RAN BOSS ENTERS ‘SEA BLIND’ DEBATE

Vice Admiral Ray Griggs addressed the challenge of connecting the Australian general population to the sea, and also important challenges in modernising the Australian fleet during his keynote speech to the latest Sea Power Conference in Sydney. The largest ever event of its kind hosted by the Royal Australian Navy (RAN), the event attracted more than 1,000 delegates from 35 countries, with Vice Admiral Griggs hosting close to 50 flag-rank officers at Chief of the Navy level, or their designated representatives.

The theme for the conference was ‘The Naval Contribution to National Security and Prosperity’ and the Australian Chief of Navy set the questioning tone by asking: “Why, in an island continent do we feel the need to have a conference with this theme, after a couple of centuries of absolute reliance on the sea for both our security and prosperity? How is it not deeply embedded into the psyche of this nation?” He went on: “Well, firstly, we are not alone in facing this dilemma. Our British friends coined the phrase ‘sea blindness’ a number of years ago to describe what was considered a lamentable lack of understanding by the British public of the sea and the importance of the Navy. The term has been picked up in other places such as India and it is fair to say it is a condition that we suffer from here in Australia.

It is confounding that many Australians observe an array of merchant ships at anchor off Australian ports like Newcastle, but do not instinctively make the connection to our national wealth.” Vice Admiral Griggs suggested that one of the barriers to broader understanding among the civilian population was the terminology used to describe the means by which trade travels on the sea. “The principal intellectual construct we use when describing this challenge is the notion of Sea Lines of Communication, or SLOCs,” the admiral observed. “Historically, this is exactly what they were, the routes connecting nations and empires on which people, material and information was carried – it was, of course, for maritime nations, the only means of communicating. Today the only real Sea Lines of Communication are the undersea cables that carry Internet traffic and e-commerce. The traditional surface SLOCs are really lines of trade or, in keeping with this conference, lines of prosperity. One thing we might ask ourselves is whether SLOC as a term actually does us any favours in articulating navies’ contribution to security and prosperity – is it time to find a more contemporary term that better describes what we are talking about?”

Vice Admiral Griggs suggested that there is a need “to find new ways of describing the maritime world of ships and cargoes and our utter dependence upon their safety and movement that succeed in conveying the realities involved of mass, scale and time.” He laid down the gauntlet to what he described as “present day thinkers and writers on maritime strategy,” to see if they could “devise arguments that can get this message to the national audiences of 2012.”

When it came to the future equipment programmes of the RAN, Vice Admiral Griggs described the forthcoming Canberra Class LHDs (Landing Helicopter Docks), due to enter service from 2014, as a “quantum leap in capability.” He later admitted: “The LHDs will be a truly joint capability and their introduction into service is already testing us on a number of levels.” But the RAN is up for challenge as it is with introducing into service the new Air Warfare Destroyers (AWDs), which the admiral described as bringing with them “significant challenges as we [the RAN] get back into the area air defence game.”

• We will be taking a more in-depth look at Vice Admiral Griggs’ keynote speech to the Sea Power Conference in our next edition.

 

AS FALKLANDS TENSIONS RISE ROYAL NAVY RESPONDS

Tensions in the South Atlantic exploded this month, with a war of words between Argentina and Britain. Buenos Aires lodged a formal complaint with the United Nations about London’s alleged ‘militarisation’. This followed a decision to replace the Duke Class (Type 23) frigate HMS Montrose as South Atlantic guardship with the new Daring Class (Type 45) destroyer HMS Dauntless and also the alleged deployment of a Trafalgar Class nuclear-powered attack submarine (possibly HMS Tireless) to waters around the Falklands.

The arrival of the Duke of Cambridge, heir to the British throne, in the islands as a RAF Search and Rescue (SAR) helicopter pilot caused great outrage in Argentina, whose representatives branded him a “conquistador”. In an extraordinary turn of events the Argentinean Foreign Minister called a press conference at the United Nations in New York to make the astonishing claim that Britain had sent the ballistic missile submarine HMS Vanguard into the South Atlantic. He even presented images of the SSBN on the surface, off HM Naval Base Clyde, to buttress his allegation.

A statement from the Argentinean Foreign Ministry claimed: ‘Argentina has information that the UK has sent a nuclear-powered submarine capable of carrying nuclear weapons. Sources received by Argentina indicate that it would be the Vanguard.’ Mr Timerman said that he had used diplomatic channels to ask the UK to confirm or deny the SSBN was in the South Atlantic. It is standard policy that the Ministry of Defence never reveals the location of any of its SSBNs and even restricts information on its SSNs. It is no secret, however, that the Trident D5 missiles carried by both the Royal Navy’s Vanguard Class boats and the US Navy’s Ohio Class have a range of well over 7,000 miles, and the distance from HM Naval Base Clyde to Buenos Aires is 6,999 miles. HMS Vanguard could technically hit the Argentinean capital without even setting sail from her home base. The ludicrous nature of the Argentinean minister’s claim was reinforced by equally wild supporting allegations that the handful of RAF jets on the Falklands threatened the military balance in the entire South American region and that the UK was using the islands as a launchpad for global militaristic adventures. The Foreign Ministry in Buenos Aires thundered that the ‘Malvinas’ were being exploited as ‘a cornerstone of a British strategic scheme of global reach in nature.’

The Argentinean Foreign Minister made a direct appeal to the people of the Falklands by stating: “The recovery of sovereignty over the islands will only be sought through peaceful means and through diplomatic negotiation respecting the way of life for its inhabitants and according to the principals of international law.” Timerman is banking on the support of the USA, but the Americans are, as ever, wary of taking sides, though in recent months they have been seen as leaning towards Buenos Aires rather than London.

The Argentinean approach is unlikely to work among a Falklands population that keenly recalls the squalor and degradation of occupation, which followed a violent shattering of international laws, via military invasion. While British naval forces in 2012 are much weakened following the Strategic Defence and Security Review (SDSR), including a strike carrier capability gap until 2020 at least, the Argentinean military would find it very difficult to mount another invasion. The UK also has hundreds of troops stationed on the Falklands, four Typhoon air superiority fighters, a permanently-forward-deployed Offshore Patrol Ship, HMS Clyde, and for half the year an Ice Patrol Ship, currently HMS Protector on her first such deployment.

• For the full version of this article, buy the March 2012 edition of this magazine.

 

DELAY CLAIMS DISMISSED

In January the UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) moved to quell media speculation that the intended purchase of F-35 joint Strike Fighters for the Queen Elizabeth Class carriers could be delayed. The MoD stressed that it still fully intended to field a strike carrier capability from approximately 2020, and that the first deliveries of British F-35s for test and evaluation purposes, would commence this year.

The Anglo-American development of the carrier variant of the F-35 will also not be affected by the proposed US defence cuts or military reorganisation. The navies of both nations will work closely on joint training in the British and US new carrier programmes.

 

TRIALS FOR NEW F-100

The fifth and final Alvaro de Bazan (F-100) Class air-defence frigate for the Spanish Navy, the Cristobal Colon, has been carrying out combat system integration as part of ongoing work to get her ready for sea trials. The latter are scheduled to commence in the spring. The Cristobal Colon will enter service with the Lockheed Martin SPY-1D (V) combat system, which is an upgraded variant of the SPY-1D, allowing for greater performance in the littoral. Combined with the Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile (ESSM) and SM-2MR SAMs carried in the Mk-41 VLS, the frigate will have greatly enhanced capabilities against aerial threats.

She is expected to commission in July 2012. Spain and Norway are the only two navies to field the AEGIS combat system in their new warships.

 

NAVY SEALS SWOOP

US Navy SEALs once again proved their mettle during the daring predawn rescue of two aid workers held ransom by a Somali criminal gang. Having endured three months of captivity, and with the health of one of the hostages, American national Jessica Buchanan, deteriorating the decision was taken to send in SEAL Team 6.

Buchanan and Danish national Poul Thisted were taken hostage on October 25, when working for the Denmark-based Refugee Council Demining Group in central Somalia’s semi-autonomous Galmudug region. The SEALs are said to have swooped low over central Somalia aboard helicopters, touching down in scrubland between the pirate lairs of Adado and Hobyo. At least six helicopters were allegedly used according to local officials, the raiders killing approximately eight of the gang, capturing five, and rescuing both hostages unharmed. The raid is said to have lasted less than an hour, during which US Special Forces also seem to have taken over Galkayo airport, where a number of support aircraft landed. The released hostages and captured pirates are believed to have been flown to nearby Djibouti. Some pirates are thought to have turned their attention inland to kidnapping aid workers due to increased (and armed) security at sea, which is thwarting an increasing number of pirate attacks, and then there is the difficulty of operating in the monsoon swell. Pirates do, however, still hold one German-American hostage, Michael Scott Moore, whom they had recently kidnapped in Galmudug. No word has been given on his fate. The pirates also hold hundreds of seafarers.

Seafarers UK

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