Tag Archives: #carrier

Royal Navy: Maintaining the fleet

The UK’s Royal Navy is patiently awaiting the arrival of the Queen Elizabeth-class (QEC) carrier at its new home in Portsmouth in the coming weeks.

On Monday I visited Her Majesty’s Naval Base (HMNB) Portsmouth to find out more about some of the other class of ships based there, the Type 23 and 45, but I also got a glimpse at some of the impressive infrastructure at the base which will support QEC.

Navigation aids have been installed to guide the 280m vessel into the port. There is also an onshore power generation source which will keep the vessel running while it is docked and an airport-style arrivals hall to support the 500-plus contractors which will be coming and going from the carrier each day when in Portsmouth.

Meanwhile, on 1 August, it was announced that £3 million was to be saved on the QEC as part of a new deal to supply the RN with more than 10,000 different types of consumable items – covering everything from fittings and fixtures to pistons and pumps.

It ought to be noted that maintenance of such a vessel is no mean feat, Babcock currently has a contract to do so.

While I was at HMNB I spoke with BAE Systems about some of its experiences maintaining the RN’s Type 45 and Type 23 fleets.

The Type 45 has notably been making headlines with various issues with its propulsion systems and at one time all six were seen to be alongside or in dock at one time.

BAE Systems has said that one of the lessons learned from its support of the Type 45 programme is the need to have spares readily available.

Additionally, there was supposed to be one serious mid-life upgrade but a continuous engineering philosophy was adopted with a lot of the maintenance to be done during fleet time under the original BAE Systems contract. That was the concept as it evolved over a decade ago, according to BAE Systems.

The reality has been that the ships staff have been required to do much more than operate and maintain only – something the enterprise should have thought about beforehand, BAE admitted.

A single mid-life upgrade just did not work and capability insertion has been a continuous feature for the Type 45s.

An ongoing effort, Project Napier, is also being carried out to enhance the vessel’s power and propulsion systems

The Type 45s are now moving to a common support model which will see DE&S take over more of the maintenance, supported by BAE Systems. Design, maintenance and equipment management will return to DE&S and the QEC will follow this model from the outset.

The company is already working with teams to implement this support model on the future Type 26s and it has been implemented on the Type 23s.

With new vessels coming into service it is imperative that the RN looks closely at both the successes and failings of previous projects.

More on this, lessons learned and future plans for maintenance can be found on the Shephard Media website.



China apologises for poster gaffe

It is hard for any of us to say sorry, but even more so for a communist regime. However, the Chinese Ministry of National Defense (MND) has done so, purportedly for the first time.

The MND admitted an embarrassing photoshop failure on an official poster celebrating the 68th anniversary of the People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN). It was an error that drew ridicule from home and abroad, and it occurred shortly before the fanfare surrounding the launch of China’s very first indigenously built aircraft carrier on 26 April.

The celebratory poster depicted a carrier alongside an eclectic and mistaken mix of American and Russian military platforms. Indeed, lifting off from China’s in-service Liaoning carrier was a Russian MiG-35 fighter (apparently not having had to use its landing gear either), an aircraft type not used by China.

Even more bizarre, ploughing through the calm ocean alongside the Liaoning were two San Antonio-class amphibious assault ships operated by the US Navy.

Overhead on the flashy poster a trio of J-10 fighters streaked across a blue sky emblazoned with the message ‘Happy birthday, People’s Liberation Army Navy!’

While the PLAN does operate some J-10s, one would have expected to see carrier-based J-15s operating so far out to sea.

All in all, the PR poster was a massive fail.

A Hong Kong newspaper quoted one critical Chinese netizen who said on the Weibo social media site, ‘This picture shows everyone at the propaganda department is mentally deficient.’

Such was the fuss that the topic came up at an MND press conference on 27 April. Spokesman Yang Yujun commented, ‘We also noticed this problem as you mentioned. We were not meticulous enough in illustrating the image and we suffered from criticism from the internet users.’

He continued, ‘The carelessness was with the editor but the responsibility is on the shoulders of the leadership.’

Indeed, one wonders just how many high-ranking officials will be sent to ‘re-education through labour’ camps to pay for their carelessness. Oh, wait, China supposedly abolished all these camps in 2013 so they might yet be okay.

A reporter asked why the poster had not been removed from circulation, and Yang replied, ‘Criticism of the friends on the internet is more of care and support to us. So we prefer to leave the picture and comments there so they can always remind us that only when we continuously improve and perfect ourselves can we better serve our fans and the military fans.’

The Global Times reported that this was the first time that China’s MND had ever issued a public apology for a work-related error.

Wow! Talk about cracks appearing in the façade!

Why the duplicity, China?

Liaoning before refurbishmentEveryone knows China is going to build multiple aircraft carriers. It’s obvious. Even India has more than one, so one would not expect any less from China.

Yet China is keeping it all under wraps. Authorities in the city of Changzhou were suitably pleased with the Jiangsu Shangshang Cable Group when it won a supply cabling contract for the People’s Liberation Army Navy’s (PLAN) second aircraft carrier.

They naturally put the news up on their verified Sina Weibo social media account, and the Changzhou Evening News carried word of the victory as well.

That was until both organisations’ posts were swiftly deleted at the direction of China’s propaganda authorities.

What’s the point? Song Xue, the PLAN deputy chief of staff, already told the world back in April 2013 that China ‘will have more than one aircraft carrier’.

Later, Wang Min, the communist party secretary of Liaoning Province, said this second flattop should be completed around 2020. Censors ordered his remarks be deleted too.

The duplicitous path that China navigated to obtain its first aircraft carrier was chronicled in exclusive articles by the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post last month.

Beijing acquired its maiden carrier from Ukraine in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse. Although procured in 1998, Liaoning did not commission until September 2012.

Details of the stripped-down carrier’s procurement are entertaining in the extreme. Xu Zengping, a Chinese-born, Hong Kong-based businessman revealed he bought it for US$20 million, complete with intact engines. China said the propulsion system had been removed.

The cover story was that it would be used as a floating casino in Macau. It never was.

Xu, a middleman for the PLA, was told to buy the incomplete carrier with his own money and without tacit support from Beijing. Buying her was the easy part, for it took four years to get the carrier to Dalian.

Turkey would not let the ship through the Bosphorus Strait so she had to turn around.

‘I felt so helpless when the ship was waiting at the mouth of the Bosphorus Strait. At one point, I was prepared for the worst: we would rather have the giant ship go to the bottom of the strait than let it fall into the hands of states hostile to Beijing, like Japan,’ Xu told the South China Morning Post.

Oddly enough, arch enemy Japan was not really in the carrier market at that time.

President Jiang Zemin visited Ankara in April 2000, and promises of Chinese tourists and opening up its markets to Turkish goods won the day. In November 2001, Turkey allowed the carrier through to the Mediterranean.

Xu noted, ‘US$20 million was just the auction price of the carrier. In fact, I had to pay at least US$120 million for the deal from 1996 to 1999. But I still haven’t received one fen from our government. I just handed it over to the navy.’ In fact, it took him years to pay off the debts he incurred at that time.

‘Some naval experts told me that my deal helped our country save at least 15 years of scientific research,’ Xu said. ‘I was undaunted and it was my will to fulfill my mission.’

What admirable patriotism! I can’t imagine any other businessmen who would have bothered to buy their navy an aircraft carrier. Incidentally, Liaoning carries the pennant number ‘16’ because it took 16 years to get the carrier into service from start to finish.

Yes, China is locked in acerbic territorial disputes with neighbours in both the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Yes, China repeatedly accuses Japan of returning to its militarist past.

Yes, China’s defence budget is growing far faster than Japan’s, and far outranks ASEAN’s defence budgets combined.

So why the pretence and secrecy? Would neighbours not feel more trusting if China could simply tell the truth about what it is spending its money on?

It seems there is very good reason why China ranked 176th out of 180 countries for press freedom in the latest annual list from Reporters Without Borders.