Sunday, April 12, 2009
In the Finest Traditions of the United States Navy
The news this Easter Sunday that Captain Richard Phillips has been freed by the United States Navy and three of the pirates killed and one captured were executed in the finest traditions of the American Navy. Here is my initial take. We see a small group of trained men took direct action to end this first act of taking an American ship by pirates in two hundred years. The navies of the world have deployed to the region and so far have been less than successful in preventing pirates from taking their pickings of the thousands of ships that traverse those waters. My own take is that the real benefit beyond presenting an image of universal unity is an exercise that might be described as naval butt sniffing, where the world navies have a chance to sniff out each others operational methods. This awareness is leading to what Galrahn has described this way in his post Leveraging Success Going Forward.
If the US takes a deep breath and practices both patience and statesmanship, this situation will produce a framework for cooperation and mutual trust and confidence among the nations of what Tom Barnett calls the "Functioning Core." The US should do nothing that delivers the message that there is one set of rules for us and another for the rest of the world. Moreover, we have a chance to "lead from the edge" by actually listening and adopting the ideas of other nations. This is a priceless strategic opportunity that should not be wasted.
I have linked several posts that address suggestions for tackling this problem. Even though Somalia pirates are not a direct threat to our national security, they do impact our global community and at the same time as noted above offer us opportunities to move forward.
First a look at how this problem is growing.
And now for solutions and comments
To get an idea of the number of ships in theatre is this order of battle provided by Information Dissemination from April 4, 2009. 5th Fleet Focus: Order of Battle.
The cost of maintaining this international fleet is in the billions and judging the level of continued piratical success is tactically a failure.
Suggestions for dealing with this have ranged from convoys, small green water influence squadrons, to taking out the pirate bases. One idea floated was to station armed guards aboard ships transiting this region. This tactic was used during World War II when United States Navy Armed Guard was placed aboard merchant ships to protect against uboat and air threats.
Here is my opinion on this idea. If this tactic is adopted and modified to the conditions of this region, two things will be accomplished. First, and foremost any attempt to attack a ship would be met with the same kind of force that ended this latest act of piracy. Secondly, the cost of providing this protection would be lowered to levels that are sustainable to both the nations and the shipping companies. The true benefit would fall back to the common citizen who sees his tax dollars used more effectively and the cost of goods competitive.
Small teams could be inserted onto the ships as they approached the danger zone. The teams would have to be well armed with enough firepower to sink any of the small boats that are used to challenge them. In the same fashion of shotgun guards on stagecoaches in the 18th and 19th century they would become a known deterrent after the brigands become aware of the threat.
These teams would ride shotgun until the ship passes the danger zone and then are flown back or pick up a ride on a ship going the other way. The fear of arming crews would be eliminated as well as having weapons carried on board. This is no more dangerous than banks hiring armed guards to deter robbery.
This mission could be shared by the seafaring nations who could contribute their security teams under the mandate of the UN and following the time tested maritime rule that pirates be dealt with deadly force whenever encountered. The only time that conflict would occur is when the pirates attack. Small fishing boats or even pirate boats acting as fishing boats would be free from harm. The upshot of any successful attack would be that the pirates would insure themselves and their brethren a level of assured destruction in the response that world opinion would demand.
This leaves the pirates to prey on small craft which have been their bread and butter for the past two thousand years. Short of eliminating the pirate bases and entering into nation-building in a country with limited resources to sustain such an operation, we are faced with continuing to spend billions to police this vast area with limited results or find an effective way to make ships pirate proof with the add on measures described above.