KEY RCN UNITS SENT TO SCRAP
The replenishment vessel Protecteur has been towed out of Esquimalt, the latest Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) vessel sent to be scrapped before a like-for-like replacement is in place.
The ship’s destination was initially south, to make a passage through the Panama Canal before the long haul north to be ‘dismantled’ in Nova Scotia, at the same location as the guided-missile destroyer HMCS Algonquin, also recently decommissioned.
The 48-year-old Protecteur had an inglorious end to her service, including various machinery problems and two serious fires in 2014. Her electrical system was declared too dangerous for further service.
The 45-year-old Algonquin was withdrawn last year and took the same route to her end of days, the R.J. MacIsaac yard. It is dismantling both vessels under a Can $39 million contract. The RCN has been looking at procuring a replacement for Protecteur and sister vessel Preserver, also decommissioned recently, under the much delayed Joint Support Ship (JSS) programme, which will see those vessels entering service in 2020/21.
In the meantime a merchant vessel has been acquired, named Asterix, which is being fitted with Protecteur’s replenishment-at-sea rig. Another interim solution is being provided by a loan of the Spanish Navy fleet tanker Patino for a few months, while the Chilean Navy is also going to provide a stopgap for the RCN.
There is no equivalent replacement for the RCN’s veteran Iroquois Class destroyers on the horizon. Algonquin was retired from service last summer as was Iroquois. The latter was suffering from serious corrosion, which was to be expected with such an old vessel, while the former had a serious collision with Protecteur in 2013.
The last surviving destroyer, Athabaskan, soldiers on but is prone to engine problems. The original plan was to replace both the current 12 Halifax frigates and destroyers with 15 new major surface combatants, but it appears this may fall short, with only around 11 vessels built.
RUSSIA DEPLOYS AT HIGHER RATE THAN COLD WAR
As tensions remain strained between the Kremlin and the West, Russian submarine activity has increased markedly in the North Atlantic. It is estimated to have returned to – or even surpassed – Cold War levels of deployment.
This remarkable development was outlined by Vice Admiral Clive Johnstone, Commander of NATO’s Maritime Command, who also explained modern Russian submarines are considerably more capable and have more range than Cold War era variants.
They possess sophisticated systems and are operated by highly professional crews. Considering the majority of NATO submarine crews that experienced the Cold War have retired, and NATO ship and submarine levels having fallen considerably since 1991, the latest Russian development has come as an unpleasant surprise. Russia has always maintained submarine research and development despite a lull in the 1990s and until very recently in terms of operational deployments.
REGIONAL SUPREMACY IS THE PRIME OBJECTIVE
India’s determination to continue expanding the size and scope of its naval power has been outlined in its new naval doctrine, its third since 1998.
It lays down the country’s military and diplomatic role as a security provider in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) and beyond. ‘Ensuring secure seas: Indian Maritime Security Strategy’ says India will seek to deter conflict and shape the region to meet its own commercial, diplomatic, and security interests.
Under the new doctrine the Indian Navy (IN) will aim to dominate the region so it is able to swiftly curtail any challenge. It will secure Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC), protect coastal and offshore assets, plus deal with irregular challenges, such as piracy or terrorism as was seen during the 2008 attacks in Mumbai.
It all forms a framework for naval interaction in an increasingly interconnected world in which India seeks to be a global player. The doctrine also marks the first time the nuclear deterrent has been discussed, in terms of its credibility, effectiveness, and survivability.
SOUTH CHINA SEA TENSION
Tensions in the South China Sea continue to rise over Beijing’s assertive claims, fuelled by evidence that it is accelerating the militarisation of islands under its possession plus significantly expanding surveillance capabilities.
In addition to causing concern by deploying HQ-9 missiles to Woody Island in the Paracel Islands (also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam) China has deployed Shenyang J-11 fighters and Xian JH-7 strike aircraft to the airbase there. Though constructed in the 1990s it was expanded last year (with a 2,700 metres runway and aircraft shelters).
The JH-7 is China’s primary shore-based interdiction and anti-shipping strike aircraft. The HQ-9 Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system allows Chinese forces based on Woody Island to defend surrounding airspace out to 200km. It is not the first time China has deployed missiles to the islands, but the HQ-9 is the most potent system to date. Such weapons are key components of its anti-access/area denial network.
The latest developments extend the outer limit of this. China is also believed to have installed powerful military surveillance radar on Cuarteron Reef, an artificial island in the Spratly Islands. If true then it allows China to better monitor the region, especially traffic approaching from the Malacca Straits. Other facilities on Cuarteron include a buried bunker, lighthouse, helipad, communications equipment and a quay able to facilitate loading and unloading of ships.
Though China’s defence ministry stated the new infrastructure was navigational and meteorological equipment, it said it had deployed defence systems to protect the facilities and had a right to do so. Further radars are believed to be situated on other islands in the Spratlys, with at least two also housing air defence emplacements.
The onus of confronting China’s claims seems to have fallen on the USA. The head of the USN’s Pacific Command, Admiral Harry Harris, has said of the freedom of passage deployments: “We will be doing them more and we’ll be doing them with greater complexity in the future and … we’ll fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows…We must continue to operate in the South China Sea to demonstrate that water space and the air above it is international.”
Speaking in Washington, however, China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi said: “China’s islands and reefs in the South China Sea have been illegally taken by others. Still, China’s position is that we want to have peaceful dialogue within international laws.”
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