A PRIORITY FOR THE USN IS ASIA-PACIFIC
Admiral Jonathan Greenert, the new USN Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) has stated, despite a possible budget cut that could see a reduction in some global commitments, his Service will still be committed in a major way to the Asia-Pacific region. The military rise of China has seen a concurrent increase in wariness among smaller and neighbouring regional states, especially with increasingly strident Chinese sovereignty claims in the South China Sea. The US remains committed to maintaining the freedom of navigation in the area, and is, in fact, likely to increase its presence. It permanently maintains a Carrier Strike Group (CSG) on deployment in the Pacific, whereas a decade ago a CSG was only available 70 per cent of the time. Pentagon budget cuts over the next decade are likely to be in the region of US $450 billion, forcing the USN to rely increasingly on flexible manning and forward basing of its warships in order to maximise their availability in potential trouble spots.
This is despite an increase in commitments, such as the Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) mission in European waters, and maintaining two carriers plus amphibious assault groups in the Arabian Sea.
NICARAGUAN NAVY KILLS DRUG SMUGGLERS
Four drug smugglers were killed in an operation by Nicaragua’s fleet, which seized more than a tonne of cocaine from their speedboat after a six-hour chase in Caribbean waters. The smugglers’ craft was approached by a vessel carrying a marines boarding team who were fired upon as they drew close, and then returned fire. The intercepted illegal narcotics shipment, thought to be destined for the United States, was split across 56 packages. The marines recovered two rifles and a sub-machine gun.
TURKISH COMMANDOS STORM HIJACKED FERRY
A terrorist believed to be from the Kurdish Workers’ Party (PKK) hijacked a ferry on passage between Izmit and Golcuk with 18 passengers and six crew on board. He reportedly claimed to have a bomb, threatening to blow the vessel up if an attempt was made to intercept it. Speculation centred on what the terrorist’s demands would be, and it was suggested he might order the ferry to the island of Imrali in the Sea of Marmara, where Kurdish separatist leader Abdullah Ocalan has been imprisoned since 1999. No demands beyond those for fuel, food and drinks, were, however, made. The ferry eventually ran out of fuel and was anchored in the port of Silivri, where an uneasy stand-off developed. The situation was brought to a swift end at dawn the next day when naval commandos and anti-terrorism police swam out to, and stormed, the ferry in a surprise assault. The terrorist was killed by gunfire. Turkey has recently seen an upsurge in violence by the PKK, but the latter’s attacks had previously been concentrated in the heavily Kurdish-populated southeast of the country.
SINO-JAPANESE SEEK TO AVOID CLASHES
What they describe as a joint ‘crisis management mechanism’ to defuse potentially serious incidents at sea has been discussed by China and Japan. At the core of the idea is regular dialogue between the defence and foreign ministries, coastguards, in addition to energy and fisheries agencies, of both nations. Japan and China share disputed maritime borders in the East China Sea, which are rich in fish stocks, and are thought also to host undersea energy reserves, primarily gas. They are also engaged in a dispute over the ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, which are under Japanese control, but the focus of a counter-claim by China. The issue of defusing maritime tension was raised at a meeting between the Japanese foreign minister and Chinese prime minister during the former’s one-day visit to Beijing in late November. Though China has begun drilling for gas in waters claimed by Japan, the option of jointly undertaking gas exploration has been raised. The maritime boundaries dispute may be a source of tension between the two, but considerable background anxiety has arisen from China’s significant increases in defence spending, and the rapid expansion and modernisation of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). Japan itself has taken measures to counter any perceived threat from China, and has chosen to reinforce its defensive capabilities in its southern islands. It has also decided to increase the number of advanced and capable submarines in its fleet, to counter the rising, and increasingly aggressive, Chinese undersea threat.