BURMA MAY SPARK SUB RACE
Pakistan is reportedly training Burma’s first generation of submariners after reports surfaced of approximately 20 of the country’s navy personnel arriving in Karachi. The co-operation is likely to be limited to training, however, as Pakistan is only able to supply some basic midget subs, not the full size conventional submarines Burma, or Myanmar as it is otherwise known, would like. It is likely a variant of the Kilo Class submarine will be bought from Russia. In the past Burma would have turned to China to meet its submarine needs as it has a number of domestic or export types that could readily be supplied, such as the Type 039 Song, Type 041 Yuan or S20 (a variant of the Yuan). However, the Sino-Burmese relationship is less close these days due to rising anti-Chinese sentiment in Burma.
The smaller nation has found that it is no longer the pariah it once was and can actively shop for alternative weapon systems. If Burma does move ahead with plans to introduce submarines into service it is likely to prompt Bangladesh and Thailand to hasten their own efforts in undersea warfare. Both possess longstanding plans to develop a submarine capability and have examined a number of options.
FRIGATES TO COUNTER CHINA
The Philippines is to purchase two Maestrale Class frigates from Italy as part of a five-year boost to defence spending totaling US $1.7 billion. The two frigates will join a pair of ex-US Coast Guard Hamilton Class cutters. The Maestrales have been chosen over the purchase of other surplus warships that were also offered by Italy. The deal is expected to go ahead by the end of the year. The Maestrales are a class of eight powerful ASW frigates built in the early 1980s for the Italian Navy, but which have proved themselves highly effective multi-role warships. They have good range and endurance, plus effective weaponry and sensors. They will be a considerable addition to Philippine naval power. The wider defence modernisation effort comes at a time of increased tension between the Philippines and China over territorial disputes. The Philippines is eager to stress, though, that it is not arming itself to fight a war with China, only to defend its interests. At the same time the Philippines government is looking at ways of allowing Japanese and USN warships more access to its bases, and also to expand bilateral exercises undertaken with American forces. Under the modernisation programme berthing and maintenance facilities for the Philippines Navy will also be improved or constructed.
ROCKET ‘SHELL’ HITS THE MARK
The US Navy notched up a remarkable achievement when it successfully tested its Long Range Land Attack Projectile (LRLAP) on the White Sands range in New Mexico.
A USN press briefing revealed that four test missions had been conducted and that all of them ‘accurately guided the projectile to the target approximately 45 nautical miles from the launch site.’ Calling them ‘flights’, it said they demonstrated: ‘successful gun launch, GPS acquisition, navigation and guidance, height of burst fusing, accuracy and warhead function.’
It was an important step in taking Naval Gunfire Support (NGS) to a new level of lethality, range and accuracy. A 155mm rocket-assisted guided projectile, the LRLAP is destined to be launched by the Advanced Gun System (AGS) of three new Zumwalt Class (DDG 1000) destroyers. Captain Mike Ladner of the Navy Surface Ship Weapons organisation said: “This test not only successfully demonstrated the LRLAP capability, which is pretty substantial with respect to accuracy, but also built on the successes of previous tests toward the demonstration of a reliable gun-launch land attack projectile.”
DRY RUN FOR BMD UMBRELLA MISSION
The Spanish and American navies joined forces to stage a Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) exercise in the Mediterranean. It came ahead of forward-based US Navy AEGIS-equipped destroyers being based in Spain to provide a BMD umbrella for the Mediterranean and Europe.
According to NATO – which was non-specific on the exact timing – this summer’s exercise involved the Spanish Navy frigate Blas de Lezo and the USN destroyer USS Mahan, both AEGIS-equipped. A NATO spokesperson explained: “The synergy provided by the two ships operating together will provide both strong BMD and air defence capabilities.” By 2015 a quartet of USN Arleigh Burke Class destroyers will be operating from Naval Station Rota. It is not capable at the moment of being a permanent naval base but may have its support facilities improved. Two of the BMD-assigned ships will actually arrive next year to be later joined by the other two. The main purpose of the Rota based warships will be to provide a safeguard against attack by nuclear-tipped missiles by rogue regimes, although the Russians feel the move is also aimed at them. The AEGIS-equipped cruiser USS Monterey has already carried out a BMD deployment to European waters, but only on a temporary basis. The Rota option puts the vessels in theatre for longer periods, enabling greater coverage. The Blas de Lezo is currently the flagship of Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2) on counter-terrorism duties under Operation Active Endeavour (OAE) in the Mediterranean.
INTRUDING ‘MYSTERY’ SUBMARINES WARNED OFF BY JAPANESE GOVT
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has threatened military action against foreign submarines should they stray submerged into his nation’s waters. His tough comments came after the sighting of a submerged submarine near Japan’s territorial waters off Okinawa. The craft was spotted by one of the Japanese fleet’s Orion maritime patrol aircraft (MPAs) and tracked close to the island of Kume. The vessel did not violate any laws as it had a right of peaceful passage in such areas.
There was another similar incident less than a fortnight earlier. The occurrence of two such episodes so close together set alarm bells ringing in Tokyo. In territorial waters submarines must surface and show their flag and Abe’s comments can be seen as a warning to foreign powers that they must stick to the rules. Though Japan’s defence ministry has not officially revealed the identities of the submarines, the assumption is that both times they were Chinese.
“Coming so close to territorial waters is a serious action,” Abe told the Japanese parliament. “I am not going to mention the nationality of the submarine, but we have already carried out the necessary analysis, including about its nationality. We want the relevant country to be aware that this must never happen again.” Abe’s comments were widely interpreted as being aimed at China with which an uneasy standoff continues, due to the contested ownership of Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands. The tension has been simmering at a reasonably high level since Tokyo purchased the islands from a Japanese citizen in an attempt to defuse tensions. It only exacerbated them further as it was a violation of a standing agreement between China and Japan not to unilaterally change the status of the disputed islands. The submarine incident came at the same time as three Chinese ships were in the vicinity of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands, the latest in a long line of standoffs.
Japan’s Defense Minister, Itsunori Onodera explained during a press briefing after the latest incident: “It is difficult for us to speculate on the intention of the party concerned. However, in any case, if an incursion into our territorial waters occurs, we will issue an order to guard the sea. We intend to implement thorough measures to prevent such a situation from occurring.” The minister made it clear that, so far, no intrusion into Japan’s actual territorial waters has taken place. “The act of navigating in the contiguous zone [the sea area between 12 and 24 nautical miles off Japanese shores] is not particularly considered to be a violation in terms of international laws. What we are paying close attention to are acts of entering our territorial waters. Since no entrance into our territorial waters was observed this time, as with the last time, I suppose that our alert and warning activities are effectively working under such situations.”
Though the expansion and modernisation of China’s submarine fleet has been very impressive, it has been the PLAN’s surface fleet and civilian maritime agencies, which have seen considerable and ongoing expansion of late. China has also grown increasingly assertive of its maritime claims, drawing criticism from neighbours. There are fears of increased potential for conflict. It is not the first time mystery submarines (believed to be Chinese) have probed waters close to Japan. They have also been detected off the US Navy’s major island base of Guam.
A Chinese defence ministry spokesman gave a bullish response to Japan’s fury over alleged submarine incursions. “Chinese submarines are free to navigate international waters, including the Northwest Pacific, which is also visited by other nations’ maritime forces,” said a defence ministry spokesman. He also attacked the fashion in which Japan depicts China as a threat, which, the spokesman claimed, has the effect of “intentionally creating tension with an ulterior political motive. Such [an] act is irresponsible and not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”
SALE OF MISTRALS CAUSES ANXIETY
Japan has also conveyed its deep concern to France over the sale of Mistral Class assault carriers to Russia, some of which are expected to be based in the Pacific. Tokyo also expressed its unease over Paris approving the sale of what it calls ‘deck-landing technologies and devices for helicopters’ to Beijing to equip its burgeoning navy. Defense Minister Onodera, has explained that he told his French counterpart, Jean-Yves Le Drian, that the Mistral sale “may upset [the] military balance in the Far East.” When it came to the maritime aviation technology sold to China, Mr Onodera explained that Japan feels: “If they are exported to the Chinese side and are installed on Chinese marine surveillance ships and vessels, the sense of tension presently existing in the East China Sea may even worsen.” He added: “We conveyed such concerns to the French side.” The French have responded, according to Onodera, by explaining “these products exported are not considered to be weapons in a direct sense, but are transport vessels and supplementary devices for helicopters.”
Nevertheless the Japanese defence minister has maintained his nation’s concerns.
“I repeated Japan’s concerns that these landing ships are assumed to be deployed in the Far East where these ships may pose a threat to various countries in the region.”
The equipment destined for China may also heighten tensions by facilitating further incursions into Japanese air space. Paris and Tokyo looked set to agree on closer defence ties during a summit in Japan between Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Francois Hollande. According to Onodera, speaking prior to the meeting: “The French side raised the subject of joint development having acute interests in Japan’s technological strength.” He added: “If anything, it was the French side who proactively made a proposition on defence cooperation including joint development of defence equipment.”