The uniformed head of the American armed forces has warned that North Korea has showed no signs of either giving up its pursuit of nuclear weapons or its tendency to lash out. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, was last month (July) visiting the South Korean capital of Seoul when he observed: “The threat remains real. North Korea shows no sign of relenting in pursuit of its nuclear capabilities, and I am not convinced that they will not provoke again. The only thing that is predictable about North Korea is their unpredictability.” Admiral Mullen was in South Korea to hold further discussions about reinforcing the military and naval alliance between Seoul and Washington. The admiral said the USA and South Korea moving forward with a “sense of urgency” in formulating means to counter further provocations. In March 2010 the ROKN corvette Cheonan was sunk by a North Korean submarine, with 46 sailors losing their lives. A subsequent bombardment of Yeonpyeong Island last November killed two South Korean marines. Admiral Mullen suggested it will be easier to deter North Korea from further acts of aggression if a united, and multilateral, face is shown by regional nations, especially Japan and China. “I believe a measured, multilateral approach is needed, not just now, but…for a long time into the future,” he said. “We all stand to gain from a stable [Korean] peninsula.”

Aware that the prospect of cuts in the Department of Defense budget are looming, Admiral Mullen was keen to issue assurances that the USA will remain committed to the security of the region. He said: “These budget times will require difficult decisions, but I am very comfortable that we will stay committed to these alliances and that we will continue to pursue capabilities and relationships [that] focus on a stable Pacific and Asia. This is a vital region and we have been here a long time. We will continue to be here for a long time.”



Two months after US Navy SEALS killed Osama bin-Laden, the new civilian boss of the Pentagon claimed the USA is “within reach of strategically defeating Al-Qaeda.” Former CIA Director, now Secretary of State for Defense, Leon E. Panetta, who played a key role in overseeing the operation against the Al-Qaeda founder and leader before moving to his new job at the Pentagon, said hot spots where the terror organisation’s surviving leadership is lurking are being targeted, such as in Pakistan and Yemen. The new leader of Al-Qaeda since bin-Laden’s demise, Ayman al-Zawahiri, is believed to be hiding in the Federally Administered Tribal Area of Pakistan, on the border with Afghanistan. American armed drones have been very active over that zone and have been used to kill a number of key terrorists already. “We have undermined their ability to conduct 9-11-type attacks,” said Panetta. “We have them on the run. Now is the moment, following what happened to bin-Laden to put maximum pressure on them, because I do believe if we continue this effort we can cripple Al-Qaeda as a threat.”



The Chinese defence ministry described joint exercises between the navies of the USA and Vietnam as “inappropriate”, in yet another clear demonstration that Beijing regards the South China Sea as its own lake. Last year the Chinese sent a revolutionary manned deep-diving submersible, the Jiaolong, nearly 12,000 feet to the bottom of the South China Sea in order to plant a flag in the sea bed. This was, like similar flag-planting Russian ventures into the Arctic with submersibles, to stake a claim to vast reserves of natural resources also pursued by other nations, including Vietnam. In recent months the US Navy and Vietnam’s fleet have struck up an increasingly close operational training relationship, expressed by an 11-day series of exercises earlier in the summer, followed up by further joint training in the last two weeks of July. China is not best pleased, especially when the US Navy presence in the South China Sea includes carriers. The Chief of the General Staff of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA), Chen Bingde, has stated that his country’s approach to resolving disputes over rights in the area is “shelving differences while seeking joint development.” The general pondered why the USA said on the one hand that it wished to stay out of the dispute, while on the other kept on holding naval training exercises. He suggested: “If the United States truly wants peace and stability in the region, it should adjust the schedule of its military drills.” The general also suggested that there is no need for the US Navy via its auxiliary surveying forces to continue charting waters off the Chinese coast. There have been incidents in which Chinese trawlers have tried to ram American survey vessels. The latter must in reality be surveying the waters as a means to gaining insight into exit routes for PLAN submarines from their new bases. It seems when it comes to the South China Sea there is one rule for the US Navy and another for the PLAN as in June alone it held six exercises in the disputed waters. A Chinese defence ministry spokesman said: “China hopes all parties concerned will treat the Chinese navy’s normal exercises in an objective and rational way.” The attitude of China towards rights in the South China Sea is resolute, a recent press statement admitting: “The oil and gas rich South China Sea is partially claimed by several southeast Asian states, including the Philippines and Vietnam.”

However, it added, “history shows that China has indisputable sovereignty over the sea’s islands and their surrounding waters.” During his visit last month to China, which preceded the Chinese military chief’s warning statement over the South China Sea, Admiral Mike Mullen, uniformed boss of the American military, urged the USA and China to “work from a posture of mutual respect.” Admiral Mullen also said: “When we do come together to talk, it should be from an honest and deep appreciation of the others’ positions, challenges, aspirations and interests.” Regional issues in Asia-Pacific do have the potential to affect the world, and Admiral Mullen suggested: “Both of our nations recognise the emerging challenges of nuclear proliferation, terrorism, growing global energy demands and the geopolitical implications and stresses of climate change. Therefore, our exchange must not be limited to the Asia-Pacific, but should range farther and wider, as befits our shared interests and China’s increasing ability to contribute positively and beyond your shores.” The irresistible rise of China as a world maritime superpower is something nobody can ignore and the USA must adapt its military posture accordingly, and learn to live with it. The global order is now different and requires new operational attitudes. “China today is a different country than it was ten years ago,“ said Admiral Mullen. “It is no longer a rising power. It has, in fact, arrived as a world power.”



The Russian Navy is hoping to commission its new generation Submarine-Launched Ballistic Missile (SLBM), the Bulava, by the end of the year. This will follow a series of test firings that signalled a resumption of the programme after several months in abeyance. In late June the SSBN Yuri Dolgoruky, lead boat in the new Borey Class, successfully launched a Bulava while submerged in the White Sea. Next up will be the second boat in the class, Alexander Nevsky, currently being completed at the SEVMASH yard in Severodvinsk, with three subsequent test firings also promised. The Bulava, also known as the SS-NX-30, with a reputed range of around 5,000 miles and as many as ten warheads, has only enjoyed a 50 per cent success rate in test firings.




The third Mistral Class assault carrier ordered for the French Navy has sailed for Toulon to begin six months of combat system integration and testing, with the aim of being delivered to the defence ministry early in 2012. Constructed at Saint-Nazaire in the West of France, the Dixmunde will join sister ships Mistral and Tonnerre, while up to four ships of the same type – defined as force projection and command vessels – are also to be constructed for Russia.



A major milestone was reached this summer in the major refit of the Vanguard Class ballistic missile submarine HMS Vigilant, when the massive dry-dock which has been her home since November 2008 was flooded up. It was the first time the 16,000 tonnes submarine had been afloat in two-and-a-half years. Vigilant is the third Vanguard Class submarine to undergo a Long Overhaul Period (Refuel) [LOP(R)] at Devonport by Babcock Marine. The project represents five years of activity (including the planning phase) and over £300 million, all in order to return the submarine to the fleet capable of fulfilling her nuclear deterrent role well into the 21st Century. By the time it has finished the refit will have involved more than 2.2 million man-hours and a total of 2,000 personnel. HMS Vigilant will then sail from Devonport for sea trials in 2012.



The third Daring Class (Type 45) destroyers being built for the Royal Navy, HMS Diamond, was last month (July) declared part of the front line fleet. There will ultimately be six Type 45s, all based at Portsmouth. The first, Daring, was commissioned in July 2009, followed by HMS Dauntless in June 2010. Type 45 number four, Dragon, sails into Portsmouth for the first time in September.



Last month (July) saw the initiation of a programme in Brazil that will pave the way for the rising South American maritime power to commission nuclear-powered attack submarines into service. The top rank of Brazilian political and military leadership, including President Dilma Rousseff and defence minister Nelson Jobim, were present at Itaguaí as construction of the first DCNS-designed S-BR boat began. The ‘first cut’ ceremony marked implementation of a technology transfer agreement overseen by French defence giant DCNS and its partner Odebrecht, through their joint company ICN (Itaguaí Construções Navais). The current programme embraces design and construction of four Scorpene Class conventional-propulsion boats but also includes design and construction assistance with the non-nuclear portion of Brazil’s first nuclear-powered submarine. It also involves support for the construction of a naval shipyard and a naval base. The first of the Scorpenes is expected to enter service in 2017. The mission portfolio expected of the Brazilian boats will include Anti-Surface Warfare (ASuW), Anti-Submarine Warfare (ASW), Special Operations and intelligence gathering. Brazil, with its 8,500 kilometres-long coast has a lot of territorial waters to patrol. DCNS expect to, in its words, ‘play an active role in the construction of the country’s [Brazil’s] first nuclear-powered submarine.’



The Fassmer shipyard in Berne (Germany) has formally handed over the 40m Coast Patrol Vessel (CPV40), ARC 11 de Noviembre (145), to the Colombian Navy. Launched in December 2010, the new ship completed sea trials in the North Sea during late April. Upon completing her Atlantic crossing, the vessel was to take over Coast Guard duties, in the Caribbean, including patrol and surveillance, maritime interdiction operations (mainly to interdict drug smuggling), intelligence collection, environmental protection and Search and Rescue (SAR). Areas of operation will be the Caribbean Sea and the Pacific Ocean. ARC 11 de Noviembre was due to complete her voyage to Cartagena de Indias in late June, and was accompanied during her long voyage by the survey vessel ARC Providencia (155).



Seafarers UK

The Royal New Zealand Navy frigate HMNZS Te Mana has returned home after a hectic five-month deployment that included exercises with the Indian Navy amphibious warfare vessel INS Kesari in the Bay of Bengal. It was all part of reinforcing links between the two fleets that reflects the cordial relations they enjoy, in no small part due to the fact that India’s current High Commissioner to New Zealand, Admiral Sureesh Mehta, is also a former Indian Chief of Naval Staff. On the agenda for Te Mana and Kesari were board and search training serials, personnel exchanges as well as manoeuvring and ship-to-ship practice. Te Mana’s captain, Commander John Butcher said: “It prepares us to operate effectively with Indian ships should the need arise, and it provides valuable experience for the crew. While our visit is focused on building military links, New Zealand shares many common economic and political interests with India including the protection of shipping routes from piracy and being prepared to respond to humanitarian and disaster relief efforts at short notice.”


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In the Pacific this April, the US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS McCampbell, furthest from camera, underway alongside the Republic of Korea Ulsan Class frigate ROKS Seoul during a passing exercise. The American warship recently intercepted a suspect North Korean vessel. Photo: US Navy.

News Digest July 2011

NORTH KOREA STILL POSES CLEAR AND PRESENT DANGER The uniformed head of the American armed forces has warned that North Korea has showed ...

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