Quotulatiousness

March 27, 2014

The problems onboard HMCS Protecteur were much worse than initially reported

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Pacific — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

HMCS Protecteur had an engine room fire while in transit back to Canadian waters last month after taking part in multinational naval exercises in the Pacific. Along with the 279 officers and crew, there were 17 family members and two civilian contractors on board at the time of the fire. The initial reports severely underestimated how much trouble the ship was in:

CBC News has learned Canadian sailors aboard fire-stricken HMCS Protecteur last month battled the blaze that disabled their ship for more than 11 hours before they were able to put it out.

The life or death fight was made even more difficult after the unexplained failure of the supply ship’s back-up generator, leaving Protecteur dead in the water, in the dark of night, her 279-strong crew struggling through smoke and blackness to fight the fire.

The generator failure also left crews scrambling to find a way to power water pumps to fight the blaze, and refill the oxygen bottles fire teams needed to sustain them as they tried desperately to save their ship.

This new information comes as Commander Julian Elbourne, captain of Protecteur, prepares to welcome naval investigators to the ship, which is tied up in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, in the coming days.

I’m boggled that the investigators weren’t in Hawaii the same day Protecteur was towed in … why the excessive delays? Or is there no real rush because the initial survey indicated that it would not be economic to repair the ship?

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The RCN auxiliary replenishment oiler HMCS Protecteur (AOR 509) departs Naval Station Pearl Harbor after a routine port visit. Protecteur provides Canadian and allied warships with fuel, food and supplies and is the only Canadian Navy supply ship stationed on the Pacific Coast.

The ship was scheduled to be retired from service in a few years, partly due to the problems with getting replacement parts for her engines, although the new Joint Supply Ships won’t be ready to go into service for a few years after that (at best). David Pugliese has more on the damage to the ship:

The deck and other metal structures on HMCS Protecteur, which caught fire and was towed to safety by the U.S. navy, may have warped because of the intense blaze, significantly damaging the vessel.

The extent of the damage is still being assessed. It will also take several months before a board of inquiry has the full details of the fire. However, the Canadian Forces fire marshal expects to deliver a report about the blaze to senior naval officers soon. Sources say the fire started on the port side of the engine room. Large amounts of oil from systems on board the vessel helped feed the fire, they add.

There are concerns the deck and hull may have warped due to the intense heat. The navy hasn’t released details but has acknowledged in a statement “significant fire and heat damage to the ship’s engine room and considerable heat and smoke damage in surrounding compartments.”

Canadian naval operations in the Pacific will be curtailed for at least a few years if Protecteur can’t be economically repaired, as the only other ship of that capability in service is sister ship HMCS Preserver, based in Halifax.

March 26, 2014

Russia has seized 80% of the Ukrainian navy so far

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:08

The Kyiv Post has a report including this graphic, showing the current state of Ukraine’s naval forces:

Ukraine ships captured by Russia - March 2014

Among the Ukrainian vessels reportedly captured by the Russians are submarine Zaporizhia, management ship Slavutych, landing ship Konstantin Olshansky, landing ship Kirovohrad, minesweeper Chernihiv and minesweeper Cherkasy.

The Cherkasy was the last of the ships to have been overtaken following weeks of threats and ultimatums to surrender. It was finally chased down and overtaken by the Russian navy on March 25 after failing to slip past a blockade of two ships intentionally sunk by the Russians to trap it and other vessels in a narrow gulf, keeping them from escaping into the Black Sea.

H/T to Tony Prudori for the link.

March 7, 2014

Gunboat diplomacy for the 21st century

Filed under: Europe, Military, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:38

680News reports that a US warship will be patrolling the Black Sea:

A U.S. Navy warship is heading to the Black Sea as tensions in Ukraine continue to divide world powers, according to multiple published reports.

Turkey has given the USS Truxtun permission to pass through the Bosphorus into the Black Sea.

U.S. officials say it is a “routine” deployment that was scheduled before the crisis erupted in Ukraine.

However, the show of military hardware is coinciding with NATO’s show of military support over Baltic countries with its use of air patrols and F-15 fighter jets.

Meantime, President Barack Obama’s warnings to Russia are being brushed aside by Russian President Vladimir Putin, who appears to only be speeding up efforts to formally stake his claim to Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula.

The USS Truxtun is a new Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyer, commissioned in 2009.
While we may be relatively sure that the Truxtun is a powerful vessel (the Wikipedia article describes the class as “larger and more heavily armed than most previous ships classified as guided missile cruisers”), no single ship is going to be particularly effective in putting pressure on Russia over their Ukraine deployment. The Black Sea is a small body of water, geostrategically speaking, and is totally dominated by land-based airpower. Should the situation turn grave, Truxton isn’t likely to weigh heavily in the military balance. She’s there as a token, not as a military asset.

February 15, 2014

HMS Love Boat, er, I mean HMS Daring

Filed under: Britain, Media, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:40

Sir Humphrey notes the tut-tutting disapproval of other military sites but defends the Royal Navy’s little Valentine Day squib:

HMS Daring as the Love Boat

To mark Valentines Day this year, the Royal Navy put out a small number of press releases showing how some deployed ships like HMS Daring had tried to mark the occasion. For instance, there was a picture of the crew on the flight deck, spelling out an ‘I love you’ message (news release is HERE). This particular story got quite a lot of media attention in the UK press, with a variety of outlets carrying it and giving coverage to the story. But, it also had its detractors — the superb website Think Defence did not appreciate the story, feeling that it perhaps didn’t reflect the RN in a truly professional manner — their views can be found HERE. The view expressed was essentially that in pushing across a human interest story, the RN was not demonstrating itself to be as professional as its peers in other navies, who perhaps did not feel the need to provide equivalent stories.

This debate perhaps goes to the heart of the question about how we can push the case for Defence in the modern UK. To the authors mind, the issue is that what specialists consider of interest, and what the wider public consider of interest is two very different, and often arguably mutually incompatible subjects. Wander into any UK major newsagent and you will come across rack after rack of deeply specialist magazines, often providing immensely technical commentary on the most niche of subjects, ranging from transportation through to outdoor model railways and agricultural vehicles (a favourite story of the author is of when serving in Iraq seeing a friend open a morale package to receive a magazine about tractors, whose review of the novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian complained that while a good read, it would have benefited from far more detail about the tractors). All of these magazines have one thing in common — they write technical articles for a technically minded audience which gets much of the underpinning issues. There are letters pages and articles full of debates on the most minor of points, quite literally arguing over the location of a decimal place or widget. There is an incredible passion and intensity to these debates, but the fact remains that the subject matter remains a deeply niche and specialist interest.

Arguably Defence is in a similar position to this — it is an organisation full of technical equipment, and engages in all manner of activities which people can take either an immensely superficial view, or spend many years becoming world class experts in. The problem is how to meet the interests of the experts, without losing the interest of the wider audience, who may have little to no idea of what the MOD really does all day. To an interested audience which inherently understands the importance of things like why the deployment of HMS Daring to the Far East was important, and why it achieved a tremendous amount of good for the RN, this sort of press release may well seem embarrassing — after all, who wants to see pictures of sailors missing their families when we could see press releases issued discussing whether there is sufficient space in the T45 hull to adopt a Mk141 launcher for VLS TLAM behind the PAAMS launcher but only if CEC were put onboard and the 114mm gun were downgraded to a 76mm OTO Melara — a complete exaggeration, but indicative of the sort of immensely technical debate which can be found in certain parts of the internet or specialist magazines.

February 8, 2014

QotD: The defence ministry

Filed under: Bureaucracy, Humour, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:14

The problem of the Ministry of Defence is that in peace time the three armed forces have no one on whom to vent their warlike instincts except the cabinet or each other.

Jonathan Lynn, “Yes Minister Series: Quotes from the dialogue”, JonathanLynn.com

January 31, 2014

Paper Dragon?

Filed under: China, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:41

In The Diplomat, Ian Easton gives some anecdotal run-downs of People’s Liberation Army operations (and mishaps) over the last decade:

In April 2003, the Chinese Navy decided to put a large group of its best submarine talent on the same boat as part of an experiment to synergize its naval elite. The result? Within hours of leaving port, the Type 035 Ming III class submarine sank with all hands lost. Never having fully recovered from this maritime disaster, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) is still the only permanent member of the United Nations Security Council never to have conducted an operational patrol with a nuclear missile submarine.

China is also the only member of the UN’s “Big Five” never to have built and operated an aircraft carrier. While it launched a refurbished Ukrainian built carrier amidst much fanfare in September 2012 – then-President Hu Jintao and all the top brass showed up – soon afterward the big ship had to return to the docks for extensive overhauls because of suspected engine failure; not the most auspicious of starts for China’s fledgling “blue water” navy, and not the least example of a modernizing military that has yet to master last century’s technology.

Indeed, today the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) still conducts long-distance maneuver training at speeds measured by how fast the next available cargo train can transport its tanks and guns forward. And if mobilizing and moving armies around on railway tracks sounds a bit antiquated in an era of global airlift, it should – that was how it was done in the First World War.

[...]

While recent years have witnessed a tremendous Chinese propaganda effort aimed at convincing the world that the PRC is a serious military player that is owed respect, outsiders often forget that China does not even have a professional military. The PLA, unlike the armed forces of the United States, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other regional heavyweights, is by definition not a professional fighting force. Rather, it is a “party army,” the armed wing of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Indeed, all career officers in the PLA are members of the CCP and all units at the company level and above have political officers assigned to enforce party control. Likewise, all important decisions in the PLA are made by Communist Party committees that are dominated by political officers, not by operators. This system ensures that the interests of the party’s civilian and military leaders are merged, and for this reason new Chinese soldiers entering into the PLA swear their allegiance to the CCP, not to the PRC constitution or the people of China.

This may be one reason why China’s marines (or “naval infantry” in PLA parlance) and other amphibious warfare units train by landing on big white sandy beaches that look nothing like the west coast of Taiwan (or for that matter anyplace else they could conceivably be sent in the East China Sea or South China Sea). It could also be why PLA Air Force pilots still typically get less than ten hours of flight time a month (well below regional standards), and only in 2012 began to have the ability to submit their own flight plans (previously, overbearing staff officers assigned pilots their flight plans and would not even allow them to taxi and take-off on the runways by themselves).

And yet, despite the occasional comic opera situation, the PLA (especially the PLAN) seems to be more dangerous to neighbouring countries:

Yet none of this should be comforting to China’s potential military adversaries. It is precisely China’s military weakness that makes it so dangerous. Take the PLA’s lack of combat experience, for example. A few minor border scraps aside, the PLA hasn’t seen real combat since the Korean War. This appears to be a major factor leading it to act so brazenly in the East and South China Seas. Indeed, China’s navy now appears to be itching for a fight anywhere it can find one. Experienced combat veterans almost never act this way. Indeed, history shows that military commanders that have gone to war are significantly less hawkish than their inexperienced counterparts. Lacking the somber wisdom that comes from combat experience, today’s PLA is all hawk and no dove.

January 27, 2014

The not-so-humble torpedo and the genesis of the military-industrial complex

Filed under: History, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:18

In the Boston Globe, Katherine C. Epstein makes a strong case for the origin of the military-industrial complex not being the era that President Eisenhower warned about, but actually in the run-up to the First World War:

The phrase [Eisenhower] popularized to describe the emerging system — the “military-industrial complex” — has since become a watchword, and Eisenhower’s account of its rise has struck most observers as accurate: It was a product of an immense war effort and the new attitudes spawned in the aftermath.

But what if Eisenhower — and others — had the origin story wrong? Although the military-industrial complex unquestionably became far larger and more deeply entrenched as a result of World War II and the Cold War, a closer reading of the history suggests that its essential dynamics were actually decades older. An armaments industry in close collaboration with the military — coping with global and national arms markets, sophisticated technology, intense geopolitical rivalries, and a government prone to expand its power in the name of national security — had its roots in the way geopolitics, industrialization, and globalization collided at the turn of the 20th century. And one key innovation that helped to tip the United States over into the national security regime that we recognize today was, of all things, the torpedo.

The torpedo didn’t just threaten to change naval warfare. It was a sophisticated new weapon so important to the US Navy that it forced the government to form a novel relationship with industry — and to introduce the trump card of national security as a rationale for demanding secrecy from private companies. The policy that developed along with the torpedo set the terms for the efforts to control information in the name of national security that we’re seeing now. To appreciate just how far back that policy runs — back to a time not of war, but of peace — gives us a new lens on our current struggles over the military-industrial complex, and perhaps a different reason to worry.

January 24, 2014

A Danish solution to the high cost of modern warships

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 14:47

Developments like this should be of great interest to the Royal Canadian Navy:

… constrained budgets in America and Europe are prompting leading nations to reconsider future needs and explore whether new ships should be tailored for what they do every day, rather than what they might have to do once over decades.

The solution: extreme flexibility at an affordable price for construction and operation.

Here the Danes have emerged as a clear leader by developing two classes of highly innovative ships designed to operate as how they will be used: carrying out coalition operations while equipped to swing from high-end to low-end missions.

The three Iver Huitfeldt frigates and two Absalon flexible support ships share a common, large, highly efficient hull to yield long-range, efficient but highly flexible ships that come equipped with considerable capabilities — from large cargo and troop volumes and ample helo decks for sea strike and anti-submarine warfare — in a package that’s cheap to buy and operate. The ships come with built-in guns, launch tubes for self-defense and strike weapons, and hull-mounted sonar gear, and they can accept mission modules in hours to expand or tailor capabilities. The three Huitfeldts cost less than $1 billion.

The ships also are coveted during coalition operations for their 9,000-mile range at 15 knots, excellent sea-keeping qualities and command-and-control gear, plus spacious accommodations for command staffs. That’s why the Esbern Snare, the second of two Absalon support ships, is commanding the international flotilla in the Eastern Mediterranean that will destroy Syria’s chemical weapons.

Wikipedia has this image of the HDMS Iver Huitfeldt:

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

HDMS Iver Huitfeldt during a port visit in Århus, 20 January 2012

The class is built on the experience gained from the Absalon-class support ships, and by reusing the basic hull design of the Absalon class the Royal Danish Navy have been able to construct the Iver Huitfeldt class considerably cheaper than comparable ships. The frigates are compatible with the Danish Navy’s StanFlex modular mission payload system used in the Absalons, and are designed with slots for six modules. Each of the four Stanflex positions on the missile deck is able to accommodate either the Mark 141 8-cell Harpoon launcher module, or the 12-cell Mark 56 ESSM VLS.

While the Absalon-class ships are primarily designed for command and support roles, with a large ro-ro deck, the three new Iver Huitfeldt-class frigates will be equipped for an air defence role with Standard Missiles, and the potential to use Tomahawk cruise missiles, a first for the Danish Navy.

For contrast here is the HDMS Esbern Snare, the second ship in the Absalom class:

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

Danish Navy Combat Support Ship HDMS Esbern Snare in the port of Gdynia, prior to exercise US BALTOPS 2010.

That’s not to say that these particular ships would be a good fit for the RCN, but that the approach does seem to be viable (sharing common hull configurations and swappable mission modules). However, the efficiencies that could be achieved by following this practice would almost certainly be swamped by the political considerations to spread the money out over as many federal ridings as possible…

H/T to The Armourer for the link.

January 14, 2014

Questions in Parliament – Scotland and the post-referendum military

Filed under: Britain — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

A few answers to questions in the UK parliament on issues relating to the military in a post-separation Scotland, courtesy of Think Defence. First on the official reactions to the Scottish government’s pre-referendum white paper:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Andrew Rosindell: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what discussions he has had with Ministers in the Scottish Government on defence prior to the publication of the White Paper on an independent Scotland. [178081]

Dr Murrison: The Secretary of State for Defence, my right hon. Friend the Member for Runnymede and Weybridge (Mr Hammond), did not have any discussions with Ministers in the Scottish Government about the White Paper on an independent Scotland on defence nor were any requested prior to its publication.

10 Dec 2013 : Column 197W

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178610]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the reconfiguration of the UK defence estate in Scotland in the event of independence.

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed removal of the UK Trident nuclear submarines from Scottish waters in the event of Scottish independence, as set out in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [178611]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the removal of the UK’s nuclear deterrent from Scotland in the event of independence.

And again, on the 17th of December:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Ann McKechin: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence what representations his Department has received from the Scottish Government in the last 12 months on the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence, as outlined in Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to An Independent Scotland. [180163]

Dr Murrison: None. The Ministry of Defence has not received any representation from the Scottish Government regarding the proposed transfer of armed forces personnel in the event of Scottish independence.

And on January 9th, a question on the estimated costs of defending Scotland in either case after the September referendum:

Sovereignty: Scotland

Mr Gordon Brown: To ask the Secretary of State for Defence if he will estimate the pro rata population adjusted cost of defence provision in Scotland in 2016-17; and what the Scottish Government estimates those costs will be for 2016-17 in an independent Scotland. [180865]

Dr Murrison: Defence is organised, resourced and managed on a UK basis to provide high levels of protection and security for all parts of the UK and its citizens at home and abroad. Decisions on spending are based on meeting Defence requirements and ensuring value for money. The Defence budget is for the whole of the UK and is not apportioned on a regional basis. As part of the UK, Scotland benefits from the full range of UK Defence capabilities and activities funded by the Defence budget. The UK Government is confident that the Scottish people will vote to remain part of the United Kingdom and is not planning for an independent Scotland. In the event of a vote to leave the UK, it would be for the Scottish Government to determine the Defence budget for an independent Scottish state.

January 11, 2014

Spain downsizes their navy under economic pressure

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:11

Spain has decommissioned 18 ships over the past six years, including the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias:

Despite increased budgets and investment in certain weapon developments, the Spanish Ministry of Defence states that their overall budget has depleted by 32% since the start of the financial crisis, with 8.4 billion in the kitty in 2008, dropping to a mere 5.75 billion planned for 2014.

As a result, the Ministry says that it has no choice but to reduce costs, thus resulting in a significant reduction in high profile military elements, like the decommissioning of 18 naval ships in the past 6 years.

One of the most iconic ships to be withdrawn last year was the aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias, decommissioned after 25 years of service, considered a somewhat tragic sight when she arrived at the Arsenal Militar de Ferrol for final discharge from service. But as the last Captain of the vessel, Alfredo Rodríguez Fariñas, explained, modernization and maintenance of the ‘Prince of Asturias’ cost the MoD a hundred million per year.

Part of the strategy is the withdrawal of these costly and purpose built ships, in favour of more modern craft that meets the needs to the Navy’s international mission, such as the activities in the Indian Ocean where the frigate Álvaro de Bazán and maritime action ship Tornado are currently patrolling, and the ship Cantabria, currently in the sea off the Australian coast.

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Principe de Asturias

Spanish navy's Juan Carlos and Príncipe de Asturias

January 10, 2014

US analysis of captured German U-boats after WW2

Filed under: History, Military — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:12

Tony Zbaraschuk posted an interesting link to the Lois McMaster Bujold Mailing list (http://lists.herald.co.uk/cgi-bin/mailman/listinfo/lois-bujold):

Design Studies of German Submarines by the US Navy

The Design Study of Type IXC U-boats was made available by Scott Sorenson. The Design Study of Type XXI U-boats was made available by the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Public Affairs Office and the Navy Yard Museum — in particular Debora White, Gary Hildreth, Jim Dolf and Bill Tebo (a member of the US Navy crew of U-2513).

Photographs and documents of surrendered German submarines and their crews were made available by John Cunningham (a member of the US Navy crew of U-2513).

U-2513 off Key West, Florida - 30 October 1946

U-2513 off Key West, Florida — 30 October 1946

January 9, 2014

China asserts “police powers” over most of the South China Sea

Filed under: Asia, China, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:02

James R. Holmes on the change in China’s approach to the disputed South China Sea region:

Associated Press reporter Christopher Bodeen chooses his words well in a story on China’s latest bid to rule offshore waters. Beijing, he writes, is augmenting its “police powers” in the South China Sea. That’s legalese for enforcing domestic law within certain lines inscribed on the map, or in this case nautical chart.

The Hainan provincial legislature, that is, issued a directive last November requiring foreign fishermen to obtain permission before plying their trade within some two-thirds of the sea. Bill Gertz of the Washington Free Beacon supplies a map depicting the affected zone. It’s worth pointing out that the zone doesn’t span the entire waterspace within the nine-dashed line, where Beijing asserts “indisputable sovereignty.”

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

China imposes fishing curbs: New regulations imposed Jan. 1 limit all foreign vessels from fishing in a zone covering two-thirds of the South China Sea. Washington Free Beacon

A few quick thoughts as this story develops. One, regional and extraregional observers shouldn’t be too shocked at this turn of events. China’s claims to the South China Sea reach back decades. The map bearing the nine-dashed line, for instance, predates the founding of the People’s Republic of China. It may go back a century. Nor are these idle fancies. Chinese forces pummeled a South Vietnamese flotilla in the Paracels in 1974. Sporadic encounters with neighboring maritime forces — sometime violent, more often not — have continued to this day. (See Shoal, Scarborough.) Only the pace has quickened.

Henry Kissinger notes that custodians and beneficiaries of the status quo find it hard to believe that revolutionaries really want what they say they want. Memo to Manila, Hanoi & Co.: Beijing really wants what it says it wants.

January 8, 2014

China and the deep blue seas

Filed under: China, Military — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:26

There has been much debate among analysts about what China is planning to do with their expanding “blue water” navy. At The Diplomat, Henry Holst warns against simplistic interpretations of People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) intentions:

In a 2012 article published in The Diplomat, Andrew Erickson and Gabe Collins claim “China seeks to develop a ‘blue water’ navy in the years to come—but one that is more ‘regional’ than ‘global’ in nature,” and that China does not intend to challenge U.S. naval hegemony. However, analyzing China’s maritime identity, a concept that will be explained below, and it becomes clear that two major long-term goals of the PLAN’s blue-water modernization are to frequently deploy outside East Asia and challenge U.S. naval dominance on the high seas.

Erickson and Collins cite Chinese naval technological inferiority in areas such as anti-submarine warfare and area-air defense vis-à-vis the U.S. navy as evidence that the PLAN does not intend to challenge U.S. naval hegemony, concluding that such a military imbalance would make any challenge futile. Additionally, Erickson and Collins use the small number of PLAN deployments outside of East Asia as proof that in the future Beijing does not aim to frequently outside its immediate environs.

[...]

Analyzing China’s maritime identity provides a superior methodology in anticipating future PLAN strategic interests. Maritime identity is a nation’s inherited maritime traditions, responsibilities, prerogatives, self-concept and strategic interests as a naval power. It frames the strategic discussion that occurs at high levels of government and therefore wields enormous influence over foreign policy. Washington’s willingness to employ naval forces in support of Libyan rebels fighting Gaddafi in 2011 reflected America’s maritime identity, which is famous for supporting democracy, human rights and self-determination worldwide. The American maritime identity is perfectly summed up in the U.S. Navy recruiting slogan: “A Global Force For Good.” In a similar way, analyzing the personality of China’s developing maritime identity is a practical method by which to gauge future Chinese naval strategic interests.

How does one ascertain China’s maritime identity? Analyzing Chinese Communist Party (CCP)-run newspaper articles in the People’s Daily provides an excellent conduit into the strategic thinking of China’s decision-making apparatus. This is because the People’s Daily serves as the mouthpiece of the CCP Standing Committee. For those unfamiliar with China’s system of government, imagine a totalitarian government having an elected body of seven individuals who wield total control over state affairs, and then broadcast their opinions directly through a controlled media body. Analyzing Chinese domestic media discussion on whether China should pursue a full-fledged blue-water navy (蓝水海军), a pursuit both tightly bound to a country’s maritime identity and highly relevant to future PLAN strategic interests, sheds light on the strategic discussions occurring at high levels within the CCP.

December 24, 2013

The challenge facing all modern armed forces

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:04

Sir Humphrey is on-the-money with his disdain for “fantasy fleet” enthusiasts and those nostalgic for the days when the Soviet hordes were poised to descend on Western Europe at the drop of a helmet. While he’s talking specifically about the British army, Royal Navy, and Royal Air Force, the very same issues are being faced in all Western nations. He also explains why cuts to armies are easier to make than cuts to navies or air forces:

In broad terms the General noted the real difficulties for the armed forces in the current operating environment, noting “The advent of more diverse and less state based threats has become an increasing feature of the age. Most mature Western democracies no longer face existential state-on-state threats in classic force-on-force terms. Rather the challenges are more insidious. There are threats which relate to terrorism, to international crime, to energy resources and critical national infrastructure. There are challenges to our human security, our way of life; there are hazards which derive from the dangerous conditions attendant on a warming planet. And these are threats which have emerged in the rising domain of warfare: cyberspace”.

This is a useful reminder to those whose belief that force structures today do not allow us to defend against the encroaching Soviet hordes — there is a very good reason for that! It is genuinely difficult to envision circumstances at present where the UK would be dragged unwillingly into a physically existential battle for survival against another state. Instead our threats are more challenging — if you consider the damage that can be done from a well placed cyber attack, it could be argued that there is no need for a conventional military existential threat now. A well placed cyber unit able to carry out crippling attacks on national infrastructures, power and support services could probably do more damage in one fell swoop than a sustained air campaign could over many months. It may be better to suggest that we simultaneously do not face a credible military existential threat, but there is a very credible existential threat from both nations and third party groups from the cyberspace domain.

The question that always needs to be at the top of the agenda when discussing military spending is “What specific and general threats to the nation need to be warded against?” rather than “How many tanks/planes/ships do we want?” With the F-35 decision looming near for many NATO countries, the initial cost of the planes is only part of the economic picture:

For instance consider the cost of providing a fast jet training pipeline — from the initial flying training through to conversion aircraft and the provision of instructors, tactics schools, opposition jets for sorties etc — to sustain a pipeline for an ever small fast jet fleet looks horrendously expensive. When you consider that most NATO nations are going to be operating fleets of less than 50 fast jets in future, the cost of providing a purely national solution to the pipeline will be an ever larger proportion of the total budget. One can easily see a case for trying to provide a multi-national solution for many of the smaller nations, if only to keep them credibly in the fast jet game, otherwise in a few years time it may well be the case that they simply cannot afford to stay in the fast jet business.

Not to denigrate the army — I was an army reservist in my time — but the cost to train soldiers for the majority of combat or combat support roles is only a fraction of what is needed to train sailors or aircrew:

It is easy to focus on pure numbers and not look beneath at the make up of the force. For instance the Army requires a larger manpower pool, but its manning pyramid is perhaps disproportionately focused on providing lots of junior troops (Pts & Lcpls) who have the lowest salaries and often require the least amount of technical training. There is also some flex in the system in that you can bear a gap of a couple of junior troops or SNCOs on a Company or Battalion sized deployment. By contrast the Royal Navy relies heavily on a very skilled and technical workforce — the days of ships being manned by the press gang being long gone. To operate a Frigate needs highly skilled operators and engineers to run the very complex equipment on board. If you look the collective man years of training required to put a fully effective Frigates crew to sea, you are talking about needing centuries of investment. Even a junior weapons or mechanical engineering rating requires several years of training to be at the stage where they are operationally useful. By contrast an Army private can be doing a role in an infantry unit within a year.

This higher training footprint has several issues — it costs more to run the shore schools like COLLINGWOOD and SULTAN. It means the crews generally require higher salaries and retention incentives to stay in for the medium term, as the private sector will quickly try and lure disaffected sailors with higher pay packets. Additionally the impact of a well-qualified rating leaving can often have a direct impact on the ability of a ship to deploy. For instance, in the nuclear submarine fleet, the loss of a suitably qualified nuclear SNCO watchkeeper could theoretically prevent deployment of a submarine until the gap is filled. It also takes many years to train a replacement — people leaving early will leave gaps in the system that will take years to fill. What this means is that as training cuts bite, and deployments are extended to cover the gaps caused by having less ships available, the pressure on the RN workforce grows. The more people who leave early, the harder it is for the RN to keep ships at sea for the medium term. The problem also grows as the more gaps that exist, the harder those who are left have to work, thus increasing the likelihood of them leaving too.

And the folks whose views of a “proper military” are based on their early collections of Airfix ship and tank models:

It also served as a useful reminder that the ability to rapidly regenerate the front line no longer exists. If you browse the net, you quickly come across ‘fantasy fleet’ sites where discussions quickly veer into the impossible wishlisting of new ships for the RN. What is often forgotten is that to use the ships / tanks / planes, you need the training pipeline in place to support them. People forget that the 2010 SDSR slashed the underpinning training and support services for the front line. Not only were units cut, but the assumptions on how many people would be needed in future was also reduced. This means that the manpower and equipment to rapidly grow the forces doesn’t exist anymore. There is little point in saying ‘we need 20 extra frigates or 3 more Typhoon squadrons’ because the pipeline to produce that many people with the right skills in the right timeline simply isn’t there. The hollow force is a good demonstration of what happens when you focus on buying new equipment over investing in the equally vital support services linked to it.

December 9, 2013

Admiral Grace Hopper on Letterman

Filed under: History, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 17:23

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