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NEWS DIGEST

by Dennis Andrews & Charles Strathdee

JAPAN FACES UP TO EAST CHINA SEA THREAT

A perception of enduring threats - if from slightly different directions - has shaped Japan’s defence posture for 2011, with North Korea, China and Russia all on its agenda of anxiety. A swing in primary focus is, however, unveiled, away from a Cold War-style line of confrontation with Russia in the north to the East China Sea, and particularly around Okinawa, where there have been clashes between Chinese trawlers and Japan Coast Guard (JCG) vessels.

More pertinently, the Japanese are worried about rising levels of incursions by both Chinese submarines and surface warships. To that end the Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) is increasing its submarine force levels and also constructing a new generation of helicopter-capable destroyers - really light carriers equivalent in size and capabilities to the UK’s Invincible Class. The latter will make perfect Anti-Submarine Warfare platforms. In the ‘Summary of National Defense Program Guidelines’, which was approved by Japan’s Security Council and the Cabinet at the end of 2010, it is admitted: ‘A full-scale invasion against Japan is unlikely today, but security challenges and destabilizing factors which Japan faces are diverse, complex and intertwined.’ It lists them as follows: ‘North Korea’s nuclear and missile issues are immediate and grave destabilizing factors to the regional security. Military modernization by China and its insufficient transparency are of concern for the regional and global community. Russia’s military activities are increasingly robust.’ Beijing was not amused by Japan’s forthright assessment of China’s potential threat, and the accompanying switches in posture, branding it ‘extremely irresponsible’ and suggested the Japanese were returning to their old militaristic ways. Japanese Minister of Defense, Toshimi Kitazawa, gave the Chinese anger a cool response, saying: “What we must note is that the way we face threats has changed significantly from when the Soviet Union was still present - China is now a giant as well as an important neighbour with extremely close economic and personal ties to Japan. At the same time, there actually exist security matters we are concerned about, due to China’s military expansion and the lack of transparency about this.”

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AMERICA SEEKS UNDERSTANDING

Meanwhile, amid renewed speculation the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) will between 2012 and 2020 commission three aircraft carriers, while also continuing development of a ballistic missile capable of killing American carriers, US Secretary of State for Defense Robert M. Gates travelled to China for a series of meetings. His defence diplomacy - which also took in visits to South Korea and Japan - followed the Pentagon declaring ‘the military-to-military relationship between the United States and China has been restored.’

Last year both diplomatic and military ties between Washington and Beijing were, as the Pentagon freely admits, rather rocky. Lots of behind-the-scenes work has gone on to restore relations. A Pentagon official explained: “In essence we want to build a relationship between the Department of Defense and the [Chinese military], between the United States and China, that is defined not by the obstacles that stand between us, but by our common interests.” US officials have pointed out that even during the darkest days of the Cold War it was still possible for the Soviet and the US military to have lines of communication that could be used to defuse tension. China’s naval expansion remains of great concern to the USA and Japan. The PLAN intends to send the former Soviet carrier Varyag to sea next year as a training platform, with another fully operational front line carrier by 2014 and, it is claimed, a nuclear-powered aviation ship six years later.

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FRENCH CARRIERS CONFIRMED FOR RUSSIA

The Kremlin recently announced that it has selected a French shipbuilder to construct amphibious assault carriers. The deal, which has been in the works for almost a year, was agreed during a telephone conversation between Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev and the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy. As a result both nations released a joint statement that revealed the new vessels would be constructed by a consortium composed of DCNS and Russia’s OAO USC. The joint statement declared it would ‘carry out joint construction of two Mistral Class warships with subsequent construction of two further vessels.’ The agreement was described as ‘an unprecedented cooperation project, which will spur industrial development and give a boost to job creation in both countries, as well as demonstrate Russia’s and France’s ability and desire to build a wide-ranging partnership in all different areas, including in defence and security.’ The French version gave a little more detail, describing how the agreement - which has provoked alarm among Russia’s neighbours and disquiet in the USA - should be ‘extended by the construction of two additional units.’ It is thought likely these will be built in Russia. The French statement added that the project would provide ‘the equivalent of five million hours of work for 1,000 people for four years, mostly in Saint-Nazaire.’

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COMBAT SHIP ORDER

The US Navy has awarded both Lockheed Martin Corporation and Austal USA a fixed-price incentive contract for a 10-ship block-buy, making a total of 20 Littoral Combat Ships (LCS). Lead items for nine additional LCS are also to be bought in. The cost of each 10-ship order is US $3,620,625,192 (Lockheed Martin) and US $3,518,156,851 (Austal). The average cost of both variants is, according to the Pentagon, US $440 million per ship, which is $98 million below the cap for each vessel imposed by Congress. Secretary of the US Navy Ray Mabus said: “The awards represent a unique and valuable opportunity to lock in the benefits of competition and provide needed ships to our fleet in a timely and extraordinarily cost effective manner.”

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KIWI FRIGATE RETURNS

The Royal New Zealand Navy has received a major boost with the return to service of the ANZAC Class frigate HMNZS Te Mana. A 28-week refit included installation of new diesel engines, an upgraded Phalanx Close-in Weapon System (CIWS) as well as a new gymnasium and alterations to her quarterdeck structure (to improve buoyancy). The work cost close to NZ $100 million and, following a similar refit for the RNZN’s only other frigate, Te Kaha, it means the primary surface combatants of the fleet are now ready for action wherever tasked for several years at least.

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