Air and Space Power in Counter-Piracy Operations

By Lieutenant Commander

By Lt Cdr



, IT


Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2012-2016)

 December 2012


This document provides a general understanding on the principal means whereby NATO CP operations could be supported by A&S Power. In order to offer a self-contained reference source, it sets out the piracy threat as it exists in the current time frame and con­siders the effort sustained by the international community. Specific focus is then provided on current and near-term future capabilities and processes that, if made available to NATO, could deliver effectiveness in the attempt to counter piracy. In discussing the specifics of A&S Power contribution, it utilises an experimental approach aimed at determining the right mix of forces, by empirically measuring the pro­ficiency of different combinations. The paper concludes with a series of recommendations derived both from the experiment results and JAPCC SMEs research.


NATO has been contributing military forces, mostly warships, to the Counter-Piracy (CP) mission off the Horn of Africa (HoA) since October 2008. Commanders at sea have made several strong appeals for more Air and Space (A&S) assets, namely, Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), Airborne Warning and Command ­System (AWACS) and UAS Systems stating that A&S assets are required to ensure rapid reaction capa­bi­lities and to enhance situational awareness. A limited number of assets have been operating under the ­European Union (EU) Flag (Operation ATALANTA), and the ­US-led Combined Maritime Force (CMF). Other than organic helicopters aboard warships, NATO only recently contributed air assets to its own mission, Oper­ation Ocean Shield (OOS), but in limited numbers and with intermittent deployments.

This low weight of effort is likely to persist. However, if the effects of piracy were to become more severe in terms of economics and safety for seafarers, the priority of the CP mission would likely rise and the Alliance may resolve to deploy A&S assets. As such, NATO nations must be prepared to deploy and employ the most effective and efficient mixture of A&S forces.


The aim is to provide an insight into the A&S Power contribution to CP operations off the HoA by determin­ing the optimum use of A&S assets in the CP mission.

Specifically, as a preparedness prerequisite for the ­deployment and employment of NATO A&S assets for CP, this document attempts to fill the need to define the best composition of capabilities for the most efficient and effective Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) support to maritime forces.

As a secondary objective, this document also seeks to extract best-practice concepts for the enhancement of regional Maritime Domain Awareness.

To achieve the aims, the JAPCC addressed the CP ­issue via a scientific and empirical approach based on an experiment executed by the Boeing Portal, a Boeing Defence UK Ltd asset specialised in advanced modelling, simulation and analysis.


Naval operations have increasingly gained relevance in the law enforcement actions against piracy. This paper considers the positive influence that A&S Power can produce in the overall effort to disrupt piracy. It also sets the objective by providing the necessary background information to prepare the Alliance with a detailed plan for ISR A&S support to CP off the HoA, which could also be set as a model for the enhancement of NATO’s understanding of how to most effectively and efficiently employ A&S assets in support of other Maritime Security Operations (MSO).


In general, this document is designed to be a readily-accessible reference for use by those personnel with responsibility for or interest in the application of A&S Power in CP operations.

Being based on the results of an experiment, this document is not intended to provide authoritative or definitive advice, nor is it a substitute for relevant doctrine, policy or reference documents.

Primary stakeholders for this paper are those headquarters running or participating and leading CP oper­ations and those nations providing or able to provide A&S assets.

Dissemination will be assured to all NATO / EU / national headquarters and agencies engaged in the mission against piracy.

Assumptions and Limitations

  • Piracy will not be entirely eliminated in the short term, even by kinetic action ashore;
  • NATO will not terminate Operation Ocean Shield in the short term;
  • The study is limited in scope to the A&S support to CP operations under the current limitations of OOS, meaning operations at sea and excluding engagement operations ashore from the air;
  • This paper does not include a comprehensive ­approach on the Piracy issue, but is rather a part of it;
  • To avoid duplications of existing documents and ­redundancy, all information on piracy and CP oper­ations in this paper are to be considered the framework of the analysis of A&S Power contribution to CP;
  • The research and the experimentation do not address the full range of A&S Power capabilities in support of CP operations, rather it mainly refers to air and space based ISR capabilities.


This paper is the result of JAPCC Subject Matter ­Experts (SMEs) study and research led by JAPCC Combat Air Branch. It also includes information contained in an experiment report produced by The Boeing ­Portal. The experiment was designed by JAPCC and the Boeing Portal under cooperation guidelines.


This document has been compiled by retrieving open source information. It therefore carries no security classification and is releasable to the public.

Reference to classified sources may be required to support more detailed analysis and formulate recommendations that go beyond the information and the findings presented here.


The JAPCC gratefully acknowledges all those indivi­duals responding to requests for support and data provision in producing this document. Special appreciation goes to The Boeing Portal1 team for the ent­husiasm, candour and expertise shown in the experimentation process, which proved to be vital for the accomplishment of the aim of this paper.

The Boeing Portal is Boeing Defence UK’s (BDUK) state-of-the art facility that uses advanced technologies to support customers’ needs to explore and understand requirements in both the defence and security domains. It provides the environment to conduct experimentation to analyse all aspects of military and security re­lated operations. The centre can be used to compare the effectiveness and survivability of ­competing systems, to test future scenarios, and to assess potential solutions before they are delivered to the user community.
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Lieutenant Commander
Joint Air Power Competence Centre (2012-2016)

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