Amid the controversy surrounding the Black Sea passage of Royal Navy destroyer HMS Defender in June, an intriguing detail was overlooked. Before it embarked from Odessa, Defender hosted a ceremony at which the UK government, the Ukrainian ministry of defence and British engineering firm Babcock agreed a memorandum of implementation under which Babcock will contribute to a significant upgrade of Ukraine’s naval capacities, including the establishment of new naval bases on the Black Sea and Sea of Azov. In addition, the UK will transfer to Ukraine two refurbished Sandown-class minehunter ships.
The key component of the agreement signed aboard Defender is the delivery of modern frigate capability to Ukraine. It is assumed, though not confirmed, that this refers to the Type 31 frigate, of which Babcock is already building five for the Royal Navy, and in which Babcock is hoping to interest customers in Greece, Poland, Indonesia and elsewhere.
“The Type 31 is not really very sophisticated compared to the Type 26,” says Sidharth Kaushal, research fellow in sea power at the think-tank Royal United Services Institute. “But the Type 31 will work for lower-end tasks, such as anti-drug patrols and convoying, and it can be built cheaply enough for export to countries that can’t afford first-tier frigates.”
“No amount of kit you could sell Ukraine would enable it to take on the Russian Navy,” adds Kaushal. But the Type 31s could be deployed to protect commercial shipping in and around the Sea of Azov, cradled between Ukraine, Russian-occupied Crimea and Russia proper. “The ability to convoy commercial shipping with some kind of frigate capability might have a deterrent effect on Russian harassment,” says Kaushal.
Rules regarding women’s military uniforms have often lagged behind the times. A pilot project in Switzerland, where women make up just one per cent of the military, will at last allow female soldiers to wear women’s underwear. Previously, women were required to wear the standard-issue military clothes given to all soldiers, including underwear designed for men. And in the US, where women make up 16 per cent of enlisted forces, some in Congress are proposing to eliminate the “pink tax” on military uniforms after a government report found that servicewomen pay double what servicemen pay in out-of-pocket costs on items not covered by military stipends. One brief example: until 2020, the Marine Corps offered a stipend for men’s underwear but no equivalent for women’s undergarments.
The US army is to spend more than $50m (€42m) on counter-drone measures, including what is known in three-letter-acronym military argot as HPM: high power microwave. It is envisaged that HPM could defend assets from the drone swarms that might become a common weapon of war – unless they already have. A recent US government report admitted, with remarkable candour, that its military is unable to explain 143 credible reports since 2004 of UAP: unidentified aerial phenomena.
Who’s buying: Indonesia
Who’s selling: Italian shipbuilder Fincantieri
Delivery date: TBC
That Indonesia’s navy was in need of modernisation was tragically illustrated in April by the loss of the 1970s-era submarine KRI Nanggala with 53 aboard. Indonesia was already reportedly negotiating the purchase of eight Mogami-class stealth frigates from Japan and this order from Italy’s Fincantieri emphasises a new focus on Indonesia’s naval challenges – not least from increasingly bold Chinese fishing fleets. The six fremm-class ships will be new builds; the two Maestrale-class ships retirees from the Italian navy.
PHOTOGRAPHER: Wilson Lee
Illustrator: Peter Greenwood. Images: BS/DDPS, Getty Images, U.S. Air Force