Tag Archives: CTF 151

A Korean Peninsula Combined Fleet

The ROKS Dokdo and USS George Washington on exercise together.
The ROKS Dokdo and USS George Washington on exercise together.

In my previous entry on the U.S.-ROK naval strategy after the OPCON, I argued for a combined fleet whereby the U.S. and ROK Navies, together with the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF), may share their unique resources and cultures to develop flexible responses against future threats by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. Since I have been getting mixed responses with regards to the viability of the aforementioned proposal, I felt compelled to flesh out this concept in a subsequent entry. Here, I will examine command unity and operational parity within the proposed combined fleet.

First, as Chuck Hill points out in his response to my prior entry, should the three navies coalesce to form a combined fleet, the issue of command unity may not be easily overcome because “[w]hile the South Korean and Japanese Navies might work together under a U.S. Commander, I don’t see the Japanese cooperating under a South Korean flag officer.” Indeed, given the mutual rancor over historical grievances, and the ongoing territorial row over Dokdo/Takeshima Island, both Japan and the ROK may be unwilling to entertain this this arrangement. However, this mutual rancor, if left unchecked, could potentially undermine coherent tactical and strategic responses against further acts of aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn. It is for this reason that Japan and the ROK should cooperate as allies if they truly desire peace in East Asia.

So how can the three countries successfully achieve command unity within the combined fleet? One solution would be for an American admiral to assume command of the fleet. However, while it is true that the ROKN and the JMSDF have participated in joint exercises under the aegis of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, this arrangement would stymie professional growth of both the ROKN and JMSDF admirals who lack professional expertise comparable to their American counterparts. In particular, given that ROKN admirals will assume wartime responsibility for their fleets after the 2015 OPCON transfer, such arrangement would be unhealthy for the ROKN because it would only lead to further dependence on the U.S. Navy.

Instead, a more viable solution, as Hill suggests, would be for the three navies to operate on a “regular rotation schedule…with the prospective commander serving as deputy for a time before assuming command.” This arrangement would somewhat alleviate the existing tension between the ROKN and JMSDF officers. Furthermore, the rotation schedule may serve as an opportunity for ROKN and JMSDF admirals to prove their mettle as seaworthy commanders.

One successful example that demonstrates the efficacy of the above proposal is the ROKN’s recent anti-piracy operational experience with the Combined Task Force (CTF) 151 in the Gulf of Aden from 2009 to the present. In 2011, ROKN SEALs successfully conducted a hostage rescue operation against Somali pirates. ROKN admirals also assumed command of the Task Force twice, in 2010 and 2012 respectively.[1] According to Terrence Roehrig, the ROKN’s recent anti-piracy operational experience has “provide[d] the ROK navy with valuable operational experience [in] preparation for North Korean actions, while also gaining from participating in and leading multilateral operations.”[2]

However, it should be noted that it is “unclear whether ROK counter-piracy operations [with CTF 151] had a significant deterrent effect and, if so, it [was] likely to be limited.”[3] While CTF 151 may provide a plausible model for command unity for the combined fleet concept, it does not fully address potential operational and logistical problems in the event of another armed conflict on the peninsula. Moreover, while frequent joint exercises and exchange programs have lessened operational and linguistic problems, so long as the ROKN continues to be overshadowed by the Army-centric culture and structure within the ROK Armed Forces, it cannot function effectively as a vital component of the U.S.-ROK-Japan alliance in deterring future aggression by Kim Jŏng-ŭn.

To achieve operational parity within the combined fleet, I recommend the following. First, the United States could help bolster the naval aviation capabilities of both navies. The JMSDF has been expanding its number of helicopter carriers, while the ROKN is expanding its fleet of Dokdo-class landing ships, supposedly capable of carrying an aviation squadron or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), in addition to its naval air wing. However, the absence of carrier-based fighter-bomber capabilities may pose problems for the combined fleet concept because it deprives the fleet of flexible tools to respond expeditiously to emergent threats. Thus, the U.S. Navy and Marine Corps could equip the two navies with the existing F/A-18E/F Super Hornets or the new F-35s.

Second, both Japan and the ROK should bolster their amphibious and special operations forces (SOF) capabilities. As the successful hostage rescue operation in January, 2011, of the crew of the Korean chemical tanker Samho Jewelry by the ROKN SEAL team demonstrates, naval SOF capabilities may provide the combined fleet with a quick reaction force to deal with unforeseen contingencies. Furthermore, amphibious capabilities similar to the U.S. MAGTF (Marine Air-Ground Task Force) may provide both the ROK and Japan with the capabilities to proactively deter and not merely react to future DPRK provocations. That the Japanese Rangers[4] have recently trained for amphibious landing with U.S. Marines, while the ROK MND (Ministry of National Defense) has granted more autonomy to the ROK Marines, can be construed as steps in the right direction. As if to bear this out, there are reports that the ROK MND plans to establish a Marine aviation brigade by 2015 to enhance the ROKMC’s transport and strike capabilities.

In this blog entry, I examined command arrangement and operational parity to explore ways in which a combined U.S.-ROK-Japanese fleet may successfully deter potential DPRK threats. Certainly, my proposal does not purport to offer perfect solutions to the current crisis in the Korean peninsula. Nevertheless, it is a small step towards achieving a common goal—preserving peace and stability which all East Asian nations cherish.

Jeong Lee is a freelance international security blogger living in Pusan, South Korea and is also a Contributing Analyst for Wikistrat’s Asia-Pacific Desk. Lee’s writings have appeared on American Livewire, East Asia Forum, the Georgetown Journal of International Affairs, and the World Outline.
[1] Terrence Roehrig ‘s chapter in Scott Snyder and Terrence Roehrig et. al. Global Korea: South Korea’s Contributions to International Security. New York: Report for Council on Foreign Relations Press, October 2012, p. 35
[2] ibid., pp. 41
[3] ibid.
[4] Japan does not have its own Marine Corps.

In Brief: New Frigates of the Netherlands and Singapore

By N.R. Jenzen-Jones

The Netherlands’ De Zeven Provinciën Class

HNLMS Evertsen on patrol off the Horn of Africa, as part of NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield.

HNLMS Evertsen is one of four De Zeven Provinciën class air defence and command frigates in service with the Royal Netherlands Navy (Koninklijke Marine). Evertsen is the youngest of the four, having been completed in 2003 and commissioned in 2005. These ships superseded the two smaller Tromp class frigates, decommissioned in 1999 and 2001. Despite being classified by the Netherlands Navy as frigates, their displacement (6,050 tonnes), complement (202 + 30 aircrew), and role make them comparable to many destroyers. They are similar in these respects to the RAN’s planned Hobart-class Air Warfare Destroyers (AWD).  The Netherlands Navy also intends to use the De Zeven Provinciën class in a limited Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) role, having recently awarded a contract for modification of the ships’ Thales SMART-L and APAR radars. According to an article in January’s Proceedings magazine, these modifications are expected to be complete by late 2017. It should be noted that the currently planned modifications only endow the class with the capability to detect and track ballistic missile threats, and do not provide for surface-to-air interceptor missiles.

The De Zeven Provinciën class are armed with five 8-cell MK 41 VLS modules, with a typical loadout of 32x SM-2MR Block IIA (RIM-66L-2) and 8x quad-packed RIM-162 Evolved Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles. They are equipped with two quadruple-canister RGM-84 Harpoon SSM launchers, an Oto Melara Otobreda 127mm/54 Compact dual-purpose gun, and 2x twin-tube MK 32 Mod 9 torpedo tubes (with Raytheon MK46 Mod 5 torpedoes). Two Thales ‘Goalkeeper’ CIWS, 2-4x browning M2 .50 calibre machine guns, and 4x FN MAG 7.62x51mm machine guns are also fitted. The De Zeven Provinciën class carry either a SH-14D Super Lynx or an NH90 NFH. The Evertsen is currently carrying a Super Lynx for Operation Ocean Shield.

HNLMS Evertsen participated in EUNAVFOR’s Operation ATALANTA in 2009; in one operation her crew were responsible for capturing thirteen Somali pirates who had previously attempted to board the BBC Togo off the coast of Oman. In 2010, HNLMSTromp took part in Operation ATALANTA, including the retaking of the German flagged MV Taipan by Dutch marines. Evertsen has returned to the Horn of Africa as the Netherlands’ contribution to NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield, under the command of Commander Boudewijn Boots, and serves as the flagship of Ocean Shield for Commodore Ben Bekkering, current Commander SNMG1 (Standing NATO Maritime Group 1), and his international staff of 24. She has been involved in several successful counter-piracy actions, including detaining Somali pirates who had hijacked an Omani dhow and its crew, and used the vessel to attempt to board the MV Namrun. The Evertsen carries a Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Enhanced Boarding Element (EBE) as part of its counter-piracy capability. The EBE is made up of operators from the Royal Netherlands Marine Corps Maritime Special Operations Forces (MARSOF), assigned to the vessel for counter-piracy duties. It may also be supplemented by regular marines.

A Formidable Frigate 

The Republic of Singapore frigate RSS Formidable (68) during a formation exercise for RIMPAC 2012.

Meanwhile, Singapore’s Formidable class frigates are considered amongst the most advanced surface combatants in Southeast Asia. Built around a substantially modified version of the French La Fayette class, they feature an advanced stealth design incorporating a range of Radar Cross-Section (RCS) reduction features. The inclined planes of the hull and superstructures, concealment of typical ship’s equipment, low profile housings for armaments, and enclosed sensor mast are chief amongst these. The Formidable class armament includes: an Oto Melara 76mm Super Rapid naval gun, 8x RGM-84C Harpoon SSMs, and 4x 8-cell Sylver A50 VLS containing a mixture of Aster 15 and Aster 30 SAMs. The ships are also capable of firing EuroTorp A224/S Mod 3 torpedoes, and carry a Sikorsky S-70B naval helicopter with ASW equipment (they formerly operated Eurocopter AS-332M Super Pumas).


The Formidable class are also highly automated, operated by a complement of only 71 crew (90 including air detachment). By way of comparison, a US Oliver Hazard Perry class has a nominal compliment of 176, an Australian Anzac class a complement of 163, and a French La Fayette class a complement of 141. The Formidable class are designed to operate as the naval centrepiece of the Singapore Armed Forces’ (SAF) Integrated Knowledge-based Command and Control (IKC2) network. Integrating the advanced sensor packages and armaments of the ships to give commanders the ability to rapidly assess the battlespace and respond accordingly was a key design focus for the project. Dr Kenneth Kwok, Programme Director for Information Exploitation at the DSO national Laboratories noted: “The frigate has many state of the art weapon systems and sensor systems, but it is really how you put them together and integrate them into a fighting system that makes the difference”.


Six Formidable class frigates were built, with all but RSS Formidable being built by Singapore Technologies Marine (ST Marine) at their Benoi Shipyard, in Singapore. Construction of the class ran from late 2002 until mid-2006, with all ships being commissioned by January 2009. All are currently active, and form the 185 Squadron of the Republic of Singapore Navy (RSN). The RSS Formidable was Singapore’s contribution to the forces conducting RIMPAC 2012, operating in conjunction with participants from twenty-one other nations. Singapore’s incumbent Minister for Defence, Dr Ng Eng Hen, has confirmed that a Formidable class frigate (and the attached S-70B) will soon deploy to the Gulf of Aden as part of Singapore’s contribution to CTF-151.

This piece originally appeared as two separate posts at our Aussie partners’ Security Scholar blog, check it out for more photos on the above ship classes.