February 12, 2016

Vietnam's Strategic Relations Countering China

Vietnam's main naval bases (above). The Navy consists mainly of Russian built smaller craft. The (potentially Klub missile armed) Gepard class frigates and Klub armed Improved Kilo submarines are the most powerful units. The TT-400TPs gunboats are locally built. The Navy is orientated toward  low-end Chinese actions (Chinese coast guard, naval militia/trawler, contentious oil rigs and verbal threats) in the South China Sea and periodic clashes with China.

Russia's delivery of five Improved Kilo submarines to Vietnam over the last few years has been very efficient. In early February 2016 the fiftth Kilo HQ-186 Da Nang was delivered to Vietnam's major naval base at Cam Ranh Bay. The sixth, final, submarine, HQ-187 Vung Tau, is expected to be delivered later in 2016.

Vietnam maintains relations with several regional powers to counterbalance China's power.

Unlike other Southeast Asian/ASEAN countries Vietnam has defended itself from large outside powers and beaten them in the last 50 years. This has contributed to a rational defence posture that has not been tainted by the regional norm of inefficiency.

The methodical, focussed nature of Vietnam's defence force is only equaled in Southeast Asia by Singapore. Singapore recognises it is dwarfed by its Indonesian and Malaysian neighbours so Singapore has bought high tech weapons from the US and Western Europe. In return Singapore has tangible support from the US military.

Vietnam's purchase of six Russian submarines is just part of Vietnam's commercial and strategic relationship with Russia. Here were tentative early days of the submarine deal. This relationship is not an alliance but Vietnam realises that when it again is threatened by China (as in 1979-1990) Russia and to some extent the US can exert political and economic pressure on China. 

On land Vietnam can inflict high casualties on encroaching Chinese forces - as Vietnam did in the 1979 Border "Sino-Vietnamese" War. That 1979 Border War was large, with more than 100,000 Chinese troops and militia killed. But Vietnam realises it cannot beat China alone. 

Vietnam's submarines can do major damage to China through putting China's sea trade (especially oil and LNG supplies) at risk. Vietnam's submarines are armed with Klub missiles that have a land attack capability. Chinese leaders and military would lose considerable face if Vietnamese missiles hit such major Chinese cities as Guangzhou and Shanghai. Vietnam's frigates and corvettes could also be potentially fitted with Russia's newly proven Klub/Kalibr land attack missiles.

In addition to Russia and the US Vietnam has close relations with such regional powers as India, Japan, South Korea and Australia. 

Although there is the strategic threat from China Vietnam has close economic relations with China
Australia also has the conundrum of close economic relations but frosty strategic relations with China.

Vietnam also has long term nuclear energy aspirations - a complication not lost on China. Here is an earlier nuclear report on Submarine Matters.


February 11, 2016

Japan would benefit from US Combat System when selling Submarines to Australia

Just some of the components of the US AN/BYG-1 combat system. Australia is already using it in the Collins and will use it in the future submarine. Japan is also interested in using more AN/BYG-1 parts for its own submarines. See this image much larger and readable here.

This diagram Australian Defence Force slide display (2015) explains the major elements of a Combat System.

The following are snippets of an article by Greg Sheridan, Foreign Editor for The Australian, February 11, 2016. I've hyperlinked and bolded some parts:

“Japan building Australian submarines is a match made in heaven

The $50 billion-plus program to replace our six Collins-class submarines, with up to 12 new subs, may have at its heart a dynamic which has barely featured in the discussion so far. That dynamic is a Japanese interest in acquiring the US combat system on the Collins, and the related [Mark 48] heavy torpedo.

The Japanese Soryu subs...have a capable combat system but it is not as good as the US system. From the beginnings of the strategic discussions between Canberra and Tokyo, and at the highest levels of government and the bureaucracy, there have been quiet discussions that out of this process the Japanese could eventually acquire the US combat system for their own subs.

…The Americans also harbour the greatest concern about the ability of European defence companies to keep their technology secure from Chinese industrial espionage. Partly to reassure the Americans on this score, the Turnbull government is conducting a separate limited tender between two American companies, Lockheed Martin and Raytheon, as to who will be the combat system integrator on our new sub.

 given that the Soryu actually exists, whereas the German and French subs are completely new builds and exist so far only on paper, there is less technical and commercial risk with the Japanese as well…[see WHOLE ARTICLE]


The Australian is Australia’s most influential newspaper on national security issues – so it is impressive that it has substantial things to say about US and Japanese submarine combat systems. Combat systems are arcane to most newspapers.

The possibility of Japan adopting all of the elements of the US AN/BYG-1 combat system (not just some of them as at present) deepens the mutual benefits of a Japanese submarine sale to Australia. The extent of US influence on the submarine sale has been long covered by Submarine Matters here, here and here.

More recently see Submarine Matters Chart of Japan’s Soryu Submarine Combat System, and AN/BYG-1 Integration of January 27, 2016 where I wrote:

“If Japan is chosen in the CEP the US companies and Australian companies will need to work with Japanese companies to replace the Japanese combat system (below) or adapt parts of the Japanese combat which are already the same or similar to parts of the AN/BYG-1 combat system.”

Japan (with US agreement) using more of the concepts and technology in the US combat system makes sense. 

Japan, the US and Australia would all benefit if Japan pooled research and production resources by adopting the US Mark 48 heavyweight torpedo.

This Japanese Soryu submarine Combat System flow chart is on Japanese technologist  wispywood2344's website, passed on by S. Note that this combat system works to Japan's Type 89 heavyweight torpedo rather than the US Mark 48 torpedo. (Chart first published in Submarine Matters on January 27, 2016)


February 10, 2016

US Diesel Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) Nuclear Threat

The Lockheed Martin Remote Minehunting System (RMS) also Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) is current semi-submersible (diesel only) but diesel + batteries could make it fully submersible for days (or maybe weeks).
 Lockheed Martin's Remote Minehunting System (RMS) using sonars and other sensors to find mines. (Diagram courtesy panzercho)

One of the threats to America's all nuclear submarine service is not ASW forces but diesel propulsion. Worse still is a diesel powered semi-submersible that is being developed by, and for the surface navy! Here is a  Lockheed Martin Remote Minehunting System (RMS) advert and a larger Lockheed Martin PDF.

Inefficient battery powered UUVs and battery SEAL Delivery Vehicles (SDVs) are not considered a threat.

US Littoral Combat Ships are increasingly testing the Lockheed Martin Remote Minehunting System (RMS) above. Its diesel is reliant on a snorkel making it only semi-submersible but if lead-acid or Lithium-ion batteires are also fitted it will be fully submersible for days (or maybe weeks).  

The RMS is being held to a very high standard of scrutiny by some in the US Navy. While others argue. “What I think is lost in these discussions,” Guariniadded, “is that reliability is just one aspect of my performance requirements. Ultimately the system is finding mines. While we will work to improve reliability, the bottom line is that it does do what it was designed to do.”

Or does the RMS have chronic problems?

Worse still Lockheed Martin is also referring to the RMS as a Remote Multi-Mission Vehicle (RMMV) which opens up non-minehunting functions like SEAL Delivery or multi-day manned reconnaissance missions in shallow water. Such missions cannot be done economically by 7,000+ ton SSNs.

The rapidly growing range of USVs and UUVs (like the diesel RMS).


SMH Reports Australia Likely to Buy 12 Submarines

Australia's Defence Minister, Marise Payne, working quietly on the 2016 Defence White Paper and on the Submarine Winner Decision. (Photo courtesy AAP)

David Wroe in the Sydney Morning Herald (SMH), February 9, 2016, reports http://www.smh.com.au/federal-politics/political-news/malcolm-turnbull-leaning-towards-fullstrength-fleet-of-12-submarines-20160209-gmpiel.html:

"The Turnbull government is leaning strongly towards building a full-strength fleet of 12 submarines rather than the reduced fleet of eight boats the Coalition was previously considering.

...But it is understood that given the advantages of creating a large and permanent submarine workforce, the need to honour the Abbott-era promise and the strategic uncertainty Australia faces in the Asia-Pacific region in the decades to come, the Turnbull government is inclined to commit to the full 12 boats in the revamped white paper.

That major defence statement, which will lay out the nation's security plans for the next decade, is [Defence White Paper] due to be released next month.

[In line with Submarine Matters expectation that the government would only announce a submarine winner after the next election] …”Senator Payne said the government would announce "this year" the winner of that contest but did not specify that it would be before the federal election….” [see WHOLE ARTICLE]


I would say Australia will end up with 8 x Japanese designed subs, but with an option (never taken up) of 4 more. We are working with such long lead times that long terrm government promises made in 2016 count as nothing in 2026.

A promise of "12" amounts to a good "continuous build" political promise in Adelaide.

Australia's ongoing struggles to find sufficient submarine commanders and crew for even 2 (of 6) submarines available for action at any one time certainly mitigates against making 12 submarines a viable and economical number.


February 9, 2016

South Korean - Russian "THAAD like" systems for Intercepting North Korean Missiles

A KM-SAM (or M-SAM or MR-SAM) battery could potentially shoot down North Korean or Chinese ballistic missiles. KM-SAM was developed by South Korea with surprisingly close Russain cooperation. (Photo courtesy GlobalSecurity)

Following North Korea's February 6, 2016 long range ("satellite") rocket launch there is renewed South Korean interest in "upper tier" missiles that can shoot down North Korean ballistic missiles at high altitude. 

The US and South Korea have been discussing the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as a solution. But Chinese opposition to a South Korean Anti-Ballistic Missile (ABM) (or ballistic missile defence (BMD)) system on its doorstep may sway the US Congress or hesitant Obama away from approving THAAD for South Korea. Possible US blockage or hesitation on approving THAAD may be encourage South Korea to make its existing medium-tier KM-SAM system an "upper tier" system.

South Korea working with Russia on such a sensitive strategic missile program surprised me but its true. South Korea appears to be hedging in its alliance building by nurturing substantial links to China and Russia while maintaining the traditional US alliance.

KM-SAM (aka Cheolmae-2 or Cheongung or M-SAM) is a parallel program to Russia's new S-350E Vityaz surface to air missile (SAM). As "S-350" suggests the S-350 (and KM-SAM) is intended to be superior to some versions of Russia's S-300 SAM system (especially the S-300P or PS)

The KM-SAM (Cheolmae-2) is currently the middle-tier of South Korea's three-tier aerial and missile defence program. The middle-tier KM-SAM was due to enter service by late 2015, replacing the aging MIM-23 Hawk missile system. Current KM-SAM performance may be the ability to intercept targets up to a ceiling of 15 km at a range of 40 km.
The ABM capable "upper tier" development option comes in the shape of the "Cheolmae 4-H" aiming for (early) THAAD like performance of ceiling (61 km) and range (150 km). South Korea would need to rely heavily on Russian S-400 technology to achieve such "upper tier" performance. Naturally the US would not want to see excessive South Korean reliance on Russia.

It appears that it would take South Korea much longer to develop an upper-tier KM-SAM than receive THAAD from the US (if the US doesn't hesitate). 

The KM-SAM (above called "MR-SAM"). It has a cold launch (using compressed gas) then the missile's rocket motor ignites and the missile is guided by radar. The missile can change direction quickly and with a low IR signature has little chance of being detected by the enemy. In cooperation with Russia, a Korean engineering team replaced the existing large Russian radar system with a smaller truck mounted radar.