TOKYO ORDERS MARINE CORPS TO BE ESTABLISHED
Japan intends to establish a 3,000-strong rapid amphibious assault force modelled on the US Marine Corps (USMC). The force will be equipped with amphibious assault vehicles and the V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor aircraft. It will be based on Kyushu or Nansei islands.
As part of preparations Japanese Ground Self Defense Force (JGSDF) soldiers have been undertaking joint exercises with the USMC for several years, the most recent being Exercise Iron Fist 2014. The seven-week amphibious exercise took place at Camp Pendleton in California, and finished last month (March). Further joint exercises are scheduled to take place on the island of Guam, which is where USMC personnel currently stationed in Japan are to be transferred.
The rationale behind establishing a dedicated Marine Corps within the Japanese military is rising tension with China – especially over ownership of the Diaoyu/Senkaku Islands – and Japan has a number of remote island possessions that account for it having the sixth largest EEZ in the world.
Though China’s rapidly growing power projection and amphibious assault capabilities have received much attention in recent years, Japan already has a reasonable amphibious assault capability. In terms of vessels this comprises three Osumi Class ships capable of carrying up to a 1,000 men or three Main Battle Tanks (MBTs), plus two Hyuga Class helicopter carriers able to embark up to 11 Seahawk-type helicopters.
Japan also has one Izumo Class helicopter carrier able to embark up to 14 Seahawk-type helicopters. A second ship of the class was laid down in January this year.
KREMLIN ABSORBS UKRAINIAN NAVY
Russia has with brutal efficiency all but wiped out the Ukrainian Navy without engaging in any sea battles. With most of the Ukrainian fleet’s personnel and vessels based in and around the Crimean Peninsula, the surviving maritime forces are now at Odessa, including fleet flagship Hetman Sahaydachny.
The frigate was on counter-piracy operations with NATO forces when the crisis over the Ukraine and Crimea erupted.
She headed back to Odessa rather than Sevastopol, so avoiding the fate of other major units. Those seized, with some crews defecting to the Russian side, are: Slavutych (command ship), submarine Zaporizhia (the Ukrainian Navy’s only such vessel), Ternopil and Lutsk (corvettes) plus dozens of minor vessels and other combatants. It is estimated that only five major vessels are left in the Ukrainian naval order of battle.
An entire marines battalion was also effectively eradicated, with efforts to negotiate a retreat with honour to the Ukraine (taking weapons, vehicles and other equipment) scuppered by Russian forces staging a surprise take-over of the unit’s base. Those marines who did not defect, or resign from the service, were sent home to the Ukraine in tourist coaches.
In total the Russians stole 51 vessels of all kind from the Ukrainian Navy, the majority of them previously transferred from the former Soviet Navy in the early to mid-1990s.
They were given to Kiev’s control as part of an international agreement that established Ukraine as an independent state following the end of the Cold War.
The Ukrainian Navy had the misfortune to utilise the Crimea as its main operational and administrative hub, with around 12,000 of its 14,500 personnel based there with their families and loved ones.
BEIJING BLOCKADES PHILIPPINES TROOPS
China’s handling of an attempt by the Philippines to resupply one of its outposts in the South China Sea shows that it is already effectively in control of the area.
The standoff began on March 9 when Chinese coastguard vessels stopped two Philippine supply ships from approaching an outpost on Ayungin Shoal. The Chinese claim the Philippine ships were carrying construction materials to try and enlarge the facility.
The outpost is actually a marooned WW2-era landing ship, the former USS Harnet County, which was transferred to Philippine possession in 1975. In 1999 it was deliberately run aground on Ayungin Reef/Second Thomas shoal (or Renai Shoal according to China) to act as a military outpost and support Manila’s claim of sovereignty.
It is ‘garrisoned’ by a small force of marines, but with the outpost now being effectively blockaded, and resupply only possible by air, it is uncertain for how much longer the position can be maintained. With Beijing having consistently demanded the Philippines remove the vessel, it was unlikely China would have allowed a more permanent structure to be erected.
The Philippines faces a major problem in that it currently has no effective naval power to speak of in the face of Chinese efforts to claim maritime territory. China has therefore been able to use civilian coastguard vessels to enforce its claims rather than warships. The Philippines does intend expanding its navy, though, with a stated requirement for two new frigates. Manila is also planning to challenge Chinese claims of sovereignty over territories in the South China Sea to the United Nations.
EXPANSION FOR UK SUBMARINE YARD
BAE Systems is to spend over £300 million in an eight-year plan for redevelopment of its Barrow-in-Furness submarine construction centre in preparation for the Successor Class programme. The new facilities and refurbishment of the existing infrastructure will be partly funded by the Ministry of Defence (MoD).
The last major such refurbishment undertaken at Barrow was in the 1980s. It saw the construction of the Devonshire Dock Hall (DDH) complex in preparation for building the Vanguard Class ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). Under the new plans, driven by the need to get ready for the ‘Successor’ SSBN programme, the DDH complex is to be extended, in order to house pressure hulls ready for them to be shot-blasted and painted.
It will also handle the integration of equipment modules, as well as refurbishment of plant and machinery. These tasks were previously done on the same site, but in a different facility. Two off site storage facilities are also to be constructed for parts and materials. Presently BAE Systems Maritime – Submarines is undertaking serial production of the Astute Class nuclear-powered attack submarines. Steel has been cut for the seventh and final boat in the class, Ajax.
It means five Astute Class SSNs are at various stages of construction at the facility. A green light decision on the (anticipated) four 17,000 tonnes displacement Successor Class SSBNs is expected in 2016 with the first slated for acceptance by the Royal Navy in 2028.
TAIWANESE ‘CARRIER KILLER’ IS LAUNCHED
Taiwan has launched the first of its so-called carrier killing stealth corvettes. The 60m-long Tuo Jiang is a 500 tonnes twin hull corvette with a stealthy appearance, constructed by Lung Teh Shipbuilding.
She has a top speed of 38 knots and 2,000 nautical mile range. Details of the weapon fit are currently uncertain, but it is thought to comprise of the Hsiung Feng III (HF-3) ramjet-powered supersonic Anti-Ship Missile (ASM), apparently designed specifically to counter China’s carrier(s) and other large ships.
The corvette is also thought to mount a main gun on the forecastle and Close-in-Weapon System (CIWS) for self-defence located aft. The US $823 million Hsun Hai (Swift Sea) programme was approved in 2011, to construct seven to 11 corvettes, but it is thought the final number will be a dozen. Tuo Jiang is to undergo sea trials before commissioning in the first half of 2015.