TEHRAN TO CREATE ‘STRIKE CARRIERS’
Iran is reportedly intending to design and build aircraft carriers. An Iranian newspaper has quoted Deputy Navy Commander Captain Mansour Maqsoudlou expressing his fleet’s ambition to do so. No other details were forthcoming on the claim that research and design of the ships was being actively studied and that manufacture would start soon. Given the nature of Iranian naval doctrine, which is essentially a sea denial and asymmetric-oriented strategy, aircraft carriers in the conventional sense of the vessel are unlikely to be what they have in mind. Iran anyway lacks the capability to design, manufacture, and deploy anything along the lines of a conventional carrier. There remains scope for a misunderstanding of what was implied and reported though, with possibly Iran intending only to build a warship capable of carrying aircraft, not necessarily an aircraft carrier as such. It is possible that the ‘aircraft carrier’ vessel could be a development of Iran’s current frigate designs, including a helicopter hangar instead of just a flight-deck, as is currently the case. This is well within Iranian industrial and design capabilities and perhaps even a logical next step. Given the Bavar-2 one-man seaplane currently in service, however, there may be scope to believe that Iran may arm it with a light Anti-Ship Missile (ASM), and deploy it from a disguised merchant vessel, in a similar fashion to the CAM Hurricanes in WW2. In other words, launch capability but no recovery to the ship, with the aircraft flying to shore. It is a perfectly feasible model if a ‘carrier’ is to only operate within the confines of the Gulf. Though employing many low technology assets, the Iranian Navy – and the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps naval forces have primacy within the Gulf itself – could use large numbers of such aircraft (and their launch platforms) in swarms, therefore posing a serious threat to even the most sophisticated warship. However, the Iranian Navy itself is also expanding its sphere of operations, and it is likely that it has taken up the task of transferring arms shipments (deploying ‘civilian’ vessels) to Tehran’s clients and allies, such as Hezbollah and Hamas, as it ventures far and wide. Forthcoming deployments to the Atlantic are also planned, and if this is a sign of a greater Iranian power projection, organic rotary-wing, or even fixed-wing, aviation capabilities are likely to be called for.
INDIAN CARRIER GETS READY FOR SEA TRIALS
The refurbished Kiev Class carrier, Vikramaditya, which has undergone an extensive rebuild at the Sevmash shipyard in Russia, is now set to embark on sea trials in May 2012. The Indian Navy had originally hoped these might begin in November so the carrier would be set for a December 2012 delivery. However, with the ship still only 85 per cent complete this seems not possible. It is still hoped that the delivery schedule can be met, though, and work is otherwise said to be on track. Basin tests are currently underway along with final fitting out and cabling work. Once delivered the US $2.35 billion carrier will be the largest warship in the Indian Navy, and embark an air group of MiG-29K multi-role fighters. Vikramaditya will also be capable of operating the IN’s remaining Mk51 Sea Harriers, and the naval variant of the HAL Tejas fighter.
RN & US NAVY CATCH PIRATES
A message in a bottle sparked last month’s (Oct) Anglo-American operation to free the 56,000-tonnes Italian merchantman, Montecristo from Somali pirates. Having alerted the international maritime coalition that they had been hijacked 620 miles (1,000km) off Somalia/200 miles (320km) south east of Oman the previous day; the 23-strong crew (comprising of seven Italians, ten Indians, and six Ukrainians) barricaded themselves into the strong room (from where they could control the engine and steer). The Montecristo had sailed from Liverpool and was carrying a cargo of scrap metal bound for Vietnam. On being assaulted by the pirates the vessel’s crew resorted to the rather dated, but nevertheless effective, method of dropping a message in a bottle over the side to alert the two warships that came to their rescue that they were safe from immediate harm. Previously, the crews of hijacked vessels have been maltreated, and threatened with much worse, by way of deterring any attempt of rescue by warships that have closed in to come to their aid. However, in this case, with no way of controlling the ship, and lacking hostages, the 11 pirates had run out of options when the frigate USS De Wert came alongside to assess the situation. The American warship relayed the information back to the specialist boarding party of Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel based onboard the nearby British auxiliary naval vessel RFA Fort Victoria. Thankfully the pirates surrendered without a struggle when a Lynx helicopter from Fort Victoria made a show of force by overflying the hijacked vessel prior to any boarding operation being carried out. The pirates were apprehended without incident, and the boarding party subsequently freed the unharmed and very grateful crew.
MINE WARFARE CRISIS
It has been revealed that the US Navy’s 14 Avenger Class Mine Counter-Measure Vessels (MCMVs) are essentially obsolete in many respects (despite being only 20-years-old). They also have a very poor state of readiness.
The class is highly important given the increased level of littoral operations pursued by the USN. It is said the class has suffered from a sustained period of under investment, which is mainly to blame for the current state of affairs. Urgent remedial upgrade work is required to address the situation. It remains to be seen if the funds will be forthcoming at a time when the new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) is meant to have a MCM capability. However, the LCS has suffered delays in its mission modules.
The US Navy has awarded General Dynamics Bath Iron Works a US $1.8 billion contract for the hull construction and systems integration of the second and third DDG-1000 Zumwalt Class destroyers. It came despite speculation over whether increasingly tight fiscal constraints would allow them to be ordered. The programme remains on schedule and on budget. This is somewhat of a rarity, and remarkable considering the advanced nature of the technology employed. The lead ship in the class is set for its keel laying ceremony in November. Fabrication of the second ship, Michael Monsoor, is also well progressed.The project has brought together some of the most renowned names in the US defence sector. Huntington-Ingalls Industries is building the composite superstructure and assorted parts of the hull; Raytheon is responsible for the combat and electrical systems plus many of the sensors; whereas BAE Systems is undertaking work on the Advanced Gun System (AGS) and the Mk-57 Vertical Launch System (VLS) for missiles. Zumwalt has cost some US $3 billion, but this is expected to fall for the second and third ships though the costing will not be known for some months yet.
The Bangladesh Navy has carried out its first ever bilateral naval exercises with the Americans, during the eight-day Co-operation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) Bangladesh 2011. The USN conducts CARAT exercises with Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore and Thailand, but this is the first time Bangladesh has been involved. The Bangladesh phase included dive training, riverine warfare, ship-boarding training and medical and community service projects. The sea phase consisted of helicopter operations, shipboard communications and manoeuvring drills. There were also surface gunnery exercises and tactical free-play events. The USN sent four ships, the guided-missile destroyer USS Kidd, frigate USS Ford, mine warfare ship USS Avenger, plus the dive and salvage rescue ship USNS Safeguard (T-ARS 50).
UK PUSHING GLOBAL COMBAT SHIP
Britain is boosting efforts to promote its Global Combat Ship (GCS) programme, which is said to capitalise on the core design of the RN’s Type 26 next generation frigate. It has already approached Australia, Brazil, and Turkey for possible co-operation and sales. India has reportedly shown an interest. However, according to reports in the press Malaysia has also been approached as a possible partner. Kuala Lumpur was reportedly seeking assurances, however, that it would be protected from the type of budget overruns that have hit similar UK programmes. Malaysia is keen to increase its defence capabilities and also expand its industrial base. It cannot, however, afford to be involved in a programme that is susceptible to large increases in cost as it has a number of other long-standing defence programmes and requirements in the pipeline. The Type-26/GCS is expected to replace the Duke Class (Type 23) frigate in British service. Given the flexible nature of its design the new type could fulfil requirements for an Australian Anzac Class frigate replacement, and Turkey’s stated requirement for a TF-2000 Anti-Air Warfare (AAW) frigate. The GCS design reportedly allows for the adaptation of a wide range of sensors and weaponry to meet customer requirements, and also a choice of propulsion systems, such as gas turbine and diesel, to suit operational needs and budget constraints.
INDONESIA CHOOSES KOREAN SSK
Indonesia appears to have opted for the Type 209 offer put forward by South Korea to meet a next generation submarine requirement. The deal for three Type 209 submarines is worth an estimated US $1.1 billion, and involves the first being built in South Korea, the second manufactured there also but completed in Indonesia. The third is to be wholly constructed in Indonesia.