Tag Archives: South Korea

Naval Build-Up in the Philippines

Like many of its regional peers, the Philippines is in the midst of a defense buildup, motivated in no small part by China’s assertive moves in the western Philippine Sea and the resource-rich Spratly islands. 
              
The donation this week of two Balikpapan-class Landing Craft Heavy (LCH) from Australia was the most recent boost to Philippines defense efforts. 
        
The LCH donation is particularly timely, as it complements the upcoming pair of Strategic Sealift Vessels (SSV), being built by PT PAL Indonesia. Based on the Indonesian navy’s successful Makassar-class Landing Platform Dock (LPD), the 8,600-ton amphibious lift ships can transit to remote areas and serve as a mobile base for helicopters and smaller landing craft. As evidenced during Typhoon Haiyan, the dearth of such assets hampered the Philippine government’s aid response to the hardest-hit parts of the country. 
          
As gifts stand, the donation of ex-HMAS Tarakan and Brunei is particularly generous – the Royal Australian Navy will hand them over fully refurbished with new safety and navigation components, plus spare parts packages. Manila is considering purchasing the three remaining LCHs as well. 
       
While the media focus of Manila’s defense acquisitions under the Capability Upgrade Program has been centered on big-ticket items to restore basic conventional force capabilities, there have been other, quieter acquisitions that directly support war-fighting and maritime domain awareness (MDA). 
         
Notably, the service signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2014 with the Philippine National Oil Company to transfer three retired 2,500 ton petroleum tank ships. This acquisition would enable fuel replenishment at sea and increase on-station time for high-endurance assets like the patrol frigates Ramon Alcaraz and Gregorio Del Pilar, both formerly U.S. Coast Guard Hamilton-class cutters.  
Another low-profile capability is the National Coast Watch Center program—a surveillance system designed to monitor oceanic traffic in the western Philippine Sea.
              
As expected, details of this national intelligence capability are closely held, but much of it is likely based on the successful implementation of the earlier Coast Watch South program. With heavy U.S. assistance, the Philippines created a network of monitoring stations combining radar, maritime surveillance and radio/data networks that provides a real-time strategic and tactical “picture” of oceanic traffic in the Southern Philippines—the so-called Sulawesi Sea Triangle. That area is a hotbed of illicit trafficking by sea and a favored logistical trail for transnational insurgent forces that prowl the region. When completed in 2015, the west-facing Coast Watch chain will monitor the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), extending 200 nm into the contested Spratly Islands group. In the future, additional monitoring chains will cover the Northern and Eastern facing portions of the country as well. 
           
The most recent, visible and well-publicized modernization program has been the integration of the multipurpose helicopter program with the patrol frigate force. Five Augusta-Westland A109s twin-engine helicopters equipped with forward-looking infrared have been delivered to the fleet to replace long-retired BO-105s. From an operational perspective, the navy has made quick strides to integrating the air asset with ships of the line. The AW109s had a maiden deployment on board Ramon Alcaraz during the Australian multinational military exercise Kakadu 2014, approximately eight months after receiving the first helicopters. 
          
Out of all the projects to restore capabilities, the navy is still awaiting final determination of its premier acquisition – the multi-role frigate. The Philippines wants to buy two units to serve as major and modern combatants of the patrol frigate force. While the negotiations have been stymied by a complex two-phase process, a list of qualified bidders has emerged, including well-known Spanish shipbuilder Navantia and several South Korean firms, among others. A winning bid was to be selected in late 2014, but the acquisition process reportedly has been complicated by efforts to separate the tracks of selecting a ship from the embedded weapon systems. This may have to do with current challenges of the Philippines not being easily cleared for purchases of regional-balance changing weapons, such as a long-range surface-to-surface missile, with which this ship class is normally equipped.  
          
The Armed Forces of the Philippines has benefited under President Benigno Aquino III’s administration. To date, multiple modernization programs have either reached significant acquisition stages or have been completed entirely during his tenure. 
         
However, as the new paint smell wears off for the navy, the historical challenges that have haunted its past acquisitions and programs loom. It is critical that the next presidential administration continue to support the acquisitions, as well as the services, both politically and fiscally. The navy needs to ensure that internal expertise among the ranks to maintain their newly acquired equipment is present and sustainable. Above all, operating effectively and efficiently at sea continues to be the primary objective. The nation’s seafaring history and ties to the maritime culture give impetus to the current goals of ensuring territorial integrity and establishing a credible defense. Given the relatively rapid pace of modernization, the Philippine navy is well on the road to restoring the capabilities necessary to meet those demands. 
                               
Armando J. Heredia is a civilian observer of naval affairs. He is an IT Risk and Information Security practitioner based in New England, with a background in the defense and financial services industries. He is a regular contributor to the Center for International Maritime Security’s NextWar blog.  
                             
This article can be found here in its original form on the USNI website and was republished by permission.

 

East Asian Geopolitics: Not on Holiday

No Rest for the Wary

MCAS Futenma
Rough Landing: MCAS Futenma

While many look to the year’s end as a time of respite, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe may have looked to the end of this year as a time to maneuver. On December 26th, Abe visited the Yasukuni Shinto shrine, honoring the spirits of 2.5 million Japanese war dead, including over a dozen class-A war criminals. The Economist’s Banyan blog details the sharply negative regional reaction (notably from China, South Korea, and somewhat unprecedentedly, the United States), and also points to the speculation that this visit not coincidentally occurred on the same day as the announcement that Okinawa’s governor had tentatively agreed to an internal relocation of the USMC Air Station (MCAS) Futenma – a long-sought U.S. goal.

So who are the winners and losers of these moves?

Winners:

Shinzo Abe: In buying bilateral political capital with the U.S. through the Futenma deal, Abe was able to visit the Yasukuni shrine to shore up support among his conservative and far-right supporter base. Although he still provoked a public rebuke from the U.S., it is unlikely to cause any lasting damage to the relationship. The same cannot be said for those with the PRC and ROK. The moves to watch are whether Abe tries to mend these relationships, or continues to revisit the shrine on an annual basis. Although there are indications Abe is attempting to “normalize” the visits as akin to a trip to Arlington National Cemetery by a U.S. president, without a (highly unlikely) large-scale war apology PR effort by the Japanese government such visits will always send the wrong signal regionally.

China: Roughly a month ago China committed the unforced error of including Socotra Island in its ADIZ declaration. Since the “island” (really a submerged rock) is disputed with South Korea, the move thereby nipped the burgeoning PRC-ROK ties in the bud and caused South Korea to make common cause with Japan. With yesterday’s moves, Japan has given China the diplomatic advantage by displacing it as the more worrisome neighbor.

Losers:

Regional Cooperation: As my colleague Kyle Mizokami says, Abe is now “radioactive.” Even before the shrine visit, the South Sudan ammo cooperation fiasco highlighted the difficulty of boosting the Japanese-ROK ties. But whether Abe has killed all hopes of progress for the duration of his time in office is largely contingent on his moves in the coming year(s) – whether he makes sincere efforts at damage control or instead unapologetically continues to visit the shrine. The smart money is on the latter, but the former is not impossible.

United States: While the MCAS Futenma deal is a nominal victory, forestalling the need to relocate the Marines to another Asian facility, the setback to Japanese-ROK ties outweighs the win. Much of the U.S. Asia-Pacific strategy relies on leveraging its key regional allies, and there is little that would shore up U.S. grand strategy more than robust cooperation between Japan and South Korea. While greater ties can appear quixotic at the best of times, Abe’s visit has ensured that the most wonderful time of the year this is not.

Singapore: German Subs’ Strategic Value

Congratulations, Singapore! In 2020, the city-state will operate the Indo-Pacific’s most advanced, non-nuclear-powered submarines. For China, these submarines present a challenge, however for Germany the deal provides the potential for greater security policy access to maritime Asia.

Type 218

Type_214_1
The Type 214, predeccesor to the Type 218SG

In early December, German shipbuilder Thyssen announced that Singapore’s navy had contracted two Type 218SG U-boats, a variety previously unknown. While the Type 216 concept has been in public discussion Type 218 had not. As it seems, Type 218SG is an improved version of Type 214, adjusted to Singapore’s specific needs, thus the “SG” suffix. Given its size and operational profile, Type 214/218SG subs are very well suited for operations in coastal waters, such as those around Singapore. Thyssen’s offered Type 216 concept is would have been too large.

Thanks to the air-independent propulsion (AIP) fuel cells the U-boat operates almost noiselessly like a nuclear-powered submarine, but without the heat signature caused by the reactor. In consequence, by 2020, Singapore will receive the most advanced non-nuclear-powered submarines in the Indo-Pacific.

Why Singapore Needs U-boats

Lately, international attention has largely been on aircraft carriers and, through China’s ADIZ, with air forces. However, Asia’s arms race takes pace underwater as much as it does on the surface. China is expanding its fleet of nuclear and conventionally powered attack submarines in quality and quantity and the U.S. will commission even more new Virginia-class nuclear subs.

Japan, South Korea, Vietnam, Indonesia, Australia, the Philippines, and Pakistan all maintain programs to start, modernize, or expand their submarine fleets. South Korea has already been a customer of Germany’s submarines. Especially small countries, who are missing the resources and capacities for large expeditionary fleets, will respond to China’s increasing capabilities by expanding of their submarine forces.

The U.S. and Britain will favor ally Singapore’s procurement of top-of-the-line German U-boats, but the purchase will certainly not please China’s navy. All Chinese warships underway to the Indian Ocean by the far-most economic route have to pass the shallow waters around Singapore, thereby coming in range of the barely detectable 218s.

The purchase of a German product also helps keep Singapore’s fleet interoperable with Western navies. For the West this is advantageous in the event that continued Chinese “assertiveness,” spurs the formation of new coalitions in Southeast Asia. Japan is already pursuing that track. Given China’s desire to establish an ADIZ in the South China Sea, at least one aircraft carrier would have to transit to the south of the South China Sea to enforce it. China’s fighter jets lack the range to launch from the mainland and aerial refueling capabilities are too immature. Thus, Singapore’s Type 218s would pose a serious challenge to any Chinese carrier task force.

How far China has advanced in sonar techniques and submarine detection is hard to say. If German Type 212s can make their way through the anti-sub-defense of a U.S. aircraft carrier, the even more advanced 218s should have no major difficulty embarrassing the Chinese navy.

Yet just two 218s will not be enough because Singapore’s navy also has an Endurance-class LPD and surface warships to protect. One rule applies to warships as well as submarines: one at sea, one in the yard, and one developing its readiness. Of course, the Singaporeans know that. Thus, given a successful program development, we will likely see an order of a second tranche.

Strategic Value for Germany

The announced deal is also a win for Germany. Besides the good deal for the German defense industry, the secured jobs, and the revenue, the deal’s strategic value must also be examined. By purchasing amphibious landing ships, new frigates and the F-35, Singapore, with its central geo-strategic location, is on the way to become a military powerhouse. It is therefore in the interests of a maritime trade-dependent nation like Germany, to have good relations with Singapore, as it inhabits one of the world’s most important ports.

Germany has not yet had any maritime security access east of the Malacca Strait in Southeast Asia. Even its role in the Indian Ocean has remained unusually limited. With the further pace-taking maritime arms-race in Southeast Asia, Germany now has a bright foot in the door. In addition, Singapore will become dependent after 2020 on German spare part deliveries.

It should be noted that a submarine deal with South Korea, to this day, has not produced any immediate strategic value or results in practical security policy. Through two customers instead of one that could change, especially as Germany pursues additional export deals in the region.

In addition to the potential for these lucrative arcontracts, Germany has an interest in a stable, peaceful maritime arc running from Singapore and Vladivostok. China’s re-armament, coupled with a more assertive military doctrine, and its aggressive enforcement ensures the opposite. Since one can doubt U.S. resolve thanks to the Obama Administration and the federal budget, the countries of the region must be able to balance China’s rise, at least partially, by themselves. Therefore, German-built subs can surely do their share.

Felix Seidler is a fellow at the Institute for Security Policy, University of Kiel, Germany, and runs the site Seidlers-Sicherheitspolitik.net (Seidler’s Security Policy).

Follow Felix on Twitter: @SeidersSiPo

The East China Sea Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ)

hyn竖图模板The big news of the day is China’s declaration of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over parts of the East China Sea, notably furthering the potential for conflict with Japan over the Senkakus/Diaoyus. Per guidelines released Saturday, the policy requires non-commercial aircraft in the space to pre-arrange flights with China’s government – effectively creating a pretense for action against Japanese military aircraft should they fail to comply with rules set for a space they likewise consider their own. Taiwan, which also maintains claims to islands it calls the Tiaoyutai, has voiced regret over the move.

Additionally, the zone may (unintentionally or intentionally) heighten tensions with South Korea as it extends close to South Korea’s Jeju island and appears to include the disputed submerged rock “Socotra Island” claimed by both South Korea as Ieodo and China as Suyan.

While the announcement by China’s Ministry of Defense was contained to the East China Sea, according to the Washington Post, a Chinese Defense Ministry spokesman, Yang Yujun, said that China would will create additional zones “at the right moment after necessary preparations are completed.”

 

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. 

h/ts to @zacharykeck, @wayale, @dmhartnett, @washburnt for sources.