Saturday, February 22, 2014

Secondhand Combat

According to a new piece at War is Boring, Iran has a new half-baked idea up its sleeve. The Iranian Navy plans to re-activate one of the RH-53D minesweeper helicopters left to rot in the Persian desert by U.S. Special Forces during their failed raid on the besieged U.S. Embassy in 1980. Through shady sources, Iran was able to keep their existing helos running for some time, and are apparently ready to use one of the discarded choppers soon; we may even see it in the skies above the Arabian Gulf in the near future. If it actually works, that is. Watching Iran's Air Force is like watching a low-rent Cold War battle film, and their most powerful warships, allegedly heading for the U.S. coast, got shellacked by the U.S. Navy in the 1980s. The more Iran tries to flex its muscle and stand up to the U.S. and allied forces in the Gulf, the sadder it looks.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

China's Blue Water Ambitions

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army-Navy (PLAN) will deploy ballistic missile submarines on deterrence patrols in the Pacific Ocean later this year, placing them within striking distance of Alaska, Hawaii, and the western United States. This report isn’t too alarming – U.S. Navy ballistic subs regularly deploy on deterrence patrols, and during the Cold War, Soviet boomers regularly parked off of America’s coasts with little fanfare. The significance of these deployments have less to do with China’s second strike capability, and more to do with extending their reach beyond their regional coastline and moving towards a true blue-water navy.
Recently, the PLAN’s operations focused their own neighborhood. China’s naval force, until recently, comprised of craft better suited to Anti-Access/Area Defense (A2/AD) in the seas surrounding China and their claimed territory. Quiet diesel submarines, along with hundreds of missile boats and patrol craft, make up a bulk of the Chinese fleet. The Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea and the DF-21D Anti-Ship Cruise Missile (ASCM) round out China’s robust A2/AD doctrine. Focusing on such a strategy has its advantages – China certainly has an advantage against some form of U.S. intervention in Southeast Asia that may threaten China, including a move on Taiwan.
While China’s salami-slicing and regional territorial disputes with its neighbors are rightfully garnering attention in the region and throughout the world, they aren’t the only moves up its sleeve. Since the mid-1990s, China has tested its ability to conduct blue water operations, gaining the experience and training they sorely lack. Multinational exercises with European navies and worldwide port calls led to Chinese destroyer deployments to the Gulf of Aden in support of anti-Piracy missions there. Protecting Chinese shipping interests in the Middle East is just the beginning of PLAN blue water deployments.
PLAN ships have already deployed within Southeast Asia, including an exercise last week in the vicinity of the Malacca Strait, apparently searching for alternatives to the strait in the event of a regional crises which threaten strategic interests. With East African piracy winding down and West African piracy ramping up, Chinese intervention in West Africa is just down the road. Nigeria produces 5-6% of the world’s oil, and China is keen to protect their economic and shipping interests, just as they were in the Gulf of Aden. This doesn’t mean another international coalition to battle piracy; rather, international cooperation and aid to West African nations. While the U.S. has been slow out of the gate on this front, China is already delivering naval patrol vessels to the Nigerian navy. It appears China is more eager to gain influence and protect interests in the region than the U.S., meaning maritime patrols and port visits to the area are not out of the question, especially if China longs for an influential and worldwide deployable naval force.
West Africa, the Pacific deep, and Straits of Malacca are not the end for PLAN deployments. Chinese forces may soon make an appearance in the Arabian or Red Sea to project power and match wits with the U.S. Navy. While deployment experience and combat training are far behind the U.S., these moves are a step towards gaining legitimacy and experience in worldwide operations. U.S. Naval Intelligence projects a Chinese blue water navy by 2020; they are well on their way. 

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Monday, February 10, 2014

The more things change, the more they stay the same

Although the new Iranian Prime Minister is cooperating with international nuclear negotiations, Iran remains the same belligerent and obnoxious nuisance it's always been. Apparently, they're sending two of their fleet's finest to the U.S. coast, in retaliation for U.S. naval presence in the Arabian Gulf. War is Boring has a great piece on the incoming ships, and why they're more of a joke than anything else. They also remember all the times Iran got shellacked in the Gulf by the U.S. Navy, available here.

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Wednesday, February 5, 2014

I'm also writing over at the Center for International Maritime Security; check out my first post and browse the other great featured articles:

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How Likely is a Sochi Terrorist Attack?

Hands have been wringing for months regarding security at the upcoming Sochi Olympics. As the opening ceremony grows nearer and nearer, a new CNN poll reflects those fears: 57% of those surveyed believe and attack is very likely. Is it, or will Russian security hold up?
Security forces in Sochi, January 2014
Alongside the poll are several analyses from terrorism experts, warning that an attack is a when, not if scenario. The concern is certainly legitimate: Bombings from Chechen separatists months before the games within 400 miles of Sochi, directions from separatist leaders to disrupt the games, and warnings of "black widow" suicide bombers planning attacks, or more sinister, one who has allegedly breached security and is laying in wait somewhere in Sochi.
A positive by-product of these concerns is a greater awareness of the dangers surrounding the games.
Russian forces, recognizing the threat, killed Chechen Emirate leader Dokka Umarov, who encouraged attacks on the games last summer. While attacks by his followers are certainly still possible, attack plans could be thrown into disarray without
a leader.
 With the eyes of the world upon Russia, security services should be on their game, and nations sending athletes should be briefing their delegations on proper security and escape procedures if an attack should occur. One of the best ways to prevent an attack is awareness and a questioning attitude from those in the vicinity. While increased media attention on the security situation may have inflated the threat somewhat, it also made all parties involved very aware of the threats and their consequences. The opening ceremony is tomorrow; hopefully Russia has prepared well.

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Sunday, February 2, 2014

Amphibs with a Well Deck? No Kidding.

The third incarnation of the America-class LHA will bring the well deck back to the newest class of big-deck amphibs. Eliminating the well deck in America and Tripoli never really made much sense - they're essentially small CVNs with much less capability. Even if amphibious landings are a thing of the past, humanitarian missions certainly aren't. Airlifting supplies and people is infinitely more expensive, cumbersome, and time-consuming than ballasting down the well deck and utilizing LCUs and LCACs. Between supporting the ground fighter, sending aid ashore, or evacuating civilians, Classic amphibs with well decks are certainly the right call.

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