USA’s RUSSIAN THREAT WARNING PROVOKES MOSCOW’s ANGER
Europe is facing the twin-pronged threat of Russian aggression and Islamic terrorism, according to the Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Martin E. Dempsey.
The General described them as different but “very distinct “, requiring different responses. Dempsey said that Russia had “changed sovereign borders with the use of coercion” while the threat from what he termed “Islamic terrorists” will “not get any easier” suggesting tackling it would be “a 30-year issue.”
In response Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov described the USA as pushing an aggressive foreign policy designed to maintain its position as global top dog. The latest war of words between Russia and the West comes as the Kremlin presides over a naval construction boom, with dozens of surface vessels and up to five new submarines laid down in its yards this year alone. The USA, meanwhile, presses on with building new frigates, attack submarines, aircraft carriers and destroyers.
Defence analysts believe that, suffering from sanctions and the drop in the price of oil, Russia will find it difficult to sustain its naval expansion. The US Navy has the threat of further budget cuts hanging over it.
Addressing the radically altered state of affairs between Russia and the West, General Dempsey explained that over the next year NATO would work towards “determining how to react to that changed relationship.” Last month (Jan) outgoing US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said of events in 2014: “As Russia’s aggression in Ukraine galvanised our NATO alliance, we bolstered our training exercises and rotational deployments as we continue to make progress in this area, to reassure our allies, and demonstrate our resolve.”
Other Pentagon spokesmen have in recent weeks described Russia as blatantly breaking the Minsk peace agreement meant to halt fighting between Kiev’s forces and separatists in eastern Ukraine. During a Pentagon briefing Rear Admiral John Kirby said Russia continues “to flow supplies, [heavy] equipment, materiel to the separatists across the border.”
He suggested economic sanctions and diplomatic pressure would continue to be the primary weapons deployed by the West to force Russia to desist in fuelling fighting in Ukraine. “It’s in Russia’s interests here to do the right thing, not just for the neighbourhood, but for their own people,” said Rear Admiral Kirby. “Their economy continues to suffer from these sanctions. But we’ve said from the very beginning, and Secretary Hagel’s made it clear, there’s not going to be a US military solution to this issue.”
In his recent State of the Union address President Barack Obama said: “We’re upholding the principle that bigger nations can’t bully the small – by opposing Russian aggression, and supporting Ukraine’s democracy, and reassuring our NATO allies.” He went on: “It is America that stands strong and united with our allies, while Russia is isolated with its economy in tatters. That’s how America leads – not with bluster, but with persistent, steady resolve.”
The American stance riled Moscow, with Foreign Minister Lavrov labelling President Obama’s speech proof that “the Americans have adopted a course for confrontation, and they are absolutely uncritical of their own policies.”
According to Lavrov the USA’s “philosophy is centred on one thing only: we are number one, and everyone else must acknowledge this. This approach is somewhat outdated and is out of sync with reality. The US foreign policy philosophy is even more aggressive. They want to be not just first among equals, but to dominate the world. I think this will pass, although the change process might take a while. The Americans will realise that their position cannot be maintained indefinitely.”
POLAND RESPONDS TO RUSSIA FEARS
With tensions in the Baltic high due to anxiety over where Russia might next seek to project its destabilising power, the Poles are seeking to enhance key naval warfare capabilities. In light of the recent alleged intrusion into Swedish territorial waters by what many feel was a Russian mini submarine (or submarines) a major focus of attention is the future of Poland’s submarine force.
Currently Poland operates one Kilo Class diesel-electric boat and four (ex-Royal Norwegian Navy) Kobben Class submarines. These are expected to start decommissioning in 2017. The deputy commander of Poland’s submarine arm last month (December) warned the replacement programme must get underway now, to avoid a capability gap. The Orka Class programme requires ordering three Air Independent Propulsion (AIP-equipped) submarines by 2017. Several European shipbuilders are eager to secure the contract to provide the boats.
It is hoped the first of the Orkas will be delivered by 2020, with a second by 2022 and a third by 2030. Meanwhile, Poland has signed a new US $174 million deal with Norwegian firm Kongsberg for its Naval Strike Missile (NSM) Coastal Defence System.
It follows a 2008 deal for 12 missiles and associated hardware and vehicles. The fresh order will allow Poland to raise a second ‘squadron’ of the Coastal Missile Division, which is a formation of the Polish Navy. Poland’s fleet is also seeking to renew surface warfare combatants; though some observers are worried investment in coastal defence missile batteries will deny funding to those essential programmes.
UK TO ESTABLISH FORWARD BASE
The Royal Navy is set to make a return to Bahrain, in a fashion not seen since the early 1970s when it relinquished its last remaining permanent base in the Gulf to the US Navy.
A new UK base will be established next door to the current USN (and former RN) facility at Mina Salman. At present RN mine warfare vessels are permanently forward deployed to Bahrain for operations in the Gulf, with additional regular British warship visitors.
The dedicated British base will be tailor-made to handle the new Queen Elizabeth Class carriers and Daring Class destroyers. Costing £15 million, it is to be mainly funded by Bahrain’s government with the UK picking up the running costs.
The RN has maintained an almost constant presence in the Gulf since its Armilla patrols began following the Iranian Revolution of 1979. Major task groups have, in addition to embargo and No Fly Zone enforcement on Iraq (1991-2003), also been deployed to fight in both Operation Desert Storm (1991) and the Iraq War (2003). The upsurge in terrorism and piracy since 2001 has required deployment of most types of British naval vessels.
For some years the UK has commanded a large multinational coalition of naval forces engaged in a variety of missions, with RN staff embedded in the USN 5th Fleet Headquarters at Bahrain. Enduring instability in the region, especially with the rise of the extremist group ISIS and ongoing Iranian threat, combined with the US Navy shifting much of its focus to Asia-Pacific, means there is perceived to be a pressing need for an enhanced naval presence (especially as the UK relies heavily on Gulf supplies of oil and gas).
IRAN BOOSTING MISSILE BOATS
Iran’s navy is increasing the number of its small craft armed with Anti-Ship Missiles (ASM). Whether this is an indication of more resources being made available, or in response to the delays in its fast attack craft and frigate programmes, is unclear.
The upgraded vessels were seen in public for the first time at Bandar Abbas in December. Iran also last month (Dec) carried out a major exercise, drawing in all three branches of its military and Revolutionary Guard. Conducted over an area spanning the Strait of Hormuz, Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden, it involved nearly 13,000 personnel.
The stated aim of the operation was to prepare Iranian forces to counter terrorism in the region, demonstrate defensive capabilities and test new weapons. Both surface warships and submarines took part. Head of the Iranian Navy, Rear Admiral Habibollah Sayyari, promised there would be more such exercises and that Iranian warships would operate in the Atlantic.
CANADIAN FLEET TAKES THE HELM
The Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) has assumed command of an important coalition counter-terrorism force operating in Middle East waters.
During a ceremony held at the headquarters of the 30-nation Combined Maritime Forces (CMF) in Bahrain, Commodore Brian Santarpia officially took command of Combined Task Force 150 (CTF-150).
Responsible for operations across more than two million square miles in the greater Middle East region, for Canadian forces the commitment is part of Operation Artemis, an ongoing contribution to both counter-terrorism and maritime security operations in the Red Sea, Gulf of Aden, Arabian Sea, Gulf of Oman and Indian Ocean.
CTF-150 aims to directly influence events ashore, denying terrorists the ability to launch attacks from the sea or space to transport personnel, weapons and other illicit material.
FREDERICTON ON ‘REASSURANCE’ TASK
The first of Canada’s modernised Halifax Class frigates to deploy on a front line mission is HMCS Fredericton. She has been assigned to NATO for what the Western defence alliance terms ‘reassurance missions’.
These will see the warship operate primarily in the eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea. Alliance members Romania and Bulgaria, both former Warsaw Pact nations that were for the decades of the Cold War under Russia’s domination, have sought extra reassurance that their security will be safeguarded. The ‘reassurance’ task has been undertaken by numerous NATO warships since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea and its interference in eastern Ukraine.
The Halifax Class modernisation/ frigate life extension (HCM/FELEX) has been instituted under a Can $4.3 billion programme that aims to upgrade and enhance the RCN’s principal surface combatants. Scheduled for completion across the Halifax Class by 2018, Fredericton will be able to feed back valuable data on how well the modernisation meets front line demands. She has replaced sister vessel HMCS Toronto, which had been operating with NATO since last August.