This report aims to look at the broad issue of maritime security in international waters, and its implications for United States policy. The topics addressed include conventional military threats, pirates and terrorist groups, as well as hard-to-spot dangers that may involve only a handful of hostile individuals. To address such challenges effectively, the U.S. must collaborate internally and externally, to make the most of available personnel and technology.
Within the U.S., the Pentagon, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation and the State Department all have a stake in day-to-day maritime issues. The U.S. Navy and the Coast Guard have the most obvious missions, but the Marines, the Air Force and civilian agencies also have significant roles to play. The Navy is a natural lead agency, because of its maritime focus and big budget. However, to work effectively it needs to share technology and information with other services, while taking advantage of their skills and expertise.
Internationally, the U.S. faces an even bigger set of challenges. Maritime security requires working with allies, partner nations and also less friendly countries. All established nations have a stake in maintaining peace at sea, to keep the global economy healthy. They depend on the sea for trade goods and also for key resources like oil and natural gas. Chokepoints like Asia’s Strait of Malacca, Egypt’s Suez Canal, and the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz are crucial zones where any disruption would have wide-ranging consequences. To keep track of developments in these regions, and to prepare for any number of contingencies, the U.S. needs to work constantly on building diplomatic and operational ties to other seafaring nations.
New technology can help. Better communications networks make it easier to share information across long distances, allowing a less centralized approach to operations. But to make this work, U.S. leaders will need to make sure they have thought through where they will relax their top-down command system, and in what areas they plan to maintain it. U.S. officials also need to build alliances long before they must face stressing threats. Crews need to be able to trust each other in the field. This requires a network of individual relationships built through repeated interaction — otherwise, even if policies call for a “joint” response, crews may choose to work on their own as a practical matter.
Over the coming years, the U.S. will have a number of new opportunities to expand its regional ties and improve cooperation. According to Adm. Robert Willard, commander of U.S. Pacific Fleet, the 2008 Rim of the Pacific exercise will include Russia as a participant, a historic first for U.S.-Russian relations. This cooperation may even extend to a U.S.-led secure communications network that is becoming a widely used standard for international collaboration. This system, known as CENTRIXS, uses commercially available computers and radios, in combination with U.S. encryption equipment, to provide secure communications channels for voice, text and image data. It’s an example of the type of affordable, accessible technology that will be essential for the U.S. and its allies to work together effectively as they patrol the seas.
The initial draft of this report was written by Rebecca Christie. Members of the Naval Strike Forum had an opportunity to review and modify the final report.
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