April 15, 2014

A26 Program "terminated", Now Becoming "Next Generation Submarine" (NGS)

MHalblaub kindly alerted me to an article of April 14, 2014, by the Editors of The Australian Strategic Policy Institute's (ASPI's) blog The Strategist at http://www.aspistrategist.org.au/submarines-german-swedish-tensions/ . I've republished this article under the Creative Commons licence and conditions. Note in the article Göran Larsbrink, retired Rear Admiral from Sweden, indicates:

"The submarine program A26 is terminated, but instead the project NGS—Next Generation Submarine—will arise like a bird phoenix. Furthermore, there is a political will to substantially increase Sweden’s defence budget—thank you Mr Putin—including an increase of our submarine force from four to five submarines." 

Article reads:

"Submarines: German–Swedish tensions

At last week’s submarine conference, the following exchange took place between Dr Hans Christoph Atzpodien of TKMS and RADM (Rtd) Göran Larsbrink of Sweden, prompted by a question from the floor. Given the potential contribution of German and Swedish industry players to project SEA 1000, and given recent press interest, we thought it worth presenting the discussion in its entirety.

Errors and omissions excepted
Kym Bergmann (Asia Pacific Defence Reporter):
…to Dr Atzpodien, we read in the European media that there’s a high level of unhappiness between TKMS and your Swedish subsidiary Kockums. Could you please comment on this for us?
Hans Christoph Atzpodien:
Just coming back to your question, actually as everybody knows we are the 100% owner of Kockums in Sweden, which in the meantime is renamed into TKMS AB. We have been invited to acquire it 15 years ago, and unfortunately now as Sweden has engaged in a national submarine program called A26 it seems that we are no longer wanted as a foreign owner— that is our perception. Of course we would have been open to any discussions and fair solutions to this new situation, but there was not much of talking—recently there was much more of, let’s say, force to deprive us of our basic ownership rights, and I can only hope that this will come to an amicable solution. Finally, at least I can say we are open for talks and have offered this various times, and I hope we will have a good solution for that in time because we feel first and foremost a responsibility also for the employees of the company.
Göran Larsbrink:
My name is Göran Larsbrink, retired Rear Admiral from Sweden. Normally there would have been speakers from Sweden here today, but there are reasons for not being here, and it’s just recently that the information about what’s going on has become public, and therefore I think it’s appropriate to mention a little bit about what’s going on since this has an influence on Australia’s choices.
And Sweden is today in a process to resume command over its own naval industry and thereby its own future. And this industry is classified as being of essential national security interests. As wrong as it was to sell Kockums to HDW in 1999, as right it is today to take it back and resume control. In doing so Sweden will be in control of and have the capability to design, produce and operate our own submarines, as well as to cooperate with whom Sweden wants to cooperate with in order to meet national security interests, all under the umbrella of government-to-government agreements. And in this Sweden possess all relevant IP and use it as we want, together with whom Sweden wants, and there is no one else that can use it without permission from our Government.
What is going on now is a swift and determined transition of submarine design and production competence from former Kockums to Saab. The infrastructure for production can and will be solved in different ways. The submarine program A26 is terminated, but instead the project NGS—Next Generation Submarine—will arise like a bird phoenix. Furthermore, there is a political will to substantially increase Sweden’s defence budget—thank you Mr Putin—including an increase of our submarine force from four to five submarines. And in this, the Government, the Opposition, all the defence authorities and the industry (meaning Saab) are agreed upon and are fully committed that it shall be done [inaudible] and successfully.
Hans Christoph Atzpodien:
Please allow me to just comment on this. Mr Larsbrink I think this is a surprising statement. You have to recognise first of all we are the legitimate owner of the company and we are living all together inside the EU, and I rate it quite surprising if you state here that you just take it back. We could, I was not going more deeply into that upon the question I was asked, but with this statement I have to because the measures to take it back resulted in hiring massively our skilled people without telling us, taking away the business licence or putting it on hold, not providing us with any further orders for shipyard in total and thereby destroying the industrial base and the employment base for almost a thousand people, and this is something which we cannot see in line with legal actions and we cannot see in line with responsibility for a company and for the employees.

Other sites deal with the future Australian Submarine (SEA 1000) Debate

The news feed on the Australian Submarine Institute's website at http://www.submarineinstitute.com/ or its RSS at http://www.submarineinstitute.com/RSS-News-Feed-Submarine-Institute-of-Australia.rss adequately covers the avalanche of Australian media items on Australia's future submarine selection debate (Project "SEA 1000"). (Photo above is from Australian Submarine Institute's website Homepage).

Due to the veritable avalanche of Australian media reports on the future Australian Submarine (Project SEA 1000) debate I shall no longer post the text of Australian articles by other writers (unless I've written the articles myself). The volume of those reports will continue until an actual selection is made in the next 3 years or so.

The best ongoing news source on this debate is the moving news feed on the Australian Submarine Institute website at http://www.submarineinstitute.com/  under "OTHER NEWS" on the right hand panel. Also see its RSS at http://www.submarineinstitute.com/RSS-News-Feed-Submarine-Institute-of-Australia.rss . For April 9-10, 2014 you will see how many articles there are.

What I shall continue to do is report on: other submarine characteristics and forces (of non-"Five Eyes") in Australia's region; the Swedish-German corporate battle; and on major powers as far away as Russia. 

Reporting on foreign reconnaissance satellites will continue.

Occasional reporting on (regional relations, broadly defence of Australia, surface warships, aircraft, missiles, terrorism and non-Five Eye sigint) will also continue :)


April 13, 2014

Swedish and German Top Executives Selling Subs to Australia

Anders Carp of Vice President Saab (on left) promoting Swedish submarines for Australia
Hans-Christoph Atzpodien, Chairman TKMS, promoting German submarines.

The corporate battle between Sweden-Saab and Germany’s TKMS is heating up. A conference held in Canberra, Australia over the last week very much concerned competition among Swedish and German participants to win Australia's future diesel-electric submarine order of up to $40 billion.

As can be seen in the article below there is a major surprise that there is no consensus among Australia's government and private industry entities on how the future submarine project should proceed.
Cameron Stewart of The Australian, April 12, 2014, reported on the Canberra conference. His article "Swedish designs on our sea power"  is long so below is just  smaller excerpts. The full article is at: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/national-affairs/policy/swedish-designs-on-our-sea-power/story-e6frg8yo-1226881310883#
"...Sweden had shot itself in the foot by previously selling the Collin-class designer Kockums to the Germans, robbing it of the capacity to design and build its own submarines.
All of a sudden, the only realistic prospect left to design the new Australian submarines were the Germans via submarine builder ThyssenKrupp (TKMS). The Germans had more than 70 years’ experience in submarine design and building and, with an eye to Australia’s program, TKMS had drawn up a design concept for a 4000-tonne submarine dubbed the 216. It was only a “paper submarine”, given Germany had never built such a large boat, but at least it was a credible option.
In February [2014] it suddenly dawned on all the players that Germany was poised to [win] the largest design contract in Australian history because all of its potential competitors had fallen over.
But then, just when the Germans could taste victory, the Swedes decided to swoop.
They launched a remarkable campaign to deal themselves back into the submarine game by sabotaging the Germans and wooing the Australians.
The Swedes’ actions in recent weeks have become the talk of the global arms trade.
Having foolishly sold off its submarine building capability to Germany in 1999, Sweden now wants it back, a desire fuelled further by Russia’s recent aggression in Ukraine.
In February [2014] the Swedish government asked its largest defence company, Saab, to study the feasibility of Sweden re-establishing its submarine capability without the Germans, who in 2010 had been asked to build Sweden’s new submarines, known as the A26.
Saab is a hugely successful Swedish institution, having built the country’s fighter jet, but it has never built submarines, does not have a shipyard and until recently had few submarine experts.
But with the hot breath of its government at its back, Saab has launched an astonishing industrial raid on workers at the TKMS-owned Kalskrona shipyard in Sweden.
It has been holding workshops after work, evoking Swedish nationalism and offering rich rewards to those who swap sides,
In the past four weeks, an astonishing 100 submarine builders have been successfully poached, doubling Saab’s potential submarine workforce.
The trouble with the Swedish plan is that Sweden will not need enough submarines to sustain its industry alone. It needs overseas work. It needs Australia.
[In March 2014] Sweden made its move on Australia, sending a powerful five-member delegation to Canberra, including its navy chief Rear Admiral Jan Thornqvist and Lena Erixon, the feisty head of its defence materiel administration, FMV.
The Swedes knocked on every door they could find, both professional and personal, selling Sweden’s dream of designing Australia’s new submarine
Thornqvist even dined at the home of Australian naval chief Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, having previously given him a personal tour of the Vasa maritime museum in Stockholm and a wild boat ride through the Swedish archipelago.
After that dinner, Thornqvist retired to the bar of the Hyatt Hotel [in Canberra] to drink scotch with Saab executives and to reflect on events.
The Australian government was surprised and a little sceptical to hear of Sweden’s grand play for its submarine project. But the move by Sweden and Saab gives Australia more potential design options for its submarines, so Canberra did not try to dissuade the Swedes.
On March 18, only days after the group returned from Australia, Sweden formalised its divorce from the Germans. In a frosty meeting in Stockholm, Erixon called in senior TKMS executives and read to them from a prepared statement.
“It was like an execution decree,” recalls one of the German officials. “She read from a statement saying: ‘We will never do business with you, we do not trust you.’ ”
Saab has stepped up its own public relations campaign, flying The Australian to Sweden last week to visit its facilities, convey its strategy and to discuss the planned expansion of its operations in Australia.
Saab [Vice President] Anders Carp says a benefit to Australia of having Sweden as a partner is that part of Sweden’s own submarines could also be built in Adelaide, supplementing Australia’s program and helping sustain local shipbuilding.
He even implied Saab could be interested in acquiring the government-owned submarine shipbuilder in Adelaide, ASC.
But Saab is also feeling the heat on several fronts.
On April 4 its internal communications were intercepted by an unknown foreign entity, prompting a warning to its executives to be wary of industrial espionage at this heated time.
The Germans are furious about Sweden’s actions and they used an Australian Strategic Policy Institute conference in Canberra this week to fire back at the Swedes and secure their position as the design frontrunner for the $40bn submarine program.
Germany’s TKMS dispatched a powerful delegation led by its chairman, Hans-Christoph Atzpodien, to Canberra. They met Defence Minister Johnston in the Hyatt Hotel’s Murrumbidgee room and sold their wares.
The Germans also met other heavy-hitters including the Defence Materiel Organisation’s head Warren King and general manager submarines David Gould.
Just to make sure their message was heard, TKMS hosted champagne drinks at the conference dinner at the Australian War Memorial on Wednesday evening. Speaking under a suspended World War II Messerschmitt fighter, Atzpodien told Australia’s military and defence elite that his company wanted “to be partners” with Australia.
Inside the Hyatt conference room the next day, the Germans and the Swedes prowled around, carefully avoiding each other, while retreating to dark corners to brief admirals, defence officials and other policymakers about their ambitions.
Almost all of the world’s submarine builders were at the ASPI conference and, while they were too polite to say so publicly, many were dismayed by the almost complete lack of consensus among the Australians about the way forward.
Their irritation reached its zenith on Wednesday when the head of the future submarine project team, Simon Todd, stood up and advocated that Australia develop its own sovereign design submarine capability.
Word of his speech — which appeared to be at odds with the message given to the integrated project team by Johnston last December — filtered back to an unimpressed Defence Minister.
The foreign representatives at the meeting were equally stunned.
That evening, a member of the German delegation fired off an email to Johnston, warning that if Australia was moving back to a home-grown design, then the Future Submarine program was potentially the “biggest disaster” Australian defence had seen.
Defence is preparing options for the government, which has said it wants to make a final decision by early next year on who will design the submarine, although sources say this deadline will not be met.
A senior government source admits that the giant program is “in limbo”.
Sources say the government has all but dismissed the notion that the new submarines will be an evolved version of the Collins because Sweden still owns the intellectual property for the Collins and a new agreement will be too hard to negotiate.
There is also a view in Defence that the Collins technology will be too old to upgrade successfully. “You can upgrade a Toyota, but it is still a Toyota,” one insider said.
This means the new submarines will be a brand-new design, the most risky and expensive option. Johnston has at least minimised some of this risk by insisting that an experienced foreign designer such as Germany or Sweden should design the boat, notwithstanding the preferences of the utopians in Defence. But even this may not be enough.
Johnston’s office has been too scared to place the future submarine issue on the radar of Joe Hockey or Abbott, fearing that the huge sums involved will lead to the program being severely curtailed.
This week, Johnston sniffed the wind and flagged that Australia may built fewer than 12 new submarines. As one observer put it: “If you were David Johnston and you had a document on it that said $40bn, would you pass that over to Joe Hockey before you needed to?”
Johnston will need to bite the bullet at some point soon because the new submarines will need to come into service in the early 2030s to replace the Collins-class boats, which themselves will need a life-extension to cover for the slow progress in the new submarine program.
This means detailed design work will need to begin within two years, with the aim of cutting steel by 2023.
In others words, the government will soon have to pay serious money for this project and Johnston will need to make a clear and precise case to win the support of the Treasurer and the Prime Minister.
But as Australia fiddles, the world is circling. The Baltic war between the angry Germans and the sneaky Swedes is just a prelude to the dirty games that will unfold in the years ahead as Australia tries to play with the big boys of the global arms trade."

April 11, 2014

Thirteen Hundred US Marines Visiting Australia

A marine in the Australian desert sporting an M-32 grenade launcher.
The following is my article published on Australia's On Line Opinion today, at http://www.onlineopinion.com.au/view.asp?article=16207 :

The Yanks are coming...again

By Peter Coates - posted Friday, 11 April 2014

Over the next few days around thirteen hundred US marines will begin their six month visit to the Northern Territory. This has increasing political, economic, military and perhaps social implications for the Northern Territory, Australia generally and the southern Asia-Pacific region.

An article from the US military press agency on the arrival of the marine advance guard includes unintended ironies and what has to be humour : "…Australia and the U.S have fought alongside each other in nearly every major conflict since World War II, a relationship the Australian prime minister and U.S. president make sure remains strong and productive" [followed eventually by] "A smile sat below the eyes of every Marine exiting the plane to be welcomed into Darwin, their new home for the next six months."

Most of the marines are from the 1st Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment based at Camp Pendleton in California. Ferrying them around are four very large Sea Stallion helicopters each capable of lifting 55 troops.

The six month visit (called a "rotation" by the military) of the thirteen hundred is up from 250 marines last year. By 2017 the annual visit may amount to what is promised to be a full 2,500 man Marine Air Ground Task Force. In terms of activities - some marines may attend Exercise Hamel near Townsville - perhaps in June-July 2014. Larger numbers of marines may exercise at the Northern Territory's Bradshaw field training area in August 2014. Marine training with military forces from New Zealand and southeast Asia may also occur http://news.ninemsn.com.au/national/2014/03/26/16/00/more-than-1000-us-marines-arrive-in-darwin.

In 2011, during the rapidly forgotten Gillard government, President Obama announced the marine rotational scheme. When Obama visits Australia for the G-20 Summit in Brisbane November 15–16, 2014 it's likely he will reaffirm this alliance commitment. Obama's visit to Australia and his reaffirmation that the marine's will continue to visit will provide a needed boost to the Abbott government just as it did to the fleeting Labor governments.

The visits of US marines in increasing numbers may probably provide the most visible and concrete example of America's alliance with Australia. The visits will grow in importance as the forlorn memory of the joint effort to democratise Afghanistan recedes. As a type of payment for the marine visits Australia has spent several $million upgrading facilities at Robertson Barracks in Darwin, where the marines will be mainly based. Australian purchases of US weapons, such as the F-35 joint strike fighter, are not so obviously linked, but such purchases contribute to the alliance bond that keeps the marines coming.

In terms of Obama's foreign policy platform the marine visit may also be the most tangible sign of the US pivot or rebalance to our part of the southern Asia-Pacific. The threat always exists that US attention may be distracted by its other global concerns - in Africa, the Middle East or Ukraine-Eastern Europe - instead. Keeping US attention focussed on our own region pays and also costs.

This part-time US marine presence may also be perceived as a largely symbolic counter-weight to a recent increase in Chinese naval activity close to Australia's shores. The surprising appearance in the Timor Sea, two months ago, of a Chinese flotilla of two destroyers and an amphibious assault ship was played down by the Australian and Indonesian governments. Up to eight Chinese warships off Western Australia hunting for MH370 appears excessive, even for such an important search effort. In the face of a relatively low-key (compared to China) US naval presence in the search for MH370 the marine visit is all the more important.

Australian and US authorities insist that these marine six month visits will not build up to a permanent marine base presence in Australia, but some are sceptical. Some in the Darwin community, like BaseWatch have serious concerns about the impact marines will have on Darwin. They don't want a repeat of the issues, including aircraft noise and violent crime, that residents of Okinawa face from permanent US bases. US military public affairs officer Lieutenant Savannah Moyer insists that a midnight curfew on marines, known as the "Cinderella curfew", will reduce the chance of bad behaviour. In any case the Northern Territory Chief Minister Adam Giles has underlined the economic benefits the marines bring when he estimates they contribute around $5 million to the local economy.

So the marines bring a plethora of political, military, economic and possible social issues. Their arrival may be timely for Australia or may just send the wrong signals to China. A six month presence may make more sense if it became permanent. But how important is Australia's autonomy and sovereignty?


April 8, 2014

Intellectual Property, Stirling AIP on Chinese Type 041 Yuan Submarine

The Stirling AIP of the type fitted to Kockum's submarines including the Gotland Class (Photos courtesy of  http://kockums.se/en/products-services/submarines/stirling-aip-system/the-stirling-engine/stirling-aip/ )

China's Type 041 Yuan Class submarine - with Stirling AIP?

Does the reference below to Chinese use of Stirling engines for air independent propulsion (AIP) mean:

1.  Kockums sold its Stirling engine technology (see http://www.kockums.se/en/products-services/submarines/stirling-aip-system/) to China? or

2.  Did China acquire Stirling technology covertly from current users - Sweden, Japan (Soryu Class) or Singapore (Archer Class)? or

3.  Did China develop Stirling indigenously with the help of open source information - like the Kockums Stirling photo above? 

Perhaps China used all three methods.

According to http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/china/yuan.htm in March 2007 Jane's Navy International reported that the Yuan class was fitted with an AIP system developed by the No.711 Ship Research Institute. Yuan is using an AIP engine of 100 kw in power, and is probably equipped with 2 such AIP engine. Sweden's Gotland Class submarines use 2 V4-275R stirling AIP units (each rated 75 kw). The larger Yuan obviously needs more powerful AIP units.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_041_submarine#Propulsion advises "Recent rumors stated that the [Type 041 Yuans] utilize a Stirling cycle engine, but this cannot be confirmed. It is also unclear if the incorporation of air-independent propulsion system has become the standard or just for evaluation purposes. Since the air-independent propulsion systems on board western submarines usually rate at 150 kW to 300 kW, so it is safe to assume that similar systems on board Chinese submarines would also be consisted of at least two units just like its western counterpart."


April 4, 2014

Russian Conventional Submarine Development - Kalina Class

AIP Amur 1650 (export name of the larger version of 4th generation Lada Class) compared to the HDW 214. The Amur-Lada may be the closest representation available of what the Kalina may look like. (Diagram courtesy of http://cintabelanegara.blogspot.com.au/search?q=amur+1650 )

On March 19, 2014 Admiral Viktor Chirkov, Commander of the Russian Navy, announced the future development of a Fifth Generation conventional diesel-electric submarine, dubbed Project Kalina. The Kalina Class submarines would be fitted with an air-independent propulsion (AIP) system. Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau expected the Kalina design to be completed by 2017 and perhaps the first Kalina to be fitted with AIP by 2018.

From now until 2018 the new AIP system may be tested on the only operational submarine (the St Petersburg) of the preceding Fourth Generation Lada-class. Given China’s earlier interest in buying four Ladas China may be the first customer for Kalina Class submarines. These largely marketing statements for the Kalina Class provide a timely opportunity to look back at Russia's post World War Two conventional submarine development.

In information on Russia’s Rubin Design Bureau website – at http://www.ckb-rubin.ru/en/projects/naval_engineering/conventional_submarines/ Russia’s post World War evolution of conventional diesel-electric submarines includes five generations:

First generation: - Whiskey Class (Project 613), Zulu Class (Project 611) and Foxtrot Class (Project 641) - all heavily influenced by the most advanced World War Two German submarines

Second Generation – the ocean going Tango Class (Project 641B).

Third Generation – Kilo (Project 877 and 636). The first Kilo (of the Project 877 series) was commissioned into the Soviet Navy in 1980. Production of 877s continued until 1999. Upgrades, particularly adding Club missile capability continue. Commissiong of the first Improved Kilo (of the Project 636 series) was in 1997 with the first boat going to China. Production of new 636s continues with orders up to 2016.

Fourth Generation – Lada Class (Project 677) – also marketed as the Amur 1650 and smaller Amur 950.
The first and only submarine of the Lada Class, was the St. Petersburg (lets call it Lada 1). Lada 1 entered sea trials in 2004 but has proven unsuccessful due to propulsion and other problems, which may include or explain lack of AIP. Lada 1's displacement is 25% lower than submarines of the preceding Kilo Class submarine. Significantly two other submarines in the Lada Class (lets call them Lada 2 and 3) were partly built. Lada 2 may rely on extra battery capacity using lithium-ion batteries, while Lada 3 may have AIP.

Fifth Generation – future Kalina Class (the future first of class can be called Kalina 1). The possibly AIP equipped Lada 3 may be a prototype for Kalina 1 or even form the hull of Kalina 1. Kalina 1 may be ready for trials after 2020.

Russian AIP

Russia is far behind Western countries in actually deploying AIP systems. Those Western countries are Sweden, Germany, France, Japan and South Korea (other European countries?). Pakistan also has AIP (French MESMA). Russia has been talking about its untested? Kristall-27E AIP for at least a decade. Kristall is described as a system with alkali matrix electrolyte, intermetallid storage of hydrogen, cryogenic storage of oxygen and a low-temperature electrochemical generator.  See Kristall-27E AIP described in great detail at http://www.military-quotes.com/forum/kristall-aip-submarine-alternative-t50360.html and  http://www.military-quotes.com/forum/submarines-comparison-aip-fuel-cell-t50287.html .

Comment - All of this Russian originated description appears to be marketing claims in place of full development and deployment. It appears that Russia is not developing AIP for its own submarine corps but instead may develop it if a foreign customers places orders for AIP submarines. The risk appears to lie with customers during a lengthy development phase. This may explain why customers have restricted their purchases to non-AIP Kilos - that are less expensive and less technically risky than AIP Ladas. It will be interesting if the Kalina sells - though we are talking years.

April 2, 2014

UK Nuclear Sub Joins MH370 Search

UK nuclear propelled attack submarine (SSN) HMS Tireless probably at Her Majesty's Naval Base (HMNB) Clyde in Scotland.

HMS Tireless inside. No VLS - its Tomahawks are launched from its horizontal torpedo tubes.

Australia's news.com.au, April 2, 2014, reports http://www.news.com.au/travel/travel-updates/nuclear-submarine-joins-search-for-missing-malaysia-airlines-flight-mh370/story-fnizu68q-1226871783527

A British nuclear submarine [HMS Tireless] is set to join the search for missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370.
Malaysia’s Defence and acting Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein revealed the news via Twitter, saying he had just received word from the UK’s secretary of state for Defence, Philip Hammond, that HMS Tireless will join in the search effort.
The Ministry of Defence said the Trafalgar class submarine had arrived in the southern Indian Ocean and would soon be joined by the survey vessel HMS Echo.
Both ships carry advanced underwater search capabilities which will be applied in the search for the ultrasonic “pings” being emitted by the missing aircraft’s black box flight recorders.
It may prove to be one of the last missions for HMS Tireless, which had originally been scheduled to be scrapped in 2013.
The nuclear-powered submarine was launched in 1984. It carries a crew of 130 and 18 officers."
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/HMS_Tireless_(S88) was launched in 1984 and has a mixed safety record. Tireless will probably attempt to detect  “pings” emitted by MH370's Black Box using its passive sonars and other electronic receivers. It is less likely that Tireless' active sonars and other sensors would be able to "shape" (detect) MH370 debris floating or on the ocean floor. Tireless is unlikely to be equipped to recover  MH370 debries from the ocean floor.

HMS Echo - a multi-role hydrographic survey ship of 3,500 tons is likely to be more useful in search and recovery.

March 31, 2014

Chinese Fleet Searching for MH370

The 20,000 tone JinggangShanType 071 amphibious transport dock - part of China's MH370 search fleet.

Previous and current search area for MH370 debris - as at March 31, 2014. (map courtesy http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26514556 )

The following are ships of the Chinese FLEET (too big to be a flotilla) searching for MH370 in the area off Western Australia in the southern Indian Ocean. This is my estimate of ship names as at March 31, 2014. Note that complete accuracy is not assured as some ships may have left or not yet arrived. Its based on Chinese sources - not always accurate.

Haixun 01 (or 1001) 1,700 tons - is a Chinese (Type 718 Cutter) coast guard cutter. Its specialty is law enforcement and search and rescue. It is based in Shanghai and is the Chinese coast guard's most modern vessel. It carries two large dinghies and can carry one helicopter.

Qiandaohu Type 903 replenishment ship 20,500 tons, long term supplies, rations, fuel, spares. 

Xue Long (?) 21,025 tons polar supply ship – icebreaker . Mainly useful for long term supplies, cold rough weater,  and useful cranes to lift large objects out of water. Search helicopter. Can lower boats and dinghies to pick up floating objects. May still be in area.

JinggangShan, Type 071 amphibious transport dock – 20,000 tons carrying life-saving equipment, landing craft, underwater detection equipment, supplies of water and food, two helicopters, 30 medical personnel, 10 divers and a 52-member marine contingent.

KunlunShan Type 071 amphibious transport dock , - 20,000 tons, carrying life-saving equipment, landing craft, underwater detection equipment, supplies of water and food, two helicopters, 30 medical personnel, 10 divers and a 52-member marine contingent.

Haikou, Type 052C destroyer 7,000 tons, fleet operations, communications  and control,  mainly military use radar, sonar and optics. Search helicopter and small UAVs. Can lower boats and dinghies to pick up floating objects.

Nanhaijiu 115 rescue ship, and 

To give an idea of the scale of the Chinese fleet, though some ship names differ today, connect with The Beijing Review, March 31. 2014, "Chinese Ships Convene for MH370 Search, Australian PM Applauds Assistance"  http://www.bjreview.com.cn/se/txt/2014-03/31/content_610609.htm