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Piracy Confidential

January 20, 2010

A Collage of Somali Pirates-via Wikipedia.

Yet another New Wars experimental post consisting of News and Opinion.

Taking Advantage of the Shrinking Navy

A revealing story of how the world’s most minor of seapowers, the Somali fishermen turned Modern Day Buccaneers easily circumvent the patrols of the world’s most powerful navies. From Japan Times we see the Pirates exploiting widely scattered naval patrols:

“It is highly likely that Somali pirates are finding loopholes created by navies of various countries,” Capt. Yasuki Nakahata said Sunday.

Between 30 and 40 naval vessels are on station near Somalia to ward off pirate attacks, but the number of incidents more than doubled last year to 215 from the 111 in 2008, according to the MSDF.

Nakahata pointed out that piracy has recently expanded in reach, drawing patrol vessels beyond the Gulf of Aden. At the same time, however, pirates are targeting more vessels within the gulf, he added.

“Vigilance in the Gulf of Aden is weakening as antipiracy vessels are drawn out toward distant waters,” Nakahata said.

Hate to say I told you so…Well, actually I love saying it! Hopefully the leaders sending the anti-piracy fleet to the Gulf will eventually get the idea that their high tech supership built to fight the Cold War are unneeded and most incapable of dealing with low tech insurgents on the high seas. The best counter to a small warship is another small warship.


Defending the Indefensible

Last week, British First Sea Lord Mark told Reuters:

“We are not going to eradicate piracy — it’s still a very very large area,”

This week the Admiral is seeking to defend the Royal Navy from scathing attacks by British Army Chief General Sir David Richards who chastised the policies of building weapons geared for another era of warfare. We read from the International Institute for Strategic Studies:

Hi-tech weapons platforms are not a good way to help stabilize tottering states – nor might their cost leave us any money to help in any other way – any more than they impress opponents equipped with weapons costing a fraction.

Referring to numerous expensive weapons systems such as new 65,000 ton aircraft carriers which have little use in low tech insurgency operations. Such warships along with heavy amphibious ships are good for invading countries, but are of little use in sustained warfighting. Meanwhile the British Army has been forced to fight with its hands tied, as essential funds are channeled away for future obscure threats. They are only just now getting some of the helicopters required for transport in the road-poor Afghan, and are often less well equipped with vehicles and arms then their European and American counter-parts, despite being one of the worlds third or fourth top defense spenders.

But it is General Richard’s who seems a better spokesman for the Navy than the RN Chief when he says:

Operating among, understanding and effectively influencing people requires mass – numbers – whether this is ‘boots on the ground’, riverine and high speed littoral warships, or UAVs, transport aircraft and helicopters.

So we have to question where is Admiral Stanhope’s priorities, if from his own mouth we hear failure against the impoverished “navies” of the Gulf of Aden, preying on merchant shipping virtually unimpeded, while vast sums go toward ships and planes which have virtually nothing to do! Clearly the leadership is out of sync with real problems of modern seapower, and have contributed to the Navy’s decline far more than the politicians, as they cast off still useful small warships to pay for giant platforms of little worth, save to distract from current enemies at sea.


Pirates Command the Sea

Apparently and inadvertently we are sure, the Somali Pirates have succeeded where the powerful international anti-piracy fleet in their space age warships have been less successful, control the waters in the Gulf region. Listen to this story from ABC News titled “Kenya Fishermen See Upside to Pirates: More Fish“:

In past years, illegal commercial trawlers parked off Somalia’s coast and scooped up the ocean’s contents. Now, fishermen on the northern coast of neighboring Kenya say, the trawlers are not coming because of pirates.

“There is a lot of fish now, there is plenty of fish. There is more fish than people can actually use because the international fishermen have been scared away by the pirates,” said Athman Seif, the director of the Malindi Marine Association.

Though the established navies and US Allies have managed some spectacular solitary victories over the pirates of the Gulf of Aden and surrounding environs, they have yet to bring about a decisive solution. Part of the problem is too few hulls to counter all the possible attack areas the pirates frequent. The rest has to do with apathy and a lack of interest in old style sea control operations, which often entails long arduous patrols, many ships, and sometimes great expense.

Modern navies like to consider their large multimission frigates and destroyers as general purpose, jack of all trades, the low end of the fleet which will include aircraft carriers, submarines, and amphibious command ships. Despite their last century titles which sound like the tin cans and “small boys” of the World Wars, modern escorts ships are some of the most powerful and expensive of their type ever to sail. To pirates operating a skiff or speed boat, using a commandeered merchant freighter as a mothership to extend his range, such vessels are likened to battleships and easily countered by avoiding the small area the handful of ships can patrol.

Large warships would actually do well to support smaller craft, from light cutters to patrol craft, which would extend their own range and increase the numbers of hulls, putting them at a greater advantage versus  the pirates, who make up for their lack of capability with agility and deception. In this they coincide with the insurgent on land and the principle and tactics are the same. We leave with this quote from Corbett on maintaining effective sea control, which the pirates have seem to grasped from the far-better equipped and well established navies:

If the object of naval warfare is to control communications, then the fundamental requirement is the means of exercising that control. Logically, therefore, if the enemy holds back from battle decision, we must relegate the battle-fleet to a secondary position, for cruisers are the means of exercising control; the battle-fleet is but the means of preventing their being interfered with in their work. Put it to the test of actual practice. In no case can we exercise control by battleships alone. Their specialization has rendered them unfit for the work, and has made them too costly ever to be numerous enough.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 21, 2010 12:23 pm

    Graham, unfortunately, you’re right!

  2. Graham Strouse permalink
    January 21, 2010 11:29 am

    I want to be a pirate when I grow up. It’s a growth industry!

  3. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 21, 2010 9:43 am

    My response to Joe K is on the front page. Sometimes when I’m stumped for a topic, you guys always come through for me!

  4. Joe K. permalink
    January 20, 2010 9:17 pm

    “Why should we fight them with the same type warships which are failing us now in our hour of need?”

    Failing us? Hour of need? Since when did we declare all out war on the pirates or vice versa? Like Jed pointed out, this isn’t a military issue, this is an economic issue. Pirates exist not because our navies can’t fight them, but because the countries they’re based and recruiting from are so deprived, impoverished, or unstable that it’s either living like that or dying from starvation. If Somalia were as stable and economically healthy like say South Africa we wouldn’t be having this discussion because there wouldn’t be pirates from that nation. That isn’t a suggestion, that is a fact.

    “I am for more hulls in the water, the kind that builds the navy, doesn’t force our sailors into extended deployments, and isn’t forced to sail before all of its high tech weaponry is working properly.”

    So, instead of deploying the navy that we have now, you’d rather we hold off on overseas deployments and focus on upgrading all of our ships’ weapons to “high tech” weaponry, thereby creating a vacuum where you have other powers expanding their navies while we play the siege game? Are you insinuating that our fleet being deployed overseas is the wrong idea?

    Technology doesn’t just come out of nowhere, it is gradually evolving and there’s nothing to change it. And if you wait on deploying a fleet until it is high-tech enough, you not only waste precious money building a fleet with an imaginary enemy but you waste time which other navies would use wisely in positioning. Certainly they may not start a war, but they would make it difficult for our navy to be deployed both during acts of war and peacetime operations.

    And if we’re going to be there in times of need be it a war or some crisis situation, fleets need to be deployed overseas to respond quickly. You can’t base the carriers in home ports until something happens because it’ll be too late no matter what. Think of the ramifications when it comes to Haiti or the 2004 tsunamis.

  5. Chuck Hill permalink
    January 20, 2010 9:13 pm

    Marcase is right in that the problem is not the type of ship we have. It is coordination, will, and ROE. The resources are more than adequate if you count all the warships that are nominally “fighting piracy.”

    The real problem is consequences, there is no down side to piracy. Someone has to create a down side that outweighs the up side.

  6. Jed permalink
    January 20, 2010 8:50 pm

    Mike, when I first read this, I thought I would just not comment, because I think you run a superb blog and I did not want to be rude to you ! However, I have calmed down a bit now……

    “The best counter to a small warship is another small warship.” – where are the Somali pirates small warships then ? They are in fishing boats, skiffs, Dhows, trawlers. No small ‘warships” insight.

    “Referring to numerous expensive weapons systems such as new 65,000 ton aircraft carriers which have little use in low tech insurgency operations. Such warships along with heavy amphibious ships are good for invading countries, but are of little use in sustained warfighting” – what is your definition of sustained warfighting ? And what has it to do with Somali piracy ??

    Are you saying we should declare war on Somalia – in which case the amphibs will be needed….. :-)

    Come on now, lets be serious – big gaps between the patrols of the frigates, then deploy 4 to 6 x Combat Boat 90’s from the dock of your amphib. Deploy 24 AW101 Merlins from your 65,000 tonne carrier, with Lynx or even Ah64 to back them up with additional firepower.

    You may recall I am actually with you on the RN’s CVF carriers, I think UK should have gone with 3 / 4 Cavour type carriers – but that is beside the point. The best tool available for anti-piracy work off Somalia is the helicopter. You can fit a lot of bloody helicopters on the CVF !!

    When it boils down to the final arguement Somali piracy is NOT a naval issue. Its a macro-economic issue. Where was the ‘world fleet’ when it could have been protecting the Somali fishing grounds from being robbed by anyone who felt like it ? So now there is more fish than the Kenyan’s can deal with ? Some of those pirates should spend their ransom monies by re-investing in their fishing fleets…!

    You like your historical references, such as Corbett – well if the worlds powers where really that pissed off by Somali pirates, if it was really costing them money, if it was about oil not fish, then they would treat them like the Barbary Corsairs of North Africa, they would go ashore and wipe them out (but with a UN resolution to back it up of course…….)

  7. Mike Burleson permalink*
    January 20, 2010 4:35 pm

    D.E, fixed and embedded the link. Thanks!

    Joe K you’re wrong, i do take everything said in the comments seriously, and I understand Marcase point of view even though I disagree with it. It is very common and understandable.

    I also see most of his suppositions about Venezuela, Iran, and N Korea are “What ifs”. This is the same strategy that has been used to justify other expensive programs left over from the Cold War such as the Raptor fighter, with the notion “we have to prepare for the future” and look “beyond Afghanistan”. I ultimately agree we must prepare for the future but seeing as we are building such expensive weapons designed to fight the last war, how will this help us in the face an uncertain period yet to come?

    It seems the same small boats which are racing rings around our own high tech frigates in the Gulf might also be used against these navies with large frigates and d/e subs. Why should we fight them with the same type warships which are failing us now in our hour of need?

    I am for more hulls in the water, the kind that builds the navy, doesn’t force our sailors into extended deployments, and isn’t forced to sail before all of its high tech weaponry is working properly. Being over-stretched and over-strained is not a naval strategy.

  8. Joe K. permalink
    January 20, 2010 3:43 pm

    Took the words out of my mouth, Marcase.

    Though I don’t think Mike will take your words seriously.

  9. Marcase permalink
    January 20, 2010 3:05 pm

    Yes, those large, expensive, hyper-modern frigates are to most non-navy folks of limited use to fighting AK-toting pirates.

    But if navies would invest in large fleets of smaller ships, either FACs, FPBs or corvette/LCS types, and suddenly the threat changes, we’ll be having the same conversation of not having the right hulls for the right job.

    What if North Korea, Iran or Venezuela starts lobbing IRBMs, deploy small diesel submarines or non-state actors start launching kamikaze-UAVs and fire anti-ship missiles (Hezbollah vs INS Hanit)? Small craft are great, but can’t scale up, while larger vessels can scale down.

    Also, these large warships carry better radar and satcom, helicopters for OTH surveillance and RHIBs and boarding parties, and have enough ‘bullets and beans’ for months on station. The larger crews means crew fatigue is low, battle damage repair can be handled effectively and endurance is increased.

    Even if the current fleet off Somalia is quadroupled by using smaller ships, then there would still be gaps in coverage. It’s the friggin’ ocean, which is large. The only option currently is to enforce a total naval blockade, but there is no international (legal) will.

    Besides, it’s not a question of having enough hulls to enforce that naval blockade, it’s what to do with caught pirates. As long as the West does the ‘catch and release’ game, and shipping companies are willing to pay millions, pirates have no insentive to look for alternatives.

  10. D. E. Reddick permalink
    January 20, 2010 2:43 pm

    Command of the anti-piracy Combined Task Force 151 has changed again. The force has previously been commanded by US and Turkish rear admirals. Today RADM Scott Sanders, USN turned over command to RADM Bernard Miranda of the Republic of Singapore Navy. Admiral Miranda becomes the fifth commander of CTF 151, which was established January 8, 2009. Thus far, commanders of this international anti-piracy force have been:

    RADM Terence E. McKnight, USN
    RADM Michelle J. Howard, USN
    RADM Caner Bener, TN
    RADM Scott E. Sanders, USN
    RADM Bernard Miranda, RSN

    Admiral Miranda is joined by a staff of 29 personnel from Singapore and six other personnel from five additional nations.

    S’pore takes over anti piracy task force in Gulf of Aden for next 3 months

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