Love, love, love those Oberon-class boats. First submarine I ever set foot on was HMS Opossum as a small awestruck lad. Loved them ever since. This troy about the RAN’s O boats is an absolute corker.
Cold War exploits of Australia’s secret submarines
ON February 20, 1986, six senior naval officers came to the cabinet room in Canberra to brief prime minister Bob Hawke on Australia’s secret Cold War submarine operations in Asia.
Defence minister Kim Beazley had invited them to explain to Hawke what the navy’s ageing Oberon-class submarines were capable of, and what they’d achieved on dangerous, clandestine missions to Vietnam and China. Beazley wanted to lock in Hawke’s support for the costly and contentious plan to build six Collins-class subs in Australia.
The large and genial defence minister understood the strategic value of submarines as offensive and defensive weapons. When Hawke arrived, he looked like thunder and his crabbed body language signalled he wanted to be anywhere but hearing a presentation from the navy.
That was soon to change. Commander Kim Pitt began explaining he had been on patrol in HMAS Orion in the South China Sea from September 17 until November 9 the previous year; the focus of that patrol was Cam Ranh Bay on the east coast of Vietnam, then the largest Soviet naval base outside the USSR.
Pitt began a video that grabbed Hawke’s attention and immediately transformed his mood. The PM appeared transfixed as he watched dramatic and brilliantly clear footage taken by HMAS Orion as it slipped in behind and beneath a surfaced Soviet Charlie-class nuclear submarine heading into the Vietnamese port.
The video began with distant pictures of the Soviet submarine motoring towards the harbour, well outside the 12-nautical mile (22.2km) Vietnamese territorial limit. The video was shot through a camera in Orion’s periscope as the submarine loitered, barely submerged in the choppy sea.
Then Pitt took the Orion deep, ran in close behind the Soviet boat, and came up to periscope depth again. Now the video showed the Soviet submarine’s wake boiling and bubbling on the surface. Hawke watched, startled, as a clear image of the turning propeller appeared on the screen just above and ahead of Orion.
Pitt ran beneath the Soviet submarine, filming sonar and other fittings mounted along its hull. The remarkably clear pictures exposed the underwater secrets of Charlie-class technology. The only other way to get them would be for a western spy to penetrate dry-docks in the Soviet Union.
Pitt positioned Orion ahead of and beneath the Soviet submarine, slowed almost to a stop, and then allowed the Soviet boat to pass him while he filmed the other side of its hull.
Hawke grasped intuitively that this video intelligence would add immensely to Australia’s prestige in the US. It could be used to Australia’s advantage in negotiations with Washington and gave Australia a seat at the top table in the global Cold War intelligence collection game. For 45 minutes, Hawke asked questions about how the patrols were organised; their duration, their frequency, their success. He was told how the submarines recorded radio transmissions to deliver vital intelligence to the Western effort to track and identify the Soviet fleet.
The officers put up a photograph of a Soviet Kirov-class nuclear-powered cruiser, much admired by Western navies. US spy satellites had picked up the cruiser leaving its base in Murmansk and tracked it around the Cape of Good Hope and into the Indian Ocean.
The RAN sent the guided missile frigate HMAS Canberra to intercept the cruiser off Sri Lanka and follow it through the Strait of Malacca and up towards Cam Ranh Bay. The frigate took vital photographs and monitored the cruiser’s communications until it approached Vietnam.
Pitt, in HMAS Orion, was waiting, submerged outside Cam Ranh Bay with the submarine’s communications masts deployed to record the cruiser’s arrival. He recorded its procedures and protocols, which deepened Western understanding of Soviet naval communications and command and control systems, meaning the West might be able to jam them in the event of hostilities.
The cautious admiral Mike Hudson, chief of the naval staff, dismayed the submariners by telling Hawke that while the operation was professional and produced good intelligence, it was very hazardous. A submarine might be detected and possibly captured, with serious international consequences. “As we do more and more patrols, the likelihood of this happening will increase,” Hudson said.
Hawke rounded on him. “No, you are wrong,” he replied. “I’ve got a degree in statistics and I can tell you that the probability of detection does not increase as the number of patrols increase. They are discrete, one-off events and the probability of detection is constant.”
Beazley was delighted with the meeting. Hawke’s support for new submarines was locked in. The submarine officers were also triumphant. They had put together a show that had convinced Hawke, converting him from curmudgeon to champion.
They did not tell Hawke that Pitt had also video-taped a submerged conventional Soviet submarine going into Cam Ranh Bay. It was brilliant submarine seamanship, but some of his colleagues regarded it as dangerous and unnecessary and Pitt as “a bit of a pirate”. He later became director of submarine warfare.
The mystery boat operations were shrouded in secrecy as the submarines collected intelligence on the Soviet nuclear submarine and surface fleets and reinforced the US-Australia alliance. They also won Australian submariners their spurs in the Cold War’s global espionage game, as they showed uncommon bravery, dash and initiative on about 20 patrols between 1977 and 1992.
Their success ensured the Collins-class submarines were built and secured the future of Australia’s submarine service.
But the last patrol in the series proved a dangerous failure, with HMAS Orion at grave risk of detection and capture.
On October 22, 1992, she left Sydney Harbour and headed for Shanghai to gather intelligence on the Chinese navy, especially its new submarines. Orion’s CO was commander Rick Shalders, who later commanded Australia’s Collins-class submarine fleet.
The Americans wanted better intelligence on the Chinese navy, but US nuclear submarines were too big to be sent into the shallow waters of the East China Sea. Australia’s smaller O-boats were ideal for the task.
Shanghai was China’s biggest mainland harbour at the wide mouth of the Yangtse river; the water was shallow and murky, and busy with non-military shipping, including the local fishing fleet and ferries. The shoreline was heavily urbanised.
It would not be easy to stay unseen and undetected while barely submerged and trying to collect intelligence, and the consequences of detection could be grave for the submarine’s crew and for Australia-China relations.
Shalders’s trip to the area of operations was uneventful and the submariners were looking forward to getting their work done and getting back to the relatively safety of the open sea. Orion was equipped with the best photographic and electronic intelligence collection equipment; civilian language specialists were on board to translate Chinese navy transmissions.
But the patrol proved a nightmare, with the harbour crowded with fishing boats, many trailing long fishing lines and nets.
Shalders had to raise his periscope periodically to check the intelligence-collection aerials.
The fishermen constantly watched for signs of fish and could not miss minor disturbances made by Orion’s equipment and by the presence of the submarine not far below the surface.
They followed Orion around the harbour. Shalders could not surface and could not risk moving quickly away from the danger.
Things started to get desperate when Orion fouled the fishing lines and nets. One fishing boat started to sink by its bow as its net became entangled with the submarine. The fisherman saved himself by cutting away the net from the boat with an axe.
By now Shalders knew he was facing possible disaster. It was only a matter of time before the Peoples’ Liberation Navy became aware something was seriously amiss and investigated what was going on in the shallow water. Shalders and his crew faced the real prospect of detection, surrender, capture, imprisonment, trial and possible execution as spies. Relations between Australia and China would be in tatters. Shalders decided he had no choice but to abandon the operation.
Summoning all his skills, he took the submarine out of the harbour and into the relative safety of the East China Sea. The Australians returned home with nothing to show for their hair-raising experience.
The then chief of the naval staff, admiral Ian McDougall, a former submarine commander, told defence minister Robert Ray the O-boats were reaching the limits of their service lives and the patrols should be stopped because of the growing danger.
The submarine service was incandescent. It saw the patrols as invaluable for its reputation at home and abroad, and for continuing access to funding. The submariners wanted to preserve the skills they had developed.
The Defence Intelligence Organisation argued that despite the Soviet collapse there was an acute need to collect intelligence on the military activities of other countries, especially China, India and Indonesia, and that submarines were the most effective means. But Ray accepted McDougall’s advice and ordered an end to the patrols.
A senior submariner, commander John Dikkenberg, met Hawke’s successor as PM, Paul Keating, to argue for reinstatement of the patrols. Keating listened carefully, but would not over-rule his defence minister.
Four years later, when Ian McLachlan was appointed John Howard’s first defence minister, he asked to be briefed on the cancelled patrols. The navy urged their resumption and was given the OK for a carefully controlled and limited mission off Indonesia to re-establish intelligence-collecting skills.
Bronwyn Bishop, then minister for defence science and technology, also accepted that skills were being lost and gave her blessing to resumed patrols. Six more patrols were undertaken, mainly monitoring Indonesian military communications around Indonesia and East Timor. The Howard government wanted more information on Indonesian military activities in Timor, where Fretilin guerillas were still fighting for independence.
The new Abbott government is considering whether to acquire a fleet of 12 new submarines, which would represent Australia’s largest defence project. If it does, the proud Cold War history of the O-boats will have helped persuade decision-makers that submarines, despite their daunting cost, can be very good value indeed for taxpayers’ dollars.
Rolls Royce unveils its new patrol vessel (to be available in 55, 75 and 90-metre flavours). The new vessels will be in direct competition with of the BAE Systems OPV, the National Security Cutter and the Navantia BAM. It a world where littoral warfare, counter-piracy and counter-narcotics operations are increasingly part of of a modern navy’s operational demand, a well-designed OPV is arguably better “bang for your buck” than the LCS or an undersized frigate.
Rolls-Royce unveils new maritime patrol vessel design
Rolls-Royce has unveiled a new design of maritime patrol craft at the Defence & Security Event International (DSEI) in London.
The first of a ‘protection vessel family’ of designs, is a new 55-metre craft featuring a range of equipment from Rolls-Royce (stabilisers, thrusters, steering gear, fixed pitch propellers) and MTU (diesels, diesel generators, Callosum IPMS), offering a cost-effective design that can be tailored to mission requirements.
Weighing around 500 tonnes, the new vessel is suited to patrol, search and rescue and interception duties. A 90-metre version of the craft will be on offer by the end of the year, with a 75-metre design following in 2014.
Garry Mills, Rolls-Royce, Chief of Naval Ship Design, said: “Coastal protection and offshore patrol vessels is a growing sector and this new design offers multi-purpose capability, incorporating core design elements that are replicated across the family of vessels.
“Our customers often face short timescales in the procurement of this type of craft, and having a scalable, cost effective offering is essential.
“There is a growing trend of commercial marine technology crossing into naval markets as governments seek cost reduction through proven capability. Naval vessels generally comprise many disparate and complex technologies, and that’s what Rolls-Royce, with its broad product base, is good at integrating bespoke whole-ship systems to minimise programme risk.”
Building on its success in the commercial marine market, Rolls-Royce established its Bristol-based naval ship design team last year which is focused on four key naval vessel types – naval auxiliaries, offshore/coastal patrol vessels, fast attack craft and naval ice-breakers.
The USS Coronado (LCS 4) will be the US Navy’s 4th multi-mission littoral combat ship from a commitment to purchase 52 as replacements for frigates, mine countermeasures vessels, and assault ships. The project is 100% over budget and the ships are not considered to be survivable in combat, yet the Pentagon’s commitment to purchase 52 units remains.
LCS 4 Completes Acceptance Trials
MOBILE, Ala. (NNS) — The future USS Coronado (LCS 4) successfully concluded acceptance trials after completing a series of graded in-port and underway demonstrations for the Navy’s Board of Inspection and Survey (INSURV), the Navy announced Aug. 28.
Acceptance trials are the last significant milestone before delivery of the ship to the Navy, which is planned for later this fall. The ship completed trials Aug. 23.
“Coronado’s performance was strong” said Rear Adm. Robert Wray, INSURV president. “[This was] the most complete and rigorous trial on the Independence variant to date. I remain bullish on these seaframes.”
During the four-day trial, the Navy conducted comprehensive tests intended to demonstrate the performance of the propulsion plant, ship handling and auxiliary systems. While underway, the ship successfully performed launch and recovery operations with both the 7-meter and 11-meter rigid hull inflatable boats, a four-hour full power run, surface and air self defense detect-to-engage exercises, and demonstrated the ship’s tremendous maneuverability performing tight turns and accomplishing speeds in excess of 40 knots.
“Coronado encompasses lessons learned from the construction and operation of its predecessor USS Independence. The value of those changes was evident in the strong performance of the ship during her trial.” said LCS Program Manager Capt. Tom Anderson. “It’s a very exciting time in the LCS program.”
Following delivery and commissioning, Coronado will be homeported in San Diego with its sister ships USS Freedom (LCS 1), USS Independence (LCS 2) and USS Fort Worth (LCS 3).
Milwaukee (LCS 5), Detroit (LCS 7), Little Rock (LCS 9) and Sioux City (LCS 11) are under construction at the Marinette Marine Corp. shipyard in Marinette, Wis., and Jackson (LCS 6), Montgomery (LCS 8), Gabrielle Giffords (LCS 10) and Omaha (LCS 12), are under construction at the Austal USA shipyard in Mobile, Ala.
Wichita (LCS 13) and Billings (LCS 15) are under contract with Marinette Marine Corp and in the pre-production phase, while Manchester (LCS 14) and Tulsa (LCS 16) under contract with Austal and in the pre-production phase.
The littoral combat ship class is designed to defeat threats in coastal waters where increasingly capable submarines, mines, and swarming small craft operate. To deliver capabilities against these threats, the Navy introduced LCS with innovative concepts, such as modular mission packages, to quickly respond to an evolving threat.
The Navy is committed to a 52-ship LCS class.
The Korean Incheon-class frigate is a ‘coastal defence frigate’ that will replace the aging Pohang-class corvettes in their patrol and maritime security rôle. The building programme is scheduled to place 15 ships in service by 2020.
South Korea launches second Incheon frigate
South Korea has launched its second Incheon-class FFX coastal defense vessel, Yonhap news agency reported.
SEOUL, July 25 (UPI) — South Korea has launched its second Incheon-class FFX coastal defense vessel, Yonhap News Agency reported.
The chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and senior naval officials attended the launching ceremony for the 2,300-ton frigate Gyeonggi at Hyundai Heavy Industry’s shipyard in the southeastern city of Ulsan.
The Incheon, lead vessel in the class, was designed under the government’s Future Frigate Experimental program and launched in January.
Yonhap reported naval officials said the Gyeonggi — named after Gyeonggi province that surrounds Seoul — will be delivered to the navy next year and deployed for operation in 2015.
The Incheon is expected to be commissioned next year.
About 20 frigates will be built to replace the country’s aging Ulsan and Pohang patrol escort ships by 2020. The vessels were built between the early 1980s and the early 1990s.
The Pohang-class vessels were built by Korea Shipbuilding Corp., Hyundai Heavy Industries, Daewoo Shipbuilding and Korea Takoma. Hyundai Heavy Industries also built the Ulsan guided missile ships.
The Incheon and Gyeonggi vessels are South Korea’s first coastal patrol vessels built after the sinking of the patrol ship Cheonan — a Pohang-class ship — allegedly by North Korea in March 2010. The incident raised many questions by South Korean politicians and defense analysts about the condition of the navy’s equipment.
The 1,200-ton naval corvette Cheonan sank rapidly after an explosion from a suspected torpedo ripped the vessel in half. It sank just more than 1 mile southwest of Baeknyeong Island near the de facto sea border with North Korea.
North Korea consistently denies it had anything to do with the sinking.
The South Korean government also became concerned the country’s maritime protection was left wanting in the face of increasing intrusions by foreign fishing ships, especially Chinese and North Korean, into its economic zones.
In December 2011, then-South Korean President Lee Myung-bak called for “strong” measures to protect the country’s coast guard sailors during an increasing crackdown on illegal fishing by Chinese boats. Lee said he wanted no repeat of the attack earlier that month on two coast guard sailors during a raid on a Chinese boat suspected of fishing illegally in South Korean waters earlier.
A coast guard officer allegedly was stabbed by the captain of the Chinese fishing boat and died shortly after in hospital. Another coast guard member was stabbed but lived, Yonhap reported.
The confrontation between the coast guard and Chinese fishing vessel was one of the most difficult in years, said the team that boarded the ship, a report in Joongang Daily said at the time.
Some good news on the MT Cotton, the Maltese-flagged tanker which was hijacked last week off the coast of Gabon. The crew of 24 has been released. For this, should all be thankful.
However, piracy in the Gulf of Guinea remains an international menace and it is incumbent upon the international community (US, EU, China, Russia… I’m looking at you!) to implement the same counter-piracy measures for West African littoral that have been so successful along the East Africa coast.
Nigerian pirates release 24 crew members, but ransack tanker
Twenty-four Indian crew members of MT Cotton, a tanker, which was hijacked by Nigerian pirates off the coast of Gabon, Africa, last week, were released on Monday. The crew, which includes sailors from Mumbai, is expected to reach India in two weeks’ time.
Director-General of Shipping, Gautam Chatterjee said, “MT Cotton was released at 8.30 am IST on Monday. All crew members are safe and no one is in need of immediate medical attention. However, pirates have looted the crew. Right from valuables to food, medicines, even their clothes and footwear were not spared. The pirates also escaped with 3,100 metric tonnes of crude fuel of the total 10,000 metric tonnes in the ship. Presently, the vessel has been instructed by the owners to sail westwards and away from the coast.”
The shipping ministry is unaware of whether a ransom was paid for the crew’s release. “We were really worried since all crew members were Indians. The ship was captained by Shishir Wahi,” said a ministry official.
The tanker – mainly used for ferrying crude petroleum, is owned by a Turkish company, ‘Genel’, and the crew was manned by a company called ‘V Ships’. All crew members have spoken to their respective families, the official said, adding that the sailors were still on the vessel.
The partially-loaded tanker – with a capacity of 23,248 tonnes – was boarded by pirates while awaiting its turn to berth at Gabon’s Gentil Port for the loading of cargo on July 15. Worried officials of the shipping ministry had been trying to establish contact with the tanker for the past three days, according to the vessel operator.
Crew of 2 ships in custody of somali pirates for 2 years
Meanwhile, the shipping ministry said thatseven crew members of the ship Asphalt Venture and a member of the ship Albido continue to be in the custody of Somalian pirates for the past two years. Shipping ministry sources said that a ransom of $3 million had been sought for the release of the crew of Asphalt Venture, while the pirates had demanded $ 0.5 million for the release of the crew member from Albido.
Naval History and Heritage Command, Photographic Section, UM-20.
USS Freedom (LCS 1), lead vessel in her class of littoral combat ships, suffers further problems and puts in for further repairs. Is this simply teething troubles with the lead vessel, or a sign of a deeper probkem? Either way, a tad embarrassing for American technology… and somewhat inconvenient, coming just days before a Congressional hearing into the LCS program.
U.S. warship returns to Singapore after generator problems at sea
(Reuters) – The USS Freedom, one of the U.S. Navy’s new coastal warships, returned to port in Singapore on July 20 after suffering electrical problems at sea as it was preparing for a bilateral naval exercise with Singapore, a Navy spokesman said.
The ship, built by Lockheed Martin Corp, may be able to return to sea for the at-sea portion of the exercise if repairs are done quickly, said Lieutenant Commander Clay Doss.
It is the latest in a series of problems faced by the new warship on its first major overseas deployment. Freedom left San Diego on March 1 and arrived on April 18 in Singapore, where it is due to participate in a Cooperation Afloat Readiness and Training (CARAT) exercise with the Singaporean Navy this week.
The latest incident occurred just days before a July 25 hearing by the House Armed Services Committee about the Navy’s new class of Littoral Combat Ships, including Freedom, a steel monohull design, and a second model built by Austal, based on an aluminum trimaran design.
The Navy plans to spend $34 billion to build 52 of the new warships, which were designed to patrol coastal waters while tackling threats like mines and enemy submarines.
The head of the House seapower subcommittee told reporters last month that he may push for funding cuts given a critical draft report by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency.
Doss said the ship lost propulsion briefly as its crew was preparing to take on fresh supplies by helicopter, but the ship’s overall power did not go out, and the supply run was completed as planned.
Initial checks showed that one of the ship’s diesel generators overheated and shut down, Doss said. He said the crew found exhaust leaks in turbochargers – which are used to increase the speed and power of the generators – in two of the generators and determined that they needed to be replaced.
The ship also had problems with its online generators that will require further troubleshooting by maintenance technicians in Singapore, Doss said.
“Despite challenges that are not uncommon for any U.S. Navy ship on deployment, let alone a first-of-class ship that has never deployed overseas before, the Freedom crew continues to perform well as they capture valuable lessons learned,” he said.
He said the Navy was confident it had the right technical and logistics resources in place in the region to address the ship’s electrical problems.
Since departing for Singapore, Freedom has faced issues with its coolant system, which forced it to port for repairs, and Navy tests found vulnerabilities in its computer network.
Navy officials say they remain confident in the new class of warships which can be reconfigured for a variety of missions. They say the problems seen with Freedom and Independence so far are typical of those faced by any new ship built.
Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert told reporters on Friday the challenges faced by Freedom were similar to those seen on earlier classes of warships, including the Arleigh Burke destroyers.
“But we need to be vigilant, and we need to follow up, and we have work to do,” Greenert said.
It’s all about the littorals!
NAVSEA: LCS Missile Competition Could Start Next Year
The U.S. Navy could start its investigation into its new surface-to-surface missile for its Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program as early as next year, Naval Sea System Command officials told USNI News on Monday.Currently, NAVSEA is testing the Raytheon Griffin IIB as part of the Surface Warfare (SuW) mission package, only, “as an interim capability,” according to a statement provided to USNI News.
“Subject to funds availability, detailed work on the solicitation contents could start in FY 2014,” NAVSEA said.
“Since this is planned competitive procurement, additional details will be released in the future, as required by Federal procurement regulations, by the cognizant contracting activity.”
The surface-to-surface missile is major missing component of the SuW package. A joint missile with a 25-mile range under development by the Army and the Navy — NLOS-LS — was deemed too expensive and canceled after more than $1 billion in development funds.
The Navy selected Griffin in early 2011 as an interim capability. The Griffin is 43-inch missile was developed for U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM) and weighs 33 pound with a 13 pound warhead. The missile is GPS guided and has been thought to have been used by SOCOM from airborne platforms. There is also a ground variant, though the surface-to-surface version only has a range of about 3.5 miles.Last year the missile was successfully tested by the Navy engaging small boat targets, according to the company.
“Right now, this version of the Griffin probably doesn’t ultimately have enough range for this customer so we’re on LCS increment 1 with this Griffin, but what we need to do is, with what we’re calling a Sea Griffin, we need to put a bigger motor on the Griffin and give it some more range,” said Harry Schulte, vice president of air warfare systems for Raytheon’s missile systems business last week in a June, 23 report in Defense News.
Other competitors for the next increment could include the Sea Spear from European firm MBDA, reported Defense News.