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Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Kludge the Pirates!

The last couple of days I have been extremely busy and I also have been having a little fun thinking up ways to "kludge" the pirates of Somalia and the Gulf of Aden (see here and here).

For those unfamiliar with the term, a "kludge" is
a clumsy or inelegant solution to a problem or difficulty. In engineering, a kludge is a workaround, typically using unrelated parts cobbled together.
Putting an Abrams tank on a oil field support vessel is a kludge - a "jury rig" - a "field expedient" design.

It's getting the job you want done despite having the wrong tools.

My intent was to point out that the most elegant possible fix is not what is needed in dealing with the Somali pirates.

As Charles Dragonette reminded us in a comment to an earlier post, the pirates have operational limits that make an expensive cruiser or destroyer just as inappropriate a tool as a tank mounted on the rear end of a fast supply vessel.

Actually, maybe worse.

What Mr. Dragonette wrote was:
First, all successful hijacks, and firings that did not result in boarding, happened in the eastern half of the Gulf between 046 degrees 38 minutes and 50 degrees 32 minutes east. All attacks but one occurred in daylight - the exception was at 0430 local during a period of 94% lunar illumination. Lastly, ships proceeding at speeds above 16 knots escaped or were never attacked, while those hijacked were all proceeding at 14.5 knots or less. With the weakening of the monsoon, we can expect the area of waters in which pirate skiffs can operate well to move farther east, but that at least gives commercial traffic more sea room to maneuver to the north and away from Somalia. Prevailing currents out of the Bossaso area are believed to give the skiffs lift northward into the shipping lanes and the pirates may, as a result, not move too far eastward with calmer seas outside the capes.

To clear the "danger zone" entirely in hours of darkness would require a speed of 17 knots, so the most likely victims, tankers and bulk carriers, will probably not be able to do it. Interestingly, container ships, which represent about 38% of the traffic through the Gulf of Aden, come in at 0% of the recent two-month hijack surge. High speeds and high freeboards still count for something in the battle.
If the U.S. Navy wants to stop these pirates, it needs to get into the ship escort business - escorting those slow, low freeboard ships through the pirate danger zone.

That is best done with vessels just like the one under the M1 Abrams in the picture above, but perhaps with some different armament.

It can be done cheaply, pretty safely ( remember that "harm's way" thing?) and quickly.

If
, for example, Commander Fifth Fleet decided he really needs some more ships than he has so that he doesn't have to tell the world maritime community,"Sorry, can't help fight pirates, not enough ships to do the job."

Or, as Vice Admiral Gortney delicately said,
"The Coalition does not have the resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region. The shipping companies must take measures to defend their vessels and their crews."
Which is sorta what triggered Mr. Dragonette's rant on the WaPo.

Ain't no need for a Navy if it can't do the job.

If you don't have the resources, send a couple of fleet lieutenants and some crusty old chiefs on a mission to "kludge" the pirates.

Don't send a "clean hands" Lieutenant - send that guy who hates the bureaucracy and his buddy.
The kind of LT who uses cans of coffee to smooth shipyard wheels- if you get my drift. (Here's another hint - if he offers to do a Power Point presentation- he's the wrong guy...)

Send a supply guy along with a check book and a willingness to stretch a few rules. Don't ask too many questions, just tell them to "stop the d*mn pirates!"

They''ll find a way.

If they ask, tell the Washington crowd that operational conditions mandate "thinking outside the box." Or, perhaps, tell them you are :
Leveraging the littoral best practices for a paradigm breaking six-sigma best business case in the global commons, rightsizing the core values supporting our mission statement via the 5-vector model.
To steal a phrase.

Deterring lightly armed pirates in small boat is not that tough. But you have to quit thinking like a cruiser skipper and start thinking like a pirate. If I were a pirate I would hate to see lots of armed fast support vessels escorting ships.

Of course, I reckon duty on "pirate patrol" in the escort fleet I envision probably won't punch the important SWO tickets. It would just get the job done, unlike tying up a half dozen expensive gray hulls watching a captured ship from a safe distance.

And it would help the Navy do its mission of keeping those sea lanes open. You know that mission from the new Maritime Strategy that Charlie Dragonette quoted:
"The creation and maintenance of security at sea is essential to mitigating threats short of war, including piracy."
UPDATE: Or maybe you can start out using some French corvettes.

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