Writer: Hadrien T Saperstein, Asia Centre, Paris
The Royal Thai Navy’s (RTN) maritime and naval strategic thought has undergone a significant shift. In 2008, it moved away from its blue-water navy ambitions — epitomised by the plane provider Chakri Naruebet — in the direction of a complete strategy focussed on maritime safety cooperation, collective defence and non-traditional safety menace administration. The RTN adopted the 2015 Community Centric Warfare Plan, printed the 2015–2021 Nationwide Maritime Safety Plan, and reorganised the Thai-Maritime Enforcement Command Centre in 2017.
Within the up to date age of warfare, continental nice sea energy states positioned on Thailand’s geopolitical periphery — China, India and the USA — interact in an entire vary of militarised and non-militarised maritime actions.These sea powers search to attain particular strategic targets within the amorphous area of grey-zone battle with out ruinous escalation to high-intensity warfare. This presents a sophisticated problem for defence forces past strategising to linear moderately than multi-dimensional approaches.
The continental nice sea energy states have already begun the method of converging land and maritime domains by the ‘continentalisation’ or ‘infrastructuralisation’ of the littoral seas. This course of successfully brings to bear a land-centric, multi-dimensional strategy to technique and applies it to the maritime area.
In response a analysis report on Maritime Safety was forwarded in 2016 to the Thai Nationwide Meeting. It concluded that the RTN was not able to securing its 5 maritime pursuits: sovereignty, safety, prosperity, sustainability and honour. It additionally really helpful a extra versatile strategy to maritime technique and a extra responsive posture in view of real-world circumstances.
Subsequently issued nationwide coverage paperwork, together with the 2018–2037 20-Yr Nationwide Technique and the 2019–2022 Nationwide Safety Coverage and Plan, level to the identical rising grey-zone safety challenges. However in apply, the insurance policies and strategic thought endorsed in these plans primarily preserves the army-dominated established order.
Michael Handel counsels that warfare within the up to date age is much too sophisticated for a single complete technique or idea of safety. Nonetheless, the idea of Hybrid Maritime Warfare (HMW) may assist the RTN improve its doctrines and alter successfully to its new working atmosphere.
The HMW idea is prone to be seen favourably by the Thai authorities. The departing commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Military, Normal Apirat Kongsompong, selected to undertake an analogous idea, Land Hybrid Warfare, for the military throughout his tenure. The RTN’s Commander-in-Chief Admiral Luechai Ruddit leveraged this precedent to ‘cease [with] the previous, begin [with] the brand new’, opening the door for the HMW idea. The incoming military and navy management — Normal Narongphan Jitkaewthae and Admiral Chatchai Sriworakhan — will doubtless proceed these efforts.
Retired US Admiral James Stavridis proposes in Maritime Hybrid Warfare is Coming that the HMW idea affords 4 distinctive benefits. First, it permits for the destruction of an adversary’s capabilities with out attribution, permitting for ‘higher latitude of exercise’ to keep away from criticism and worldwide sanctions. Second, because the maritime area is a extra fluid atmosphere, ‘it bestows the benefit of shock’. Third, it provides brokers ‘efficient management of the tempo and timeline of occasions, given their inherent ambiguity’. Fourth, ‘it’s a lot inexpensive than constructing the large and capital costly platforms wanted to conduct standard littoral warfare’.
One other benefit of HMW is that it helps navies that subsist in a political context the place governments lean in the direction of land-centric strategic thought. As Wilfried A Herrmann noticed in Naval Modernisation in South-East Asia, ‘the nationwide technique of Thailand, designed and promoted by the respective [Army-dominated] Royal Thai governments, just isn’t primarily a maritime technique, however fairly continental in its core’.
This land-centric understanding of the nationwide army technique is anachronistic. Latest technological and political tendencies level to the convergence of land-centric and maritime strategic ideas within the littoral seas.
The RTN was as soon as prevented from creating a strong sea energy functionality because of the dominance of the ‘core continental tendencies’, evident in Thailand’s army-formulated nationwide technique and coverage paperwork. But this downside could lastly be circumvented by software of the HMW idea. This may allow the RTN to leverage its ‘continental sea energy’ id to attain its beforehand outlined maritime pursuits within the littoral seas, notably the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea.
The COVID-19 disaster has accelerated the necessity for the RTN to undertake the HMW idea. Thailand’s authorities shall be focussed on continental issues for the foreseeable future, seeing that the burgeoning scholar protests are intensifying the talk over Thailand’s democratisation course of. And the specter of a COVID-19 second-wave and an financial disaster loom. These eventualities could thwart any lingering blue-water ambitions expressed by massive naval procurement applications, resembling the federal government’s deliberate procurement of Chinese language-built submarines.
Hadrien T Saperstein is a researcher at Asia Centre, Paris.