Tag Archives: maritime

The World According to Shephard: Week 48

This week has demonstrated that the world of military simulation is very much alive and flourishing as the Shephard team has spent the week in Orlando bringing you all the latest news from the industry’s annual meet. You can find all of the coverage from I/ITSEC here.

Armed to the hilt

The US Air Force’s MQ-9 Reapers are to get an ammunition boost with the integration of small diameter bombs onto the platforms. General Atomics was awarded a $17.5 million contract to kit out the UAS with GBU-39Bs.

Meanwhile the H145M will begin live fire tests of Airbus Helicopter’s HForce weapon system loaded with Thales’ FZ275 laser guided rockets. The new live fire tests follow on from successful ballistic development testing of the system.

BREAKING: New Block 5 MQ-9 debuts in combat

‘The secret of war lies in the communications’

Napoleon’s tools of communication may have looked dramatically different from today’s but their importance on the battlefield has not changed. Last week saw Thales demonstrate its new family of Software Defined Radios, Synaps, which they believe represents the future of ‘collaborative combat’ for the modern connected military.

Australia has approved Project Land 200 Tranche 2 as the country pushes to digitalise its armed forces with a new battlefield command system for the army. The system will enable commanders to plan, monitor, direct and review operations in real time.

Thales

Shipbuilders back in business

The second of the Mexican Navy’s updated Oaxaca-class patrol vessels has been commissioned into its fleet. This comes at the end of a year that has seen the navy’s fleet expanded considerably with new patrol vessels as significant investments have been made in the country’s critical infrastructure and shipbuilding capability.

Meanwhile in Indonesia the shipbuilder PT Palindo Marine launched a 110m OPV designed for the country’s coast guard agency. Indonesia has been developing its indigenous shipbuilding expertise and is soon likely to see the navy’s seventh landing platform dock begin construction.

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Saab Kockums has begun construction on parts of the hull for the Royal Swedish navy’s new A26 class submarine. Saab is also upgrading the RSN’s Gotland-class submarines with a new combat management system and other capabilities which will be carried across to the A26.

How to solve a problem like drones

The European Parliament and European Council reached an informal agreement this week to introduce union-wide rules on the civil use of unmanned systems. The design and manufacture of UVs will have to comply with EU basic requirements on safety, security and data protection.

Also in Europe, Endeavor Robotics has delivered 44 FirstLook UGVs to Germany as the company continues to enjoy a bumper year. The UGV, which can be dropped from 16ft onto hard surfaces without sustaining damage, is used by a wide range of civil, parapublic and military customers around the world and has won a number of large contracts with the US.

FirstLook

 

Diving deep into submarine tech

In the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security magazine I had the pleasure of cover the thriving diesel-electric (SSK) submarine industry.

Editor, Richard Thomas, investigated this sector previously in the subsea warfare market report and found a sector experiencing a relative boom time, even in regions (such as Europe) that are experiencing a general contraction in naval significance and industrial output.

A series of SSK programmes in Germany, Sweden, Italy and Norway is keeping that region active for both operator and industry alike. In Asia requirements for India and Pakistan attract significant interest and industrial cooperation inside those countries, while Asia-Pacific rivals also seek to expand their subsurface fleets in a continual game of defence one-upmanship.

A Swedish Gotland Class submarine currently going through mid-life upgrades with Saab.

China is emerging as a defence influencer in the region having agreed a series of submarine procurement programmes with neighbours, while Japan and South Korea try to challenge this with their own domestic and international efforts.

We introduce submarines then into this magazine in recognition of the role that smaller SSKs play in maintaining security in the EEZs and littorals, conducting special operations against target coastlines or surveillance missions to gather valuable intelligence.

The industry supporting the demand is global, with boat builders from West to East all pursuing rich contracts and new markets. Indeed, SSKs are perhaps one of the most adaptable and effective platforms that a navy can operate, particularly because most of the time potential rivals don’t know they are being surveilled in the first place.

The U-32 is the second Type 212A submarine used by the German Navy.

Technology in propulsion and battery technology is pushing back against one of the limiting factors that SSKs have to contend with – the need to surface and run its diesels to recharge capacitors. The boats fitted with such capabilities can now stay underwater for significantly greater periods of time and maximising their use to the fleet.

The risk remains

Congratulating itself on a job well done late last year NATO said it would end its counter-piracy Ocean Shield mission in the Indian Ocean and move assets elsewhere, predominantly the Mediterranean.

The European Union’s own anti-piracy mission news streams have been full of gleaming ship visits and friendly training exercises with even friendlier regional forces.

It was probably with no little degree of consternation that the maritime industry was snapped wide awake with the confirmation by EU NAVFOR that the Comoros-flagged fuel tanker, Aris 13, was hijacked by suspected Somali-based pirates on 14 March. Reports indicate that the vessel is operated by a UAE-based company.

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This is the first successful hijacking in the region since 2012, although attacks do still occur but until now unsuccessfully due to the increased use of best practices at sea, defensive measures as well as the slightly more controversial use of embarked (and armed) private security contractors.

According to the EU force, the ship and its crew are currently being held in an anchorage off the north coast of Puntland, a region that gained a degree of notoriety in recent years as something of a pirate haven.

Reports said that the attack on the vessel was reported by the ships master who issued a mayday as two skiffs, fast craft traditionally used by Somali pirates, were closing in on his ship in the Gulf of Aden.

The next steps in the tale are perhaps best told by EU NAVFOR.

‘Upon receipt of the mayday alert an EU Naval Force maritime patrol aircraft was launched from its base in Djibouti to overfly the tanker and make radio contact with the ship’s master. Despite hailing the ship several times, no contact was made and the situation on board remained unclear until late this afternoon, when the EU Naval Force operational HQ in London was able to make telephone contact with the ship’s master,’ it states.

‘The master confirmed that armed men were on board his ship and they were demanding a ransom for the ship’s release. The EU Naval Force has now passed the information regarding the incident to the ship’s owners.’

ShiuFu1-300x203.jpgThe UK’s Maritime Security Centre (Horn of Africa) detailed a warning issued by EU NAVFOR earlier this year informing yachts of the dangers in passing through the area, which in years gone past had seen a number of hijacks and ransoms such as that seen with the SY Quest in 2011, resulting in the deaths of four crew.

In the most recent warning, it states that the ‘danger of piracy and consequent loss of life and property in the Gulf of Aden, Yemeni waters and Somali waters remains a threat to sailing vessels’ and that such craft were ‘strongly recommended’ to avoid the area.

Notably, it says that the conclusions of this report state that ‘Somali-based pirate networks and their affiliates retain both the intent and capability to conduct acts of piracy’.

The MSCHOA also mentions ‘numerous incidents’ of armed robbery, indiscriminate shooting and attacks on local fishing dhows’.

Clearly this shows that the threat for merchant, fishing and leisure vessels in transit through the High Risk Area, often coming close to shore in order to save fuel costs, puts them at great risk from attacks.

The resultant prospects once captured and held for ransom are grim, with insurance costs and a corporate need to balance cost with benefit, often playing just as important a role as pure humanitarian concerns in deciding whether to accede to demands.

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Who is protecting your coastal borders?

As highlighted by our maritime security editor in his last blog, attacks at sea are as real a threat as attacks on land.

Pressures posed by terrorism, island disputes and ongoing sovereignty issues have seen countries continue to enhance their shoreline and maritime border protection capabilities.

One of the complexities for nations attempting to protect their maritime borders is which organisation holds responsibility for this mission?

You might think that many of these roles would fall under the remit of a national coast guard, however, in practice it is more complex than that, given the range of operations such forces are expected to perform.

In some cases, the overlap between maritime security functions becomes apparent only as navies and smaller civil border forces compete for the same operating space.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

The Cape Class patrol boat for the Australian Border Force, built by Austal.

Coast guards come in many guises. The Australian Border Force carries out most of the country’s coast guard-type duties, while in the Middle East, the UAE deploys its Critical Infrastructure and Coastal Protection Authority for such activities.

The UK maintains a border force that carries out the traditional safety, policing and maritime security role, and a separate coast guard agency responsible for SAR operations.

Meanwhile, the US Coast Guard is akin to, if not larger, than some naval forces.

The USCG operates some of the largest cutters around and is one of the five armed forces of the US.

With this variety of duties and varied organisations supplying equipment and vessels it can be challenging. With a broad range of operations comes a broad range of requirements.

The USCG is currently embarking on a fleet renewal with new Offshore Patrol Cutters, Fast Response Cutters and National Security Cutters, the latter being some of the largest vessels in service.

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Meanwhile Japan is increasing its budget for its coast guard as well as helping out its neighbours as regional tensions in the South China Sea worsen.

Notably in November 2016, Tokyo announced it would donate two decommissioned Japanese Coast Guard vessels to the Malaysia Maritime Enforcement Agency.

For more on coast guard procurement and the latest vessel technology, see the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security.

Back on the map

The Gulf of Aden and the Bad al Mandeb strait are very much back on the public maritime map after what purports to be a video of a suicide attack released earlier this week on a Royal Saudi Navy warship operating in the waterway.

A video claiming to show the moment of the attack has been widely distributed online.

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Reports indicate that the vessel is an Al Madinah-class frigate. Four of these vessels were constructed for Saudi Arabia in the mid-1980s. Displacing around 2,600t they are relatively small although they are equipped with surface to surface and surface to air missiles, a large main gun and helicopter deck and hangar.

Saudi Arabia is leading a coalition of regional and international allies against a Houthi rebellion in the country, a conflict that has turned increasingly brutal on both sides.

The attack on the Saudi vessel comes just a few months after a UAE aid vessel, although Houthi rebels claim it was a warship, was hit by missile fire launched from the shore. In both cases the damage caused to the vessels appears to have been severe.

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In the same month the USS Mason, USS Nitze and USS Ponce were subjected to missile attacks similar to the one that hit the Saudi vessel.

The US and the UK have all increased patrols in the area as a response to the spate of attacks, which indicate a high level of symmetric and asymmetric capabilities being employed by the Houthis. Iran also sent vessels to the area although it is widely believed they are supporting the Houthis in what has become a proxy war between the Islamic Republic and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

In 2000 the USS Cole was damaged in a suicide attack while docked at the Yemeni port city of Aden with the resultant loss of 15 US service personnel.

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With commercial and military shipping using the vital stretch of water the prevention of similar attacks occurring again will be uppermost in military planners minds.

The never ending story

The poor maritime patrol aircraft has found itself benefiting from a popularity bump in recent days as national media thrash themselves silly over what will and what won’t form part of an expected UK requirement to fill one of the gaps created by the now (in)famous 2010 SDSR.

We can expect to see MPAs putting on a bunch of new outfits and strutting their stuff, parading before a customer probably very keen to make the right call this time around after the unmentionable catalogue of misadventure that was the MRA4 programme.

Some of the MPAs are likely to opt for the classical approach, sporting well-styled turbo-props that hark back to the early days of flight. The comforting thrummm of such aircraft in flight and attached nostalgia could be a pull when it comes to the crunch.

What do we know of the crunch though? Little to nothing.

But we live in the jet age don’t we? Maybe the UK needs a jet, something with two to four engines, a big old payload capability and endurance great enough to fly through a full day-night cycle and really mess with the souls tasked with flying and operating the thing.

For this it’s likely to be down to a fly-by-wire or fly-by-light decision, each located very much at opposite end of the latitudinal poles, thanks to a bit of a shortage of aircraft-manufacturing capability/desire in the UK.

Or maybe the UK could just be done with it and head into the unmanned age, which after all is where it’s at, so say all the people that know far more than this hack. Maybe what the MPA needs is to do is go all ‘Tron’, sleek and post-modern with futuristic gleam, a suitable electro soundtrack thumping in the background as it takes it’s turn on the runway.

Whatever the case, whatever the prevailing fashion, expect it to get a whole lot more contentious before we are all finally put out of our heightened state of suspense.

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Private Practice

The sudden rapid increase in piracy attacks around the Horn of Africa and the, at first, slow response of the international community has led to the rise of a new form of protection for those shipping owners willing and able to pay.

The huge boom in private maritime security companies (PMSCs) has been startling and in a similar vein to their land-based counterparts the initial period of operations created something of a ‘wild west’ environment.

Somalia End of Piracy

However, as naval patrols have brought the incidence of piracy attacks down around the Horn, the environment has begun to change. Easy contracts have been harder to come by and there has been a shift towards increased professionalism in the PMSC community as they look to access new markets and provide a service benchmarked by quality.

In the latest issue of International Maritime and Port Security, Ian Simpson, general manager of Neptune Maritime Security, points out there has been a move by the community to set out and adopt internationally recognised standards, such as ISO (PAS) 28007, which can be used as a stamp of quality. These new standards are designed to give ship operators and owners the assurance they need when they hire the services of a PMSC.

The new standards will also be a handy selling point as PMSCs look to access new markets. As James Bridger explains in his article, there has been a big increase in the number of piracy incidents in the Gulf of Guinea. Recently there has also been an increased level of organisation to the attacks with pirates being able to pinpoint and target specific ships.

In this respect it would be easy to argue that this would be an ideal market for PMSCs. However, the littoral countries of the Gulf of Guinea prevent private individuals from carrying weapons in their coastal waters. This has altered the role that can be played by PMSCs in the region with advisory and consultancy services more in demand.

Similarly, South East Asia is also becoming a complex environment in which to operate. Low level piracy and theft remain the major issues in the region, although there is the occasional larger act of piracy. However, there are lots of cross cutting jurisdictions and complex political issues for PMSCs to navigate.

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Although there has been a shift in its concentration, piracy remains a real problem globally. As Simpson points out:

‘According to the ICC International Maritime Bureau, there were 116 reported incidents of piracy and armed robbery at sea from January to June in 2014 globally.’

PMSCs have had to adapt to this new environment and not all have survived. There have been several recent announcements of companies going under as they fail to find new contracts or have difficulties being paid by some of the more shady shipping operators. However, it is clear that many of them are adapting to this new environment with gusto.

In the next issue of IMPS, Claire Apthorp will be exploring the environment that PMSCs must now operate in and will be talking to some of the companies about how they are meeting these new challenges.