Last week five Chinese Navy ships came within 12 nautical miles of the US mainland, sailing inside American territorial waters as they passed through the Bering Sea, coinciding with President Obama’s trip to Alaska. Pentagon officials downplayed the expedition, a first for the Chinese, saying that the ships were in American waters legally and had complied with international law. A Pentagon spokesperson said that the US respects ‘the freedom of all nations to operate military vessels in international waters in accordance with international law.’
Taiwan is reported to have allocated funds for a US$92.55 million indigenous submarine design programme to replace its current two Dutch-built Hai Lung-class submarines, which are close to 30 years old. The long-awaited acquisition programme is said to be laid out in the National Defense Ministry’s 2016 budget, and covers the initial four year contract design phase of what will be a decades-long program. Read more about the submarine plan over at The Diplomat.
Still on the submarine front, a new Lowy Institute report released last week by Rory Medcalf and Brendan Thomas-Noone looks at the implications of sea-based nuclear weapons for strategic stability in the Indo–Pacific. Read the report in full here.
In London, the first of 25 AW101 Merlin helicopters that have been modified for use by the Royal Marines are about to be released into service, signalling a major change in the capabilities of the Royal Navy. The Merlin choppers represent a significant boost in capability compared to the antiquated Sea King Mk4 machines that they’ll replace, with the Royal Marines set to boost their land mobility and their future sea manoeuvre capabilities.
According to China Military Online, the Caihong 5 (CH-5), China’s heaviest attack and reconnaissance drone to date, has recently undertaken its maiden flight at an undisclosed location in Gansu province. The CH-5, developed by the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), shares design similarities to the US MQ-9 Reaper drone. The Pentagon has noted that:
‘China is advancing its development and employment of UAVs. Some estimates indicate China plans to produce upwards of 41,800 land- and sea-based unmanned systems, worth about $10.5 billion, between 2014 and 2023.’
In Baghdad, the Iraqi government has used its US-acquired F-16IQ warplanes against the Islamic State for the first time. Iraqi Defence Minister Khaled al-Obaidi said that the strikes achieved ‘important results,’ and that the warplanes would have ‘an impact on the conduct of operations in the future.’ The F-16 jets are Iraq’s most sophisticated aircraft (with cool paint jobs to boot) and have improved the Iraqi Air Force’s strike capability, currently carried out by Sukhoi Su-25 jets, Cessna Caravan turboprop aircraft and various helicopters.
On 3 September, four US soldiers were injured in an explosion on Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, in an incident that suggests that the fight against Islamic State might be developing a new front. A convoy hit two improvised explosive devices as it was leaving ‘North Camp’ near the town of el-Gorah, just a few miles east of the Egypt–Israel border. Four US and two Fijian troops required medical evacuation and were sent to Israel in a stable condition. The American soldiers, thought to be from 1st battalions 112th Cavalry Regiment, are part of the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO), a 34 year old peacekeeping mission designed to enforce the 1979 peace treaty between Egypt and Israel. This has historically been a low risk mission but recent events and increasing violence in the area has led Pentagon officials to consider the need to bring in extra equipment for force protection.
Qatar will reportedly be sending ground troops to assist as part of the Saudi Arabian-led intervention in Yemen. Operation Decisive Storm, comprised of nine Arab states, has been undertaking airstrikes in Yemen since March this year. The move by Qatar has been interpreted as a response to the death of 60 Gulf country troops in Yemen last week.