In September a major diplomatic crisis erupted between China and Japan over a group of five uninhabited islets and three barren rocks located 120 nautical miles northeast of Taiwan, 200 nautical miles southeast of Okinawa and 200 nautical miles east of China. Collectively these islets and rocks are known as the Senkaku islands in Japanese and the Diaoyutai in Chinese. Japan, China and Taiwan each claim sovereignty over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai.
Japan acquired the Senkaku Islands in 1895 after defeating China in the First Sino-Japanese War. Under the terms of the Treaty of Shimonoseki, China transferred sovereignty over both Taiwan and the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus came under U.S. control when it occupied Japan and Okinawa in 1945 at the end of World War II. In 1972 the U.S. returned Okinawa and the Senkakus to Japan. The Senkakus are presently administered as part of Okinawa prefecture.
View Senkaku Islands in a larger map
In 1969 a survey conducted under the auspices of the United Nations determined that there were potentially large oil and gas deposits in the seabed surrounding the Senkakus. According to Japanese sources, the discovery of hydrocarbons was the catalyst that reignited Chinese claims to the Diaoyutai. Both Taiwan and China claim sovereignty based on Ming Dynasty documents listing the Diaoyutai as prized possessions of the Chinese emperor.
In September 1972 China and Japan normalized diplomatic relations. Six years later both sides signed a bilateral fishing agreement and reached an understanding to set aside their dispute over the Senkakus/Diaoyutai as a matter for future generations to decide. In 2008 China and Japan agreed to jointly explore for oil in waters off the Senkakus; but that undertaking was never implemented.
This week in a speech in Virginia, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney talked about his plan to build a 350-ship Navy, boosting spending on current programs and creating two new ship designs. But affordability is a key detail in any procurement discussion, and it’s one piece of the puzzle that the Romney camp is still fleshing out. Romney also did not identify any new requirements for a 350-ship fleet.
There is no doubt shipbuilding is a priority for whomever occupies the White House for the next four years. The Navy’s current roster of ships is near its smallest since 1916, when then-President Woodrow Wilson signed the Naval Act authorizing a massive build-up. At Wilson’s behest and with congressional approval, the Navy built 10 battleships, six battlecruisers, 30 submarines, 50 destroyers and other support vessels over three years, tripling the size of the sea service by 1919. Wilson’s 752-ship Navy was the high-water mark for decades, and his push leading up to World War I is credited with establishing U.S. naval dominance in the 20th century. But the expansion came at a cost — some $500 million at the time or a mere $10.2 billion in current-year dollars. But today’s ships are different by nearly all metrics — mission, capability, sophistication, size and cost among other factors.
Nearly a century later, Congress finds itself in much the same quandary as Wilson — an aging fleet of warships in need of modernization and, some say, expansion. The U.S. fleet as a whole has been on a slow decline since the late 1980s, bottoming out at 278 ships in 2007. The Navy says it needs between 310 and 316 ships to meet all its obligations around the world, a number that has remained roughly unchanged since the 1994 Quadrennial Defense Review.
Proceedings, Oct. 2012
In August, the Royal Navy released details of its next surface combatant, the Type 26, a modular ship. Announced plans are to build 13 of these vessels to replace the surviving 13 Type 23 frigates. All were intended primarily for antisubmarine warfare (ASW); the Type 23s were conceived as minimum towed-array ships to work in the Greenland-Iceland-UK (GIUK) Gap mainly in support of maritime patrol aircraft. With the end of the Cold War, this mission disappeared, and the Type 23s found themselves carrying out a wide variety of peacetime missions, such as drug interdiction in the Caribbean and anti-piracy work off Somalia. An incidental effect of the change from harsh GIUK waters to calmer ones is that the ships’ hulls have lasted far longer than expected. (Cynics may suspect that the ships’ longevity is really the consequence of successive governments’ reluctance to buy replacements on a timely basis.)
Comparing the Type 26 to the U.S. Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) shows how wide a range the concept of modularity covers. The Type 26 is a 5,500-ton frigate that can be built in one of at least two versions. In appearance it is a scaled-down Type 45 destroyer with the same sort of tower foremast, in this case topped by the Artisan three-dimensional radar rather than the big Sampson of the Type 45. The Type 26 was conceived as part of a long-running project to design a Future Surface Combatant, which was originally to have been built in three versions of varying capability (and cost).
The Type 26 is apparently the ASW variant, presumably a direct replacement for the current Type 23, with much the same systems as the projected modernized Type 23. They include the Sea Centor vertically launched suface-to-air missile (replacing the current Seawolf) and the Type 2087 low-frequency active-passive sonar (towed pinger plus array plus medium-frequency bow array). Sea Centor is an active-radar-guided derivative of the current British short-range air-to-air missile, also known as CAMMS (Common Modular Missile System). It uses an uplink for mid-course guidance. The ship will have a single gun, either the 4.5-inch currently standard in the Royal Navy, or perhaps a derivative of the U.S. 5-inch/62 (BAE owns United Defense, which makes the U.S. gun). There may be provision for a more powerful gun; in the past BAE has advertised a 155-mm gun within the footprint of its 4.5 inch.
The Russian navy was in parlous straits during the 1990s and the early 2000s. Suffering a series of spectacular disasters including, the sinking of the Kursk submarine with the loss of all hands. Operational hardships were occurred with a background of budgetary scarcity and decay. Since then Russia’s navy has been slowly getting back on its feet with a steady increase in naval activity and an increasingly visible presence in the world’s oceans. But while training and combat readiness have generally improved, Russia’s shipbuilding industry has decayed badly; perhaps past the point of no return.
INS Vikramaditya in June. Sevmash Photo
The Russians recently unveiled a number of impressive sounding naval re-armament plans as part of the their general push to re-equip their armed forces with modern equipment. Announcing a plan is easy. Constructing modern warships is hard. While the Russians have been very good on the planning side of the ledger, they’ve been bad in the construction side. We can get a clear picture of the still-decrepit and chaotic state of the Russian shipbuilding industry by looking at refurbishment work they’re doing for the Indian navy. The carrier Baku was re-christened by the Russians as the Admiral Gorshkov and later sold to the Indian navy and renamed the Vikramaditya. Since the ship has gone through so many name changes, we’ll stick with calling it Vikramaditya for clarity’s sake.
The ever-growing reach of China’s navy was demonstrated recently when two of its warships sailed through the Turkish Straits and into the Black Sea for the first time. The two ships, the Luhu-class destroyer Qingdao and Jiangkai II–class frigateYantai (pictured here), entered the Black Sea on 31 July. They then veered off on their own separate visits, with the Qingdaotraveling to Sevastopol, Ukraine, while the Yantai made her own port calls at Costanta, Romania, and Varna, Bulgaria, before the vessels sailed back through the Bosporus and the Dardanelles in early August. Both ships, along with the replenishment oiler Weishanhu , had recently completed anti-piracy patrols
Photo courtesy Cem D. Yaylali
in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia. Although the destroyer and frigate entered the Black Sea, the larger 23,000-ton Weishanhu remained docked at Istanbul. Once the ships departed the area, they made a brief stop at Haifa, Israel, before returning home to Chinese waters.
In an apparent reaction to the recently concluded multinational minesweeping exercise in the Persian Gulf and Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s appearance before the United Nations, Iran released film and video of its latest unmanned aerial system (UAS). Iran calls the new UAS Shahed-129 (or Witness-129). The Guardian news website provided the following transcript of Iranian television coverage of the Shahed-129 flight demonstration: “The new drone . . . can carry out combat and reconnaissance missions with its 24-hour non-stop flight capability.” The transcript goes on to report, “home-made aircraft is capable of hitting targets at a distance of 1,700-2,000 kilometers… [and] can be equipped with electronic and communication systems including cameras which can capture and send live images.”
Images from Iranian television of the Shahed-129.
While the Shahed-129’s flight performance claims may be exaggerated, the system nonetheless will join several other indigenously manufactured Iranian unmanned aircraft. For U.S. sailors operating in the Persian Gulf sightings of Iranian-built drones are a common. The fact is, Iran has been manufacturing reconnaissance drones since the 1980s, when they began building and flying the Mohajer systems during the Iran-Iraq War. The Mohajer was followed by a line of indigenously built systems such as the mass produced Ababil. The smaller Ababil UAS has been exported to Hezbollah forces, who used it against Israel in the 2006 conflict in southern Lebanon. More recent reports indicate that Syrian government forces may be using this system to locate and target rebel forces in Syria. The Ababil also made headlines in February 2009 when an Iranian controlled drone was shot down by a US F-16 after making an incursion into Iraqi airspace. So clearly then the, Shahed-129 is just the latest in a long line of Iranian built systems that Iran routinely operates. By all appearances, robotic systems have been part of the Islamic Republic of Iran’s military arsenal since the early days of the revolution.
On Monday the Pentagon ceased production of the Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicle (MRAP), perhaps the most iconic acquisition program of the past ten years. The trucks were designed and built in response to the urgent need to protect service members in Iraq from the pervasive improvised explosive device (IED) threat. The vehicle went through five different iterations and the production lines produced 27,740 trucks. The total price tag came to $47.7 billion. For all the investment, what are we left with?
Mine resistant ambush protected vehicles offloaded from the Military Sealift Command roll-on/roll-off ship USNS Pililaau in Kuwait in 2008. U.S. Navy Photo
The vehicle may be of use to the U.S. Army, but there is little place for the armored monstrosities in the Marine Corps. They are too heavy to be practical on the Navy’s amphibious warships. Marine Corps and Navy leaders rightly are concerned about the weight of the Marine Air-Ground Task Force, so the weight issue is a red line for integrating the trucks into permanent service. Any MRAPs remaining on the Marine Corps rolls will most likely be stripped of their radios and mothballed.
Proceedings, Oct. 2012
Lockheed Martin’s Missiles and Fire Control business unit started a series of airborne “captive-carry” testing in May on the sensor suite planned for use for a long-range antiship missile (LRASM). It is being developed for fielding aboard Ticonderoga -class cruisers and Arleigh Burke –class destroyers.
The LRASM program is a science-and-technology (S&T) development initiative managed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Advanced Weapon Systems Initiative and the Office of Naval Research.
Navy and DARPA officials say that the current UGM-84 Harpoon antiship missile, in service since 1977 and now on board theTiconderogas and Burkes , will in the future be less capable of penetrating advanced defenses on ships of potentially hostile navies. According to DARPA, without a new weapon, antiship operations against those defenses would require multiple launches and the use of overhead targeting assets.During an initial phase of the program, DARPA in July 2009 awarded Lockheed Martin a $9.9 million contract for demonstration of a new LRASM concept. The program aims at developing a low-signature subsonic missile that uses the airframe built for the AGM-158 joint air-to-surface standoff missile-extended range, also developed by Lockheed Martin and now in production for fielding aboard Air Force strategic bombers and USAF and Navy tactical aircraft.
The future of certain Navy and Marine Corps programs remain in doubt while a temporary legislative funding measure takes effect on Monday. A little over a week ago, Congress approved a six-month spending package that will give the House and Senate until March of 2013 to decide how to meet the nation’s financial obligations, including funding for the Department of Defense (DoD).
The so-called Continuing Resolutions (CR), allow the government to remain open and operating but they also prevent DoD from starting any new programs and require funding levels for current programs to remain essentially the same. For the DoD overall, the funding continuation means a half-percent increase in the topline, but restrictions in the bill hit the Navy and Marine Corps especially hard. Shipbuilding programs could stall and multi-year buys of fighter and vertical lift aircraft could be put off, driving up costs and impacting readiness.
The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) departs Naval Station Norfolk and begins a towing operation to Northrop Grumman Newport News Ship Building for a Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH) in 2009. U.S. Navy Photo.
But the Navy’s two biggest issues in the CR were funding for a pair of aircraft carrier midlife maintenance projects called RCOHs or Refueling and Complex Overhaul. USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) is scheduled to finish its three-year, $2.5 billion rebuild in June 2013, but the CR funded only half of the expected costs. USS Abraham Lincoln (CVN 72) is scheduled to start its downtime next year as well, but new programs are specifically prohibited under the CR.
Sea mines are historically the most dangerous threat to naval vessels. Since World War II, 15 U.S. Navy ships have damaged or destroyed from mines. Compared to torpedoes, small boat attacks and missiles, mines have caused more than four times more damage to U.S. Navy ships. Though the threat is well known, the mine countermeasure enterprise has suffered in recent years. Specifically, the U.S. Navy’s Avenger class minesweepers have had systemic maintenance and performance shortfalls. In the last year, the U.S. has moved the bulk of its minesweepers to its Fifth Fleet headquarters in Bahrain and this month has started the largest mine countermeasure exercise of its kind in the last several decades. International Mine Countermeasures Exercise (IMCMEX) 12 is currently ongoing, a partnership between the U.S. and almost 30 other countries. The U.S. Naval Institute spoke with Rear Adm. Ken Perry on Sept. 21 about the exercise, the health of the minesweeper fleet and what the exercise has to do with Iran.
Q: Could you give us a run down of the exercise?
A: The purpose is to demonstrate interoperability with our international partners to demonstrate our commitment to freedom of navigation and our ability to defend it against mine threats in particular. Our ability to conduct mine counter measure operations and mine clearance operations effectively. We had a very successful conference, a symposium, over the last couple of days it included naval leaders from the participating countries as well as industry representatives officials and other stake holders in freedom of navigation and maritime commerce and mine clearance and mine warfare capabilities. So with that symposium successfully conducted we transferred to the harbor phase where we have conducted a number of shipboard orientations for the participants including senior naval officials aboard the ships.
U.S. Avenger class minesweepers on manvuers with Royal Navy ships on Sept. 20. U.S. Navy Photo
We are sailing now toward the at-sea maneuvers where we will conduct a number of at mine counter measure evolution involving aircraft and surface ships and under sea forces, divers unmanned and under water vehicles.