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Pirates Win Through Attrition

September 27, 2009

Though we are hearing some good news from the Anti-Piracy mission off Somalia, with the number of attacks on merchant shipping down dramatically from last year, Strategypage says it is no thanks to the high tech and impressive naval forces arrayed against them:

The Somali pirates are having a bad year, but they are still winning. This month, attacks are down over 70 percent compared to last year…The patrol off Somalia is costing about half a billion dollars a year. Then there are about a dozen maritime patrol aircraft and UAVs, most operating out of Djibouti (just to the west of northern Somalia). More UAVs are operating off some of the warships. And most of the destroyers have at least one helicopter on board. All the land based aviation and spy satellite use is costing over $100 million a year.

Surprisingly, this expensive naval might isn’t all that effective:

80 percent of the attacks defeated do not involve any of those foreign warships. The merchant sailors, and the ship owners, have adopted defensive measures that have become remarkably successful in defeating pirate attacks. For the captain himself, the best defense is knowing what speeds and maneuvers his ship can use to keep the pirates away. Larger ships can create dangerous wakes for the pursuing speedboats, by zig zagging. Captains also have to learn how fast their ship can accelerate to escape oncoming speed boats. Normally, captains are more skilled at moving their ships at slower (more economical and safer) speeds. Putting the pedal to the metal and hot roding around the high seas is not normally part of their skill set. But that’s how you avoid getting hijacked by pirates.

That’s an amazing set of facts, which is why I warned back in April, that the Navy must fight piracy or die:

The US Navy is in a bad way these days. Though still the world’s most powerful on the open ocean, she has trouble dealing with these most minor of threats on the high seas, from pirates in speed boats to pirates in dinghy’s(?). We would hope that our naval leaders would recall it is the small things that define us, and to coin a phrase from the Bible, if we aren’t faithful in tackling the least threats on the high seas, how can we be expect to handle the Big Wars when they come? With deep cuts planned in most of her major shipbuilding programs, it appears some are even questioning the Navy’s relevancy in dealing with modern threats.

Another opportunity lost for the sea service to prove its relevancy in an age of austerity and minor but numerous threats. The Army has found its place, while the Air Force seems to be heading for a renewed purpose. So what has the Navy shown us but its giant warships are almost helpless to deal with the problems of 21st Century seapower?

The only navies who seem to have won from these operations in the Gulf of Aden are the Chinese, the Iranians, and the North Koreans, who have gained valuable knowledge on how to operate their warships far from home and without friendly bases nearby. With this in mind, the Somalia anti-pirate patrols have been a training ground for the next war at sea, but has the West taken any lessons to heart?

6 Comments leave one →
  1. Scott B. permalink
    September 28, 2009 5:55 pm

    There are two words that don’t appear anywhere in this superficial *analysis* presented over at StrategyPage : MONSOON and RAMADAN.

  2. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 28, 2009 8:34 am

    DE, perhaps I was thinking of this story when I wrote concerning NK:

    Besides my “mental slip” I think my point still stands, that new navies who may not have friendly designs against the West have gained a wealth of knowledge watching us in action on the how seas, how we operate flotillas so far from home. Thats valuable experience you can’t get staying close to shore or in port.

    No offense to the Indians, SK, or any other ally!

  3. September 27, 2009 8:17 pm


    You missed my point. Quoting you:

    “The only navies who seem to have won from these operations in the Gulf of Aden are the Chinese, the Iranians, and the North Koreans, who have gained valuable knowledge on how to operate their warships far from home and without friendly bases nearby.”

    The North Koreans? When has a North Korean naval force appeared in the Gulf of Aden (as if the Norks could project any naval presence that far distant from their little Hermit Kingdom). I’m just saying that you accidentally, mentally slipped and got mixed up on the identity of who has been serving there.

    Nothing serious, but it could confuse new readers.

  4. Mike Burleson permalink*
    September 27, 2009 8:07 pm

    D.E.-As far as I know, these navies are still very friendly toward us. Not worried about them so much.

  5. Joe K. permalink
    September 27, 2009 7:59 pm

    Well, it’s just like what I’ve been arguing for the Army when it came to Iraq: you either build it to fight conventional warfare, unconventional, or a mix of both. And the latter is the only way to ensure that they would have something to counter both conventional and unconventional threats.

    So, like it is for the Navy, they can either build large ships for power projection to be able to engage other ships minus very small boats effectively, or they can build smaller ships to handle the smaller problems but have little comparable capabilities against larger ships and do not have equivalent power projection. Or…you can have a mix of both.

    Just because there are a bunch of smaller threats today does not mean that there are no big threats. And it would be idiotic to assume there is only one or the other.

    Plus, as far as I know, it would be tougher for a small boat to overcome a USN destroyer or cruiser versus a gunboat or smaller warship.

  6. September 27, 2009 5:41 pm


    North Koreans? Didn’t you mean the South Korean Navy, who are operating as part of CTF 151.

    And you left off the Indian Navy.

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