IMSE 2022 RIMPAC Commanding Officers Panel
Following the conclusion of this lively and informative event, many who have participated in previous RIMPAC and similar exercises commented on what a refreshing event this was. More than one observer was overheard to say – “these Commanding Officers clearly represent the ‘best of the best’”. The discussion reflected both the unique capabilities of each of the ships, the experience of the crews and logistical requirements for ships operating far from homeport. In general, data transfer and communication were not identified as limiting issues. They talked of how ships from different countries and different types, came together to solve problems, and create or invent solutions to maintain task force capabilities. This event may be remembered as one of the highlights of IMSE 2022.
Wrapping up Day 1’s sessions was Vice Admiral Andy Tiongson, US Coast Guard commander of the Pacific Area. Stating that this is the “era of the coast guards,” he discussed how the Coast Guard collaborates with many of the smaller Indo-Pacific nations in enforcing laws against illegal activities, such as unreported fishing, smuggling, piracy, and forced labor, and in promoting professional behavior at sea. He discussed humanitarian assistance with the example of how the Coast Guard delivered water to drought-stricken Kiribati. He also noted how the Coast Guard through forensic analyses help countries prosecute illegal fishers and how Coast Guard personnel sail on foreign naval and coast guard ships under its ship rider program.
Day 2 of IMSE 2022 focused on solutions to the problems and challenges identified previously. These included political, diplomatic, and technology solutions.
US Navy International Programs. The day began with a breakfast keynote address by Rear Admiral Tony Rossi, USN, director of the US Navy’s International Programs Office in Washington, DC. He discussed some of the problems identified related to data sharing and communications, including Links 16 and 22 and other communications channels. He cited the need for common standards, language, and techniques to attain a common operating picture for naval commanders. He also noted that there are not enough sensors to provide comprehensive and timely coverage of the expansive Indo-Pacific maritime area. Rear Admiral Rossi explained the complexity of the path he must follow to find solutions for other nations once shortfalls are identified. Potential solutions must satisfy a spectrum of US Government agencies and laws before action can be completed. This includes technology security and foreign disclosure restrictions as well as cyber security. It is a lengthy process, but one that can fill major gaps in coalition capabilities for information sharing. IMSE 2022 provided an opportunity to make introductions and build relationships between Indo-Pacific countries and US maritime agencies in search of future solutions.
A Free and Open Pacific. The first panel discussion of the day on security and economic benefits of a free and open Pacific was moderated by Dr. David Santoro, president of the Pacific Forum. Panel members included deputy assistant minister for foreign policy Kazuya Endo of Japan, Consul General Seok-in Hong of the Republic of Korea, and Consul General Mike Ketchen of New Zealand. The moderator noted that the concept of a free and open Indo-Pacific originated with Japan. Mr. Ketchen discussed the challenges faced by many Indo-Pacific nations, including fragile economies, poor governance, the impact of Covid, and the growing geopolitical competition promoted by the Peoples Republic of China. He spoke of the need for freedom of navigation at sea and for aviation. Climate change is the greatest longer-term threat to many of the island nations, which is why New Zealand is supporting relevant investments for mitigation. He also opined that the Russian invasion of Ukraine adversely impacts on the Indo-Pacific rules-based order. Minister Endo recalled that former Japanese prime minister Abe first raised the concept of the Indo-Pacific in an address to the Indian parliament in 2007. Mr. Endo spoke of Japan’s investments in the Pacific, South Asia and Africa related to infrastructure improvements and human resource development. He noted the disruptions to the peaceful development of relations, especially Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the situation in Myammar, Covid impacts and related supply chain issues, and the Peoples Republic of China’s claims to the South China Sea and other islands. Consul general Seok-in Hong emphasized how economic viability depends on a stable security environment. The Taiwan Strait dispute is linked to the security of the Korean peninsula. He noted that China retaliated economically against South Korea when it installed anti-ballistic missiles in reaction to the nuclear threat from North Korea. All panel members expressed the opinion that American presence in the area is very important. One observation was that increased threats from North Korea would result in closer South Korea – Japan – US cooperation.
The Quad Dialogue. With the recent agreement between India, Australia, Japan, and the United States, known as the Quad, members of the next panel addressed the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue and the Indo-Pacific Partnership for Maritime Domain Awareness Initiative (IPMDA). Moderated by East-West Center vice president Dr. Satu Limaye remotely from Washington, DC, panel members included Admiral Karambir Singh, former chief of the Indian Navy, who addressed IMSE remotely via pre-recorded video; deputy assistant minister for foreign policy Kazuya Endo of Japan; Ms Lori Abele, principal director for South and Southeast Asia in the Office of the US Secretary of Defense, also participating from Washington, DC; and Mr. Matan Peled of Windward AI.
Admiral Singh commented that the Quad grew out of the common interests and India’s bilateral relationships with Japan, Australia and the US. He stated that the Quad contained many security aspects, including economic commitments, cyber security partnership, satellite development, and critical next generation scientific, technology and engineering efforts. One of the early focus points for the Quad is freedom of navigation. Admiral Singh spoke of the need to improve naval exercises leading to integration of allied capabilities. Citing the importance of trust underlying the initiative he described the Quad as an “alignment of states” rather than an alliance.
Minister Endo told IMSE that the Quad is aimed at regional prosperity with many initiatives in the realms of economics, science, technology, human resources, and maritime domain awareness. Each member of the Quad has found strategic advantages to the initiative. The Quad he emphasized is not aimed at countermeasures against others. He highlighted space cooperation for civil remote sensing and data sharing. This point was reinforced by Lori Abele, who said the US Department of Defense is interested in obtaining a faster and more accurate picture of maritime activities. She cited the problems association with illegal fishing, which costs Indo-Pacific nations an estimated $23 billion annually. She noted how the US Navy is integrating commercial satellite data into exercises to demonstrate their value.
Matan Peled focused on illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing and stated that most do not understand its impacts. He said that there are 3,000 fishing vessels in the Indo-Pacific, one-third of which fish in prohibited waters without permission. Fifty percent under report what they have caught. Forty percent of the vessels never visit port, off-loading their catch and replenishing at sea. Slavery and smuggling of illicit goods, including drugs, is closely tied to the illegal fishing fleets. Representing a commercial firm that integrates disparate data to describe and understand such illegal at sea activities, Mr. Peled emphasized the importance of identifying the data that we most care about, scrutinizing its validity, and specifying the locations of interest. This helps identify “fish to plate” and where and when illegal activities enter the marketplace. The panel identified the need for rapid procurement of new capabilities, but noted also that new technologies have a learning curve.
At lunch Rear Admiral Sang Min An, Republic of Korea Navy, who commanded during RIMPAC CTF 176, which included the Essex Strike Group consisting of three allied surface ships, a Korean Navy submarine, and marines from the US, Australia, and Korea, and forces from eleven nations, recalled his first RIMPAC experience as an ensign in 1990. He gave a perspective of what it was like to command an international task force. His remarks complemented those by other senior officers in the conference.
Commercial Sources and Technologies. A goal of IMSE is to identify issues, particularly those of the smaller nations seeking to protect their EEZs and economies from illegal fishing and commerce, and to seek ideas for possible solutions from industry that are affordable and effective. The first afternoon panel addressed commercial sources and technologies for maritime domain awareness data. Panel members included Mr. Matan Peled of Windward AI; Colonel Jamie McAden, US Army (Ret.) of HawkEye360; and Captain Glen Sears, USN (Ret.) of Lockheed Martin, moderated by Brent Sadler, Captain, USN (Ret.), of the Heritage Foundation.
Captain Sears emphasized the necessity of having an open architecture and common standards to foster information exchange among navies. He noted the emergence of crewed and un-crewed (i.e., autonomous) systems. Mr. Peled challenged the audience to focus on requirements – in an environment overloaded with data, what are we trying to solve? He described his company, Windward AI, as focused on understanding the marine ecosystem utilizing the plethora of available data and employing artificial intelligence to drive insights and predictions. Colonel McAden described HawkEye360’s satellite constellation that collects and maps radio frequency data from VHF through S- and X-bands emitted from ships at sea. He also mentioned the company is doing the same over Ukraine. Its unclassified data is used to cue other sensors, such as electro-optical and synthetic aperture radar imagers and law enforcement.
The Future of Information Sharing. The final panel addressed the future of effective information sharing among like-minded nations, moderated by IMSE Chairman, Larry Osborn, Captain, USN (Ret.). Panel members were Dr. David Santoro of Pacific Forum, Dr. Satu Limaye of the East-West Center, and Rear Admiral Pete Gumataotao, USN (Ret.), director of the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. The panelists noted that cooperation requires conversation about common interests. But people do not automatically open up unless they have a common objective. Developing trust takes continuous effort and requires listening to others. It can require a long time and be frustrating. And it can fail, as did US efforts to engage the Peoples Republic of China from 2004 to 2019. One panelist observed that the US is often too focused on measures of effectiveness and return on investment. But as Dr. Santoro opined, trust leads to transparency that enables cooperation.
Wrap up. IMSE 2022 concluded with a wrap-up discussion with Rear Admiral Pete Gumataotao, Dr. Santoro, Dr. Limaye, and Captain Osborn. Admiral Gumataotao raised the issue of climate change, which had been touched on several times in the conference. He noted that it was an “all hands on deck” issue involving economic, government, natural resources, and technology solutions. He again noted, as did Admiral Paparo, that 60% of the world’s gross domestic products exist in the Indo-Pacific region. Dr. Limaye, noted the Pacific Island Regional Climate Assessment and the necessity of putting climate change at the forefront of Indo-Pacific security discussions.
Proceedings prepared by Peter C. Oleson, IMSE executive committee.