USNI News, 22 April 2015
The US Navy’s experimental X-47B UAV (Salty Dog 502) unlocked a new achievement on Wednesday when it successfully performed an aerial refueling for the first time. Salty Dog 502 manoeuvred behind an Omega 707 refueling plane and took on over 4,000 pounds of fuel before it returned to the test facility. The milestone marks the end of the Navy’s Unmanned Carrier Air Vehicle demonstrator program and the two X-47Bs (501 and 502) will be retired from testing service. Despite the the demonstrated capability, it was assessed that the X-47Bs airframe will be too different from what the service expects to eventually employ through its Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) programs and that continued testing would be cost prohibitive. A review of the Navy’s UAV program by the Office of the Secretary of Defense is currently ongoing.
Guardian, 23 April 2015
The European Union held an emergency meeting on Thursday to discuss responses to the growing migrant crisis in the Mediterranean Sea. Various nations pledged to increase their air and naval contributions to the multinational effort, including the United Kingdom which announced that it would send its amphibious assault ship HMS Bulwark, several patrol vessels, and a contingent of helicopters to Malta to assist in rescue operations, while both Germany and Ireland also promised to send ships. The funding for the EU’s Operation Triton is expected to be doubled. Much of the dialogue surrounding the meeting concerned attempts to save the lives of would-be migrants, avoiding the politically tougher legal questions concerning the immigration status of those attempting the crossing from Africa to Europe. The EU is also said to be considering a military mission aimed at disrupting the trafficking operations, which could include efforts to impound or destroy the vessels used by traffickers before they depart African ports. According to the UN, some 1,776 migrants are dead or missing so far this year, compared to 56 during the same period last year.
Naval Technology, 23 April 2015
The Indian Navy (IN) has awarded a USD $3.17 billion contract to Kolkata-based Garden Reach Shipbuilders & Engineers (GRSE) for the design and construction of three Project 17A-class stealth frigates. GRSE plans to deliver one frigate per year, beginning in 2023, with Mumbai-based Mazagon Docks to build the remaining four ships in the variant class. The high cost of the contract – about $1.3b per ship – is meant in part to modernize the shipyards to acquire modular construction capabilities, which should improve future naval shipbuilding. The Project 17 and 17A frigates – the 17s have been in service since 2012 – are meant to be the backbone of the IN, which has the goal of three full carrier battlegroups by 2022.
Popular Science, 20 April 2015
The Chinese state-owned company Jidong Development Group (JDG) is developing multipurpose floating islands that could serve the shipping, tourism and offshore fuel extraction industries as logistical and storage points, but could also be used by Chinese maritime forces as offshore logistical bases. JDG is working on three sizes of islands, the largest of which will be 900 metres long, 120m wide, displace as much as 1.5 million tons, and travel up to 18 kilometres an hour. In comparison, the current largest offshore platform is Australia Shell’s offshore natural gas extraction vessel Prelude, which is 488m long, 74m wide and displaces 600,000 tons. The Chinese military is believed to be interested in the floating islands, as a People’s Liberation Army officer spoke at a JDG press conference in April. Although China is rapidly expanding natural features in the South China Sea, these artificial islands would give it greater logistical capabilities and flexibility in its efforts to defend its claims in the region.
Japan News, 22 April 2015 & Reuters, 21 April 2015
An outline of the revised Japan-US defence guidelines has been obtained by Japanese media, the first update of the rules since 1997. The new guidelines will allow the Japan Self-Defense Forces (JSDF) to provide more defence and logistical support to the US military, including protecting US warships, minesweeping, performing impromptu ship investigations, and jointly protecting remote islands and important sea lanes. Furthermore, Japanese Prime Minster Shinzo Abe will table legislation next month that will permit the JSDF to provide greater non-combat support to American forces if Japan’s national security is at stake. Theoretically, if Tokyo considers disruption of the South China Sea (SCS) to be a threat, the bill will allow the JSDF to support American forces if the US defends the Philippines, a US treaty ally, in the SCS. The updated guidelines and forthcoming legislation, which will almost certainly pass given Abe’s majority in both Diet houses, seem designed to counter Chinese assertiveness against islands in the East China Sea that both Japan and China claim, and China’s moves in the SCS, through which resources critical to Japan’s economy are transported.
Yemen / United States: “US Warship Sent to Block Iran Weapons off Yemen” & “Warning Iran, U.S. Sends Two More Ships to Yemen”
ABC News, 20 April 2015 & New York Times, 20 April 2015
In response to a convoy of between seven and nine Iranian ships heading toward Yemen that may be carrying arms for Houthi rebels, the US has dispatched the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt and the guided missile cruiser Normandy to Yemeni waters. There are already seven US Navy (USN) ships in the area, including the amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima, which is carrying 2,000 Marines from the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit, some of which have been on station since January 10th. Iran is believed to have delivered at least one shipment of weapons to the Houthis in mid-March, though both Tehran and the Houthis have denied the existence of such support. A Saudi-led naval coalition has been blockading Yemen since early April, and the UN Security Council voted 14-0 (Russia abstained) on April 14th to embargo the Houthis. With no apparent sense of irony, the White House press secretary called Iran’s support for the Houthis “destabilizing”, even as the US has provided logistical and air support for the Saudi coalition fighting the rebels, which has given the regional al-Qaeda affiliate room to expand its influence. The presence of the USN ships should prevent intentional or accidental disruption of shipping in the area, a crucial sea lane through which Gulf oil exports flow.
Hindustan Times, 20 April 2015
The lead ship of the Indian Navy’s newest class of destroyer was launched from the Mazagon dock at Mumbai on Monday. The 7,300-tonne Project 15-B class, also known as the Visakhapatnam-class, is an upgrade the earlier Kolkata-class destroyers currently in service. The four planned ships of the larger Visakhapatnam-class incorporate extensive modifications to reduce their radar signatures, and will feature various sensors and weapons that were jointly developed with Israel, including the Barak-8 surface-to-air missile. This first ship is expected to enter service in 2018, with the remaining ships following at two-year intervals. The ships, which feature large amounts of indigenous components, were ordered in 2011 at an estimated cost of USD $4.8 billion.
Channel News Asia, 21 April 2015
The latest quarterly report from the International Maritime Bureau (IMB) highlights a continued shift in the world piracy problem from East Africa towards Southeast Asia. The report states that 55 percent of the world’s 54 piracy and armed robbery incidents this year have occurred in Southeast Asia and that, on average, one coastal tanker is hijacked every two weeks in the region. According to the report, Indonesia accounted for almost 40 percent of this year’s attacks, with two hijackings and 19 vessel boardings, while Vietnam reported eight incidents in the past three months. In contrast, zero incidents have been reported off Somalia – once the global piracy epicentre – in the first quarter of 2015. Unlike East Africa, the overwhelming majority of incidents in Southeast Asia are low-level, opportunistic thefts, in which attackers typically target small coastal tankers to steal their cargoes of fuel.
A copy of the latest IMB Quarterly Report can be requested here.