Options for U.S. Naval Force Posture in East Africa

Matt Hein is a U.S. Navy Surface Warfare Officer currently studying for his Masters in Security Studies at Georgetown University.  He can be found on Twitter @Matt_TB_Hein.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.


National Security Situation:  Low intensity maritime conflict and engagement in Eastern Africa.

Date Originally Written:  February 11, 2018.

Date Originally Published:  May 21, 2018.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  This article addresses U.S. naval force posture options in East Africa and the implications for a resource-constrained force.

Background:  Demands for counter-piracy operations, countering maritime human smuggling, countering the growth of violent extremism in Sub-Saharan African countries, and partner nation capacity building require the constant presence of U.S. naval forces in East African littoral zones.  Friction arises when high-end combatants such as aircraft carriers and destroyers divert from their East African littoral mission to the nearby Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea to conduct other missions.

Significance:  U.S. naval presence in East Africa has improved maritime security and facilitated operations on land.  Coalition efforts reduced piracy incidents from 237 attempted hijackings in 2011 to only three such attempts in 2017[1].  Joint exercises, such as Cutlass Express, have developed partner nation maritime law enforcement capacity[2].  Intelligence gathering from sea based platforms has enabled multiple U.S. military missions ashore[3].  Increasing demand for high-end combatants in the Persian Gulf and Mediterranean Sea leaves the East African littoral mission vulnerable to having its gains reversed and questions the utility of those ships for low intensity missions.  Enhanced naval presence from the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in the region, most notably the establishment of a port facility in Djibouti, further complicates force posture decision-making.   Despite the incredible gains realized for maritime security in the region, there is a demand signal for deliberate planning to match appropriate naval assets with a growing range of regional needs.

Option #1:  The U.S. maintains its current naval force posture for the East Africa littoral mission.

Risk:  Current naval force posture rotates multiple Expeditionary Strike Groups and Carrier Strike Groups through the region annually, in addition to several independent deployers dispatched for counter-piracy operations[4].  The opportunity cost of these deployments is enormous.  These ships were designed for much more complex operating environments and can often be better utilized in those environments.  Using multi-billion dollar warships for low intensity engagement not only limits the utility of these ship’s advanced combat systems but also inflates the likelihood they will be diverted to other specialized missions such as ballistic missile defense or integrated air defense.

Gain:  The existing force posture is responsible for enhanced maritime security already realized in the region.  While expanding threats may challenge the ability to maintain these gains, this hasn’t happened to the extent that a dramatic rise in piracy or a drop in partner nation capacity has occurred.  Further, the historical integration and corporate knowledge of U.S. ships deploying to the theater gives them an inherent advantage for conducting these types of operations.

Option #2:  The U.S. forward deploys two Littoral Combat Ships (LCS) to Djibouti Naval Base.

Risk:  Forward-deploying the LCS is expensive and would require a large logistics and maintenance footprint in Djibouti.  Maintenance issues have plagued the LCS and will be exacerbated by a remote maintenance infrastructure with little experience.  Maintenance issues are compounded by difficult crew rotation schedules that have already hampered a similar forward deployment of LCS to Singapore[5].  The probability that forward deployed LCS will provide a persistent capability for the East Africa littoral mission is limited significantly by these LCS-wide problems.

Gain:  The LCS surface warfare mission package is uniquely suited for the East Africa littoral mission.  The LCS uses a combination of high speeds and shallow draft to operate aviation facilities, dedicated boarding teams, and anti-surface capabilities in littoral environments[6].  These attributes make the LCS ideal for intelligence gathering, capacity building, and counter-piracy missions.  Additionally, the use of LCS allows the multi-billion dollar warships currently conducting these missions to operate in more contested environments and across a broader swath of missions in the Red Sea and Persian Gulf.   Option #2 also builds on the surge of LCS in similar mission sets from counter-drug operations in the Caribbean to fisheries patrols and bilateral engagements in Southeast Asia.

Option #3:  The U.S. decreases its naval presence in East Africa.

Risk:  The construction of the PRC naval base in Djibouti means the gap in activity from the U.S. Navy would likely be filled, at least in part, by a PRC presence.  The construction of a military docking facility, capable of berthing most People’s Liberation Army (Navy) ships, means previous PRC task forces deployed to the region could become a permanent fixture[7].  As foreign investment pours into East Africa, a reduced naval presence could cause countries such as Tanzania, Kenya, and Somalia to turn elsewhere for maritime security support of their burgeoning economies.  Option #3 could further challenge the efficacy of counter-extremist efforts on land that require logistical and intelligence support from offshore assets.

Gain:  Decreasing U.S. naval presence does not mean disavowing the East Africa littoral mission entirely.  A P-3 squadron forward-deployed to Djibouti naval base combined with transiting strike groups still leaves intermittent capacity in the region to continue to support the East Africa littoral mission.  Option #3 also eliminates the requirements of keeping ships off the coast of Djibouti.  Not having to keep ships off Djibouti would allow a refocus towards heightened Iranian tensions, threats from Houthi rebels in Yemen, or even relocation to the Pacific fleet operating area in support of growing requirements.

Other Comments:  The Surface Navy Strategic Readiness Review, released in December 2017, stated that increasing readiness “require(s) a variety of naval assets and capabilities tailored to best achieve desired results[8].”  Shifting from a “demand” to “supply” model for naval surface forces means capabilities must be optimized against the mission with which they are tasked.  The options presented in this paper are three examples, of many, for shifting to a supply-based model for naval assets without sacrificing the East Africa littoral mission.

Recommendation:   None.


Endnotes:

[1] Sow, M. (2017, April 12). Figures of the week: Piracy and Illegal Fishing in Somalia. Africa in Focus.Retrieved February 9, 2018. https://www.brookings.edu/blog/africa-in-focus/2017/04/12/figures-of-the-week-piracy-and-illegal-fishing-in-somalia/

[2] Williams, F. (2018, February 7), Exercise Cutlass Express 2018 Closes. Retrieved February 10, 2018. http://www.c6f.navy.mil/news/exercise-cutlass-express-2018-closes

[3] Eckstein, M. (2017, July 5).Textron’s Aerosonde Small Unmanned Aerial Vehicle Eligible for Navy Sea-Based ISR. United States Naval Institute News. Retrieved February 10, 2018. https://news.usni.org/2017/07/05/textrons-aerosonde-small-unmanned-aerial-vehicle-eligible-navy-sea-based-isr

[4] Defense Media Activity for U.S. Navy Office of Information. Navy Versus Piracy  #PresenceMatters. Retrieved February 10, 2018 from http://www.navy.mil/ah_online/antipiracy/index.html

[5] Lartner, D. (2017, February 20) LCS crew marooned in Singapore on open-ended
deployment. Navy Times. Retrieved February 9, 2018 from https://www.navytimes.com/news/your-navy/2017/02/20/lcs-crew-marooned-in-singapore-on-an-open-ended-deployment/

[6] United States Navy Chief of Information. Fact File: Littoral Combat Ships – Surface Warfare Mission Package. Retrieved February 10, 2018 from http://www.navy.mil/navydata/fact_display.asp?cid=2100&tid=437&ct=2.

[7] Chan, M (2017, September 17) China plans to build Djibouti facility to allow naval flotilla to dock at first overseas base. South China Morning Post. Retrieved February 9, 2018 from http://www.scmp.com/news/china/diplomacy-defence/article/2112926/china-plans-build-djibouti-facility-allow-naval

[8] Bayer, M. Roughead, G. (2017, December 4) United States Navy Strategic Readiness
Review. Pg.20. Retrieved February 11, 2018 from http://s3.amazonaws.com/CHINFO/
SRR+Final+12112017.pdf

Africa China (People's Republic of China) Djibouti East Africa Horn of Africa Maritime Matt Hein Option Papers United States

Options to Counter Piracy in the Horn of Africa

Captain Robert N. Hein (U.S. Navy, Retired) was a career Surface Warfare Officer in the U.S. Navy.  He previously commanded the USS Gettysburg (CG-64) and the USS Nitze (DDG-94).  He can be found on Twitter @the_sailor_dogClaude Berube teaches at the United States Naval Academy, was a 2004 Brookings Institution LEGIS Congressional Fellow and a 2010 Maritime Security Studies Fellow at The Heritage Foundation.  He can be found on Twitter @cgberube.  Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization, or any group.  


National Security Situation:  After lying dormant for a few years, following a large international response, piracy off the Horn of Africa is again threatening the free flow of global commerce.

Date Originally Written:  May 29, 2017.

Date Originally Published:  June 19, 2017.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  Claude Berube has operated off the Horn of Africa, and has written extensively on piracy and private maritime security companies.  Bob Hein has hunted pirates off Somalia.  Bob’s final assignment was the Deputy Director of Strategy on the U.S. Navy Staff.

Background:  Somali piracy threatens major trade routes.  Over 30,000 ships transit the Gulf of Aden annually.  At its peak in 2007, the cost of Somali pirate attacks to the shipping industry was $7B.  The cost decreased to $1.3B in 2015, and climbed to $1.7B in 2016[1].  In May 2017, the Commander of U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Marine Corps General Thomas Walderhauser, indicated as many as six piracy attacks occurred in the last month[2].  Given the expanse of unpatrolled waters in the region and opportunities for criminal and pirate networks to exploit maritime security gaps, there will inevitably be more attacks.

Significance:  Since the Romans and Carthaginians raised their Navies against each other in the Punic Wars, the purpose of Navies has been to protect the coast, and protect maritime commerce.  Prior to that, Thucydides mentions piracy in History of the Peloponnesian War.  The actions of pirates in Africa led to the establishment and deployment of the U.S. Navy in the early 19th century.  A resurgence in Somali piracy represents a renewed threat to global trade, and the stability of Somalia.

Option #1:  The U.S. cedes the constabulary role for counter-piracy activities to the People’s Republic of China (PRC) People’s Liberation Army (Navy) (PLA(N)).  In April 2017 the PRC deployed its 26th anti-piracy flotilla to the Horn of Africa.  In that time, the PRC escorted 5,900 ships in the region[3], and established a base in nearby Djibouti to maintain a mission to not only protects the PRC’s “One Belt” initiative, but give PRC Naval Commanders experience operating far from home.

Risk:  Taking over this mission allows the PRC to gain experience in operating far from home, a key attribute for an historic land power seeking increased influence abroad.  Prior to its first anti-piracy flotilla in 2008, the PLA(N) had been largely absent in international waters for five centuries.  The PRC may also give a false sense of security to those areas where it does not have a direct interest.  By ceding additional maritime security missions to the PLA(N), the U.S. and its partners empower PLA(N) overseas capabilities and the possibility that regional powers will become more reliant on the PRC.  For example, in 2015 the PRC was able to evacuate its citizens from the growing crisis in Yemen due, in part, to their enhanced capabilities from long-range operations in the region and newer platforms[4].

Gain:  The PRC does provide a short-term solution with a modern navy.  It has the motivation to prove itself as a guarantor of maritime security, not just a consumer.  The PRC has the capability and the desire to contain and curtail piracy in the Horn of Africa if not to simply secure shipping then for longer-range operational and strategic goals.

Option #2:  The U.S. builds capacity in the Somali maritime forces, and trains nascent Somali governments with the tools required to ensure domestic maritime security.  Local Somali governments have had some recent success in counter-piracy activity, rescuing eight Indian mariners captured by Somali pirates[5].  Introducing counter-piracy training, maritime domain awareness and intelligence sharing would go far in allowing regions of Somalia to work together to stop what should be a Somali law enforcement issue.

Risk:  The threat of corruption is a major concern; also the responsibility for building maritime law enforcement capacity would be a political minefield for any host nation.

Gain:  Using the dictum of “Teach a man to fish,” places Somalia in a position to police its waterways will provide a permanent solution to the piracy problem.  It will also ensure illegal fishing or overfishing by other states does not further deplete local fishing grounds[6].  Piracy in Somalia was born of frustrated fisherman who had no recourse against foreign fishing boats poaching their grounds.  Giving Somalia the ability to not only deter piracy, but also police their waters against illegal fishing should provide a complete long-term solution.

Option #3:  The U.S. continues to enable Private Maritime Security Companies, (PMSCs), to provide on-board armed guards at the shipping companies’ discretion.  To date, no ship with an armed team aboard has been successfully taken by Somali pirates.

Risk:  PMSCs are subject to market fluctuations.  As piracy rose in 2006-2008, PMSCs proliferated providing a wide spectrum of cost, capabilities, and legitimacy.  Ceding full maritime security control to unregulated PMSCs or to PMSCs from non-partnered nations could have other consequences as well, such as future military operations employing a trained, unaligned and unregulated force.  Additionally, many of the smaller shipping companies, favored by pirates, cannot afford PMSCs thus potentially identifying the smaller shipping companies as soft targets.

Gain:  Working with shipping companies and PMSCs would ensure the U.S. and its partners contribute to regulation of legitimate and capable PMSCs and would deny the PLA(N) an opportunity to enhance its capabilities through gaining experience in counter-piracy operations.

Option #4:  Coalition operations in the region continue.  In addition to independent operations, Somali piracy resulted in the creation of several key partnerships including Combined Task Force 151, the European Union’s Operation ATALANTA, and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s (NATO) Operation OCEAN SHIELD.

Risk:  Coalition investment of time, money, staff, and platforms for any operation takes away from other missions.  If other missions such as North Korea, Iran, and threats in the Mediterranean Sea have a higher immediate priority, then coalition ships might not be available if the pirate threat level is assessed as low.  In November 2016, for example, NATO concluded Operation OCEAN SHIELD as it shifted resources to the Baltic and Black Seas[7].

Gain:  Coalition operations enhance interoperability between traditional and new partners.  The larger the coalition, the fewer resources each nation has to contribute.  In most maritime operations, few countries can go it alone.

Other Comments:  While the options are limitless, the options presented here are those the authors assess as being the most feasible and acceptable.

Recommendation:  None


Endnotes:

[1]  CNBC Int’l, Luke Graham, “Somali Pirates are Back,” 03 May 2017

[2] The Trumpet, Anthony Chibarirwe, “Somali Pirates are Back,” 19 May 2017

[3]  The Diplomat, Ankit Panda, “As Somali Pirates Return, Chinese Navy Boasts of Anti-Piracy Operations,” 16 April 2017

[4]  The Diplomat, Kevin Wang, “Yemen Evacuation a Strategic Step Forward for China,” 10 April 2015

[5]  The New York Times, Hussein Mohamed, “8 Indians rescued from Somali Pirates, Officials say,” 12 April 2017

[6]  Asia Today, Hong Soon-Do, “Chinese Illegal Fishing Threatens World Waters,” May 2017

[7]  Reuters, Robin Emmott, “NATO Ends Counter-Piracy Mission as Focus Shifts to Mediterranean,” 23 November 2016

Bob Hein China (People's Republic of China) Claude Berube Horn of Africa Option Papers Piracy