North Korea’s December 21, 2015 submarine-launched ballistic missile test, which it trumpeted as a success, was in reality a failure, analysts have concluded.

The conclusion was reached after careful study of film footage of the test launch of the Bukkeukseong-1 (Polaris-1) KN-11 SLBM, which was released by Pyongyang on January 8.

A November 2015 test had previously been reported as a failed ejection test that damaged the launch submarine. Actual details of this, specifically the manner of the failure, have not been obtained.

When it comes to the December test it is uncertain whether the missile’s engine ignited or if it even took flight. The footage (a heavily edited montage of short clips) appears to show a successful ejection of the missile (suggesting the problems reported in November 2015 have been overcome).

Even so, there was a clear ignition failure, which was not masked by the manipulated footage, which played for two frames too long, and by comparing it to that of a Soviet-era launch of an R-27/SS-N-6 ‘Serb’ upon which the KN-11 is believed to be based.

The inadvertent inclusion of the two frames appears to show the missile exploding. Additionally, the missile seen lifting off successfully is actually a Scud-type missile. Despite being a failure, the test is nevertheless a worry, as it shows rapid progress since November. More importantly, it came two days after an alleged underground nuclear test by North Korea.



The world’s oldest operational aircraft carrier, INS Viraat (the ex-HMS Hermes) began her final operational deployment in January ahead of decommissioning later this year.

It will bring to a close a sea-going career of nearly 60 years. After decades of British service that culminated in a role as flagship for the task force that retook the Falkland Islands in 1982, Hermes was sold to India and commissioned as Viraat in May 1987. The carrier has now served well past her expected lifespan.

For the final voyage she departed the western port of Mumbai and set sail for Visakhapatnam on the eastern coast, where in February she was set to participate in an International Fleet Review (IFR) with more than 100 ships from 50 navies reviewed by the Indian President and Prime Minister. The review aimed to highlight India’s increased naval power and status as a growing global player.

For what was Viraat’s swansong, after a number of years of carrying reduced aircraft numbers, she embarked a full complement of six Sea Harrier fighters, and four Chetak and six Sea King helicopters. The Sea Harrier is also in the twilight of its Indian career. It has become increasingly hard to keep the type flying due to a reduction in the availability of spares.

The Sea King is also slated for replacement, and there are reported to be less than ten operational with the Indian Navy at present. Their planned replacement by the Sikorsky S-70B has, however, been delayed as the contract for an initial 16 has not been finalised. After the IFR Viraat was set for a return to Mumbai, calling at all major ports on the way.

Moves are under way to ensure her preservation as a museum ship. India’s first carrier, Vikrant, was preserved as a museum ship between 1997 and 2012, but was scrapped in 2014 due to the difficulty in maintaining her. Following the decommissioning of Viraat the IN is expected to unveil the design of its first indigenously designed carrier, the future INS Vishal.


For our report on the Indian Navy’s IFR, see the April 2016 edition.



Fugitive Mexican drug lord JoaquIn ‘el Chapo’ Guzman Loera was recaptured by the Mexican Navy after a manhunt that swung into operation after his spectacular July 2015 escape from Altiplano maximum security prison. Guzman was the leader of the powerful Sinaloa Cartel, the biggest of the Mexican drug cartels, and reportedly the largest in the world.

The organisation has used a number of methods to smuggle cocaine and other drugs to the USA, including go-fast boats and submersibles. Guzman’s recapture was the result of an intelligence breakthrough in December when a potential hideout was identified in Los Mochis. By January 6 a particular house had been isolated as the likely target. On the night of January 7-8 a suspect was seen arriving at the house.

Once his identity was confirmed a naval Special Forces team raided the house. This is believed to have been the UNOPES Special Operations Unit, which was formed in 2014 through amalgamating existing elite forces to tackle organised crime. It works closely with US intelligence and counter-narcotics agencies.

In the fierce fire fight that erupted when the Guzman raid was launched one of the marines was injured and five people in the house killed. Six were captured but Guzman initially managed to escape with one of his men via the sewers. The marines pursued Guzman and managed to capture him as he re-emerged at street level.



After years of rumours and previous media coverage of ‘teething problems’ with power supply, the full scale of the potentially crippling flaw affecting the Royal Navy’s Daring Class (Type 45) destroyers has been confirmed by the UK Ministry of Defence. All six vessels will have to receive a major package of work that will involve cutting them open to install an additional diesel generator, or even two.

Scheduled to begin in 2019, it means that just as new super-carriers the air-defence ships were designed to protect are entering service availability will fall. However, at various times certain ships in the class have either already had operational commitments cut short or seen their deployment dates delayed to cope with the problem anyway. It has allegedly seen total loss of power in at least one Type 45, leaving the vessel potentially at the mercy of both the elements and any would be enemy.



Though it is possibly a negotiating tactic, Saudi Arabia has reportedly prevaricated over an offer by Lockheed Martin of four frigates based on the Freedom Class Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) as discussions over cost and delivery schedule grind on.

Details of the US offer first came to light in November, after initially being announced in October. The deal is thought to be worth under US $4 billion, including not just the ships but logistics, training, ammunition and additional services.

Seafarers UK

The larger Multi-Mission Surface Combatant (MMSC) differs from the LCS by having a more capable Surface-to-Air Missile (SAM) system and combat management system. The sticking point appears to be the build and delivery schedule, in addition to related infrastructure construction. It is believed this adds up to a timeline of around seven years. The Saudis are pressing for a quicker delivery.


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