Sunday, March 26, 2017

Leaning Forward ... From the Sea

I've written a number of posts on how The AFRICOM Queen (see page 50) could be used in areas other than Africa. But ultimately I think it would be most useful in the waters around Africa, supporting a more forward-leaning military role against jihadis there.

In a press conference, the head of AFRICOM talks about how he would like more authority to go after threats in a timely manner:

I would just tell you though, again, I think it's fair to say, to characterize it, if we get some type of approval, eventually, that gives us authorities, that'll give us more flexibility, it will give us -- you know, we'll have the ability to operate probably quicker and I think -- and with that though comes at the same time -- this is really the point I want to make.

We have a very, very strong requirement to make sure that we utilize that authority appropriately. We are not going to Somalia into a free fire zone. We have to make sure that the levels of certainty that have been there previously, those are not changed. ...

This might be heresy for a COCOM to say this but I would say in the case of Somalia right now, we have adequate resources that if we were given some type of new authority, unless something significantly changed on the ground with al-Shabaab, we have adequate resources to support this.

We are at war and as long as the commanders in the field know who the enemy is and what the objectives and scope of action in scale and geography are, they should have the freedom to act against enemies without making the White House staff the commander in the field signing off on every operation.

And while the general says that he has the assets already to cope with Somalia issues, the situation could change. Or there might be fleeting opportunities beyond the capacity of his resources. Or the threats may arise in areas farther away than the facility in Djibouti or from allied bases in Tunisia, Niger, Spain, or Italy that we use.

For those contingencies, I think The AFRICOM Queen would be a good asset for General Waldhauser's command as a power projection platform.

Such a modularized auxiliary cruiser could carry land-attack missiles, armed drones, and helicopters for strike missions.

It could carry assets to fight pirates.

It could also carry special forces, light infantry, or Marines who could deploy ashore for direct action, advisory missions, or if including a section of artillery, fire support inland.

Perhaps it could even carry an expeditionary base in a box using shipping containers carried on the auxiliary cruiser to set up a bare bones drone and fire support base with a 30-day supply depot deeper inland for temporary use by American or allied troops flown in to man it.

The AFRICOM Queen would also be an asset in CENTCOM's area of responsibility, taking away the risk of operating expensive Navy warships in the Red Sea or off the coast of Yemen where Houthi rebels have used anti-ship missiles and a remove control boat bomb.

Heck, we have AEGIS Ashore. Could it be mounted on an auxiliary cruiser, too, for some anti-missile capacity?

Add in all the other engagement missions that the auxiliary cruiser could conduct to bolster African country capacity to resist jihadis and other threats to stability, and The AFRICOM Queen is definitely an asset that could expand the general's resources to deal with threats across a very large continent.

Opportunities may be fleeting and a mobile platform can move faster than a new base on land can be set up from scratch.

UPDATE: This map from The New York Times is illustrative:

Saving the map didn't save the labels (thanks NYT! Or perhaps it is my deficiency in knowing how to save it properly).

But for the purposes of this post you can see that many places we have small numbers of troops or equipment stored (with the exception of the sizable base in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa region) are near enough to coasts to be replaced or supplemented by assets and supplies carried on a modularized auxiliary cruiser that arrives off shore.