Saturday, 5 July 2014

Maritime partnerships and their pitfalls

Many third world countries with a shoreline are facing widespread problems such as smuggling, human trafficking and other illegal activities that they cannot solve themselves. These countries are looking at long-standing maritime powers to come to their aid. In such cases a maritime partnership between a developing navy and a bigger navy is created in which the long-standing maritime power trains and equips the developing navy until it is ready to operate independently.
Maritime partnerships are very delicate operations, not for a developing navy, but for the established navy that comes to its aid. The ultimate goal is to allow the developing navy to work independently and to prepare it for that task. To successfully achieve this goal a very delicate path has to be walked as will be explained in this next analysis.

US 6th Fleet trains African sailors in boarding operations as
part of the African Maritime Law Enforcement Program

The first step in maritime partnerships is to determine what burden of the tasks both players are going to carry. It is tempting for a more developed (i.e. stronger) navy to perform most of the tasks. After all, they are better trained and equipped then the developing (i.e. weaker) navy. While this indeed might be a solution it will be a short term one. After the partnership is ended the weaker navy has to take over but without its own training or re-equipment it will not be able to maintain the new status quo. And this will be the case in every maritime task a weaker navy seeks a stronger partner for, whether it be patrolling against smugglers, performing amphibious landings, demining, etc.

The stronger navy acts as a secondary and not as a primary player. After all, the end goal is to make the weaker navy more capable so it can handle its own problems in the future. As such, the first thing that has to be done is to make a realistic assessment of the capabilities of the weaker navy and identify why it is not capable of overcoming its own problems. This can range from many reasons such as a lack of training, a lack of equipment or even the wrong equipment, a bad communication between services, etc. Only if the real problems and the shortcomings are found, then a plan for aiding the weaker navy can be drafted.

Most often the problems are related to training and this can easily be addressed by the creation of mutual training programs and exercises. It is important to notice that certain tasks or situations are so specific that they require a different approach than the stronger navy is used to. Hence it is important for the stronger navy to find out why the weaker navy does certain tasks the way it does.

Another pitfall is re-equipment of the weaker navy. Once again, the stronger navy needs to take into account that a weaker partner doesn’t have the budget to buy high tech equipment. The most valuable things a weaker navy can gain would be durable equipment that is both cheap and easy to maintain. Qualitative outboard engines for smaller patrol crafts and zodiacs, navigational equipment, reliable charts, night vision equipment, etc. This is just a small portion of the various tools that can make a big difference in weaker navies. The main lesson for equipment is as stated before, durable equipment that is both cheap and easy to maintain.

Public relations are also a very important factor, especially when a weaker navy asks for help to combat illegal activities such as smuggling or piracy. The need to get close to the people and use them for information (human intelligence or HUMINT) is valuable. This can only be done once a weaker navy can convince its population that it is an effective force capable of dealing with the problem. A stronger navy that takes a lead role will get all the publicity and eclipse the efforts of the weaker navy to improve itself. In the end this sends two signals. First that the weaker navy still can’t handle the problem and second that once the stronger navy leaves things revert to the old status quo.

A maritime partnership between a weaker, developing navy and a stronger navy is a preferred action by third world countries to strengthen their naval forces to effectively combat the threats they are facing. For the stronger navy that is been called upon to help there are several pitfalls that it has to be aware of.
-          Assuming a secondary role
-          A realistic assessment of the weaker navy’s capabilities
-          Training programs tailor made to the specific situation
-          Delivery of durable equipment that is cheap and easy to maintain.

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