NAVIES PITCH IN FOR DECISIVE FIGHT

The French Navy strike carrier FNS Charles De Gaulle returned to the fray against ISIL as a coalition of forces gathered for a big assault on the last major bastion of the terrorist group in Iraq.

After a break of several months back in Toulon, for the crew and her embarked aviators to get some leave and the ship to receive maintenance, the nuclear-powered Marine Nationale flagship plus escort group returned to the eastern Mediterranean.

The first sortie of eight Rafale strike jets was launched on the last day of September. It was believed to have struck targets in or around the city of Mosul, which is currently being invested prior to a long anticipated big push.

The Charles De Gaulle is to be stationed in the eastern Med for a while before she probably heads through the Suez Canal. She will join Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150), a multinational task group that is to be led by the British assault carrier HMS Ocean.

Meanwhile, in the Mediterranean the American assault carrier USS Wasp has continued to launch Harrier strike jets against ISIL targets in Libya. In the Arabian Gulf the nuclear-powered carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has also been launching her aircraft to attack ISIL targets.

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FLYING LEATHERNECKS FOR UK CARRIER FIRMS UP

It seems more than likely that when the UK’s first Queen Elizabeth Class carrier departs on her maiden deployment in 2021 she will do so with US Marine Corps F-35B Lightning II strike jets embarked.

Under an agreement made between the American and British defence secretaries revealed in London last month, the USMC jets would be used in place of British F-35Bs, which may not be available in numbers necessary. The RAF may also need to work-up its first squadrons flying from land as a priority over sea-based operations. The USMC is years ahead of the UK in terms of standing up the F-35B for front line operations. The agreement will allow the UK carrier to deploy with a full complement of 36 aircraft and also increases the defence cooperation between the two nations.

It leaves the possibility open for British aircraft to similarly deploy on USN assault carriers at a later date. The Fleet Air Arm and the RAF are operating the F-35B but the first UK squadron is not a naval unit. The numbers of British Lightnings are going to be low initially, far less than the capacity of the new RN carriers. There is a possibility that the USMC’s MV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft could operate from the Queen Elizabeths too.

 

SOUTH CHINA SEA COMBAT EXERCISES

Beijing and Moscow’s Joint Sea 2016 bilateral naval exercise was the first such event the two navies had conducted in the South China Sea. It marked the 20th anniversary of the establishment of strategic cooperation between Russia and China. Previous exercises hosted by China have been staged in more northerly waters, with six joint naval exercises held over the past five years.

The choice of location was deemed controversial, due to the regional territorial disputes China is currently engaged in. It also came after the Permanent Court of Arbitration, a UN-backed tribunal, ruled against China’s claims of historic rights to the South China Sea and its island bastion activities.

The areas where the recent drills took place were, however, undisputed Chinese waters. The aim of Joint Sea 2016 was to enhance abilities of both navies in facing common security threats, featuring the highest level of combat digitisation and standardisation in Sino-Russian naval operations.

Joint Sea 2016 included air defence, Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), conducting amphibious landings on islands, Search and Rescue (SAR), and use of weaponry. The drills were the most extensive to date involving Russian and Chinese navies. An advanced command system enhanced enabled communication capabilities. Three Russian warships, two supply vessels, two helicopters, and 96 marine infantry with their associated amphibious assault equipment participated.

The bulk of Chinese forces comprised ten warships – including submarines, destroyers, frigates, amphibious assault ships and replenishment vessels – plus 11 fixed-wing aircraft, eight helicopters and 160 marines along with their equipment. China’s navy also held another domestic naval exercise, which involved gunnery trials in the Bohai Strait in the Yellow Sea. As a result civilian shipping heading for the ports of Lanshan, Qingdao, and Rizhao faced restrictions.

 

VETERAN FRIGATE COMPLETES FINAL FRONT LINE MISSION

The German Navy’s long-serving Bremen Class frigate FGS Karlsruhe returned from her last operational deployment streaming a 120m paying off pennant to signify her 32 years in service.

She spent the last six months of her front line career as part of Operation Sophia the EU’s naval task force countering people smuggling in the Mediterranean and then participated in the similar NATO-led mission in the Aegean Sea. Karlsruhe saved the lives of hundreds of people.

The frigate first operated off the coast of Libya before replacing the Berlin Class replenishment vessel Bonn as flagship of the NATO operation. Her time away saw Karlsruhe sail 30,125 nautical miles. She is being replaced by the first of the new F-125 frigates.

The eight-strong Bremen Class was at one time the backbone of the German Navy, but they have been paying off since 2012. They served from the 1980s onwards and though designed with an emphasis on Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW) were good multi-role vessels. The decommissioning of Karlsruhe will leave only sisters Augsburg and Lubeck in service.

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