US warship sails near South China Sea island claimed by China

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WASHINGTON, -- A US Navy destroyer sailed within 12 nautical miles or within the territorial waters of an island claimed by China in the South China Sea, in a sign of increasing tension in the region days after Secretary of State John Kerry visited Beijing attempting to settle long standing territorial disputes. Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims to the island as well.

The guided missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG-54) conducted a freedom of navigation operation Saturday near Triton Island, part of the Paracel Island chain in the South China Sea, a Pentagon spokesman confirmed to Fox News. There were no Chinese warships in the area at the time and the transit was characterized as "innocent."

"This operation was about challenging excessive maritime claims that restrict the rights and freedoms of the United States and others, not about territorial claims to land features," said Capt. Jeff Davis, a Pentagon spokesman.

Davis said none of the three claimants to the island were notified before the US Navy warship transited the area as part of a "normal process" supported by international law. Davis refused to single out China specifically.

Tension in the region has been building for months.

In October, another US Navy destroyer, USS Lassen, conducted a patrol within 12 nautical miles of another Chinese island, a disputed man-made island in the South China Sea part of the Spratly chain of islands, drawing a strong rebuke from China.

In November US Air Force B-52 bombers flew near other contested Chinese islands. The following month, the U.S. military deployed a U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon reconnaissance plane to Singapore.

Earlier this month, China landed a pair of civilian airliners to test a newly constructed airstrip atop Fiery Cross reef, which the Chinese have converted into an artificial island in the South China Sea. US defense officials believe military jets could be coming soon.

Earlier this week in Beijing, Secretary Kerry refused to criticize his host publicly or accuse the Chinese of wrong doing in the South China Sea over the build-up of artificial islands worrying its neighbors in the region. Kerry said the United States "does not take sides on the sovereignty questions underlying the territorial disputes."

But his Chinese counterpart was less ambiguous.

"I pointed out to Secretary Kerry that the South China Sea Islands have historically been China's territory. China has a right to protect its own territorial sovereignty," said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.

A spokesman for Secretary Kerry was asked about the recent exchange at a press briefing Friday.

"We continue to be concerned about Chinese activities with respect to militarization on these reclaimed features," said State Department spokesman John Kirby.

Secretary of Defense Ash Carter said in Asia last summer he was "deeply concerned" about China's build up on its man-made islands which risked "miscalculation or conflict."

Carter has promised more military operations in the South China Sea.

"Make no mistake: The United States will fly, sail and operate wherever international law allows, as we do around the world, and the South China Sea is not and will not be an exemption," said Carter in Boston in October standing alongside Secretary Kerry and their respective Australian counterparts.

The guided-missile destroyer USS Curtis Wilbur (DDG 54) transit the western Pacific Ocean during a regularly scheduled underway period.

WWII-era drydock moving from Guam to Philippines

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HAGATNA, -- A massive and dilapidated floating drydock used in the Pacific since World War II is moving to the Philippines after spending nearly half a century at Naval Base Guam.

Several local tugboats and the 467-ton Philippine tug Rhocas guided Richland out of Apra Harbor Wednesday in preparation for an open-ocean tow to the Philippines that will take several days. The Rhocas began that tow on Thursday.

“I’ve been working on this drydock since I was 18 — in the 1970s and ‘80s,” Paul Yatar, a crane operator with Guam Shipyard, said in a Navy statement. “I worked on her while she was an active drydock, but it has reached its lifecycle, and it’s a good thing to see it go after all this time.”

It’s unclear what will happen to the drydock, which has a deep basin that can be flooded so ships can be floated in and repaired after the water is drained, once it arrives in the Philippines.

Richland — more than two football fields long, 124 feet wide and 57 feet high — was built in 1943 by Chicago Building & Iron Co., of Eureka, Calif., and put into commission the following year, the Navy said. It was first towed to Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, then to Eniwetok and Ulithi atolls before making its way to San Pedro Bay, Philippines, to be used with U.S. and Allied ships near the end of World War II.

It was reclassified as a medium auxiliary floating drydock in 1946 and renamed Richland in 1968 when it arrived at Apra Harbor while the Vietnam War was in high gear and Guam served as a major jumping-off point for ships and aircraft.

The piers at the base have undergone major renovations the past few years, improvements that have left no room for the antiquated drydock, Capt. Alfred “Andy” Anderson, the base’s commanding officer, said last fall.

The drydock Richland was towed out of Apra Harbor, Guam, Jan. 28, 2016, with the help of several local tug boats and the large Philippine tug Rhocas. The open-sea tow to the Philippines will take several days.

New Contract for Royal Thai Navy Second Offshore Patrol Vessel

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BANGKOK, -- BAE Systems have signed a new contract with Bangkok Dock to assist in the licensed construction of a second 90 metre Offshore Patrol Vessel for the Royal Thai Navy. Under the agreement, we will provide engineering support and advice during construction of the vessel in Thailand.

Nigel Stewart, Commercial Director, BAE Systems’ Naval Ships business, said: “We’re looking forward to building and strengthening our relationship with Thailand’s shipbuilding industry. This contract to support delivery of a second Offshore Patrol Vessel to the Royal Thai Navy is a clear endorsement of our versatile Offshore Patrol Vessel design.

"With three of these ships already in service in Brazil and a further three Offshore Patrol Vessels under construction for the UK Royal Navy, our design continues to attract significant interest internationally."

The Offshore Patrol Vessel is a highly versatile ship, making it a cost-effective solution for many navies, with options for us to construct vessels at our facilities in Glasgow, Scotland, or for international customers to build ships under licenced design agreements using their own indigenous industries.

The Royal Thai Navy accepted its first 90 metre Offshore Patrol Vessel, HTMS KRABI, from Bangkok Dock in 2013, which is a variant of the baseline BAE Systems design. HTMS KRABI has already completed around 1000 days at sea with the Royal Thai Navy. BAE Systems delivered three Offshore Patrol Vessels built in the UK to the Brazilian Navy from 2013 to 2014.

We are also constructing three Offshore Patrol Vessels for the UK Royal Navy at our facilities in Glasgow, Scotland. The ships are of the same baseline design, with modifications to meet UK Royal Navy requirements. The UK Government committed to buy two further Offshore Patrol Vessels in its recent Strategic Defence and Security Review.

The Offshore Patrol Vessel is designed for management of economic exclusion zones and the provision of effective disaster relief, with the range and capability for ocean patrol and deployment anywhere in the world. The design is based on the proven pedigree of the 80 metre River Class vessels operated by the UK Royal Navy since 2003. Good sea-keeping, speed and fuel economy have been improved further by the lengthened hull of the 90m variant, while the rugged commercial components in the ship systems are suited to high annual operating hours and rapid repair.

The design can be modified for either naval or coast guard needs, including options for a hangar, alternative combat systems, boats and internal compartments, such as additional aft accommodation. The ship’s capacity for Special Forces deployment, pollution control, operation of remotely operated underwater vehicles to provide mine countermeasures and carriage of standard containers add to the versatility of the design. The optional commonality with UK Royal Navy command systems provides significant potential for minimising future obsolescence as well as providing scope for training in the UK.

The Royal Thai Navy HTMS Krabi (OPV-551) offshore patrol vessel. She is a modified river-class patrol vessel, and was built by Mahidol Naval Dockyard, with design and technology transfer support from BAE Systems Surface Ships.

BFAR starts construction of new vessels

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MANILA, -- As part of the government’s effort to curb illegal fishing, the Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) has commenced with the construction of two new units of steel hulled offshore vessels that will boost its presence at sea.

In a launching program in Navotas City, Agriculture Secretary Proceso Alcala and National Coast Watch Center (NCWC) Undersecretary Jose Luis Alano along with other government officials led the ceremonial laying of keels for two units of 50.5-meter multi-mission vessels, which will soon be part of DA-BFAR’s inventory of floating assets intended to guard Philippine waters against illicit fishing practices.

“This momentous event indicates government’s serious commitment for inclusive growth and poverty alleviation in all sectors, particularly agriculture and fisheries sectors, as we further intensify the country’s stance against illegal, unreported, and unregulated [IUU] fishing,” said Alcala.

The multi-mission vessels, which will stretch half a meter larger than an Olympic-size swimming pool, are the first ever of their kind to be constructed in the Philippines.

The vessel as designed by Incat Crowther, a reputable ship designer based in the United States.

All plans, drawings, and calculations, meanwhile, are in accordance with the rules of the internationally acclaimed Bureau Veritas Classification Society known for its expertise in Testing, Inspection and Certification. The vessel construction is made possible through the collaborative efforts of the Maritime Industry Authority, Philippine Coast Guard, Philippine Navy and DA-BFAR.

Each vessel costs around P178.5 Million and will be built within 18 months at Josefa Slipway Inc., a medium category local shipyard in Navotas City.

The project commences almost a year after the enactment of the amendments to the Philippine Fisheries Code, which mandates an integrated approach on fisheries management comprised of a Monitoring, Control, and Surveillance (MCS) Program to curb and deter IUU fishing practices.

Aside from fighting destructive forms of fishing, the vessels will also be utilized for other purposes such as seaborne research activities and calamity response.

With the construction of the said assets, the Philippines as a member country of the Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission can now also fulfill its commitment to conduct MCS activities in distant waters such as the High Seas Pocket Number 1, a tuna rich fishing ground, as well as augment its existing capacity to operate at the West Philippine Sea and other non-traditional fishing grounds.

The Philippine Department of Agriculture-Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources (DA-BFAR) keel laying ceremony of two new units of multi mission vessel in Navotas City, Philippiines.

One of Philippine Air Force 'Sokol' helicopter up for repairs, maintenance

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MANILA, -- The Philippine Air Force (PAF) has allocated the sum of Php15,936,175 for the procurement of spare parts for the repair and maintenance of one of its PZL-W3-A "Sokol" combat utility helicopters.

This is Lot 1 of the repair project, the bid bulletin at the Philippine Government Electronic Procurement System said.

Pre-bid conference is scheduled for Feb. 1, 9 a.m. at the PAF Procurement Center Conference Room, Villamor Air Base, Pasay City.

Submission and opening of bids is on Feb. 15, 9 a.m. at the same venue.

The PAF has seven W-3A "Sokol" helicopters in its inventory.

Eight were originally delivered in 2012 and 2013 but one crashed due to weather conditions in Lanao Del Sur in September 2014.

The Philippine Air Force PZL-W3-A Sokol helicopter of the 505th Search and Rescue Group.

Taiwan president flies to disputed island in South China Sea

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TAIPEI, -- Taiwan President Ma Ying-jeou flew to Itu Aba island in the disputed South China Sea on Thursday to reaffirm Taipei's sovereignty over the outpost, ignoring criticism from Washington over the trip.

Ma's one-day visit to Itu Aba comes amid growing international concern over rising tensions in the South China Sea, especially in the wake of Beijing's rapid creation of seven man-made islands in the Spratly archipelago.

The Taiwanese Defence Ministry told Reuters that Ma had departed for Itu Aba. He is scheduled to hold a news conference around 1100 GMT on his arrival back in Taiwan.

Washington, Taiwan's biggest ally, on Wednesday called Ma's trip "extremely unhelpful", adding it would not do anything to resolve disputes over the waterway.

Taiwan has just finished a $100 million (£70 million) port upgrade and built a new lighthouse on Itu Aba, known as Taiping in Taiwan. The island, which lies in the Spratlys, also has an airstrip, a hospital and fresh water.

Both Taiwan and China claim most of the South China Sea. Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia and Brunei also have competing claims.

Vietnam's top official in Taiwan said Hanoi "resolutely opposes" Ma's visit. The Philippine Foreign Ministry said all parties had a shared responsibility to refrain from actions that could increase tensions.

Ma's office on Wednesday said the president, who steps down in May, would offer Chinese New Year wishes to residents on Itu Aba, mainly Taiwanese coastguard personnel and environmental scholars.

"This is an exercise in national sovereignty, full of legitimacy and necessity," Taiwan's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Given the tensions over the South China Sea, few senior political officials from any of the claimants have visited the contested region in recent years.

Ma's visit follows elections won by the independence-leaning Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), which declined a request by Ma to send a representative along. The DPP said Taiwan had a responsibility to maintain peace and stability in the area.

Beijing on Wednesday reiterated that China and Taiwan had a common duty to protect Chinese sovereignty in the South China Sea.

The claims of both China and Taiwan are based on maps from the late 1940s belonging to the Nationalists, when they ruled all of China. The Nationalists fled to Taiwan in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao Zedong's Communists.

China has appeared unfazed by Taiwan's upgrading work on Itu Aba. Military strategists say that is because Itu Aba could fall into China's hands should it ever take over Taiwan, which it deems a wayward province to be retaken by force if necessary.

The 46-hectare (114-acre) island supports around 180 people, about 150 of them coastguard personnel.

Republic of China Air Force Presidential Jet Boeing 737-800 3701.

Vietnamese frigate to attend International Fleet Review in India next month

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HANOI, -- A Vietnamese frigate left Cam Ranh Military Port in the south-central Vietnamese province of Khanh Hoa on Wednesday to attend the International Fleet Review in India, as well as to visit the Singaporean Navy.

Crew members aboard the 011-Dinh Tien Hoang Russian-made warship will engage in an exchange with Singapore’s naval force from January 23 to 26 and participate in the International Fleet Review 2016 in early February.

The trip is slated to enhance the friendship and cooperation between the Vietnam People’s Navy and its Singaporean and Indian counterparts, as well as to strengthen the Vietnamese navy’s position in the international arena.

A training session is also incorporated in the journey to assess the leadership, management skill, combat readiness, ability to exploit and control modern technology and equipment, and to provide experience in exchanging and integrating with the international community for the country’s naval force.

This is the second time the frigate has been assigned to visit other countries’ navies and the first time the vessel has attended the International Fleet Review, said Colonel Le Xuan Thuy, Deputy Chief of Staff of the Vietnam People’s Navy.

The International Fleet Review (IFR), which was first held in 1953 and is organized once every five years by the Indian Navy, is a grand occasion for every operational ship to proudly display its crest and company in a spirit of loyalty and allegiance to its sovereign and the state, according to the event’s official website.
The IFR 2016, conducted from February 4 to 8, will see the attendance of navies from 52 nations worldwide.

During the event, the Vietnamese navy will participate in international maritime conferences, street parades, fireworks displays, and other activities.

The 011-Dinh Tien Hoang will cross the Pacific Ocean to arrive in the Indian Ocean on a 5,000-nautical-mile journey, during which safety will be strictly ensured, according to Lieutenant Colonel Nguyen Quang Huy, captain of the frigate.

The vessel is expected to return to Vietnam on February 23.

The Vietnam People’s Navy frigate Dinh Tien Hoang (011) is seen at Cam Ranh Military Port in Khanh Hoa Province on January 20, 2016.

Japan to double F-15J squadron in Okinawa amid tensions with China

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TOKYO, -- Japan announced Tuesday that it will double its F-15J fighter squadron in Okinawa prefecture in response to an increased presence of Chinese aircraft in the area. The deployment, which was announced by Japan's Air Self-Defense Force (JASDF), will be completed by February when the Naha Air Base will have 40 F-15J jets, Japanese broadcaster NHK reported.
Japan to double F 15J squadron in Okinawa amid tensions with China 640 001A JASDF Mitsubishi F-15J fighter aircraft
The decision follows an increased number of "scrambles", or emergency takeoffs, from Naha in 2015, which came largely in response to approaching Chinese aircraft.

Last year alone, 441 JASDF jets were scrambled from Naha, which is more than double the number of scrambles in 2011.

The plan to boost the squadron is the latest effort of JASDF to strengthen Japan's defense of the disputed Senkaku islands, or Diaoyu islands as they are known in China.

In 2013, China established an air defense identification zone in the area, which overlaps with that of Japan.

The Mitsubishi F-15J/DJ Eagle is a twin-engine, all-weather air superiority fighter based on the McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle. The Japan Air Self Defense Force had 201 F-15J/DJs in use as of 2015.

The Japan Air Self Defense Force had 201 F-15J Eagles taxi toward the runway before taking off on a combat training mission.

Sailing crew, officers of SSV now formed, ready for deployment

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MANILA, -- The sailing crew of the country's first strategic sealift vessel (SSV) has already been formed and will be deployed to Indonesia to pick up the ship this coming March.

The SSV's sailing crew is composed of 98 enlisted personnel and 17 officers, including the ship's captain.

This was disclosed by Philippine Navy (PN) spokesperson Col. Edgard Arevalo Sunday.

He added that the commanding officer of the first SSV, also known by the designation of "LD-601," has already been selected by a PN committee.

Arevalo did not name disclose the name of this pioneering commanding officer as this is still subject for confirmation.

The SSV's trials are scheduled to start in March.

This is to determine on whether all the ship's systems are operational for the voyage to the Philippines.

"It's akin to a car doing road test. The facilities and other navigational instruments are being tested to ensure seaworthiness especially before its embarks on its voyage to the Philippines," Arevalo added.

The first SSV was launched at the PT PAL (Persero) shipyard in Surabaya, Indonesia last Jan. 17.

The Philippines has a two-SSV order with PT PAL (Persero) for PHP3.87 million which is sourced from the AFP Modernization Fund.

The SSV acquisition project for the PN was initiated upon the approval of Acquisition Decision Memorandum Number 2012-060 by Defense Secretary Voltaire Gazmin last October 30, 2013.

The Department of National Defense declared Persero as the Single Calculated Responsive Bidder with a bidding price of PHP3.87 million on November 18, 2014.

The SSVs are programmed to be the PN’s floating command center carrying out their main purpose as military sealift and transport vessels and also for humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

The ships are estimated to weigh around 7,300 gross register tons.

Further, these vessels are critical assets for civil-military operations due to their capability of transporting large number of soldiers, logistics, and supplies.

Moreover, each SSV has the capacity to house three helicopters. The Navy’s Augusta Westland-109s are programmed to be on-board components of these vessels.

These forthcoming landing platform dock strategic sealift vessels will improve the transport capability of the PN and boost the defense capabilities of the country.

The Philippine Navy SSV / LPD BRP Tarlac-601 at PT PAL in Surabaya, Indonesia.