Defence Minister announces the gifting of two Landing Craft to the Philippines

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CANBERRA, -- The Australian Government will gift two recently-decommissioned Landing Craft Heavy vessels, including a package of spare parts, to the Philippines Government, the Minister for Defence Kevin Andrews announced today.

Mr Andrews said the former Royal Australian Navy vessels HMAS Tarakan and Brunei would be gifted to the Philippine Navy after being refurbished with new safety and navigation equipment.

“I expect the vessels will be refitted and ready for hand over in May 2015,” Mr Andrews said.

The Landing Craft will be commissioned in the Philippines Navy and will provide additional intra-theatre sealift capability.

A lack of sealift capability hampered efforts to assist Philippines’ coastal areas devastated by Super Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.

“The Landing Craft will greatly improve the Philippines’ ability to respond to natural disasters by enabling heavy equipment and large amounts of aid to be moved to affected areas,” Mr Andrews said.

The Landing Craft Heavy fleet was decommissioned from Australian service at a ceremony in Cairns on 19 November 2014.

The Philippines Government is also considering whether to purchase the remaining three Landing Craft Heavy. The former HMAS Wewak, Betano and Balikpapan were decommissioned from the Royal Australian Navy in 2012.

The Philippines is set to receive two Balikpapan-class LCHs similar to HMAS Labuan (seen here) from Australia.

US Army to ramp up Apache MUM-T as Kiowa retirement begins

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WASHINGTON, -- As the US Army begins divesting its Bell OH-58 Kiowa Warrior reconnaissance helicopters, the service is planning to augment its Boeing AH-64 Apache Manned Unmanned Teaming (MUM-T) capability to enable the attack helicopter to take the legacy fleet's place, the army's capabilities manager for aerial reconnaissance and attack said during a 28 January press briefing.

The army is developing capability that will enable Apache pilots to control the unmanned aerial vehicles' (UAV) sensors and weapons from the cockpit, said Colonel Jeff White, US Army Training and Doctrine Command capabilities manager for reconnaissance and attack.

"We think that capability will be approved and starting to field in [Fiscal Year] 2019," he said. "We don't think there will be delays because of the importance of the additional capabilities." The army has already begun fielding Apaches that can transmit and receive full-motion video with AAI RQ-7 Shadow and MQ-1C Gray Eagle UAVs, he added. Each active duty aviation division is expected to receive a company of MQ-1Cs under its aviation restructure initiative (ARI).

At the same time, the army is planning to replace its AH-64Ds with more capable E-models. The replacement would be facilitated with a multi-year contract for FY2017-21, Colonel Jeff Hager, the army's Apache programme manager, said during the same event. That plan still needs Pentagon approval by March 2016.

Meanwhile, the army has already retired two Kiowa units and has begun divesting a third. This fulfils a major portion of the ARI, which also entails the Army National Guard transferring all 192 of its Apaches to the active-duty army in exchange for 111 Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawks.

The ARI has been controversial on Capitol Hill, but Col White said the army is continuing to implement the plan. Congress last year prohibited the transfer of the national guard's Apaches to the active component until fiscal year 2016 and called for an independent study of the plan in the interim.

MUM-T is a powerful force multiplier. However, the army's current fleet of UAVs is ill-equipped to handle the proliferation of manportable air defence systems (MANPADS) and jamming capability the United States is likely to encounter in future conflicts. In order for the army to fully realise its Apache MUM-T plans, it will have to begin making its UAVs more capable too.

An OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter takes off from Forward Operating Base MacKenzie in Iraq after being armed and refueled.

Confirm ERA fit on Taiwan's CM11 tanks

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TAIPEI, -- Recent photographs have confirmed that at least part of the Republic of China Army (RoCA) fleet of CM11 main battle banks (MBT) have been upgraded with the installation of explosive reactive armour (ERA).

The CM11 MBT is essentially a brand new US-supplied General Dynamics Land Systems M60 hull fitted with a modified turret from the older M48 MBT. The CM11 is also referred to as the M48H 'Brave Tiger'.

The ERA, shown in photographs taken during exercises earlier in January, is fitted on the glacis plate as well as the front and turret sides to provide a higher level of protection against weapons fitted with a high-explosive anti-tank (HEAT) warhead.

This ERA is not normally fitted during peacetime training as there is no threat.

The exact origins of the ERA fitted to the CM11 MBT has not been confirmed, but it is very similar to that developed by France some years ago rather than the Blazer ERA fielded by the Israel Defense Forces.

The CM11's main armament comprises a 105 mm M68 rifled gun with a 7.62 mm co-axial machine gun (MG) and banks of grenade launchers.

The gun is fitted with a fume extractor and thermal sleeve but not a muzzle reference system.

The tank commander's original cupola has been removed and replaced by an externally mounted unprotected .50 M2 heavy barrel MG while the loader mans the roof-mounted 7.62 mm MG.

The image also shows a pole-type device on the turret that is probably a meteorological sensor, indicating that the vehicle is fitted with an advanced computerised fire control system including day/thermal sights for commander and gunner.

The RoCA also operates some surplus US Army M60A3 and M48A5 MBTs, all of which are armed with the 105 mm M68 gun.

General Dynamics Land Systems no longer supports any of these MBTs, which will need to be replaced in the future as they are now overmatched by those deployed by China's People's Liberation Army.

Their only potential replacement would be surplus US Army General Dynamics Land Systems M1A1 Abrams MBTs. Such a deal would almost certainly be opposed by China.

A Republic of China Army CM11 MBT fitted with explosive reactive armour (ERA).

India asks Japan if it’s interested in Rs 50,000 crore submarine project

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NEW DELH, -- Russia, France, Germany and Spain, all better watch out. They may have to contend with Japan in the race to supply submarines to India. In keeping with their expanding strategic partnership, the Modi government has asked the Shinzo Abe administration whether it would be interested in the over Rs 50,000 crore project to build six stealth submarines in India.

With Japan recently ending its decades old self-imposed arms export embargo, New Delhi has forwarded "a proposal" to Tokyo to "consider the possibility" of making its latest diesel-electric Soryu-class submarines in India, say sources.

This "feeler" dovetails into PM Narendra Modi's strategic outreach to Japan, as well as Australia and the US, since he took over last year. The possible sale of Japanese US-2i ShinMayva amphibious aircraft to the Indian Navy is already being discussed. Australia, too, is considering the Soryu submarines to replace its ageing Collins-class vessels.

The US, on its part, has been pushing for greater defence cooperation among India, Japan and Australia to counter China's assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region. The recent Obama-Modi summit led to the "joint strategic vision for Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region" with a direct reference to South China Sea, where China is locked in territorial disputes with its neighbours. Both Japan and Australia are also keen to participate in the annual Indo-US Malabar naval exercise on a regular basis, which has riled China in the past.

 Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Sōryū SS-501 'Blue Dragon' lead ship Sōryū-class stealth submarine.

U.S. would welcome Japan air patrols in South China Sea

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TOKYO,  -- The United States would welcome a Japanese extension of air patrols into the South China Sea as a counterweight to a growing fleet of Chinese vessels pushing China's territorial claims in the region, a senior U.S. Navy officer told Reuters.

Regular patrols by Japanese aircraft only reach into the East China Sea, where Japan is at loggerheads with China over disputed islands. Extending surveillance flights into the South China Sea would almost certainly increase tension between the world's second- and third-largest economies.

"I think allies, partners and friends in the region will look to the Japanese more and more as a stabilizing function," Admiral Robert Thomas, commander of the Seventh Fleet and the top U.S. navy officer in Asia, said in an interview.

"In the South China Sea, frankly, the Chinese fishing fleet, the Chinese coastguard and the (navy) overmatch their neighbors," Thomas said.

China's foreign ministry said it had no immediate comment on the interview.

Thomas's comments show Pentagon support for a key element of Japan Prime Minister Shinzo Abe's push for a more active military role in the region. That is crucial because U.S and Japanese officials are negotiating new bilateral security guidelines expected to give Japan a bigger role in the alliance, 70 years after the end of World War Two.

"I think that JSDF (Japan Maritime Self Defense Forces) operations in the South China Sea makes sense in the future," Thomas said.

Japan is not party to the dispute in the South China Sea where China, the Philippines, Vietnam, Taiwan, Malaysia and Brunei have competing claims. But the waterway provides 10 per cent of the global fisheries catch and ships crossing it carry $5 trillion a year in cargo, a large portion to and from Japan.

A Japanese Defence Ministry spokesman was not available for comment. Japan has never indicated any intention to patrol the South China Sea.

The ministry routinely declines to comment on any changes to guidelines being discussed with the United States. It calls for peaceful solutions to disputes and for all countries to follow international law and conventions.


Abe is pushing for legislation later this year that would allow Japan's military to operate more freely overseas as part of a broader interpretation of the self-defense allowed by its pacifist constitution.

Those changes coincide with the deployment of a new Japanese maritime patrol plane, the P-1, with a range of 8,000 km (5,000 miles). That is double the range of current aircraft and could allow Japan to push surveillance deep into the South China Sea.

"This is a logical outgrowth of Abe's push for a more robust and proactive military. It is also a substantial departure from JSDF's customary operations," said Grant Newsham, a research fellow at the Japan Forum for Strategic Studies and a former U.S. Marine liaison officer to Japan's military.

Newsham said sending surveillance aircraft to the South China Sea would allow Japan to deepen its military ties with countries like the Philippines, one of Abe's goals to counter China's growing naval power.

China has outlined the scope of its claims with reference to a so-called nine-dash line on its maps that takes in about 90 percent of the South China Sea.

"The alleged nine-dash line, which doesn’t comport with international rules and norms, standards, laws, creates a situation down there, which is unnecessary friction," said Thomas.

The Scarborough Shoal near the Philippines is one flashpoint in the South China Sea. The Philippines complains that China has kept its fishermen from waters around the shoal. Thomas said Japan could help the Philippines with equipment and training.

"For the Philippines, the issue is one of capacity. For the Japanese that is a perfect niche for them to help, not just in equipment, but in training and operations," he said.

Philippine Defense Secretary Voltaire Tuvera Gazmin met Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani in Tokyo on Thursday, and they signed a memorandum on cooperation that includes military exchanges, training and defense technology and equipment.

Gazim told Nakatani that "common security concerns provide an opportunity to deepen defense cooperation".

Nakatani said the agreement had "taken defense ties to a new level". He declined to say if China's presence in the South China Sea and East China Sea had been discussed.

Centered around the USS George Washington carrier battle group with its home port in Japan, the U.S. Seventh Fleet includes some 80 vessels, 140 aircraft and 40,000 sailors making it the most powerful naval force in the western Pacific.

Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force Kawasaki P-1 maritime patrol aircraft intended to replace the P-3C Orion.

‘Purisima planned it all’ - Aquino let suspended PNP chief run show

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MANILA, -- The fatal covert operation that killed 44 members of the elite Special Action Force and wounded 12 others had been assigned by President Benigno Aquino to suspended National Police Chief Alan Purisima, apparently without the knowledge of Interior Secretary Manuel ‘Mar’ Roxas 11.

A police general, who was part of the planning and actual operation and is privy to the ongoing investigation told the Manila Standard on Tuesday that Aquino may have considered Purisima as still the “de facto PNP chief” in assigning to him the sensitive mission.

“It was a tragedy in the making,” according to the police general.

“The President was aware of the Marwan covert operations.

Purisima reported directly to him. In fact, the President went to Zamboanga prior to the troop’s jump off to Mamasapano in Maguindanao so that he would be in the vicinity when Malaysian terrorist Zulkipli bin Hir alias Marwan and Filipino Basit Usman, both bomb experts linked to the Jemaah Islamiya terror cell, are captured,” said the general, who requested anonymity.

“The President was there as he expected the turnover of Marwan to the Philippine government. The President would be present during the presentation of Marwan. Such was the solid plan,” he said. “The President expected a successful operation.”

He added that “Roxas was not with the President. He was kept out of the loop. No one else knew of the covert operations because the subject were terrorists wanted worldwide by the US government, which even offered a $5-million bounty for Marwan’s capture and $1 million for Usman.”

He said there was “no clear leadership” other than a marching order that it was sanctioned by Malacañang.

“From the ground, the SAF officials reported directly to Purisima, who ran the operations from the White House in Camp Crame, despite his suspension,” the general said.

“Purisima would then report either to Executive Secretary Paquito Ochoa Jr. or directly to the President,” the source said.

The controversial white house was the official residence of the PNP chief and was the reason why Purisima was suspended following his acceptance of P25 million in donations for the renovation of the residence.

“Secretary Roxas was kept out of the loop. He was so incensed that when he called for an emergency meeting, the first he did was confront [PNP officer-in-charge Deputy Director Gerardo] Espina and the SAF officials and blamed the SAF. We felt no empathy from him. He blamed us,” the general said.

“Why was I not informed? Why was I kept in the dark?” the general quoted Roxas as saying when he arrived at the command conference.

“Who was behind this operation?” Roxas demanded.

Espina immediately took a hands-off stance and told Roxas he was also not aware of the Palace-sanctioned raid.

The general explained that the President allowed Purisima to run the operations because it was Purisima who was in possession of all intelligence information about Marwan.

Purisima, he said, had followed and tracked Marwan’s moves since 2005.

“Due to the sensitivity of the information, Purisima would not share the intel with anyone and asserted he had to personally run and oversee the operations,” the general said.

Besides, the general said, Purisima needed such a huge break and successful operation to redeem himself from the controversies linking him to graft and corrupt practices, for which he was suspended for six months.

The President, thinking of the possible worldwide attention he would be getting for having to capture the world’s most wanted terrorist, gave Purisima the go signal.

“Purisima was told by the President to operate “incognito”,” the general said.

“The President acceded to Purisima’s condition and ordered Ochoa to provide Purisima the resources, ammunition and artillery that his troops would need,” the source said.

“So all the SAF men involved, including the 44 who perished, the 12 who were seriously wounded and a survivor of the carnage, were all trusted men of Purisima,” the general said.

Asked what went wrong as the SAF troops had engaged in a fierce firefight with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, the general said it was the MILF that violated the ceasefire.

“The ceasefire was in effect. We observed it. We expected the MILF to observe that too. There was no way we could coordinate with the MILF when the terrorists we were after were in their territory,” the general said.

“We were there only to serve warrants for the arrest of Marwan and Usman. There was no intention to engage in a firefight with the MILF. We did, however, expect an exchange of gunfire with the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters in case they turned up because there was no standing ceasefire with them,” the general said. “We also came ready with our weapons.”

“We were caught unawares when the MILF fired upon us. And so we radioed for back-up and artillery from the Philippine Army. The Army refused to send the artillery and told us their hands were tied because of the standing ceasefire,” the general said.

“The army officials even thought the distress signal and SOS for back-up over radio was a prank call because they insisted there was no operation slated in Mamasapano,” the general said.

He said the call for help went to a circuitous route – from Mamasapano to Camp Crame to Zamboanga, where the President ordered Ochoa to call the Army and send an extraction team.

“It took us several hours of convincing the “higher-ups” that our ranks were already being slaughtered,” the general said.

“The artillery came at 6 a.m. when most of the men were decimated already,” the source said.

The general said a seven-man fact-finding team has been formed to get to the bottom of the Masasapano carnage.

Asked to elaborate on the President’s order for Purisima to remain “incognito,” the source said it meant, that “Purisima, even if the operations turned to be successful, cannot claim credit for it.”

But now that it turned into a huge failure, the general said, it would be an injustice to the 44 men who got killed if no one would be made responsible for their death.

“This is why this early, we wanted the real story to come out so that no one could bend the truth as to what really happened and who were responsible behind the operations. We want the real story told. Lives had been lost. Those were good men,” the general said.

As this developed, Espino sacked Director Getulio Napenas as chief of the Special Action Force on Tuesday following the fatal operation.

Espina announced Napenas’ relief during a press briefing in Camp Crame. Espino said SAF Deputy Director Chief Supt Noli Talina will replace Napenas as SAF officer in charge.

“I talked personally to Director Napenas about his relief at the start of the Board of Inquiry. I would like to get to the bottom of things,” Espina said.

Roxas had ordered that a BOI be formed to unravel the whole truth behind the special operations led by the SAF Sunday at Brgy Pidsandawan, Mamasapano.

The BOI will be headed by Director Edgardo Ingking, head of the Directorate for Integrated Police Operation in Mindanao, with PNP-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) chief Director Benjamin Magalong and Chief Supt. Catalino Rodriguez, of the PNP Directorate for Research and Development and the PNP Secretariat as members.

“What happened during the encounter, were there lapses, and if were there persons liable, they should be meted sanctions,” Roxas said.

“It is also important to know whether there were operational lapses so that this would not happen again,” Roxas said.

The SAF special operation was centered on arresting Malaysian terrorist and Jemaah Islamiya-trained bomb expert Zulkifli bin Hir, alias Marwan, and his Filipino counterpart Basit Usman.

Roxas and Espina both claimed that Marwan was killed during the operation. Roxas said that Marwan’s death was properly documented with a photograph showing the supposed dead body of the terrorist.

Roxas said the clash between the SAF mmebers and MILF was a misencounter, but sources from the police and the military rejected the claim as highly improbable.

“That’s very farfetched. Obviously, the SILG has no exposure to combat. In the field, misencounter can be established only minutes after the initial shooting. But in Mamasapano, the SAF were engaged in intense, hours of firefight,” a source from Camp Crame said.

“Worse, some of the SAF troops bore bullets wounds at their backs, which means that the perpetrators managed to get near the troops. So, how can that be a misencounter?” the source added.

Roxas had clarified the SAF commandos went to the lair of the MILF and BIFF, a splinter group of MILF, in Barangay Tukanalipao, Mamasapano in Maguindanao last Sunday not because of the United States’ Federal Bureau of Investigation $5-million bounty and another P1 million reward on Marwan and Usman, respectively.

The SAF operatives were doing a legitimate police operation when they were attacked by BIFF and MILF elements, and that the misencounter began when the elite police force had entered an MILF-controlled area, he said.

A total of 392 elements of the PNP-SAF were involved in the operation, of whom 44 were confirmed dead, 12 were wounded, while 336 were all accounted for, Roxas said in an official statement. He also ordered PNP’s Comptroller Director Rolando Purugganan to ensure that all the benefits due “our fallen heroes” will be given to them “Put up a system to ensure that they (victims’ kin) will immediately receive all assistance due them,” he said.

The supposed arrest of Marwan and Usman had nothing to do with the suicide bomb threat on Pope Francis’ five-day visit to the country, he said.

“Marwan is a high-value target both internationally and locally. Authorities had long been after him for being the most wanted terrorist,” he added.

PNP SAF School, Fort Sto. Domingo.

The US government has formally awarded Boeing a contract to build eight AH-64E Apache attack helicopters for Indonesia

9:14:00 PM Add Comment
WASHINGTON, -- The Department of Defense says in a statement that the “firm-fixed-price” foreign military sales (FMS) contract is valued at $296 million. The helicopters will be built in Mesa, Arizona, and are expected to be completed by February 2018.

US defense secretary Chuck Hagel announced the sale of eight Apaches to Indonesia in August 2013. That announcement came nearly one year after a notification to Congress a year earlier of the proposed FMS sale.

At that time, the total deal was valued at $1.4 billion and included the sale of four APG-78 Longbow fire control radars, an armaments package including 120 Lockheed Martin AGM-114 Hellfire air-to-ground missiles, plus a training and crew support package.

The helicopters are expected to be used by Indonesia’s military in counter-piracy and maritime awareness roles.

US Army / Boeing AH-64E Apache Guardian.

Philippine police killed in clashes with militants

9:41:00 PM Add Comment
MAGUINDANAO, -- At least 30 police commandos have been killed in heavy fighting with Islamist rebels in the southern Philippines province of Maguindanao, say officials.

Several rebels were also reportedly killed as police entered a village held by the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (Milf) early on Sunday.

Reports say two key terror suspects were the targets of the operation.

It is the worst fighting since the government and Milf signed a peace deal last year to end decades of fighting.

There was conflicting information about Sunday's fighting, but reports from the Philippines suggest police commandos launched a surprise raid on a village near the town of Mamasapano, in the Maguindanao province of Mindanao island.

They were reportedly seeking to arrest members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (Biff), a Milf splinter group which opposes the ceasefire.

But the mayor of the town, Tahirudin Benzar Ampatuan, said police had not warned the Milf of the raid, as they should have under the peace deal, so its members fought back.

The gunfire reportedly went on for several hours. At least 30 police were killed, according to officials. Regional police chief Noel Armilla told the AFP news agency that six of their bodies had been recovered so far.

Milf leaders confirmed the violence but the number of rebels killed and their affiliation was not clear. The violence ended when ceasefire monitors intervened, said local officials.

The military was not involved, but peacekeeping reinforcements have since been sent to the region.

National police chief Leonardo Espina said in a statement that information was "sketchy" but that there was "an ongoing operation in the area against a high-value target believed to be behind the recent spate of bombings in Central Mindanao".

Various reports said police were pursuing Zulkifli bin Hir, known as Marwan - a leading figure of Islamist group Jemaah Islamiyah (JI) - as well as suspected JI bomb-making expert Basit Usman, who is linked to the Biff.

JI has links to al-Qaeda and wants an Islamic state across South East Asia. It has a long track record of bomb attacks in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region.

Marwan, who is on the FBI's most-wanted list, is believed to have been in hiding in the southern Philippines for over a decade.

Both men have been incorrectly reported killed several times. The US has offered rewards for their capture.

Last year's peace deal promised the separatists more autonomy in return for an end to their insurgency. It established peacekeeping procedures but correspondents say they appear to have failed.

The movement's leading peace negotiator, Mohagher Iqbal, told AFP the violence was "a big problem" but that the peace deal still held.

Elite Special Action Forces from the Philippine National Police.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz now fitted with 'Bushmaster' auto-cannon

7:51:00 PM Add Comment
MANILA, -- One of the Philippine Navy's Gregorio Del Pilar class frigates (formerly the American Hamilton class cutters) has been fitted with a Mark 38 25mm "Bushmaster" auto-cannon which will act as its secondary weapon.

BRP Ramon Alcaraz (PF-16) was fitted with this weapon last November while BRP Gregorio Del Pilar (PF-15) will be fitted with the Mark 38 25mm "Bushmaster" during her next dry-docking period which is scheduled between February and June this year.

This was confirmed by Philippine Fleet public affairs officer Lt. Liezel Vidallon.

The Mark 38 25mm "Bushmaster" auto-cannon will improve the ship's surface warfare capability.

Surface warfare refers to the capability to detect, engage, and if necessary, sink naval ships or unidentified vessels that may intrude in the country's vast territorial waters.

The secondary 25mm weapons will complement the 76mm Oto Melara main gun and allow the frigates to handle targets coming fast and that are too close for the ship's primary weapon to engage.

The weapon, commissioned by the United States Navy following the terrorist attack on the USS Cole in 2000, was designed to counter high-speed maneuvering surface targets. It will be installed in almost all US surface ships by 2015.

The remotely controlled chain gun system can fire as many as 180 25m rounds per minute at targets as far as two kilometers.

Philippine‬ ‪Navy‬ Gregorio del Pilar class ‪frigate‬ BRP Alcaraz (PF-16) Mk. 38 Mod 2 Machine Gun System from BAE Systems and Rafael for shipboard defense against small, fast and agile surface threats.


US, allies conduct 26 airstrikes againt Islamic State in Syria and Iraq

9:03:00 AM Add Comment
WASHINGTON - The United States and its coalition partners have launched another round of air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq and Syria, conducting 26 strikes since early Friday.

In a statement on Saturday from the Combined Joint Task Force leading the military operation, officials said 13 strikes hit in Syria and also 13 hit in Iraq.

In Syria, 12 air strikes targeted Islamic State positions near Kobani. In Iraq, five strikes hit near Mosul and five near Tal Afar, the statement said.

The U.S. Air Force F-16 Fighting Falcon being refueled by a  KC-135 Stratotanker over Northern Iraq. The F-16s are supporting the US-led coalition in the fight against Da'esh.


Taiwan commissions 20,000-tonne combat support ship

8:37:00 AM Add Comment
MANILA, — China's land reclamation in contested reefs in the South China Sea has become "massive," and is continuing despite protests from other countries, a Philippine official said Wednesday, citing surveillance photographs.

Philippine Foreign Undersecretary Evan Garcia and the top U.S. diplomat for East Asia, Daniel Russel, said after annual security talks that their governments have separately urged Beijing to stop activities that could worsen tensions and violate a 2002 accord designed to prevent armed conflicts over disputed islands and reefs.

"It is massive, just look at the photographs. These are not small adjustments. These are huge activities that are obviously designed to change the status quo," Garcia said in a joint news conference with Russel.

"Let me add also that the massive reclamation of China in the South China Sea is a clear violation of what we have agreed upon" in the 2002 accord, Garcia said. "It is not helpful in terms of finding a way forward and it is not an example of what anybody would understand as self-restraint."

Chinese coastguard ships in the South China Sea, the subject of maritime disputes between China and various Asean member states, the Philippines and Vietnam.

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Daniel Russel, right, shakes hands with Philippine Undersecretary of Foreign Affairs Evan P. Garcia, second from right, after their press conference on the fifth Philippines-United States Bilateral Strategic Dialogue in Manila.

Taiwan commissions 20,000-tonne combat support ship

8:16:00 AM Add Comment
TAIPEI, -- The Republic of China Navy (RoCN) took delivery on 23 January of a newly completed fast combat support ship.

Panshih was built by state-owned Kaohsiung-based shipbuilder CSBC Corporation at a cost of USD130 million. Construction began in 2011 and the ship was launched in 2013.

According to the Ministry of National Defense (MND), Panshih is a multirole vessel and will be used as a transport, maritime rescue, and humanitarian assistance vessel.

Defence officials say the navy will begin training personnel this month and that the vessel will enter full operational service by March.

Panshih is 196 m long and 25.2 m wide and has a full load displacement of 20,000 tonnes. It can carry a crew of up to 165 and has a range of 8,000 n miles. Prior to its delivery, the RoCN had only one operational supply ship, Wuyi , which entered service in 1990.

The MND has not said what armaments Panshih will carry, but IHS Jane's Fighting Ships notes that it is armed with an Oto Melara 76 mm gun, two Raytheon Vulcan Phalanx 20 mm close-in weapon systems, two Rheinmetall Millennium 35 mm guns, and two 30 mm machine guns. Wuyi is equipped with one Bofors dual 40 mm/70 anti-aircraft cannon and two T-75 20 mm anti-aircraft guns.

Delivery of Panshih comes as Taiwan's government looks to invest heavily in the RoCN as a means of boosting the island's defence capabilities.

The Ministry of National Defense took delivery of the island's first indigenous Tuo Jiang-class missile corvette earlier in January, and the government approved a USD94.46 million four-year design contract for an indigenous submarine in December 2014.

The government increased its 2015 defence budget to USD10.7 billion, a 2.6% rise from 2014. Prior to that increase, the island's defence budget had been in decline since 2009.

The budget was passed by a legislature forced to take a more bipartisan stance on defence spending and production of indigenous weapons systems, as the island faces both a growing threat from China's fast modernising military and current US government opposition to the sale of advanced weapons platforms to Taiwan.

A screen grab from a Republic of China Navy video showing fast combat support ship Panshih on sea trials.


Malaysia to upgrade and arm S-61 "Nuri" fleet

7:20:00 AM Add Comment
KUALA LUMPUR, -- Malaysia is to boost its ability to combat future militant incursions by arming its AgustaWestland AW109s and transferring upgraded Sikorsky S-61 “Nuri” utility helicopters to army aviation control.

Prompted by an incursion made by Sulu rebels in Sabah in 2013, Kuala Lumpur has already outfitted three of the Royal Malaysian Air Force’s S-61s with 12.7mm door guns, to provide armed support for ground troops.

“The army plans to arm the [AW109] helicopters with [7.62mm] gatling guns” to expand in this capability, says Dr Mohd Yazid Ahmad, director of the mechanical and aerospace technology division at Malaysia’s science and technology research institute for defence. The service’s “Hirundo” fleet is currently employed only in a light observation role.

Speaking at an IQPC Rotary Strike event in London on 20 January, Ahmad also reveals that the air force’s S-61 fleet is planned to undergo a major package of enhancements before some of the aircraft are transferred to the army air wing.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Malaysia had previously planned to remove its aged Nuri fleet from use by 2012, with Ahmad noting that 89 personnel have been killed in 15 crashes involving the type since it was introduced. However, with the nation having ordered only 12 of a planned 28 Airbus Helicopters EC725s as replacements, “this has forced the service to prolong the life of its Sikorskys”, he says.

A night vision goggle-compatible glass cockpit upgrade has already been performed on part of the fleet by Airod with a foreign partner, an enhancement Ahmad describes as “a modern, reliable and cost-effective product that will carry the Nuri well into the future”. A wider project to enhance the type’s performance and safety is also being studied, he adds.

Flightglobal’s Ascend Fleets database records the air force as having 31 S-61s still in operational use, built between 1967 and 1978.

If proven viable through a pilot project involving one aircraft, up to 26 S-61s will receive upgrades to their main and tail rotor blades and gearboxes, and be equipped with a digital datalink, self-protection equipment, armoured protection and a pintle-mounted machine gun at the cargo door.

Around half of the modified aircraft are expected to transfer to the army, Ahmad says. “Hopefully with this upgrade the army will have the capability with a live combat helicopter,” he adds. Roles will include utility transport, plus airborne command and control and search-and-rescue.

Malaysia’s interest in acquiring a dedicated attack helicopter capability has failed to advance due to budget pressures, Ahmad notes. Its army has previously evaluated types including the Airbus Helicopters Tiger, Bell AH-1Z, Boeing AH-64 Apache and Denel Rooivalk.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  

Royal Malaysian Air Force S-61A-4 Nuri military transport, search and rescue helicopter.

Fort Sill unveils THAAD training center

7:05:00 AM Add Comment
FORT SILL, Okla. -- A training facility that houses a new high-tech missile defense system was unveiled Friday on Fort Sill.

Soldiers just started training on it within the last couple of weeks. It's called the “Terminal High Altitude Area Defense” system, or THAAD for short. It gives the Army the ability to counter ballistic missile threats across the globe. The new facility includes classrooms and storage space for all the elements of the system.

The new system allows soldiers to detect their targets earlier. THAAD can go further and higher than any other current system in the Army's arsenal. Brigadier General Christopher Spillman says the answer is simple as to why they need the artillery system.

"Very simply, there's significant threats. Northeast Asia threats, predominately [North] Korea. As well as potential threats in the southeast Asia region, principally Iran," said Brig. Gen. Spillman.

The THAAD system is made up of five components: launchers, interceptors, radar, fire control and communication units, and support equipment. Officials say the radar is the "eyes" of the system. It's strong enough to detect a quarter in the earth's atmosphere. The launchers can shoot down any short, medium or intermediate range ballistic missiles.

Soldiers are not able to fire the missiles, but will once they are deployed on assignment. There are currently about 200 soldiers going through the training.

"This is the first step along a journey they will take to become members of a crew of an actual THAAD firing unit," said Brig. Gen. Spillman.

There is already one battery deployed to Guam using the THAAD system. The special part about the new center is that every soldier who will use the system on assignment will be trained through Fort Sill. Brigadier General Spillman says he has high expectations for the soldiers as this innovative system brings so much to the table.

"We will continue to do this mission very well. THAAD is a very important success story for the nation. It's a very sophisticated missile defense technology that has a lot of admirers among our commanders round the globe," said Brig. Gen. Spillman.

Training for the THAAD system ranges from three to ten weeks. Brigadier General Spillman says he believes other allies will soon get the THAAD system, as they are currently reviewing it.

The facility is named after the late Lieutenant General C.J. Levan, who attended officer candidate school at Fort Sill in 1942. He also later taught atomic weapons and nuclear design classes. The $30 million facility took about two years to complete.

 Staff Sgt. Troy Young signals Spc. Zachary Floyd to lower a THAAD missle system.

Russia testing new missile battery in Donbas, expert says

6:46:00 AM Add Comment
MOSCOW, -- Russian/rebel troops in the area of Bakhmut road have used a new missile system against the Ukrainian army, Prava sprava NGO head Dmytro Snehiriov writes in Facebook Jan. 23.

Popasna was the town where the Russian rested their new weapon for the first time.

New 220-mm missiles leave much bigger craters than Grad missiles or mortar mines.

The new missile battery has completed testing in Russia, military design bureau Splav Mykola Makarovets confirmed.

After the testing in Russia, Moscow decided to use the new weapon in Donbas, the expert said.

(PHOTO) The 9A52-4 Tornado multiple launch rocket system may be Russia's answer to the US HIMARS.

MOSCOW, -- Russian/rebel troops in the area of Bakhmut road have used a new missile system against the Ukrainian army, Prava sprava NGO head Dmytro Snehiriov writes in Facebook Jan. 23.

Popasna was the town where the Russian rested their new weapon for the first time.

New 220-mm missiles leave much bigger craters than Grad missiles or mortar mines.

The new missile battery has completed testing in Russia, military design bureau Splav Mykola Makarovets confirmed.

After the testing in Russia, Moscow decided to use the new weapon in Donbas, the expert said.

The 9A52-4 Tornado multiple launch rocket system may be Russia's answer to the US HIMARS.

Security arrangements for Obama's visit - India agrees to no fly zone, high rise buildings to be shut

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NEW DELHI, -- Security agencies of India are bracing for one of its biggest challenges when US President Barack Obama and Prime Minister Narendra Modi share the dais this Republic Day.
New Delhi will be a sealed fortress on 26 January. Not just on the ground, the security arrangements even in air on Republic Day will be like 'never seen before'.

Here are some of the security arrangements that have been planned for Republic Day:

*Taj Mahal, India Gate shut for public

For the first time in India, the Rajpath and India Gate will remain shut on 26 January. Moreover, the Taj Mahal will also remain closed to the public for the duration of Obama's visit to Agra on 27 January.

* No fly-zone around Rajpath

A no-fly zone around Rajpath and nearby areas will be imposed on 26 January. Apart from the unprecedented ground-to-air security drill during his visit on Republic Day, American authorities had earlier demanded a no-fly zone around Rajpath. After rejecting the demand earlier, Indian authorities gave in on Tuesday. No drones will be used, as had been suggested by American security agencies.

No plane will be be allowed within a radius of 400 kms of the venue of Rajpath as against 300 kms on earlier occasions. This means airports adjoining Delhi like Jaipur, Agra and as far as Lucknow or Amritsar may not operate flights when the function will be on in the national capital.

Sticking to past practice, no plane will land or take off at the Indira Gandhi International Airport during the time when Republic Day will be on at Rajpath.

Earlier, US authorities had demanded a 5-km-radius no-fly zone imposed around Rajpath which would have led to the traditional fly past being cancelled. A request that the Indian military authorities shot down saying that it lasted only for around 10 minutes. Even on Wednesday as Indian officials agreed to a no fly-zone, they made sure the fly past was not cancelled.

*Obama's food, drinking water to undergo 3-layered checking

The food and drinking water to be served to US President Barack Obama and his wife Michelle during their stay at the ITC Maurya will pass through three layers of stingent checking, including by a crack Delhi Police team and the US Secret Service.

While the super-luxury Maurya has its own team of food-testing experts, the food to be served to the US president and his wife will be checked by a Delhi Police team and finally by a team of US Secret Service agents before it is served.

*AWACS to be deployed for vigil from the skies

For the first time, Airborne Warning and Control System (AWACS) are likely to be deployed on the Republic Day for vigil from the skies during the parade where US President Barack Obama will be the Chief Guest.

The AWACS will monitor air space on and around Rajpath where the parade will be witnessed by Obama along with President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and a host of other dignitaries. The AWAC detects incoming cruise missiles and aircraft from over 400-km away in all-weather conditions, and direction of air defence fighters besides picking up any low flying object which go undetected by normal radars.

Noting that it will be the first time that AWACS will be deployed for Republic Day, official sources said the step is being taken in view of the heightened threat perception and apprehensions of aerial attack by terrorists.

* Highrise buildings to be shut

Security agencies will partly or completely shut down 71 high rise buildings in the vicinity of Rajpath for this year's Republic Day celebrations, much higher then earlier occasions when only around 45 establishments were closed.

"Earlier, we used to shutdown only around 45 buildings from which Rajpath was directly visible but this time we will occupy 71 buildings which are in close proximity of the parade venue. The new buildings we will dominate this time are mostly high rises from where Rajpath may not be directly visible but from where projectiles can be launched," a senior police official told PTI.

Police will take over these buildings around 1 pm on January 25 and sanitise every nook and corner of these buildings manually. Snipers will be positioned on the roof tops of these buildings after that.
Buildings adjoining the venue, like North and South Blocks, Rail Bhavan, Krishi Bhavan, Shastri Bhavan, Vayu Bhavan, Udyog Bhavan, Nirman Bhavan, Jawahar Bhavan, National Museum and Vigyan Bhavan will be shut by 25 January. Only security personnel will be allowed inside the buildings.

*Sniffer dogs from US to be R-day duty

Around 40 specialist sniffer dogs - Belgian Malinois Shepherd dogs - will be flown down from the US, to double-check the VVIP enclosure at Rajpath (and half-a-dozen other venues Obama will be visiting) is also unprecedented.

Indian agencies' sniffer dogs will also do their duty, but Americans will do their own checks.

*Security forces to work round the clock

The US Secret Service, CIA, Navy Seals and India's Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), Intelligence Bureau, paramilitary forces and Army will be working together round-the-clock to ensure the safety of the two leaders of the two largest democracies who face a high order of threat from global terrorist groups.

*Seven-layer security ring

A seven-layer security ring will be thrown around the VVIP enclosure on Rajpath for the Republic Day parade. The airspace over the area would be monitored by a radar to be specially set up. This will be part of the ground-to-air security drill during Obama visit, which will take him to Agra too. A multi-agency control room will monitor the surveillance operations in every area of the national capital which has been put on the highest alert.

*BSF, which comes under the Home Ministry, has stepped up security along the International Border (IB) in Jammu and Kashmir, deploying close to 1,200 additional personnel there in view of the US President's visit to India.

An Indian Air Force Su-30 MKI flying with an Il-78 MKI.

Listening stations in Fujian Province upgraded

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BEIJING, -- China has installed new aerial listening stations on the coast of its Fujian Province, a military spokesman said yesterday, adding that are being taken to counter surveillance and enhance the security of important electronic communications.

Ministry of National Defense spokesperson Major General David Lo (羅紹和) said the military is monitoring the development closely and that Taiwan has its own surveillance system to deal with intelligence gathering by Chinese signal-snooping stations.

The statement came one day after the Canada-based Kanwa Information Center reported that the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) had set up at least three large aerial listening stations, directly across the Strait from Taiwan.

Lo said that the ministry has instructed its telecommunications units to strictly follow established regulations on frequency signals and radio data encryption to ensure the security of classified information.

According to Kanwa, the PLA has been installing new facilities in Fujian to monitor telecommunications and radio signals, including mobile phones and other types of wireless communications, from military bases and government institutions across the nation’s western region.

One new monitoring station is reportedly only about 23km from the PLA’s Longtian Air Base, where S-300 PMU-2 surface-to-air missiles are deployed. All the antennae and radar dishes at the base are directed toward Taipei and Greater Taichung, Kanwa reported.

Two other new Fujian bases have installed radomes and antennae to intercept electromagnetic waves from Taiwan’s military radar systems, as well as other telecommunications and radio signals, the report said.

It is known that the stations are administered by the Third Department and Fourth Department of the PLA’s General Staff Department, which are responsible for “technical reconnaissance” and cyberwarfare, monitoring telecommunications traffic, electronic countermeasures and radar intelligence-gathering.

A satellite photograph in the Kanwa report shows that the monitoring station near Longtian Air Base has 10 parabolic radar antennae of various sizes, and six large radomes — a weatherproof enclosure that protects a radar antenna inside it.

According to a defense expert in Taiwan, the station is a signals intelligence base established in 1952 that has been upgraded.

An undated picture provided by the Canadian Kanwa Information Center shows what the center said is an intelligence station set up by the Chinese Liberation Army in China’s Fujian Province.


China Approves Kim Jong Un's Possible Visit to Moscow for Victory Day

11:38:00 PM Add Comment
MOSCOW, — The Chinese Foreign Ministry has voiced its approval for North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's possible upcoming visit to Moscow for the Victory Day celebrations on May 9, marking the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War in Europe, South Korea's Yonhap News Agency reports.

Asked to comment on the Russian invitation and 'positive signals' from Pyongyang, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying stated that "North Korea and Russia are both friendly neighbors of China," which "have both made sacrifices and great contributions" toward the victory in the Second World War. The spokesperson added that "we believe that such engagement between the two countries is conducive to regional peace and stability."

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov noted that he had received a positive, "first signal" regarding an invitation made late last year for Kim to come to Moscow to celebrate the 70th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany.

North Korea watchers say the decision would have major political implications for Kim, given that it would mark his first visit to another country since he became the country's leader in late 2011. Hua noted that she had "no specifics to offer to you pertaining to the relationship between China and North Korea," but the fact that Kim may choose to head to Russia instead of his country's political, economic, and strategic benefactor China for his first trip abroad may be criticized in Beijing.

Dongguk University North Korean Studies Professor Koh Yoo Hwan told The Korea Times that Kim's decision to visit Russia before China may have negative consequences: "North Korea and Russia are trying to deepen diplomatic ties, but relations with China are far more important for the North, and should Kim choose Russia for his international debut, Sino-North Korean ties could get worse."

Seongnam-based Sejong Institute foreign and security policy researcher Hong Hyun Ik says that North Korea's delay in responding to Moscow's invitation might be seen as an attempt to "pressure on China toward a summit between Pyongyang and Beijing." Kim Jong-un has yet to meet with Chinese President Xi Jinping, who, incidentally, has also been invited to Moscow for the celebrations.

South Korean President Park Geun-hye, who has met with Xi on several occasions since taking office in 2013, has also been invited, although Hong notes that she will be unlikely to attend should Kim decide to do so. "As US President Barack Obama is not likely to go there, the US will not want Park to visit Russia either," Hong noted. AFP points out that Park has voiced her willingness to hold a summit with Kim without pre-conditions, and the North Korean leader has also voiced his willingness to hold "highest-level" talks, but it's unclear whether the two leaders will be able to come together in Moscow for the celebrations.

South Korea has already defied American and European pressure to join in on US and EU-led sanctions against Russia, opting instead to participate with Russia in an energy and transport infrastructure project known as the Eurasia Initiative.

South Korean presidential spokesperson Min Kyung-wook noted that given recent reports of a positive response from the north, "it is not the time for the South Korean government to express its stance in a hurry," The Korea Times explained.

Xi and Park are among about twenty world leaders expected to attend the May 9th celebrations in Moscow.

North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on Dec. 13 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un visiting the Korean people's army navy unit 189 at an undisclosed location.

French Shipyard OCEA Launched the OSV 190 Offshore Survey Vessel for Indonesian Navy

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JAKARTA, -- In December 2014, OCEA, based in Les Sables d'Olonne on the Western coast of France, launched the first of two "OSV 190 SC-WB" Offshore Survey Vessels ordered by Indonesia for the navy (TNI-AL). OCEA won the contract among 9 bidders (3 from South Korea, 1 from Germany, 4 from France including OCEA and 1 from the Netherlands) following an international tender launched in 2011.

After analyzing the responses offered by each candidates, the Indonesian Ministry of Defense down-selected 3 companies to participate in the final negotiations: 2 from South Korea and OCEA, the only candidate to offer an aluminum vessel.

OCEA was selected as the winner of the tender and signed a contract with the Indonesian Navy on 1 August 2012. The contract includes the delivery of two vessels fully fitted for oceanographic and hydrographic research missions as well as associated logistical support.

The OCEA offer includes a funding agreement with France. Agreement between the banks and the French Ministry of Finance resulted in the keel laying of the first vessel in October 2013. The sister-ship will be launched in Q2 2015.

These ships are designed to study the waters and sea-bottom of the Indonesian archipelago and are therefore equipped with the most advanced technical and scientific equipment:

» An AUV (autonomous underwater vehicle by Kongsberg) capable of performing missions autonomously.
» An ROV (remotely operated underwater robot by ECA) which is involved in specific tasks.

» An 8 meter hydrographic craft equipped for data gathering along the coast in shallow areas. Designed by OCEA the two craft (one for each vessel) will be made in Indonesia.

» Several integrated sensors (fitted below the keel at the bow) allow data recovering and analysis.

Integrated logistics support associated with the contract consist in:
» Technical Documentation for operation and maintenance.
» Crew Training: Technical and Scientific (40 sailors per ship).
» Maintenance training (16 people per ship).
» On site technical assistance.

OCEA's offer also included a specific formation: A Master's degree in hydrographic science for an Indonesian engineer at ENSTA in Brest (Engineering school specialized in science and technology of the sea).

The first of two OSV 190 SC-WB built by OCEA for the Indonesian Navy (TNI-AL) is launched in the water in France last month.

China launched its 4th Type 071 LPD, its 21st Type 054A Frigate and its 5th Type 815G ELINT vessel

5:41:00 PM Add Comment
SHANGHAI, -- Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding, a wholly owned subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation (CSSC, the largest shipbuilding group in China), launched on the same day near Shanghai three new vessels for the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN or Chinese Navy): The fourth Type 071 landing platform dock (Yuzhao-class LPD), the twenty-first Type 054A Frigate (Jiangkai II class) and the fifth Type 815G ELINT/SIGINT vessel.

On the same day China launched 3 military vessels (representing over 32,000 tons combined) showing to the world its naval shipbuilding industry's might.

Type 071 landing platform dock
Type 071 (Yuzhao-class) LPD are the main amphibious platforms of the PLAN. They displace 20,000 tons, measure 210 meters long and 28 meters wide. The ship complement is 120 sailors.
Each Type 071 has the capacity to accomodate one marine battalion, including 500 to 800 troops, and 15 to 20 amphibious armored vehicles. The well deck may hold four Yuyi-class LCAC.
The ship is armed with one 76 mm gun and four 30 mm close-in weapon systems.

The head of Type 071 class, Kunlun Shan (hull number 998), was launched in December 2006 and commissioned in November 2007. The second vessel of the class, Jinggang Shan (hull number 999), was launched in November 2010 and commissioned in October 2011. The third Type 071 LPD Changbai Shan was launched in September 2011. All three vessel are deployed with the PLAN's South Sea Fleet.
Type 054A Frigate

Based on the Type 054 Frigates, the Type 054A incorporated a larger number of more-advanced indigenous systems. The first of class entered service with the PLAN in 2007.

Type 054A Frigates are fitted with 32 VLS (Vertical Launch System) cells for HQ-16 surface to air missiles, 8x YJ-83 (export designation C-803) anti-ship missiles, a H/PJ-26 76mm main gun, two H/PJ12 (export designation Type 730) 30mm CIWS guns (for frigates 1 to 16 in the series), two triple YU-7 torpedo launchers and anti-submarine rocket launchers for ASW warfare.
Type 815G ELINT/SINGT vessel

The Type 815G is a 6,000 tons ELINT (Electronic signals intelligence) SIGINT (Signals intelligence) class of ship in service with the PLAN. Four vessels of the class have already been produced for the PLAN.
Meanwhile the 20th and 23rd Type 056 Corvette for the PLAN and the second C28A Corvette for Algerian Navy (from left to right) are at systems outfitting stage at Hudong shipyard.
Meanwhile the 20th and 23rd Type 056 Corvette for the PLAN and the second C28A Corvette for Algerian Navy (from left to right) are at systems outfitting stage at Hudong shipyard.
Hudong shipyard

Hudong-Zhonghua Shipbuilding is a wholly owned subsidiary of China State Shipbuilding Corporation, the largest shipbuilding group in China and the second largest in the world. The shipyard is fulfilling civilian and military vessel orders alike, both for the domestic market (it is a major supplier of PLAN vessels of all classes including the Type 056 Corvette) as well as export.

In August 2014, Hudong shipyard launched the first Algerian Navy C28A Corvette. As can be seen in the picture above, the second unit is currently at "systems outfitting" stage. Algeria signed a contract with China Shipbuilding Trading Co (CSTC) for construction of three C82A corvettes in March 2012.

Pakistan Navy's F-22P Frigates were also built at Hudong shipyard.

The fourth Type 071 LPD for the PLAN is launched on 22 January 2015 at Hudong shipyard in China.


US Lifts Restrictions On Military Aid

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MANILA — The United States has lifted restrictions on a small portion of its military assistance to the Philippines that was withheld over human rights concerns, the foreign minister said Thursday.

The gesture affects about $15 million dollars that have been withheld over the last five years, a fraction of Washington's total military assistance to the South East Asian island.

Albert del Rosario told reporters that the aid restriction had been lifted "sometime last year," but did not explain why it had been lifted.

A day earlier, US Assistant Defense Secretary David Shear said that Washington had provided $300 million in military-related assistance since 2001 and would provide another $40 million in 2015 as part of America's support to modernize the poorly-equipped Philippine military, which is one of the weakest in the region.

Philippine-US defense relations have been complicated by leftist and nationalist groups who oppose the longstanding alliance and who have protested against any US military presence or assistance to the Southeast Asian nation.

Previously, human rights groups have successfully lobbied US legislators to cut military aid over the Philippine military's alleged failure to improve its human rights record.

Human rights groups have accused Philippine security agencies of committing abuses in its counter-insurgency program against both communist and Muslim extremist insurgencies.

The Philippines and the United States signed an agreement in April to allow a bigger US military presence on Filipino territory, a deal which would see more US troops rotate through the Philippines for joint military training exercises.

Philippine Navy Seals aboard the Rigid Inflatable boat during Take-Down Ship demonstration.

Indonesian corvette damages sonar dome in search for AirAsia aircraft

2:21:00 PM Add Comment
JAKARTA, -- An Indonesian Navy (Tentara Nasional Indonesia Angkatan Laut: TNI-AL) Diponegoro (Sigma)-class corvette sustained damage to its sonar dome while underway to join the search for the AirAsia airliner QZ8501, a TNI-AL source confirmed to IHS Jane's on 21 January.

The vessel, KRI Frans Kaisiepo (368), was on its way to the Java Sea to relieve sister ship KRI Sultan Hasanuddin (366) on 4 January. The TNI-AL has been contributing assets to the multinational effort to recover the aircraft, which crashed into the sea on 28 December 2014 during a flight from Surabaya to Singapore.

IHS Jane's understands that the 1,700-tonne corvette ran aground while navigating the Surabaya Western Shipping Route (Alur Pelayaran Barat Surabaya, or APBS), a busy channel off the Port of Tanjung Perak.

According to IHS Jane's Fighting Ships , Frans Kaisiepo is equipped with the Thales Kingclip hull-mounted sonar system. The vessel, constructed by Dutch shipbuilder Damen Schelde Naval Shipbuilding (then Royal Schelde), is the newest of the Diponegoro class and was inducted into the TNI-AL in March 2009. The service operates a class of four ships, deploying in rotation since 2009 to the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) operation off Lebanon.

An official from the TNI-AL's public affairs office told IHS Jane's that while there has been damage to the sonar dome, the system's cylindrical array does not seem to have been affected. "The vessel's underwater search and anti-submarine capabilities should be functioning as usual," said the official.

Frans Kaisiepo has been in drydock at state-owned shipbuilder PT PAL's Surabaya shipyard since 5 January, where it is undergoing further assessments. The TNI-AL was not able to say when the vessel is expected to resume service.

The location where Frans Kaisiepo is believed to have run aground in the APBS is known as Buoy 8, an area understood to be prone to silting.

To better facilitate the movement of vessels in the APBS, in May 2014 the Port of Tanjung Perak's state-owned operator PT Pelabuhan Indonesia III contracted Dutch company Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors BV to broaden and deepen the channel. Work is ongoing.

 Indonesian Diponegoro Class Corvette (SIGMA) KRI Frans Kaisiepo (368).