Small Wars Journal

Manhunting from the Sea

Mon, 10/27/2008 - 6:00pm

Manhunting...from the Sea (Full PDF Article)

Although once considered little more than a nuisance and a force protection issue for overseas troops, terrorism will remain the top priority of our national security strategy for the foreseeable future. Regardless of the form in which a terrorist threat manifest itself, be it a state-sponsored global group, decentralized extremist cells, or just rogue individuals, Americans can no longer ignore stateless actors who have the ability to inflict serious harm on our citizens and economy. As the lethality and effectiveness of individual terrorist attacks grows, the ability to take down individual leaders or their networks becomes an increasingly urgent mission set for the military. Manhunting -- finding and neutralizing high value individual targets -- is now an integral part of irregular warfare operations supporting the Global War on Terrorism. These types of precision terrorist targeting operations, combined with sound counterinsurgency techniques, have proven effective in ongoing campaigns against the FARC in Colombia, Islamic insurgents in the Philippines, and Al Qaeda in Iraq.

Terrorists seek refuge in terrain that allows them to stay undercover from conventional targeting methods. These under-governed areas may include rugged mountainous, jungle, and coastal environments, or urban terrain where they can hide among the population. Over half of the terrorist safe havens listed in the 2008 State Department Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism Country Reports are in coastal countries or littoral areas. The Sinjar Records, a declassified database of Al-Qa'ida documents captured by coalition forces in October 2007 in Iraq provide another data set indicating terrorist proximity to the sea. All of the 328 individuals in those records who traveled to Iraq to fight against coalition forces or engage in suicide bombing missions originated from just seven different Middle East countries with coastlines of various lengths. Given the nomadic nature of terrorists and the proximity of many potential targets to the sea, distributed maritime forces are a natural player in manhunting efforts...

Manhunting...from the Sea (Full PDF Article)

About the Author(s)

Chris Rawley is a civilian counter-terrorism planner at US Special Operations Command’s Interagency Task Force.  He is also a surface warfare officer in the United States Navy Reserve, having served in Iraq, Afghanistan, Africa, the Persian Gulf, and Western Pacific. He writes on irregular warfare issues at the maritime strategy blog, Information Dissemination


LEF (not verified)

Wed, 10/29/2008 - 4:03pm

UAVs are a tremendously valuable asset, and seabased UAVs would provide many of the same advantages that carrier-based aircraft currently provide: rapid deployment, geographic proximity, and responsiveness. Their integration into our naval forces would be a force multiplier. The technology will eventually catch up with the concept.

However, the Navy does not need to develop a new, internal intelligence capability. They would be duplicating efforts already underway. A better solution would be to seek closer integration with the rapidly improving intelligence capabilities of the Army and Marines. A joint team of soldiers or Marines deployed on Navy ships would provide the most effective - and, importantly, cost effective - method of implementing seabased intelligence gathering/manhunting. Such teams could be deployed onto ships in high interest areas, as needed.

Most ships, most of the time, would not require a robust, organic intelligence gathering/manhunting capability, even in today's strategic environment. Such a capability would go unused too often, and would often be superseded by ground-based operations nearby. The Philippines, for instance, might seem a prime candidate for such a seabased manhunting capability - except that such capability already exists on the ground.

Attaching a jointly sourced manhunting capability to Navy ships, on an "as needed" basis, makes more sense than a permanent, rarely used capability present on every Navy ship.

Ken White

Wed, 10/29/2008 - 10:11am

Edit: Last two lines, penultimate paragraph, should read, adding the underlined:

"November 2001 were Marines from Ships the Afghans <u>could not see</u> that were in the Arabian sea around 1K miles away..."

Ken White

Wed, 10/29/2008 - 10:07am

Have to agree with Galrahn. The issue is developing -- and using -- the capability. The Navy has gotten, like the rest of this Nation and unfortunately its Armed Forces possibly a little too risk averse. Hopefully, that will change for them as it is (albeit too slowly) for the other services.

JamesM may be correct in stating that the article was an attempt to make the Navy relevant to the problem du jour but it is far from wooly headed.

To say that big guns from the sea are only useful for shore bombardment is possibly correct -- and a good point.

On the contrary, to assert that a man on a hill can see a ship approaching is untrue depending on how far out at sea the ship is sailing; shore launched missiles can be countered; UAVs and their capabilities improve almost daily; and this:<blockquote>"That's why it's normally only attempted in a full on, full frontal, large scale assault. Not the sort of thing you do in COIN ops."</blockquote>is just way wrong. While the Pacific Islands demanded such attacks, our latest Amphibious operations of any size, Inchon and Grenada were not frontal assaults, far from it -- and he apparently forgets that the first conventional troops on the ground in Afghanistan on 25 November 2001 were Marines from Ships the Afghans that were in the Arabian sea around 1K miles away...

Not to mention that the insertion of US Army troops, the 1st Bde of 10th Mountain Division in Haiti (1994), entailed use of a CVN as a Helicopter and troop carrier -- guess what; it worked. Innovation and intitiative can do good things.


I fundamentally disagree with your assessment of the capabilities of naval forces, and the enabling capabilities they both can and need to bring to the warfighter in the current war.

However, I concede your assessment is very popular in today's Navy. All it has taken is a pair of truck mounted missiles launched into the Mediterranean Sea by Hezbollah to force the black shoe Navy into full retreat from the littorals, and question the fundamental strategic purpose of our Navy in the current war environment.

I also agree completely when you claim we don't have good methods for launching and retrieving the modern reconnaissance and strike UAV's from most ships.

In 1922, many a critic pointed out the folly of taking off and landing an airplane from a ship, and yet Lieutenant Virgil C. Griffin did exactly that. The challenges of modern reconnaissance and strike UAV's from the sea can certainly be overcome as well.

Stealth is but one tactical capability to be exploited by naval forces, swiftness and surprise also emerge as assets to naval forces that retain more freedom of movement than even the wheeled mobile missile launcher. For all the hardened power of a continent, its structures lack mobility. Stealth has never been the only tactical deciding metric of the battlefield, its emphasis in your explanation gives it too much credit.

Today, due to a C-802 blowing a non-stealthy crane off an Israeli corvette, the vulnerability of warships in littoral waters has become a hurdle too high for many. This is simply not good enough, we must utilize our uncontested control of the sea as the strategic basing advantage the sea provides for our operations rather than concede this advantage to our enemies. Commander Rawley, with his experience in developing ounter-terrorism strategy while serving at Special Operations Command South, no doubt understands exactly what I'm speaking of.

This is just a woolly headed attempt to make the Navy relevant to today's problem de-jour.

There is no question that a Ship can provide a 'foot print' in a situation where a land based presence is untenable. It's not a bad delivery and recovery platform, but it has no stealth. A man on a hill can see it coming, that's why the Seals prefer deploying from something with more stealth.

In WWII ships with big guns became obsolete when faced with modern air power. The big guns were, by the end of that war, only useful for shore bombardment.

In the same way ships operating near the 'littoral zone' are now very vulnerable to the latest shore fired missiles. In an exchange between a ship and shore fired missiles the ship always loses, because it's dam hard to sink a continent.

We don't have good methods for launching and retrieving the modern reconnaissance and strike UAV's from most ships. Try launching and recovering a MQ-9 (Reaper) from your tin cup.

With regard to shore based operations, the Navy provides a very good, although very expensive, launch platform for long range cruse missiles. It provides some capacity for delivering men and equipment from the sea, and it provides a good platform for surveillance or suppression in the electromagnetic spectrum.
This it can do well, but launching shore raids is not a very cost effective use of the navy.

There is always an uncertainty in attempting a ship to shore landing, ranging from the natural obstacles of sea state, wind, tide, footing and navigation; through to the obvious that shorelines are often well monitored and densely populated.

It is very difficult to discreetly get men and equipment from a ship to shore. That's why it's normally only attempted in a full on, full frontal, large scale assault. Not the sort of thing you do in COIN ops.

If the navy wants to demonstrate it's ability to target individuals or groups of terrorist organizations there are a few boat loads of pirates who they could go catch. Now there is an appropriate target.

Commander Rawley,

This is a brilliant and timely contribution to the emerging conversation of our time within the Navy. The necessity of operators to discuss the operational level requirements and capabilities necessary in the war we are in is the next step of the emerging strategic discussion. The cross roads ahead debates ways to drive means of strategy, and the way ahead for the Navy imho is to use the sea as the base of operations for minimal footprints ashore while giving our operators maximum support and flexibility for conducting their work. The emerging discussion that focuses on the work of the Navy needs more contributions like this. The work of the 21st century fleet is to engage to and beyond the shore for purposes of both war and peace, and only with continued emphasis regarding the necessity of this work will proper resources be allocated to enable it. Well done.