#5 – Russia Buys Mistral Amphibious Ships from France.
There is already a lot of complaining coming from NATO nations with the recent Christmas surprise that France will sell Mistral class amphibious ships to Russia. While it is absolutely true the Mistral class is a dynamic ship capable of supporting several peacetime missions for Russia, it is the capabilities of waging war that has Russia’s neighbors nervous. From the US perspective, promises that Russia will be utilizing the ships in the Pacific is hardly better news considering that means the ships will be primarily for demonstrating Russian resolve in territorial disputes with Japan. It could be worse, Russia could base the ships in the Black Sea and give Georgia plenty of reasons to be nervous. No matter how one looks at it, the Mistral class is a weapon of war well designed towards Russian strengths (like attack helicopters) and Russian requirements for power projection, and does represent a major transfer of knowledge and capability from a NATO friend to a former enemy. The dynamics of the deal itself are tailor made for political firebranding.
#4 US Navy Dual Purchase of Littoral Combat Ship
The Littoral Combat Ship is the single most interesting US Navy discussion there is, and it isn’t even close. If I need to increase the traffic to my home blog by an extra few thousand visitors on any given day, all I have to do is write an article about the Littoral Combat Ship. Folks inside and outside the Navy are critical of the LCS – indeed I often find the comments of active duty SWOs are the most damning criticisms tossed towards the LCS. I personally think the LCS represents one of the most horribly designed great concepts in modern naval history by any nation, but the truth is no one actually knows what the LCS is, or will be in the future. What we do know is that over the next 5 years the Navy will build 20 more at an average cost of $440 million per hull, and at that price the LCS is less expensive per 1000 tons than the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and even the Perry FFGs. Because the ship is also armed like the Osprey MCHs, the Avenger MCMs, and the Perry FFs we can all look forward to 5 more years of criticisms.
#3 PLA Navy Expansion Towards Blue Water and Long Range Strike Capabilities
韬光养晦 – The literal translation is “hide brightness, nourish obscurity,” but it is more commonly known as Deng Xiaoping’s policy of “tao guang yang hui” toward international relations – which describes a policy of patiently keeping a low profile when forced into an unfavorable position and nourish your position until opportunity to act presents itself. Many scholars believe this has been the core philosophy driving policy in China for almost the past 3 decades, but China appears to have discarded this policy in 2010. Perhaps I am reading this wrong, and China believes their opportunity to act has arrived? It is clear that 2010 is a year of massive shipbuilding for the PLAN, what some have termed the PLAN’s second shipbuilding boom. In 2010 China has apparently begun construction of a new aircraft carrier while continuing construction on surface combatants, submarines, and their fast attack combatants. We finish the year with ADM Willard declaring the DF-21 has reached an equivalent stage to IOC while the internet goes buzzing with photography of a new supposed 5th Generation stealth fighter/bomber. While it is worth admiring the growth of China’s maritime military capabilities, we should be very careful not to get caught up in the hype. China has significant strategic vulnerabilities right now – military, political, and economic – and with a rapidly approaching demography problem compounded by one of the largest generational gaps any culture worldwide has encountered, it is very premature to make predictions solely based on the expansion of military hardware quantity.
2) Stuxnet Exposing the Vulnerability of Entire Fleets to Worms
This probably should be number one, but due to very little public attention given to the threat Stuxnet represents to naval forces I decided to leave it at number two. Whatever damage Stuxnet did to Iran’s nuclear program could have gone infinitely worse had the same technologies been directed at any modern fleet globally. All that heavy industrial equipment used in Iran’s nuclear program is very similar, if not exactly similar, to the mechanical systems that drive naval vessels across the world. Stuxnet has introduced us to a world where it is possible that well funded and coordinated teams of nerds can disable fleets of warships at the time and date of their choosing, and in the world of Stuxnet – internet connectivity is not a requirement for effectiveness.
1) Sinking of the Cheonan by North Korean mini-submarine
Welcome to the Pacific Ocean, where China, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, South Korea, Vietnam, and Japan are all increasing the size and/or modernizing their submarine forces. Oh, speaking of submarines, did you hear about North Korea using a mini-submarine to sink a South Korean corvette? The Cheonan incident represents what could be the opening salvo of the 21st century in the Pacific as it relates to underwater warfare. Interestingly enough, it might also have been the first major shot fired in a Korean Peninsula crisis that has South Korea talking about reunification as early as next year. When it first took place, I recall speaking to people across the US Navy who initially believed some terrible accident had occurred, but a few days later when divers had been able go down and see the damage to the ship and begin salvage operations, I remember distinctly how the mood turned. 46 South Korea sailors died in that attack. The memory of the Cheonan still makes front page headlines today within the context of current tensions on the Korean Peninsula.