ELLOW SEA RIPOSTE STAGED BY ALLIED TRIO
It was seen as a response to the new Sino-Russian axis, which had been expressed earlier this year via joint naval exercises between the maritime forces of Beijing and Moscow. This time it was the US Navy, Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) and Republic of Korea Navy (ROKN) joining up in the Yellow Sea. The fulcrum of world events, both economically and militarily, is increasingly seen as residing in Asia-Pacific, so the big powers of the region have been setting out their stalls on the high seas. For the Americans, Japanese and South Koreans, it also sent a useful message to North Korea, which recently attempted new missile tests (even if the latter were not successful). Flagship for what the Americans described as ‘routine carrier operations’ was the USS Blue Ridge.
The striking power resided in the USS George Washington Carrier Strike Group (GWCSG), which also included the cruisers USS Cowpens and USS Shiloh, together with destroyers USS Lassen and USS McCampbell. There have been six similar carrier strike group deployments to waters off the Korean Peninsula since 2008. A US Navy briefing on the latest explained, as if in a deliberate attempt not to raise the temperature: ‘The operations are taking place beyond the territorial seas of any coastal nations and are intended to reinforce regional security and stability, enhance interoperability with allies, and enhance operational proficiency and readiness.’ Despite all the strenuous denials by the maritime allies that it was a deterrent demo for Pyongyang, the North Koreans gave a predictably robust reaction, labeling it “reckless provocation.” Senior South Korean naval officers were reportedly less diplomatic than their American colleagues, warning that any North Korean interference would be “finished off on the spot.” Among the Japanese warships taking part, both in the Yellow Sea and also East China Sea, were the destroyers JS Kirishima, JS Yuudachi and JS Kurama, while powerful representation from South Korea came in the form of the AEGIS-equipped destroyer Sejong the Great.
IRAN TO BUILD FFGs & DDGs
The deputy head of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Abbas Zamini has reportedly unveiled ambitious plans to procure ten destroyers and frigates for his fleet. These include a Mowj-I Class destroyer, which is a development of the old UK-origin (1970s vintage) Alvand Class frigate design. Meanwhile, the Mowj-II Class destroyer Velayat is said to be 70 per cent complete and due for completion by the end of the year. Further Mowj and Sina class ships are also due to be built.
The Sina Class is an Iranian version of the French-origin La Combattante Fast Attack Craft.
BRITISH SSBN REACTORS
The British government has signed a £1.1 billion contract with Rolls Royce, paving the way to create reactors for Britain’s next generation ballistic missile submarine (SSBN). This is despite a final decision on replacing the four Trident-armed Vanguard Class boats not being due until 2016. Currently £3 billion in total has been set aside by the British government for the Vanguard replacement programme. The recently released sum will go toward refurbishing Rolls Royce’s Raynesway facility where the powerplants will be built over a period of 11 years, as well in developing the reactors themselves. Three hundred jobs will be secured by this decision, and the life of the facility extended by 40 years. The infrastructure replacement programme will cost £500 million. Two reactors are to be built with the remaining £600 million, one for the final Astute SSN, and another for the first of the new SSBNs. ‘Tier 1’ partners, BAE Systems, Babcock, and Rolls Royce, are already beneficiaries of £350 million worth of contracts awarded by the MoD in May. Making decisions for the long lead systems associated with the programme are essential to keeping the project within a desirable time frame if the decision is made to go ahead with new SSBNs.
LEATHERNECKS FLY HARRIER TO 2030
The US Marine Corps is switching to a new way of tracking the fatigue life of its Boeing AV-8B Harrier II fleet as it proposes keeping the venerable jump jet in service until 2030. According to US Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) a major challenge is keeping the Harrier’s avionics as up-to-date as possible. A new system will allow the USMC to maintain the AV-8B fleet in a structurally healthy condition.
The acquisition of ex-UK aircraft has been a key element in the maintenance of the AV-8B fleet via supply of high quality spare parts. The addition of the British hardware to the supply chain will ensure the USMC is able to sustain the Harrier for at least the next 18 years. Previously, the lack of spares posed a real threat to the service’s continued operation of the type. It had been predicted that 2021 would be the approximate out of service date. The Royal Navy’s loss – the chopping of the entire British Harrier force and the strike carrier Ark Royal, an entire capability axed – was the USMC’s gain. The Americans got 72 retired UK Harriers – including those that were assigned to the Naval Strike Wing (NSW) – for a bargain price of £116 million.
SIGMAS FOR MOROCCO & INDONESIA
Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding has announced successful completion of sea trials for the third SIGMA Class corvette constructed on behalf of the Royal Moroccan Navy. The vessel, her sensor, weapons, and communications suite were all extensively tested. SIGMA Class corvettes have also been ordered by Indonesia and June saw an additional US $220 million order by Jakarta for another one, to be delivered in 2016. She will be assembled by PAL Indonesia in Surabaya, from modules constructed locally and in Holland. The new 2,400 tons Indonesian vessel will have a hangar for an embarked helicopter. Previous variants for Indonesia had a flight-deck but no engineering support facilities. Bar the slight dimensional differences from Morocco’s, Indonesia’s SIGMA corvettes also differ in that they have the Tetral SAM system and MW08 3D radar.
FIRST F-35B SQUADRON
The US Marines are standing up squadron VMFA-121 as the Corps’ first operational F-35B formation. VMFA-121, currently an F/A-18D Hornet squadron, on deployment to Japan will return in July. The squadron will stand down ahead of standing up at Yuma in November, and the Corps will begin F-35B pilot training at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.