Russia defines Arctic intentions with supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles

Peace in our time.

St. Nicholas presides over the Russian military base at Nargurskoye, on Alexandra Island, Franz Josef Land, which is undergoing a major expansion by Russia.
St. Nicholas presides over the Russian military base at Nargurskoye, on Alexandra Island, Franz Josef Land, which is undergoing a major expansion by Russia.

If it wasn’t clear before that Russia intends to be prepared to “fight the Arctic,” it should be now.  A report from last week indicates that the Russians plan to put “Bastion” anti-ship missile systems at their Arctic bases in 2015, to go along with airfield improvements, aircraft deployments, and installation of mobile anti-air missile systems and early warning radars for a network of bases that extends from one end of Russia’s Arctic coast to the other, and well into the Arctic Ocean.

There is certainly a question as to what “threat” Russia imagines herself to be countering with the deployment of the cruise missile systems.

But that’s really asking the wrong question.  Given the dearth of non-Russian surface ship traffic through the area in question (maps 1 and 2), and the certainty that other nations with Arctic claims have no motive to put ships in that area against Russia’s will, a more accurate interpretation of this move is that Russia seeks to hold a geomilitary veto over the sea-lanes, in a manner similar to the veto sought by China over the South China Sea. Continue reading “Russia defines Arctic intentions with supersonic anti-ship cruise missiles”

Iran tries to undermine Saudi embargo by diverting ship to Djibouti for ‘inspection’

Interesting times.

(Image via Nader Uskowi, Twitter)
(Image via Nader Uskowi, Twitter)

When we left our story on Monday, the Iran Shahed was in the Gulf of Aden heading for the Bab-el-Mandeb Strait, and was expected to arrive at Hodeidah, Yemen on Thursday, 21 May.  A U.S. military spokesman had encouraged Iran to have the ship offload its cargo in Djibouti and let the UN transport it to Yemen.  But the Iranians were having none of that.

By Wednesday morning, however, Iran had decided to allow the ship to be inspected by the UN in Djibouti, before it continued on to Hodeidah.  That is significantly different from what the low-level U.S. military spokesman — the only person who made an official U.S. suggestion — proposed. Continue reading “Iran tries to undermine Saudi embargo by diverting ship to Djibouti for ‘inspection’”

The Maersk Tigris game change: Iran’s big little maneuver in the Strait of Hormuz

Interesting times.

Superbad.  An Iranian speedboat and Kayvan patrol boat, the new law in the SOH. (Image: Fars via Uskowi on Iran)
Superbad. An Iranian speedboat and Kayvan patrol boat, the new law in the SOH. (Image: Fars via Uskowi on Iran)

The game of international power dynamics has just shifted in a major way.  It will take a little time for the consequences to be visible to the public eye.  But I don’t think it will take that much time.  We’re talking months, at most, if not weeks.  Iran is getting no pushback from the “international community,” and is moving quickly now.

Two points to take this forward on.  First, the Maersk Tigris, the Marshall Islands-flagged cargo ship detained by Iran on Tuesday, is still being held by Iran.  The situation remains unresolved.

Second, the U.S. Navy will begin accompanying U.S.-flagged commercial ships through the Strait of Hormuz (SOH).  This is not the robust use of force it may seem to be, nor is it a repeat of the tanker-escort operation (Earnest Will)* in 1987-88, during the Iran-Iraq war.  It’s a tacit surrender, in fact. Continue reading “The Maersk Tigris game change: Iran’s big little maneuver in the Strait of Hormuz”

Chinese power move in South China Sea: This is big

Breaching the peace.

Mariners and the specialty mariner press know it’s big.  But mariners can’t fix this.  It will take national policies to fix it, and non-specialist citizens therefore need to understand its importance.

So, I reiterate: this is big.  After several years of preparations for this day (see, for example, here, here, and here), China has issued a unilateral order that foreign fishing vessels will have to obtain permits from China to fish in two-thirds of the South China Sea (SCS), an area in which China has long made excessive territorial claims. Continue reading “Chinese power move in South China Sea: This is big”

China: Ignoring UNCLOS, ordering a U.S. Navy cruiser to stop

Post-Pax blues.

If you were wondering whether it’s bad that the Chinese navy maneuvered aggressively near a U.S. Navy ship last week, ordering the ship to stop and then driving a Chinese ship right in front of it, dangerously close, the answer is yes.  It’s bad – bad from two standpoints: naval professionalism, and China’s posture in the South China Sea.  We’ll look at both here.

Briefly, the backstory is that China’s new aircraft carrier, the former-Soviet carrier refitted by China and named the Liaoning, transited in November from a northern port to the South China Sea for her first operations in southerly waters.  In late November, Liaoning got underway with an escort of two destroyers and two frigates to conduct operations in the South China Sea.

These are Liaoning’s first naval activities outside of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, Continue reading “China: Ignoring UNCLOS, ordering a U.S. Navy cruiser to stop”