An interview with the rear admiral in charge of an anti-piracy operation in the Horn of Africa, plus a round-up of the latest arms deals and military news around the world.
Chief of staff, Allied Maritime Component Command, NATO
The number of reported pirate attacks last year soared to a seven-year high, according to the International Maritime Bureau. Over half of these occurred off the Horn of Africa despite the presence of three multinational naval task forces. However, the areas patrolled by the EU’s Operation Atalanta, NATO’s Operation Ocean Shield (pictured) and the US-led Task Force 151 have been virtually scoured clear and the pirates were forced to extremes, tackling ships 1,000 miles off Somalia. As the monsoon dropped off at the end of August marking the start of another “pirate season”, NATO was preparing to move closer to shore to choke off the pirates at source. Monocle spoke to the Dutch Rear Admiral Hank Ort, who is in charge of Operation Atalanta.
How can you improve protection for shipping?
There are two ways of approaching this. The first is based on providing security to shipping, like in our Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor [IRT] scheme. The other is to be more proactive and to take the fight to the pirates, taking pre-emptive action before they can become a threat to shipping.
Your legal mandate only covers operations up to the low tide mark, so how proactive can you be?
We have gained a lot of intelligence about activity and pirate camps ashore, which makes it possible to position surface vessels just off those camps or, if necessary, beyond visual range to do something about the boats and skiffs setting out before they get lost in the full Somali basin. Since January 2010, 59 pirate action groups in the Somali Basin and 30 in the Gulf of Aden have been disrupted.
One of the interesting aspects of the counter piracy mission is the multinational scope. Is it working?
What we see now in terms of multinational coordination and involvement is already unique and far beyond anything that we could have dreamed of. We’re talking about China, Russia, India, South Korea, Malaysia… all of them at the same time. It’s amazing.
Monocle comment: One of the challenges facing navies is how to bring the pirates to court. Although legal agreements exist to try suspects locally in Kenya, the Seychelles and Tanzania, their legal systems are overloaded. There is some recourse through international law but trials are rare. The “solution” is often to continue disarming pirates and returning them to shore. New measures are needed to address this.
France has recently secured a rare sales coup.
It has signed up to provide an advanced upgrade package for Pakistan’s submarines as well as selling other submarines to regional adversary India. Pakistan is also looking to buy a small flotilla of new submarines and has been in talks with France’s DCNS and Germany’s HDW for several years. DCNS was looking to sell the Scorpène design that India has ordered, but the Pakistan Navy selected HDW’s Type 214 rival last October. However, no contract has been signed and the deal may have hit the rocks as a result of funding difficulties and German arms restrictions.
As a partial stopgap, DCNS will instead fit Pakistan’s Agosta 90B Khalid-class boats with the MESMA air-independent propulsion system, increasing the boats’ stealth by enabling them to stay underwater for longer. France is aware of its sensitive position selling to both sides and in April blocked a sale of French parts for Pakistan’s JF-17 fighter, no doubt fearing it would upset India.
A small Welsh company, BCB International, has developed a “radiator” filter that can reduce the temperature of drinking water coming out of soldiers’ backpacks by up to 25C. The 500g unpowered Chilly system works by sucking water through microscopic holes in a series of fins. In hot Afghanistan troops need to drink two litres of water an hour.
India has offered to bolster the Seychelles’ anti-piracy and fisheries protection efforts by donating a Dornier Do-228 maritime patrol aircraft and two HAL Chetaks to the island nation. The Indian Navy is also to undertake surveillance and hydrographic missions as part of a deal to improve maritime security in the Indian Ocean.
The Iranian Air Force has possibly made the most unlikely attempt at a defence acquisition ever. It requested that the US deliver the 80th and final F-14A Tomcat that was ordered before the fall of the Shah in 1979, but subsequently embargoed. The only other force to use the Tomcat – made famous by 1980s film Top Gun – was the US Navy, which decommissioned its last F-14 in 2006.
An Indian Navy crew is completing training aboard the Akula II nuclear-powered submarine (SSN) that India is leasing from Russia for around $700m (€551m) and preparing to “shortly” bring the boat home to a new base at Rambilli on the Subcontinent’s east coast. When it arrives, India will become only the sixth navy to deploy an SSN.