Good Company

Good Company
Good Company

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Philippines as Failing State: President Duterte Asks China to Patrol Philippine Waters

The Republic of the Philippines President invites the nose of the Chinese camel into the Philippines Philippines' Duterte asks China to patrol piracy-plagued waters
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte on Tuesday said he had asked China to help in the fight against Islamic State-linked militants by sending ships to patrol southern waters plagued by raids on commercial vessels.

Speaking to newly promoted army generals, Duterte said he had sought China's help in dangerous waters in the south to check the activities of Abu Sayyaf, a Muslim rebel group sustained by piracy and kidnap-for-ransom activities.

A surge in piracy off parts of the Philippines is forcing ship-owners to divert vessels through other waters, pushing up costs and shipping times.

Duterte said piracy in the Sulu Sea between eastern Malaysia and the southern Philippines would escalate to levels seen in Somalia, and raise insurance costs for firms and increase prices of consumer goods and services.

"We would be glad if they have their presence there ... just to patrol," Duterte said, adding that China could send coastguard vessels, not necessarily "gray" warships.
The Philippines has a loose cannon.

I have a Horace E. Scudder fable:
ONE cold night, as an Arab sat in his tent, a Camel thrust the flap of the tent aside, and looked in.
"I pray thee, master," he said, "let me put my head within the tent, for it is cold without."
"By all means, and welcome," said the Arab; and the Camel stretched his head into the tent.
"If I might but warm my neck, also," he said, presently.
"Put your neck inside," said the Arab. Soon the Camel, who had been turning his head from side to side, said again:—
"It will take but little more room if I put my fore legs within the tent. It is difficult standing without."
"You may also put your fore legs within," said the Arab, moving a little to make room, for the tent was very small.
"May I not stand wholly within?" asked the Camel, finally. "I keep the tent open by standing as I do."
"Yes, yes," said the Arab. "I will have pity on you as well as on myself. Come wholly inside."
So the Camel came forward and crowded into the tent. But the tent was too small for both.
"I think," said the Camel, "that there is not room for both of us here. It will be best for you to stand outside, as you are the smaller; there will then be room enough for me."
And with that he pushed the Arab a little, who made haste to get outside the tent.
It is a wise rule to resist the beginnings of evil.
Emphasis added.

Cool DARPA Stuff: The Big "T.U.N.A." Keeping Tactical Data Networks Open

TUNA (Tactical Undersea Network Architecture):
TUNA seeks to develop and demonstrate novel, optical-fiber-based technology options and designs to temporarily restore radio frequency (RF) tactical data networks in a contested environment via an undersea optical fiber backbone. The concept involves deploying RF network node buoys—dropped from aircraft or ships, for example—that would be connected via thin underwater fiber-optic cables. The very-small-diameter fiber-optic cables being developed are designed to last 30 days in the rough ocean environment—long enough to provide essential connectivity until primary methods of communications are restored.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: "The Navy Comes Through" (1943)

Radio play version of a movie about the Navy gun crews who rode merchant ships in WWII as members of the U.S. Navy Armed Guard:

Some great background from the Navy History and Heritage Command here:

Friday, January 27, 2017

On Midrats 29 Jan 2017 - Episode 369: The Future of America's Military at Risk, with Bob Scales

Please join us at 5pm EST on Sunday 29 Jan 2017 for Midrats Episode 369: The Future of America's Military at Risk, with Bob Scales
To meet the national security requirements of our republic in the years to
come, what direction and emphasis do we need for our military? What are the false horizons we need to watch out for, and what important areas do we seem to be either ignoring or forgetting?

For the full hour our guest to discuss this and more will be Bob Scales, Major General, US Army (Ret), discussing with him many of the issues he raises in his latest book from Naval Institute Press, Scales on War: The Future of America's Military at Risk.

Described by the Naval Institute Press:
Scales on War is a collection of ideas, concepts, and observations about contemporary war taken from over thirty years of research, writing, and personal experience by retired Major General Bob Scales. Scales’ unique style of writing utilizes contemporary military history, current events, and his philosophy of ground warfare to create a very personal and expansive view of the future direction of American defense policies.
Each chapter in the book addresses a distinct topic facing the upcoming prospects of America’s military, including tactical ground warfare, future gazing, the draft, and the role of women in the infantry. Fusing all of these topics together is Scales’ belief that, throughout its history, the United States has favored a technological approach to fighting its wars and has neglected its ground forces.

MAJ. GEN. Scales commanded units in Korea and the United States and two units in Vietnam, and he is the recipient of the Silver Star for action during the Battle of Hamburger Hill. He completed his service as commandant of the Army War College.
Catch the show live or pick it up later by clicking here. Or you can find the show later on our iTunes page or at Stitcher

Friday Film: "Campus on the March" (1942)

Back in the days of this film, "campus on the march" had a much different meaning than it seems to have today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

South China Sea Area Sea Crimes: Abu Sayyaf Militants May Have Grabbed 3 Indonesians at Sea and Why Such Attacks Occur

Reported by the Jakarta Globe, "Three Indonesian Crewmembers Reportedly Kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf Militants":
Area in Interest (click on image to enlarge)
Three crewmembers of an Indonesian vessel have reportedly been kidnapped by Abu Sayyaf militants in the southern Philippines, a Foreign Ministry official said on Monday (23/01).

The Indonesians were reported missing after Malaysian authorities found their boat unoccupied in waters off Taganak in Sabah last Thursday at 1.09 p.m.

"As of this time, the Malaysian authorities have conducted an investigation but have not reached a conclusion. However, our sources in the Philippines have confirmed that the three Indonesians were moved to Sulu Island in the southern Philippines," said Lalu Muhammad Iqbal, the director of citizen protection and legal aid at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as reported by state news agency Antara.

One of the victims has informed his family in Indonesia that he has been taken hostage, Lalu added.

The crews of three other boats reportedly witnessed the attack, but they have not been questioned.
There have been 16 attacks since last March last year on ships passing through the Sulu and Celebes seas, through which about $40 billion worth of cargo passes each year, according to the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery Against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP).

The government-backed anti-piracy organization says over a dozen crewmembers are currently being held hostage by the Abu Sayyaf militants, all of them kidnapped from ships sailing through the Sulu and Celebes seas.
The Taganak Islands are also known as the Turtle Islands.

A WaPo article suggests the motivations for such kidnappings both off the Philippines and other locales:
Despite the Philippine government’s efforts to crush Abu Sayyaf, the Jakarta Post reported the group took in more than $7 million in ransom money to free 20 hostages seized during the first half of 2016.

The militant group used these funds to purchase weapons, ammunition and other supplies to counter a renewed Philippine military offensive — and implement an extensive series of bombings, including one detonated in the home town of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte.

The Philippine and Indonesian governments announced plans in June to coordinate naval patrols in the Southern Sulu archipelago to curb the maritime threat and cut off Abu Sayyaf‘s coffers.
This rationale for the kidnappers makes sense and adds to their vicious reputation at the same time.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Old Radio on Sunday: The New Adventures of the Thin Man - "The Case of the Haunted Hams"

Time out for some fun. A little PBR and Nick and Nora on the radio:

Tomorrow you can return to arguing over the fate of the nation, if you so choose.

Saturday, January 21, 2017

Saturday Is Old Radio Day:The Pacific Story and "Islam in the Pacific" (1945)

The Pacific Story was broadcast on NBC at 11:30pm, with the first broadcast on July 11, 1943.

The series lasted 184 weeks with two weeks pre-empted and ended on January 26, 1947. It was considered a documentary.

The premise of the show was that with Europe in ruins, the Pacific might emerge as the center of political and social change in the world, and people should know something about it.
Here's a presentation about "Islam in the Pacific" from 1945:

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Dear Big Navy: Take a Hint from the Air Force

Yes, it might have had a little prompting from Senator McCain, but someone at the Air Force seems to have seen the light - not every job requires the most expensive weapon in the tool box or, as Aviation Week puts it, U.S. Air Force Chief Backs Idea Of Low-Cost Fighter Fleet
The U.S. Air Force chief of staff endorses the idea of buying 300 low-cost, light-attack fighters for counterterrorism missions as a “great idea.”
In a white paper out this week, Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, suggested that in addition to using the A-10 for close air support, the Air Force should buy 300 light-attack fighters. They could help perform close air support and other missions where air defenses are not a problem and help bring pilots up to speed. “The Air Force could procure the first 200 of these aircraft by fiscal year 2022,” the paper says.
I would suggest moving faster.

Payloads and flexibility.

Now, Navy how about Trump's Gunboats?:
Instead of continuing to use the wrong tool for the job, it is logical to
develop a diverse force of smaller naval ships to handle numerous, smaller missions, leaving the blue water navy to pursue the larger, vital warfighting role that it was designed to do. Smaller navy vessels working in squadrons may be more cost-effective in responding to global maritime incidents, patrolling coasts, and deterring similar forces. While the threat of Somali piracy has diminished the destabilization of other economies and nations could cause new threats to shipping to emerge as off Venezuela. Larger threats continue to loom as small Iranian boats swarm U.S. Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz and China’s maritime militia in the South China Sea have harassed ships in the past. Rather than offering larger, single targets of opportunity, dispersed squadrons of smaller vessels provide greater opportunities to counter asymmetric operations.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Modern Science: Cooperative Swarmboats

Back in the day, port and harbor defense units were a cooperative venture between manned surveillance units (Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare Units or MIUWUs) and manned boats - sometimes Coast Guard Port Security Units (PSUs), sometimes Navy Inshore Boat Units. While the manned boats have proven their worth, they do expose crews to the variety of dangers of both normal operations as well as risks posed by an aggressor.

Now this mission may be assigned to elements of the Naval Maritime Expeditionary Force. In any event, as as been noted here before, the Navy's Office of Naval Research has been pursuing the use of unmanned platforms to take on part of the water work and the capability seems to be getting smarter, as reported by ONI in "Autonomous Swarmboats: New Missions, Safe Harbors":
(Photo by John L. Williams)
Using a unique combination of software, radar and other sensors, officials from the Office of Naval Research (ONR)—together with partners from industry, academia and other government organizations—were able to get a “swarm” of rigid hull inflatable boats (RHIBs) and other small boats to collectively perform patrol missions autonomously, with only remote human supervision, rather than direct human operation, as they performed their missions.

“This demonstration showed some remarkable advances in autonomous capabilities,” said Cmdr. Luis Molina, military deputy for ONR’s Sea Warfare and Weapons Dept. “While previous work had focused on autonomous protection of high-value ships, this time we were focused on harbor approach defense.”

The autonomy technology being developed by ONR is called Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing, or CARACaS. The components that make up CARACaS (some are commercial off-the-shelf) are inexpensive compared to the costs of maintaining manned vessels for some of the dull, dirty or dangerous tasks—all of which can be found in the work of harbor approach defense, experts say.

“The U.S. Navy knows our most important asset, without question, is our highly trained military personnel,” said Dr. Robert Brizzolara, the program officer at ONR who oversees the effort. “The autonomy technology we are developing for our Sailors and Marines is versatile enough that it will assist them in performing many different missions, and it will help keep them safer.”
During the demo, unmanned boats were given a large area of open water to patrol. As an unknown vessel entered the area, the group of swarmboats collaboratively determined which patrol boat would quickly approach the unknown vessel, classify it as harmless or suspicious, and communicate with other swarmboats to assist in tracking and trailing the unknown vessel while others continued to patrol the area. During this time, the group of swarmboats provided status updates to a human supervisor.

“This technology allows unmanned Navy ships to overwhelm an adversary,” added Molina. “Its sensors and software enable swarming capability, giving naval warfighters a decisive edge.”

Naval leadership in recent years has emphasized a blended future force, leveraging the synergy of using manned and unmanned systems to complement each other while accomplishing missions. In the near future, unmanned boats can take on some dangerous missions, thereby protecting the warfighter, and they can do that in great numbers at a fraction of the cost of a single manned warship. Furthermore, these small boats are already in the Navy’s inventory (as manned craft) and can quickly and inexpensively be converted to an autonomous boat via the installation of a CARACaS kit.

Smart, safer for crews and not expensive. I would think of several iterations of this technology that would be major force multipliers. See U.S. Navy: Bring Out the Swarmbots!


And so 21st Century.

A 2015 article from ONR's Future Force sets it all up The Swarm: Autonomous Boats Take on Navy Missions.

Modern Science: Well, this sounds important for the future - Underwater Radio

Those wild and crazy people at DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) are looking to solve a problem that could solve the thorny issue of communication with people and units that operate underwater as set out in their press release Underwater Radio, Anyone?:
DARPA image
Here’s something easy to forget when you are chatting on your cell phone or flipping channels on your smart TV: although wireless communication seems nothing short of magic, it is a brilliant, reality-anchored application of physics and engineering in which radio signals travel from a transmitter to a receiver in the form of electric and magnetic fields woven into fast-as-light electromagnetic waves. That very same physics imposes some strict limits, including ones that frustrate the Department of Defense. Key among these is that radio frequency signals hit veritable and literal walls when they encounter materials like water, soil, and stone, which can block or otherwise ruin those radio signals. This is why scuba buddies rely on sign language and there are radio-dead zones inside tunnels and caves.

With his newly announced A Mechanically Based Antenna (AMEBA) effort, program manager Troy Olsson of DARPA’s Microsystems Technology Office is betting on a little-exploited aspect of electromagnetic physics that could expand wireless communication and data transfer into undersea, underground, and other settings where such capabilities essentially have been absent. The basis for these potential new abilities are ultra-low-frequency (ULF) electromagnetic waves, ones between hundreds of hertz and 3 kilohertz (KHz), which can penetrate some distance into media like water, soil, rock, metal, and building materials. A nearby band of very-low-frequency (VLF) signals (3 KHz to 30 KHz) opens additional communications possibilities because for these wavelengths the atmospheric corridor between the Earth’s surface and the ionosphere—the highest and electric-charge-rich portion of the upper atmosphere—behaves like a radio waveguide in which the signals can propagate halfway around the planet.

“If we are successful, scuba divers would be able to use a ULF channel for low bit-rate communications, like text messages, to communicate with each other or with nearby submarines, ships, relay buoys, UAVs, and ground-based assets, Through-ground communication with people in deep bunkers, mines, or caves could also become possible,” Olsson said. And because of that atmospheric waveguide effect, VLF systems might ultimately enable direct soldier-to-soldier text and voice communication across continents and oceans.
Sounds like the 21st Century.

Nigeria Oil Fields: Corruption Piled on Corruption

The title of the below linked article covers the situation in Nigeria except to the extent it makes it look as if the corruption is solely that of the oil companies. After all, Nigeria is a place where corruption is piled on corruption - and one of the major suppliers of oil to the world.

At any rate, if you wonder about how hard it is to do honest business in some parts of the world, I commend this piece from the London Review of Books by Alexander Briant: "Diary: Oil Industry Corruption" of which this is a small excerpt:
The final meeting I have in Nigeria is with the senior partner of a respected law firm. He is an impressive individual: knowledgeable, realistic, straight-talking. I ask him what our chances of bringing a prosecution would be. ‘To make sure that the police investigated your complaint fairly, you’d have to bribe them.’ We laugh at the absurdity of a system where corruption is necessary in order to get someone to act in good faith. And with that, there’s nowhere else to go.
Nigeria certainly is not alone in this sort of thing, but it might be a leader. (Not at all exclusively directed against foreign entities, for example, fake merchant marine training academies which rip off Nigerians)

You really should read the whole thing.

Hat tip: Sam Ignarski at the Maritime Advocate.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Friday Film: "Sea Mine Warfare" (1968)

Perfect for Friday the 13th:

As of 2012,  Scott Truver notes here,
In an accounting that usually comes as a surprise, since the end of World War II mines
have seriously damaged or sunk almost four times more U.S. Navy ships than all
other means of attack combined:
• Mines, fifteen ships
• Missiles, one ship
• Torpedoes/aircraft, two ships
• Small-boat terrorist attack, one ship
Also, the U.S. has offensively used sea mines - as in the May 1972 mining of North Vietnam's harbors - Operation Pocket Money:
Operation Pocket Money was the title of a U.S. Navy Task Force 77 aerial mining campaign conducted against the Democratic Republic of Vietnam (North Vietnam) from 9 May 1972 (Vietnamese time), during the Vietnam War. Its purpose was to halt or slow the transportation of supplies and materials for the Nguyen Hue Offensive (known in the West as the Easter Offensive), an invasion of the Republic of Vietnam (South Vietnam), by forces of the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN), that had been launched on 30 March. Pocket Money was the first use of naval mines against North Vietnam.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

U.S. Counter- Mine Warfare: Getting a New Package to the Fleet

Interesting USNI News report from Megan Eckstein Navy Finalizing Counter-Mine Package for Littoral Combat Ships:
Northrup Grumman photo H-60S with ALMDS
The initial package would include the MH-60S helicopter towing the Airborne Laser Mine Detection System (ALMDS) and Airborne Mine Neutralization System (AMNS) – all three of which reached initial operational capability in November – and an unmanned vehicle to tow the AN/AQS-20A sonar. This initial package provides detect-to-engage capabilities, but eventually the service will also add a buried- and high-clutter bottom search capability, a beach and surf zone search capability, a near-surface neutralizer and a minesweeper, with each being added as they wrap up development and test.
Raytheon photo AMNS

“We want to make the systems as flexible as possible, so while they will remain tied to the LCS as a capability LCS will have, we want to be able to put them aboard other ships if required to provide additional capacity, or capability in areas where the LCS aren’t currently” deployed, he said.
“The intent is to make [the package] as expeditionary as possible so we could deploy it rapidly. Now in some places where we know there might be a threat we can preposition the gear, either to await a ship or (on a ship) if we have a ship there. For instance, the ESBs, we have one deploying to 5th Fleet [area of responsibility] in 2017, that would be a likely candidate for additional integration.”
As for shore-based expeditionary mine countermeasures, there’s reason to believe an
Mk18, Mod 2 "Kingfish" USN photo by MC2 Blake Midnight
operator ashore could conduct blue-water mine countermeasures operations – at a greater distance than the shore-based expeditionary explosive ordnance disposal and mine countermeasures units using the Mk 18 Mod 2 unmanned vehicle for harbor and other near-shore activities.

“Right now the control systems are tied to the consoles aboard the LCS, both classes of LCS, but they are potentially deployable in a mobile system,” Owens explained.
“We had one (mobile console) we experimented with in exercise Unmanned Warrior in Scotland a few months ago using different (unmanned) systems, but the concept is viable. We put together a command and control suite inside what really is a 20-foot container unit and were able to control a variety of surface, undersurface and air platforms simultaneously.”
More about ALMDS here.

More about AMNS here.

Earlier post on "Unmanned Warrior" exercise here.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Sea Piracy, Maritime Armed Robbery and Crew Kidnappings 2016 Report from the IMB

The invaluable International Maritime Bureau (of the International Chamber of Commerce's Commercial Crime Services) has issued a year end summary of crimes that affect merchant shipping and the crews that serve on such vessels in its ICC IMB report 2016. Bottom line - sea piracy down, crew kidnappings up:
In its 2016 report, IMB recorded 191 incidents of piracy and armed robbery on the world's seas.
"The continued fall in piracy is good news, but certain shipping routes remain dangerous, and the escalation of crew kidnapping is a worrying trend in some emerging areas," said Pottengal Mukundan, Director of IMB whose Piracy Reporting Centre (PRC) has monitored world piracy since 1991.
"The kidnappings in the Sulu Seas between eastern Malaysia and the Philippines are a particular concern," he added.
Worldwide in 2016, 150 vessels were boarded, 12 vessels were fired upon, seven were hijacked, and 22 attacks were thwarted. The number of hostages fell to 151.
Maritime kidnappings, however, showed a threefold increase on 2015. Pirates kidnapped 62 people for ransom in 15 separate incidents in 2016. Just over half were captured off West Africa, while 28 were kidnapped from tugs, barges, fishing boats, and more recently merchant ships, around Malaysia and Indonesia.

U.S. Navy Surface Force Strategy: Return to Sea Control

Unclassified U.S. Navy Surface Force Strategy laying out the revitalization of USN surface forces in the context of a contested global commons, the need to keep open vital sea lanes and exploring the means by which this may be done. These means include "distributed lethality" which
"requires increasing the offensive and defensive capability of surface forces, and guides deliberate resource investment for modernization and for the future force. Providing more capabilities across surface forces yields more options for Geographic Combatant Commanders in peace and war.
In order to achieve the desired outcome of this strategy, we must rededicate the force to attain and sustain sea control, retain the best and the brightest, develop and provide advanced tactical training, and equip our ships with improved offensive weapons, sensors, and hard kill/soft kill capabilities. Pursuing these ends will enhance our capability and capacity to go on the offensive and to defeat multiple attacks."

Monday, January 09, 2017

Coming Soon to a Combat Theater Near You: U.S. Navy Drone Swarms

60 Minutes early look - best to just play it on full screen as my video magic seems to be missing tonight - nope, fixed it:

October 2016 U.S. Navy F-18s disperse drone swarm:

Fun with Iran: "Destroyer USS Mahan Fires Warning Shots in Standoff with Iranian Forces"

Sam LaGrone at USNI News Destroyer USS Mahan Fires Warning Shots in Standoff with Iranian Forces:
The crew of the guided-missile destroyer USS Mahan (DDG-72) fired three warning shots to ward off four armed attack boats coming at the ship at high speed, a defense official confirmed to USNI News on Monday.

On Sunday, Mahan was transiting the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf when the four Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy fast inshore attack craft (FIAC) came at the destroyer at a high rate of speed with their crew-served weapons manned, the official told USNI News.

After several attempts to warn off the boars with radio communications, siren and the ship’s whistle the boats came within 900 yards of the guided missile destroyer before the crew fired three warning shots from one of the ships .50 caliber guns.

After the shots were fired, the boats broke off.
Ah, did someone suggest that "peace in our time" was on hand due to the Obama administration's deal with Iran?

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report 5 December 2016 - 4 January 2017

More on the Philippine Coast Guard and its thwarting of an attack on a merchant ship from the Philippine Daily Inquirer here:
Arrow points to vicinity of attack
A firefight ensued between the Philippine Coast Guard (PCG) personnel and suspected pirates off the waters of Zamboanga on Tuesday afternoon as the government’s maritime security personnel rescued a cargo vessel from being hijacked.

The PCG spokesperson, Commander Armand Balilo, said the firefight happened after the suspected pirates apparently attempted to commandeer cargo vessel MV Ocean Kingdom that was travelling from Zamboanga to the Davao region.

Balilo said the crewmembers of Ocean Kingdom sought the help of the Coast Guard.

The MV Ocean Kingdom was attacked at 25 nautical miles east of Matanal Point, Sibago Island, Basilan Province.

“Info received from Coast Guard District South Western Mindanao that at about 3:30 p.m. January 3, 2017, Coast Guard Station Zamboanga received radio call from MV Ocean Kingdom, a cargo vessel of Oceanic Shipping Lines, that they are under attack by unidentified armed men onboard two speed boats at vicinity 25 nautical miles East of Matanal Pt, Sibago Island, Basilan Province,” a report from the PCG said.
You might note that the number of kidnappings in the general Sulu Sea area seems to be on the increase. Se the ReCAAP note at paragraph 2.3 in the ONI report.

Also this from the ICC International Maritime Bureau's Live Piracy Report:
03.01.2017: 1524 LT: Posn: 06:36.0N – 122:41.0E, Around 21.6nm East of Basilan Island, Philippines.
Six persons in two speed boats, armed with automatic rifles, chased and fired upon a general cargo ship underway. Master raised the alarm and increased speed. Ship’s distress message was relayed by Zamboanga radio station to the local authorities who dispatched patrol boats to assist the vessel. Due to the firing the vessel sustained multiple gunshot damage on the port and starboard sides. Vessel however, managed to evade the attack. All crew safe.

Saturday, January 07, 2017

On Midrats 8 Jan 2017 - Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?

Please join us at 5pm EST on 8 Jan 2017 for Midrats Episode 366: Is it Time for a General Staff?.
The 1980s might be getting some of its foreign policy back - but why is our entire defense framework in the second-half of the second decade of the 21st Century based around ideas forged when the Chrysler K-car was still a young platform?

Is our present system creating the conditions for our uniformed senior leadership to forge the best path for our military to support national security requirements?

Our guest for the full hour is returning to Midrats to discuss this and more; M.L. Cavanaugh.

Matt and is a US Army Strategist with global experience in assignments ranging from
the Pentagon to Korea and Iraq to his current post at US Army Space and Missile Defense Command. He’s a Non Resident Fellow with the Modern War Institute (MWI) at West Point, where he provides regular commentary and analysis. He’s also a contributor to War on the Rocks, and Matt’s writing has appeared in The New York Times, USA Today, the Chicago Tribune, and at, among other publications. After graduating from West Point in 2002, he earned his Master’s degree at Victoria University in Wellington, New Zealand, and is currently at work on a PhD dissertation on supreme command under Professor Emeritus Colin Gray at the University of Reading (UK). You can find more on Matt at and he can be reached via Twitter @MLCavanaugh.
Join us live if you can by clicking here. If you can't join us live, you can also download or listen to the show by clicking on that same link or by going to our iTunes page or from our Stitcher page.

Saturday Is Old Radio Day: X-1 and "A Pail of Air" (1956)

For some of us, it's a little cold out there . . . here's a story about . . . cold ...
by Fritz Leiber from X-1

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

Fun with Iran: Iran "Naval Ambitions"

I think we've covered Iran's desire to control the flow of oil from the Middle East to the world before, but there is an interesting piece at Foreign Affairs by Yoel Guzansky, Iran's Growing Naval Ambitions: Why It Wants Naval Bases in Syria and Yemen that
In late November, Iran made an unusual announcement: it said it was planning to build naval bases in Syria and Yemen, which, as a state-run paper later posited, “could be ten times more efficient than nuclear power.” Although Iran has long striven to establish itself as a leading regional power, and naval outposts have been key to reaching that goal, this was the first time Tehran officially declared its intentions to build such bases beyond its own borders.
That "building bases" part is partially true because there was that time the Greeks beat the expansionist Persians back a couple of thousand years ago.

Ironic, I suppose that it was Greek sea power that played a key role in those Persian defeats, as it appears sea power is back in the Persian - uh- Iranian Islamic Republic Theocracy/Dictatorship vocabulary.

In any event, Mr. Guzansky notes:
The two bases would fit into Iran’s larger plan to expand its reach both regionally and beyond. Tehran is in the process of building up its presence along the coasts of the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, a policy that it also announced in November. “We are building two naval zones and three naval bases on the Makran coasts,” saidRear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, commander of the Iranian navy, at a press conference in Tehran. “This is in line with our policy of making a return to the sea.” Sayyari highlighted plans to equip the Iranian navy with homegrown surface-to-surface missiles, sea-based drones, and intercept radars.

Sayyari also made mention, and not for the first time, of Iran’s goals outside its regional waters. “Beyond a doubt,” he said, “our naval fleets will, in the near future, circle Africa and cross the Atlantic.” He referred to the waters of East Asia as well. To further this goal, Iran is conducting visits to and joint naval exercises with countries in Africa and Asia. In May 2013, Iran’s navy paid a visit to the Chinese port of Zhangjiagang, and later that year, it sent two warships and a submarine to Colombo, Sri Lanka. In 2014, China reciprocated by sending, for the first time, two ships to the Iranian port of Bandar Abbas to conduct joint naval exercises, ostensibly focused on antipiracy operations. And in January of this year, Tehran dispatched an Iranian navy destroyer to the Indian port of Visakhapatnam, also to conduct joint naval drills.
See also Missile Attacks Off Yemen and the Iran- Saudi Proxy War for Oil Shipping Chokepoints:
Iran would like to control the Saudi outflow of oil. It can do so by shutting down Saudi access through the Strait of Hormuz except that the Saudi's can also export oil from their west coast on the Red Sea and ship it through the Bab el-Mandeb Strait. If the Iranian surrogate Houthis can gain control of the Bab el-Mandeb Strait then Iran could, effectively, throttle Saudi oil flow.
Not to mention controlling much of the oil flow to Europe and, if necessary, to the Far East. Useful bargaining chip, that oil/gas flow, as Russia has found out in its dealing with Western Europe.

Mr. Guzansky makes other excellent points:
A base in Syria, if it ever materializes, would stretch Iran's naval arm to the Mediterranean and strengthen the Iranian military presence near Europe’s shores. It would also help Tehran’s allies in Lebanon, Palestine, and Syria—Hezbollah, Hamas, and the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, respectively. A naval base in Syria would enable Iran to transport regular supplies and provide other assistance to Hezbollah without being dependent on overland convoys or aerial transport through Iraq or Turkey. The base would also make Iran less dependent on Sudan. Although Sudan has long served as a port of entry for Iranian weapons into the Mediterranean and Africa, Tehran’s African ally has been changing its policy in recent years and has moved closer to wealthy Saudi Arabia.
If left unchecked, Iran could potentially develop the capacity to threaten crucial shipping lanes in the Caspian Sea and the Indian Ocean. As a result, Iran’s recent announcements of its plans to expand its regional presence to the Red Sea and the Mediterranean could spur cooperation between Israel, which is also seeking to curb Iranian influence, and the Arab world. For its part, the United States under President Barack Obama has shied away from confrontation with Iran in almost all instances. The U.S. Navy has chosen not to counter the increasing provocations in the Persian Gulf by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy. As of September 2016, there had been 31 “unsafe encounters” with Iranian vessels in the Persian Gulf, up from 23 in 2015, according to the U.S. Navy. The lack of action is costing Washington its credibility as a counterforce to Tehran.
Of course, while Iran plots its destruction of Israel and its positioning to threaten Europe, the world's energy picture keeps moving which may damage Iran's ability to pay for a meaningful naval expansion. Though with sufficient anti-ship cruise missiles, it seems easier for a land power to push sea forces further out to sea.

Europe is not without options for example
Norway is the world's third largest exporter of oil and gas after Saudi Arabia and Russia. In 2012, it accounted for about 31% of all the EU's natural gas imports and 11% of its crude oil imports. Norway also produces a large amount of hydroelectric power which can be exported to the EU in greater quantities if new grid connections are built.
There are several reasons for the "greening" of Germany, not the least of which would seem to be to free it from the clutches of either Russia or the Middle East powers.

Once again, the U.S. domestic production of oil and gas is vital to U.S. interests - see OPEC Fights U.S. Shale Oil, U.S. Shale Oil Hangs in There:
The U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration seems to be sitting pretty on shale:
Does the United States have abundant shale resources?
Yes, the United States has access to significant shale resources. In the Annual Energy Outlook 2014, EIA estimated that the United States has approximately 610 Tcf of technically recoverable shale natural gas resources and 59 billion barrels of technically recoverable tight oil resources. As a result, the United States is ranked second globally after Russia in shale oil resources and is ranked fourth globally after China, Argentina and Algeria in shale natural gas resources.
Nhanks to Mr. Obama, we now seem to be "warehousing" areas of potential development.

You might want to look at National Energy Security Issue: Effects of Cheap Oil
Suppose, for example, Russia decides to cut off natural gas supplies to Europe beginning in late 2016 using that gas as an economic weapon to force the nations dependent on Russian gas to accept Russian claims in the Ukraine or the Baltic States. One way for the West to resist this pressure is to have some assurance that the U.S. and its allies will be able to set into motion a stream of LNG ships carrying gas to replace that of the Russians, ameliorating the gas situation for those affected states. In addition to LNG shipping, a force of air and naval escorts protecting that LNG stream at sea might be required to prevent interference with the flow of gas in competition with that of the Russians.

Or, suppose the Chinese interfere with the flow of gas and oil through the South China Sea sea lanes to Taiwan,South Korea and Japan. Can the U.S. and Canada help mitigate the harm while alternative sea lanes that avoid the South China Sea are developed? Who will protect those shipments and how?

Or, what if Iran or someone else takes the big step of managing to destroy the Saudi oil production - say through using nuclear weapons - can the U.S. and non-Middle East producers step up and provide at least minimal supplies to the world now depending on Middle East oil?
Of course, speaking of naval power, all those shipping lanes would require adequate naval forces to protect them from interruption. Another reason to increase the size of the U.S. and allied naval forces.

UPDATE: Some people find Iran's suggested foreign port concept a "mirage":
Iran is doing enough damage in the Middle East through unconventional methods without requiring a robust navy. That is why an idea floated by a key Iranian military leader to build naval bases in Yemen and Syria makes absolutely no sense.

Mohammad Bagheri, the chief of Iran’s armed forces general staff, suggested last month that Tehran was interested in, “at some point,” establishing naval bases in Yemen and Syria. While such a move would reflect the Islamic Republic’s goal of dominating the region, constructing highly visible and defensible bases far from Iranian shores is not realistic.
I agree that "realism" and Iran's stated goals often vary widely.

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) Report 29 November - 28 December 2016

Monday, January 02, 2017

China Lies Again and the New Drone War

It is time, in the opening days of the new year, to discuss in some depth the Chinese capture of a U.S. UUV off the coast of the Philippines. For those of you caught up in other matters, a good recap of the events can be found at Chris Cavas's Defense News article*, China Grabs Underwater Drone Operated by US Navy in South China Sea:
A Chinese Navy ship intercepted and grabbed a small, unmanned underwater vehicle
U.S. Navy Photo
(UUV) being operated by a US Navy survey ship on Thursday in waters west of the Philippines, US defense officials confirmed Friday.

It is not clear what — if anything — prompted the interception of an ocean glider, described by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as “an autonomous, unmanned underwater vehicle used for ocean science.”
From the beginning, China has lied about the incident and then has engaged in a disinformation campaign to justify their acts, all the while subtly seeking to expand their power over the South China Sea.

Get the picture as set up by Pentagon spokesman:
Area of incident off Philippines
Pentagon press secretary Peter Cook issued a statement Friday afternoon calling upon the Chinese government to immediately return the drone.

"Using appropriate government-to-government channels, the Department of Defense has called upon China to immediately return an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that China unlawfully seized on Dec. 15 in the South China Sea while it was being recovered by a U.S. Navy oceanographic survey ship," Cook said in the statement.

"The USNS Bowditch (T-AGS 62) and the UUV -- an unclassified "ocean glider" system used around the world to gather military oceanographic data such as salinity, water temperature, and sound speed - were conducting routine operations in accordance with international law about 50 nautical miles northwest of Subic Bay, Philippines, when a Chinese Navy [People's Republic of China] DALANG III-Class ship (ASR-510) launched a small boat and retrieved the UUV.

"Bowditch made contact with the PRC Navy ship via bridge-to-bridge radio to request the return of the UUV," Cook continued. "The radio contact was acknowledged by the PRC Navy ship, but the request was ignored. The UUV is a sovereign immune vessel of the United States. We call upon China to return our UUV immediately, and to comply with all of its obligations under international law."

The Chinese ship was roughly 500 yards away from the Bowditch when the incident occurred, said Capt. Jeff Davis, Pentagon spokesman. Davis added that a crane was used to lift the unmanned system aboard the Chinese vessel.

The defense official noted the location in the South China Sea was not in the proximity
Area of incident in South China Sea
of Scarborough Shoal, the site of a disputed Chinese island-building operation. “It’s not even close to Scarborough. It’s about 150 miles away,” the defense official said.

It's unclear what the Dalang 510 did after seizing the ocean glider. The Bowditch, the defense official said Friday, “remains in the area conducting normal operations.”
A few days after pirating the UUV, China returned the glider while lying about its actions, as set out in Sam LaGrone's USNI News piece China Returns U.S. Navy Unmanned Glider:
Chinese officials claimed the glider was a hazard to navigation and they recovered the unmanned vehicle for the safety of the water. The U.S. took issue with Beijing’s interpretation of events.
Interpretation? It was a flat out lie.

Why would China grab a vessel clearly under control of a U.S. Naval vessel - and one that was also clearly in the process of being recovered by USNS Bowditch? Some interesting thoughts from a Japan Times opinion piece by Mark Valencia U.S.-China drone spat: more than meets the eye:
Let’s be clear at the outset. The seizure of the UUV was certainly inappropriate and probably illegal — either as a simple theft or perhaps as a violation of the “sovereign immunity” of warships under the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS).

The U.S. military said the Bowditch — and the UUV — were carrying out scientific research in “international waters.” According to U.S. Navy spokesman Capt. Jeff Davis “the drone was seized while collecting unclassified scientific data.” The U.S. Defense Department said that “the incident was inconsistent with international law and standards of professionalism for conduct of navies at sea.”
China’s Defense Ministry explained that the Chinese Navy had taken an “unidentified object” (the UUV) out of the water “in order to prevent the device from causing harm to the safety of navigation and personnel of passing vessels.” Arguably this is a duty of mariners. China criticized U.S. hyping of the incident as a “theft.” China also argued that the activities of drones are a legal “gray area” in which the law is unclear. This is true. Relevant legal questions are whether the “sovereign immunity” clause extends to drones or any “equipment” launched from state vessels; does it apply to “non-ratifiers;” and did the Bowditch, by deploying the drones in the vicinity of another vessel, violate the duty to exercise “due regard” for the rights of other states, e.g. the duty not to present a hazard to navigation? After all the drone was not a “warship” as defined by UNCLOS because it was not “manned by a crew” and it is not a “vessel” because it is not used as a means of transportation.”
This analysis is not a justification of China’s action. But it offers possible explanations and background as to why it did what it did. At the least it gives a glimpse of the “cat and mouse” game going on between China and the U.S. in the South China Sea. Both sides are pushing — and even tearing — the legal envelope as they jockey for advantage. (note: "Mark J. Valencia is an adjunct senior scholar at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies in Haikou, China)"
So, Mr. Valencia notes the power struggle while offering up China's weak justifications for its actions. The Chinese rationale was repeated by another scholar in Yan Yan's The US Underwater Drone is not Entitled to Sovereign Immunity, which is set out below in its entirety:
On 20 December, 2016, the unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV) that had been seized by the Chinese Navy was handed back to the US Navy, bringing a conclusion to what US President-elect Donald Trump had labeled as an “unpresidented” event. The Chinese defense spokesman said that the UUV had been removed from the water to ensure the navigational safety of passing ships, but the US asserted that the UUV enjoyed sovereign immunity and that the Chinese action was in violation of international law. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman, described the UUV as a “sovereign immune vessel, clearly marked in English not to be removed from the water,” and said that it is US property and was lawfully conducting a military survey in the waters of the South China Sea. In a commentary written by James Kraska and Raul “Pete” Pedrozo, the authors hold the same argument that the UUV is a “vessel” that enjoys sovereign immune status, and as such the Chinese activity was a violation of international law.

The US argument is legally flawed if one takes a closer look at the rules of sovereign immunity in the law of the sea and how the US navy applies the UUV to its missions. Two types of ships are granted the sovereign immune status in the oceans according to articles 32, 95, and 96 of the 1982 UNCLOS: “warship” and “other government ships owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service.” First of all, I agree with Kraska and Pedrozo that the UUV is not a warship as defined by the 1982 UNCLOS. Article 29 of the UNCLOS defines “warship” as “a ship belonging to the armed forces of a State bearing the external marks distinguishing such ships of its nationality, under the command of an officer duly commissioned by the government of the State and whose name appears in the appropriate service list or its equivalent, and manned by a crew which is under regular armed forces discipline.” Although the Pentagon stated that the drone was US property, it was not “manned by crew,” and not clearly listed as a warship on active service.

But is the UUV a government “ship” owned or operated by a State and used only on government non-commercial service?

Kraska and Pedrozo hold that the UUV fits with the definition of “vessel” under Article 3 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea as “every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft, and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” But if one looks at the applications of the UUV by the US Navy, it is easy to see that it is not at all used “as a means of transportation on water,” but mostly for purposes of reconnaissance and submarine warfare.

The UUV is a subject that is able to operate underwater without a human occupant, and usually is divided into two categories: remotely operated underwater vehicles (ROVs) and autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs). For a long time in its history, application of the AUV was highly limited by the available technology. It was not until the last decade that, with more sophisticated processing capabilities and more efficient power supply systems, it could be used for an increased number of tasks.

The US Navy released the Unmanned Underwater Vehicles Master Plan in 2000 and updated it in 2004, describing the missions, capabilities, and technological and engineering issues of the UUV. The Master Plan is chartered by the Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy and the Submarine Warfare Division. The nine Sub-Pillar capabilities as identified and prioritized in the UUV Master Plan are: intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance; mine countermeasures; anti-submarine warfare; inspection/identification; oceanography; communication/navigation network nodes; payload delivery; information operations; and time-critical strike. Among all, the top-priority mission is intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance. In addition to collecting data concerning the ocean surface (like electromagnetic and meteorological conditions) and underwater currents (like salinity and water temperature), the UUV is also capable of performing missions such as offshore surveillance, nuclear/biological detection, and satellite positioning. This is part of the reasons why global military powers have attached great importance to developing UUV-related technology. Highly adaptive to physical conditions and capable of performing multiple tasks in a highly efficient manner, the UUV has been widely viewed as a critical factor in future sea battles. In the wake of the Iraq War, the US began to see it as a primary threat to naval operations, and began to develop new types of UUV-based mine countermeasures.

Therefore, it’s very obvious to the author that the UUV is not used by the US Navy for the purpose of transportation and cannot be classified as a vessel that enjoys sovereign immune status. Rather, considering its functions and applications in the Navy, it is a lot more reasonable to classify it as a “machine,” “robot” or “military device,” which is not entitled to sovereign immunity.

In recent years, the rapid development of China’s Navy, particularly the development of its submarines, has drawn great attention from the US. By conducting intelligence gathering missions, the US has gradually built up an underwater surveillance and detection network covering China’s surrounding waters. It is reported that the US military has completed such networks in the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, and is now trying to build one in the South China Sea. It is predictable that more UUVs will be deployed by the US Navy in the South China Sea in the future. Although there are no definite rules on the application of such a “machine” or “device,” it is reasonable to assert that, like in any other international practice under the framework of the law of the sea, the operators of UUVs shall adhere to the spirit of peaceful use of the sea and ocean, show due regard to navigational safety, respect the coastal states’ laws and regulations, and refrain from using the UUV to perform such missions as undermining or threatening the coastal states’ security. Pointing fingers at each other is not conducive to the bilateral mil-mil relationship, or to the peace and stability in the South China Sea, as China and the US are now the two most important players in the region. (note:"Yan Yan is Deputy Director of the Research Center for Oceans Law and Policy at the National Institute for South China Sea Studies, Haikou, China.")
Ms. Yan repeats the Chinese government misrepresentation of facts, ignores the proximity of the USNS Bowditch to the captured drone and then chooses to quibble about the definition of the term "vessel" as used by two distinguished maritime legal scholars, Kraska and Pedrozo. Their referenced piece is China’s Capture of U.S. Underwater Drone Violates Law of the Sea:
“Vessels” are broadly defined in international maritime law, and are generally synonymous with “ships.” The London Dumping Convention defines a “vessel” as a “waterborne or airborne craft of any type whatsoever.” This expression includes in article 2(3) “air cushioned craft and floating craft, whether self-propelled or not.” Article 1(6) of the 1996 Protocol to the London Dumping Convention also includes “waterborne crafts and their parts and other fittings.” Similarly, article 3 of the International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea defines “vessel” as “every description of watercraft, including non-displacement craft, WIG craft, and seaplanes, used or capable of being used as a means of transportation on water.” This definition includes autonomous and even expendable marine instruments and devices, such as the U.S. drone stolen by the Chinese. The variation between manned systems and unmanned systems, such as size of the means of propulsion, type of platform, capability, endurance, human versus autonomous control and mission set, has not been a defining character of what constitutes a “vessel” or “ship.” Moreover, the seizure of the U.S. drone was a violation of COLREGS itself, which requires mariners to take affirmative steps to avoid closing on other vessels in the water.
Worth noting among the various treaties which define a "vessel" is the International Convention On Salvage, 1989 which contains the following definition:


Chapter I - General provisions
Article 1 - Definitions
For the purpose of this Convention:
(a) Salvage operation means any act or activity undertaken to assist a vessel or any other property in danger in navigable waters or in any other waters whatsoever.
(b) Vessel means any ship or craft, or any structure capable of navigation.

Article 4 - State-owned vessels
1. Without prejudice to article 5, this Convention shall not apply to warships or other non-commercial vessels owned or operated by a State and entitled, at the time of salvage operations, to sovereign immunity under generally recognized principles of international law unless that State decides otherwise.
2. Where a State Party decides to apply the Convention to its warships or other vessels described in paragraph 1, it shall notify the Secretary-General thereof specifying the terms and conditions of such application.
Let's look at the type of "glider" UUV-napped by the Chinese. As set out in Slocum Glider,
The Slocum Glider is a uniquely mobile network component capable of moving to specific locations and depths and occupying controlled spatial and temporal grids. Driven in a sawtooth vertical profile by variable buoyancy, the glider moves both horizontally and vertically.
I would assert that being able to move to "specific locations" is a pretty clear indicator that a UUV of the Slocum glider type is capable of "navigation" and is, thereby, a "vessel" as defined by the Convention on Salvage.

Now, Ms. Yan argues that the key element of a "vessel" is that must be "used for transportation" - this assertion represents a rather lengthy legal history of of various court trying to distinguish "vessels" from other things that float but which are not capable of navigation unless towed by or otherwise moved by an outside force. A recent analysis is set out in A Vessel Defined discussing the Lozman case:
A majority of the justices on the US Supreme Court disagreed with the district court and Eleventh Circuit and held the floating home was not a vessel and could not be subject to a maritime lien. It focused its analysis on the meaning of the statutory phrase “capable of being used…as a means of transportation on water”. It declined to interpret the phrase broadly to encompass every item that can float. It reasoned some objects that float such as a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a door taken off its hinges, or “Pinocchio when inside the whale,” are clearly not vessels. Rather, the court held a structure does not fall within the scope of the statutory definition of a vessel unless “a reasonable observer” looking at the structure’s physical characteristics and activities “would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.”
To quote from the decision itself:
Not every floating structure is a “vessel.” To state the obvious, a wooden washtub, a plastic dishpan, a swimming platform on pontoons, a large fishing net, a door taken off its hinges, or Pinocchio (when inside the whale) are not “vessels,” even if they are “artificial contrivance[s]” capable of floating, moving under tow, and incidentally carrying even a fair-sized item or two when they do so. Rather, the statute applies to an “artificial contrivance . . . capable of being used . . . as a means of transportation on water.” 1 U. S. C. §3 (emphasis added). “[T]ransportation” involves the “conveyance (of things or persons) from one place to another.” 18 Oxford English Dictionary 424 (2d ed. 1989)(OED). Accord, N. Webster, An American Dictionary of the English Language 1406 (C. Goodrich & N. Porter eds. 1873) (“[t]he act of transporting, carrying, or conveying from one place to another”). And we must apply this definition in a “practical,” not a “theoretical,” way. Stewart, supra, at 496. Consequently, in our view a structure does not fall within the scope of this statutory phrase unless a reasonable observer, looking to the home’s physical characteristics and activities, would consider it designed to a practical degree for carrying people or things over water.
So "transportation" includes carrying "things" as well as people.

Again, the glider in question was undoubtedly transporting "things" including sensors and data relating to its navigation.

Ms. Yan's argument is legally insufficient.

Mostly what appears is a disinformation effort by the Chinese to forcefully claim more and more dominance in the South China Sea, even in areas clearly not within any arguable area of Chinese jurisdiction - thus the weak tea assertion of protecting "sea lanes" from a glider - a glider being closely monitored by the USNS ship and, in fact, in the process of being recovered by the US ship.

This aggressive assertion of hegemony over both waters in the high seas and in the EEZ of other countries (in this case the Republic of the Philippines) needs to be forcefully rejected and the Chinese lies about the circumstances of such incidents need to be vigorously countered.

UPDATE: Suggestions that China's own "glider" program is not up to the level of those of the West and a possible motive for why it was grabbed here. Hat tip to Ryan Martinson and to Scott Cheney-Peters.

UDPATE2: Interesting discussion at Hybrid Warfare in the South China Sea: The United States’ ‘Little Grey (Un)Men':
There should be little doubt that the use of unmanned systems sets a strong political signal. Not only does it unambiguously establish the Washington and its allies’ willingness to counter Beijing’s “Little Blue Men,” it demonstrates the United States’ capacity to maintain its presence and reach into highly contested territory. Moreover, while providing additional intelligence to the United States and its allies, it signals an eagerness not only to challenge China’s posture but also to expand in another direction within the framework of hybrid/political warfare.
Perhaps a little overstated, since the UUV in question was not in what most would consider "highly contested territory" unless one grants China's claims to most of the South China Sea, claims already rejected by a tribunal as set out here.

*All emphasis added by me