divendres, 25 de gener de 2013

Iran's fast attack craft fleet: behind the hyperbole*

Technical analysts, policy advisors, strategic planners and even the media rallied around the key buzzwords of 'anti-access / area denial' (A2/AD), 'hybrid warfare' and 'swarm tactics', hyping up the situation. Despite using such niche terminology and increased discussion in the public domain, it is necessary to look beyond the IRGCN's provocative rhetoric to evaluate such developments in their naval arsenal.

Reverse engineering the Bladerunner

Manufactured by Ice Marine, the Bladerunner, sold through a structure of international transactions, ended up in Bandar Abbas, Iran's largest port, which houses the IRGCN's headquarters. There, the vessel was dissected, rebuilt and armed with sophisticated weapons systems. Like previous platforms, design analysis from reverse engineering procedures was used to build and commission a fleet of clones capable of executing IRGCN missions in Iran's littoral areas in the Strait of Hormuz.

Questions were raised about Iran's ability to copy the main performance components of the Bladerunner, specifically the twin 1,000 HP Caterpillar C18 inboard engines and Arneson ASD12 surface drives, but technical experts suggest that Iran may well have the capabilities to replicate these components and IRGCN leadership claims they've already succeeded. With these systems, speed alone would offer the vessels a competitive offensive and defensive performance edge, allowing hit-and-run activities to be executed with top-notch manoeuvrability.

Comparing these activities to Iranian operations during parts of the Iran-Iraq War, dubbed the Tanker War, it is evident that the IRGCN has taken modernisation seriously. Their goal is to replace their underperforming Chinese and North Korean vessels with indigenously produced FACs to participate in 'swarm attacks,' a tactic in which waves of small vessels attack a larger slow capital target overwhelming it with small arms / RPG / missile fire, or even ramming it in suicide kamikaze-style attacks. Judging by aesthetics alone, the new fleet emits an air of professionalism as depicted in the box-out comparison.

Arming a faster fleet

These vessels can be outfitted in a variety of configurations, ranging from small arms to cruise missiles. Image analysis reveals that the majority are armed with at least one mounted DShKM 1938 heavy machine gun (12.7×108 mm, slightly larger than .50 cal), as well as 107mm or other similar rocket-launchers.
"These are radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-tonne targets and damaging even larger ones."
Iran's missile capabilities continue to grow. In reference to arming FACs, deputy defence minister and head of Iran's Aerospace Organisation, General Mehdi Farah, stated that the country's "missiles have the capability of being launched from vessels with speeds of over 30 knots, and these missiles include Zafar, Nasr, Noor and Qader." These are radar guided anti-ship cruise missiles capable of destroying 1,500-tonne targets and damaging even larger ones.
On top of this, the Iranians have imported Russian Shkval torpedoes and created indigenous clones, which they claim are outfitted on some of their FACs. These torpedoes which travel around 200 knots are a threat as many modern seaborne radar and targeting systems cannot engage surface projectiles at that speed.
Iran has already begun practicing delivery of Chinese made EM series and other devices from FACs in the Caspian in order to avoid further tension in the Gulf. Using these assets together with other conventional systems, Iran bolsters its A2/AD capabilities for control of Hormuz. Deploying mines in the strait would leverage Iran's FAC capabilities, forcing any power to think twice about intervening in the region, let alone transiting the Strait - firstly because of the psychological deterrent of operating in a constricted mined waterway, and second for the expensive, prolonged and dangerous task of post-conflict demining.

Controlling the Strait of Hormuz

The IRGCN seeks to develop and maintain a force capable of preserving Iranian control over the Strait of Hormuz. Jumping to conclusions about coalition forces having superior defensive surface capabilities and airpower, which may be correct, unfortunately places thorough analysis of the IRGCN in the backseat. It is imperative to keep in mind Iran's willpower and creativity and not underestimate the potential of the IRGCN, to execute spontaneous unconventional operations with its ever-growing asymmetric fleet against military or civil assets.
"The IRGCN seeks to develop and maintain a force capable of preserving Iranian control over the Strait of Hormuz."
Though a handful of FACs can be easily defeated with a wide array of defensive technologies, including helicopter-launched over-the-horizon targeting systems, a 'swarm' of such craft in the triple digits would be beyond overwhelming. Populating the local maritime domain with such a saturation of vessels could render defensive targeting systems useless, as they may not be able to simultaneously monitor, let alone engage, hundreds of swarming Iranian FACs. Moreover, RoE may not be cleared to engage all targets until they are identified, pose a direct threat, and are within their own offensive range.

While the likelihood of an FAC swarm attack against coalition military vessels remains unlikely, should Iran choose to turn its FACs against even one commercial vessel, it could cause catastrophic damage, with global policy and private sector ramifications. The FACs can swiftly outmanoeuvre the civil and military traffic in this relatively narrow and confined waterway and instigate problems, ranging from harassment of military vessels as already done, to a variety of direct attacks against commercial assets in Hormuz, reminiscent of the Tanker War.

Managing director of Strategic Analysis political risk consultancy, Ruth Lux, said: "The Strait of Hormuz is the most important oil chokepoint in the world and Iran is unlikely to close it as its economy is dependent on exporting upwards of two million barrels of oil a day via the Strait. Furthermore, Iran does not want to alienate those countries which oppose broader sanctions and it knows that a closure of the Strait would result in a US-led military response, which Iran wants to avoid. Continued Iranian threats are already having a negative impact on the energy market as Iran is capable of executing damage to infrastructure and harassment of vessels without full closure of the Strait."

While there appears to be no doubt that a closure of the Strait would be just as detrimental to Iran as to other countries dependent on energy supply from the Gulf, the IRGCN continues to reaffirm its ready ability to close the Strait of Hormuz at ease if provoked. Should a threatened Iran choose to take any A2/AD action in this strategic waterway, it would most likely come as a hybrid operation - using Iran's FAC fleet in support of shore-based missile capabilities and rapid deployment of naval mines to restrict access through Hormuz. Using these assets together, Iran may be able to leverage its capabilities to execute a more serious and sustained A2/AD operation than commonly perceived.


Seraj-1 fast attack craft
Built on the Bladerunner design, known for its stability, high mobility and power, this vessel was first indigenously cloned in 2010 and then mass produced between 2011 and 2012. The original Bladerunner has a remarkable top cruising speed of 65 knots, but IRGC naval commander Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi claims his Seraj-1 vessels are modified to 80-85 knots, with later generations expected to reach a target goal of 100 knots. Images show the Seraj-1 outfitted with modified 107mm rocket launchers (11 tubes) and a forward mounted DShKM 1938 heavy machine gun, though other weapon configurations are of course possible.
Torgah fast attack craft, or 'Boghammar'
These are modified versions of the fast attack craft bought in 1984 from Sweden's Boghammar Marin during the Tanker Wars and later refitted with Seatek diesel engines and a variety of large calibre armaments, most notably over-bridge 107mm rocket launchers and forward mounted DShKM. In the mid 2000s the Maritime Industries Group, a component of Iran's state Defence Industries Organisation, began reproducing mono and double-hull variants indigenously.

Zolfaghar fast attack craft
These lightly armoured, indigenously produced Iranian FACs are capable of speeds up to 70 knots. Note the twin tubes for Nasr-1 cruise missiles, as well as forward and rear mounted DShKMs.

Iran has included development of ekranoplans (sea-skimming ground effect vessels) to its FAC portfolio. The Bavar-2 is Iran's miniature version of a ground effect vehicle design never seriously developed for military use except by the USSR. Iran has built small ekranoplans capable of high speeds over flat land as well as water. The Iranians claim this craft is 'stealth' due to its low profile, though specialists indicate otherwise, especially as its exposed engines will glow in thermal imaging. Moreover, IRGN leadership has stated their ekranoplans are armed with machine guns and surveillance cameras.

Ya Mahdi
There has been speculation that the IRGN may use FACs for suicide missions. Some experts argue that FACs used in a suicide-style attack against multibillion dollar navy vessels would be catastrophic. Historically, however, suicide attacks have never been common operating procedure for any navy, let alone Iran, though it should not be ruled out due to increased radicalisation among the IRGC ranks. In today's paradigm, however, remote controlled, unmanned vessels may be able to deliver a similar affect without the loss of a pilot's life. Iran has developed the remote-controlled stealth Ya Mahdi, a high-speed unmanned and radar-evasive vessel to do just that.

* Article publicat a Naval Technology. Una breu però interessant panoràmica sobre l'inventari de llanxes d'atac ràpid iranianes. 

Èxit de la presentació de l'ICTINEU 3 als Estats Units*

L'equip del submarí del director de cinema James Cameron s'interessa per l'ICTINEU3

Els responsables del submarí ICTINEU 3 -primer submergible científic tripulat de Catalunya i l'Estat- ha presentat al congrés internacional Underwater Intervention 2013 (www.underwaterintervention.com), celebrat a Nova Orleans (EUA), les seves bateries d'ió-liti-polímer desenvolupades durant els últims 5 anys i que són les primeres d'aquest tipus en tot el món certificades i tolerants a la pressió. Aquestes bateries, que contenen 4 vegades més d'energia per pes i volum que les normals d'àcid plom, són compactes, funcionen sota l'aigua fins a altes profunditats i s'han convertit en les primeres a oferir una gran capacitat energètica (més de 10 KW/h) en aquest context.

La presentació internacional en primícia ha tingut un gran èxit entre els assistents experts en tecnologia submarina. En concret, l'audiència de Nova Orleans ha elogiat la quantitat i qualitat de tests que s'han realitzat per verificar la viabilitat i seguretat de les bateries, l'anàlisi de riscos i el procediment en el seu disseny. D'aquesta manera, l'empresa catalana ICTINEU Submarins ha estat la primera a nivell mundial en tenir un producte acabat d'aquestes característiques, comercialitzable, fiable, segur i certificat per a submarins tripulats, que també es pot aplicar a altres tipus de vehicles i plataformes submarines.

En el transcurs del congrés internacional, tant les bateries com el propi submarí ICTINEU 3 han aixecat moltes expectatives i interès per part de tots els participants, amb possibilitats de negoci a nivell internacional. En aquest sentit, algunes empreses i institucions ja s'han interessat pel sistema de bateries desenvolupat per ICTINEU Submarins per aplicar-lo a altres vehicles.

Admiració de l'equip de James Cameron enmig d'un programa de luxe

L'equip de l'ICTINEU 3 també ha rebut elogis tant pel seu disseny com per les seves funcionalitats, prestacions i qualitat en la construcció. De fet, el disseny català ha estat considerat com el submarí “més bonic i elegant” de la fira.  En especial, l'equip i l'enginyer en cap del James Cameron s'han interessat molt pel disseny i construcció de l'ICTINEU 3, afirmant que “és un projecte excel·lent” i que “a James Cameron li agradaria molt”.

El programa d'Underwater Intervention 2013 ha estat de luxe i ha comptat amb les següents presentacions: submarins ALVIN (EUA, 4.500m), MIR 1&2 (Rússia, 6.000m), SHINKAI 6500 (Japó, 6.500m), JIAILONG (Xina, 7.000m, que el 2012 ha iniciat les seves primeres immersions), NAUTILE (França, 6.000m), VIRGIN OCEANIC (EUA, 11.000m), DEEPSEA CHALLENGER (submarí amb el qual James Cameron va baixar a 10.989m de profunditat la passada primavera), una presentació del capità Don Walsh, que el 1960 va baixar amb el batiscaf TRIESTE a 10.916m i dues presentacions de l'ICTINEU 3, entre moltes altres.

A banda de l'equip de James Cameron, durant el congrés, els impulsors del submarí ICTINEU 3, Carme Parareda i Pere Forès, han tingut l'oportunitat de poder conversar i intercanviar impressions amb Chris Welsh (co-fundador de Virgin Oceanic) o l'esmentat capità Don Walsh, entre d'altres, els quals també han vist amb bons ulls el projecte català.

Els submarins tripulats, un sector a l'alça

En el congrés d'enguany, de referència mundial en tecnologia submarina, s'ha pogut constatar clarament que els submarins tripulats són un sector amb fort creixement ja que la participació i número d'assistents en la secció de submarins tripulats (que aquest any celebrava la desena edició) s'ha duplicat respecte les anteriors, superant de molt la participació en les altres seccions (vehicles autònoms, submarinistes professionals...).  Entre operadors i constructors, hi han estat representats més de 57 submarins civils.

S'han presentat els últims resultats dels submarins acabats de construir enguany, la majoria per a molta profunditat. També s'ha anunciat l'inici de la construcció d'almenys 11 submarins nous a tot el món per aquest 2013.

Dins del mateix marc del congrés internacional, ha tingut lloc també la reunió anual del comitè de submarins tripulats de la Marine Tecnology Societry (MTS) amb la representació dels centres oceanogràfics més importants del món: Karen Kohanovich de la NOAA (EUA), Weicheng Cui del China Ship Scientific Research Centerm (Xina), Itaru Kawama de JAMSTEC (Japó), Anatoly Sagalavich del P. P. Shirshov Institute of Oceanology (Rússia). En aquesta trobada hi han assistit autèntiques autoritats del sector, com l'esmentat Don Walsh, que el 1960 va baixar a la fosa de les Marianes a 10.916m de profunditat; Robert Surma i Harald Pauli, vicepresident i cap respectivament del departament de tecnologia submarina de la certificadora Germanischer Lloyd; i empreses constructores i operadores de submarins tripulats. En aquest cas, Catalunya i l'Estat espanyol han quedat representats per Carme Parareda i Pere Forès, de l'Associació Institut ICTINEU - Centre Català de Recerca Submarina.

Per últim, cal destacar que s'han fet diverses presentacions i taules rodones focalitzades en la seguretat i la certificació, de la mà de les entitats de certificació Germanisher Lloyd, ABS, NAVSEA, i dels delegats responsables de les forces especials i comandaments de l'armada dels Estats Units.

Albert Riera
661 108 175

ANNEX INFORMATIU adjuntat a sota
IMATGES: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/41932531/ICTINEU3_Imatges_Press.rar


* Felicitem a l'equip del projecte ICTINEU per la seva tasca, i els animem a seguir endavant. Sens dubte, Catalunya té talent, només cal posar-hi els mitjans.

This Simple Ship Could Let the Chinese Navy Circle the Globe*

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy now has an aircraft carrier, new jet fighters to fly off the flattop and even new submarines and guided-missile destroyers able to protect the refurbished Soviet carrier. And with the successful first sea trials of two new, 590-foot-long fleet oilers — tanker ships designed to keep other vessels fueled, or “replenished,” while sailing long distance — the PLAN could soon be able to deploy all this new hardware beyond coastal waters.
“Replenishment vessel construction rate will be a particularly revealing barometer of the PLAN’s future expeditionary intentions,” wrote Andrew Erickson, an analyst at the U.S. Naval War College. The more new oilers, the farther China will be able to send its new capital ships. Without underway replenishment, most naval vessels can travel only a few thousand miles; with fuel top-offs, they can circle the globe.
The latest, upgraded Qiandaohu-class oilers, also known as Type 903s, were launched at a shipyards in Guangzhou and Shanghai last spring. After additional work, the tankers began sea trials in the China Seas, testing out the vessels’ mechanical systems plus the storage tanks, valves, hoses and other gear for refueling other ships at sea. This week the first of the new Qiandaohus reportedly completed her trials, clearing her for frontline use.
When it comes to prepping new naval vessels for service, nine months is not a long time. Many U.S. vessels take years to go from launch through trials to commissioning. One U.S.-based Chinese military analyst, who blogs under the pseudonym “Coatepeque,” calls the oilers’ speedy trials “impressive.”
“The China navy must be needing those new milk cows bad,” Coatepeque wrote.
He’s not wrong. Prior to the introduction of the new Type 903s, the PLA Navy possessed just a handful of smaller oilers, including refurbished Soviet vessels and two of an earlier version of the Qiandaohu class: just five tankers in total to support a combat fleet numbering no fewer than 75 major warships, including frigates, destroyers, amphibious assault ships and the lone carrier. The U.S., by contrast, possesses more than 30 underway replenishment ships — all of them larger than China’s oilers — to support around 130 large surface warships.
Outwardly similar to commercial tanker ships, the military oilers are deceptively simple vessels. Their basic equipment hasn’t changed much in a century, but the techniques for using oilers are some of the most difficult to master in any navy.
To fuel up another ship, the oiler and the receiving vessel must match speeds and close within a few score yards of each other. Crews use special guns to launch lines between the vessels, then use the lines to haul across fuel hoses — all while the ships continue sailing. “It takes a crew adhering to strict safety practices to make an underway replenishment happen without incident,” according to Military Sealift Command, which operates U.S. oilers.
The shortage of oilers (referred to as “AORs” in military shorthand) and likewise the PLAN’s inexperience operating such ships, has imposed serious limitations on China’s ability to deploy naval forces beyond the China Seas. Regular counter-piracy patrols in the Indian Ocean plus the occasional exercise near Japan has stretched the oiler fleet beyond its capacity. “With only five AOR in its orbat, it can barely keep up,” Coatepeque wrote of the Chinese navy.
With the existing AOR fleet tapped out, the new carrier Liaoning would have forced Beijing to make a hard choice: keep the flattop in home waters or cut either the counter-piracy patrols or the long-range training cruises.
By the same token, the two new Type 903s will give the Chinese Communist Party options. Provided the carrier, her planes, escorts and other supporting forces function as advertised — and those are big ifs — China now has a large, potentially powerful warship that, with oiler support, can sail thousands of miles away to fly the flag, or fight a war.

*Notícia publicada a Wired. Com hem dit altres vegades, la logísitca, els "no-sexy ships" són essencials per mesurar la força real d'una flota.

dimecres, 16 de gener de 2013

Russian Navy Holds Syria Exercises*

MOSCOW, January 11 (RIA Novosti) - Ships of the Russian Black Sea Fleet and Baltic Fleets are to start exercises off the coast of Syria the Russian Defense Ministry said on Friday.

"A tactical group of Black Sea Fleet warships headed by the cruiser Moskva will undertake exercises in the eastern sector of the Mediterranean Sea," the Ministry said. "The tanker Ivan Bubnov has fuelled the ships and emergency drills have been carried out. On January 10 the tanker filled its fuel and water tanks and food stores at the Cyprus port of Larnaka."

A Baltic Fleet group consisting of the patrol vessel Yaroslav Mudry and tanker Lena will dock at Valetta on Malta for storing and to allow the crew to rest, the Ministry said. The ships will then head for the eastern Mediterranean, where the two ships will practice stores transfer at sea in day and night and the Yaroslav Mudry will carry out anti-submarine warfare drills.

Meanwhile the navy's large frigate Severomorsk will visit the Greek port of Suda during an anti-piracy mission to the Gulf of Aden from January 14-18. "Russian Naval Infantry soldiers will visit a NATO training center to get additional training" during the visit, the Ministry said.

The Russian Navy maintains a small base at Tartus on Syria's Mediterranean coast. Syria is currently locked in a civil war between government forces and rebels that the UN estimates has cost the lives of at least 30,000 people, while other estimates put the death toll at around twice that number.

* Notícia publicada a RIA Novosti. Malgrat que el focus de l'actualitat s'ha desplaçat cap a Mali, no hem de perdre de vista els moviments russos a la Mediterrània.

dimarts, 15 de gener de 2013

ACTUV - stalking silent submarines*

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) has unveiled its vision for a DARPA-sponsored programme to develop an unmanned vessel for long-duration tracking of even the quietest enemy submarines. Berenice Baker looks into the company's autonomous trimaran design, which can find and follow a target for up to 90 days, continuously relaying information to an anti-submarine warfare fleet commander.

SAIC's design for the ACTUV is fully modular

SAIC's solution for the Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel (ACTUV) programme is an autonomous trimaran unmanned surface vessel (USV) that can scan the oceans for enemy submarines during missions that can last up to 90 days, detecting even diesel-electric boats which are near-silent when moving slowly.

Requiring little human interaction, ACTUV can be remotely piloted when required for actions such as leaving a harbour. Otherwise a single operator, who can control several ACTUVs, would monitor activity from a communications centre and issue infrequent commands based on the information ACTUV transmits.

The on-board autonomy framework provides instantaneous transition from remote control to autonomous control and back again as required, while monitoring its surroundings and responding to mission instructions and priorities.

At sea, ACTUV shifts to fully-autonomous operation and engages its full suite of instrumentation and sensors to keep track of everything around it. Using collected data and sophisticated algorithms, ACTUV can track and classify other vessels and objects, infer the intent of any craft it tracks and evaluate and adjust quickly to developing circumstances. It carries out periodic low-bandwidth reporting of health and equipment status and the status of any contacts of interest to the command post.

Arriving at a target location, the ACTUV automatically adjusts its mission plan based on the current weather, geographical factors and external updates from the US Navy's Joint Task Force Commander's Navy Theatres and Strike Groups ASW architecture.

The potential sensor suite for ACTUV could include electro-optics, long-range and short-range radar, and LIDAR, which together would enable it to detect, localise, track and classify a target in all weather and visibility conditions up to sea state five (rough). ACTUV is survivable in conditions up to sea state seven, though some mission capabilities may be degraded.

Detecting and classifying a target

The ACTUV lingers in its loiter box until it receives tracking and signalling data from the ASW commander directing it to engage a target enemy submarine.

As it approaches, it uses long-range mid-frequency active-passive sonar to determine the approximate location of the target. It then uses high-frequency sonars with overlapping coverage to maximise tracking precision, and a towed field magnetometer array to provide additional information about target activity.
As the target submarine moves, the ACTUV establishes a close-in track and matches its trajectory, using a very high-frequency sonar to make an acoustic image of the target to classify it, passing this information to the ASW commander. The commander can then decide whether to order the ASW group to engage the target, or keep the ACTUV following in the hope that the submarine captain will realise that it cannot shake it off and return, demoralised, to port.

At the end of its mission, ACTUV returns to its home harbour, self-reporting its condition en route so minimal preventative maintenance can be carried out.

SAIC's design for the ACTUV is fully modular, with flexible mission payloads enabling it to be used for a range of tasks, including general marine intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR); surveillance towed array sensor system (SURTASS) surrogate; fleet overwatch and support; UUV / UAV launch and recovery; communications gateway and support provision and littoral re-supply.

* Article publicat a Naval Technology.  Interessant sistema de vigilància per operacions anti-submarines.