IRANIANS THREATEN TO SINK USN CARRIERS
Iran’s bluster has risen to new heights, with its military officers claiming they could sink or destroy an American carrier in the Gulf and even send naval forces to threaten the USA if need be. The latest statements came amid ongoing international concern over Tehran’s alleged pursuit of nuclear weapons.
The commander of the Iranian Air Force, Brigadier General Amir Ali Hajizadeh, claimed: “It is a misconception that an aircraft carrier can be put out of action only if it is sunk.” The general went on: “First, sinking an aircraft carrier is not a complicated task. Second, an aircraft carrier is equipped with so many advanced, delicate, and sensitive devices…that it could be incapacitated by even the smallest explosion in every corner of it.”
Meanwhile the boss of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGCN), Rear Admiral Ali Fadavi, scorned the deployment of the carriers USS Enterprise and USS Abraham Lincoln to the region.
He suggested the USA should not move its warships into or out of the Gulf without the IRGC’s permission. Another IRGCN commander, Rear Admiral Farhad Amiri, warned that Iran now has formidable submarine forces. “Iranian submarines are noiseless and can easily evade detection as they are equipped with the sonar-evading technology,” said the admiral. “When the [Iranian] submarine sits on the seabed it can easily target and hit an aircraft carrier.”
Earlier, Rear Admiral Fadavi had warned: “Our naval forces are so powerful that we have a presence in all the waters of the world and, if needed, we can move to within three miles of New York.” American officials have made it clear Iranian threats will not prevent the US Navy from deploying carriers to the Gulf, nor deflect its efforts with other nations to prevent Tehran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
As a major exercise kicked off in the Gulf, Vice Admiral Mark Fox, commander of NAVCENT, US 5th Fleet, and Combined Maritime Forces in the Middle East warned any attempts to interfere with maritime traffic would be prevented. He said that coalition maritime forces “can, and will, respond to any threats or disruptive behaviour by those who wish to interrupt freedom of navigation.”
SOUTH CHINA SEA FACE-OFF
A dispute over fishing rights in the South China Sea resulted in a standoff between a Philippine warship, the Gregorio Del Pilar and eight Chinese fishing boats. Two Chinese surveillance vessels later joined the dispute. The initial incident that sparked the impasse took place off Scarborough Shoal, 124 miles west of Luzon, when the Philippine Navy ship, a former US Coastguard Hamilton Class cutter, tried to apprehend the boats, which were deemed to be fishing illegally in waters claimed by Manila. However, China claims the South China Sea almost in its entirety and with the arrival of two Chinese surveillance vessels the situation threatened to escalate. The incident sparked a flurry of diplomatic activity between the Philippines and China, which resulted in agreement for a mutual withdrawal. While the fishermen withdrew, and a Philippines coastguard vessel replaced the warship, the Chinese surveillance vessels maintained their presence for some time. The situation was further exacerbated by the start of an annual naval exercise that took place between US and Philippine forces off Palawan, near the disputed Spratly Islands. The joint exercise involved approximately 7,000 troops, of which over 4,000 were American.
At the same time, three US warships were visiting Vietnam to conduct a series of salvage and disaster training exercises. The more strident attitude of Beijing in dealing with its South China Sea claim has alarmed some of its neighbours. The Philippines is now in the process of modernising its defensive capabilities, of which the acquisition of the Gregorio Del Pilar is a part. Further vessels from the US are being sought to boost its maritime capabilities.
VIRGINIA SSNs NAMED
The next batch of five Virginia Class (Block III) nuclear-powered submarines have been named as Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, South Dakota, and Washington. Instead of the 12 separate Vertical Launch System (VLS) tubes found in previous boats of the class, the Block III will have two large tubes, each housing a six-cell VLS for the Tomahawk Land Attack Cruise Missile (TLAM). The 7,800 tonnes attack boats also feature a revised bow design, reducing unit cost per vessel by US $20 million. General Dynamics/Electric Boat will build Illinois, Colorado and South Dakota at Groton, Connecticut. Ingalls Industries-Newport News Shipbuilding will build Washington and Indiana at Newport News, Virginia.
LACK OF HARD FACTS & FIGURES
The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has come under fire from MPs on the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) over transparency, or a perceived lack of it, surrounding options for the F-35 and Queen Elizabeth Class carriers currently under construction. The MoD’s most senior civil servant, Permanent Under Secretary Ursula Brennan, told the PAC no decision has yet been taken on whether to revert to previous government’s plan to buy F-35B Short Take-off and Vertical Landing (STOVL) jets. In late 2010 the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR) opted to purchase CATOBAR (Catapult Take Off But Arrested Recovery) F-35Cs, but in recent weeks it has been claimed the MoD may switch back to the F-35B. Going with the F-35C means the first of the ships, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will not be able to operate fixed-wing aircraft. The second, HMS Prince of Wales will need to be adapted to host a catapult launch and arrester wire recovery system. Consequent delays will mean no strike carrier capability for the UK until around 2020. The ship would also deploy with only a dozen F-35Cs in its air wing, due to delays in delivering the jet. A full strike wing of 36 jets might not be possible until 2030. During a recent PAC hearing Ms Brennan repeatedly declined to reveal how much the decision to alter the programme from STOVL to CATOBAR F-35s had so far cost. MPs were dismayed at the lack of facts and figures offered to them, but the senior civil servant said it was all still subject to ministerial deliberations and so she could not provide concrete answers. She stressed that there were many complex issues involved and the MoD wanted to make sure it reached the right conclusion. Local council elections also had a bearing, for it is traditional for major government decisions not to be announced during electoral processes. An announcement by Secretary of State for Defence Philip Hammond on the final choice of jet was not expected until mid-May at the earliest. When it was unveiled, there was considerable controversy, as the UK is now reverting to the STOVL F-35B variant of the future strike jet.
SEASONED WAR HORSE RETURNS TO THE FRAY
The Royal Australian Navy (RAN) has committed the veteran Adelaide Class frigate HMAS Melbourne to the Middle East, where she is participating in coalition counter-narcotics and anti-piracy efforts. No stranger to Arabian waters, one of the Melbourne’s battle honours is ‘Persian Gulf 2002’, to mark her part in enforcing a trade embargo on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Melbourne was last there just a year ago, when she successfully sailed to the rescue of several merchant vessels being targeted by pirates, including a British chemical carrier. This year, not long after arriving, the Melbourne was launching her boarding party to check out a dhow in the Gulf of Oman, part of the on-going national tasking, named Operation Slipper. Assigned at the time to the multinational counter-terrorist task group CTF-150, Melbourne’s team checked the vessel’s paperwork to ensure she was not being used for nefarious activities. “The boarding party spoke with the Master of the ship, confirming the number of personnel onboard,” explained an Australian Defence Force (ADF) spokesperson, “also verifying port of origin and purpose of transit. On completion, the boarding party disembarked and returned to HMAS Melbourne.” Directed by Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) and CTF-150, Melbourne, was seeking to provide assurance to law-abiding seafarers that the high seas are not lawless.