Roundup: Procurement Etcetera

Defence Industry Daily provides a typically thorough précis of the Littoral Combat Ship program’s struggle to develop useable (and useful) mission modules. It’s one of those stories that would qualify as comedy if it hadn’t wasted so much money.

An article at the Diplomat finds cause, albeit tenuous, to hope that Chinese President Xi Jinping is looking to reduce tensions in regional territorial disputes.

In the same publication, a review of South Korea’s ambitious submarine program on the occasion of the launching of their fourth Type 214 air-independent submarine. A new class of heavier domestically-designed submarines is planned from 2018.

From Forbes, it seems that BAE Systems is the new dynamo of support contracts, beating out well-established competition.

The Canadian-American Strategic Review has a piece on Canada’s long-running and distinctly unproductive program to replace the Aurora maritime patrol aircraft. Given that Canada tends to use these aircraft for anything and everything but their intended anti-submarine warfare and maritime strike role, who knows what their replacement might look like.

From Defense Issues, a how-to piece on evading air-to-air missiles, and of course, much useful material on many of the procurement programs mentioned here.

For those who don’t know it, The 3Ds, blog of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute, is well worth checking out. Mark Collins provides excellent sources and commentary on (primarily but not exclusively) Canadian defence matters. You’ll also see a few of my articles, and occasionally material from great Canadian historian and defence expert Jack Granatstein, noted diplomat Colin Robertson and a range of other CDFAI associates, all of them interesting.


Japan’s Carrier and China’s Bullish Insecurity


Japan has formally unveiled its newest helicopter carrier Izumo (Japan uses the old DDH helicopter destroyer designation, because everything is a destroyer in Japan). With an announced complement of 14 helicopters, it is a formidable patrol and anti-submarine warfare asset. At 248 metres in length, it is comparable in size to the old American Essex class carriers (or the current American Wasp-class assault ships). Its predecessor in production, Hyuga, was smaller at 197 metres, closer to the size of V/STOL carriers, though of course neither class has any fixed-wing armament planned- yet.

Given China’s carrier program, which includes one fixed-wing carrier in commission and others building, it is tempting to see Hyuga and Izumo as a direct response. However, it is a decidedly confusing one. On the one hand, Japan has just demonstrated proof of concept that it can build carriers of any size in very short order, which should come as no surprise, and with help from the United States, there is little doubt that they could be converted for fixed-wing operations. On the other hand, the ships’ current ASW mission is valid given the advancement of China’s submarine fleet, though Izumo is rather large for the role. The other issue is why Japan would bother with this kind of subtlety rather than simply commission these hulls as fixed-wing carriers.

And that leads us to the basic confusion of Japan’s defence policy, predicated on self-defence, facing economic recession and reluctance to remove traditional budgetary constraints on the one hand, and on the other facing a less than friendly neighbour with a growing military and an historical animus toward Japan deeply embedded in popular nationalism. The current Japanese government has been branded militarist by China and South Korea for comments in the most recent defence white paper, and yet in concrete terms has made no procurement plans that would allow Japan to keep its edge at sea and in the air, as against China’s increasingly ambitious procurements. Izumo looks impressive, but without addressing the widening gaps in numbers of modern surface combatants and aircraft, it is a very big nil.


China is effectively scuppering ASEAN’s latest attempt to unite in the face of Chinese bullishness in ongoing island-chain disputes. China has essentially told ASEAN to forget any agreement on a code of conduct in such disputes anytime soon. China has a policy of discouraging any attempt at multilateral negotiation on such issues, or heaven forbid, international arbitration.

Ruan Zongze, Chinese diplomat and senior fellow at the China Institute of International Studies, has warned that Japan and the Philippines are making a serious mistake by allowing the United States to embolden them into challenging “the sovereignty and territorial integrity of China” by daring to lay claim to islands which China has unilaterally declared that it owns. “No one in this world will try to contain China and no one in this world is capable of containing China,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute blogs about China’s maritime strategy challenges. While I don’t agree with all of their arguments (such as the contention that China could not assert control of the Taiwan Strait against US forces, or conversely the idea that the US would be quick to intervene against Chinese attempts to seize islands in the South China Sea by force, an odd argument considering that the US has already stood by while China did exactly that), the post does something important in emphasising the inherently tenuous nature of the Chinese maritime position.

As I’ve argued previously, China is looking at an economic umbilical cord that runs from the oil fields of the Middle East and Africa, across the Indian Ocean and through the Malacca Strait, through which a great deal of China’s trade runs. While China can try to ease its complete energy vulnerability (especially to India, whose mastery of the Indian Ocean China could not easily contest) by building trans-Asian pipelines, the fact remains that any major navy could cripple Chinese trade, and with it the Chinese economy, in a matter of weeks by sitting at one end of the Malacca Strait. To overcome this vulnerability, China would have to outmatch the United States, Japan and India combined. China can try to dominate the waters within the “First Island Chain”, but in the end, they are dependent on the good will of others, and there is nothing they can do about it.

Defending Island Chains: A Fixed Defence Model

Given the state of territorial conflicts in East Asia, defence analysts and planners are looking at how island archipelagos may be defended on an ongoing basis. Here is one possible model.

We assume a group of islands under threat of intimidation or occupation by sea and air, which its government is willing to defend by force. We also assume that risk of conflict is long-term and persistent, and that a solution that reduces the need for constant naval and air patrols is sought, or, alternatively, that the position at sea and in the air is so tenuous that any means to prolong resistance pending foreign intervention is sought.

The Concept

This model is based on the emplacement of fixed defences, designed to raise the cost of invasion and purchase time for reinforcements to arrive. The first step is to identify a close group of relatively small islands, near enough to be mutually-reinforcing (the entire group preferably no more than 50-70 km in diameter) and commanding an unobstructed view of the most likely hemisphere of attack.

Main Systems

For purposes of illustration, we will indicate particular systems, because it is only the combination of specific features of the systems used that would render this model viable. On these islands, the following systems could be installed in a scattered and concealed fashion:

– An Arabel radar and 3-6 SAMP/T launch systems for long-range air defence;
– A medium-range surface-to-air battery- preferably the Norwegian NASAMS 2, given its newfound ability to fire the Enhanced Sea Sparrow Missile and its extremely dispersed sensor architecture;
– A coastal anti-ship missile system, such as the NSM Coastal Defense System, covering a hemisphere of approach to the entire chain.

These systems would be dispersed and mutually reinforcing throughout the group of islands selected. Needless to say, siting of the systems, networking, command and control and interoperability of the systems are the crucial factors for success. Both medium and long-range SAM systems can be widely dispersed from their guidance radars, and NASAMS 2 in particular provides eight mobile radar units in each battery of twelve launch vehicles.

The selection of systems here is specific and advocated as the best combination available for this role. Specifically, NASAMS 2 and NSM were developed for very similar operational environments. Though other systems could be substituted, this should be done with great care for the overall viability of the system. For example, a less-capable medium-range missile would be a critical weak link, and an anti-ship missile lacking either stealth characteristics or supersonic speed would pose a less serious obstacle.

Supporting Capabilities

In addition to the primary defensive systems, troops with shoulder-launched SAMs and anti-tank missiles could be employed to deter any attempt to infiltrate the islands by amphibious assault, helicopter or submarine.

Dual-purpose medium-calibre guns such as the Otobreda 76mm or Bofors 57mm could be emplaced ashore in strategic locations to deal with leaker aircraft, littoral-capable missile boats, amphibious assault and, to some extent, incoming missiles (both systems are claimed to have a credible CIWS capability). Naval artillery, as distinct from most land-based artillery, is a definite added value. The 76mm with Vulcano guided ammunition will have a 40km range, very useful for dispatching small craft, and Otobreda’s 127mm gun triples that, making it potentially a very potent anti-ship system.

The system could also be supplemented with acoustic mines or other antisubmarine measures. Since the system would need UAVs or helicopters to perform over-the-horizon scouting and targeting as well as transport, it may make sense to employ helicopters in an ASW and light anti-surface role as well.

Comparative Advantage

This defense system has some drawbacks. It is not cheap and is certainly no guarantee against a determined enemy. But it is cheaper than maintaining a fleet of warships or aircraft on patrol, and would arguably be more effective in its designed role, which would be to blunt the initial incursion and purchase time for reinforcements to arrive. In contradistinction to traditional methods of fortification, including naval mines, this system has the potential to inflict much greater damage on an attacking force and cannot be inexpensively removed by minesweepers. It deprives the enemy of the ability to maintain an unopposed maritime presence in the region, rather than merely denying the ability to pass through choke points or land troops by sea.

It will be pointed out that this system remains hopelessly inadequate against a modern air force with stand-off cruise missiles. In the numbers game, it cannot even begin to break even. But denying the enemy fixed or easily-located targets and providing a serious threat that requires risk and potentially massive ordinance investments to iradicate works as a first-stage defence strategy and provides some serious deterrence potential.

“Poor Man’s Version”

It would, of course, be possible to create a similar (and probably more dispersed) system using tools at hand- any combination of MLRS systems, SAM systems and tube artillery could theoretically be used to make life difficult for an incursion. However, against an advanced opponent, the lifetime of each unit after first use would be miniscule, naturally depending on the SAM systems employed to cover them.

A further temptation is to use such a system to back up a fully dug-in defence of the disputed islands. While there is no doubt that a force fighting on prepared ground and employing asymmetric tactics can inflict massive casualties on an invader, as the Japanese did on Iwo Jima and other Pacific islands, the loss of life would be extreme. This brings up another advantage of the original model, which is that large numbers of troops do not have to be invested in a potentially high-casualty defense scenario.

Disclaimer: This article is not meant to comment on the advisability of this approach in any real-world situation, but only to illustrate the military viability of the concept. In the real world, such a step should only be taken in a situation where violent confrontation has already occurred and the threat is imminent; in any other case, militarising a disputed chain might provoke rather than deter conflict.

China’s navy near Malaysia ‘to defend South China Sea’

China Daily Mail

A Chinese amphibious task force sparked jitters around the region by reaching the southernmost waters of its claimed domain

A fully equipped PLA amphibious task force has reached China’s southernmost claimed possession in the South China Sea in an unprecedented show of force that is raising eyebrows across the region.

The four-ship flotilla headed by the landing ship Jinggangshan visited James Shoal – some 80 kilometres from Malaysia, less than 200 kilometres from Brunei and 1,800 kilometres from the mainland coast – close to the outer limits of China’s “nine-dash line“, by which it lays claim to virtually the entire South China Sea.

A Xinhua report yesterday described marines and crew gathering on the deck of the Jinggangshan – one of the PLA Navy‘s three 200-metre landing ships – to pledge to “defend the South China Sea, maintain national sovereignty and strive towards the dream of a…

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News Roundup: Alliances, Espionage and Fishing Boats

Vietnam accuses a Chinese vessel of firing on a Vietnamese fishing boat in the disputed waters of the Paracel Islands. China denied inflicting damage but said its response was “appropriate.”

Amid this environment of simmering territorial tensions, Japan is officially offering to make common cause with ASEAN as a vice-ministerial level conference in Japan takes off. The call for “closer security ties” is vague for a reason- aside from the ASEAN nations’ basic reluctance to form true alliance partnerships, China remains a key economic actor in Southeast Asia despite geopolitical tensions.

On the anniversary of the sinking of the South Korean frigate Cheonan, President Park calls on North Korea to change or perish, North Korea threatens to strike the US with long range missiles it doesn’t have, and may also have launched cyber attacks on South Korean banks and broadcast networks.

A Chinese engineer is jailed in the US for illegally taking hundreds of classified files with technical data on US drone systems out of the country, apparently in an effort to attract a Chinese employer. Given the vast scale of Chinese military-industrial espionage in the United States, catching this amateur is a rather pathetic victory.