Monday, August 31, 2015

Distributed Lethality in the Information Age

The following contribution is by LCDR DeVere Crooks, USN.

In our July Proceedings article “The Face of Battle in the Information Age,” LCDR Mateo Robertaccio and I argue that the US Navy must make a deliberate effort to understand the practical realities of naval combat in the Information Age. The Navy expends a large amount of resources developing and testing discrete capabilities, tactics, and plans of relatively limited scope. But we have made little effort to step back and understand what has (or hasn’t) changed about the basic conduct of naval warfare since our last real experience with it 70 years ago. We can never fully appreciate the realities of combat until it happens, but we can do a lot more to understand how the revolutionary improvements in information transport and the increasingly contested nature of the Electromagnetic (EM)-cyber domain will affect our units’ ability to observe, orient, decide, and act against a determined and capable opponent.

As a surface warfare officer, I’m very excited by the possibilities of the “Distributed Lethality” concept announced by my community’s leadership in January and the energetic discussion that has followed. A renewed offensive focus for the Surface Navy and a return to Surface Action Group (SAG) employment are logical choices given the challenges we are likely to face and the capability available today and in the near future. The aircraft carrier remains the premier platform for global power projection, but it is only one of several tools that will be required to attack and overwhelm a modern anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) system. Distributed groups of capable surface combatants can deliver much of the punch required for the “offensive sea control” that enables force projection ashore. (I borrow that term from another great piece on revitalizing surface capability by CSBA’s Bryan Clark).

But what will be the practical realities of employing and coordinating SAGs in a highly contested EM-cyber domain? Are we equipped to deal with the increased confusion and uncertainty we will likely face? What changes in capability, training, and basic warfighting mentality might be required to weather these complications so we can effectively employ our weapons and tactics?

Answering questions like these requires extensive resources and experimentation. I’m encouraged to see Commander, Naval Surface Forces (SURFOR) and the Naval War College undertaking a program of wargaming to better understand the operational, organizational, and logistical implications of the Distributed Lethality concept. However, though I am not privy to the design and content of those wargames, I wonder whether they will be able to really get at the ground-level (or sea-level?) tactical realities of operating a SAG on a battlefield that is aggressively contested in all domains, especially the EM-cyber. As Mateo and I conclude in our article, that sort of understanding can probably only be reached through live experimentation with extended, loosely structured “free-play” between units that are subjected to as many of the strictures of a modern battlefield as possible. I hope that as Distributed Lethality matures experimentation of this kind will be conducted and the lessons learned carefully studied and incorporated into doctrine, tactics, capability acquisition requirements, and the like.

In the meantime, however, there are a few areas of concern that are immediately obvious and bear further examination as the concept is developed. The first and perhaps most critical area is that of communications and Command-and-Control (C2) in a contested EM-cyber environment. The Navy has begun to appreciate some of the myriad complications such an environment will bring, but significant gaps almost certainly remain in our technical capability and our proficiency.

It is a fair premise that a capable adversary will likely achieve some measure of success in attacking our C2 and administrative networks. In the case of an independently operating SAG, this probably results in intra-group and/or external C2 and other communications becoming unreliable, intermittent, or even actively manipulated, possibly for extended periods and without final resolution. We have notional doctrinal answers to the problem of disrupted C2 in our ethos of decentralized execution and our oft-repeated belief in Mission Command, but doctrine is only valuable to the extent it is internalized and practiced. Most surface warfare officers have very limited experience operating under disrupted, limited, or intermittent C2, especially for extended periods. It is also likely that our massively developed dependence on off-ship networking for every manner of administrative, logistical, and technical support will become a significant liability in any sort of extended scenario. And this says nothing of the possibility that these emissions or the data contained in them might be used by an adversary to target our forces. This set of issues can be neatly summed up by the following statement: we do not yet accept the EM-cyber domain as one that will be continually contested by a capable adversary, just as the air, surface, and subsurface domains will be.

There are solutions—or at least remedies—to these problems, though. On the hardware front there are a variety of promising line-of-sight (LOS) and low probability of intercept (LPI) technologies that can be applied to the intra-SAG communications problem, as well as a number of feasible solutions such as one-way High Frequency broadcast or networks of unmanned high-altitude communications relay systems for aspects of the long-haul communications problem. And there are some very promising technical and organizational measures on the way to improve cyber awareness and resiliency Navy-wide. Lastly, the organic technical skill and awareness of the Surface Navy’s shipboard personnel can be improved and contested communications and C2 can be better normalized as a part of our training and operations.

Perhaps the best way to “build in” the reality of a contested EM-cyber domain is to develop a SAG Communications Concept that incorporates hardware, software, doctrinal, and procedural components. Such an integrated concept could better equip our SAGs from the ground up to handle the environment for which they are intended while still maintaining (or improving) existing capability to plug-and-play with carrier strike groups or other forces.

There are of course a huge number of other human and technical challenges inherent in developing the integrated warfighting capability that Distributed Lethality SAGs will deliver. Many of these are being capably addressed within the Surface Community and the wider Navy. But I would again ask, have we stepped back and sufficiently considered the basic nature of the battlefield and the differences from the past in how we will understand and interact with it? Answering this is a tall order, and as stated above only deliberate experimentation can reliably reveal where the gaps and unexpected complications are.

In this context of warfighting capability, though, the area that is on the surface most concerning is battlespace awareness. How do we ensure that shipboard decision makers will be able to recognize adversary EM-cyber effects and fight through them to find, fix, and finish the forces that are delivering them and/or supported by them? And, as Jon Solomon termed it in his series on Cold War EW here last fall, how do we “condition crews psychologically and tactically for the possibility of deception?” Important technical improvements that can help with these problems are being fielded over the next few years with systems like the Surface Electronic Warfare Improvement Program (SEWIP) and Ship’s Signals Exploitation Equipment (SSEE) Increment F. However, it is unclear whether we are ready to fully absorb these capabilities into our tactical procedures, or more importantly, our basic warfighting mentality. Will the electronic warfare operator continue to be a minor cast member with predictable lines in training scenarios, or will he or she become more appropriately a central node of information and weapons employment? Will much of the ship’s best information warfare capabilities continue to be hidden behind physical and figurative walls in the ship’s cryptologic space? Aside from changes in mentality and practice, what technical changes to our training and data sharing systems should be made to help transition these previously peripheral components of the shipboard—and group-level—warfighting organization to their rightful position at the center?

Overall, to truly sharpen the warfighting edge of the Surface Force we must carefully study all aspects of our readiness and capability, particularly as they relate to the ways in which naval warfighting has probably changed since WWII, or at least since the Cold War. It is also essential, though, that we do not forget those features of warfare that are timeless, such as uncertainty and confusion in the moment, or the certainty that a committed adversary will challenge us in ways we do not expect. As we develop this new concept and the capabilities that go with it, we must carefully experiment to test assumptions about how they will work in practice and look for gaps or things we didn’t expect. To be truly lethal, we have to understand the fight we’re preparing for as best we can and be confident that we’ve readied ourselves as much as possible

LCDR Crooks is a Surface Warfare Officer. The views expressed herein are solely those of the author and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not reflect the official positions of the U.S. Navy.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

How Many Ships are Enough?

           Recent evidence would seem to indicate that both political parties would like to increase the physical number of ships. How many ships does the U.S. Navy need to fulfill its global requirements whilst remaining within reasonable budget limitations? Economist and McNamara “whiz kid” Dr. Alan Enthoven posed a general version of this question in his 1971 book with K Wayne Smith entitled How Much is Enough; a volume that provides much of the background behind Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara’s revolutionary changes at the Pentagon during the Kennedy and Johnson administrations. Dr. David S.C. Chiu and Kenneth J. Krieg suggests in the 2005 forward to Enthoven and Smith’s book that McNamara’s general assumptions were that the Secretary of the Defense, not the services, “should control the evaluation of military needs and should choose among alternatives for meeting those needs.”[1] Furthermore, “definition of the objective,” rather than “calculations of precise quantities” and “the most cost-effective means for achieving the objective” should govern all aspects of defense acquisition.[2] This system, the Planning, Programming and Budgeting System (PPBS) (now know as the Planning, Programming, Budgeting and Execution System PPBE), remains much as it was when conceived by Mr. McNamara and his associates in the early 1960’s despite frequent calls for its more substantive reform in the 2nd decade of the 21st century.

            Those advocating an expanded fleet must effectively manipulate the levers of this system so that its complex gears produce a larger, or perhaps more effective fleet as a final product. Past examples of fleet expansion offer a guide as to how this product could be achieved. What role do geography and current/future threats play in determining the appropriate size of the U.S. Navy? Finally, the current deployment posture of the U.S. Navy could be changed to make the present fleet seem larger. PPBE responds better to capabilities requests rather than specific numbers of ships. Those advocating a larger fleet ought to couch their requests in terms of capabilities they want to create or increase rather than suggest specific numbers of ships supportable by a given budget. 
1980's era US Warships

            The experience of the 600 ship navy, first conceived in the early 1970’s as one of a series of fleet strengths necessary to confront the rising Soviet Navy, represents one course of action for those interested in promoting a larger fleet. Then Chief of Naval Operations Admiral James Holloway authorized studies of 500 to 800 ship fleets and how well each would perform against a global Soviet threat. Holloway eventually focused on the 600 ship fleet as a good, intermediate goal that slightly expanded the current 5 year defense plan, and “met the very basic requirements, though without flexibility.[3]  The 600 ship force also had geographical, political, and carrier force structure roots. An initial survey of the naval requirements of the regional commanders in chief (CINC’s) in 1982 by members of the CNO’s staff suggested that 600 ships was approximately the right number of ships to meet their combined needs.  Future Navy Secretary John Lehman came to a similar conclusion when writing his 1978 book Aircraft Carriers, The Real Choices that 600 ships represented the right size force structure to support a 15 carrier fleet engaged in peacetime presence operations. Finally, the Republican Party had seized on the 600 ship figure as a useful and achievable goal in the 1980 Presidential election, and Lehman,  a skillful advocate of his service’s priorities, melded the concept of the 600 ship Navy with that of the emerging Maritime Strategy to form a marketable strategy and attendant, achievable force structure. Well supported by intelligence studies, the work of the CNO’s own personal think tank, the Strategic Studies Group (SSG), and frequently updated to reflect improvements, the Maritime Strategy and its attendant 600 ship goal were a remarkable success story and endured up to the beginning of the collapse of its Soviet opponent in1989. The combination of smart strategy and associated force structure supported by intelligence, analysis, and an aggressive public relations campaign by naval leadership (civilian and military), as exemplified by the 1980’s era Maritime Strategy, is an excellent course of action to increase the size of the fleet.
HMZS Achilles, 1930's era British cruiser

            Geography can also be effectively mobilized to support a larger fleet. Armies and Air Forces largely remain in garrison, or at a limited number of forward deployed sites during peacetime. Armies are governed by operational geography in individual areas of operation. Air Forces conduct global operations, but are also strongly tied to regional support of ground formations. Naval forces, by contrast, confront a global oceanic operating space where every potential battlespace is connected to others. A navy with global requirements must take into account the logistics required to support such a force over vast global distances and the forces needed to secure that supply chain. Great Britain’s Royal Navy (RN) made the policing of vast ocean spaces the centerpiece of its strategy for increasing its forces in the financially challenging and treaty constrained interwar period (1919-1939). The British required a significant force of cruisers (upwards of 60) for both fleet operations and defense of trade against surface raiders such as had been seen in the First World War. The RN consistently campaigned in support of this requirement in Parliament and was generally successful in obtaining support (within the limited available funds at that time), from both main political parties of that period (Conservative and Labour).[4]
U.S. Warships based in Yokosuka, Japan

            Not all solutions suggest a physically larger force. The present deployment pattern of U.S. Navy warships, which dates from 1948, could be altered so that fewer warships based overseas at higher standards of readiness might better serve the nation’s global interest than rotating deployments from the United States. Congressional Budget Office (CBO) naval analyst Dr. Eric Labs suggests such a solution in a 2015 paper entitled “Preserving the Navy’s Forward Presence with a Smaller Fleet”. Labs asserts that longer deployments, basing more ships overseas and rotating multiple crews on one ship to extend deployments might allow the U.S. to reduce the overall size of the fleet whilst maintaining the same forward presence. Labs admits that some aspects of this plan could cause additional costs, notably that longer deployments mean shorter ship service lives, and additional costs in replacement force structure. A May 2015 General Accounting Office (GAO) report on Naval Force Structure states that equipment casualty reports (CASREP’s) on naval vessels based overseas have “doubled in the last five years and that the material condition of these ships has decreased slightly faster than their U.S. homeported counterparts.”[5] Forward deployed U.S. warships are at sea more often and tend to have less dedicated maintenance time than do their U.S. counterparts, which may explain some of the GAO findings. Both reports, however, suggest that a smaller force could be maintained and meet the same present requirements despite additional costs in maintenance and force renewal. Additional requirements in different geographic areas could stress a more forward deployed force. Each of these examples eventually supported specific capabilities that were met by a designated number of ships, rather than the ship count in the absence of an objective. Basing such requirements on specific threats, known geographic features or obstacles, or on operations and/or maintenance requirements represent a firm foundation on which to request more physical units. A larger fleet would, however, mitigate many concerns regarding deployability, maintenance of equipment and crew morale. CNO Admiral Frank Kelso said as much in 1991 when he argued in support for a larger naval component for the post Cold War “Base Force” created by then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff General Colin Powell.[6] The Navy requirement in 1991 of a 450 ship fleet could be justified in the present, given the navy’s expanded roles and missions since the end of the Cold War. 

Advocates of a larger fleet need more than comparisons to the naval forces of 1912, or 1939 to justify the need for an expanded United States Navy. The example of the 600 ship navy of the 1980s suggests that a sound strategy, supported by accurate intelligence and threat assessments, and combined with an aggressive public relations campaign can result in the attainment of a force structure that was not thought possible in the proceeding decade. The Royal Navy’s campaign for its 60 cruiser force in the interwar period shows that geography and associated national interests in preserving control of specific maritime spaces are powerful tools in influencing legislative support. Finally, other solutions such as status quo, or smaller fleet, operating more ships forward at higher conditions of readiness can sometimes substitute for a larger force, albeit with some additional force replacement costs. This new fleet size or concept must speak in terms of what capabilities the new force or deployment structure will offer in support of specific requirements in order to pass muster within PPBE. Requirements and capabilities are the lingua franca of both DoD and Congress. Larger numbers alone will not pass muster.

[1] Alain Enthoven and K Wayne Smith, How Much is Enough; Shaping the Defense Program; 1961-1969, Santa Monica, CA, RAND Corporation re-published volume, 2005, p. ix.
[2] Ibid, p. xi.
[3] John Hattendorf, The Evolution of the U.S. Navy’s Maritime Strategy, 1977-1986, Newport, RI, The Naval War College Press, The Newport Papers Series, 2003, pp. 10- 12.
[4] Christopher Bell, The Royal Navy, Seapower and Strategy Between the Wars, Stanford, CA, Stanford University Press, 2000, pp 21, 22.
[5] United States Government, “Navy Force Structure: Sustainable Plan and Comprehensive Assessment Needed to Mitigate Long Term Risks to Ships Assigned to Overseas Homeports”, Washington D.C., U.S. Government Accounting Office, Report to Congressional Committees, GAO 15-329,  May 2015, p. i.
[6] Frank Kelso and Paul Stillwell, The Reminiscences of Admiral Frank B. Kelso II, U.S. Navy (Retired), Annapolis, Md, United States Naval Institute Press, 2009, pp. 668-670.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Swarms for Defense at Sea

U.S. Navy automated units testing

The specter of the “Killer Robot” seems to be the first thought in the minds of many when the potential of automated military systems is discussed. Whether today’s terrorist targeting drone aircraft, the murderous machines of science fiction, or the insect-like fearsome package-deliverers of the advertising world, the era of unmanned combat terrifies many in the general public. Less explored, however, are the defensive concepts for the employment of swarm technology. Many such concepts could be put to use in naval warfare for scouting at sea, the defense of warships, the management of battle damage, and treatment of wounded sailors. Emerging swarm technology in all of these areas could make defense at sea less costly and more efficient, save damaged ships, and especially the lives of highly trained 21st century sailors.
DASH (Gyrodyne Inc)
            The U.S. Navy has already made significant investment in automated scouting in the form of air and surface drones. The Navy pioneered such a mission with the Drone Antisubmarine Helicopter (DASH) in the mid 1960’s in order to arm small combatants with a rotary wing antisubmarine warfare capability.[1] While DASH was not an overall success, it paved the way for future development of rotary wing drone aircraft including the present Fire Scout. Similarly the Navy has experimented with a number of unmanned surface vehicles for both scouting and combat. In August 2014, a formation of such ships was demonstrated in a James River exercise.[2] These platforms were organized as an autonomous swarm to interrogate and potentially attack surface-based opponents. They might resemble the Defense Advanced Research Projects Administration (DARPA) Antisubmarine Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV).[3] Armed with a variety of submarine, surface, and anti-air/missile payloads connected to battle force networks, such units could form a protective, unmanned ring around conventional warships.
            Individual ships could also benefit from very small swarming units for self defense and repair of battle damage. The size of swarm-capable drone vehicles continues to decrease while still supporting substantial computing capability. Very small swarming vehicles may eventually cover parts of a ship’s external structure and be utilized for a variety of missile defense tasks. They could be supported from a number of external points in a fashion similar to the distribution of counter-measure wash down nozzles. Once launched from these nodes, small, reusable drone units might use swarm tactics to create a re-deployable chaff cloud, drop flares, and eventually create defensive barriers against some cruise missiles. A swarm-based cruise missile defense deployed by the host ship on a known threat bearing might offer the possibility of engaging cruise missile “leakers” that the ship’s traditional or future directed energy defenses fail to kill.
            Ships might also benefit from internal swarms for conducting firefighting and other damage control efforts. A drone swarm released into a damaged compartment aboard a ship can quickly map the scene, identify personnel casualties to be evacuated, and prioritize damage much faster than a human investigator.[4] Google’sProject Tango may be the first step in the creation of such a swarm unit.[5] Such small swarm units might be a better choice for shipboard damage control than larger, humanoid firefighters currently under development.[6] While one robot firefighter might be disabled by follow-on battle damage and create a significant gap in unmanned capability, a swarm of robots might be continuously replaced if degraded. Other swarm units might deploy remote damage control monitoring sensors, firefighting agents, and even swarm together to create a patch, or secure a watertight door or hatch.
            The large crews of past warships were present to not only operate installed weapons and propulsion systems but also to conduct damage control. The ongoing reduction of shipboard personnel makes this crew mission more difficult to practice. Reduction in crew size must be accompanied by increases in automated damage control measures. The drone swarm represents a pragmatic solution to this problem in that one drone frame could support multiple, modular damage control payloads. Such a drone force on a ship with a small crew might help that vessel recover from damage faster than reliance on a small crew alone would allow.
Artist Conception of ACTUV
            None of these advances in swarm technology are immediately available, and achieving them will require significant investment. The problems they would address, however, will only grow more challenging over time. Present budgets will support fewer manned warships than in the past.[7] Adopting some variant of ACTUV in large numbers might allow the U.S. Navy to move some of its offensive and defensive capabilities to battle force unmanned ships and increase the overall size and combat power of the surface force. The cruise and ballistic missile threats continue to increase. Development of a potential swarm “shield” over manned surface ships may improve their survivability against missile attack. Finally, warship crew size is unlikely to increase. The reduction in shipboard personnel demands an increase in flexible, automated damage control capabilities to replace those manual capabilities lost with shrinking crews. Defensive swarm applications such as these should be explored to improve survivability of both ships and the talented and expensive personnel who man them now and in the future.


Tuesday, August 4, 2015 Takes On Fleet Size

The Tampa Bay Times’ site undertook an inquiry recently (“Anatomy of a talking point: the smallest Navy since 1917”, Monday, August 3, 2015) into the truth of a statement made by GOP Presidential Candidate Lindsey Graham in June, when he said “"I'm going to rebuild our military.  We're on a course to have…the smallest Navy since 1915."  Author and site Deputy Editor Louis Jacobson pointed out that this is the second presidential campaign cycle in which references to the Navy’s fleet size have been made in comparison to its size before World War I. 

Jacobson is careful to note that as a strict exercise in counting, Senator Graham—and others who have lately made this claim—are correct.  In 1916, the Navy had 245 ships and today, the fleet size stands at 273.  Where the piece takes issue with Graham’s claim is not in its numeracy, but in its relevance.  Jacobson writes, “The types of ships active in both years, such as cruisers and destroyers, are outfitted today with far more advanced technology than during World War I. More importantly, the U.S. Navy has 11 aircraft carriers (plus the jets to launch from them), 31 amphibious ships, 14 submarines capable of launching nuclear ballistic missiles and four specialized submarines for launching cruise missiles -- all categories of vessels that didn't even exist in 1916. And all are more effective at projecting seapower than their forebears.”   Jacobson here echoes the thoughts of others, including President Obama, whose 2012 debate riposte to Mitt Romney attempted to make the point that because of the increased capability of today’s ships, ship counts have become obsolete as a measure of naval power.  This view of course, undercuts the relevance of Graham’s claim.

The problem though, is that Jacobson, the experts he cites, and even the President simply get it wrong when they minimize the impact of fleet size and its connection to a broader understanding of seapower.  Here specifically, are four ways this piece gets it wrong.

1.  The Navy is not just sized and equipped to fight wars, but also to prevent them.  The networks, systems, and precision weapons that give today’s fleet its awesome combat power have their greatest impact when the shooting starts.  No navy on Earth can (yet) challenge our dominance, and few targets ashore are out of reach of Navy ordnance.   But navies, and our Navy in particular, must do more than fight wars.  Ours must sustain the peace and protect our nation’s prosperity by guaranteeing the freedom of the seas.  This it does not do with its precision weapons and its networks, but with its presence, grey Navy hulls flying the American flag.  And as amazing as the technology on those ships has become, we have yet to figure out how to make them appear in two places at once.  Given that the geography of the Earth has changed little since 1916, while the number of and distance to our economic and security interests have increased significantly, such blithe dismissal of fleet size is unwise. 

2.  Adversary capabilities have also improved over 100 years.  Today’s fleet is too small to meet the security requirements assigned to the Navy (which is why the Secretary of the Navy is trying to increase the fleet to 308 ships); this condition is doubly dangerous, as there is little or no thought given to wartime attrition in fleet size planning.  High end adversaries are fielding capabilities that in some cases, outstrip those we field.  In such a war, ships will be hit and taken out of action.  Modern, sophisticated warships cannot be built nearly as quickly as they could in 1916, and the number of shipyards capable of doing so is at an historical low.  Not only is the fleet too small to meet its peacetime commitments, it is unprepared to take losses in war time.  

3.  Sequestration is not the only thing jeopardizing the 308 ship goal.  Even if there were no sequestration, the Navy would be unlikely to meet its goal of 308 ships, as its own 30 Year Shipbuilding Plan acknowledges dramatic funding shortfalls across the entire plan if historical levels of shipbuilding resources are applied.  The 2015 version of the plan (released in 2014) put it bluntly, stating that the plan “requires funding at an unsustainable level, particularly between FY25 and FY34.”  The annual shortfalls within the 30 year plan average between $4B-$6B, without accounting for a single dollar of sequestration. 

4.  The piece poses the wrong concluding question.  Turning to Cameron University military historian Dr. Lance Janda for its conclusion who states that fans of the talking point will ultimately have to answer this question: "If you could choose, would you go to war with the Navy we have now -- at 288 ships -- or would you rather have the Navy of World War II, which had well over 1,000?"  While such a question might provide for good conversation, it offers little insight into the important questions of the degree to which our national strategy is well-served by the size of the fleet.  A better, more appropriate question is, “Is the Navy adequately sized for the functions our national security and prosperity demand of it?” 

Sadly, is unlikely to shed any light on this question.  

Sunday, August 2, 2015

Iran's Escalating Shadow Wars

Weapons seized at sea 15 July. (Photo Credit - Gulf Daily News Online)
Beyond a hint of teargas in the air around Juffair and some additional off-limits areas for Sailors, the February 2011 Pearl Roundabout uprisings weren't terribly disruptive to the U.S. Navy's FIFTH Fleet, headquartered in Manama, Bahrain. However, recent indications that Iran has increased support to Bahraini Shia resistance elements show potential to put U.S. and U.K naval presence in the Kingdom at risk. Last week, a bombing outside a girls school near the predominantly Shia village of Sitra killed two policemen and wounded six other people.

Prior to this bombing, several likely related weapons seizures occurred:
  • 28 December 2013 - A shipment containing 38 blocks of C4 explosives and grenades was interdicted at sea. Additional material was found in a warehouse Al Qurayyah the next day. 
  • 15 March 2015 - Two Bahraini men were detained by Saudi Arabia for smuggling high explosives across the Gulf causeway from Bahrain, ostensibly for employment in the KSA. 
  • 6 June 2015 - IED components including C4, commercial detonators, advanced circuitry, chemicals, and mobile phones were seized from a warehouse near Manama. 
  • 15 July 2015 - Bahrain's coast guard seized an inbound vessel that had just linked up with another vessel outside of territorial waters containing 44 kg of C4, eight Kalashnikov assault rifles, 32 Kalashnikov magazines, ammunition, and detonators. One of the two suspects detained onboard admitted to receiving firearms and IED manufacturing training in Iran in August 2013 at an Iranian Revolutionary Guards' camp.
Up until recently, insurgent explosive devices in Bahrain consisted of smallish homemade black powder pipe bombs sometimes augmented with gas cylinders or gasoline containers.  The introduction of C4 high explosives and numerous recent smuggling actions represent an escalation in Iranian lethal aid to Shia resistance elements. Bahrain's interior ministry reported that there were similarities between the explosives and components seized in the Gulf with those used by Kata’ib Hezbollah, an Iranian surrogate paramilitary group active in Iraq (which by the way, was responsible for the deaths of a number of American servicemembers during the height of the Iraq War).
Proxy warfare is Iran's favored method of expanding its influence across the Middle East. Shia militias in Lebanon, Yemen, Iraq, and Syria have benefited from lethal and non-lethal support generally smuggled in by the IRGC via air or ocean transport. Iran's primary unconventional warfare arm is the IRGC-Quds Force, very roughly equivalent to U.S. Army Special Forces.

As I discussed  here in 2013 and as evidenced in some of the seizures above, Iran continues to support its armed surrogates via the sea. As sanctions against Treasury Department designated terrorist entities are lifted, the nuclear deal with Iran will inevitably increase this nefarious activity. Even the National Security Advisor has admitted as much: “We should expect that some portion of that money would go to the Iranian military and could potentially be used for the kinds of bad behavior that we’ve seen in the region up until now,” Susan Rice said during a recent CNN interview of the up to $150 billion that will flow into regime coffers.

Specifically, the Vienna agreement lifts sanctions on a number of suspect organizations including Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines (IRISL) and South Shipping Line Iran, along with dozens of other global transportation entities, many of which are probably front companies for IRGC smuggling activities.  Regardless of any details contained in the agreement, it is very unlikely that the IRGC-QF will change its bellicose behavior unless the Ayatollah's regime itself changes.

Make no mistake, many of the human rights grievances expressed by Bahrain's Shia population leading up to the "14 February Revolution" of 2011 were legitimate, and deserve attention by Bahrain's Sunni rulers. But Iran's meddling in the conflict is troublesome, and increases the likelihood of sectarian violence spilling over to the American footprint in Bahrain. Given these developments, it would be wise if the US enhanced counter-UW efforts in the region. Intelligence sharing and interagency cooperation are key to disrupting the flow of lethal aid on the sea, air, and land.

The opinions and views expressed in this post are those of the author alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense, the US Navy, or any other agency.

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