The various West/US/NATO deployments puts the security environment in Eastern Europe, Syria and South China Sea in a precarious situation.

 

Not in the news but…

The USA flagged Ro-ro “Liberty Passion”, recently called into Beirut on the 4th April.  It is doing a whistle stop tour of some of the seven seas, so it seems.  It’s previous port call was Constanta in Romania, dropping off 200 or so pieces of military equipment, (so it is said).

 

 

(Notice the desert camo on the vehicle in the image), I’m baffled by the supposedly big unloading scenario & the very quick turnaround afterwards, but particularly the timing, since it came at the end of exercises in Romania, should have been picking up, not unloading as it seems to be the case. So what exactly was the purpose of its visit to Beirut, since the US does not participate in UNFIL, but has in the past ‘donated’ equipment to the Lebanese Armed Forces to counteract Hezbollah. Am I missing something?

Bear in mind, Romania has been the location for recent NATO exercises involving US troops. A lot of US military hardware has been moved to Europe and Kuwait too in recent months. So this is part of a wider redeployment of US around the world. What makes the Liberty Passion, a new ship in the fleet, interesting is the sequence of port calls. the latest destination is JOAQJ-  Aqaba, Jordan. This is just a snapshot of 1 event over a short period of time. But more time is needed to get a bigger and maybe better picture.  The Spanish auxiliary ship, “El Camino Español” (A05) was also docked in Beirut at the same time, although this was in connection with UNFIL deployments and rotations.

 

Jordan, whose ruler, King Abdullah II has just met with President Trump, who has now changed his mind on Syria.

The US carrier, “George H Bush” was deployed back in February, started airstrikes as part of Operation “Inherent Resolve” from the eastern Mediterranean, before redeploying to the Gulf.  Yet there was an amphibious dock ship in the eastern Med, the USS Bataan group, (recently moved to the Gulf). Additionally, the US Navy’s dock landing ship USS “Carter Hall” ( LSD-50 ) has returned to the Bataan group, from “Spring Storm 17” Black Sea exercises.

 

Plus, the USS “Mesa Verde” (LPD 19), had exercised with the Israelis. Recently, US marines trained with IDF Shayetet 13, Naval Commandos .

In the Gulf

The U.S. aircraft carrier “George H. W. Bush” is in the North-Western part of Gulf since 28 March. But only after getting an unwelcoming escort by the Iranians. The US duly moaned about being harassed by the small Iranian boats, while going through the Strait of Hormuz. Well it isn’t in the US backyard and it goes a long way back in time, well a few decades now, so you’d thought the US would get the hint by now.

 

In the Western Pacific

The US aircraft carrier “Carl Vinson” has now left Singapore, going back to the South China Sea. It’s has been reported that Philippine navy troops were ordered by President Rodrigo Duterte to the disputed  Spratly reefs.

This is not a coincidence in my opinion, since there is a strengthening of US and allies in the region. It’s wasn’t that long ago when a Philippines delegation visited the US carrier.

The geopolitical tensions are rising significantly and so will the potential for clashes. Indonesia has also declared chunks of maritime territory as its own.

Prior to its port call in Singapore, the USS “Carl Vinson” was in South Korea, as a “show of force” against North Korea. unsurprisingly, it too got shadowed by both the Chinese and Russian navies.  Noteworthy that parts of the THAAD missiles defence system was being delivered roughly at the same time. (Terminal High Altitude Area Defense).

There seems to be a lot of “show of force” announcements recently by various navies in the region. Japan being the latest to join in, by dispatching its helicopter carrier.  The French also have felt the need to join in, “Mission Jeanne d’Arc 2017”, an annual training mission, with the lead ship, the helicopter carrier ‘Mistral’ ship. Being the French, they are going to take time in getting there, with a number of courtesy port calls, including Singapore, Vietnam, Japan, and Guam),  before taking part in ‘drills’ later this year, with the Japanese, US navies in around Tinian island in the western Pacific.

 

 

President Hollande said that it was important “ensuring a free and open maritime order in the Indo-Pacific region.” Order, playing to the tune from Washington more likely.

The Canadian Navy has sent 2 frigates to the region as part of a 6-month deployment, “Poseidon Cutlass”. They intend to visit China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia and the Philippines.

Lastly, the Russian navy has sent the Pacific Fleet flagship missile cruiser “Varyag” to the Asia-Pacific Region. The auxiliary ships going with the “Varyag” is the oiler “Pechenga” and salvage tug “Fotiy Krylov”. In Russian:

 

China’s maritime perspective

The above article mentions that China is building a second aircraft carrier, the ‘Shandong’. It is likely to be launched very soon. When completed, it will join the ‘Liaoning’. To get a glimpse of its construction, here is a video:

 

 

China isn’t meekly idling while the ‘West’ tries to prove its right to “freedom of navigation”.  It is progressively modernising it’s navy and commissioning new ships on a regular basis. ( NB: couldn’t the Russian shipyards get some advice on shipbuilding & delivering in timely manner?). The latest ship to be commissioned into service is the Jiangdao class corvette “Liupanshui”(514) into service with the South China Sea Fleet.

More info:

 

In light of the US administration’s antagonistic attitude towards China, as seen by the US carrier group patrolling in the region, has meant that China is taking additional steps by increasing its defence budget. China is extremely “wary of Trump’s unpredictability“ and given the US reaction to what happened in Syria in the last couple of days, this is justified.

Moreover, it has amended its Maritime Traffic Safety Law, by adding provisions related to shipping movement controls, innocent passage, and provisions on expulsion of foreign vessels in China’s territorial waters.

Syria

A side note on the Russian participation in the Syrian campaign. Here’s a article on the Tartus military port expansion, likely to start in earnest this spring, and the impacts it’s having in the region, (mostly Israel getting worried). Read the last quote.

 

Russia

Russian shipyards have experienced repeated postponements of deliveries and difficulties in fulfilling MOD contracts. In my opinion there needs to be some efforts to uproot these issues, what seems to be partly a legacy of the 90s attitude in some quarters and also big problems with defence financing.

A case in point is the modernization of the missile cruiser “Admiral Nakhimov”, which has slipped behind schedule. It is stated it will return to the fleet in 2020 or 2021 instead of the originally planned 2018. The additional GORSHKOV class frigates also have been delayed, the date now is late 2020. Same situation with the STEREGUSHCHIY class corvettes.

Another reason for difficulties lays with the sanctions imposed on Russia.  Interestingly, India might have benefited from this, by potentially acquiring 2 unfinished GRIGOROVICH class frigates. These two projects were halted due to the unavailability of suitable gas turbines, (since the project design envisaged Ukrainian -built turbines). However, some financing issues had hindered the sale for a period of time.

On the 2nd March, the Black Sea Fleet frigate “Admiral Grigorovich” went through the Bosporus, apparently on deployment in the eastern Med, replacing the “Smetliviy”. But it returned back to the Black Sea within a month.

 

NATO in Black Sea

NATO has been continuously ‘patrolling’ & exercising its maritime presence in the Black Sea, but in keeping with the restrictions of the Montreux Treaty.  However, this could change dramatically if Georgia goes ahead with the building of a US base, it is rumoured, which would give a permanent foothold for US ships. In fact, NATO is strengthening its presence in the region. The USS Carter Hall, USS Mesa Verde took part in regional exercises and several NATO ships, (SNMG2), including the French frigate “La Fayette” visited Odessa recently. This was part of another Romania-hosted exercise, “Poseidon 2017”.

 

Other news

I feel sorry for the crew of the USS Coronado, they got stuck out in Singapore for much longer than anticipated. Wow, couldn’t think of worst places to get stranded.  And the biggest joke why? No other crew could get qualified, as all of the Independence- class were on maintenance.

 

Thank you for reading!

The Essential Saker: from the trenches of the emerging multipolar world