Friday, August 19, 2016

A comment on the US electoral situation

I don't normally comment on these issues, but the dynamics is becoming too obvious at this point.

It is clear from the persistent trends in the polling data that Donald Trump's strategy for courting resentment and the social animus has failed to reach out to sufficient people to assure his electoral victory. Even traditionally republican states are now swinging towards the blue. Whatever the underlying principles of the Trump campaigns were they are no longer valid and the strategy has reached the end of its utility.

Barring a miracle, Donald Trump is not likely to win this election. Seeing as miracles always possible but not predictable - it is reasonable for both the Trump family and the Republican Party to do things to limit losses.

The Republican party will need to focus on various senate re-election races. In order to distract voters from the fractured state of the party - the Republicans will have to make Hillary Clinton look bad. That is the only thing that will make their traditional votaries look away from the carnage of the last year. However making Hillary look bad when she is almost certain to be president is a dangerous game. If the move backfires she will make life very difficult for the GoP in Congress and the Senate. The GoP cannot afford a direct confrontation with Hillary.

What holds true for the GoP also holds true for Donald Trump. Donald Trump cannot afford any direct bad blood with the Clintons who are his family friends. It is one thing to insult a random Muslim but you can't expect to function in New York City high society and have a bad relationship with the Clintons. They are too powerful and they have way way too many powerful friends in the city. Not even Donald Trump can afford that kind of aggro.

Donald Trump may be making a killing on royalties for his books and merchandise right now, but if he is to remain a viable business entity in the foreseeable future - he has to fix the damage to the brand. No brand can survive exposed to toxic agendas for such an extended period of time. If Trumps brand is to survive - he has to distance himself from all this race and religious hostility. He still has massive business interests in the so-called Muslim world, he can't afford to carry this baggage with him.

Against this background it is easy to see a point of convergence between the Trump agenda and the GOP. That IMO is what Steve Bannon is.  Steve (if we take Ben Shapiro's statements at face-value) is keenly interested in pushing his own brand of Jean Paul Marat style journalism. With Bannon in place in the Trump campaign, the entire load of vilifying Hillary can be shifted to the writing staff at Brietbart. The staff at Brietbart have a lot of experience in running that sort of thing.

With the anti-Hillary publicity created via Brietbart and other Trump campaign surrogates, the GoP can hope to ride the anti-Hillary wave into Congress and Senate.

With the entire anti-Hillary stuff being outsourced to Bannon and his valkyries, Donald Trump can focus on repairing the damage done to his brand by his own style.

I don't think either Donald Trump or the GoP expects Bannon or his Valkyries to survive a frontal assault on Hillary. My understanding is that the only thing Bannon has control over that anyone in either the Trump side or the GoP cares about is that data-spider that runs out of "Tony's room" in the GAI. Outside of that - no one really cares about Bannon or anyone else at the Breitbart mansion. I wouldn't be too surprised if Steve thinks he can pull a major strike on the Clinton campaign off - but I really doubt even he truly cares what happens.

If all goes as planned then - whatever happens in November - the entire process will leave Donald Trump, the GoP and maybe Steve Bannon in a better place (economically and brand wise).

Again barring a miracle - I suppose the Donald Trump fans will be disappointed and I am not sure what will happen to all those people who think he is the "last hope for (whatever)", but I suppose given the history these people have being screwed over by the machine - I guess they will simply have to find another "last hope" and carry on somehow.

I worry what residual effects this will leave in ethnic subnationalism in the US. These ethnic stuff has been kept under control, but I am not sure how this is going to play out if the Trump and the GoP leave these votaries high and dry.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Khizr Khan and Sharia: Is there a meaningful connection?

I am not endorsing anything Mr. Khan is saying - nor am I saying Mr. Trump's behavior is in any way justified.  I am merely commenting on the evidence people seem to have which suggests Mr. Khan has a favorable opinion of Sharia law.

In an Islamic nation (like the UAE, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Iran etc...) all aspects of the legal system including the Constitution are defined by direct linkage to concepts discussed by Islamic religious scholars over the centuries. These centuries old concepts are broadly referred to as "Sharia Law" for want of a better word. Wikipedia has a good description of some of the key issues that come up under the rubric of "Sharia Law".

As the entire concept of the nation itself - as laid out in the constitution is defined with reference to ideas in Sharia Law - no practicing lawyer in an Islamic nation like UAE or Pakistan or KSA or Iran or whatever can write a legal position without referencing both the constitutional literature and the underlying Sharia concept. No judge in an Islamic nation can offer a judgement without similarly referencing either the appropriate constitutional image and its implicit Sharia guidelines.  When you are called to the bar in these countries you take an oath to protect the underlying principles of the legal system.

In the US (or India or UK or France ) - the place accorded to Sharia law in Islamic nations is taken by a less formalized canon of egalitarian concepts that arose during the European renaissance. Any lawyer in these countries writes an opinion or legal position by referencing specific constitutional clauses (and thus implicitly the underlying egalitarian ideals) . When you are called to the bar in these countries again you take an oath to protect the underlying principles of this legal system.

As Mr. Khan has indicated when he took the citizenship of the US, he offered his unquestioning loyalty to the US Constitution. As practicing lawyer he would have no option but to use only the principles and clauses of that same constitution in his daily life. Whatever his (or his peers') opinions about Sharia while lawyering in Pakistan or UAE might have been - they would be rendered irrelevant the moment he chose to work as a professional lawyer in the US.

Think of it like this - you grow up in Pakistan fixing cars. All your world revolves around is the Suzuki Mehran. You are good - you can take that apart and put it back together in your sleep. You dream of fixing Mehrans. But then you move to the US and you learn how to fix Fords, Chevys and so on. The detailed knowledge of the Mehran is completely useless when it comes to fixing cars in the US. So you learn new skills, forget about the Mehran and only dream of fixing American cars.

I realize this doesn't really address the question of where Mr. Khan's instantaneous loyalties lie. I don't think I can answer that question. I obviously respect the sacrifice of a "Gold Star" family. And it appears that Mr. Khan has already said he only places his faith in the US Constitution. So the prima facie evidence supports him.

If we are to consider prior statements as indicative of present intent, then Mr. Trump will be in big trouble as he seems to suffer from a perennial inability to maintain any kind of position on any issue. If Mr. Khan's prior statements are admissible than so are Mr. Trumps. I don't know if people who support Mr. Trump want that to actually happen.

I also concede that Mr. Khan certainly has a flair for the political. And I freely concede that Mr. Trump seems to be intent on political suicide.

Regarding Mr. Khan - a line from the movie Gandhi comes to mind - the line is supposed to something similar to what a well-to-do trader by the name of Haji Dada Abdullah said [1]

"I'm sure our community could keep you in work for some time, Mr. Gandhi - even if you caused a good deal of trouble. (Gandhi reacts uncertainly.) Especially if you caused a good deal of trouble."


[Hint Hint].

Friday, August 12, 2016

Evolving the CTBT - Making allowances for periodic testing

I am trying to come up with ways in which nations can be induced to take up the obligations under the CTBT.

As things stand the CTBT is very restrictive. If you sign that - you have to go through an astronomical level of paperwork to test a device. Several nations refuse to sign it and thus their compliance with other non-proliferation obligations slackens.

One possible way to do this is to make an allowance for states to conduct periodic tests for stockpile stewardship purposes.  I guess this amounts to a CTBT-"lite" version for nations who have concerns about the CTBT as it currently stands.

All weapons age in ways that are not possible to anticipate. At the very least full-scale device tests should be permitted to allow the basic issues in the physics package to be explored. Such testing is necessary for the maintaining the safety of current arsenals.

Most nations feel the pinch of maintaining large stockpiles of fissile materials for weapons purposes. A larger weapons grade fissile material stockpile is also a greater risk of mishandling and pilferage.  A special provision for testing new devices which reduce (in a verifiable fashion) a reduction in the number of fully assembled packages or reduce the need for large stockpiles of weapons grade fissile materials would also be desirable.

Any nation seeking to use these provisions must declare its arsenal and relevant details (how much fissile material is used, how many years the packages have been around, total number of packages etc...) and submit to a verification process. Once the verification process has been negotiated, and the arsenal declared - the nation can proceed to test under the CTBT - "lite" provisions without penalty.

I realize I am proposing something that some people will consider sacrilegious.

I fully understand that people are quite fed up with nuclear weapons and hoping that the resource pressures associated with maintaining large arsenals will eventually induce mankind to do away with them.

These people may be right - but what if they are wrong?

What if the only thing that happens due to rising resource pressures is an unintentional nuclear weapons release?

* NB 1-  I am not saying that CTBT signatories be allowed to test a new weapons system or even a warhead but rather to ONLY test either novel designs for nuclear explosives or test a weaponizable configuration (i.e. physics package + all relevant detonation electronics packages).

* NB 2 - I am not suggesting that this revision to the CTBT be a permanent affair either but that the testing clauses inserted be revised periodically as per the needs of international security.

Ocean Security: Outlines of a crude security strategy for ocean protection

Based on what we have seen in previous posts under the Ocean Security label, we can now guess at the key elements needed for a strategy for securing the sea. I describe these in the text below:

High Level Response Model

A high level model is needed to lay out how to sort the available data on threats. This sort of model would create a rough map between type of threat and most effective response. A certain fraction of the threats will have to be excluded because it is not possible to respond to them, but the model should hopefully cover a majority of likely threats and offer real mitigation options for catastrophic risks.

Again very generally speaking - during peacetime - no nation has adequate resources to provide security on the oceans.  Most nations do not even have adequate naval resources to police their own territorial waters, and so every nation (big or small) is predisposed towards seeking a solution. The only solution to this resource crisis lies in sharing the burden through international naval cooperation agreements. Such agreements are mutually beneficial and participation in these tends to be quite earnest and honest.

As sea going platforms are extremely technologically advanced, it takes significant resources to train personnel to properly function with them. Again international cooperation agreements allow all  parties get a chance to train with each other. These joint naval exercises provide a good place to study and learn from each other and to share expertise on the vast array of technical matters that come into play on sea-going platforms.

Any high level response model should include international cooperation agreements as part of its structure.

The high level response model will need a secure and reliable database upon which to base decision points. Each model will come with its own Boyd Loop timescale. Model refinement exercise should seek to limit the Boyd Loop time.

Data Fusion Center

The critical database described above will need to be maintained and updated. This requires a major information processing node - a Data Fusion Center.

The vastness of the space to be secured and the absence of a single reliable option for surveillance forces us to use a multitude of sensing modes. The numerous streams of intelligence created by such modes will have to be streamed to a central information processing unit. These data streams will need their own security (dedicated interference free lines of communication and encryption etc...) but each will contain within it a data model that helps discriminate signal from noise.

An ideal database will allow decision makers to visualize the position of every entity (airborne, surface or sub-surface) in the region of interest at any given time. Additional layers of the database should at least be able to bring up and represent all known aspects of each entity plotted on the visualization.

Without such a fusion scheme, it will not be possible to construct any higher level strategic models and what ideas people publish in think-tank papers etc... will remain largely on paper. Decision makers will simply not know what threats are out there.

Surveillance Modalities

A wide variety of surveillance approaches need to be deployed in order to keep an eye on the seas. As each approach will come with its own sources of error, it is highly advisable to use a mixture of overlapping techniques to look for coincident or anomalous events.

For example: One could start by plotting the positions of surface vessels observed via surveillance satellites, sonar or radar triangulation, and sightings by surveillance craft. Then one could overlay that data with AIS information. An additional layer might be reports of sightings (targeted or crowd sourced) and port records on ships entering and leaving. This should at the very least eliminate known civilian traffic from sea of potential threats.

As discussed earlier, a vast majority of the traffic at sea is along carefully delineated SLOCs and any hostile patrols for purely economic reasons have to branch off from existing shipping lanes. It is therefore quite natural to focus a significant amount of resources to gain accurate intelligence on the existing SLOCs.

Getting information needed to discriminate the likely non-hostile targets can only come from information sharing and naval cooperation agreements. The personal contact created in international conferences and joint exercises is important. As so much illicit trafficking occurs via the sea on relatively anonymous ships, discriminating between a boat carrying drugs and a boat carrying explosives can be challenging. A simple phone call to one of your naval conference mates in a nearby country can save months of lengthy paperwork and quickly identify the nature of the unknown vessel.

Response Capabilities

In an ideal world once a threat is discerned the defender should be able to vector a ship or airplane out to where the threat is and mitigate it. However in reality - it is not possible to have a naval asset proximate to an arbitrary point in the sea.  In the real world the response can often come too slowly to provide any useful security against the threat.

Theoretically international cooperation agreements should allow ships from different nations to respond to a threat given their proximity to the event.  This assumes that all the nations in the agreement have a certain minimum level of readiness and competency. Clearly an ideal situation would be where the agreement sets out the responsibility of each state and the minimum level of competence they must strive to reach.

Having airbases or berthing agreements with littoral states allows a nation to spread its own naval resources in an optimal fashion to respond to threats in a timely fashion. Again this kind of thing comes with an additional quid pro quo (over and above the usual international cooperation agreement)- and it may be advisable to engage in such an exchange in certain circumstances.

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Ocean Security: Surface Ships

If submarines and air power projection platforms represent the outer edges of ocean security, then surface assets are the middle.

In the public imagination, the surface ship is scarcely present. People tend to be drawn towards the much "sexier" carrier and submarine platforms and don't think much about surface vessels.

Embracing a wide variety of roles, surface assets shoulder the majority of the ocean security burden. Typical mission profiles for surface assets are
  1. Transport and Re-supply (troop movement, replenishment etc....
  2. Surveillance (patrolling SLOCs, VBSS, anti-Piracy, SAR, etc...)
  3. Protection (screening forces for carrier groups, convoy security, anti-submarine roles, air defense) 
  4. Land attack (using either missiles or artillery)
As these roles are so diverse, typically a surface asset will have a certain degree of flexibility built into their design. The average surface ship may be able to perform many of these separate roles with a relatively minimal modification.

It is difficult to audit the exact price per unit of productivity of a surface asset as a large fraction of what they do is so diverse and so intangible. Because it is difficult to define an exact measure of their utility, and given their large number surface ships operate under severe resource pressures. The captains and crews of such vessels are under a lot of pressure to keep expenses down and operate as economically as possible.

This background of issues creates patterns in the way these assets are used.  
  1. Surface assets try to stay out of harms way unless absolutely necessary - Captains try to be extremely conservative in the way they approach targeting issues. Knowing full well that in most cases the enemy cannot be pinpointed and that there is little to no backup, Captains of surface assets refrain from adventurous idealism. If approached by unknown entities, the surface asset will use a variety of posturing (lighting up the intruder with radar or lights, firing warning shots etc...) to scare off the intruder. 
  2. Surface assets try to remain in the land of "known-knowns" - A surface asset will stay as close to a well characterized point (or path) on a map as a possible. Captains will avoid wandering into places that are poorly mapped or contain unknown hazards (such as mines, or reefs or shoals). 
  3. Surface combat is minimalist - When surface assets are drawn into combat, they will use their resources extremely sparingly unless they are left with no choice or they are guaranteed resupply (which is *never*). A surface asset will spend a significant amount of time maneuvering to get into a somewhat ideal firing position before it releases its weapon. When it reaches said position, it will only release as many weapons as absolutely necessary to eliminate the adversary (barring of course - a loss of fire discipline). 
The effort at every level with a surface asset will be to maximize the apparent utility of the vessel when it is underway. This is the only effective way to address persistent criticisms from bean-counters about the general lack of a utility metric. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Ocean Security : The role of air dominance

The sea offers no possibility of cover. Aerial envelopment at sea is too easy.

During WWI everyone became acutely aware of the vulnerability of surface ships to aerial envelopment. WWII saw the extremely effective use of carrier task forces against shore and sea based targets.

In the more modern context, naval air arms provide a major force multiplier in any conflict at sea. Aircraft are able to quickly discriminate real threats (surface or submarine) and swiftly eliminate them.

As a result of this - in naval parlance - the establishment of an island/shore airbase (or an "unsinkable aircraft carrier") or the deployment of a carrier task force - is exactly equivalent to forming your fingers into a fist in bar. Regardless of specific context, such acts almost always conveys a hostile intention.

It is important to note that an aircraft carrier (island or ship based) costs a lot of money. It is very mechanically complicated to build and operate and it needs its own set of support and security assets.

A detailed cost-benefit analysis has to be carried to determine if a island airbase or a carrier task force is better for a particular context.

Again  - shaped by movies like "Top Gun" - the public imagination of what a carrier is able to do is quite far from the actual reality of this ships (or islands).

We begin by exploring the physical limits
  1. Aircraft Carriers are big - they have hard limits on maneuverability and speed. 
  2. Aircraft Carriers are big - they cannot be hidden easily from enemy surveillance.
  3. Launch and recovery of aircraft from a carrier is hostage to local weather conditions.
In terms of carrier operations - a carrier (island or ship) can only create a finite bubble of control (usually a few hundred miles in diameter, 50,000 feet high and 1000 feet deep). Anything adverse occurring in that bubble can be neutralized rapidly. Doing much better than that is difficult given physical limits on sensor technologies and finite response times. 

This bubble is defined largely by the extent of air operations that are permissible from the carrier. Depending on whether night operations are possible the bubble may shrink at night or during inclement weather. 

Basic economics again dictates that a carrier ship on a long voyage will be able to reduce costs by sticking to existing shipping channels. Similarly an island airbase will be much cheaper to operate if it is close to existing SLOCs (example Djibouti is much cheaper to operate than something like BIOT/ Diego Garcia).

In the case of ship based carriers, given the mechanical complexity of the platform, significant amount of time has to be reserved for refit and training. The average carrier spends about a third of its time in port undergoing refit or in training missions where new crew members are brought up to speed.  Ship based carriers have to be periodically resupplied and re-crewed. This process creates a supply line security issue. If this supply line is cut, the carrier will no longer be effective.   

When projecting force from a carrier (island or ship) - given that fuel and munition stocks are finite, it makes sense to conserve strength until the threat is very clearly defined and located. This places a great burden on sensing platforms deployed with the carrier. Without an able sensor suite - the carrier is useless.

Carriers are not secure against interference. The most common threats to carriers are submarine threats, air patrols and "carrier killer" ballistic missiles. The critical task in all these interference options is detection of the exact position of the carrier (definitely easier when it is an island as opposed to ship). 

Ocean Security: Submarine threats

Submarine threats have become the stuff of legends. Ever since WWII when the German Kriegsmarine and the Imperial Japanese Navy made extensive use of submarines to attack allied surface ships - the military utility has never been doubted.

It is not a surprise that narcotraffickers today use submarines to move large quantities of drugs or that most nuclear states employ ballistic missile carrying submarines ("boomers") as part of their deterrent.

It is also not surprising that submarines have played a critical role in gathering intelligence and intercepting enemy communications (ex. Operation Ivy Bells).

Fueled by Hollywood movies, the public imagination of what is possible with a submarine is boundless - the real world has to cope with physical facts like
  • There is not enough air dissolved in the water.
  • As you go deeper under water the pressure on you increases with depth.
  • Water offers significant drag.
  • Sound travels really far under water - especially in the SOFAR channel. 
  • Radio signals and light do not travel far in water.
  • Undersea currents and geography can change with little warning. 
So in the real world - submarines have limitations:
  1. Submarines cannot stay submerged forever - they need air and their crew needs to see the surface. Most submarines are underway for a period of time that is limited by their need to breathe air for the engines - or by the psychological needs of the crew (for AIP or nuclear subs). 
  2. Submarine navigation is quite complex - you really can't see what is around you.  Navigating a submarine requires the use a combination of inertial, stellar and RF/GPS referencing and relies on expensive hydrographic maps to keep clear of undersea obstacles and adverse currents.One can only really operate a submarine properly if one has a sense of where one is relative to the points on the hydrographic map. 
  3. Submarines can operate safely up to a depth of several hundred feet - going below that depth risks hull damage. So submarines rarely go below 700 feet. 
  4. The motion of the submarine under water creates a significant wake and acoustic signature - which can be used to detect the presence of the submarine. If one gets too close to the surface then the wake becomes visible to enemy surveillance platforms. If one goes down deeper and enters the SOFAR channel then even small sounds can be heard by shore based detectors hundreds of miles away. The exact location of the SOFAR channel varies depending on where you are in the ocean.
  5. Weapons can only be released from a submarine at certain depths - if you go too deep, neither the weapon nor the launch mechanism can withstand the pressure.  
  6. Submarine communication is costly - either you have to use an extremely low frequency with low bandwidth or the submarine has to raise a radio mast periodically to be able to receive updates.  
  7. A submarine hull is usually a very large piece of metal (typically steel). This shows up as a massive magnetic anomaly against the water surrounding it. A magnetic anomaly based detection scheme is usually used to sense the exact position of a submarine. 
The sum of all this is a submarine is a very expensive asset, that can operate safely and reliably is a few parts of the ocean.

The amount of supplies of food, fuel and fresh water stowed on board limit the time the submarine can spend underwater. While the theoretical maximums can be quite large - psychological factors can degrade combat effectiveness to unacceptable levels on much shorter timescales.

The exact choice of patrol path itself is limited knowledge of the topology of the ocean floor, by the quality of the inertial navigation systems. Once underwater - the submarine can only operate quietly by using a combination of gradiometry and gyroscopy. The quality of gyroscopes and gradiometers available on the submarine limits its ability to actually follow a specific path laid out on a hydrographic map. All these constraints further limit the combat patrols corridors to a fairly small set.

When travelling large distances for its mission (as for example a land attack submarine like a boomer might do) the submarine will remain in well traveled sea lanes as these sea lanes are deep enough and well charted to allow it to move undetected relatively quickly. In such lanes, it should be relatively simple to replenish the submarine's stores via a tender ship. All the combat patrol corridors will emerge off these established sea lanes.

Each patrol corridor will require a certain degree of accurate hydrographic survey before extensive utilization. The presence of hydrographic survey activities will presage any actual patrol. These are relatively easier to detect than a submarine on a hostile mission.

Any submarine on combat patrol seeking to release a weapon will have to approach the surface. This will leave it vulnerable to detection by enemy systems. Once the weapon is released, the location of the submarine will be compromised and the enemy will be able to send reaction forces to the last known location of the submarine.

A defender who is able to maintain a close watch on the most likely patrol corridors has a good chance of detecting the emergence of a threatening presence in them and react to adverse situations.

Tuesday, August 09, 2016

Ocean Security : Physical constraints on force projection at sea

As indicated earlier there are significant physical and economic constraints on a voyage at sea. These constraints apply equally to the party creating a threat and the party seeking to contain a threat.  In order to understand the delicate relationship between the threat and mitigation options, we examine the various types of threats that can emanate from the sea.

Broadly speaking one can classify the threats as follows

  1. Threats against a surface asset - using sea based assets to board, seize or sink a surface ship.
  2. Threats to a land based asset - using sea based asset to project force on land.
  3. Threats to the airspace - using sea based assets to project force against an object in the air or in space. 
  4. Threats against submarine targets - using sea based assets to destroy or damage submarine communication and surveillance mechanisms.  
While there are a number of ways in which a threat may be actualized, there are significant physical constraints on any kind of force projection from the sea. These constraints are discussed below.

Sighting the target : Before one launches any kind of attack from the sea, one has to know where the target is relative to oneself. This is much harder than it sounds. The sea is featureless and without a well developed navigational infrastructure it is easy to lose sight of the target. This problem is easily compounded if the weather is bad, or if the target is beyond visual range or if the target is mobile. Given that there is no fool proof way of sighting the enemy - there is an element of chance here that cannot be avoided. Advances in surveillance technologies (Radar, Sonar, IR, Satellite or Drone based imaging) have helped to some extent, but the fog of war remains quite dense and orientation is big enough issue that they still spend a lot of time in Naval schools on it. 

The problem of perfect positioning at sea: Unlike land, the sea is constantly in motion. The position of the asset is not constant relative to the target (or any other convenient fixed external frame of reference). So even in the limit where the position of the target is known, the point from where the attack is to be launched is moving - and the distance between the target and the point of attack is changing in unanticipated ways. The most common result of this source of error is poor accuracy. This is why naval conflicts usually involve extremely large quantities of unguided munitions being expended before even a single target is hit. Most of the shots miss. This is true even when the launch platform on a ship is stabilized, most stabilization systems can only compensate for so much drift or random motion. Things are changing now that navies everywhere are slowly shifting to guided munitions and increasing their reliance on observer based guidance. However for a majority of players in the world the problem of perfect positioning is a difficult and expensive one to solve. 

So where does this leave us when it comes to project force at sea?

What applies for the attacker - applies equally well to the defender. 

The attacker/defender in the context of sea based battle must correctly size up the distance to their target and position themselves perfectly to launch a strike. As neither of those steps are easy - errors creep in and grow in unanticipated ways (whether you are launching an unguided shell or an SLBM is irrelevant).

These errors add costs to the basic voyage costs described in my earlier posts and make the entire notion of sea-based conflicts hostage to intense cost benefit calculations. 

Monday, August 08, 2016

Ocean Security - The Basic Picture

Some years ago, an acquaintance asked to me to comment about security in the Indian Ocean Region. I told them that I was deeply ignorant of the topic and I would be unable to make a useful to contribution to the debates.

In the intervening years, I have been trying to educate myself on the issues that are at play. I am by no means an expert on the issues, but I would like to share what I have learned so far.

So first off - some very simple geographical realities

1) International trade accounts for more than 50% of global GDP.  90% of international trade occurs via the sea.  This trade is both in the form of ships carrying cargo and telecommunication cables carrying data.

2)  While the global shipping routes are confined to relatively well-defined patterns and corridors, a threat to these corridors can be projected from anywhere in the ocean.

3) The point of projection of the threat can be located above, on or under the surface of the water - and when you consider that 71% of the earth's surface is covered by water - that is a lot of space to secure from interference.

Now some crude economic realities.

1) It is significantly more expensive to create sea-going vessels. (typical motor vehicle costs tens of thousands of dollars, a typical ship will costs tens of millions of dollars). Building large fleets of vessels is economically forbidden.

2) The cost of operating a ship - navigating in a featureless sea, travelling through inclement weather, enduring the corrosion due to salt and sea life, all the gas you need to sail, the redundancy in the manpower you need etc... - is very high. And given the unpredictability of sea and weather, the risk of catastrophic loss is daunting. This means every voyage costs quite a bit of money. Every fleet (big or small) makes a very serious effort to cut down on operating and maintenance costs.

3) Costs of training people to work at sea are high. Given how different performing a single task at (or under)sea when compared to its land based counterpart, the cost of retraining humans to perform specific roles at (or under) sea is quite high. This adds to the overall cost structure associated with sea borne operations.

That brings us to some technical or physical constraints.

1) Water is much more dense than air - it produces a lot more drag. Moving in water produces significant challenges to speed and maneuverability.

2) Water absorbs light - you can't see what is below you. The ocean floor is very poorly known. A significant portion of the oceans are simply unexplored.

3) A variety of geophysical forces affect the winds and the water currents in the sea. These forces are poorly characterized and difficult to anticipate.  This imposes significant challenges to navigation. his makes it very difficult to know where you are. Navigation at sea is only possible using the starts (astronomical) or using a man-made navigation system (LORAN or GPS etc...).

This lays out the backdrop for the problem of providing security in the oceans.

- You have a vast space from which a threat can materialize.

- You have very limited resources to sense an emergent threat.

- You have significant physical constraints on what responses you can mount to a perceived threat. 

in the next post - I will discuss the nature of the threats, the issues associated with sensing them and the limited response option sets.