dilluns, 26 de maig de 2014

Navy’s standard flies again on wreck of sunken battle-cruiser Repulse*

The White Ensign flies again on one of the most hallowed sites in Royal Navy history. Fifty-seven metres beneath the South China Sea Lt Adam Bolton admires the Royal Navy’s standard fixed to the wreck of battle-cruiser HMS Repulse, sunk by the Japanese 73 years ago

The reservist from HMS Vivid in Plymouth and fellow diver/photographer Mike Robinson fulfilled the wishes of the survivors’ association to return to the battered remains of the Repulse, one of two capital ships around which Force Z was formed in 1941 to deter Japanese aggression in the Far East.

Not only did the two vessels fail to curb Tokyo’s ambitions, but they were also pounced upon by Japanese bombers when they sailed from Singapore to attack enemy ships supporting landings on the Malay Peninsula.

After evading nearly 20 torpedoes, Repulse – which was built in WW1 and served extensively in the Mediterranean between the wars – was struck four or five times in quick succession, despite her gunners damaging or downing 15 Japanese aircraft.

After just 70 minutes of battle, the 25-year-old ship succumbed to her wounds, capsized and sank, taking more than 500 souls with her - ​just under half the ship’s company.

The Prince of Wales survived for another hour before she too tank about eight miles to the east.

In all, around 840 officers and men – including the task force commander Tom Phillips and flagship captain John Leach – lost their lives. Repulse’s captain, Bill Tennant, survived and became one of the architects of the Normandy invasion.

The wrecks of both vessels have been visited fairly regularly since being discovered by Royal Navy divers in the mid-1960s – although the Prince of Wales has generally received the bulk of the attention.

Adam and Mike made five dives on the Repulse and despite fairly poor visibility – around four metres – the duo were able to make a fairly comprehensive survey of the lost leviathan.

“Repulse is still a very imposing sight and it was a great honour to replace the Ensign on behalf of the survivors’ association,” said Adam.

“The wreck is still in good condition overall, lying on her port side in 57 metres of water. One of the 15in turrets is still facing out pointing the massive barrels up to the sky.

“The rest of the secondary armament on the port side is all visible. The seabed is littered with live ammunition – mainly pom-pom rounds and some 4in shells are clearly visible.”

Sadly, despite the sanctity of the site – both ships are protected war graves – the Repulse has suffered at the hands of ruthless salvage hunters; pre-nuclear-era steel is particularly valuable.

These scrap dealers have removed two propellers and caused substantial damage to aft, using explosives around the shafts.

All images are courtesy of Mike Robinson, Wreckferret Photography. You can see more of Mike’s haunting photography of the wreck of the Repulse at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/93805587@N03/with/14038097668/

* Notícia publicada al web de la Royal Navy. Al Regne Unit hi ha un gran respecte per als caiguts en combat, tant per part de les institucions públiques com per associacions ciutadanes. Una noble tradició que els catalans hem d'anar recuperant. També un sentit record per les tripulacions del HMS Repulse i l'HMS Prince of Wales.

dijous, 22 de maig de 2014

U.S. Should Condemn Spain and France’s Military Support to the Russian Federation*

As Russia continues to occupy Crimea and back political instability in eastern Ukraine, there are some NATO members that continue to provide Russia with military support. Spain allows the Russian navy use of its ports, and France is selling two amphibious assault ships to Russia.

This behavior is unbecoming of 21st-century NATO allies. The U.S. should work with likeminded NATO partners to apply pressure on France and Spain to end their military assistance to Russia.

Europe Is Divided
Although the secretary general of NATO described the crisis in Ukraine and Russian aggression as the biggest threat to Europe since the end of the Cold War, Europe has been divided on its response. Some countries, such as Germany and Italy, have strong economic ties to Russia. Other European nations are dependent for 100 percent of their natural gas and oil requirements on the Russian Federation.

These complex economic relationships do not justify Europe’s unwillingness to enact meaningful sanctions on Russia, but they certainly make it understandably more difficult. However, there is no excuse for the support given by Spain and France to the Russian navy.

Spain Welcomes the Russian Navy
Spain possesses two sovereign enclaves called Ceuta and Melilla that border Morocco. They are both sizable cities, with populations of 73,000 and 79,000, respectively. They are legally part of Spain, and they are the only two European Union (EU) cities located in mainland Africa. They are also part of the Schengen Agreement and the eurozone. The Russian navy has been using their port facilities for years.

On April 28, during the same week that the EU announced a new round of sanctions against Russia, Spain played host to the Russian destroyer Vice Admiral Kulakov at Ceuta.[1] During its stay, the destroyer took on nearly 740 tons of fuel and 100 tons of water. In the same week, two Russian navy tankers, the Duban and the Sergey Osipov, visited the Spanish port. Earlier this year, the landing ship Alexander Shabalin and the tug ship Khorov also called into Ceuta. It has been reported that a total of six Russian ships have visited Ceuta in 2014.[2]

Spain’s policy of allowing the Russian navy to use Ceuta in North Africa is also hypocritical in relation to its reluctance to allow visits by NATO ships to or from the British Overseas Territory of Gibraltar directly to or from Spanish ports. Therefore, under certain circumstances Spain would rather have a Russian ship visit a Spanish port than a NATO ship. In addition, Spanish authorities routinely deny any request by military aircraft from NATO members that arrives or departs the Gibraltar airfield and overflies or lands in Spain.

France: Arming the Russians
It is not only Spain providing support to the Russian navy. The French are literally equipping it as well. France is proceeding with a €1.2 billion ($1.6 billion) defense deal involving the sale of two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships to the Russian navy. The first ship, named Vladivostok, is due for delivery at the end of the year. The second ship, coincidently named the Sevastopol (the name of the naval base in Crimea, which Russia has just annexed from Ukraine), will follow soon after.

Although France will not be selling any weapons systems with the ships, the ships themselves provide a platform from which an array of offensive military capability and weapons can be deployed. Mistrals can carry 16 helicopters and have a flight deck with six helicopter landing spots. Russian Mistrals are expected to be armed with eight Ka-52K attack helicopters and eight Ka-29 assault transport helicopters. The ships can carry four mechanized landing craft or two hovercrafts, 70 armored vehicles, and up to 450 troops. Each ship comes equipped with advanced communications capabilities that make it capable of operating as a command-and-control vessel and has a 69-bed hospital. Admiral Vladimir Vysotsky, the former head of the Russian navy, said that his country would have won the war against Georgia in 2008 in “40 minutes instead of 26 hours” if it had had these ships back then.[3]

France is also hosting Russian sailors to train them to operate the ships. Russia sent 354 sailors and 60 instructors to France in February to undergo training on manning the ship; this first phase of training will be completed at the end of May. The second phase of training, consisting of around 400 troops, will begin in June and last until October.[4]

Although Russia has publicly stated that the two ships will be based with its Pacific fleet, there is no guarantee this will be the case forever—especially considering that the service life of a Mistral-class ship is several decades. The Mistral variant that Russia will be purchasing will have a reinforced hull and special deck-warming devices in order for it to operate in the Arctic Ocean.

Even with Russia’s recent aggression in the Ukraine, France has no plans to cancel the deal. In fact, French politicians have taken a flippant attitude to the deal. The French defense minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, recently claimed that France was only selling “civilian hulls” to Russia.[5] Bruno Le Maire, a former government minister and current member of the French National Assembly, justified continuing with the sale by stating, “It’s the only way to show Vladimir Putin we’re serious.… Putin is playing on Europe’s divisions and hesitations.”[6] Paris is in denial about the potent maritime capability these two platforms will offer the Russian navy.

Pressure from All Sides
French and Spanish support to the Russian navy weakens NATO’s opposition to Russian aggression against Ukraine and projects an image of a divided alliance. The situation requires:

Leadership from the White House. President Obama should make his disappointment about Spain and France’s behavior public. He should also request that each country cease their support to the Russian navy while the crisis in Ukraine continues.
Pressure from Foggy Bottom and the Pentagon. Secretary of State John Kerry and Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel should use every opportunity, including the upcoming NATO ministerial meeting in June and the NATO summit in September, to raise this issue with their French and Spanish counterparts.
A coordinated effort with European allies. The Administration should be coordinating with like-minded allies in NATO to apply pressure to force a change in policy in Paris and Madrid.
Action from Congress. It is incumbent on the U.S. Congress to make it clear that French and Spanish support to the Russian navy is unbecoming of a NATO ally.
Completely Unacceptable
It is unacceptable that two major NATO member states would offer support to the Russian navy at a time when Moscow is actively attempting to dismember Ukraine and undermining the security of the Baltic states. The U.S. government should make it clear at the highest levels that it views any support to the Russian navy in terms of equipment sales and port access as completely unacceptable in light of Russian aggression.

—Luke Coffey is Margaret Thatcher Fellow and Daniel Kochis is a Research Assistant in the Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom, a division of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies, at The Heritage Foundation.

* Notícia publicada a The Heritage Foundation. Si França i Espanya volen representar un paper creïble a nivell internacional (cadascuna al seu nivell), farien bé de no trencar files amb els seus aliats.

diumenge, 18 de maig de 2014

China Abandons Small-Stick Diplomacy?

So seagoing forces from Vietnam and China scrapped this week in the Paracel Islands. China’s state-run oil and gas firm CNOOC positioned an oil rig in waters claimed by both Beijing and Hanoi, prompting Vietnam’s leadership to send ships. No shots have been fired, thankfully. Ramming and dousing one another with water cannon have been the tactics of choice. How the contest will unfold remains to be seen.

China has controlled the Paracels for forty years now, since a mixed force of naval units and fishing vessels pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the waning days of the Vietnam War. And, of course, it claims “indisputable sovereignty” over the islands and adjoining seas. It has rebuffed pleas to mediate or adjudicate maritime territorial disputes in the China seas. Hence the visceral reaction the rig elicited in Vietnam.

One curious twist to this week’s turbulence: PLA Navy units were among the mix of vessels tangling in the Paracels. Is Beijing abandoning the small-stick diplomacy that has served it so well in recent years? Maybe. It wouldn’t be the first time China’s leadership has chucked out a promising diplomatic venture (see Offensive, Charm) for mysterious reasons, or missed an opportunity to smooth out relations with Asian neighbors (see Haiyan, Typhoon). Dumb and self-defeating things are part of Beijing’s strategic repertoire.

In this case, however, they may be paying Vietnam a backhanded compliment rather than blundering. China likes to behave like Sun Tzu’s Hegemonic King. It likes to overawe its neighbors, keeping them from making common cause against China, and to generally bask in its own awesomeness. But officialdom doubtless remembers past Sino-Vietnamese clashes on land and on the waves. And it remembers that China has occasionally come off the worst against this tough, determined opponent.

The leadership may reckon that it can’t overpower Vietnamese forces with white China Coast Guard hulls alone. Navies fight for disputed objects, whereas coast guards enforce domestic law against non-state lawbreakers. By sending warships, Beijing may be tacitly admitting that Vietnam — unlike the Philippines, whose navy and coast guard are utterly outclassed — is a serious antagonist. Take a bow, Hanoi.

What should the United States do about such encounters? As the Naval Diplomat suggested recently, the time may have come to accept the idea that offshore waters — territorial seas and exclusive economic zones — are “blue” territory, to borrow the ubiquitous Chinese term. Sending official vessels to grab an atoll within a coastal state’s offshore waters is equivalent to setting up an outpost on another nation’s borderlands. Encouraging fishing fleets to ply their trade in another nation’s EEZ is equivalent to encouraging poachers to cross land frontiers to purloin natural resources.

See? Accepting China’s claim that water is territory clarifies matters, doesn’t it? It shows that Beijing is guilty of cross-border aggression at Scarborough Shoal or Mischief Reef, or when it tries to auction off parts of the Vietnamese EEZ (as it did in 2012). And thwarting cross-border aggression is central to any mutual defense pact, as well as to overarching documents such as the UN Charter.

But. U.S. help should apply only to waters off landmasses that are unambiguously coastal-state territory. Helping defend, say, a 200-nautical-mile belt off Luzon, or off central Vietnam, is one thing. Such cases are crystal-clear. The situation is murkier by far out in the central South China Sea. It’s hard to see Washington’s ever fighting for the Paracels or Spratlys unless some international tribunal finally untangles the mass of claims to these islets. If America’s partners in the region are banking on the U.S. Navy’s steaming to their rescue, their hopes will probably be dashed.

It’s also hard to envision doing battle over any island unless it’s naturally formed, remains above water at high tide, can support human habitation, and can support economic life. That’s how the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea defines an island. It’s far from clear that any of the Spratlys or Paracels qualifies by all of these standards except for Woody Island, which is occupied by China. Unlike the other islets, Woody Island has its own fresh water and thus meets the UNCLOS tests.

It’s also worth pointing out that UNCLOS specifically states that “Rocks which cannot sustain human habitation or economic life of their own shall have no exclusive economic zone or continental shelf.” International law, then, would apportion a 12-nautical-mile territorial sea to such features while forbidding governments exercising jurisdiction there to assert exclusive economic zones centered on such rocks.

That puts a different spin on China’s nine-dashed line, doesn’t it? It’s hard to claim blue territory adjoining islands that aren’t islands at all. Some of the Spratlys and Paracels may qualify for territorial seas. Partially submerged features may not qualify for anything at all. This suggests the bones of a dual strategy for Southeast Asia states and external allies such as the United States: extend mutual-defense arrangements to cover EEZs washing against coastal-state homelands while seeking legal rulings on the status of the Spratlys and the Paracels.

And indeed, Manila recently opened a legal offensive, taking its case to the Law of the Sea Tribunal. In all likelihood, the jurists will agree that there is no basis for Beijing’s nine-dashed line — especially where it claims waterspace within EEZs adjacent to the metropolitan Philippines. As for the flyspecks in the central South China Sea, all claimants are apt to be disappointed at the tribunal’s findings. Few are islands in any legal sense. Sovereignty over them confers exclusive economic rights to minor sea areas at most. A decision to that effect would return most of that expanse to what it should be: an international commons, open to free use by any seafaring society.

China’s response to such a ruling will probably evoke the Incredible Hulk: China smash!!! After all, it’s a big country and other countries are small countries. Small countries should get used to it, dontcha know? But if it does defy the tribunal, Beijing will have revealed just how lawless it is. And it will have given fellow Asia-Pacific sea powers reason to join forces against it. Let’s wage some lawfare of our own.

* Article publicat a The Diplomat. Clarificadora reflexió del professor James R. Holmes sobre el que està passant entre la Xina i Vietnam.

dissabte, 17 de maig de 2014

First Northern Fleet drones taking off*

The new drone unit, which is based under the Fleet’s motorized rifle brigade, has been officially launched, the Russian Armed Forces informs in a press release. The unit includes a series of flying vehicles, with flight capacity ranging from 10 to 150 km. The unmanned aircrafts used are based on the Granat, Zastava and Orlan models.

“Thanks to advanced video and photo equipment, the drones can give their operators accurate information about the movements of enemy forces both at daytime and nighttime”, the Northern Fleet informs.

* Notícia publicada a The Barents Observer. Com hem dit recentment, l'increment de la presència russa a l'Àrtic no és quelcom temporal.

dimecres, 7 de maig de 2014

Austal launches third patrol boat for Australia’s border force*

Austal has launched the Cape Nelson, the third of eight cape-class patrol boats (CCPB) intended for the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (ACBPS).

The Cape Nelson's launch, held at the company's Henderson facility in Western Australia, marked its first lowering in water, and paves the way for full completion and sea trials. The final delivery to the ACBPS is expected in the third quarter of this year.
Austal president and general manager Graham Backhouse said the vessel will play a vital role in protecting Australia's borders from multiple maritime threats.
"It has been designed to have greater range, endurance and flexibility, as well as enhanced capability to operate in more severe sea conditions and across [a] longer range than the current fleet of Customs and Border Protection vessels and indeed [the] Royal Australian Navy Armidale patrol boat fleet," Backhouse said.
Powered by two Caterpillar 3516C main engines, the 58m-long patrol boat also integrates two ZF 9055A gearboxes and two fixed pitch propellers, in addition to a HRP 2001 TT 160kW bow thruster that boosts manoeuvrability. It has a maximum speed of 25k and 4,000nm range at 12k.
"The vessel will play a vital role in protecting Australia's borders from multiple maritime threats."
Designed for their role in maritime law enforcement, the Cape-class patrol boats can also undertake 28-day patrols, combat the full range of maritime security threats and ferry a larger crew.
Furthermore, these boats can also launch two tender-response vessels simultaneously, as well as detect, track and intercept an extended range of threats in the maritime domain and collect intelligence and store data.
Accommodating a crew of 18, CCBS also incorporate two electronic chart display and information systems (ECDIS), a pair of gyro compasses, two differential global positioning systems (DGPS), a secure marine-automatic identification system (AIS-S), an electro-optical sensor system (EOSS) and radars and voyage data recorder (VDR).

*Notícia publicada a Naval Technology. Continua la renovació de la flota de patrulleres australianes. Aquest país, cal recordar-ho, té una enorme línia de costa despoblada que ha de cobrir constantment davant les diverses amenaces a la seva seguretat provinents del nord.

dimarts, 6 de maig de 2014

Israeli Breakthrough: Submarines Without Periscopes*

A submarine without its periscope? Researchers from Israel’s Technion are developing an underwater photography and surveillance system that might make periscopes obsolete.

Close to a hundred years and always the same process: Submarine commanders who wanted to see what was happening on the surface raised their periscope with the “up scope” command, or lowered it with “down scope.”

That’s about to change. In the future submarine commanders will be able to monitor the surface from the depths without relying on periscopes. A team of Israeli researchers from the Technion’s Faculty of Electrical Engineering will present their new system at a scientific conference taking place in Santa Clara, Calfornia: A system that allows an underwater vehicle to see above the surface without a physical periscope – using a virtual periscope instead. The system is still under development, but the idea is sound and has already been successfully tested. The new virtual periscope system is called “Stella Maris,” the star of the sea.

“Divers have been using periscopes for a hundred years now,” said Prof. Yoav Schechner, along with the two doctorate students Marina Alterman and Yochai Savirski. “The periscope’s downside is the fact that it gets exposed once it rises above the water surface.” The alternative system developed by the scientists includes a fully submerged camera and a special sensor, used to create a virtual periscope and avoid exposure.
The main technical challenge was image distortion due to wave activity. In order to solve this problem the researchers founed a solution used by astronomers, a mechanism that reduces image distortion, and applied it to naval systems. This mechanism, a refracted imaging sensor, includes a thin metal sheet with precise, laser-cut holes that measure sunlight refraction, used to correct distortions in images taken by the new underwater system.

Technion researchers have already tested the system along the Haifa shores, taking pictures of team members from below the surface without using a physical periscope. Lab test results were also satisfactory. Prof. Schechner explained that “there’s still a lot to do before periscopes vanish entirely, but our work continues.”

The periscope will also have some civilian uses, such as tracking and taking pictures of birds at sea. The system, from its position on the bottom of the sea, will be able to track birds in flight, while plummeting towards the water and during their stay under the surface.

* Notícia publicada a Jewish Business News. D'arribar a fer-se realitat aquesta tecnologia, seria una canvi notable en les operacions submarines. És cert que els periscopis pràcticament són innecessaris per atacar objectius de superfície, ara bé, per operacions de reconeixement clandestí la situació canvia...

diumenge, 4 de maig de 2014

Truong Sa submarine denied test site*

The setback came as discouraging news to Nguyen Quoc Hoa, developer of the sub, and other interested scientists.

Hoa and his colleagues had been convinced that the testing license was forthcoming from the local authorities, right up until the final decision was made. Vu Manh Hien, Director of the Thai Binh Department of Science and Technology, had told the local press on April 23 that he was certain that the Truong Sa would receive permission to go to sea.

“I cannot see any problems with the experiment. All new products need to be tested,” he told the Dat Viet newspaper.

Hoa had expressed his hope that his sub’s first outing at sea could take place on April 29, to coincide with the 39th anniversary of the Saigon Liberation Day and the nation’s reunion.

Just two days later, however, Hoa received a dispatch from Thai Binh’s People’s Committee. The missive applauded Hoa’s determination and expressed its support for the sub testing plan. But it went on to state that Hoa would not be allowed to test his sub in Thai Binh waters.

“The plan to test the sub in territorial waters, in the Diem Dien port area, about 12 kilometers offshore, at 11 am to 3 pm, is unreasonable and cannot be implemented,” the dispatch reads.

“The Quoc Hoa Mechanical Engineering Company (Hoa’s private business) still has not conducted the necessary surveys on the geographical and hydrographical conditions, and it has not demonstrated the measures to be taken to ensure safety for humans,” it continued.

As if to soften the rough edges of its rejection, Thai Binh added a word of advice: seek the support of the Ministry of National Defense, and consider testing the sub at the Navy High Command Region 1.

Commenting about officials’ decision, Hoa said: “Given this new reality, I will have to take the proposal to a higher level, as it is clear that the sub’s testing cannot be conducted in the territorial waters where it was born”.

Hoa said he regrets that he was not invited to the officials’ meeting to discuss the sub’s testing. “Those who made decision on my case do not have deep knowledge of submarine technology. Therefore, they feared the testing could be unsafe,” Hoa said.

“They said the water level would be low on April 29, thus unsuitable for the testing. However, I have learnt from the Hydrology Department that this was a time of high tide, and would have been a good day for testing,” he maintained.

Phan Boi Tran, known as the developer of the first mini-submarine in Southeast Asia, said if Hoa can get support from the Navy High Command Region 1, the testing would be easier and safer. There would be four ships following Truong Sa during testing, and one more ship with a large crane to be ready for an emergency.

Dat Viet

* Notícia publicada a Vietnamnet. Com veiem, més enllà dels contratemps concrets, Vietnam es pren seriosament la seva indústria de defensa, i més concretament la naval.