Category Archives: Current Operations

On-going Naval Ops or Maritime Current Events

A Busy Week in the South China Sea

 

South China Sea Claims. The Economist

It’s been a busy week for the South China Sea. For those of you keeping score at home, these are some of the news stories we’ve been following:

 

1.      Post-ASEAN fall-out: After ASEAN failed last week to release a joint communiqué for the first time in 45 years, Cambodia is looking to some in the region like a Chinese proxy playing the role of spoiler. Indonesia managed to salvage a version of the “code of conduct” for the South China Sea, a 6-point declaration to essentially work peacefully to implement existing maritime law and guidelines and avoid military confrontations: making progress by reaffirming the status quo.

 

2.      Beijing announces troop build-up in Paracels: On Monday, China said it would  send troops to guard its newly incorporated city of Sansha. The most likely location is the largest island, Woody Island/Yongxing. Fun fact – according to Chinese reports the city, home to 1,000 across various islands, already has a karaoke parlor up and running. Preparations for hosting the troops may take longer – the announcement and move is more symbolic than practical at this time.

 

3.      The Philippines and Vietnam Protest China’s moves: Manila summoned the Chinese ambassador to complain about the new garrison, while President Benigno Aquino took to the airwaves and decried Chinese provocations in an address to the nation. Meanwhile, Hanoi filed an official diplomatic complaint about the build-up in the Paracels, which it too claims. Both the Philippines and Vietnam however reiterated their desire for a diplomatic solution and stated they would not seek military confrontation.

 

Allies…but in arms?

4.      The International Crisis Group releases report on the SCS: Said the report: “The failure to reduce the risks of conflict, combined with the internal economic and political factors that are pushing claimants toward more assertive behaviour, shows that trends in the South China Sea are moving in the wrong direction.” Interestingly, the report also believes the Philippines made the wrong move in the recent Scarborough Shoal stand-off with China by sending in a naval vessel, thereby giving the Chinese an excuse to escalate, to play up nationalism to their domestic audience. The report also states the U.S. might not be obligated to assist the Philippines in the event of an attack in the South China Sea under the terms of the 1951 Mutual Defense Treaty, as the U.S. has yet to make a formal statement whether the Spratleys and other disputed maritime areas are covered under the treaty’s terms.

 

5.      Taiwan to ship armament to the Spratleys: Taiwan has confirmed it will send a mix of mortars and artillery to Taiping, the largest of islands and host to a 130-strong Taiwanese force, in August. Fun fact – the total land mass of the 100 Spratley “islands” is less than 2 square miles.

 

6.      The Philippines ratifies a long-languishing Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) with Australia. “Although the agreement is not a defense pact, its symbolism cannot be lost on China,” President Benigno Arroyo said after the vote. The pact, however, has more to do with pursuing terrorists in the country’s muslim South – primarily the island of Mindanao.

 

No one of these stories points to a looming conflict, but taken together they provide context for what has been the increasing trend of looking towards military power for lack of a diplomatic progress.

While the Cat’s Away…

This is what I get for going on vacation. As always seems to befall the hosts of The Daily Show and Colbert Report, my absence appeared to correspond with a wealth of new material and events. Luckily my friends and colleagues in our blog roll on the right did a pretty decent job of covering most of the angles.

USNS Rappahannock

The shooting was certainly unfortunate, and was undoubtedly an action not taken lightly. But a student of history, the threat level in the region, and common sense cannot find fault with the actions of the crew in the circumstances. Driving at a naval vessel in close quarters and ignoring its warnings is akin to pointing something that looks like a weapon at a police officer and ignoring his warnings to put it down. As a former anti-terrorism officer I can attest that these types of scenarios were the last thing we wanted to encounter, but the rules were clear and the training thorough. While the outcome in this case is tragic, it is also understandable.

Trouble at Sea

Other tragedies struck the maritime community. In the mid-Atlantic, a fire broke out aboard the MSC Flaminia that set off an explosion killing two crew members and injuring more. In an echo of a ferry disaster in September that claimed 200 lives, another ferry sank en route to the Zanzibar archipelago off Tanzania’s coast. The latest count is at least 31 dead.

The Great Wall at Sea

There has been some positive maritime news. A Taiwanese vessel and its international crew (including 13 PRC nationals) have been “freed” (it’s unclear if any ransom was paid) and the crew taken to Tanzania by a Chinese naval vessel on a counter-piracy patrol. The fishing vessel, Shiuh Fu No. 1, has reportedly run aground.

A less fortunate Chinese frigate ran aground on Half Moon Shoal in the Philippine’s EEZ (not to be confused with its territorial waters, which would be a much bigger story) before refloating Sunday.

Speaking of China, the mainland managed to check off another country on its “maritime disputes with neighbors” punch card. Following similar disputes this year with Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, and even North Korea, China is embroiled in fishing-fueled spat with Russia after 2 of its fishing vessels and 36 crewmembers were detained by Russia’s coast guard. One of the ships was taken in dramatic fashion, as the vessel was fired on and rammed by the Russians after its crewmembers resisted arrest for fishing in Russia’s EEZ. Whether China applies the same intense diplomatic pressure it did following Japan’s seizure of a Chinese fishing boat captain in 2010 remains to be seen. Meanwhile, the Philippine’s government is apparently confused whether a flotilla of another 30 Chinese fishing boats under government escort is in fact in its territory, or not.

ROKN the Boat

Not as effective a guardian as a KDX III

From the Korean peninsula came news on Thursday that construction on a divisive Republic of Korean (ROK) naval base could proceed on Jeju Island. According to Stars and Stripes:

The South’s Supreme Court ruled Thursday that the controversial construction of a naval base on Jeju Island, south of the Korean peninsula, is lawful and may continue.

 

When finished in 2015, the base will be able to accommodate as many as 20 navy ships and submarines, not to mention the occasional cruise ship.

The island’s southern coast village of Gangejeong is an attractive location for a naval base. It will more easily allow the Republic of Korean Navy (ROKN) to project forces south to protect the shipping lanes on which the nation relies, and respond to ongoing territorial and natural resource disputes with China over a nearby contested reef.  Further, it will provide an appealing stopover for the visiting American naval vessels that regularly call at ports on the peninsula.

The island, once home to the ancient Kingdom of Tamna, also bears echoes of Okinawa. The people of Jeju consider themselves a separate people from mainland Koreans as Okinawans do of mainland Japanese. Many too fear shouldering a disproportionate share of the military burden, impacts to the island’s environment, and getting caught in the middle of clashing American and Chinese forces. Such qualms have led to boisterous protests and the just-resolved court case.

1–Yeonpyeong Island
2–Baengnyeong Island
A-Northern Limit Line
B-DPRK-claimed border

Meanwhile to the north, the ROK announced last week the construction of a much smaller new facility in the region just south of the contested maritime border with North Korea. This facility will be built on the island of Baengnyeong, one of five islands west of the peninsula in the area (though further north) that saw the sinking of the ROKN warship Cheonan and the shelling of the island of Yeonpyang:

One official with the South Korea Ministry of National Defense said the Baengnyeong facility will enable “a more stable management over the Northern Limit Line” that divides the two Koreas in the Yellow Sea.

 

The Baengnyeong Island facility reportedly will have accommodations for up to 100 troops and a dock for small warships by the time it is completed in 2014. Ministry of National Defense officials took issue Thursday with those calling it a “naval base.”

 

“To the public, it might be seen as a base,” one said. “But, it’s more of a mooring facility,” with accommodations for a military company.

 

Asked if the ministry fears making Baengnyeong Island a potential target for a North Korean attack, another ministry official said, “We have no fear putting it there at all. We’re just building a dock to improve our soldiers’ living conditions.”

Whether North Korea follows through with a sabre-rattling response to Baeongnyeong facility remains to be seen, but the DPRK has reportedly completed a base for troop-carrying hovercraft 31 miles north of Baengnyeong at Koampo.

LT Scott Cheney-Peters is a surface warfare officer in the U.S. Navy Reserve and the former editor of Surface Warfare magazine. He is the founding director of the Center for International Maritime Security and holds a master’s degree in National Security and Strategic Studies from the U.S. Naval War College.
 
The opinions and views expressed in this post are his alone and are presented in his personal capacity. They do not necessarily represent the views of U.S. Department of Defense or the U.S. Navy. 

Russia and Iran in the Caspian

 

The Caspian Sea

This new piece from Foreign Policy discusses the current efforts of Russia, Iran, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan to enhance their naval capabilities in the Caspian Sea.  Global economic crisis aside, there seems to be a promising market in selling ships/boats and aircraft to states asserting their economic interests in resource-rich maritime regions.