In Brief: Singapore’s Formidable class frigates

N.R. Jenzen-Jones
The Republic of Singapore frigate RSS Formidable (68) during a formation exercise for RIMPAC 2012.

Singapore’s Formidable class frigates are considered amongst the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. Built around a substantially modified version of the French La Fayette class, they feature an advanced stealth design incorporating a range of Radar Cross-Section (RCS) reduction features. The inclined planes of the hull and superstructures, concealment of typical ship’s equipment, low profile housings for armaments, and enclosed sensor mast are chief amongst these. The Formidable class armament includes: an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid naval gun, 8x RGM-84C Harpoon SSMs, and 4x 8-cell Sylver A50 VLS containing a mixture of Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. The ships are also capable of firing EuroTorp A224/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and carry a Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopter with ASW equipment (they formerly operated Eurocopter AS-332M Super Pumas).

Continue reading

Photo of the day: Canada in the Asian Century


An excellent shot from RIMPAC 2012. Soldiers from Company A, 2nd Battalion, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, move to clear a house during a Military Operations on Urban Terrain exercise at Marine Corps Training Area Bellows.

These soldiers form part of the 1,400 person Canadian contingent at this year’s Rim of Pacific (RIMPAC) exercise. Canada has participated in the biennial exercise before, but this year some commentators note a few changes: this is the largest-ever contribution, and Canadians have for the first time occupied senior leadership positions within the exercise.

In their opinion, Canada’s involvement in RIMPAC parallels with increasing interest in the Asia Pacific. Others suggests greater responsibility is the product of good leadership shown in Afghanistan, Libya and Haiti.

Not knowing much about Canada and its interests in Asia, I found this Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada 2012 National Opinion Poll on Canadians’ views on Asia. With 67% of Canadians believing that in a decade the influence of China will surpass that of the US but 66% believing that China’s growing military power is a threat to the region, it’s no surprise the country is more engaged with the Asia Pacific.

For a great infographic summarising the results of the poll, click here (PDF).

Image courtesy of Flickr user PACOM.

US MARSEC Capability Development Programs in West Africa: Current Status and Future Prospects

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones &  LT Chad R. Hutchins, USN

This piece originally appeared at Information Dissemination.  

USS NICHOLAS (FFG-47) Visit, Board, Search, and Seizure (VBSS) team members train Kenyan naval personnel on proper apprehension techniques while in port Mombasa, Kenya during Africa Partnership Station – East 2010.

West Africa[1] today is plagued by a variety of serious maritime security (MARSEC) concerns. Illegal, Unreported, and Unregulated (IUU) fishing, trafficking of persons, arms, and drugs, oil bunkering, illegal migration, and piracy have contributed to a maritime environment characterized by crime and corruption. The costs of these illegal activities are significant; the cost of illegal fishing alone is over $1 billion US Dollars annually, and an estimated 600,000 people are trafficked illegally each year[2]. Pirate attacks targeting oil product vessels in West Africa are occurring with increasing regularity, and are becoming increasingly violent. Like much of the rest of Africa, the nations of West Africa have traditionally held a land-centric view of security. National navies, as well as other maritime entities such as coast guards and fisheries patrols, have never been in the vanguard of training or financial investment. Despite this, recent years have seen a renewed focus on maritime security in West Africa, driven by concerns of piracy, threats to oil production, and international programs of assistance. Many nations and organizations have strategic interests in building strong MARSEC partnerships with West African nations, most in the hopes of protecting or establishing maritime enterprise relationships. The United States Department of Defense (DoD) Strategic Doctrine for 2012, Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense, discusses the importance of partnerships around the world, including those in Africa. This document sets forth a goal to “become the security partner of choice” in nations of interest, and advocates an “innovative, low-cost, and small-footprint approach”, with an emphasis on exercises, rotational presence, and advisory capabilities.

Continue reading

Indonesia: great power on our doorstep?

Two nights ago at the ANU, Professor Hugh White delivered a solid speech that lucidly and methodically explained why we, Australia, should be considering Indonesia with more care.

Projected to be the world’s fourth largest economy in a matter of decades and increasing in clout as a regional power, if not great power, Indonesia will be a force to reckon with, according to White. As such, many Australians will be forced to overturn their assumptions about Indonesia as a poor and weak country. White implored the audience to consider ways of redefining the bilateral relationship with Indonesia beyond third order issues like drug smuggling, people trafficking, border protection, and counter terrorism. Pointing to further evidence that the relationship was not as robust as Government would have us believe, White pointed to “fault lines” in the relationship caused by Australia’s involvement in East Timor’s independence which, for some time, severed diplomatic relations completely.

Against the backdrop of a shift in the strategic balance in Asia, and as Australia aligns itself towards the so-called “Asian Century”, White invited us to consider whether Indonesia would be an asset or an ally. In his view, Indonesia holds great potential to shield Australia from the threat of major powers in the region, if we get our bilateral relationship right. If we do, then we may start to think about the kinds of Defence capability that would complement the armed forces of Indonesia so that both countries could work towards a kind of “forward defence”.  White wrapped up his speech with five points to improve the relationship: 1) improve DFAT political reporting, 2) focus less on third order issues and more on China, 3) de-emphasise the role of aid in relating to Indonesia, 4) abolish travel advisories (as negative ones have tended to upset Indonesia), and 5) increase the importance of the bilateral relationship in Australian politics.

There are, however, a few extra elements in relation to Australia-Indonesia ties White might have explored in his speech (and I’m sure he would have, given more time), and I would like to take up three of his points to develop these further.

Continue reading

What Wibowo means for Australia

Natalie Sambhi is an ANU Hedley Bull Scholar graduate and co-editor of Security Scholar.

Greta Nabbs-Keller, in her 7 July post  on the promotion of Lieutenant General Pramono Edhie Wibowo to Army Chief of Staff, is right to highlight the tenacity of Indonesia’s martial roots in its present-day democratic setting. However, this and other recent posts on Indonesia’s military (TNI) miss the implications of such developments for Australia. In the case of Wibowo, there are three questions for Australia.

First, what does Wibowo’s immediate promotion mean? Greta does not mention that Wibowo is the former head of the Indonesian Army Special Forces (Kopassus). The good relationship enjoyed between Australian special forces units (particularly the Special Air Service Regiment) and Kopassus is indicative of strong ADF-TNI cooperation. Security cooperation has, after all, been a significant and enduring part of Australian engagement with Indonesia, and these links have served us well, particularly in times of diplomatic strain.

Second, to what extent will Wibowo’s promotion affect military ties with other partners? Indonesia has stepped up its cooperation with Chinese and US special forces. Exercise Sharp Knife, a joint anti-terrorism exercise held between Kopassus and Chinese special forces in early June, marked a step towards thawing military relations between the two countries. The US lifted its ban on engaging with Kopassus in June of last year. Since then, the relationship — seen by some as the ‘barometer’ of overall US-Indonesia relations — has been steady.

Third, if Wibowo rises to greater political heights, how will Australia reconcile this with his track record on human rights and the perceived nepotism behind his appointment? As I have argued here previously, reconciling our democratic values with regional strategic imperatives is not impossible, but no cakewalk.

If generals are, as Greta suggests, what Indonesian political parties want, then Australian leaders, both civil and military, should fully appraise the role that figures like Wibowo will play and should use the relationships we have built with them.

Photo courtesy of official website for the President of the Republic of Indonesia: First Lady, Ibu Ani Yudhoyono congratulations her brother, LTGEN Wibowo, at his promotion ceremony.

A version of this post first appeared on the Lowy Institute’s blog, The Interpreter.

NATO-ASEAN relations: let’s get serious for a moment

A few weeks ago I attended a presentation by NATO Deputy Secretary General Ambassador Claudio Bisogniero during his recent visit to Australia. At its essence, his presentation “NATO in a Globalised World” at ANU (podcast here) was an opportunity to present NATO’s new Strategic Concept (PDF) and elaborate its components to an audience of strategic and foreign policy scholars and students.

With the next day’s headline “NATO wants closer links with Asia-Pacific”, one could be forgiven for thinking that in the course of his speech, he had heralded a new relationship with Asian states. And yet, in the course of articulating NATO’s perception of the 21st century security terrain and its response, his Excellency made only fleeting references to Southeast Asia as one of several “hotbeds for organised crime, … trafficking of people, weapons and narcotics” and also terrorist threats from groups such as al-Qaeda and Jemaah Islamiyah.

Why should this matter? Because the Ambassador’s repeated mentions of not only the interconnectedness of security threats and the related requirement for “cooperative security” but also the current context of severe constraints to NATO member states’ defence spending places it squarely within the purview of NATO’s articulated strategic interests. The dual emphasis on closer cooperation and spending pragmatism served as suitable grounds for opening greater partnerships with Southeast Asian states. The degree to which NATO engages Southeast Asia is another matter; one that should be determined by the extent to which common security issues between the groupings are of strategic priority.

If Southeast Asia is a region of fragile states and, in NATO’s assessment, susceptible to be a hotbed for terrorist threats, it follows that preventive measures such as engaging ASEAN more actively are warranted. Under article 30 of the new Strategic Concept, NATO will enhance partnerships through political dialogue, practical cooperation, and consultation on issues of common concern. Albeit an extreme example, given the quandary in which NATO has found itself  in Afghanistan on the grounds of denying international terrorists safe havens, it may be prudent to foster a framework of cooperation with ASEAN now.

While relations with NATO could potentially develop bilaterally, on transnational issues such as terrorism and piracy that concern more sensitive issues like sovereignty, it would be best to encourage a ‘softly softly’ consensus approach in line with the so-called ‘ASEAN way’. There are a number of other security issues on which NATO and ASEAN could find common ground; for one, whither the changing geo-strategic environment in light of China’s rise?

I argue that NATO-ASEAN meetings are a more appropriate forum for handling security threats than the more established Asia-Europe Meeting (ASEM). ASEM is a 45-member forum that handles political matters, security and the economy, and education and culture; such a broad agenda between so many members is unlikely to reach substantial progress on more difficult questions of security cooperation. Although there were sessions on piracy at sea and counter-terrorism at the 2010 ASEM summit, it is doubtful that practical outcomes and progress on substantive issues were achieved (for interested readers, you can find the respective piracy and counter-terrorism concept papers (PDF) here and here).

Lastly, my friend Raoul Heinrichs suggested to me that perhaps historical ambivalence between NATO and SEATO (ASEAN’s de facto predecessor) could play into the reluctance of NATO to engage the grouping. However, it seems to me that, whatever the case, historical ambivalence or not, if NATO is serious not only about putting the rhetoric of cooperative security into practice but also achieving its goals in the context of fiscal restraint, it should be thinking about ASEAN in a much more explicit manner.

Readers, over to you.