CHINA SEA GRAB RAISES ALARM
A map printed in six million new passports for its citizens clearly indicate Beijing’s ambition to expand territorial waters across almost the whole South China Sea. A dashed line on the revised map declares the zones right up to the littorals of other states are China’s. If it were put into effect, it would see China swallow up the Spratly Islands, ownership of which is already also strongly contested by Vietnam, Taiwan, Brunei, Malaysia and the Philippines. The redrawn passport map also stakes a claim to the Diaoyu (or Senkaku) islands, which came under Japanese control in 1971 and continue to be the source of ongoing friction between China and Japan. To complicate matters, Taiwan also disputes their ownership. Vietnamese immigration is refusing to stamp visas in the new passports for fear of it being seen as an acknowledgement of China’s claims. Officials are putting the visas on a separate (detached) page instead. Vietnam has good reason to fear China’s ambitious plans, having been drawn into conflict in the past at great cost to her armed forces and civilian population. In February 1979 a major Chinese incursion into Vietnam in response to the latter’s invasion of Cambodia the year before, saw thousands of lives lost on both sides. The brief war (of 28 days) left border differences between the two nations not finally settled until 2009. Prior to that conflict, in the Battle of the Paracel Islands (1974) China’s South Seas Fleet (SSF) gained control of them from South Vietnam in an engagement that saw one Vietnamese frigate sunk and another damaged. Another Sino/Vietnamese naval clash occurred in 1988, over ownership of the Johnson South Reef in the Spratly Islands, resulting in the loss of a number of Vietnamese ships.
UK CARRIER JIGSAW COMPLETE
The final section of the future super-carrier Queen Elizabeth has departed the BAE Systems shipyard at Govan for Babcock’s Rosyth facility.
Officially referred to as Lower Block 04, the aft section will now undergo integration with the rest of the structure. The programme is on track to deliver the carrier for sea trials in 2017, with flight trials of the F-35B commencing the following year. When she enters service Queen Elizabeth will be the biggest and most powerful warship indigenous to European waters and second only to the larger US Navy carriers. She will operate fifth generation stealth aircraft, something that, again, no other nation in Europe will possess.
Work is also underway at a steady pace on her sister ship, the future Prince of Wales (PoW). Lower Block 03 and Lower Block 04 for PoW are currently in production at Govan, and other blocks are under construction at six shipyards around the UK. On completion they will be transferred to Rosyth for final assembly and integration. The 65,000 tonnes carriers will be able to embark up to 40 aircraft and are set to enter operational service by the end of the decade.
HICCUPS FOR INDIA
Modernisation efforts are not going according to plan for the Indian Navy. In November it was revealed the Indian defence ministry intended to request a further US $363 million in order to continue construction of the 40,000 tonnes Indigenous Aircraft Carrier. The programme is running some five years behind schedule and delays have substantially increased the cost of construction, making the initial requested amount (in 2006) inadequate.
RN LYNX ABOARD FRENCH FRIGATE
A British maritime Lynx has embarked onboard the French La Fayette Class frigate, Surcouf, the first full deployment of a British helicopter in a Marine Nationale vessel. The aircraft, aviators and support crew joined the frigate at Toulon for a four-week pre-deployment training period prior to departure for an anti-piracy patrol in the Gulf of Aden. The Lynx Mk8, and 12 members of RNAS Yeovilton-based 217 Flight, is part of an Anglo-French initiative under the Lancaster House Treaty. A two-man Royal Marine sniper team is also deployed with the helicopter unit. The Lynx team will return to the UK in March 2013.
NEW CHINESE COMBATANT
The first of China’s Type-056 Class corvettes has been on initial sea trials. With the early batch being constructed at the Hudong Shipyard in Shanghai, definitive information is scarce. Estimates of how many the PLAN intends to commission vary widely, with some sources claiming up to 36 could be acquired. It is known that the Type 056 will be armed with the Chinese variant of the AK-176 (76.2mm) gun, an eight-cell FL3000N SAM launcher, and two 30mm remotely operated guns.
Should a large number of the corvettes be acquired it is likely they will be used to patrol China’s littoral waters and also maintain a presence in disputed areas around the various islands in the South China Sea.
The Australian Defence Materiel Organisation has awarded Thales the job of upgrading sonar systems onboard the RAN’s Collins Class submarines.
The Aus $22.2 million contract will see Thales replace obsolete components with modern ones and in doing so increase reliability as well as reducing weight, space and power consumption requirements. The existing sonar suite is still very capable but the space, power and weight savings brought about by the upgrades are a way to maintain overall potency of the boats. Following the completion of sea trials in one boat during 2013, the upgrade will be fitted across the class in 2014. The next four years will see Aus $700 million devoted to the Collins Class sustainment programme.
NEW ‘TIDE’ CLASS
Military Afloat Reach and Sustainability (MARS) vessels currently under construction for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary in South Korea, by Daewoo Shipbuilding and Marine Engineering (DSME), have been named the Tide Class. The four tankers will be called Tidespring, Tiderace, Tidesurge and Tideforce. A previous class of Tide tankers built for the UK in the 1950s was designed to support the RN’s last generation of big-deck aircraft carriers. The new generation Tide Class will be more flexible than their predecessor namesakes. They will be tasked with supporting deployed amphibious, land, and air forces. A £452 million deal was signed with DSME in February this year to provide the British fleet with a new class of 37,000 tonnes double hulled tankers based on the BMT Defence Services AEGIR design, maintaining an ability to support the RN’s out of area operations. A further range of associated deals potentially worth up to £150 million may be signed with British companies for support, maintenance, provision of subsystems, customisation, trials, and specialist engineering support. The Tide Class tankers will enter service from 2016.
DOUBLE FIGURES FOR VIRGINIA SSNs
USS Minnesota, the tenth Virginia Class SSN built for the USN has been christened at Huntington Ingalls Industries (HII) & Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia.
At approximately 92 per cent complete she is now outfitting and testing. Considerable gains have been made in her construction and Minnesota is nearly a year ahead of schedule. She will join the fleet in late spring 2013. Minnesota is the last of the Block II boats built in four sections rather than ten (as was the case with the preceding block). This saved approximately US $300 million per boat. Block III submarines will feature a revised bow incorporating technology pioneered by the Ohio Class cruise missile and Special Forces boats (SSGNs).