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Saturday, April 17, 2010

A Look at Britain's and France's Nuclear Arsenals

 The British nuclear submarine HMS Astute can carry up to 48 nuclear warheads.

For Great Britain and France, the possession of nuclear weapons is a question of national pride, but neither country wants to eliminate its deterrent in the future. For cost reasons alone, though, the countries' arsenals are expected to shrink in the coming years.

France and Great Britain are part of a small club of the five official nuclear powers. The French force de frappe, or deterrent, is made up of approximately 300 nuclear warheads, while the British Royal Navy has just over 160. Both have fleets of four nuclear-powered and nuclear-armed submarines, of which one is always at sea. Paris maintains four more squadrons of planes with nuclear weapons, three on the ground and one at the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier.

Since the end of the Cold War, both countries have considerably shrunken their arsenals. The production of weapons-grade plutonium has been stopped entirely. And Great Britain eliminated all the nuclear weaspons possessed by its army and air force.

Neither London nor Paris is playing a central role in the current debate over disarmament. France and Britain make the point that the United States and Russia must disarm themselves to the level of the two European countries before any need will arise for further negotiations.

Both Countries Look to Successor Generation, But Cuts Still Likely

Neither France nor Great Britain wants to fully give up their nuclear weapons, and both consider the round-the-clock nuclear deterrent to be indispensible. And both countries are working on the successor generation to weapons systems currently in their possession.

With fiscal budgets constrained, however, both countries are considering further limiting the scope of their nuclear arsenals. While speaking before the United Nations last September, British Prime Minister Gordon Brown said his country wanted to make due with three nuclear submarines in the future instead of four. The French government recently offered to create a joint sea-based nuclear deterrent by sharing submarine patrols. Experts see the proposal as a model for the future, but the idea has so far been rejected by London.

Cooperation in Europe is also complicated by the fact that the British nuclear program has long been deeply interwoven with that of the United States. The Trident II missiles that are deployed with British submarines are stored in a common pool of missiles of the same type at Kings Bay, Georgia.

Britain and France are the only countries in the European Union to possess their own nuclear weapons. As part of NATO, however, around 200 American short-range nuclear warheads are stored in Europe, including an estimated 20 weapons in Germany.

A look at the two European nuclear powers in facts:

France :

300 nuclear warheads

4 Le Triomphant class submarines, stationed at Ile Longue in Bretagne. Each submarine can carry up to 16 M45 missiles, which can in turn be armed with six war heads each.

The newest submarine, which goes into service in 2010, is armed with M51 long-range missiles with a range of 9,000 kilometers (5,592 miles).

3 squadrons of planes, each with 20 Mirage 2000N, stationed in Istres, Luxeil-Les-Bains and Saint Dizier. They are armed with air-to-surface missiles (ASMP) with a range of up to 300 kilometers.

20 Super √Čtendard fighter-bombers are stationed on the aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle.

Great Britain :

160 nuclear warheads

4 Vanguard-class submarines, stationed at a base in Faslane, Scotland. Each can carry up to 16 Trident missiles (with a range of 10,000 kilometers) with a maximum of 48 war heads on board.

16 underground bunkers for storing nuclear weapons in Coulport near Faslane -- development and construction of the warheads through the Atomic Weapons Establishment (AWE) in Aldermaston, England.


After long delay, India moves to expand strategic Karwar naval base

NEW DELHI: India is finally going in for a major expansion of its newest naval base at Karwar in coastal Karnataka, which provides it "strategic depth" on the western seaboard and will house aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines in the future.

This comes after a long delay since the ambitious `Project Seabird' to build the futuristic Karwar naval base was first approved by the government way back in 1985 at an initial cost of Rs 350 crore.

Budgetary constraints derailed the project for a decade before a truncated Phase-I was approved in 1995, with the work finally commencing in 1999 with a Rs 2,500 crore fund allocation.

"Phase-I is now fully complete. We have 10 warships based there. Now, the detailed project report for Phase-II is in the final stages. After approval by the Cabinet Committee on Security, construction will begin next year,'' Navy chief Admiral Nirmal Verma told TOI.

Navy will be able to berth 25 to 30 big warships at Karwar after Phase-II gets over by 2017, he added. The base will also house a wide variety of smaller ships, including 10 of the 80 fast-interceptor craft of Sagar Prahari Bal, the specialised force being raised for coastal security after the 26/11 terror attacks on Mumbai.

Pakistan has already built its new Gwadar deep-sea port with China's help in Baluchistan, which will help the two countries gain a crucial foothold in the Gulf region.

Admiral Verma, on his part, said, "Our maritime perspective plan takes into account the threats we may face in the future.''

With Navy keen to operate two carrier battle groups around 44,570-tonne Admiral Gorshkov and 40,000-tonne indigenous aircraft carrier by 2014-2015, the Karwar base is critical for its blue-water operations in Indian Ocean and beyond. The eventual aim is to make it capable of handling as many as 50 frontline warships.

The 130-warship Navy also currently has three destroyers, six guided-missile frigates, six submarines, two fleet tankers, four anti-submarine corvettes, six survey vessels, six fast-attack craft and a sail training ship under construction. Moreover, it's on course to order another four destroyers and seven frigates, among other warships.

Karwar, spread over 4,480 hectares on a 26-km stretch along the coastline at present, is being developed into a major naval base after Mumbai and Visakhapatnam for three main reasons.

Defence to overhaul Collins class submarine comms

Defence will overhaul the communications on its fleet of its Collins class submarines, replacing the existing Communications Centre (COMMCEN) and implementing a new External Communications System (ECS).

The ECS will also incorporate a High Data Rate Satellite Communications link, allowing connectivity to the Defence information environment and the Maritime Tactical Wide Area Network.

The satellite communications system will operate in the Super High Frequency band and allow the submarines to exchange data at rates more than 25 times faster.

The replacement of the Collins Class ECS will provide Australia’s submarine fleet with a modern communications architecture that will meet the future operational needs of the submarines.

According to Defence spokesperson, the project is part of the Communication and Electronic Warfare Improvement Program aimed at improving the electronic warfare and external communications systems fitted to the Collins class through the acquisition of a high data rate satellite communications capability, replacement of the existing communications centre and enhancements to the fitted electronic warfare capability.

The project should deliver a capability for the submarines to use Internet Protocol-based communications and contribute to the Defence’s vision of a network-enabled force, the spokesperson said.

“The current Communications Centre was designed and built in the 1980s and it is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain the capability,” the spokesperson said. “Not only are the electronic components obsolete with replacement components long out of production, the architecture of the COMCEN does not allow the processing of contemporary IP-based communications.”

As part of the project, an IP-based LAN environment will be installed through the whole submarine, the spokesperson said.

“In order to make the transition from what is essentially a TELEX [telephone exchange] room into what will become the hub of a network where operators can interact directly with their colleagues requires that the communications capability extend beyond the COMCEN and into the submarine itself,” the spokesperson said.

Russia to build submarine-detecting satellite

Russia could build a satellite for the detection and tracking of submarines from space, a defense industry spokesman said on Thursday, according to RIA Novosti.

Vladimir Boldyrev, of the Kosmonit science and technology center, said the group had developed a space satellite module that could carry out remote sensing of the sea and "detect submerged submarines."

"Hopefully, it will be tested in space as early as 2011," he said, adding that work on the module started over a decade ago.

He offered no indication as to when the new satellite would enter service with the Russian Armed Forces.

Boldyrev added that the dual-use module would be used for both defense and civilian purposes, in particular, providing meteorological data. (RIA Novosti)

Melbourne defense firm reels in Navy submarine software deal

Melbourne-based Modus Operandi Inc. said Monday it has received a $600,000 deal to provide submarine intelligence analysis software for the U.S. Navy.

The small defense contractor has now won nearly a half dozen contracts since late 2009, cumulatively worth more than $3.3 million.

Its latest was a Small Business Innovation Research contract from the Naval Sea Systems Command at Washington Navy Yard. The deal is sponsored by the Program Executive Office for Submarines.

Terms of the project call for Modus Operandi to design software technology that will process and feed intelligence information from various sources into an integrated database for submarine commanders, the company said.

The new system "will provide submarine control room personnel, and ultimately commanders, with a vastly improved common operating picture allowing them to perform more mission types with greater confidence," Modus Operandi chief scientist Richard Hull said in a written statement.

Launch of new submarine delayed

Russia will not float out a new nuclear-powered multipurpose attack submarine as planned on May 7 due to technical reasons, a source in the shipbuilding industry said on Tuesday.

Construction of the Severodvinsk, the first Project 885 Yasen (Graney) class submarine, began in 1993 at the Sevmash shipyard in the northern Russian city of Severodvinsk but has since been dogged by financial setbacks. Russia planned to float out the submarine on May 7 to mark the 65th anniversary of the victory over Nazi Germany in May 1945.

"The launch of the new Severodvinsk submarine has been delayed for technical reasons," the source said, adding that the sub would be floated out and pass sea trials later this year.

Graney class nuclear submarines are designed to launch a variety of long-range cruise missiles (up to 3,100 miles or 5,000 km) with nuclear warheads, and effectively engage submarines, surface warships and land-based targets.

The submarine's armament includes 24 cruise missiles, including the 3M51 Alfa SLCM, the SS-NX-26 Oniks SLCM or the SS-N-21 Granat/Sampson SLCM. It is also equipped with eight torpedo launchers, as well as mines and anti-ship missiles such as SS-N-16 Stallion.

The Severodvinsk is expected to enter service with the Russian Navy by late 2010 - early 2011.

Last year, work started on the second sub in the series, the Kazan, which will feature more advanced equipment and weaponry.

Russia's Navy commander, Adm. Vladimir Vysotsky, has called the construction of new-generation nuclear-powered ballistic missile and attack submarines a top priority for the Russian Navy.

South Atlantic Royal Navy nuclear powered sub en route to be decommissioned

According to the British press HMS Sceptre has been patrolling off the Falkland Islands because of renewed tension between the UK and Argentina.

HMS Sceptre was commissioned on February 1978 

This is HMS Sceptre final deployment as she is to be decommissioned at the end of this year. The Swiftsure-class submarine arrived on April 6 on a goodwill visit that the Royal Navy says reinforces the strong ties the Royal Navy already enjoys with the South African Navy.

The application to the South African National Nuclear Regulator (NNR) to approve the visit mentioned an 11-day visit, but the expected arrival date of mid-March was delayed. The NNR granted a Nuclear Vessel Licence to the SA Navy, which applied on behalf of the Royal Navy for the nuclear-powered submarines visit.

The SA Navy told the Digital Journal in an earlier interview that the Sceptre had been delayed by “operational requirements” but did not elaborate.

During the short stay, the crew took the opportunity to host a reception with the SA Navy and visited some of the SA Navy units. However, no joint exercises were conducted. Speaking to defence-Web aboard the submarine, the Commanding Officer, Commander Steve Waller, elaborated: “We were supposed to come here earlier, but due to operational reasons we were delayed. Because it’s the Easter stand down for the South African Navy and (they are) preparing for World Cup duties, we haven’t been able to organise an exercise. It’s just unfortunate timing at the end of the day.”

Malaysia's Submarine Scandal Surfaces in France

A potentially explosive scandal in Malaysia over the billion-dollar purchase of French submarines, a deal engineered by then-Defense Minister Najib Tun Razak, has broken out of the domestic arena with the filing of a request to investigate bribery and kickbacks from the deal in a Paris court.

Although the case has been contained for eight years in the cozy confines of Malaysia's courts and parliament, which are dominated by the ruling National Coalition, French lawyers William Bourdon, Renaud Semerdjian and Joseph Breham put an end to that when they filed it with Parisian prosecutors on behalf of the Malaysian human rights organization Suaram, which supports good-government causes.

Judges in the Paris Prosecution Office have been probing a wide range of corruption charges involving similar submarine sales and the possibility of bribery and kickbacks to top officials in France, Pakistan and other countries. The Malaysian piece of the puzzle was added in two filings, on Dec. 4, 2009 and Feb. 23 this year.

For two years, Parisian prosecutors, led by investigating judges Francoise Besset and Jean-Christophe Hullin, have been gingerly investigating allegations involving senior French political figures and the sales of submarines and other weaponry to governments all over the world. French news reports have said the prosecutors have backed away from some of the most serious charges out of concern for the political fallout.

The allegations relate to one of France's biggest defense conglomerates, the state-owned shipbuilder DCN, which merged with the French electronics company Thales in 2005 to become a dominant force in the European defense industry. DCN's subsidiary Armaris is the manufacturer of Scorpene-class diesel submarines sold to India, Pakistan and Malaysia among other countries. All of the contracts, according to the lawyers acting for Suaram, a Malaysian human rights NGO, are said to be suspect.

With Najib having moved on from the defense portfolio he held when the deal was put together in 2002 to become prime minister and head of the country's largest political party, the mess has the potential to become a major liability for the government and the United Malays National Organisation. Given the power of UMNO, it is unlikely the scandal would ever get any airing in a Malaysian court, which is presumably why Suaram reached out to French prosecutors.

"The filings are very recent and have so far prompted a preliminary police inquiry on the financial aspects of the deal," said a Paris-based source familiar with France's defense establishment. "There isn't a formal investigation yet. The investigation will most likely use documents seized at DCN in the course of another investigation, focusing on bribes paid by DCN in Pakistan."