SOUTH CHINA SEA SIMMERS
President Benigno Aquino of the Philippines last month (July) said his country would not back down in its maritime dispute with Beijing, pledging to obtain more warships and aircraft to protect its claims in the South China Sea. A second ex-US Coast Guard cutter is set to arrive soon and US $30 million has been pledged by Washington to help the Philippines build up its military capability. A national coast watch centre is also to be established with US help in order to help secure 36,000 kilometres of coastline. The Philippines military is totally outmatched by China’s. Even the grounding of a Chinese frigate in Philippines territorial waters, which would normally have allowed confiscation under international law, saw the PLAN vessel unmolested. Aquino’s pledge came at a time when the Philippines Foreign Minister, Albert del Rosario, claimed China was becoming “more aggressive” in pursuing its maritime claims. At the same time tensions with Japan have also grown after three Chinese patrol boats approached the Diaoyu Islands in an attempt to assert Beijing’s sovereignty. They are administered and claimed by Japan, which calls them the Senkaku Islands, and the incident led to Japan summoning the Chinese ambassador. Japan is considering buying the islands from their private owner to cement its claim over them. The above developments came at a time when China was holding its annual naval exercises in the East China Sea. The dispute over rival territorial claims in the South China Sea also overshadowed the regional security meeting of ASEAN foreign ministers in the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh, which broke up without issuing a statement for the first time in its history. In June Beijing’s move to declare Sansha as the administrative centre of the Parcel and Spratly Islands, and mark the area up for possible oil exploration by state-backed China National Offshore Oil Corporation, caused protests from Hanoi. It filed a formal protest with China claiming the move was a violation of international law, and the Philippines summoned the Chinese ambassador over the matter. At the same time Taiwan, also a claimant to the Spratly Islands signalled that it was increasing its firepower on the island of Taiping, the largest in the islands group.
MORE CARRIER WOES
Indian plans to have two carrier battle groups by 2015 were dealt another blow with further slippages in the already delayed delivery date of the Indigenous Aircraft Carrier (IAC). Currently undergoing construction at Cochin Shipyard in Kochi, the delivery schedule for the 40,000 tonnes vessel appears to have been put back three years from previously revised dates. She is not expected to be handed over before 2017. With her keel laid in 2009, the Vikrant Class ship is barely a third complete. Planned to be 25,000 tonnes at a predicted launch in October 2010, currently only 14,000 tonnes of the vessel has been constructed. The delay means the ageing 28,000 tonnes Viraat (former Hermes) will have to serve beyond 2014, well past her hoped for decommissioning date. She is only able to operate eleven Sea Harriers plus a small number of helicopters. The recently purchased MiG-29K and the Naval Light Combat Aircraft under development can only operate from the Vikrant Class and the much-delayed 44,570 tonnes Vikramaditya. The latter (ex-Admiral Gorshkov) has been repeatedly delayed with massive prices rise that eventually cost India US $2.33 billion. She is now expected to enter service in early 2013. India also has plans for an additional Vikrant Class carrier that is expected to displace 65,000 tonnes. The IAC-II is, however, now set to face delays as a knock-on caused by those with Vikrant.
JETS ON CHINESE SHIP
It has been claimed the Shenyang J-15 ‘Flying Shark’ may be aboard the Chinese carrier Admiral Shi Lang (ex-Varyag) during the latest series of extended sea trials.
Take-off and landing tests involving the J-15 were allegedly slated to be carried out. The J-15 uses the STOBAR (Short Take Off But Arrested Recovery) method of operation. With advances in Chinese fighter jet technology and avionics, it is likely the J-15 will evolve to be just as potent as the Russian carrier-borne Su-33 Flanker from which it was developed. Due to improvements in Chinese avionics and weaponry, the type may seek to rival the current generation of Western carrier aircraft such as the Super Hornet.
DUTCH BOOST BMD?
The Netherlands Defence Materiel Organization has signed an agreement with Thales Netherlands to upgrade the SMART-L volume search radars fitted to the Seven Provinces Class air defence and command frigates so they are optimised for the early detection of ballistic missiles. Once upgraded, they will be able to detect a ballistic missile shortly after launch, track several targets at once, and accurately predict point of impact. The fact that SMART-L is a volume search radar means it will be able to do this without being cued from an external sensor. The SMART-L and its related development, the S1850M, are in service with the navies of Denmark, France, Germany, Great Britain and Italy. Europe lags behind the USA in BMD capability. The radar is also in service with South Korea, which would also be keenly interested due to the ballistic missile threat emanating from North Korea.
NO OVERSEAS BASES
Russia has denied it is planning to open new shore facilities in Cuba, Vietnam, and the Seychelles, despite earlier alleged comments to that effect by a senior naval officer. Recent years have seen the Russian Navy active in anti-piracy missions in the Gulf of Aden. It has also previously been reported that additional bases, such as in Yemen, could be opened. Outside Sevastopol in the Ukraine Russia’s sole overseas naval base is currently the logistical facility in the Syrian port of Tartus. Despite the ongoing bloody conflict in the Middle Eastern country Russia has no plans to abandon that toehold in the Mediterranean.