For Your Eyes Only Military News

YEMEN: Fire In The North

February 12, 2012: Despite the presidential elections on the 22nd, many Yemenis are still protesting. That’s because the peace deal that saw president Saleh give up power, calls for his vice presidents to be the only candidate in the upcoming presidential elections. There is still a lot of corruption and ineffective government to protest. The military commanders, and their troops, who deserted and joined rebel groups, are still rebellious. Some 300 people have been killed in a year of demonstrations, with many more casualties from tribal and al Qaeda violence. The revolution will not be over by the end of the month. The separatist tribes in the south are simply unhappy with corruption and lack of benefits from the central government. These southern tribes are held in check by the troops who remain loyal to the government.

In the northwest, the rebel Shia tribes are expanding control of their territory, by taking advantage of the unrest in the rest of the country. The government cannot spare troops to help the pro-government tribes in the north. A major part of the tribal feuds in the north is religion. The Islamic conservatives in Sunni tribes consider the Shia tribesmen heretics. The Shia want their traditional autonomy back, but the central government has been fighting that independence for decades. A key battle now is a siege at an Islamic conservative religious school at Damaj Salafi near Saada (the largest city in the north and near the Shia “capital” of Saada) The Dar al-Hadith school has 7,000 teachers, students and families trapped, on-and-off for five months, by Shia gunmen. Unless the government can get lots of troops into the north, the Shia will establish their own state in the northwest, along the Saudi border.

February 10, 2012:  In the south, an al Qaeda death squad killed a police commander.

February 9, 2012:  In the southern city of Daleh, police fired on a separatist demonstration, leaving two demonstrators dead. The separatists feel that their demands are being ignored.

February 7, 2012: Eritrea has seized five more Yemeni fishing boats in an area where both nations claim fishing rights. Eritrea does this regularly, and usually keeps the boats while releasing the crews after a few months. This led to a brief war in 1995, and frequent tension since. Eritrea is also accused of helping Iran smuggle weapons to the northern Shia tribes of Yemen. Eritrea is an ally of Iran.

February 6, 2012: In the last two days, northern tribes (Shia rebels and pro-government Sunnis) ended their cease fire and fought, leaving over fifty dead and many more wounded.

February 4, 2012: Violence in the Abyan Province capital of Zinjibar left four Islamic terrorists and a soldier dead. For the last eight months troops have been fighting to eject Islamic radical tribesmen from Zinjibar. The Islamic radicals have been chased from several other towns, but not Zinjibar.

February 2, 2012: Six foreign aid workers, kidnapped last month, were released after the government released a tribesman who had been arrested for murder. Such kidnappings are common in Yemen.

February 1, 2012: In the southern town of Zinjibar, four Islamic terrorists died when the bomb they were building went off. Three other Islamic terrorists were killed in combat.

January 31, 2012: In central Yemen, al Qaeda gunmen ambushed an army patrol, killing two soldiers.

In the capital, gunmen tried to kill the Information Minister, but failed.
January 30, 2012: In a UAV missile attack 120 kilometers southeast of Zinjibar, four al Qaeda men were killed (and eight more wounded) while riding in two captured armored vehicles.

SUBMARINES: An Old Cure For Venezuelan Naval Ambitions

February 12, 2012: Colombia is negotiating with Germany to buy up to six recently retired Type 206A coastal submarines. The 206As are meant to be an inexpensive counter new Russian Kilo subs being purchased by neighboring Venezuela. Colombia still has two older (1,200 ton) Type 209 subs, and nine miniature subs. All are over three decades old, and so are the Type 206As. But the 206As have been better cared for and were updated in the 1990s. Colombia already has sailors with lots experience on German submarines, and the Type 206s can be obtained cheap. Exactly how cheap is currently under negotiation.

The Type 206 is a 450 ton sub built of special steel that makes the boat more difficult to detect. Top speed is 31 kilometers an hour (submerged, and 19 kilometers on the surface.) These boats are armed with eight 533mm (21 inch) torpedoes, carried in eight torpedo tubes. The boat can also carry 24 mines externally. The crew of 23 can keep the boat at sea for five weeks. If there were a war with Venezuela (which has been acting very belligerent over the last few years), the Type 206s would be used to shut down Venezuelan ports and destroy oil facilities. Venezuela also has two 1970s era Type 209 subs, said to be in worse than their Colombian counterparts.

WARPLANES: Mainly Because It Pisses Off The Russians

February 12, 2012: NATO is making its Baltic Air Policing Mission (BAPM) permanent. BAPM is nothing more than a detachment of four jet fighters from a NATO nation that moved to a Lithuanian air base and flies air patrols along the Russian border for four months. This began in 2004, when the Baltic States (Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia) joined NATO. The Baltic States wanted some NATO presence from older members, if only to remind the Russians that something had changed. Many Russians regard the Baltic States as “lost provinces.” Since the 18th century, the Baltic States were part of the Russian empire. They became independent after World War I (1914-18), but were taken over again in 1940. It wasn’t until 1991 that the Baltic States regained their independence and they are determined to keep things that way.

In 2008 the U.S. Air Force sent four F-15s to serve on the along the Russian border on BAPM duty. This sort of thing did not go down well in Russia, where it still rankles that Russia was on the losing side of the Cold War. The F-15s were the second American detachment to serve in the BAPM, the first was equipped with F-16s.

It’s common for NATO members to train or operate in each other’s territory. After all, NATO is basically a mutual defense organization. In addition, the Baltic States do not yet have jet fighters of their own. So the BAPM provides token air defense until the Baltic States can acquire their own. That is to happen by the end of the decade.

SURFACE WARSHIPS:  Cracked, Leaking And Limping Along

February 12, 2012: Although the U.S. Navy has decided to put its new “Littoral Combat Ship” (LCS) into mass production, more structural and other flaws are being discovered in the ones already built. The first LCS, the monohull USS Freedom has suffered four major problems since it entered service four years ago. The latest one is a leak in a propeller shaft seal, which caused some minor flooding. Freedom was able to get back to port under its own power. Last year cracks in the hull, as long as 17 cm (6.5 inches) were discovered, and the water-jet propulsion system broke down as well. Two years ago, one of the gas turbine engines broke down.

The most serious problem is in the USS Independence, a radical trimaran design. It seems that a “dissimilar metals” situation arose when salt water, the aluminum hull and some other metals got into close proximity with each other, and extensive corrosion resulted. Aluminum hulls tend to corrode more than steel, but the problem became so bad with the USS Independence that, 18 months after entering service, it was sent into dry dock for corrosion repairs and design changes to eliminate the problem.
Cracks, corrosion and equipment breakdowns are common in new warship designs especially designs that are radically different (like the broad trimaran shape of the USS Independence.) Usually, these problems can be fixed, but there’s always the risk that the new design will be seriously flawed, requiring extensive rework and a halt in building more ships of that class. So far, the U.S. Navy has not wavered in the face of potential design and construction flaws.

This is all part of the expected years of uncertainty and experimentation, as this radical new combat ship design seeks to find out what works, to what degree, and what doesn’t. There is some nervousness about all this. The U.S. Navy has not introduced a radical new design for nearly a century. The last such new design was the aircraft carrier, which required two decades of experimentation, and a major war, to nail down what worked. Even the nuclear submarines of the late 1950s and early 60s were evolutionary compared to what the LCS is trying to do.

In the last six years, two different LCS designs were built, and put into service. Problems were encountered. The much smaller crew required some changes in how a crew ran a ship, and how many sailors and civilians were required back on land to support an LCS at sea. It was found that, so far, the interchangeable mission modules take far longer (2-3 days instead of 2-3 hours) to replace. The LCS has still not seen combat, and the navy wants the first violent encounter to be successful, or at least not disastrous. It is expected that there will be surprises, which is about all that can be guaranteed at this point.

The navy surprised everyone two years ago by choosing both designs, and requesting that the fifty or so LCS ships be split between the two very different looking ships. Seven LCS ships are under construction, in addition to the two (one of each type) in service. While both ships look quite different (one is a traditional monohull, while the other is a broader trimaran), they both share many common elements. One of the most important of these is the highly automated design, and smaller crew. Both ships have accommodations for only 75 personnel. Normally, a ship of this size would have a crew of about 200. The basic LCS crew is 40, with the other 35 berths occupied by operators of special equipment.

The LCS crews are also modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules. Thus about 40 percent of the ship is empty, with a large cargo hold into which the mission package gear is inserted (and then removed, along with the package crew, when it is no longer assigned to that ship.) Thus the LCS has two crews when underway, the “ship” crew and the mission package crew. The captain of the ship crew is in charge, and the officer commanding the mission package is simply the officer in charge of the largest equipment system on board. There are a variety of interchangeable modules (e.g., air defense, underwater warfare, special operations, surface attack, etc.), which allow the ships to be quickly reconfigured for various specialized missions. Crews will also be modularized, so that specialized teams can be swapped in to operate specific modules. The design and crew requirements for these modules is still a work in progress, but also shows a need for more people, or more automation.

So far, the heavy workload has not hurt morale. The small crew means that everyone knows everyone, and it is standard for people to handle a number of different jobs. Even officers pitch in for any task that needs to be done. This kind of overworked enthusiasm is actually typical of smaller naval craft. These included World War II era PT boats, with crews of up to 17, and current minesweepers (with crews similar to an LCS) and larger patrol boats. There’s also the “new” factor. In addition to being new ships, there is a new design and lots of new tech. This gets people pumped. But the experience of using the LCS has to be used to develop changes that will make these ships viable for the long haul.

The two different LCS designs are from Lockheed-Martin (monohull) and General Dynamics (trimaran). The first LCS, the monohull USS Freedom, completed its sea trials and acceptance inspections three years ago. The ship did very well, with far fewer (about 90 percent fewer) problems (or “material deficiencies”) than is usual with the first warship in a class. USS Independence (LCS-2) was laid down by General Dynamics in late 2005 and commissioned in January 2010. Corrosion and hull cracks were expected eventually, but appeared much earlier than anticipated.

Both LCS designs were supposed to be for ships displacing 2,500 tons, with a full load draft of under 3.3 meters (ten feet), permitting access to very shallow “green” and even “brown” coastal and riverine waters, where most naval operations have taken place in the past generation. Top speed was expected was to be over 80 kilometers with a range of 2,700 kilometers. Basic endurance is 21 days, and final displacement was closer to 3,000 tons.
LCS is currently armed with a 57mm gun, four 12.7mm machine-guns, two 30mm autocannon and a 21 cell SeaRam system for aircraft and missile defense. The RAM (RIM-116 “Rolling Air Frame”) missiles replace Phalanx autocannon. SeaRAM has a longer range (7.5 kilometers) than the Phalanx (two kilometers). Last year, the navy decided to equip LCS with a surface launched version of the Griffin air-to-surface missile. The Griffin is an alternative to the Hellfire II, which weighs 48.2 kg (106 pounds) and carries a 9 kg (20 pound) warhead and has a range of 8,000 meters. In contrast, the Griffin weighs only 16 kg (35 pounds), with a 5.9 kg (13 pound) warhead which is larger, in proportion to its size, than the one carried by the larger Hellfire missile. Griffin has a pop-out wings, allowing it to glide, and thus has a longer range (15 kilometers) than Hellfire. UAVs can carry more of the smaller missiles, typically two of them in place of one Hellfire. The surface-launched Griffin weighs about twice as much as the air launched version, because of the addition of a rocket to get it into the air, after which it can glide to the target. An LCS can also carry two MH-60 helicopters and a MQ-8 helicopter UAV (that can be armed with Griffin).
The navy hoped to have between 50 and 60 LCSs by 2014-18, at a cost of $460 million (after the first five.) The USS Freedom ended up costing nearly $600 million, about twice what the first ship in the class was supposed to have cost. The navy believes it has the cost down to under $450 million each as mass production begins.

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