China Carrier Preps for Flight Ops?

From The Diplomat:

Photos posted to the Internet in China last week seem to confirm that the Chinese Navy has installed arrestor gear and other vital equipment on its refurbished Soviet-made aircraft carrier, the ex-Varyag. If genuine, the installations could represent a big step forward for the first-ever seaborne, fixed-wing aviation capability for the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

One image appears to show a traditional four-wire arrangement on the aft flight deck of the roughly 1,000-foot-long carrier. Another depicts a small tractor of the type used to move aircraft around the deck.

The ex-Varyag, which was speculated to have been renamed the Shi Lang in Chinese service, underwent more than a decade of rework in Dalian shipyard following her acquisition from Russia in the late 1990s. She conducted her first sea trial in July and performed a second, brief, at-sea test in November. These tests didn’t include fixed-wing aircraft. Indeed, much of the equipment necessary to support airplanes apparently had apparently not been installed.

In December, a Chinese government spokesman denied rumors that Russia had refused to sell China arresting gear. The ex-Varyag's deck equipment was being developed indigenously, the spokesman said.

The wires and the tractor should allow the ex-Varyag to begin flight trials with navalized J-15 fighters as early as this spring – assuming, of course, that other requisite gear has also been installed, including air-traffic-control radars, communications, aircraft fueling and repair facilities.

Even with all that equipment in place, it could take years for China to train aviators and deck crew to safely and efficiently launch, recover and maintain carrier-based aircraft. Coordinating ship and plane tactics could require additional years of trial and error. 

A truly effective carrier capability is one of the Holy Grails of modern naval operations. China’s progress toward that goal has been slow but steady.

Bold Alligator 2012 to Revitalize Amphibious Operations

From Navy.mil:

NORFOLK (NNS) — Commander, United States Fleet Forces (USFF) and Commander, Marine Corps Forces Command (MARFORCOM) will lead the East Coast’s largest joint and multinational amphibious assault exercise in the past ten years officials announced Jan. 25.

Exercise Bold Alligator 2012 (BA12) will revitalize Navy and Marine Corps amphibious expeditionary tactics, techniques and procedures, and reinvigorate its culture of conducting combined Navy and Marine Corps operations from the sea. 

BA12 will be a live and synthetic, scenario-driven, simulation-supported exercise designed to train Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG 2), 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (2d MEB) and Carrier Strike Group 12. Staffs will plan and execute a MEB-sized amphibious assault from a seabase in a medium land-and-maritime threat environment to improve naval amphibious core competencies. 

The exercise will run Jan. 30 through Feb. 12, ashore and afloat, in and off the coasts of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida

"Amphibious forces are a critical element of maritime power projection that ought to be a high priority for support, even in a resource constrained environment, because they are a cost effective option for accomplishing a wide range of military operations," said Adm. John C. Harvey, commander, USFF.

The units involved include the Enterprise Carrier Strike Group (CSG), Expeditionary Strike Group 2 (ESG-2), 2d Marine Expeditionary Brigade (MEB), Iwo Jima Amphibious Ready Group (ARG), 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit (MEU), Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC) as well as various other ships and units. 

Nine countries are participating in exercise BA12, providing maritime, land and air units or observers. The countries participating with the U.S. forces are Australia, Canada, France, Italy, Netherlands, New Zealand, Spain and the United Kingdom.

One of the exercise’s priorities is to incorporate lessons learned over the past 10 years of challenging combat operations, overseas contingency operations, humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR), noncombatant evacuation operations (NEO) and homeland defense.

The exercise will focus on the fundamental aspects and roles of amphibious operations to improve amphibious force readiness and proficiency for executing the six core capabilities of the Maritime Strategy - forward presence, deterrence, sea control, power projection, maritime security and humanitarian assistance/disaster response.

"In today’s world, the Navy-Marine Corps team must remain capable of gaining access to an operational area, and projecting and sustaining a sizable landing force ashore," said Lt. General Dennis Hejlik, Commander, MARFORCOM. "We have the legislated responsibilities to be able to conduct these operations, and we certainly must be ready to do so beyond the ARG-MEU level where we routinely operate today."

The culmination of Bold Alligator 2012 will include three large-scale events within the exercise: an amphibious assault at Camp Lejeune, N.C.; an aerial assault from the sea into Fort Pickett, Va.; and an amphibious raid on Fort Story, Va.

Embedded within their participation in BA12 is the Enterprise CSG’s Joint Task Force Exercise (JTFEX); the Iwo Jima (ARG) and 24th MEU certification exercise (CERTEX); and Riverine Group 1 (RIVGRU 1) Maritime Security Operations Ready (MSO-R) certification by Naval Expeditionary Combat Command (NECC).

USA: Navy Examines Early Retirement Option for Some Enlisted Retention Board-Separating Sailors

From Naval Today:

As announced by the Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Jonathan Greenert during an All Hands Call at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) Jan. 19, the Navy plans to offer voluntary early retirement to certain Sailors separating due to the Enlisted Retention Board (ERB).

A NAVADMIN outlining official guidance and application procedures for voluntary early retirement is forthcoming.

The National Defense Authorization Act, signed into law Dec. 31, 2011, reinstated the authority for the Department of Defense to implement Temporary Early Retirement Authority (TERA) for Sailors who have completed at least 15 years of service. TERA is a temporary, voluntary program that offers voluntary early retirement at a reduced monthly stipend to eligible members with 15 to 20 years of active service.

“Our Sailors have served honorably and our Navy is committed to doing all we can to help them and their families successfully transition to the civilian sector,” said Master Chief Petty Officer of the Navy (MCPON) (SS/SW) Rick D. West“We have aggressively pursued the option to offer early retirement benefits to eligible Sailors since Temporary Early Retirement Authority was granted. This is the right thing to do, and it ensures we provide the strongest possible transition benefits to those who qualify for retirement under TERA.”

Sailors who will have completed at least 15 years of active service as of Sept. 1, 2012, and who were not selected for retention by the ERB, will be eligible for early retirement benefits under TERA.

Eligible Sailors who desire early retirement under TERA must submit an application. As TERA is not an entitlement, all eligible members must apply to receive benefits, and all applications may not necessarily be approved. Detailed application procedures will be promulgated in a future NAVADMIN. Eligible Sailors who wish to apply for TERA will have their ERB results held in abeyance to facilitate their application for voluntary retirement.

Sailors whose TERA application is approved will be retired voluntarily no later than Sept. 1, 2012, and will not be entitled to involuntary separation pay (ISP). However, Sailors will remain qualified for enhanced ERB transition benefits until their retirement date.

“We strongly encourage Sailors who are eligible for voluntary early retirement under TERA to discuss this option with their families and with their command retention team,” said Chief of Naval Personnel Vice Adm. Scott Van Buskirk“Additionally, we’re encouraging Sailors to continue to take advantage of the multitude of transition assistance benefits and resources available to them during the next few months.”

“Sailors eligible to apply for early retirement should request to remain in the Navy through Sept. 1, 2012. NPC is now accepting Short Term Extension (STE) requests to extend a Sailors Soft End of Active Obligated Service (SEAOS) to Sept. 1, 2012, to ensure eligible Sailors have the opportunity to receive TERA benefits. Sailors should submit a request for an STE to NPC for expedited processing and approval. Further instructions on submitting STE requests are forthcoming. Because of their time-sensitive nature, commands are encouraged to expedite these requests. Once program application procedures are established, Sailors may still be able to separate prior to Sept. 1, 2012 if their application is approved and they have accumulated 15 years of service.”

ERB Sailors who will reach 15 years of service after Sept. 1, 2012, will not be eligible for TERA and must separate in accordance with ERB policies no later than Sept. 1, 2012, or at the end of their operational deferment, as applicable.

Old Becomes New: USA: Chief of Naval Operations Sees Hawaii as ‘Gateway’ to Operate Forward

From Naval Today:

The chief of naval operations (CNO) appeared on local Fox affiliate television station KHON2′s Wake Up 2day morning show in Honolulu, Jan. 19.

CNO Adm. Jonathan Greenert talked to news anchor Olena Heu about the strategic importance of Hawaii and the Pacific region.

“Hawaii is really the gateway to the western Pacific,” said Greenert. “Here in Hawaii, you have a hospital, a shipyard. You have ships, aircraft, Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, Coast Guard and Airmen. Really, this is our gateway. It is probably the most important strategic base for the western Pacific, which is the centerpiece of our strategy.”

In the morning show, Heu asked how potential budget cuts will impact the Navy and specifically the Navy in Hawaii. Greenert provided no details but emphasized the strategic importance of Asia Pacific and of Hawaii as a base to operate from.

“It’s a matter of where the proper investments should be to really align with our strategy,” adding, “Hawaii and the Pacific are key to our strategy and that will be reflected in the budget.”

Adm. and Mrs. Darleen Greenert arrived in Hawaii, Jan. 18, to meet with Sailors and their families and to participate in the U.S. Pacific Fleet (PACFLT) change of command ceremony, Jan. 20. Adm. Cecil Haney, former deputy of U.S. Strategic Command, will be replacing Adm. Patrick Walsh as PACFLT commander.

On Thursday morning, Darleen Greenert visited Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam (JBPHH) and toured the Center Drive Child Development Center with Joint Base Commander Capt. Jeff James. She also visited the Ford Island Community Center and was invited to visit the homes of several military families, where she discussed quality of life issues.

After Adm. Greenert’s morning show, the CNO held an All Hands Call with more than 500 Sailors at Sharkey Theater on Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam.

“We are so lucky to have a generation who give much more than themselves to a larger institution, and we have a generation of people who are dedicated to our country,” said Greenert. “I just want to say thank you to them and thank you to the people of Hawaii for supporting these Sailors and their families. They are truly the land of Aloha. It’s a privilege to be here.”

With a world map as a backdrop, Greenert fielded questions and talked about the Navy’s overall strategy not only in the Pacific region but to the entire world. He said that at any given time, there are about 100 ships forward deployed around the world, more than half of which are in the Pacific region.

“The focus of the Navy in the future is the Asia Pacific region – where you are,” said Greenert.

Haney takes command of PACFLEET at ceremony

From Marine Corps Times:

PEARL HARBOR, Hawaii — A new leader took over at the U.S. Pacific Fleet on Friday as Adm. Cecil Haney, former deputy of the U.S. Strategic Command, replaced Adm. Patrick Walsh, who is retiring.

Haney, a former submarine squadron commander, told about 900 people at the change-of-command ceremony that he plans to build on the foundation Walsh nurtured as he takes over the helm in an area that stretches from the West Coast to the Indian Ocean.

Haney said he will work with the other military services to support U.S. Pacific Command to enhance “maritime security and freedom of the seas with the talented men and women of Pacific Fleet and our allies and partners,” according to a Pacific Fleet news release.

He comes to Hawaii from Nebraska, where the Strategic Command is located at Offutt Air Force Base, near Omaha. Strategic Command has responsibility for the nation’s nuclear forces, including long-range missiles carried aboard submarines and bombers, and land-based missiles capable of striking around the globe.

Haney is taking over Pacific Fleet at a time when the military faces looming budget cuts yet the U.S. seeks to boost its security focus on the region.

Walsh, speaking at the ceremony, warned that other nations are gauging U.S. commitment.

“They are watching with keen interest the effect of the U.S. economic challenges, the strain of more than a decade of war on the Navy’s ability to remain forward, to remain engaged and ready,” he said.

Walsh said he was sure the Navy would overcome these challenges.

“We have faced austere economic cycles in the past,” Walsh said. “And while the American public has kept faith with the Navy, they have not changed their view of our mission or their expectations of our response to crisis conditions.”

Earlier this month, the Obama administration unveiled a new defense strategy that seeks to enhance the U.S. presence in Asia because of the region’s economic importance and China’s rise as a military power.

Pacific Fleet includes 180 ships, nearly 2,000 aircraft and 125,000 sailors, Marines and civilians.

Navy’s LCS tests delayed by system failures, report says

From Stars & Stripes:

NAPLES, Italy — The Navy’s Littoral Combat Ship experienced major disruptions and delays in testing and evaluation during the past fiscal year due to failures across a range of systems, according to a report by the Pentagon’s top evaluator of military acquisition programs.

Failures in both models of the ship during a year of trials in fiscal 2011 were laid out in the Operational Test and Evaluation office’s annual report to Congress.

The ship’s Independence variant, known as LCS 2, delivered to the Navy in December 2009, experienced failures in its anti-mine systems as well as lift platform failures, propulsion problems and hull corrosion, among other difficulties, the report states.

Christopher Johnson, a Naval Sea Systems Command spokesman, said in an email that both mine systems referred to in the report are currently undergoing “a successful test and evaluation phase,” and that both systems are expected to reach initial operating capability as planned in fiscal 2014.

The Freedom variant, known as LCS 1, that debuted in 2008, had a crack in the underwater hull repaired, according to the report.

Most of LCS 1’s testing and evaluations were still completed, however, and the ship “did not experience any major disruptions other than the hull crack,” the report states.

The LCS’ mine systems have had recurring problems, according to Jan van Tol, a retired Navy skipper and senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments.

However, the latest report doesn’t specify whether the problems are fixable or insurmountable, making it hard to gauge the scope of the problem and what it could mean for the future of the LCS, he said in an email this week.

While such trials are supposed to iron out the kinks for new ships, the latest LCS revelations represent another challenge for the Navy.

The small, speedy ships are designed for anti-submarine, anti-mine and surface warfare, particularly in shallow waters that larger ships cannot easily access, giving the Navy a way to counter unconventional threats.

The Navy is betting a lot on the LCS, a program initiated 10 years ago that, as it now stands, will one day comprise roughly a fifth of the service’s 30-year, 313-ship plan. Another LCS, the Coronado, was christened last week.

“Navy really wants/needs smaller ships in quantity to be present in places like (Southeast) Asia and engage with partner navies in ways and numbers that it can’t do with larger (and scarcer) ships,” van Tol said.

Although still in development, the LCS will one day feature modular “plug and fight” mission packages that will allow it to conduct mine detection and surface and anti-submarine warfare missions, depending on which module is installed at the time, according to an April Congressional Research Service report.

“I predict when it is all said and done that they will be the workhorses of the fleet, and that the LCS will have a thousand fathers,” Adm. Gary Roughead, former chief of naval operations, said in 2009.

It was argued as a more cost-effective option, but the program has had a history of cost overruns. The Navy originally quoted the ships’ sea frames at about $220 million, a cost that has since more than doubled, according to the CRS.

It was argued as a more cost-effective option, but the program has had a history of cost overruns.

Problems among the first two LCS ships are to a certain extent normal when it comes to lead ships of a class, van Tol said.

The Oliver Perry-class frigate program in the 1970s also experienced “growing pains,” although there were fewer problems found and fixed, he said.

Both classes of the LCS are very new types of designs, he said. “Thus it is not surprising that the teething problems have been significant,” van Tol said.

Could Boeing give LCS more punch?

From DoD Buzz:

Our distinguished colleague John Reed had a very interesting item this week that could potentially mean good things for the Navy’s littoral combat ship — Boeing wants to build it a new missile.

As John wrote over at Defense Tech, Boeing has a thing it’s calling the Joint Air-Breathing Multi-Role Missile, a concept for “a surface engagement weapon enlisting air breathing propulsion capabilities for greater range  than some current solid rocket propelled missiles. It could be used as an air interceptor or surface engagement weapon against fast moving vessels,” as Boeing’s spokeswoman told him.

It’s early days for this weapon and LCS does not have a good track record with missiles — the Army cancelled its Non-Line of Sight missile and now the Navy is trying to make the Griffin work as a stopgap — but if Boeing can deliver, it might go a long way toward shoring up some of critics’ biggest arguments against LCS.

Lockheed Martin’s Freedom-class ships have a standard Rolling Airframe Missile launcher aft on the superstructure, and Austal’s Independence-class ships have a SeaRAM. But those are for ship self-defense, not for heavy-duty anti-air work, so if LCS got several crates of new heavier-duty missiles it could use against red air, it might give Navy commanders more flexibility in the types of scenarios in which they felt comfortable using LCS. By some measures, these ships could make up half of tomorrow’s surface force, so a beefed up anti-air capability might have been inevitable anyway.

At very least, Boeing’s concept could restore, or even expand, the ships’ ability to attack surface targets. Back in the old days, the idea was an LCS would launch its Fire Scout unmanned helicopter, use it to pick out bad guys and then direct the missiles to their targets. If the Navy gets that back, it’ll restore its onetime baseline for the LCS’ ability to fight on the surface, and if it gets a longer range and a bigger punch, so much the better.

The problem, of course, is making all of it a reality. Moreover, Boeing’s promises could begin to create tension for LCS right at the moment when its supporters want it to start building momentum. LCS wasn’t supposed to be a cruiser, rolling in with heavy weapons to try to outduel other warships. The Navy specifically wanted it to fight down, for lack of a better term, assuming the enemies would be illiterate pirates or suicidal swarm-boat attackers or small groups of bad guys near a coast. The prospect of new heavier weapons on ships that will form so much of the fleet could create pressure to continue up-gunning LCS to compensate for the projected gap in major combatants — especially if the Navy is confident about developing weapons while continuing to struggle in fielding the ships’ unmanned accessories.

That idea would please the people who have been saying all along LCS is way too under-armed to call itself a U.S. Navy warship. And even LCS advocates have said all along the beauty of the ships was that they could evolve and adapt as the Navy needs. Still, the Navy could find itself in a situation where it was shoehorning a destroyer-type mission onto a platform that was built for a very different vision, and which was not built for major combat.

Then again, the standard LCS caveat always applies: It’s all so far in the future no one can say what will happen.

Panetta: U.S. prepared for an Iran challenge

From Navy Times:

WASHINGTON — The U.S. military is now “fully prepared” to deal with any Iranian effort to close the Strait of Hormuz, a vital Persian Gulf avenue for international oil shipments, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta said Wednesday.

At a Pentagon news conference, Panetta was asked whether, in light of Iran’s threat to close the strait in retaliation for stronger international economic sanctions, Washington is adjusting U.S. forces in the region.

“We are not making any special steps at this point in order to deal with the situation,” Panetta replied. “Why? Because, frankly, we are fully prepared to deal with that situation now.” He noted that routine planning continues as the U.S. and its allies consider a range of potential Iran-related problems.

The Navy this month added a second aircraft carrier strike group in the Middle East, portraying it as part of a normal rotation and not a deliberate buildup of force. The carriers are the Carl Vinson and the Abraham Lincoln, under the control of U.S. Naval Forces Central Command in Bahrain.

The U.S. has kept a continuous naval presence in the Gulf region for decades, but international concerns about a potential confrontation have grown amid tensions over the advancement of Iran’s nuclear program.

The U.S. also has military forces in nearby United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Kuwait and other Gulf nations.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, the country’s most powerful military force, says Tehran’s leadership has decided to order the closure of the Strait of Hormuz if Iran’s oil exports are blocked as a result of sanctions. A senior Guard officer said earlier this month that the decision has been made by Iran’s top authorities.

Iranian politicians have made the threat in the past, but this was the strongest statement yet that a closure of the strait is official policy.

In his remarks at the Pentagon, Panetta said he still holds out hope for a diplomatic solution with Iran.

“It takes two to be able to engage, and we’ve always expressed a willingness to try to do that,” he said. “But we’ve always made clear that in terms of any threats to the region, in terms of some of the behavior that they’ve conducted in the region, that we’ll also be prepared to respond militarily if we have to.”

In what some view as a sign of concern about aggravating tensions with Iran, the U.S. and Israel have postponed what Panetta has called the largest-ever U.S.-Israeli air defense exercise. It was supposed to be conducted in April.

Israeli government spokesman Mark Regev said on Monday the postponement was a “joint” decision with Washington. “The thinking was it was not the right timing now to conduct such an exercise,” he said. He refused to elaborate.

Asked about this Wednesday, Panetta said Israel’s defense minister, Ehud Barak, had approached him to suggest the delay “in order to be able to plan better.” Panetta said the decision had nothing to do with Iran.

Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Michael Oren, issued a statement Tuesday saying the delay “stemmed solely from technical issues.” He said the exercise, dubbed “Austere Challenge 2012”, would be held in the second half of this year.

Navy document plans future of carrier air wings

From Navy Times:

The Navy’s carrier air wings of tomorrow will look very different from today’s, according to a new document produced by the sea services.

By 2032, the Navy’s fleet of F/A-18E/F Super Hornets fighters and new EA-18G Growler electronic attack jets will have begun to be replaced by new types, a new document called Naval Aviation Vision 2012 reads.

The Navy will consider manned, unmanned and optionally manned aircraft to replace the long serving Rhino, as the F/A-18E/F is known to carrier deck crews. The Super Hornet will begin to reach the end of its service life around 2025 and must be replaced. The document says a competitive fly-off will be held at some point in the future.

The Super Hornet-derived EA-18G will also start being replaced by a new aircraft, but the document offers no further details.

Additionally, a new Unmanned Carrier Launched Surveillance and Strike (UCLASS) is to be integrated onto the carrier deck around 2018 — possibly with four to six planes embarked. The aircraft could make use of technologies developed by the X-47B program. The Navy document calls for “balanced survivability” so that the unmanned strike plane will be effective in “specified tactical situations.”

The F-35C will serve alongside these prospective aircraft.

But the Navy isn’t going to stop with replacing just its fixed-wing assets, the document calls for the wholesale replacement of its helicopter fleet.

The MH-60 helicopter fleet will be supplanted by a new rotary-wing aircraft. The Fire Scout unmanned helicopter will also be replaced as will the MH-53E Sea Dragon counter-mine and heavy lift helicopter. In the case of the MH-53E, a replacement aircraft needs to be operational by 2026, the document says.

The Marines will get a Cargo Resupply Unmanned Aerial System (CRUAS) by 2032 and the service’s entire fleet of tactical remotely operated drones will be replaced. The Navy will continue to fly the Broad Area Maritime Surveillance version of the Global Hawk unmanned plane in 2032.

The training aircraft fleet will look similar to today’s, the document says. The T-6 and T-45C will soldier on, as will the TH-57 training helicopter. But the T-44 and TC-12B multi-engine turboprop trainers will be replaced with a new aircraft. The Marines’ C-20 and Navy’s C-26D and UC-12 fleets will also be replaced. As well, a new plane will take the place of the C-2 Greyhound carrier onboard delivery plane starting in 2026.

Nor has the Navy forgotten about its fleet of F-5 and F-16 aggressor aircraft. A replacement aggressor aircraft is envisioned for 2025 according to the document.