Monday, June 13, 2011

Saudi Arabia Mulling BMD-Capable Destroyers

Saudi Arabia, which has long considered the purchase of American littoral combat ships (LCS) with a lightweight Aegis combat system, is contemplating the acquisition of new DDG 51 Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers that could be fitted with ballistic missile defense (BMD) capability.
The U.S. Navy briefed Saudi officials in late May on the capabilities of DDG-51 destroyers, such as the USS Sterett, above. (U.S. Navy)
The U.S. Navy briefed Saudi officials in late May on the capabilities of the destroyers, which would be far more powerful than any ship currently in the kingdom's service.
The U.S. Navy would not confirm whether the brief included BMD options, but sources did not deny that it was part of the presentation.
Saudi Arabia has been looking at Aegis-equipped LCS designs from both Lockheed Martin and Austal USA since mid-2008. Those designs, which range in size from 3,000 to about 4,000 tons, would be equipped with SPY-1F lightweight Aegis radars similar to those fitted on Norwegian frigates. But the SPY-1F lacks the fidelity and software to perform the BMD mission, and the ships probably wouldn't have the electrical capacity to power a BMD radar.
The U.S. Navy's 9,100-ton DDG 51s are the heart of the fleet's BMD force. About 20 U.S. cruisers and destroyers have had their SPY-1D Aegis systems upgraded to perform the BMD mission, and more are being backfitted. Future DDG 51s will be built with the BMD capability.
A land-based Aegis BMD system also is under development by the U.S. for deployment in Europe as part of that continent's missile defense shield.
Capt. Cate Mueller, spokesperson for the U.S. Navy's acquisition office, confirmed that the "non-binding price and availability (P&A) rough order of magnitude estimate was delivered in May" to the Saudis.
The brief, she said, included information on the capabilities and prices of "medium surface combat ships with integrated air and missile defense capability, helicopters, patrol craft and shore infrastructure."
Saudi Arabia is in the midst of a major weapon upgrade for its armed services. The Saudi Naval Expansion Program II is said to be considering the purchase of up to a dozen new warships worth, according to various media accounts, between $20 billion and $23 billion.
The recent U.S. brief provided options that included buying a mix of destroyers and LCS vessels, sources said. One source said the Saudis were considering the purchase of two destroyers plus an unknown number of LCS vessels.
No decisions have been made by the Saudis. Back-and-forth talks are continuing between the countries, a Pentagon source said, with no deal imminent.
The Navy and Lockheed Martin are awaiting feedback from the Saudis, Paul Lemmo, Lockheed's head of Mission Systems and Sensors, said June 10 through a spokesman. He confirmed that Lockheed supported the U.S. Navy's presentation.
Acquisition of Aegis BMD would provide the Saudis with a considerable anti-missile capability, possibly in excess of any other gulf-region country, including Israel.
"The DDG 51 is the most capable destroyer on the planet," said one naval expert. "If the Saudis get anything like that, it would be quite significant."
A seagoing BMD capability would minimize terrorist threats to the system, said one senior retired naval officer.
"It's much more difficult to defeat it - a truck bomb doesn't matter," the retired naval officer said. Moreover, "you can move a ship to a particular threat axis. It's much harder for the other guy to plan against."
But Iran, the primary threat in the region, already operates three Russian-built Kilo-class diesel-electric submarines and is acquiring more small subs, all able to threaten ships at sea. But identification of the target may prove difficult, particularly if an Iranian sub was trying to target Saudi but not U. S. ships.
The addition of BMD-capable ships in the gulf would help the United States, which already maintains at least one such ship in the region.
"If the Saudis always have one in the gulf, it makes it easier for the U.S. Navy to meet its commitments in the region," the retired senior naval officer said.
Several other countries already operate the Aegis system or are building it into new warships, and Japan's four Aegis destroyers are BMD-certified. But the transfer of such high-level technology comes with risks - which could become a concern in Congress, particularly after this year's "Arab Spring" featured anti-government uprisings in several countries.
"If you think the kingdom isn't long for this world, a fundamentalist takeover could put a system in the hands of the enemy," the retired senior naval officer observed.
He harkened back to the late 1970s when prerevolutionary Iran, led by the shah, was a U.S. ally. Several highly capable destroyers were under construction for Iran when the shah fell.
Those ultimately were not delivered, but earlier, the U.S. had certified Iran as the only ally to receive F-14 Tomcat fighters equipped with the Phoenix air-to-air missile, then a state-of-the-art capability. Those aircraft and missiles all fell into the hands of the anti-U.S. Iranian government.

Turkey's Islamists Win 3rd Straight Term in Govt.

ANKARA - Turkey's Islamist-leaning Justice and Development Party (AKP) won a landslide victory in nationwide parliamentary elections June 12, according to results released June 13, securing a third consecutive term in government since 2002.
Led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the AKP garnered nearly 50 percent of the general vote, while the main opposition party, the center-left Republican People's Party (CHP), got about 26 percent. The AKP and the CHP won 426 and 135 deputies, respectively, in the 550-seat parliament.
Two smaller groups, the Nationalist Movement Party and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, became the only other parties to be represented in parliament, with much smaller numbers of seats.
AKP leader Erdogan will create the next single-party government before the end of this month.
Under the AKP's rule, Turkey over the past nine years became an economic powerhouse of the Islamic world, affected only minimally by the global financial crisis in 2008. From a buyer of defense equipment, it turned into a manufacturer of most of its defense needs itself.
But many Western observers suggest that Turkey in the meantime turned its back on NATO and other institutions of the Western world, including moves to bolster ties with Islamic countries in the Middle East and a major deterioration of relations with Israel, its former ally.

Vietnam Holds Live-Fire Drill Amid China Tensions

HANOI, Vietnam - Vietnam put on a show of military strength in the tense South China Sea on Monday, risking the ire of Beijing in the face of a deepening maritime rift with its powerful neighbor.
Relations between the nations have sunk to their lowest point in years following recent sea confrontations that reignited a long-standing dispute over sovereignty of two potentially oil-rich archipelagos.
A successful first barrage of naval artillery, lasting about four hours, took place about 40 kilometers (25 miles) off Quang Nam province in central Vietnam, said a naval officer in Danang city who asked not to be named.
He declined to reveal how many ships had been mobilized, but said no missiles were fired. A similar night drill would start at 7 p.m. and last about five hours, the officer added.
Although Vietnam's foreign ministry described it as routine annual training, analysts say the drill has raised temperatures in the South China Sea, where Asian nations have conflicting claims over potentially energy-rich waters.
The exercise "is designed to send China a message that Vietnam refuses to be pushed around," said Ian Storey, a regional security analyst with the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies in Singapore.
"I think the Chinese will react very badly to this," he added.
The drills are inside the area Vietnam claims as its 200-nautical mile economic zone.
Hanoi last month accused Chinese surveillance vessels of cutting the exploration cables of an oil survey ship inside the area. On Thursday, Vietnam alleged a similar incident in the zone, saying a Chinese fishing boat rammed the cables of another oil survey ship in a "premeditated" attack.
Beijing countered by warning Vietnam to halt all activities that it says violate China's sovereignty in the disputed area.
"No one wants a war, but the possibility of some shots being fired in anger or of some ships running into other ships has increased," said Ralph Cossa, president of Hawaii-based Pacific Forum CSIS, a research institute.
Despite that possibility, Cossa said all sides will ensure that any escalation will "not get out of control." The United States said it is "troubled" by tensions triggered by the maritime dispute.
The naval drill is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) from the Paracel Islands and almost 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) from the Spratlys, the archipelagos that are claimed by both nations and which straddle strategic shipping lanes.
Vietnam has said it wants to see peaceful resolution and adherence to international laws.
Beijing, too, says it is committed to peace in the South China Sea, but its more assertive maritime posture has caused concern among regional nations and beyond.
Tensions have risen this year between China and Manila, another claimant to the Spratlys, which on Monday said it would from now on refer to the South China Sea as the "West Philippine Sea".
Taiwan on the weekend reiterated its claim to the Spratlys, and said missile boats and tanks could be deployed to disputed territory. Brunei and Malaysia have also staked claims in the area.
Vietnamese bitterly recall 1,000 years of Chinese occupation and, more recently, a 1979 border war. More than 70 Vietnamese sailors were killed in 1988 when the two sides battled off the Spratlys.
About 300 people in Ho Chi Minh City and in Hanoi held anti-China rallies on Sunday to proclaim Vietnam's maritime sovereignty for the second weekend in a row. Demonstrations are rarely allowed in Vietnam.
In interviews, protesters voiced support for the naval drill. "It shows to China and to the world that we will do everything to protect our land and our sea," said Tran Bao, 36.
Tensions have spread to the Internet, where more than 200 Vietnamese websites were attacked and some defaced with Chinese flags, an Internet security firm said on Friday.

U.S. Stops North Korean Ship Over Arms Fears

SEOUL - The U.S. Navy intercepted a North Korean ship suspected of carrying missiles or other weapons to Myanmar and made it turn back, a senior U.S. official said June 13.
The comments by Gary Samore, special assistant to President Barack Obama on weapons of mass destruction, confirmed reports of the incident, which happened last month, in The New York Times and South Korean media.
The New York Times said the ship was intercepted south of the Chinese city of Shanghai by a U.S. destroyer on May 26.
In an interview with Yonhap news agency, Samore identified the cargo ship as the M/V Light and said it may have been bound for Myanmar with military-related contraband, such as small arms or missile-related items.
"We talked directly to the North Koreans. We talked directly to all the Southeast Asian countries including Myanmar, urging them to inspect the ship if it called into their port," he was quoted as saying.
"The U.S. Navy also contacted the North Korean ship as it was sailing, to ask them where they were going and what cargo they were carrying."
North Korea is subject to international and United Nations sanctions designed to curb its missile and nuclear programs. UN Resolution 1874, adopted in June 2009, one month after the North's second nuclear test, toughened a weapons embargo and authorized member states to intercept such shipments.
Another North Korean ship, the Kang Nam I, was forced to reverse course in 2009 after being suspected of trying to deliver military-related supplies to Myanmar.
The New York Times said the Light was registered in Belize, whose authorities gave the United States permission to inspect the ship.
It said the U.S. destroyer McCampbell caught up with the Light somewhere south of Shanghai and asked to board the vessel under the authority given by Belize.
The paper, quoting unidentified U.S. officials, said the North Korean refused four times. But a few days later, it stopped dead in the water and turned back to its home port, tracked by U.S. surveillance planes and satellites.
"Such pressure from the international community drove North Korea to withdraw the ship," Samore was quoted by Yonhap as saying. "This is a good example that shows that international cooperation and coordination can block the North's weapon exports."
The United States has frequently expressed concern at military ties between Myanmar and North Korea.
Last month Deputy U.S. Assistant Secretary for East Asia and Pacific Affairs Joseph Yun expressed concern directly to Myanmar's new army-backed government, according to diplomatic memos released in 2010 by the website WikiLeaks. Washington has suspected for years that Myanmar ran a secret nuclear program supported by Pyongyang.
A top Myanmar official told visiting U.S. Sen. John McCain this month that his country is not wealthy enough to acquire nuclear weapons.

Fighter Jet Engines 'Stolen from Israeli Base'

JERUSALEM - Israel's military police on June 13 opened an inquiry into the theft of airplane parts, a spokeswoman said without confirming press reports that eight fighter jet engines had been stolen.
"The military police have opened an inquiry into the matter," she told AFP without giving further detail or confirming reports of the theft from Tel Nof airbase near Tel Aviv.
Air force officials quoted in the Maariv newspaper said the stolen parts were eight engines from F-15 and F-16 fighter jets which were taken from Tel Nof air base.
They said it was not immediately clear when the theft took place but said the parts were no longer in use and had most likely been stolen for their value as scrap metal, the paper said.
Investigators quoted by the paper said each engine weighed "several tons" and could only have been taken away on large trucks, prompting speculation that the thieves had help from inside the base.
Military officials quoted by Israel HaYom newspaper described the theft as "very serious."

Poland, U.S. Strike Deal on Air Force Deployment

WARSAW, Poland - Poland has signed a deal with the United States on the deployment from 2013 of aircraft and training staff to help bolster the EU nation's military capacity, Poland's defense minister said June 13.
"This agreement brings with something new, namely the permanent presence of American soldiers on Polish soil," minister Bogdan Klich told reporters in Warsaw after formally signing a memorandum on the deployments with the U.S. ambassador to Warsaw, Lee Feinstein.
"In this way, it prepares the permanent presence of American troops on Polish soil around 2018, in connection with the realization of the most important project - the anti-missile shield," Klich said, referring to the anti-missile shield project which NATO has adopted as its own.
Although Brussels and Washington insist the missile shield is to ward off threats from so-called rogue states like Iran, Moscow sees the plan a security threat.
According to a Polish defense ministry statement the memorandum inked June 13 foresees "the rotational deployment to Poland of the U.S. multi-task F-16 aircraft and C-130 transport aircraft, supported by the U.S. Air Force's Aviation Detachment deployed on a continuous basis".
It said there would be four annual rotations of aircraft and trainers, two of them involving F-16 fighters, with the first rotation of aircraft taking place in 2013.
Poland has a fleet of 48 state-of-the-art F-16 aircraft, and an F-16 base located in Lask, near the western Polish city of Poznan.
"We believe that this will become a regional hub for NATO air operations in Central Europe," Feinstein told reporters.
"This aviation detachment also has an important consequence for future regional cooperation with our other NATO allies working together with Poland and the United States and even with other partners," Feinstein said, without naming the partners in question.
Last week, fighter jets from NATO members Poland and Turkey became the alliance's first ever aircraft to team up with Russian jets in an unprecedented joint Russia-NATO anti-terrorism exercise aimed at preventing attacks such as the Sept. 11, 2001, strikes in the United States.
Last year also saw the first three rotations of unarmed training batteries of U.S. Patriot missiles in Poland, which Warsaw's Cold War-era master Moscow slammed. Four rotations are planned this year.
Ex-communist countries such as Poland that have joined NATO since the alliance began expanding in eastern Europe in 1999 see U.S. ties as their main security bulwark and have contributed troops in return.
Poland sent forces to Iraq as part of former U.S. President George W. Bush's "coalition of the willing" and is a major contributor in Afghanistan.

Russia Objects to U.S. Navy Cruiser in Black Sea

MOSCOW - Russia on June 12 protested the arrival of a U.S. Navy cruiser equipped with a ballistic missile defense system in the Black Sea to take part in naval exercises with neighboring Ukraine, saying it was a threat to its national security.
"We have a number of questions regarding the arrival in the Black Sea of the U.S. Navy cruiser Monterey equipped with the Aegis anti-missile system to participate in the Ukrainian-U.S. Sea Breeze 2011 exercises," the Russian foreign ministry said.
"The Russian side has repeatedly stressed that we will not let pass unnoticed the appearance of elements of U.S. strategic infrastructure in the immediate proximity to our borders and will see such steps as a threat to our security," it said in a statement.
The protest comes as Russia and the West failed this week to reach a breakthrough on a missile shield project for Europe with Moscow complaining that its demands were falling on deaf ears.
In 2009, U.S. President Barack Obama said he would shelve his predecessor's plans to site parts of a missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and instead deploy more mobile equipment targeting Iran's short and medium-range missiles.
The foreign ministry noted it understood that the stationing of the Monterey in European waters was part of the U.S. missile defense shield plan but added it did not see why the warship had to be so close to its borders.
"According to an official U.S. version, they [warships] can be deployed to the Black Sea in case of necessity, for example, in case of a flare-up in the region," the statement said.
"We would like to understand what 'flare-up' the U.S. commanders had in mind when they moved the primary striking unit of NATO's future anti-missile system from the Mediterranean to the east?" it said, noting the aim of the naval exercises was to practice anti-piracy raids.
Russia has expressed fears that the planned anti-missile system would be directed against its defenses, with the dispute threatening a rapprochement between Moscow and the Western alliance.
Moscow has recently said it would be ready to drop its opposition to NATO installing missile defense facilities in Europe if it provided legal guarantees the system would not be directed against Russia.
NATO has rejected the proposal, saying legal guarantees would be hard to put on paper.
The Russian foreign ministry said Monterey's arrival in the Black Sea demonstrated blatant disregard for Moscow's concerns.
"It is being done deliberately, as if to show to Russia that no-one is going to take its opinion into account," it said.
"The reconnaissance by U.S. anti-missile ships of the Black Sea waters confirms once again the need to work out precise legal guarantees of the anti-missile system deployed in Europe not being directed against Russia's nuclear containment shield."

S. Korea to Deploy Apache Choppers near N. Korea: Report

SEOUL - South Korea plans to deploy Apache choppers to a border island to guard against attacks by North Korea after Pyongyang's deadly shelling of another frontline island in November, a report said June 12.
The South's military is building helicopter hangars capable of accommodating several attack helicopters in Baengnyeong island near the tense maritime border on the Yellow Sea, Yonhap news agency said, citing a military source.
By October 2012, South Korea's military will have 36 Apache attack choppers armed with guided missiles and rockets, some of which will be deployed to the closest island to the disputed border with the North, Yonhap said.
Local media have reported the North has recently built a new naval base in Goampo, about 31 miles north of Baengnyeong, that could send some 60 hovercraft with military commandos aboard to the South.
"We now need large attack choppers since the (North's) naval base has turned out to be far bigger than we had thought, posing a bigger threat of infiltration," said a source quoted by Yonhap.
A defense ministry spokesman said it has been trying to strengthen the military presence near the border, but declined to elaborate further.
The Yellow Sea maritime border has been the scene of deadly naval clashes between two Koreas in 1999, 2002 and November 2009.
One of five frontier islands there - Yeonpyeong - was shelled last November by the North in artillery attacks that killed four South Koreans including two civilians.
Seoul since then has deployed more troops and weapons to the frontline islands that had long been guarded by thousands of marines and naval forces.