dissabte, 26 d’abril de 2014

Measuring naval power: bigger ain't always better*

Some ideas are undead. Even false ones are hard to kill. Exhibit A: the conceit that the U.S. Navy is bigger, or stronger, or something, than the next X navies combined. The Naval Diplomat was dismayed not long ago to hear a seasoned scholar of maritime affairs retail a version of this line. She, he, or it contended that the navy is “more powerful” than the next sixteen navies.

Implication: the U.S. Navy could fight an alliance among its sixteen strongest potential opponents with a 50-50 chance of victory — or better. Whoa!

And wrong. Egregiously so. This factoid is nothing more than a tonnage figure. It means the U.S. Navy outweighs the next sixteen (or thirteen, the usual figure bandied about during the 2012 election campaign) navies. That’s all. Framed in those terms, the American advantage doesn’t sound so overpowering, does it? Still less is tonnage a sound basis for decisions about how many and what types of ships you lay down, or what combat systems you build into them.

Now, bulk isn’t entirely meaningless. Indeed, it’s a must for a navy like America’s that journeys and does battle across intercontinental distances. Bigger hulls house more fuel, stores, and ammunition. More storage capacity for bullets, beans, and black oil (as U.S. Navy sailors of a certain, ahem, vintage like to say) means more rounds out the barrel, the ability to undertake longer voyages, and greater time on station once in theater. None of these are minor things.

A navy that displaces more, then, may be stronger than a slimmer opponent. But not necessarily. If tonnage were all that mattered — as our factoid maintains — then the Maersk Line, with its heavyweight container ships, would be the world’s strongest navy. The freighter Emma Maersk, after all, displaces a burly 165,000 metric tons, to the supercarrier USS Ronald Reagan‘s welterweight 103,000. Is the unarmed merchantman stronger than the nuclear-powered flattop because it displaces over half-again as much?

Hardly. You have to look past brute tonnage numbers and other simple metrics to take a navy’s true measure. Though necessary when cruising far from home, size is insufficient.

At most, then, tonnage is an enabler for combat strength. It says little about speed, protection, or armament — the crucial determinants of a warship’s combat efficacy. Still less does it take the tactical setting into account. Operating off foreign shores exposes American task forces not just to an enemy fleet but to an array of land-based weaponry, notably anti-ship missiles, combat aircraft, and short-range patrol craft and submarines festooned with missiles and torpedoes.

Such weaponry forms part of an opponent’s sea power. It can augment even a feeble surface fleet, acting as the great equalizer between a weak local power defending its home ground and a global sea power trying to impose its will thousands of miles from its own coasts. The idea that size is power obscures such disquieting yet inescapable realities. It nevertheless refuses to die. All the more reason why we should drive a stake through its heart — lest lawmakers act on it, making ill-informed decisions about the size and shape of the U.S. Navy.

Speaking of which, think about the politics of factoids. If the U.S. Navy is really bigger than the next sixteen, or thirteen, navies combined, and if aggregate tonnage equals battle strength, then it stands to reason that Washington can enact severe cutbacks to the fleet at little to no risk. Reductions will merely narrow an insurmountable U.S. margin of naval supremacy to something less insurmountable but still overbearing. Is that a message maritime advocates really want to send to those holding the power of the purse?

Enter the Royal Navy. At its zenith, from 1889 to World War I, Great Britain maintained a “two-power standard.” London, that is, sized its fleet to match the next two largest navies put together. If perchance these competitors joined forces, a Royal Navy built to this standard still stood an even chance of winning. Better than even, considering Jack Tar’s fame for seamanship and gunnery. British leaders trusted to human excellence to decide the issue.

Yet they had it easy. Navies were largely symmetrical in those thrilling days of yesteryear. That simplified matters. Size was a decent proxy for fighting power when battle fleets made up largely of capital ships bearing big guns squared off. That was before the era — an era that persists to this day — when small craft could carry armament comparable to that of capital ships. A destroyer couldn’t tote big guns back then. A lowly missile boat or sub can fire munitions comparable to those of a capital ship today — and to the same deadly effect.

It gets worse. Seldom, a century ago, did land-based sea power play much part in naval warfare. The range of shore gunnery was measured in a few miles — an afterthought when you consider the vast scale of the oceans and seas. It made more sense back then to measure fleet against fleet, downplaying external variables like guns mounted on land. No longer do maritime strategists and tacticians enjoy the luxury to simplify problems thus.

You get the point. Assuming the U.S. Navy is bigger and stronger than a consortium of many, many prospective competitors means assuming its margin of supremacy dwarfs that of any past seagoing hegemon — including Great Britain in its prime. Yet the U.S. Navy fleet numbers only 288 as of April 7. If we use the British two-power standard as a benchmark, and starting with a U.S. fleet of 288 hulls, how many ships would our supposedly sixteen-power navy need to meet the standard set by history’s greatest empire? Two hundred? One hundred? Fewer?

Absurd results all. So let’s dispense with foolish one-liners about naval power before they get America in real trouble. Where’s that wooden stake when we need one?

* Notícia publicada a The Diplomat. Tot i que resulta obvi que el tonatge d'una flota no és garantia de victòria, heus ací un article de James R. Holmes per aclarir-ho

divendres, 25 d’abril de 2014

Russia to build network of modern naval bases in Artic*

MOSCOW, April 22 (RIA Novosti) – Russia will build a unified network of naval facilities on its Arctic territories to host advanced warships and submarines as part of a plan to boost protection of the country’s interests and borders in the region, President Vladimir Putin said Tuesday.
“We need to strengthen our military infrastructure. In particular, to create in our part of the Arctic a unified network of naval facilities for new-generation ships and submarines,” the president said at a meeting of Russia’s Security Council.
He said that Russia should boost security at its Arctic borders.
Putin ordered the military in December to boost its presence in the Arctic and complete the development of military infrastructure in the region in 2014.
The Defense Ministry has already announced plans to reopen airfields and ports on the New Siberian Islands and the Franz Josef Land archipelago, as well as at least seven airstrips on the continental part of the Arctic Circle that were mothballed in 1993.
The military is also planning to form a new strategic military command in the Arctic, dubbed the Northern Fleet-Unified Strategic Command, by the end of 2014.
Putin reiterated that Russia is actively developing this promising region and should have all means for protection of its security and economic interests there.
“The oil and gas production facilities, loading stations and pipelines must be well protected from terrorists and other potential threats,” Putin said.
The Russian president called on experts to defend Russia’s territorial claims to the Arctic shelf, just like they did during this year’s successful claim to 52,000-square-kilometer area in the Sea of Okhotsk off Japan.
“Our experts must act similarly, for bilateral as well as multilateral consultations with Arctic countries’ governments, and safeguard each parcel of the continental shelf in the Russian part of the Arctic, and marine areas,” Putin said.
Moscow filed its claim to a part of the Artic continental shelf including the Lomonosov and Mendeleev Ridges in 2011, but the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf said that it needed further scientific backing.
Scientists have to prove that the underwater ridges are extensions of the Eurasian continent, thus linked to Russia’s territory. The shelf, which is believed to hold some five million tons of hydrocarbon reserves, is a lucrative resource-rich zone.
In line with these territorial ambitions, Putin believes it is necessary to create a separate public body for the implementation of the Russian policy in the Arctic.
“We do not need a cumbersome bureaucratic body, but a flexible operationally working structure that will help better coordinate ministries and departments’ activities, regions and business,” Putin said.
The president tasked the government with ensuring that Russia’s goals in the Arctic are being solved and receive due financing.
“We are going to continue to invest serious funds in the Arctic, to solve tasks needed for social and economic investment of the Arctic regions, to strengthen security as demanded by our long-term national interests,” he said.

*Notícia publicada a RIA Novosti. Per si a algú se li ha oblidat, el buit estratègic acostuma a omplir-se.


Even if it has reportedly ended its mission and headed for Severomorsk, Russia’s aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov is still sailing in the Mediterranean Sea.

Its position can be determined based on the NOTAMs (Notice To Airmen) issued for the Algiers FIR (Flight Information Region).

Two of them provide details about the area of operation of the aircraft operating from the carrier:

A0962/14 – AIRSPACE RESERVATION FOR RUSSIAN NAVY WILL TAKE PLACE PLAN FLTS FM ACFT CARRIER AVIATION WI AREA BRAVO (B): 3900N 00500E 3900N 00700E 3740N 00700E 3720N 00500E 3900N 00500E. SFC – FL180, APR 23 24 25 AND 26 HR:0800-1700, 23 APR 08:00 2014 UNTIL 26 APR 17:00 2014. CREATED: 21 APR 09:54 2014

A0961/14 – AIRSPACE RESERVATION FOR RUSSIAN NAVY WILL TAKE PLACE PLAN FLTS FM ACFT CARRIER AVIATION WI AREA ALPHA (A): 3745N 00220E 3825N 00400E 3720N 00400E 3700N 00210E 3745N 00220E. SFC – FL160, APR 24 25 AND 26 HR:0800-1700, 24 APR 08:00 2014 UNTIL 26 APR 17:00 2014. CREATED: 21 APR 09:47 2014


Image above shows the waypoints of Area B put on a map using Skyvector.

While such warnings are often issued for (U.S.) aircraft carriers hence they are not really special, what is worth noticing is that the flying activity of the Russians in the Mediterranean Sea is watched closely by NATO E-3 planes.

Indeed, it seems that NATO AEW (Airborne Early Warning) planes have frequently operated in the Southeastern Mediterranean in the last few days, while Admiral Kuznetsov transited south of Malta towards the waters off Algeria, between Sardinia and the Balearic islands.

Most probably, the E-3s are not only observing the Sukhoi Su-33 Flanker-D all-weather carrier-based air defence fighters but also performing routine electronic surveillance by means of onboard electronic support measures (ESM).

H/T Roberto Petagna for sending us the relevant NOTAMs

Image credit: Russian Navy

* Notícia publicada a The Aviationist.

dijous, 24 d’abril de 2014

RAF jets scrambled to investigate Russian planes*

Fighter jets were scrambled after two Russian military aircraft were spotted approaching UK airspace, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has said.

Royal Air Force Typhoon fighter jets took off from RAF Leuchars in Fife on Wednesday.

The jets were sent to investigate the Russian planes, which are understood to have turned away shortly afterwards.

RAF fighter planes were scrambled to incidents such as this eight times last year, an MOD spokesman said.

The spokesman said the jets were launched to "determine the identity of unknown aircraft" that approached the north of Scotland and "could not be identified by other means".

He said: "The aircraft were subsequently identified as Russian military aircraft. The Russian military aircraft remained in international airspace at all times as they are perfectly entitled to do so."

The spokesman added that Russian military flights have never entered UK sovereign airspace without authorisation.

Meanwhile a Royal Navy warship is shadowing a Russian destroyer as it sails past the UK.

HMS Dragon, one of the Navy's most modern warships, sailed from Portsmouth at the end of last week to waters north of Scotland to track the Russian warship, Vice Admiral Kulakov.

HMS Dragon monitored the movements of the Russian ship as she approached British waters in what has been described by a defence spokesman as a "well established and standard response".

Defence Secretary Philip Hammond, said: "Recent events have increased awareness of Russian military activity, but we have always routinely intercepted, identified and escorted Russian air and naval assets that transit international airspace and waters within the UK's 'area of interest'.

"The Royal Navy and Royal Air Force will remain alert and ready to intercept any non-Nato forces in the area."

*Notícia publicada al web de ls BBC. Compartim aquesta notícia per comolementar les anteriors sobre l'activitat rusa a l'Atlàntic nord.

dilluns, 14 d’abril de 2014

US House approves Frigate Sale to Taiwan

On Monday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill authorizing the sale of four U.S. frigates to Taiwan, while also officially reaffirming U.S. support for the Taiwan Relations Act days before the 35th anniversary of that legislation. The bill, HR 3470, began with a section underlining the importance of TRA before moving on the specifics of the latest arms sale to Taiwan. “The Taiwan Relations Act has been instrumental in maintaining peace, security, and stability in the Western Pacific since its enactment in 1979,” says the bill’s first clause.

The bill, which was introduced by Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA), the Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, passed with “overwhelming bipartisan support,” according to a Foreign Affairs Committee press release. In a statement, Royce said that “America’s support for Taiwan has allowed this island nation to realize its full potential.” He added, “It is now more important than ever that we reaffirm our strong commitment to Taiwan and the Taiwan Relations Act.” Accordingly, the newly-passed bill contained a clause wherein Congress “reaffirms its unwavering commitment to the Taiwan Relations Act.”

HR 3470 also authorized the sale to Taiwan of four decommissioned Oliver Hazard Perry-class guided missile frigates, the USS Taylor, USS Gary, USS Carr, and USS Elrod. The four vessels, commissioned in 1984 and 1985, can support both surface-to-surface and surface-to-air missiles. Before the transfer of these vessels becomes official, however, the House bill will also need to pass the Senate and be approved by President Obama.

Taiwan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs welcomed the passage of HR 3470 in a statement, expressing its gratitude for the move. The statement said the bill displayed Congress’ bipartisan support for “trust and friendship” towards Taiwan. The opposition party DPP also weighed in, with Chariman Su Tseng-chang calling the U.S. security commitment to Taiwan and U.S. human rights advocacy “indispensable beacons of hope to Taiwan.”

With Thursday marking the 35th anniversary of the Taiwan Relations Act, this week is a time of reflection on the TRA—and not just for Congress. Taiwan’s President Ma Ying-jeou gave a speech on the subject via videoconference at an event at DC’s Center for Strategic and International Studies. He called the TRA “a landmark piece of legislation that has laid the cornerstone of the robust relationship between the Republic of China and the United States.”

Ma also commented that when he came to office in 2008 it was his “top priority to improve Taiwan’s relationship with the U.S.” Ma attributed the improvement in cross-strait relations to strong ties between Taiwan and the U.S.: “With U.S. support, Taiwan has been able to improve cross-strait relations and confidently engage Beijing from a position of strength.” This has generally been the U.S. position as well: that providing Taiwan with defensive arms can increase the island’s ability to deal with the mainland on an equal footing.

Needless to say, China does not share this view. Chinese scholars believe that, since cross-strait relations are at an all-time high, there is no need for further arms sales. Of course, China also believes such sales are a direct violation of the one-China policy and in violation of previous U.S. promises made in joint communiques with Beijing. A spokesman for China’s Ministry of National Defense told the press back in March, “We urge the U.S. side to adhere faithfully to the one-China policy … and stop arm sales to Taiwan immediately.”

Accordingly, China responded angrily to the passage of HR 3470. A statement from the Ministry of National Defense complained that “The U.S. side ignored China’s strong opposition, and insisted on passing the bill pushing weapons sales to Taiwan.” The statement further warned that the act “doubtless will seriously interfere in and damage the development of Sino-U.S. military ties and the peaceful development of cross-strait relations.”

The timing was especially awkward, with U.S. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel just finishing up a trip to China designed to boost military ties between the two countries. In the past, mil-to-mil relations have been the major targets of Chinese anger over arms sales. In response to a 2010 $6.4 billion arms sale, the first of Obama’s presidency, China refused to allow then-Defense Secretary Robert Gates to visit China as part of a larger Asia tour.  Should the bill move forward through the Senate and by signed by Obama, China might chose to cut off mil-to-mil contacts in retaliation.

Interestingly, though, the response from China treats the bill as a done deal, even though the bill has currently only passed the Republican-controlled House of Representatives. The statement from China’s defense ministry elides the distinction between Congress and the White House by accusing the “U.S. side” of ignoring Chinese opposition. Such complaints would have been directed more to the executive branch’s foreign policy apparatus than to Congress itself. Since the U.S. Congress is historically very supportive of Taiwan (and very critical of China, especially on human rights issues), it’s dangerous for China to equate Congressional action with White House policy, especially since Congress today is notorious for resisting Obama’s wishes.

*Notícia publicada a The Diplomat. Si bé les fragates de la classe Perry mai han estat el "cutting edge" de la US Navy, a Beijing no ha agradat gaire la notícia.

dimarts, 8 d’abril de 2014

US Navy plans at-sea demonstration of EM Railgun in 2016*

The US Navy has outlined plans to deploy and test a prototype electromagnetic railgun (EM railgun) on-board a joint high-speed vessel (JHSV) in the fiscal year 2016.
The test, which is the first at-sea demonstration of an EM railgun, marks a significant advance in naval combat for the US Navy, as well as the latest in a series of technical maturation efforts intended to provide an operational railgun to the fleet.
Using an electromagnetic force known as the Lorenz Force, the EM railgun technology can rapidly accelerate and launch a projectile between two conductive rails.
Launched at high velocities to achieve greater ranges than conventional guns, the guided projectile maintains enough kinetic energy, while eliminating the need of a high explosive payload when it reaches its target.
The high-energy railguns are designed to be lethal and effective against multiple threats, including enemy warships, small boats, aircraft, missiles and land-based targets.
The navy chief engineer rear admiral Bryant Fuller said that the announcement marks the US Navy's new offensive capability.
"This capability will allow us to effectively counter a wide-range of threats at a relatively low cost, while keeping our ships and sailors safer by removing the need to carry as many high-explosive weapons," Fuller said.
"This capability will allow us to effectively counter a wide-range of threats at a relatively low cost."
In addition to complementing the existing kinetic weapons, the EM railgun will be capable of launching guided, multi-mission projectiles to a range of 110nm.
The cost for each engagement against specific threats is less expensive than comparable missile engagements. Furthermore, the projectile itself is being designed to be compatible with some current powder guns.
Naval research chief rear admiral Matt Klunder said: "The US Navy is at the forefront of this game-changing technology."
The navy is considering JHSV non-combatants for testing the new technology because of its available cargo, topside space and schedule flexibility.

Notícia publicada a Naval Technology. Un graó més en la implantació dels railguns. Caldrà estar atents.