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So, it seems the 131st consecutive successful Trident test flight (*) went off in an epic fashion! In Saudi!

That’s…unprecedented.

(UPDATE: Looks like the story is getting walked back a bit…the AP’s source, “A Western military official in Saudi Arabia” is being contradicted by Pentagon spokespersons–who say there was no launch of any kind.)

How, exactly, does one test a “submarine-launched ballistic missile” from Saudi territory?

“The United States test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads during a joint military exercise Wednesday with Saudi Arabia, a Western military official said.

The Trident missile launch was carried out in the kingdom, the official said, but he would not give a precise location. He spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.”

Was this missile fired from a land-sharkesque Sand Sub? Did we ship a missile over for a launch from a Saudi facility? Or fire it from a sub elsewhere?

I mean, while this may explain why some Tehran IP addresses have been, ah, oh, rather avid consumers of my home-blog, NextNavy.com, I really wonder what is going on here.

What an odd story….If this missile launched from the Saudi’s sandy seas, at a Saudi launch facility, then…I must ask: Do we really want to export this kind of strike platform? There?

Really?

We need to know more.

A lot more–Did America conduct an unprecedented Persian Gulf/Red Sea/Indian Ocean launch….for a missile defense test? Or is this the new face of Prompt Global Strike–a little project you can read more about in April’s USNI Proceedings)?

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(*) Estimated. H/T: Warisboring.com



As the Arctic heats up, diplomatic meetings are getting rather frosty. You might have missed this, but Canada got a public rebuke from the U.S. yesterday over Arctic policy. From the Voice of America:

On Monday, Canada hosted a meeting of foreign ministers from five countries with Arctic coastlines for talks on maritime boundaries, disaster response and other issues. The U.S. and Canada were joined by Denmark, Norway and Russia.

But other countries with Arctic interests – Finland, Iceland and Sweden – as well as northern indigenous groups were not invited.

Clinton said in remarks to the meeting that significant international discussions on Arctic issues should include those who have legitimate interests in the region. She said she hopes the Arctic will always showcase the ability to work together, not create new divisions.

Canada, who had invited only those countries with Arctic coastlines, irked Iceland, Sweden and Finland–who think that Arctic decisions need to be made by the 8 state Arctic Council. The Inuit were also upset. So the U.S. issued Canada a public rebuke–the first since the run-up to the Gulf War.

And today, Canada confirmed it was going to leave Afghanistan.

Other arguments aside, the Arctic debate is getting serious, and, given that the five participants have plans to operate 66 ice-ready, combatants, the time to talk is now–even if a few non-territorial claiming stakeholders are left out–after all, Iceland, Sweden and Finland won’t be fighting over places like, oh, Hans Island

And then, to boot, where does one draw the line? If the Arctic Council participates, why shouldn’t China be allowed to participate? I mean, they might feel they have “legitimate interests”:

Earlier this month, a Chinese rear-admiral asserted that the Arctic belongs to all peoples. He was correct — if only with respect to the central Arctic Ocean where the water and sea-ice form part of the high seas and an area of ocean floor beyond the continental shelves of the five coastal states is part of the “common heritage of mankind.”

I don’t understand the goals here. Why are we making a big stink over this diplomatic meeting? Sometimes it’s OK to have an exclusive club…and with Arctic Claims being seen as a basis for support of China’s claims in the East and South China seas, the five “Arctic-owning” nations need to talk far more than argue. A lot of things ride on getting this right.

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It seems the South Korean patrol ship Cheonan split into two pieces. After the explosion, the stern sank immediately, while the other half took three hours to go down, floating about four miles before sinking. The stern has yet to be found.

That news in itself might suggest damage akin to a mine or torpedo, but some family members say the vessel was in poor condition:

Some families vented anger at the military, accusing authorities of a cover-up and saying survivors told them the Cheonan was leaky and in need of repair. They jumped on a car carrying the rescued captain of the Cheonan.

Details are sketchy, but it seems U.S. assets may be on the way to the incident site. According to the JoongAng Daily, a vessel that appears to be the USNS Salvor (T-ARS 52) will soon arrive to help:

Defense Ministry spokesman Won Tae-jae said that the United States 3,000-ton salvation ship Salvo is scheduled to arrive this morning at the area of the sinking to support the search and rescue missions. Specially trained U.S. military divers will join the operations.

US sources say the Salvor is standing by:

U.S. Navy vessels including the USNS Salvor rescue and salvage ship are standing by to help in the event South Korea requests assistance, said Lt. Anthony Falvo, a spokesman for the U.S. Seventh Fleet, based in Japan. The American ships were wrapping up a joint training exercise nearby with South Korea.

“Should our forces be requested to provide assistance, that would be one of our main units,” Falvo said in a telephone interview.

It will be interesting to see how the investigation plays out. And as to North Korea’s response to the presence of a U.S. naval vessel near the contested sea border? Their response is anyone’s guess.

Korea’s “Remember the Maine” moment may still arrive.

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Phil Ewing over at Navy Times makes an interesting catch:

Navy engineers in March began looking into how the fleet should prepare for an attack by one of the most feared and controversial weapons of the modern age: an electromagnetic pulse.

So, even though the U.S. is working to cut nuclear weapons, we’re also preparing to operate in a world where nuclear weapons have proliferated or are set to be employed in less conventional ways– in, oh, say, Anti-Ship Ballistic Missiles.

Under the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) Force Electromagnetic Effects and Spectrum Management Office, the U.S. Navy EMP Program is reconstituting knowledge lost after the Cold War:

“We have eight scientists and engineers who are providing Navy leadership with information crucial to assessing the fleet’s posture with regard to EMP,” said Alex Solomonik, Navy EMP Program Manager. “Navy Warfare Center EMP experts – with over 80 years combined electromagnetic pulse experience – form an extremely powerful link to past lessons learned.”

The group advises Navy leadership about strategies and safety measures to mitigate EMP damage in the unlikely event a nuclear weapon detonates at an altitude in excess of 40 miles, generating a high altitude electromagnetic pulse.

“The consequences of failing to take appropriate precautions to protect fleet mission critical systems can ultimately prove catastrophic to the Navy’s mission,” said Blaise Corbett, Naval Surface Warfare Center (NSWC) Dahlgren EMP Assessment Group Leader.

So, to do my part in building awareness of this old “new” threat, here’s a primer from the latest CHIPS:

Electromagnetic pulse is a radiated electromagnetic field, typically generated and associated with a nuclear detonation. A nuclear device detonated at an altitude in excess of 40 miles generates High Altitude Electromagnetic Pulse (HEMP), which is the focus of the U.S. Navy program. This high-altitude nuclear explosion creates high energy photons known as gamma rays. The photons collide with molecules in the upper atmosphere creating free electrons called Compton electrons, which then interact with the Earth’s geomagnetic field lines to create a HEMP.

HEMP can be characterized as a radio frequency emission with broad frequency content, high electrical field levels up to 100 kilovolts per meter, and high instantaneous power density levels that can exceed 20 megawatts per meter squared.

HEMP is composed of three components commonly referred to as E1, E2 and E3.

E1, often referred to as the prompt component, is characterized by short pulse duration and a fast rise time. The actual EMP experienced is a function of the weapon yield and design, burst height, latitude of the burst, and relative observer location from the burst point.

E2 is often compared to lightning in terms of duration and frequency content (frequencies contained in the signal), while E3 has the longest duration, lowest frequency content, and lowest field levels.

As such, E1 poses the greatest danger to individual electronic systems, while E3 poses the greatest threat to networked infrastructure, such as long line power and telephone networks. The focus of the military is primarily on electronic system impacts due to E1.

EMP is one of those hotly-debated threats. Skeptics are quite right to argue that, oh, an unfortunately timed coffee spill onto a critical keyboard poses an even greater (and more likely) hazard to naval operations.

But in a world where naval platforms are set to last for four or five decades…who knows who will have a nuclear weapon by then? Or, for that matter, how nuclear weaponry will be harnessed?

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In Asia, America has gotta move away from a long-standing habit of engaging in simple, bilateral force measurements. Asia is a multi-polar place, and America’s penchant for strategic over-simplification is going to land the U.S. into serious trouble.

Put bluntly, U.S. Navy-folk need to remember there are a few other countries over on the other side of the Pacific. Some of them are rather formidable. And the U.S. is neglecting them.

So…Let’s take a moment to compare some naval forces in the Pacific Basin. Using the official DOD Annual Report to Congress on the Military Power of the PRC 2005 and 2009, it looks like China’s Navy is growing. But…when China’s rate of growth is compared with other neighbors, that burst of growth over the past five years looks a lot less daunting.

China: Diesel Attack Subs: (2005 vs. 2009): 51 vs. 54 (+3)
USA: Diesel Attack Subs: (2005 vs. 2009): 0 vs. 0 (+0)

Note: Japan commissioned 4 Oyashio-class, 2 Soryu-class SSKs; South Korea commissioned 3 Type 214s from 2005-2010.

China: Nuclear Subs (SSN only, 2005 vs. 2009): 6 vs. 6 (+0)
USA: Nuclear Subs (SSN/SSGN only 2005 vs. 2009): 58 vs. 56/57 (-2/-1)

China: Destroyers (2005 vs. 2009): 21 vs. 27 (+7)
USA: Destroyers (2005 vs. 2009/10): 46 vs. 54/57 (+8/+11)

Note: Japan brought into service 2 Atago-class destroyers, 2 Takanami-class destroyers, and a Hyuga-class “carrier” destroyer; Taiwan put 4 ex-Kidd-class vessels into service; South Korea put 4 KDX-2-class destroyers into service over the past 5 years.

China: Frigates (2005 vs. 2009): 43 vs. 48 (+5)
USA: Frigates (2005 vs. 2009/10): 30 vs. 30/31 (+0/+1)

Note: Regional Frigate-building programs are proceeding apace.

China: Coastal Missile ships: (2005 vs. 2009): 51 vs 70+ (+19 at least)
USA: Nada. Zip.

Interesting. China’s small missile ships are allowing China’s larger vessels to engage in “blue water” activities, so, while these vessels expand China’s “reach”, a dependence on small ships may prove a vulnerability. The region needs to know more about the small ship programs hosted by Taiwan, South Korea and Japan. What, by way of smaller vessels, can these navies offer? How good are the region’s Air Forces in hunting and destroying smaller craft?

In short, does China’s love of small craft contribute to regional stability or not?

Look. China’s Navy is still awfully small. And with China not exactly on friendly terms with it’s neighbors (who, on the part of Japan and South Korea, are building some very modern navies), the PLA(N) has a lot to do to secure China’s maritime borders. It is a little bit of a stretch to think all this new floating hardware is aimed exclusively at the U.S.A.

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Rhetoric supporting the new carrier launch system, EMALS, was on full display during CNO Roughead’s March 11 testimony before the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense. He said:

“…Among the new technologies being integrated in these ships is the Electromagnetic Aircraft Launch System (EMALS), which will enable the carrier’s increased sortie generation rate and lower total ownership costs. EMALS is on track for an aircraft demonstration later this year and is on schedule to support delivery of CVN 78 in September 2015…”

But, according to Inside Defense (subscription required), reality, in the form of a question from Rep. Norman Dicks (D-WA), forced SECNAV Mabus to confirm that the EMALS program had experienced an ugly test failure. What happened, exactly? This:

“…According to a Navy official, on Jan. 12 during a test at Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst , NJ, the shuttle was commanded to move forward 10 meters, but instead reversed direction and slammed into the catapult’s deck tensioner, causing damage to the system’s hardware. Damage to the armature and the tensioner was non-reparable, though a motor block and the end of the system’s trough, which also suffered damage, were salvageable. There were no injuries…”

That’s quite the mishap…But, never fear, they tell me this high-profile program is all still on schedule. Right?

Right?

I like EMALS, and I love this sort of high-profile challenge…and good poker games, too.

But…where’s the hedge? Did we start production of the Next-Gen Ford-class too early? If America needs to start figuring out how many MV-22s fit on the new LHA(N) amphibian, isn’t that something policymakers should know and discuss? And if the money that EMALS will, in theory, save (via reduced wear and tear, lower manning and so forth) gets eaten up by developmental costs and reliability SNAFUs, then, shouldn’t there be a debate on the strategic (and/or tactical) merits of this system?

Is a higher sortie generation rate and consistent high-power cat shots THAT important?

NEXTNAVY.COM



The USS Bataan (LHD-5) was one of the first ships directed towards Haiti after the massive January 12 earthquake, but, once the ship arrived to serve in Operation Unified Response, the Bataan ran into a hail of criticism over it’s slow start in accepting and treating wounded Haitians. One of my USNI pals was particularly tough on the flat-deck. Why was the Bataan so slow off the mark?

Well, the MSC has a likely answer. There might have been a darn good reason why the Bataan’s medical facilities were slow to get into the game….Why? The answer is simple–Water. The Bataan didn’t have any. Though the Bataan’s embarked media didn’t make much of a peep about the shortage, off Haiti, the ship’s evaporators–rather important pieces of equipment for a steam-powered vessel–failed.

And with no water, there’s precious little a medical team can offer.

According to Cmdr Mark Pimpo, USNS Sacagawea’s (T-AKE-2) military department officer in charge, the Bataan was in serious trouble:

“We also transferred more than 40,000 gallons of water to amphibious assault ship USS Bataan when both of the ship’s evaporators stopped functioning. Bataan was eventually able to get a tech rep onboard, but the water we provided made the difference,” Pimpo said.”

For the Bataan, a ship that entered the fleet in 1997, this sort of breakdown is not a good sign. But on the other hand, an evaporator failure is the sort of thing that’ll likely happen after a ship has been at sea for seven months, gets shut down…and then gets tasked to handle an unexpected contingency.

With short-notice surge deployments becoming the norm, the Navy has got to start doing some serious thinking about how it manages ship maintenance and surge availability. Are looming failures (or chronic engineering problems) getting reported up the chain-of-command during deployment? Or are they kinda close-held until after deployment when it all becomes some shipyard’s problem to deal with?

But just note…for the helpful T-AKE, this story is just another testament to how important the MSC’s T-AKE fleet has become (in such a short time, too)! These cheap, do-anything ships–with their residual fuel and liquid supply capabilities–are really pulling the Navy out of some potentially sticky situations…

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Is the Navy having some problems getting along with shipbuilder Northrop Grumman? Defense media overlooked some stern words–and a hand-carried letter–Congressman Gene Taylor (D-MS) delivered to SECNAV Mabus after a February 24 hearing on the Navy’s FY 2011 National Defense Authorization Budget Request. Here’s a rough transcript–of what sounds somewhat like an ultimatum:

“…Secretary Mabus, before you leave I’d like to hand-deliver to you a letter from myself, Senator Cochran (R-MS) and Senator Wicker (R-MS). A similar letter was delivered to Northrop Grumman last week. And it basically says that Congress has authorized and appropriated five ships…and yet, for whatever reason, Northrop and the Navy have not come to terms and gotten those ships started.

The admiral has made an excellent case that he needs a bigger fleet. The Congress has already responded to that by authorizing and appropriating the money. We need to get going. And so I don’t know if it’s Northrop’s delay. I don’t know if it’s the Navy’s delay. But there is a delay that needs to be addressed and I’m going to ask you to take a look at that. But again, thank all of you for your services and with that, this meeting is adjourned…”

What’s the deal here? Why all the foot-dragging? Is the delay just focusing on Northrop’s Gulf Coast yards?

At any rate, an exchange of letters is certainly not the sort of thing that happens when all is, ah, going well in the shipbuilding department.

NEXTNAVY.COM



The Navy is getting underway as Hawaii prepares for an incoming tsunami.

The latest news, with about an hour and a half to go before the tsunami arrives, is that 4 naval vessels are getting underway to ride out the tsunami at sea, and some naval housing complexes are being evacuated.

Though the strategic impact of this tsunami is likely to be low, it might be an interesting exercise to consider what the impact of a larger event might be. So, this morning, as we wait, we ask the readers to weigh in. Is the Navy too vulnerable to natural disasters? Are we putting “too many eggs in too few baskets”?



Israel has a lot invested in doing littoral combat right. And, right now, the IDF is sending their Merkava Main Battle Tank to sea in LCTs.

Rather than call the LCTs mere landing craft, why not call them Littoral Combat Boats (LCBs)? That’s what they are.

Look. There’s plenty for IDF littoral combat forces to do. There’s plenty for smaller forces to do nearby–and given the constantly-increasing demands upon Israel’s “higher end” naval assets, the Israeli Navy seems to have decided to travel down a high-lo development path for littoral combat.

Thus the LCB.

Israel has hunted for a multi-mission littoral solution since about the nineties. After evaluating the really high (LPD-17) and high (LCS-1) end options, Israel threw in the towel on the littoral stuff, settling for a relatively conventional “small navy” supplement of MEKO-100 corvettes and some Dolphin Class subs.

But interestingly, to bulk up amphibious support and offshore fires, Israel is pursuing a decidedly low-end option–the LCB.

According to a September 22, 2009 Jerusalem Post article (no direct link available, sorry), Israel purchased several landing craft (the IDF has not mounted an amphibious assault since the early ’80s). Why? Well, the Post article gives a hint–it all goes back to Gaza:

“In both conflicts, the navy faced almost zero resistance at sea, and during Cast Lead it was able to provide close artillery support for the Paratroopers Brigade – which maneuvered along the coast.”

In Gaza, fire support was provided by Sa’ar boats, and those little ships used their tiny guns to great effect, hitting some 200 targets during Cast Lead. The most recent Jane’s Navy International (again, no link available) provided more details–it seems the Israeli Navy has purchased several 25 Meter/20 knot LCTs, sticking Merkava Main Battle Tanks upon them (or some troops, or, well, whatever fits…) and sailing away.

“It is the navy’s mission to support the infantry and the best way to do it is with LCTs,” IN Captain (res) Mike Eldar, who commanded the IN’s amphibious flotilla in 1982, told Jane’s. “This is an important capability and will give the IDF more flexibility and maneuverability.”

For duty off Gaza or off Lebanon, these ultra-cheap littoral combat boats (along with their hefty ‘ole mission module) will be a game changer.

The U.S. has done similar things. Off Grenada, America supplemented its modest fire support assets by mounting tanks on LCUs. In Vietnam, we mounted tanks on LCMs, and during World War II we did the same thing. According to Oscar Gilbert’s Marine Tank Battles of the Pacific, landing-craft-mounted tanks even sank a few ships:

Rowland Hall related: “We re-embarked them [three light tanks]. As we went around the tip of the peninsula inshore we spotted some Jap landing craft. We opened up on them with the 37 and machine guns. We bagged about three of those and set them on fire. A sort of naval battle using tanks.

If I were some mischief-minded RPG-equipped yahoo in a Boston Whaler, I’d hate to run into a Merkava at sea. What could be next? Finland’s Patria NEMO landing craft? Each boasting a 120mm mortar? Or…a more water-happy EFV?

But be careful. As the LCB emerges, it won’t take long before some of those asymmetric minded kids out there start thinking up waterborne IED solutions…

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