Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Gunboat Diplomacy and Asymmetric Threats

So what does "Basis See" actually mean for deployments for the German Navy, as, with its means, it certainly wouldn't be any equivalent to parking a CBG or ESG offshore to enforce political goals?

"Basis See" (the Seabase) is of course modeled on current deployments (OEF, OAE, UNIFIL), and the direction these could take in the future. Past deployments, such as to Cambodia or Somalia, or missions in Albania and DR Congo also play into how it it composed. The core strength of the Seabase is that it is scalable, and easily adaptable.

A Seabase could be stationed to perform disaster relief and humanitarian assistance in South-East Asia - and would then be composed of say a EGV or JSS along with a frigate like the F125 providing additional airlift or SAR functions while also providing security. This is modeled on actual deployment after the tsunami in Indonesia btw, where Berlin was quickly detached from TF150 and sailed across the Indian Ocean with Allied escorts.

A Seabase could also easily be composed to provide a - littoral - embargo and interdiction system - in that case, a F125 could be joined by several smaller "gunboat" units such as the converted minehunters and FACs and a tender for supply, with ground forces and land-based air assets also networked into the Seabase. Submarines and/or ELINT ships would provide surveillance for the entire taskforce.

In a quick, potentially dirty, peacekeeping deployment such as the one in 2006 to DR Congo - to provide security during elections there - Seabase components offshore would provide not only supply and maritime overwatch roles (as the Navy did in that deployment), but could also provide a "safer" location for command and communications, as well as a central network node for intelligence and reconnaissance. If the situation goes potentially haywire - like in Somalia - the deployed Seabase could provide the ground forces with fire support, as well as - depending on composition - could evacuate deployed forces in orderly fashion.

For the more naval side, deployments such as Gibraltar Straits within OAE, or the primary function of TF150 - providing escort for transiting ships - can be taken care of within the Seabase framework; like in that past deployment, the deployed Seabase would consist of a central core with a command frigate and supply ships, with FACs or corvettes depending on theater providing actual escort against asymmetric threats - be they pirates, local insurgents or terrorists - and land-based assets within secured areas providing additional general support (logistics, fire support...) as well as airborne overwatch/patrol support. If an underwater threat such as minefields has been identified, the appropriate capability can easily be attached to the system.

So, what's really new about this "Basis See"? After all, it only provides the exact same functions the Navy has filled otherwise in the past years.

Well, mostly "Basis See" is about enhanced integration. The Navy is now defining a framework from which capabilities are selected and deployed according to the needs of deployments. What happens if that isn't applied was somewhat visible in the TF150 deployment within OEF: German Forces in that theater were vastly oversized, and some components - such as the FACs - weren't suited to the environment even. The result is that Germany has withdrawn almost its entire forces from that deployment - one frigate remains there - while Allies are clamoring for more contribution.

For comparison, the initial German contribution to TF150 consisted of twelve ships, about ten aircraft, a logistics unit, and a company-sized naval infantry deployment; a MCM squadron with six ships was additionally earmarked in case of demand.

"Basis See" is also about enhancing cooperation with other parts of the military; especially in the reconnaissance, fire support, logistics and deployment C4I areas, on which they are focussing, this could lead to far more "compact" - and cost-effective - deployments managing equal results in the field.

And then there's the real expeditionary part - within the "Basis See" framework, the Navy is supposed to gain the capability to flank diplomatic efforts. This actually is Gunboat Diplomacy - the Seabase flanking a diplomatic effort is supposed to provide escalation and deescalation as needed to obtain political goals. However, the Navy restricts itself to a capability there that's actually obtainable both politically and through tight funding - that is the capability to escalate by lobbing a few missiles at high-priority targets by offshore assets. There's no one - well, no one outside the Internet - crying for German carriers, or German amphibious assault assets. Because, in the real world, that's not a capability the German Navy needs, even for its expeditionary efforts.

I also find it somewhat remarkable that the German Navy - for the most part at least - has managed to complete blend out looking at particular systems while designing the "Basis See" concept. The concept stays completely abstract and theoretical - what is needed is not this or that upgrade to a certain ship class, but what's needed for "Basis See" is a certain capability. Which has to be "as good as possible". Sure, there is threat analysis and possible counters to threats involved. But, within the abstract level, this becomes "Do we have the capability to counter X efficiently? Within which system, which has which other capabilities?". It's an effort to divide between looking for certain capabilities, and looking for particular systems to fill those capabilities - and a commendable one. After all, you should first look at what you actually want to do, before spending heaps of money on systems you might never need within your strategic positioning.

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