario Alzate Mora, the Head of Land – Materiel & Commander of the 1st Army for the Colombian Army and Robert Shaw, Head of C-IED Training for NATO ISAF.  The panel will be posed questions from the audience focusing on whether the future of C-IED efforts will be non-expeditionary.

With the Nigerian Army looking to acquire Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) All-Terrain vehicles to advance its strategy in defeating home-grown terrorism, the resulting conversation from the panel discussion should prove interesting to military peers and potential industry partners.

“IED incidents in Nigeria have been quite serious and challenging, however, because of proactive and pre-emptive measures put in place by the Nigerian Government and Security Forces, the threat is receding,” Kazeem told Defence IQ, citing the reduction in frequency of both attacks and casualties. “The Nigerian Army Bomb Disposal is tackling the rising IED incidents by employing global best practices in locating, rendering safe and disposal of IEDs.”

What does the future battle space look like and how can we ‘future-proof’ armoured vehicles?

Deemed as the British Army’s “key priority,” the £1 billion Warrior Capability Sustainment Programme (WCSP) is one of the largest and most significant projects being pushed through the MoD as it seeks to upgrade and refit the Warrior Infantry Fighting Vehicle with improved lethality systems and an electronic architecture that will future-proof it until 2040.

So what does this armoured vehicle of the future look like? Brigadier General Andrew G. Hughes, Director of Combat Capability at the UK Ministry of Defence, will open IAVs with a keynote speech, “Showcasing the Work of Combat Capability in the Content of the Army 2020 Strategy: Future Armour and Protected Mobility Requirements” – so we might find out then!

If you’d like to find out more about the International Armoured Vehicles 2013 event please click here.

Questions answered about the Dutch F-35 debacle

After former Dutch defence chief Dick Berlijn, and defence expert, Peter Wijninga, wrote an article espousing the argument FOR the Dutch government to acquire the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, Defence IQ’s Yousuf Malik casts a critical eye over the article and asks: are there better alternatives to the F-35?

The pair were recently interviewed [in Dutch] by the popular news website NU for a well-meaning article meant to counter The Hague’s dismay with the growing cost of the stealthy aircraft.

But the argument has holes like Swiss cheese…..or perhaps gaping spaces like slow-moving windmill blades is more a more appropriate description.

The F-35 is more expensive and isn’t as fast or manoeuvrable as has been claimed – it’s hugely delayed and questions have been raised about it’s stealth capabilities. These are the arguments we look at – please read the article in full here.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts – do you agree or disagree with this article? Would you like to write a follow-up article in response? Email comments or article submissions to:

Does the defence industry utilise social media to its potential?

By Samantha Tanner, Defence IQ

Last week Defence IQ published a comprehensive report into how the defence industry uses and perceives social media. (You can read the Social Media in Defence Report 2012 here.)

In order to complete the report we surveyed over 100 industry professionals on their views of the use of social media in the industry and how it is perceived. We found that 40% of respondents found it to be very important that defence contractors improve their online and social media presence over the next five years, while 9 % believe it as not being important at all.

Earlier in the summer at Farnborough International Air Show I spoke with a number of companies about their use of social media. The majority told me that it was important to start working towards integrating it further in to marketing campaigns and the rest said that they had no interest with conducting any form of business whatsoever through these online platforms. There was no in between and everybody felt passionate about the direction that they were heading in.

Interestingly, one conversation I had suggested that social media would become an essential part of all marketing strategies once the new generation of directors takes over within the industry. Current directors seem to not want to know anything about how social media could be advantageous or believe that it is too complex to learn. Additionally, they are of the opinion that it is a fad. Interesting thought – but it’s pretty certain that social media is here to stay and will evolve.

So, with this in mind we asked what the biggest advantages were to multi channel marketing techniques. Over 68% of respondents in our social media survey believe that social media can increase brand awareness, 59% believe that it helps with the recruitment process and 56% recognise it as a chance to become a thought leader in the market. Way down the list with only 34% of respondents believing it was valuable was for collecting customer feedback. This part of social media, in my view, should be essential – after all the customers come first.

So if brand awareness, recruitment and thought leadership are the big advantages to using social media, why isn’t the whole of the defence industry using it? Well, as with the information I gathered at Farnborough, the sensitive nature of the business is what stops 53% of respondents and the risk of divulging too much information to competitors is the dealbreaker to 58%.

To me this doesn’t make any sense at all, especially when you see the amount of global Armed Forces using Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and YouTube to promote what they are doing, to drive engagement and to effectively crisis manage for any disasters. In fact, you could argue that the information that the military could post online is more sensitive than that of the industry and they manage to do a fantastic job in doing so.

It may all sound like doom and gloom, but there are some within the defence industry which have been earmarked as doing a great job. EADS was highlighted as a company who were utilising social media, as well as Lockheed Martin, Saab, Honeywell and Raytheon. But what about the SMEs? Are they the companies which do not want to reveal to much? Or do they just not have the resource?

You can download the full Social Media in Defence Report here.

We’re keen to hear your thoughts – do you agree or disagree with this post? Email comments or article submissions to: or comment below.

Cyber Defence Survey 2012

Cyber Defence Survey

How confident are we really when it comes to both our personal and national levels of cyber security? Are our methods of protection getting better or worse? Defence IQ wants to know how you feel on the subject by asking you to answer just a few simple questions on the topic in our Summer Cyber Defence Survey.

Those taking part also have the choice of getting the first look at our results and follow-up report due for release in just a few weeks time…

Fill in the survey here:


The Defence IQ Team

The USMC: Future Priorities and Lessons Learned

By Padraic McCluskey

Had one been in the south east of Helmand in 1810 you might have seen a young Lieutenant Henry Pottinger of the 5th Bombay Native Infantry and his five man party crossing the Afghan frontier, confronting dry river beds and insurmountable sand dunes in an effort to make their way to Herat in the north west of Afghanistan.

Just over the two centuries later, with the country continuing to hold dangerous sway over of foreign powers, Western forces are heading in the opposite direction: out of places like Helmand and out of Afghanistan.

US Marines

One of those forces beginning their withdrawal in earnest is the US Marine Corps. Following their deployment toAfghanistan as part of the Afghan ‘surge’ the Marines are beginning to draw down to levels seen in 2009.

Their retreat marks the start of an interesting transition period for the Marines at a time when the US pivots towards Asia Pacific and focuses its gaze on the ever rising China.

The strategic turn that the US is taking toward the Asia-Pacific presents an opportunity for the Marine Corps to return to conducting missions it was founded to perform: power projection from the sea.

From the Barbary wars of the early 19th century to the fierce fighting of World War II in places like Guadalcanal, the new found focus on Asia presents the Marine Corps with the opportunity to reaffirm itself as an agile high-readiness amphibious force.

However, a decade of Marines have experienced operations in Afghanistan few would have envisioned as swift amphibious force conducting. The COIN tactics Western forces had to largely adopt in Iraq, and which were carried forth into Afghanistan, seemed for a long time to be an alien concept both to the Marines and other Western forces.

Herein lies the risk in the turn to towards Asia.  The tactics the Marines adopted in Afghanistan were somewhat similar to those used almost 50 years ago in Vietnam by Major General Lew Walt, commander ofIIIMarine Amphibious Force in the northern part of South Vietnam yet those types of lessons seemed to have somewhat drifted in the wind in the following decades.

As the Marines restore their amphibious capabilities in the years, Bold Alligator 2012 being one sign of this, the possibility of them being thrust back into another Afghan style operation cannot be ruled out.

Yes, the chances of the US embarking on such expedition are slim but such a failure of imagination regarding future mission scenarios would be very dangerous.

Two important priorities then lie ahead for the USMC. Firstly, in a time when financial constraints can drive future priorities it must be able to identify which of assets are essential to it being able to deliver a highly effective amphibious capability and those which only offer a marginal benefit.

Secondly, and possibly must importantly, it must remain faithful to the lessons learned in Afghanistan so they do not need to be painfully re-learned in the decades to come – Semper Fidelis.

If you’d like to find out more about this article, visit Defence IQ’s Amphibious Operations website where you can find more information about the upcoming event.

Amphibious Operations

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