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

thousand-ship-navy

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.

amphibious-operations
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 www.amphibiousoperations.com for the opportunity to network with others doing business in this community.

‘ARGO’: The other side of the story

personnel-recovery-argo

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 www.JointPersonnelRecovery.com

joint-personnel-recovery

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.

Prince Harry arrives in Afghanistan, show some respect

by Andrew Elwell, Editor, Defence IQ

Captain Wales has arrived in Afghanistan for a four month tour of duty as an Apache helicopter pilot five years on from his first stint at Camp Bastion.

It’s been 47 minutes since media outlets were allowed to report on the story after being given permission to do so by the MOD following an agreement to keep it under wraps until the Prince had safely landed in Afghanistan. All of them (that I’ve read, so far) have made reference to his antics in Las Vegas and Twitter has come alive with “chopper” jokes.

This is poor form, surely?

It’s difficult to ignore the furore that Harry created a few weeks ago in Nevada, and it would be naïve to think it wouldn’t get a mention following today’s news, but taking a more responsible tone should be the order of the day.

Regardless of background, Harry is a Captain in the British Army.

He is a highly trained soldier with skills invaluable to the mission in Helmand Province. It’s not cheap to train an Apache pilot – last year he said, “You become a very expensive asset, the training’s very expensive and they wouldn’t have me doing what I’m doing (otherwise).”

Over the last decade the British Armed Forces have come to be seen as a highly prized institution by the public, achieving a level of admiration not seen since 1945. Harry is a part of that institution and he should be afforded the same respect we would endow to any other soldier serving in Afghanistan.

So please, no jokes. Nor sniggering.

Good luck Captain Wales.

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

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: haveyoursay@defenceiq.com

Strategic Communications should tell a story…

Chief Storyteller Tony Quinlan from Narrate (www.narrate.co.uk) has spent 20 years shaping communications and change programmes for blue chip companies, international aid organisations and the public sector. He’s addressed international cultural differences, gang recruitment, and is helping the Information Operations Global delegation next week to better understand how militaries can use grassroots narratives to better formulate a communications strategy…

Why is narrative important to a communications campaign today, and how does this relate to international governments and militaries?

Narrative is how we all perceive the world – the thousands of micro-narratives our brains have collected over a lifetime immersed in our culture and family are the way we filter information and make decisions. Too often, communications is phrased in terms of values and facts that clash with our existing narratives and experiences.  And narrative wins every time.

Nowhere is this more critical than where cultures meet and mix – the international arena and military deployments. Subtle, almost invisible, cues for narratives can be easily triggered by communications without ever realising that they’re missing their intended mark. From the use of metaphor to accidentally recalling past negative experiences, it’s easy for decision-makers in alien environments to create more problems than they resolve.

You’ll be talking on the subject of “using local narrative rather than countering it”. Can you give us an idea of what you mean by this?

In the field of COIN and CT, the idea of developing a “counter-narrative” is a seductive but misleading approach.  It implies that it’s possible to construct a narrative that will meet and annihilate an undesirable narrative – a communications version of matter meets anti-matter. The problem is that it’s not how the world works. For one thing, it’s very difficult to construct a perfect narrative – Hollywood wastes billions of dollars every year on constructed narratives that it then turns out that people don’t like. But more importantly, we know that the implementation of counter narrative tends to reinforce the original narrative – by drawing attention to the area of concern.  If a particular narrative has a strong grip on a population – has become a fixed point in their culture and beliefs – you need to take a different approach.

It’s far more effective to see where there are fixed myths and perceptions – and then look for emerging new narratives that might offer alternatives.  And working with those new emerging narratives can involve far more than simple communications – we’ve seen opportunities for taking unexpected myth-breaking and myth-making actions. Thinking that understanding a local culture in narrative terms leads only to counter-narrative is to miss the real benefits.

  …So there’s a risk in trying to impose a non-locally sourced narrative?

Absolutely – risks of introducing narratives that are perceived as fantasy and irrelevant to the culture is probably the best one can hope for.  The greater risk is making a problem worse. It is the problem with using experts to construct narratives – it’s easy to lapse into transferring concepts or characters or viewpoints from the experts’ own culture into a proposed narrative for another culture in ways that will not resonate and may antagonise the intended audience.

To give you an example from a recent Narrate project in a country with a perceived problem with police corruption. There was a proposal for a telenovella or soap opera revolving around a police officer battling corruption in his department. And naturally giving him a back story with a family and his own tensions and temptations.  From our work, we could see that cultural archetypes in this country are that men succumb to problems, only women overcome them – having a male-focused story where the protagonist succeeds would be seen as fantasy – or just another western cultural import – with little effect on the local culture.

How can strategic communicators actually deliver a message within a culture or community that they are not part of and cannot truly understand in depth, as well as with language barriers, delicate social layers, and many other obstacles?

A perfect understanding of a culture – and hence being able to deliver a message within it – is impossible. You would need to participate in a community for many years in many roles to fully understand it.  (I’ve lived in my village in Bedfordshire for ten years, but am forever hearing new stories. And I’m certainly not a local yet.) What we need to be able to do is gain a sufficient understanding of a culture – and the key dispositions, narratives and interactions within it.

Understanding the culture on its own terms is a challenge, but not an insurmountable one – we use anthropological methods to gather not just  significant stories and day-to-day micro-narratives from within communities, but also the meaning that those stories have for individuals in the culture. Looking at the underlying dispositions and attitudes, coupled with examples of experiences and contexts in which those attitudes lay out, helps build a better understanding – along with those areas that should be avoided in StratCom operations and potential areas where shift might be feasible.

Are there tools or methods that have been proven to work?

Some, but it’s early days in terms of the sophistication of their use.  We’ve had considerable success using mass narrative capture and software from Cognitive Edge to help generate better cultural understanding, but I think the real power has yet to be unleashed – operationalising the research to improve live decision-making and integrating it beyond just StratCom seem to me to be the real opportunities.  It’s easier to disrupt a narrative through unexpected actions than through any other method – so the connection between theatre operations and StratCom seems to be an important bridge to build by demonstrating what we can offer.

On a topical note, you’ve spoken out against social media being as much of an influence during the Arab Spring as many other people have proclaimed it to be. Can you explain your viewpoint?

It’s an interesting point.  I think social media was an important facilitator of influence here – but not an influence itself.  Where I truly differ on some of the early analysis of the Arab Spring is around how “on-message” communications was through social media. 

I regard social media as a highly effective echo chamber – what we saw in terms of social media messaging was an accelerated process of evolution.  In the early days, social media allowed huge variations of messages and contexts to be played out into the wider world. Some ideas and narratives died out quickly, some started to merge and others started to cluster around messages that had greater resonance – until within a relatively short period of time, there were dominant ideas and messages that everyone seemed to agree with. Too much analysis assumed “Intelligent Design” of the communications, rather than an evolved ecology emerging from the involved population.

There’s an important lesson in that for all StratComs in theatre – planning may help reduce failures, but evolution will generate success.

What are you looking forward to discovering at Information Operations Global?

I haven’t been invited to Information Operations Global before, so I’m looking forward to the interesting conversations and intellectual stimulation most of all.

Book your place now at Information Operations Global, September 27-28, in London!

Information_Operations

Paramount Group the next Google? An African success story

In an interview with Defence IQ, Ivor Ichikowitz, the founder of South Africa’s Paramount Group, discusses the state of the African defence industry and the company’s unique, indigenous AHRLAC programme.

Read the full interview here.

ITEC: The top 5 technologies

Falklands dead honoured at National Memorial Arboretum

Today the National Memorial Arboretum, the UK’s centre of rememberance based in Staffordshire, had a ceremony to officially open its newest memorial – this time to remember the brave that fell during the 1982 Falklands conflict. Here’s a few pictures:

Crowds gather for the unveiling

The Falklands memorial

The Vulcan bomber fly past

Information: The military’s greatest asset

As a decade of operations begin to wind down in Afghanistan, it is clear that the military’s insatiable demand for timely, secure and high quality information will continue to grow exponentially. Some estimates forecast a near 1000% rise in information generation before 2020.

One thing is clear: More than bullets or bombs, information will remain militaries’ greatest force multiplier.

Afghanistan has shown that severe challenges exist in how information is gathered, exploited and shared in the global battlespace. While recent multinational and national networks have gone some way in alleviating a number of these challenges, it is far from certain that future mission networks will not suffer from the same problems.

The solution does not then lie in the military, political or industrial realms alone. A balanced approach will be required so that nations can make the most of the information that is out there.

Industry needs to provide solutions that are simple for people to use, can handle and exploit increasing volumes of data, and not cost the world. Militaries and their political superiors must start to take a serious look at the organisational structures and procedures they employ on operations.

Read the full article here.

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