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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.

Offshore Patrol Vessels: Sector Report 2013-14

Offshore Patrol Vessels (OPVs) are the fastest growing segment of the Naval Vessels Market. At least 19 countries are known to have a total of 112 OPVs on order and plans for another 190 at a value of over $45 Billion. The total number of OPVs on order has increased by 11% in the last 2 years, while the number planned has also increased – by 27%.

Defence IQ has compiled a Sector Report, outlining which nations currently possess these multirole vessels, which have requirements to be filled and what the likely purchases will be. The full document is available for download here:


Information Security Threats – Round Up From The 5th Hemispheric Security and Intelligence Forum

By Alex Stephenson, Defence IQ’s man in Brazil

What breaks a company is lack of money, not lack of management or leadership. The same applies to criminal gangs. Imprisoning individuals is almost completely ineffective compared to denying a criminal organisation the proceeds of their activity. Concerning narcotics, one method is to interdict air, sea and land cargoes of substances – an alternative is to prevent the flow of the financial incentive in the other direction. No one sells a product if they cannot receive payment. A complete approach to narcotics includes both these elements.

But, there is a crime more profitable than narcotics. The sale of unknown vulnerabilities in computer software to criminal organisations who can exploit these weaknesses either to cause damage or steal intellectual property. So significant is this threat that it was contextualised as the threat of the modern era, paralleled by the nuclear threat of the cold war. A cyber threat to remain potent needs to remain unknown and then deliver chaos. An explicit parallel to the Hiroshima bomb; a capability unknown until it was deployed was drawn.

Linking both cyber security threats and counter narcotic threats I understood there to be three key takeaways:

  • These are evolving risks, much like a game of chess they require continual attention, calculation and execution.
  • Simplistically there are two approaches that can be used in tandem; tackling the problem and tackling the incentive – money makes the world go round
  • Finally, the importance of sharing information, helping partners and collaborating.

This last point is perhaps the most important. Too often perhaps there is a concern about sharing information about a problem. Perhaps this is because there is a national sensitivity around admitting there is a problem. However, if it is happening on your patch it is probably happening on your neighbour’s and by working together the intelligence picture becomes more complete and hopefully solutions begin to appear.

It is a great privilege for me to be able to attend this conference by kind invitation of USSOUTHCOM and the Brazilian Ministry of Defence. Later during this weeklong conference I will be delivering two presentations, one to the Caribbean Regional Intelligence Conference and one to the Central American Regional Intelligence Conference. The subject of this presentation will be the Caribbean Basin Coastal Surveillance and Maritime Security Summit 2013.

Strategic Briefing: The ‘Pivot’ to Paradise

By Yousuf Malik, Defence IQ

This summer we saw a succession of maritime disputes involving China, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan and the Philippines over a few scattered uninhabited rocks in the South and East China Sea. On the surface these little rocks have little to offer, but whoever controls sovereignty over these rocks also controls a 200 mile radius exclusive economic zone. The reason for all this hostility, experts say, is vast reserves of oil in those waters.

cabsec picture 1More than 10,000 miles east of the South China Sea or 18 hours non-stop by plane lies the Caribbean Basin. Think Barbados, Jamaica, St. Lucia, and what comes to mind is idyllic white sandy beaches, cocktails and time spent doing as little as possible. What almost no one knows is that this sleepy part of the world is about to receive a lot of attention from the United States, Canada, the European Union and an increasingly powerful Brazil, not to mention, China which has been quietly buying influence in the region. Analysts say it’s because of oil. This doesn’t sound as far-fetched as we know there is oil in the Gulf of Mexico (remember the BP oil spill?) and vast reserves just off the coast of Venezuela. Oil has replaced tourism as the largest contributor of GDP in nearby Trinidad & Tobago. Brazil, further down south, has huge oil reserves rivalling the Middle East about which Brazil’s president, Dilma Rousseff, remarked that this just proves that “God is Brazilian”.

If you’re in the business of surveillance, whether it’s fixed wing, rotary or coastal sensors, AIS based maritimecabsec picture 2 information systems, secure data and communication networks that can pull and push information from US, NATO and Latin American sources. Or interdiction through fast patrol craft, small OPVs, etc. – or maritime security in general – there is there is a bonanza coming up in the 24 nations that comprise the Caribbean Basin. As there is no regional consensus on how to approach common surveillance and security problems, there are also opportunities for companies that can provide related advice, counsel and training. The ‘pivot’ to paradise has just begun.

There are other reasons for this. The Panama Canal is about to undergo an unprecedented expansion that will double its capacity allowing for a huge increase in sea trade that passes through the Americas spelling a massive increase in trans-shipments. In the backdrop of increased sea trade, and heightened pressure on the powerful criminal networks of the drug trade, they could lash out in revenge and could be disruptive and so must be controlled.  This is why senior military experts, heads of navies and coast guards, ambassadors from the United States and the European Union are meeting in Curaçao from the 12th to 14th of March 2013 at Defence IQ’s CABSEC 2013 summit.

The event is focused on the coastal surveillance and Counter-Narcotics and Illicit Trafficking (CNIT) requirements of the Caribbean Basin and features a Focus Day on counter-narcotics. There is also a visit to the nerve centre at Parera Naval Base where information from the a vast surveillance network is monitored and disseminated, and a world-class 2-day conference that will enable you to get to know the decision-makers and influencers in the region while getting current with the geography and relationships in preparation for upcoming requirements.

If you’re interested in attending, you can download the agenda here

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Managing the maritime security risks in the Caribbean basin

By Alex Stephenson, Defence IQ

If risk can loosely be defined as a combination of factors including threat, vulnerability and impact then it is time to take strategic notice of the Caribbean region.

An increasingly vicious war on drugs taking place on mainland Central America is gradually pushing criminal activity offshore. Demand for drugs – in particular cocaine – in Europe and North America results in illicit trafficking through the Caribbean region. The fear is that increasing gang violence may spill over from the land into the maritime domain.

The small island nations have limited resources and interest in acting beyond their immediate territorial waters. The solution lies in cooperation among nations and in particular the larger regional players; USA, France, Netherlands and, increasingly, Canada. However, legal obstacles to operating in territorial waters of other nations remain, as do gaps in radar coverage and information sharing. Policing such a large geographic area must be intelligence led and this requires an integrated approach.

At the same time economic growth in Latin America is making the region an increasingly important transhipment hub for goods flowing back and forth to the US and European markets. Disruption of these important sea lanes will have an ever increasing impact on the region and world trade as the volumes of cargo increase in line with economic growth.

The risk has been noted and work continues to shore up security capacity in the region. Obstacles and challenges remain; ratification of the Regional Maritime Agreement by various nations remains elusive meaning that coastguards and navies in pursuit of suspect vessels are unable to cross maritime borders into other nation’s territorial waters. Lack of capacity often means there is not another vessel available to continue the chase on the other side.

Regional cooperation and collective security institutions are almost certainly the answer to the maritime security question in the Caribbean. This would allow the region to maintain individual nation’s sovereignty through collaborative actions rather than having to rely on the United States to police the region. It is certainly in the interests of the US, Europe and others to fund institutional capacity building in the region as up-stream narcotic interdiction is by far the most cost-effective and efficacious way of keeping drugs of their streets.

With the Joint EU-Caribbean strategy 2013-2020 for the region currently being drawn up and many other nations including Australia, Canada, Brazil and China showing an interest in the region this is a key time for regional security cooperation and capacity building.

This post was written ahead of Defence IQ’s Cabsec 2013 conference, taking place in Curaçao from 13 – 14 March 2013. To find out more, view the conference agenda.

What do you think about maritime security efforts in the Caribbean region? Is enough being done? Let us know what you think in the comments section or email us at

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:

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.

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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

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