Saturday, 31 May 2014

Documentary: Assault from the sea

I am not a big fan of posting Youtube movies on blogs. But I have to admit that from time to time, one can find very interesting documentaries over naval strategy and tactics.

This one gives you a basic understanding of the different phases during an amphibious assault. The two historical amphibious assaults to explain each phase are Iwo Jima in 1944 and Inchon in 1950.

Thursday, 29 May 2014

Iran’s new asymmetric naval tactics

Iran’s naval leaders have come up with a new naval tactic to attack and defeat US Naval forces in the Persian Gulf.  Instead of merely using their swarm tactics of fast attack crafts to execute hit and run tactics against US Navy ships, Iran is now planning to use suicide attack runs on US Navy ships.

Suicide tactics are a game changer and they have a possibility of tipping the balance of power to the Iranian side. This is because, unlike the swarm attacks the Iranian Navy used until now, suicide craft aren’t require to survive the engagement.

Swarm attacks are designed to overwhelm US Navy defenses. A large group of small and maneuverable warships, called Fast Attack Crafts or FAC’s, is assembled to attack a single or a small group of US Navy warships. FAC’s are very small craft and they don’t have heavy weapons. Most of the times they carry small rockets to engage their opponent. Because they carry small weapons with a small range, they have to come close to their targets. During this approach they are under fire of the heavier weapons on board of the US destroyers and frigates. Notably the main gun, a 76 or 127mm gun, and the Close In Weapons system (CIWS), a fast firing 20 to 30mm canon, have the capability of rapidly taking out FAC’s.  The only defense these FAC’s have are their large numbers. The tactic requires that the enemy defense is to be overwhelmed by presenting more targets then the enemy ship can engage. That way, several ships can get close enough to fire their weapons and try to disable the enemy ship.
The surviving FAC’s then have to retreat, while under enemy fire until the distance become too great. One can see that this is a war of attrition in which more FAC’s will be destroyed then conventional enemy ships. Iran’s strategy of a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz only works as long as it has the numbers to keep forming new swarms of FAC’s to engage and deter enemy warships.

Suicide tactics change the game. FAC’s already have to close an enemy warship to engage them successfully. The retreating phase exposes the FAC’s longer to enemy fire. Iran will lose ships both in the attacking and in the retreating phases. By choosing for a suicide tactic, in which FAC’s explode themselves against an enemy warship, Iran is canceling the retreating phase. However, the FAC’s still have to overcome the distance between their normal firing distance and the enemy warships. As the FAC’s keep closing in they come under even more fire from machineguns and sailors armed with rifles. This means that more FAC’s can be stopped before one of them is capable of coming close enough before it can explode and do any damage. Iran thus is hoping by using a suicide tactic it still loses less FAC’s then during a conventional attack in which FAC’s have to return to base to form a new swarm.
The major question on everybody’s mind is if this suicide tactic will work and whether or not it allows for less boats to be taken out during such an attack compared with a conventional attack. As said above, the closer the FAC’s come, the more weapons that can be fired against them, decreasing their chances of surviving the attack run before they can explode.
One must never forget that a FAC doesn’t have to be destroyed. FAC’s are very small boats ranging from jetski’s to speedboats. They are very vulnerable and can be disabled with a couple well placed bullets.  A disabled FAC is no longer capable of closing the enemy warship and executing its suicide tactic.

Iran’s suicide tactic can work if it has the element of surprise, that is when the targeted warship is not prepared to defend against a swarm/suicide attack. Only in such a case can the Iranians hope to have enough time to close the distance before they are taken out the fight by increasing firepower thrown against them.
One such case would be a night attack. Iran’s FAC’s are small and mostly made of polymer. They are hard to detect on radar and are mostly spotted by look outs. The FAC’s however can carry small radars that allow them to detected US Navy warships early. In a night attack, lookouts will have a hard time to spot FAC’s early enough to allow the ship to react although night vision cameras or drones with infrared cameras can overcome these problems.

We thus can conclude that there is a certain military logic for using suicide tactics with FAC’s but the chances of success are low as a warship can throw a lot of extra firepower against a FAC once it is at a short range. Their best chance of success is a surprise attack before the enemy warship is capable of manning every machinegun and equipping every sailor with rifles to destroy or disable a FAC. Night time attacks would be the best choice as FAC’s are faster spotted visually then with radar. However night vision goggles and drones with infrared cameras can turn night into day and can help spot suicide attacks well in advance during the night.

Monday, 12 May 2014

The tactical implications of China’s Type 055 cruiser

A mock-up of a new Chinese warship design was discovered at a technical institution in Wuhan. It appears to be the design of a new type of warship identified as the Type 055 cruiser. Not only will a cruiser put the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) further on the transition to a blue water navy, it will also introduce a change in Chinese naval tactics.

Type 055 cruiser concept

The Type 055 cruiser is believed to be as big as the US Zumwalt class destroyers and bigger as the US Ticonderoga class cruisers. Her tonnage is estimated to be around 12.000 tons.  The ship will have two 64 Vertical Launch Systems (VLS) for a total of 128 VLS compared to the 122VLS on a USS Ticonderoga class. In all aspects, the Type 055 seems to be a copy of the Ticonderoga. But even if China is planning ahead in building the Type 055 it will have a large influence in PLAN tactics and force compositions.

Chinese military forces are very heavily missile minded and until recently the general doctrine the PLAN would use is to deploy its frigates and destroyers, all armed with missiles, and to fire as many missiles as possible on their target. This is similar to Soviet naval doctrine which would use a large volley of missiles to overwhelm the US ship defenses. Since the Soviets, and later the Russians, would help build and modernize the PLAN it comes as no surprise that China also uses the same tactics. A first game changer was China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. Since this carrier is too small for offensive operations it’s only tactical task would be to provide air support and protection of the frigates and destroyers before these are in range. At the same time the Liaoning has to be protected herself against enemy threats and this is done by frigates and destroyers.

The arrival of the Type 055 cruiser is another game changer, depending for what exact role it will fulfill. A cruiser can be deployed both offensively and defensively. Ticonderoga class cruisers tend to be deployed in a defensive role. Their main job is to protect aircraft carriers and other capital ships against incoming planes and missiles. However, sometimes these cruisers are deployed offensively and attack enemy targets with long range missiles. Since the Type 055 has a lot of resemblance with a Ticonderoga one would assume that its main task will be protecting capital PLAN ships such as the Liaoning or amphibian landing ships against enemy threats.

One must however take into account that the Chinese got most of their tactics from the Soviets/Russians. Both the Soviets as the Russians developed cruisers to play an offensive role. The Slava class was designed to attack and sink aircraft carrier groups, earning this class the nickname “killer of aircraft carriers”. The Kirov class is equipped with so many weapons and missiles that the Reagan administration saw no other option then reactivation old Iowa battleships to counter them. The Kirov class is estimated to be capable of engaging a whole US navy task force on its own and survive the encounter.
Should China remain true to its missile doctrine we would see the Type 055 being deployed more with frigates and destroyers instead of protecting the aircraft carriers. An offensively deployed Type 055 class would give the PLAN more punch when engaging enemy targets and bring a substantial increase in firepower to the frigates and destroyers task forces.

We can only speculate at the moment what kind of role the PLAN has envisioned for its Type 055 cruisers. Since this ship resembles the US Ticonderoga class cruisers one could indeed predict that the role of this cruiser will be protecting capital ships like aircraft carriers and rarely play an independent offensive role.
At the same time we must take in account that most PLAN doctrines came from the Soviets and Russians who view cruisers as offensive weapons that are supposed to be forward deployed. In such a scenario the Type 055 cruisers would team up with frigates and destroyers to attack enemy targets with a massive missile barrage.

Wednesday, 7 May 2014

An Iranian stealth submarine sinks before targeting a mock US carrier in an a naval exercise

In an earlier analysis I explained how Iran was building a mock up aircraft carrier to be used in future wargames to enhance the training of the Iranian Navy in damaging or sinking US aircraft carriers. This news article published on the DEBKA news site however proves that the Iranian Navy might not be as menancing as generally is believed:

A new Iranian Ghadir-class stealth mini-submarine, home-built with Chinese technology, recently sank near the Strait of Hormuz, while preparing for a Revolutionary Guards naval exercise to practice sinking or disabling a mock-up US aircraft carrier, DEBKAfile’s military and intelligence sources report exclusively.


Tuesday, 6 May 2014

India, a strategic partner for the EU?

After  the Cold War EU defense budgets declined and with it it’s military hardware. EU maritime forces are at an all-time low but they still have to perform a wide array of tasks like:
·       Maritime interventions near the African continent, either being piracy at Somalia or maritime cooperation between African countries and the EU or intervention in conflicts.
·       A rapidly changing maritime balance of powers in the Mediterranean Sea with Turkey and Algeria as rising maritime powers, as well as unresolved conflicts such as the Syrian civil war and the Palastine conflict.
·        A more assertive Russia that is increasing its naval capabilities in both numbers and technology. Combined with the US pivot towards Asia this would leave EU on its own to counter Russia and protect the North Atlantic trade between the EU and the USA.
EU maritime forces thus have a wide array of tasks to perform. Member states such as the United Kingdom and France are also looking towards the Indian Ocean where they still have several colonies like the island of La RĂ©union and Mayotte. At the same time the EU is very dependent on trade with Asia and these trade lines run through the Indian Ocean.
There are a wide array of potential security threats to our trade lines. Piracy around the Horn of Africa is just one example. An Iranian blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would be devastating to the EU’s energy supply. Piracy in the Strait of Malacca will have the same effects for EU trade as piracy around the Horn of Africa.
There is a need for a EU maritime presence in the Indian Ocean but given the fact that the EU maritime forces are at an all-time low and with other theaters demanding attention as well, the EU has few maritime assets I can deploy in this region. A maritime partnership would therefore be in the EU’s best interests. Of all the surrounding maritime powers, either already established or on the rise, only India would make a good partner.

The Indian navy already has lots of experience and is expanding its navy even further. It has shown on several occasions, either in international training exercises or in the anti-piracy operation in the Gulf of Aden, that it can cooperate and integrate its naval forces with other countries.
Another advantage is India’s strategic location as the subcontinent sits in the middle of the Indian Ocean. This allows India to respond to  a lot of potential security threats such as piracy in the Gulf of Aden, a possible blockade by Iran of the Strait of Hormuz, operating along the east coast of Africa or intervening in the Strait of Malacca. India also dominates the EU’s vital trading routes from and towards Asia. India would be a vital partner that can act to a wide array of crises and conflicts in the Indian ocean region on behalf of the EU. This would allow the EU to focus the majority of its naval forces in other theaters.
Ties between India and the EU are generally perceived as good. Several EU member states have defense contracts with the Indian Army. France for example is delivering Raphale aircraft to India in 2016. As India is an upcoming regional power with a lot of economic potential a collaboration between the EU on both a military and economic level would be in the interests of both nations.
Although India makes for a logical case for a maritime partnership there are some downsides.

First, siding with India would anger China as both countries have bad relations with each other. Since most of our trade comes from China this could have  long lasting and far going economic consequences. At the same time it would cause bad relations with Pakistan as both India and Pakistan have bad relations because of the border region of Kashmir that both countries claim.
And at last there is the Russian angle. India tends to buy its military hardware from pretty much everyone who can deliver it. Still, it tends to buy most of its equipment from Russia and both countries are known to collaborate on military research. The BrahMos supersonic cruise missile was a joint Indian-Russian development. India’s aircraft carrier, the Vikramaditya, used to be the former Admiral Gorshkov aircraft carrier of the Soviet/Russian Navy. So there is a risk that military technology  from the EU given to India could end up in Russian hands and from there on out in Chinese hands.
In conclusion we could say the a maritime cooperation with the Indian navy would be in the best interests for the EU on a maritime level. It allows the EU to use the few maritime assets it has in other theaters that are equally important. On the downside it would alienate the EU from China, its biggest economic partner and possibly lead to a spillover of military technology to Russia.