Category Archives: Foreign Forces

Russian Ships to Syria

Russian Ships to Syria

In late June, Russians reportedly dispatched two large landing ships full of marines to their naval base in Tartus, Syria. However one of the ships at the center of the immediate media firestorm never left port and the other executed a normal training mission in the Black Sea before quietly returning to base a few days later. Russia is not above meddling in the internal affairs of other countries if it thinks it can get away with it, but escalating the Syrian conflict clearly was not in Russia’s national interest and was flatly contrary to all of its previous diplomatic activity.

 

Now less than a day after Russia allegedly decided to stop delivering arms to Syria until the situation calms down, media reports Tuesday said Russia is sending a flotilla of ships drawn from the Baltic, Northern, and Black Sea fleets to Syria. The move that would represent a dramatic change in tone from the past year, when continued arms sales to the Assad regime were considered sacrosanct, and while negotiations were being held in Moscow between the Russian government and members of the anti-Assad Syrian National Council.

 

View Russian Ships to Syria in a larger map

Russian sources indicate the following ships are part of the group that is heading towards Syria: the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, the frigates Yaroslav Mudry and Smetlivy (“sharp” or “keen-witted”), and three large landing craft carrying a contingent of marines (the names of those ships have not been mentioned in any reporting to date). It is worth noting that the landing craft in question, while unidentified, are clearly not the landing craft from the Black Sea Fleet that were at the center of the controversy in late June, but three different ships, from the Northern Fleet.

 

The media reports on the Russian fleet heading toward Syria have all originated with an Interfax story that quoted an unnamed)“military-diplomatic source” with knowledge of the situation. On this particular issue Interfax doesn’t have the best track record as it was the original “source” for the non-story in late June. Smetlivy is based in the Black Sea and if it is heading to Syria it will have to pass through the Bosporus sometime in the next few days. Until then, given past history and the strangely convenient timing of the announcement it probably is wise to remain skeptical.

By American standards this task force is not particularly impressive. By the greatly diminished standards of Russian naval operations, however, this is a significant concentration of ships. Two, Admiral Chabanenko and the Yaroslav Mudry, are among the newest and most capable members of the Russian fleet, coming into service in 1999 and 2009 respectively. Smetlivy, on the other hand, is more than 40 years old.

The precise mission of this Russian flotilla is unclear — assuming the flotilla is heading for Syria and isn’t a crude invention of bureaucratic infighting. Most of the ships will take around three months to reach Syria because they’re leaving from Severomorsk in Russia’s far north and face an extremely lengthy and circuitous route. Mudry will also take several weeks to reach Syria as it is being dispatched from the Russian naval base in the Baltic. The official line from Interfax’s unidentified source is that it is all a training exercise that is not in any way connected with the ongoing violence in Syria: the ships in question need to practice all of the tasks associated ferrying marines a lengthy distance. Some defense experts on Russia have speculated that the landing craft are carrying valuable military cargo, perhaps refurbished MI-25 helicopters. Other experts have speculated that the landing ships aren’t carrying any cargo but will instead be used to evacuate Russian citizens and military personnel, or even embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and his close associates.

While such speculation is interesting, considering how long it is going to take the landing ships to reach Syria it is unlikely that they’re on an urgent and time-sensitive mission. If the Russians were planning an evacuation by sea they would use ships from the Black Sea Fleet which can be in Syria in a matter of days, not ships that are many weeks of hard steaming away. Assuming that all of the ships in question are in fact heading to Syria, it is far more likely that the Russians are trying to show the flag and underline their continued interest in the country. Particularly after taking two steps, that are clearly anti-Assad in nature, meeting with the Syrian National Council and cutting off arms shipments Russia needs to avoid giving the impression that it is overly weak and conciliatory.

It is possible to say what this flotilla is not: a serious attempt to intervene on behalf of Bashar al-Assad and his swiftly destabilizing regime. None of the three warships heading toward Syria is a serious instrument of power projection: they are surface combatants with an anti-surface or anti-submarine focus. Even if these ships wanted to, they could not meaningfully impact the correlation of forces in Syria, anti-ship missiles being about the most useless weapon imaginable in urban guerilla warfare. The best guess is that the flotilla is yet another clumsy attempt to show the flag and highlight Russia’s continued importance in the region.

Punch Them in the Nose...and Then Leave

Punch Them in the Nose…and Then Leave

KuehnF1July12Proceedings, July 2012
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet client government in Afghanistan. Mark Twain, and more recently Niall Ferguson, claimed that history does not repeat itself, rather, it rhymes. If this is the case, then the poem the United States has written in Afghanistan is a tragic one of the Greek variety and highlights hubris in ways we have not seen since that other tragic poem named Vietnam. There is an even more similar Soviet one, also in Afghanistan.

more

Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for '82 Falklands War

Reagan Readied U.S. Warship for ’82 Falklands War

reagan_and_maggie

President Ronald Reagan and Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher at the White House in 1981 The Reagan Library Archives

While publicly claiming neutrality between Argentina and the U.K. during the 1982 Falklands War, President Ronald Reagan’s administration had developed plans to loan a ship to the Royal Navy if it lost one of its aircraft carriers in the war, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, told the U.S. Naval Institute on June 26.

Lehman and then Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger agreed to support U.K. Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher with the loan of the amphibious warship USS Iwo Jima, he said.

“We agreed that [Weinberger] would tell the President that we planned to handle all these requests routinely without going outside existing Navy channels,” Lehman said in a speech provided to the U.S. Naval Institute he made in Portsmouth, U.K. “We would ‘leave the State Department, except for [Secretary of State Al] Haig, out of it.’”

Reagan approved the request without hesitation and his instructions to Weinberger had been simple, “Give Maggie everything she needs to get on with it,” Lehman said in the speech.

At the time, the Royal Navy had deployed HMS Invincible and HMS Hermes to the Falklands. Each carrier fielded five vertical takeoff Sea Harriers armed with American Sidewinder missiles — all major components of the U.K.’s air war in the Falklands.
The contingency plan to provide a replacement carrier was developed at the Royal Navy’s request.
“As in most of the requests from the Brits at the time, it was an informal request on a ‘what if’ basis, Navy to Navy,” Lehman said.

Read More

30 Years Later: U.S. and the Falklands War

30 Years Later: U.S. and the Falklands War

reagan_and_maggieReagan Readied U.S. Warship for ’82 Falklands War

While publicly claiming neutrality between Argentina and the U.K. during the 1982 Falklands War, President Ronald Reagan’s administration had developed plans to loan a ship to the Royal Navy if it lost one of its aircraft carriers in the war, former U.S. Secretary of the Navy, John Lehman, told the U.S. Naval Institute on June 26. more


Combat Fleets ’82: U.K. Carriers in the Falklands
webUSS-Iwo-Jima-LPH-2-1984

In the event of the loss of a British carrier in the 1982 Falklands War, the U.S. was prepared to loan a helicopter carrier to the U.K. Royal Navy.
Collected are the entries from the 1982/1983 Combat Fleets of the World of the British carriers and the ship the U.S. had prepared to loan the Royal Navy. more

Combat Fleets '82: Falklands Carriers

Combat Fleets ’82: Falklands Carriers

In the event of the loss of a British carrier in the 1982 Falklands War, the U.S. was prepared to loan a helicopter carrier to the U.K. Royal Navy.

Collected are the entries from the 1982/1983 Combat Fleets of the World of the British carriers and the ship the U.S. had prepared to loan the Royal Navy.

USS Iwo Jima (LPH 2)

USS Iwo Jima underway in 1984[U.S. Naval Institute Archives]

USS Iwo Jima underway in 1984
[U.S. Naval Institute Archives]

Builder: Puget Sound NSY
Laid down: 2-4-69
Launched: 17-9-60
In service: 26-8-61
Displacement : 11,000 tons light (17,515-18,300 fl)
Speed: 23 kts
Dimensions: 183.6 (169.5 wl) × 31.7 (25.5 wl) × 7.9 (hull) meters
Armament: 4/76.2-mm DP (II × 2)—2/Mk 25 Sea Sparrow launchers (VIII x 2)
Aircraft: 20-24/ CH-46 helicopters 4/CH-53 heavy helicopters 4/HU-1 utility or AH-1 attack helicopters
Electronic Equipment: Radar: 1/LN-66, 1/SPS-10, 1/SPS-40, 1/SPN-10 or SPN-43
Electronic Counter Measures: WLR-6, ULQ-6, 4/Mk 36 SRBOC chaff TACAN: URN-20
Machinery: 1 set GT; 1 prop; 23,000 hp
Boilers: 4 Combustion Engineering (LPH 9: Babcock & Wilcox); 42.3 kg/cm2, 467°C
Electric: 6,500 kw
Manning: 47 officers, 605 men +190 officers, 1,900 Marines

Remarks: LPH 9 conducted V/STOL suitability trials during 1972 and for
several years thereafter operated up to twelve AV-8A Harrier. The
ships have also aeted as carriers for RH-53 minesweeping helicopters.
One folding side elevator forward, to port; one to starboard, aft of
the island; 70-m hangar. Excellent medical facilities (300 beds). LPH
9 has an ASCAC (Air-Surface Classification and Analysis Center).
LPH 12, to a slightly different design, carries two LCVP in davits.
Two Mk 63 gunfire control being removed. Two 20-m Vulcan/Phalanx AA to
be added.

Read More

Syria’s Itchy Trigger Finger

Syria’s Itchy Trigger Finger

anders

NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen on Tuesday rebuking Syria’s dowing of a Turkish RF-4 [NATO photo]

On Friday Syria shot down a Turkish F-4. A statement the Syrian government released that night said: “Our air defenses confronted a target that penetrated our air space over our territorial waters pre-afternoon on Friday and shot it down. It turned out to be a Turkish military plane.”

A short time later, Syria allegedly engaged a second Turkish aircraft. According to a statement on Monday from Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister, Bulent Arinc, a Turkish CN-235 searching for the wreckage of the RF-4 came under fire by Syrian forces who ceased when warned by the Turkish military. As the wreckage of the craft was reportedly found Sunday, it is unclear when the plane came under fire or what shot at it.

Turkish and Syrian planes and coast guard vessels continue their search as the F-4’s crew has yet to be found. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an said Friday, “Regarding our pilots, we do not have any information, but at the moment four of our gunboats and some Syrian gunboats are carrying out a joint search there.”

How Turkey responds is of great interest to the region. Turkey invoked Article 4 of the NATO treaty, calling on member nations to assemble in Brussels for a meeting of the North Atlantic Council earlier today at which Turkish officials presented their version of events. As expected, the outcome was one of condemnation but no immediate military response. Following the meeting, NATO Secretary-General Anders Fogh Rasmussen expressed solidarity with Turkey and condemned the shoot-down “in the strongest terms.” NATO also released a statement with unanimous endorsement calling the incident, “another example of the Syrian authorities’ disregard for international norms, peace and security, and human life.”

Read More

Iran: Atomic and Underwater?

Iran: Atomic and Underwater?

Iran7nahangReports in early June indicated that the Islamic Republic of Iran is in the early stages of developing nuclear-powered attack submarines, or SSNs. The initial response from many observersmyself included, was to concentrate on the mechanics. Iran has no tradition of building submarines, apart from a few mini-subs and, apparently, plans for a 1,000-ton “semi-heavy” boat. Iran’s navy thus has no working Nautilus onto which to retrofit a nuclear plant. There are no shortcuts.

Iranian Kilo-class Nahang-class diesel submarine

Furthermore, the Islamic Republic has no tradition of naval nuclear propulsion. Combine the naval-architecture challenge with the nuclear challenge, and Tehran’s entry into the SSN club confronts steep engineering and financial barriers. Considering these barriers and the time it will take to surmount them, it appears whimsical for Iranian officials to assign much priority to an SSN program.

On the other hand, it wasn’t long ago that it appeared far-fetched to think China would invest lavishly in refitting an unfinished, 20-year-old hulk of an aircraft carrier it had purchased for scrap. And yet it did. Today the ex-Varyag plies the sea as a training platform for the People’s Liberation Army Navy. We kid ourselves if we project our own assumptions and cost-benefit calculations onto foreign nations with very different histories, customs and worldviews.

Read More

Africa Demands more U.S. Focus

Africa Demands more U.S. Focus

A good fighter does not stand in one place fending off blows, he moves around the ring. America’s Asian Pivot is merely a minor weight shift. America has been standing with a foot in Asia and Europe for over half a century; we need to step forward to the ring’s greatest area of potential: Africa.

usnafrica

Sailor with children during U.S. Africa Command’s 2012 Africa Partnership Station
[U.S. Navy Photo]

While the appropriate focus for America’s next step, Africa is prevented in reaching its full potential from the dangers of terrorist groups in vast uncontrolled areas and unstable governments. Africa has the greatest potential energy to drive future changes in the international system. America should pursue further engagement to ensure that those changes realize the best of the continent’s potential, rather than the worst.

Any sense that America’s pivot toward Asia is a major policy change ignores the robust presence that already exists. In the June 2 post, Information Dissemination notes that the Navy’s shift to Asia started long before the pivot talk even began. With bases in Korea, Japan and Guam , the U.S. has no small military presence in the region. The Association of South East Asian Nations may not be as effective or as unified as NATO, but it is still an active and engaged institution of regional diplomacy. And the U.S. has a number of strong bilateral relationships, from Japan to Thailand to Australia. Those who think a pivot to the Western Pacific is a major policy change haven’t been watching policy. America has in the past, if not pivoted, at least kept glancing over its Pacific shoulder.

Read More

A New Way for Mine Warfare

A New Way for Mine Warfare

“Any ship can be a minesweeper –- once,” goes the old naval joke, but top American commanders in the Middle East are not laughing. Amid the roller coaster of tensions with Iran and a new high-level order to confirm that it can “shoot straight,” the Navy is beefing up its mine warfare capabilities in the Persian Gulf.

Read More

The North Korean Connection

The North Korean Connection

Big surprises often come in small packages and the Islamic Republic of Iran Navy (IRIN) seems to be betting on this adage with its accelerated acquisition of midget submarines in recent years. Open-source reporting indicates that Iran now possesses at least 14 Yono-class mini-submarines. Iranians say these North Korean-designed boats are now being indigenously manufactured in their domestic shipyards. Called the Ghadir-class, production has accelerated since the reported launch of the first Iranian-manufactured unit in 2007 with four of these units launched in 2010 and, according to Jane’s Fighting Ships, another two were launched in the past year.

An undated photo of the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.

An undated photo of the Iranian Ghadir-class submarine.

The lethal threat loaded in this small package is illustrated by the March 2010 attack on the South Korean corvette Cheonan. The North Korean torpedo attack on the Cheonan broke the ship in half and killed 46 ROK sailors. Forensic evidence, provided by an international team of weapons experts, subsequently revealed that it was a North Korean manufactured CHT-02D acoustic-wake homing torpedo that was used to sink the South Korean ship. The connection to the threat from Iran’s Yono submarines is that many analysts suspect that it was a North Korean Yono mini-sub that launched the attack on the Cheonan. Each North Korean Yono mini-sub is believed to be armed with two such CHT-02D (21-inch) heavy weight torpedoes. It is likely the Iranian Yono units are likely to be armed with the same type of torpedoes.
The IRIN also has three relatively modern, Russian-built, Kilo-class submarines that were purchased in the 1990s. However, the recent emphasis on mini-subs may indicate either a shift in tactics and/or dissatisfaction with the Kilos. The cost, or size and complexity of the Kilos may have caused the IRIN and Islamic Republic of Iran Revolutionary Guard Navy force to seek a more reliable and tactically compatible alternative. The Yono mini-sub is by all observations better matched to the challenging conditions for submarine operations in the gulf than the much larger Kilos. Just as the North Koreans have found the utility of mini-subs in the shallow waters of the Yellow Sea, the Iranians seem to be following suit in the Persian Gulf.

Iran seems to be putting their money where its mouth is when it comes to procurement. By all appearances its investments are matching its naval strategy of waging a guerrilla war at sea. For instance, the procurement of the Yono class boats is paralleled by reported investments in anti-ship cruise missiles, sea mines and the modification of hundreds of fast attack craft/fast inshore attack craft armed with a wide variety of antiship weapons. The ambush tactics for which the mini-sub is designed seem to fit the pattern of recent Iranian weapons procurement and their expressed interest in building a robust anti-access/area denial capability. The relatively short range and endurance of the Yono-class boats makes these units compatible with the Iranian Navy’s coastal defense mission and their presence puts teeth into Iran’s claims to being able to close the vital Strait of Hormuz. It is also noteworthy that as a less than capital asset, these platforms are potentially more expendable than a high value asset like a Kilo submarine. The proliferation of these units, like that of their mini-warship FAC/FIAC cousins, suggests that the Iranian Navy may be willing to lose a few of these units in defense of the nation.

The proliferation of these units presents a number of tactical challenges to the US Navy. As with FAC/FIAC, there is a definite tactical quality to quantity. The sheer number of small but lethal threats that have to be considered when operating in the Persian Gulf, when added up, creates an overall high threat environment. Just like FAC/FIAC, only one Yono needs to slip through a friendly force defensive perimeter and get within torpedo range to possibly achieve success. The threat to friendly vessels is further exacerbated when operating within the confines of the Persian Gulf where, in most areas, the threat axis represents a 360 spin of the compass. Further complicating the problem for blue forces is the inherent difficulty in detecting these small targets amidst the flotsam and jetsam of the cluttered Persian Gulf waters. One conclusion is certain–the development of squadrons of mini-subs and FAC/FIAC are a warning sign that asymmetric threats are on the upswing in the Persian Gulf.