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Research Report

NETWORKED TRANSPARENCY: Constructing a Common Operational Picture of the South China Sea

Van Jackson
Mira Rapp-Hooper
Paul Scharre
Harry Krejsa
Jeff Chism
Copyright Date: Mar. 1, 2016
Pages: 54
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https://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep06387

Table of Contents

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  1. (pp. None)
  2. (pp. 1-1)
  3. (pp. 3-4)

    The South China Sea is strategically important and resource-rich, crucial to the lifeblood of U.S. and Indo-Pacific economies. Roughly one-third, or $5 trillion, of the world’s commercial shipping passes through its waterways annually. The South China Sea is home to proven reserves of at least 7 billion barrels of oil, as well as what is estimated to be 900 trillion cubic feet of natural gas.¹ Fifty percent of all global oil tanker shipments pass through the region.² And these shipments are vital to meeting the energy needs of most Asian countries, providing 60 percent of Japan’s and Taiwan’s energy, two-thirds...

  4. (pp. 6-14)

    The evolving Asian security environment – increasingly influenced by the aforementioned resource and sovereignty competition – is on a trajectory that promises to become less stable absent intervention. Territorial disputes in the South China Sea have long been a source of friction, but the strategic landscape is shifting in new directions. The lack of maritime domain awareness in the South China Sea is encouraging military competition and increasing the risk of miscalculation. Three interlocking trends are feeding this trajectory: widespread military buildups in high technology; a distinct type of coercion that blurs the line between aggressor and defender; and a...

  5. (pp. 16-21)

    Any project to enhance South China Sea maritime domain awareness starts from a solid baseline; Southeast Asian governments own some capabilities and participate in local information-sharing networks that may lend themselves to a more integrated picture of South China Sea activity. Regional states vary substantially in the intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) assets they possess, as well as those they desire, and this may inform the degree to which they are able to contribute to and draw from collaborative MDA efforts. There are also several functional but incomplete multinational platforms in the region, some of which may have a role...

  6. (pp. 23-25)

    The South China Sea’s patchwork of maritime awareness capacity already contains nascent capabilities and process norms needed to build a robust, regional architecture for maritime awareness. The tasks that remain are to generate more and better overall information coverage and to forge a shared, networked picture of activities and assets operating in the South China Sea. Such a “common operational picture” can serve many purposes and take many forms. But regardless of form or function, all manifestations of maritime domain awareness involve three process elements: data collection, data analysis, and information distribution via visual display. Maritime domain awareness fundamentally depends...

  7. (pp. 27-30)

    These process elements – data collection, data analysis, and information distribution – can be used to build a common operational picture of different depths and characters. The basic vision of shared, continuous, near-real-time awareness of the South China Sea via visual displays of information, which is technologically possible today but cost-prohibitive, consists of at least three layered pictures or models: open access, participatory access, and exclusive access. As captured in the table below, one can conceptualize each of these pictures of activity as “layers” of situational awareness because they complement one another, but also have distinct limitations; a complete picture...

  8. (pp. 32-39)

    Enhancing the operational transparency of the South China Sea is a complex task with no single or obvious solution. How should the United States go about expanding the circle of access to situational awareness information while increasing the volume and quality of operational information available as well? As underscored in the previous section, each layer of maritime awareness has unique data collection and information distribution requirements. Accordingly, the types of effort and expense needed to enhance one layer may be different from – and even potentially rob the available resources from – another layer. This section therefore considers multiple approaches...

  9. (pp. 41-43)

    As the previous section outlines, making operational transparency of the South China Sea a reality requires a wide array of diplomatic, military, and commercial activity. There is no silver bullet, and the goal of perfect, real-time shared awareness may always remain elusive. Still, drawing on all four approaches described here as a foundation, there are a number of tasks that the United States can begin today to significantly enhance information-sharing about and awareness of who does what in the South China Sea.

    Set Up a Big-Data Task Force: The secretary of defense, in partnership with the State Department’s Bureau of...

  10. (pp. 45-46)
  11. (pp. 47-50)
  12. (pp. 51-52)