REVIEW RINGS THE CHANGES FOR RAN
The Australian government has begun the process of implementing the findings of two reviews into the nation’s naval capabilities. Defence Minister Stephen Smith, and Minister for Defence Material Jason Clare announced the changes during the commissioning of HMAS Choules.
It was revealed the navy would be receiving an additional sealift vessel. This was a recommendation made in a review by independent expert Paul Rizzo, who in July 2011 recommended a third amphibious vessel to complement HMAS Choules and HMAS Tobruk. As a result, a commercial off-the-shelf vessel is to be obtained to enter service in 2012. As a stopgap measure, the Windermere, a civilian Subsea Operations Vessel (SOV) is being leased for the Australian Defence Force. Future changes may also be made to the method of manning for some of the Royal Australian Navy’s (RAN’s) vessels, with something along the lines of that practiced by the Royal Fleet Auxiliary (RFA) and the USN Military Sealift Command to operate support ships. With merchant mariners recruited, it will free up RAN personnel to operate war-fighting vessels. Also addressed was the first phase of the independent review by John Coles, of BMT Defence Services, into the maintenance of the RAN’s six Collins Class submarines. They have been dogged by problems for years, with serious questions as to their (limited) availability and supportability.
The review recommended increasing the supply of spares, and along with further training, developing an ‘In-Service Support Contract’ between the Defence Material Organisation, and the boats’ manufacturers, the Australian Submarine Corporation. The recommendations laid out in phase one of the ‘Coles Review’ are to be implemented immediately, with phase two announced in April.
With the 30th anniversary of war in the South Atlantic between Britain and Argentina approaching, both nations have again been at loggerheads over the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands. A former boss of the Royal Navy suggested deployment of a hunter-killer submarine in response to the latest provocation organised by Buenos Aires, which was an agreement by the Mercosur – a South American political and free trade bloc – to ban ships flying the islands’ flag from their ports. Argentina, which currently holds the presidency of the organisation, was jubilant at the measure. Mercosur also comprises Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay (the latter not even having a coastline, but it still signed up to the move).
A statement revealing the ban described it as ‘all measures that can be put in place to impede the entry to its [the Mercosur’s] ports of ships that fly the illegal flag of the Malvinas Islands.’ Argentina, which has been in dispute with Britain over ownership of the Falklands and outlying dependencies, for decades, refers to the islands as The Malvinas. However, inhabitants of the islands have expressed a wish to remain British. In his Christmas message to islanders, British Prime Minister David Cameron said: ‘Argentina continues its unjustified and counter-productive efforts to disrupt shipping around the Islands and to deter business from engaging in legitimate commerce. Threats to cut communication links between the Islands and your neighbours in South America only reflect badly on those who make them.’ He added: ‘So, let me be absolutely clear. We will always maintain our commitment to you on any question of sovereignty. Your right to self-determination is the cornerstone of our policy. We will never negotiate on the sovereignty of the Falkland Islands unless you, the Falkland Islanders, so wish. No democracy could ever do otherwise.’ A London-based newspaper meanwhile reported Former First Sea Lord West suggesting the UK should order an SSN to makes its presence known in the South Atlantic and that military exercises should be staged. Lord West, whose frigate was sunk by Argentinean air attack during the Falklands War of April-June 1982, said he believed Argentina was becoming “very confrontational.” The Mercosur move followed decisions by Brazil and Uruguay, in early 2011 and late 2010 respectively, to ban British warships on patrol in the South Atlantic, and therefore safeguarding Falklands sovereignty, from their ports. Argentina has also recently taken to intercepting trawlers operating in waters off the Falklands, where oil and gas exploration efforts have also been ongoing, much to the fury of Buenos Aires.
NEW FRENCH SSN
The joining together of the first hull sections of the nuclear-powered attack boat Duguay-Trouin, currently being built by DCNS at Cherbourg, has been successfully achieved. It was an operation that took nearly two months to accomplish, the mating of the two 30 tonnes mid-ship pressure rings completed hull sections 12 and 13 that will house the operations room, including the submarine’s main command, navigation and operations systems. Ten out of the boat’s 21 rings have now been completed, with eight still under construction. The work will continue until early 2013. The 326ft-long Duguay-Trouin is the second of six Barracuda Class SSNs planned for the French Navy to replace the same number of Rubis Class boats (between 2017 and 2027).
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) frigate HMS Vancouver is returning home to Esquimalt in February, after being relieved on station in the Mediterranean by another Halifax Class warship. Vancouver has been in the Mediterranean since August, when she joined the NATO fleet off Libya as part of Operation Unified Protector, the mission to protect Libyan civilians from Gaddafi forces. HMCS Vancouver was then reassigned to participate in Operation Active Endeavour, the alliance’s counter-terrorism effort in the Mediterranean. Just days before Christmas, Canada’s Minister of National Defence, Peter MacKay, visited Vancouver while the warship was berthed at a port close to Rome.
UK ANTI-PIRACY EFFORTS SLAMMED AS INEFFECTIVE
A Parliamentary committee has made stinging criticism of the manner in which the Royal Navy has been instructed to fight piracy, declaring that it is astonished that in most cases where pirates are caught red handed there are no prosecutions.
In their report, entitled ‘Piracy off the Coast of Somalia’, published earlier this month, the MPs of the Foreign Affairs Committee observed with dismay: ‘Even when pirates are detained by naval forces, it has been estimated that around 90 per cent are released without charge. Gathering evidence to secure a successful prosecution for piracy is clearly challenging, but when pirates are observed in boats with guns, ladders and even hostages, it beggars belief that they cannot be prosecuted.’
Furthermore, the MPs bewailed the fact that despite substantial naval efforts in the past four years ‘the counter-piracy policy has had limited impact.’
The committee was also perturbed that Britain’s naval commitment via membership of task groups fighting the pirates was far from certain, again expressing their amazement that this should the state of affairs. ‘There have recently been welcome signs that naval forces are taking more robust action,’ the committee’s report observes, but then goes on: ‘However, the risk to pirates of serious consequences is still too low to outweigh the lucrative rewards from piracy. The UK has contributed naval assets to all three of the naval operations at different times, but the FCO [Foreign and Commonwealth Office] Minister [giving evidence to the committee] could not offer a guarantee that this commitment would not be cut in future. It is difficult to see how the UK could continue to play a “leading role” in the international response without a visible commitment of at least one British naval vessel to one of these operations at all times.’
A major international conference on piracy is to be held in London next month (Feb) but the MPs have observed: ‘We conclude that for too long there has been a noticeable gap between the Government’s rhetoric and its action.’
Undermining the Royal Navy’s ability to exert a presence in terms of frigates on anti-piracy patrol has been an inexorable decline in force levels. For example, last year four highly capable Type 22 frigates that were among the UK’s most effective anti-piracy platforms and task group command vessels, were retired early from service as part of government defence cuts.