"Understanding The Threat" - Seapower Magazine - May 2008
I N T E R N AT I O N A L R E L AT I O N S
Understanding the Threat
American Embassy team, Thai security officials
work together to protect visiting U.S. military forces
By SCOTT M. BERNAT, Special to Seapower
Full U.S. military engagement
Environment Observations with Thailand, to include U.S. Navy
ship visits, was restored following the
Force Protection Detachment (FPD) Thailand is directly involved
democratic elections in December.
in operationally preparing and monitoring the environment for this
The complexity of Thailand’s
month’s Cobra Gold exercise.
security environment requires that
U.S. deployed military forces
s The FPD presents and participates in U.S.-Thai security seminars.
remain vigilant and set appropriate
s It deploys various security-related equipment to Thai security
An effective force-protection
program accounts for all seen and
s Members conduct port, airfield, route, exercise and liberty
unseen challenges and mitigates
venue vulnerability surveys and monitor and report on the overall
the threat through an aggressive
threat to deployed forces.
host nation engagement strategy.
Force protection is a continuous
campaign that does not begin and
hailand’s southern insurgency, political insta- end with the arrival and departure of visiting forces. It is
T bility and military coups all remain critical dependent on a thorough understanding of the threat
factors in determining the correct force pro- and operating environment, as well as the interoperabil-
tection posture for U.S. Navy deployments to the ity of American and host nation security forces.
“Land of Smiles.” The U.S. Navy relies on multiple sources to ensure
The security of visiting ships, aircraft, personnel the safety and security of forces transiting through or
and associated equipment is dependent on an excellent visiting Thailand. External sources of force protection
understanding of the threat environment, as well as the support include the American Embassy Country Team
capabilities, limitations and intentions of Thailand’s — comprising the Defense Attaché Office and Force
security forces. Thailand’s southernmost provinces Protection Detachment (FPD) and the U.S. Naval
routinely experience unrest, with frequent deadly Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) — as well as the
attacks on not only public officials and religious fig- local Royal Thai Police and military, who provide crit-
ures, but also civilians. Attacks include the use of ical land-based and waterborne security.
improvised explosive devices (IEDs), armed ambushes The cooperation and teamwork established among
and assassinations. these key partners, through routine liaison and engage-
The U.S. government halted U.S. Navy ship visits ment, ensures a comprehensive understanding of the
after the Thai military-led coup of September 2006, threat and security force-mitigation capabilities, allow-
which ousted then-Prime Minister Thaksin Shina- ing for the development of an effective security plan.
watra. A series of unsolved IED bombings in the capi- Thailand hosts more than 40 U.S. military exercises,
tol city of Bangkok followed several months later. seminars and exchanges each year, with some events
Speculation as to the perpetrators ranged from pro- involving more than 5,000 U.S. military participants.
Thaksin supporters to southern insurgents. Graft and U.S. Navy ship visits average two or more per month,
corruption allegations and court proceedings involving with deployed personnel numbering from 50 to 7,000.
public officials remain commonplace. The average length of each ship visit ranges from one to
40 SEAPOWER / M AY 2008
I N T E R N AT I O N A L R E L AT I O N S
seven days. U.S. military aircraft
visits average two to three per week.
The period between the coup
and the recent elections, however,
was marked by a significant decline
in U.S. military traffic in Thailand.
As a permanent American mili-
GLENN DEFENSE MARINE CO. LTD.
tary presence is not maintained in
Thailand, U.S. Pacific Command
(PACOM) is dependent on the FPD
to operationally prepare the envi-
ronment through the continuous
interaction with, and support to,
Thailand’s security forces.
FPD Thailand is led by a U.S.
Army Military Intelligence agent,
The Royal Thai Navy maintains a checkpoint at the Laem Chabang Port in Thailand
David L. Turner, with additional during a port visit by the U.S. Navy amphibious assault ship Essex. The Force
staffing by NCIS and U.S. Air Force Protection Detachment Thailand helps coordinate U.S.- and Thai-based assets to
Office of Special Investigations spe- develop an effective security plan for visiting ships, aircraft and personnel.
cial agents. Through the develop-
ment of overt information sources and associated threat Planned observer nations include China, South
reporting, port, airfield, route, lodging, training area and Korea, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia
liberty venue vulnerability assessments, the conduct of and Laos. Other possible participants include Australia,
security seminars and subject matter expert exchanges, Brunei, France, Italy, the United Kingdom, Bangladesh,
as well as the deployment of various force protection- India, Malaysia, Mongolia and the Philippines.
related equipment (e.g. bomb-suppression blankets,
Security Assistance, Assessment
search mirrors, hand-held and walk-through metal scan-
ners), the FPD is able to identify potential threats. It also In addition to augmenting FPD Thailand activities,
deployed NCIS personnel provide proactive and reactive
promotes mutual understanding and interoperability
criminal investigative support to visiting American
between American and Thai security forces.
forces. NCIS Security Training, Assistance and
While FPD Thailand provides continuous in-country
Assessment Teams are used, in direct coordination with
security engagement and expertise, the overall effective-
the FPD, to not only conduct port and airfield vulnera-
ness of its port, route and liberty area security initiatives
bility assessments, but develop, present and participate
is enhanced by NCIS asset integration and support.
in law enforcement, safety and security seminars with
The NCIS Multiple Threat Alert Center, based in
the Thai Police and military. These seminars, primarily
Washington, provides visiting ships, aircraft and person-
focusing on port, transportation route and liberty area
nel with threat analyses, assessments and alerts. Major
security concerns, promote theater security cooperation
military exercises, such as Cobra Gold and Cooperation
and provide the foundation for security force mutual
Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT), as well as rou-
understanding and interoperability.
tine ship visits, are often supported through the collec-
The U.S. Navy uses Royal Thai Navy and commer-
tive effort of FPD Thailand and NCIS personnel
cial berthing facilities, both pier-side and at-sea
deployed from Singapore or assigned to visiting aircraft
anchorages. Ship security postures vary with location,
carrier and expeditionary strike groups.
mindful of Thai government restrictions against for-
Cobra Gold, which this year takes place May 8-21, is
eign security personnel disembarking weapons or
an annual PACOM-sponsored exercise designed to
other equipment, such as bulletproof vests, handcuffs
improve U.S. joint and multinational interoperability and
capability to effectively respond to and execute complex
Naval facilities rely heavily on Thai military security,
multinational operations. The total number of partici-
while the use of commercial facilities requires the com-
pants this year could exceed 10,000 personnel, numerous
bined force of private security guards, Thai military and
ships, military aircraft, vehicles and equipment.
civilian police. In addition, the U.S. Navy-contracted
Planned direct participants include U.S. forces from
husbanding agent, Glenn Defense Marine (Asia) Co.
various commands, the Royal Thai Armed Forces,
Ltd., with its inventory of force-protection equipment
Singapore Armed Forces, Japan Self Defense Forces
— X-ray machines, walk-through metal detectors,
and Indonesian National Defense Forces.
SEAPOWER / M AY 2008 41
I N T E R N AT I O N A L R E L AT I O N S
The security of American forces
does not end at the port. Trans-
portation routes to and from liberty
areas, as well as the actual liberty
areas, require as much, if not more,
security planning and attention. It is
outside the port area that U.S.
Sailors and Marines are the most
vulnerable and exposed to potential
criminal and terrorist threats.
Awareness of the threats and the
application of common sense are
the first lines of defense for all per-
sonnel. Local police provide the
physical presence to detect and
deter the threats, while unarmed
and discreetly dressed American
shore patrol personnel are de-
ployed to assist service members
Mineman 1st Class Alex Tracy left, assigned to Explosive Ordnance Disposal
, and achieve and maintain an
(EOD) Mobile Unit Five, discusses explosive ordnance logistics with Royal Thai
appropriate individual force protec-
Navy EOD team members during Cobra Gold 2006 in Sattanhip, Thailand. Cobra
Gold is an annual joint training exercise aimed at developing interoperability,
Additional security personnel
strengthening relationships between services and developing cross-cultural
and measures can be implemented,
understanding among participating nations.
depending on the level of a threat,
floodlights, barricades, picket boats, secure waterborne in and around vehicle pick-up/drop-off points and lib-
perimeters, hand-held metal detectors, bomb sensors erty venues. Local police need to fully understand their
and detectors, K9 units and closed-circuit TV cameras role in protecting American service members, as well
— and a Nepalese Ghurka security contingent provide as be professionally capable of accomplishing the task.
critical and essential assets to deter, detect and counter Many Thai law enforcement officers, to meet this
potential threats. objective, attend the FPD-sponsored security seminars
The challenge of implementing an impenetrable and training, focusing on direct security support to
port/berthing area security plan is to ensure the interop- U.S. service members.
erability and mutual support of all security forces, Visiting U.S. Navy ships, aircraft and personnel require
American and Thai. The omission of interoperability the most accurate threat and security force information in
plans and training creates an unknown factor unaccept- order to plan for and accomplish a safe and secure visit.
able to the establishment of a solid security posture. Although there are no absolutes or guarantees, the effec-
Interoperability and integration of security plans, tive use of all available force protection resources, both
policies, procedures and force protection equipment is Thailand-centric and shipboard, mitigates the threat and
essential to a seamless approach to a potential threat. maximizes the potential for success. The comprehensive
Due to the short length of port visits, work/repair force-protection program instituted for Thailand provides
schedules and a desire to maximize liberty time follow- commands with the necessary information and assistance
ing intense deployments, it is not always possible for vis- to effectively manage potential risks. s
iting commands to participate in interoperability plan-
ning, seminars or training. These activities are usually Scott M. Bernat is an NCIS special agent assigned to FPD
relegated to specific American-Thai military exercises Thailand as chief of U.S. naval security. He also is a member of
such as Cobra Gold and CARAT, often not including the U.S. Navy League, Thailand Eastern Seaboard Council.
ships that will eventually visit Thailand’s ports. During his 21-year career, Bernat has deployed throughout
FPD Thailand and NCIS, through continuous coordi- Asia, Australia/Oceania, Central America, Europe, Middle East
nation and interaction with visiting ships’ force-protection and the United States in direct support to the U.S. Navy. He
personnel and Thai security forces, fill the gap and assist recently was selected to establish an FPD at the U.S. Embassy
in the development and oversight of effective and mutual- in Jakarta, Indonesia. Beginning in July, he will be the resident
ly supportive security plans. agent in charge and chief of U.S. military security there.
42 SEAPOWER / M AY 2008