RUSSIA THREATENS TO TARGET DANISH WARSHIPS WITH NUKES
A decision by Denmark to link its major naval units to a planned Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) shield for Europe provoked a dark warning from a Russian diplomat. Mikhail Vanin, Ambassador to Denmark, reportedly told a Danish newspaper that the country’s decision to contribute to the BMD network meant Copenhagen was forcing Moscow to put its vessels in the cross hairs.
“If that happens, Danish warships will be targets for Russian nuclear missiles,” Ambassador Vanin reportedly said in the Jyllands-Posten. The remark provoked a furious reaction from the Danish Foreign Minister, Martin Lidegaard, who said the ambassador’s comments were unacceptable. He pointed out that the BMD shield is not aimed at Moscow.
The BMD system is said by NATO to be primarily a guard against rogue states such as Iran and North Korea. General Philip Breedlove, NATO’s Supreme Allied Commander Europe (SACEUR) said the Russian threat was all part of an ongoing campaign to intimidate any nation that sought to support the BMD programme in Europe.
The day before the Russian ambassador’s comments, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said: “NATO is ready to defend all allies against any threat…” In his newspaper interview, Ambassador Vanin pointed out: “I do not think that the Danes fully understand the consequences if Denmark joins the US-led missile defence shield.”
He suggested that Denmark – which has been a NATO member since the alliance’s foundation in 1949 – would be party to a threat against Russia and relations between Moscow and Copenhagen would inevitably deteriorate.
The new Iver Huitfeldt Class frigates of the Royal Danish Navy (RDN) could soon have a radar system that enables them to network with US Navy cruisers and destroyers armed with Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) missiles. They already have Standard missiles similar to those launched by BMD-capable US Navy warships.
It was not the first time Russia has issued warnings to a NATO nation against fielding warships that can act as part of the BMD shield. In early 2012, it warned Norway not to fit its Aegis-equipped Fridtjof Nansen Class frigates with Standard missiles.
The Americans have decided to forward deploy BMD-capable Arleigh Burke Class destroyers to Rota in Spain, with the first of them, the USS Donald Cook, participating in a deployment into the Black Sea. It was a move that angered Russia, especially as tensions with the West are inflamed due to events in Ukraine.
ARGENTINEAN DESTROYER CANNIBALISED
The Argentine Navy destroyer ARA Heroina is in such a poor state that she has been gradually dismantled to provide a source of spares for three other ships of the Meko 360 Class.
The vessel is moored at the Puerto Belgrano Naval Base in Bahia Blanca, Buenos Aires Province where she has been deteriorating since 2009. Heroina had suffered a serious failure in her propulsion system. Unfortunately for the navy the part damaged was not on a list of spares guaranteed for replacement.
The decision was then made by the Commander-in-Chief of the Argentine Navy to send the damaged piece to the manufacturer and pay for the work required.
However, the item has never returned as a result of restrictions still being in place on military equipment sent from England to Argentina. With the ARA in continual crisis, partly as a result of a poor defence budget, the Heroina’s fate has therefore been to supply parts to keep sister ships in a seaworthy condition.
UK ORDERS BAKER’S DOZEN
The UK Ministry of Defence has awarded a £859 million Global Combat Ship (GCS) contract to BAE Systems that sets the stage for planned construction to commence in 2016. The contract covers long lead items and shore testing facilities for the first three ships, including gas turbines, diesel generators and steerage gear.
It allows suppliers to prepare for work to commence. The Type 26, as the warship is also known, is set to replace the Duke Class (Type 23) frigates and will be the RN’s backbone from the next decade onwards. The Type 26 is significantly larger and more capable than the Type 23. It will have the capability to launch land attack missiles, something the older UK frigates could not do.
It will, though, be fitted with some equipment from the Type 23, such as the highly capable Artisan 3D radar and Sea Ceptor Surface to Air Missile (SAM) system. The ships are to be built in Glasgow and the contract therefore directly safeguards some 600 jobs in the BAE Systems shipyard on the Clyde and approximately 800 more in the supply chain across the UK. Commencing manufacture in 2016 will allow for the first ship to be delivered in 2022, with the 13 Type 23s to be replaced on a one for one basis. The diesel/electric gas turbine as well as more efficient hull form will make silent, high speed cruising a characteristic of the Type 26. The design also offers a flexible mission bay that can be configured to carry specific loads, such as medical gear, disaster relief equipment, drones and small boats. The majority of the ships will be based at Devonport, Plymouth, though some will operate from Portsmouth.
BEIJING FORTIFIES SOUTH CHINA SEA
China has bolstered some of its South China Sea territorial claims, going so far as to construct artificial islands on reefs. These have grown out from small concrete platforms. According to recently released commercial satellite imagery the fortifications include helipads and dredged channels to allow ships to berth alongside newly built piers.
The fortresses are believed to be garrisoned by large detachments of marine infantry. The fortifications have been built on Gaven Reefs in the Spratly Islands, plus Fiery Cross Reef, Johnson South Reef, and Hughes Reef. Various parts of the South China Sea are also claimed by Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Vietnam, with which China has strained relations.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea as its territorial waters. The Spratly Islands are thought to be particularly rich in energy resources. Considering the scale and strength of the Chinese fortifications it would be difficult for any of the regional states to dislodge them, if not impossible.
China also now has a reasonably well-developed amphibious assault capability. It can easily move large numbers of men and material in times of tension. Though it does not yet have a fully-fledged fixed-wing maritime capability, China does have the ability to fly attack and utility helicopters from its sole training carrier and also its assault ships.
ITALIAN NAVY CONFRONTS ISIL THREAT IN THE MED
The threat to Europe posed by the fanatics of the ISIL terrorist movement has prompted the Italian Navy to deploy its vessels and Special Operations forces off the coast of North Africa. ISIL affiliated groups are to the fore in anarchic war-torn Libya and are thought to be responsible for a massacre of civilians in the Tunisian capital of Tunis last month (Mar).
In order to stage Operation Secure Sea, Italy has withdrawn from NATO’s Ocean Shield counter-piracy mission off Somalia and taken naval protection squads off merchant vessels plying their trade in the Arabian Sea and wider Indian Ocean. The Italians feel the fall in incidences of piracy in the Gulf of Aden enables them to adjust deployment of forces to face the ISIL threat closer to home in the central Mediterranean.
A wide array of capabilities is being devoted to Op Secure Sea, including not only naval vessels and commando units but also Maritime Patrol Aircraft (MPA), helicopters and drones. Aside from safeguarding Sea Lines of Communication (SLOC) and protecting offshore oil platforms, a gas pipeline from Libya to Sicily and merchant vessels, the Italian forces will be trying to intercept attempts by terrorists to smuggle themselves and their weapons into Italy.
ISIL has boasted via the Internet of conquering Rome and flying its black flag above the Vatican – outlandish aims – but in reality the main fears are bomb attacks in public places and rampaging gunmen. The vast numbers of refugees flooding across the Med from Libya are causing great anxiety, from a social and economic point of view (with Italy finding it hard to absorb the influx). Italy is very worried terrorists may be slipping through under cover.
It was only at the end of last year that the Italian Navy stood down an operation to save migrants from drowning as they attempted to reach European shores. Italy has now deployed the amphibious vessel San Giorgio, carrying marine commandos of the San Marco Regiment and the Special Forces frogmen of COMSUBIN.
The aircraft carrier Cavour may also have been sent, with her Harrier strike jets and helicopters. In tandem with all this the Italians are leading an effort to get North African navies, primarily those of Egypt and Tunisia, to police the outflow of migrants, including off the Libyan coast. Libyan authorities are felt to have little or no control over their own shorelines or territorial waters.
Such a move would ensure that people rescued from vessels sinking off North Africa would be returned there rather than join the tens of thousands of migrants in European refugee camps.