Sea, air and land updates

Image courtesy of Flickr user Gonzalo Alonso

Sea State

USS Zumwalt, the lead ship of the US Navy’s next-generation guided missile destroyers, was formally delivered by shipbuilder General Dynamics Bath Iron Works last Friday. The eagerly awaited 610-foot ship features a tumblehome hull form and is designed for surface warfare, anti-aircraft warfare and naval gunfire support. Its due to be commissioned in Baltimore on 15 Octoberafter which point it will be up to the US Navy and Raytheon to complete the ship’s combat systems. After the successful conclusion of combat system operational testing, expected by 2018, the ship will be available for deployment. Two additional Zumwalt-class ships are currently under construction in Bath. To mark the occasion, The Guardian features an informative video of the impressive destroyer. However, not everyone is impressed with the ship, with a Russian military analyst calling it a ‘giant washtub’.  

A small naval force from the Indian Navy’s Eastern Fleet left Indian shores on 18 May, setting off on a two-and-a-half month operational deployment to the South China Sea and North Western Pacific. The fleetwhich includes two Shivalik-class guided-missile stealth frigates, a Deepak-class fleet tanker and a Kora-class guided-missile corvettewill visit Vietnam, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, Russia and Malaysia, as well as participate in Exercise Malabar off the coast of Okinawa in mid-to-late June. China has voiced its disapproval at India taking part in maritime exercises in the South China Sea, with a senior Chinese official calling it a ‘matter of concern’.

Flight Path

Last week, two Chinese J-11 fighter jets intercepted an American EP-3 reconnaissance aircraft flying over the South China Sea. The US Department of Defense, probably with the April 2001 EP-3 collision in mind, deemed the intercept ‘unsafe’ and reported that the jets approached within 50 feet of the EP-3. China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei refuted the claim stating that the Chinese aircraft kept a ‘safe distance’ and demanded an end to US surveillance in China’s ‘coastal waters’.

A new article from TIME looks at what the recent spate of buzzing incidents by China (and Russia) mean—some say US resolve, others say US weakness. Sputnik News’ Loud & Clear podcast has an 18-minute talk with journalist Mark Sleboda who assesses the incident from an anti-US viewpoint and describes the latest EP-3 incident as Beijing’s response to ‘US hegemony [and] US control and access for its military to all parts of the world’. In response to the incident, US Pacific Command has said it urgently needs cameras on its planes to record evidence of aerial misbehaviour—as the internet mantra goes, pics or it didn’t happen.

Vice News has wrapped up its three-part series on the F-35. Part II looks at what makes the Joint Strike Fighter different from other fighter jets and which countries are F-35 customers, while the final part examines whether or not the JSF is worth the cost—issues and criticism as well as dollars—and concludes that it’s too early to judge if the program has been worthwhile.

Rapid Fire

Once an anti-war candidate, President Obama has now been at war longer than any other American president. The firsts don’t stop there for Obama, with Foreign Policy outlining how he has ‘authorised the continuation or re-emergence of two of the most contractor-dependent wars in US history’. In Afghanistan there are three contractors to each US trooper, while the total number of contractors (7,773) nearly doubles that of US troops (4,087) in Iraq. For those keen for a little extra background knowledge, Defence News has put together a handy infographic on the top 100 US Defence Department contractors in 2015.

The Thai military junta announced on 17 May that Thailand’s 2017 defence spending would increase by 3% over the 2016 figure. This announcement coincided with the Royal Thai Army (RTA) indicating that it will spend around US$150 million to purchase the MBT-3000 battle tank from China. The RTA also recently signalled its intent to replace its CH-47D Chinook helicopters with 12 Mil Mi-17V-5 helicopters from Russia.

From 1984 to 2007, Russia had three divisions of combat rail-based missile systems, or more simply, military trains with missiles. Russia is now set to restart the production of those systems. Dubbed the Barguzin rail-based missile system (after the strong eastern wind that blows over Lake Baikal), they’ll be in use by Russian forces from 2020 and will be equipped with six MS-26 Rubezh multiple-warhead missiles.