Tag: China

China vows to modernize army and expand military might

(Zha Chunming/Xinhua via AP)

China’s authorities plan to actively modernize the army and boost the potential of forces, Chinese President Xi Jinping said at the opening of the 19th Communist Party’s Congress on Wednesday.

“We will do our utmost to enhance defensive capacity and modernization of China’s Armed Forces,” the Chinese leader said.

The government will honor the army traditions and improve the methods of combat and professional training of soldiers and officers. “China’s reforms in national defense allowed achieving a historic breakthrough…The Chinese People’s Liberation Army is steadily moving towards ‘socialism with Chinese specifics,’” he stressed.

“The authorities will make all efforts to ensure that by 2035 China will have a modern army with defensive power,” he said. “Finally, by the middle of this century this country will have the most advanced forces in the world.”

Some 2,280 delegates are attending the forum, which will last until October 24. The Congress will consider the result of the party’s work over the past five years and discuss economic and political situation in China and other countries, and outline a strategic line of development in the republic for the coming years. After the forum, the party is expected to unveil the new members of its top bodies – the Politburo, its Standing Committee and the Central Committee.





Trans-Arctic data cable up for discussion in Moscow

Port of Kirkenes on Norway’s Barents Sea coast. Photo: Thomas Nilsen

Telecommunication highway along the north coast of Siberia will link Finland with Asia via Kirkenes on Norway’s Barents Sea coast.

It is Finland’s Minister of Transport and Communications, Anne Berner, who brought up the possible Arctic data link when visiting Moscow on Tuesday.

Meeting Russia’s Minister of Communication, Nikolai Nikiforov, the Finnish Minister discussed how both countries could benefit from such fiber-optic data cable across the top of the world, the Finnish Government reports.

“Our aim in Finland is to provide the best possible operating environment for the development of digital services and business opportunities and to actively engage in international cooperation. One example of this is cooperation between Finland and Russia in intelligent transport systems and services,” says Minister Anne Berner.

The discussion is a follow up of data cable talks between the two prime ministers, Dmitri Medvedev and Juha Sipilä in Oulu, northern Finland, last December.

A report (pdf.) written by Finland’s former President Paavo Lipponen says key countries in the project is Finland, Norway, Russia, Japan and China.

“The submarine section of the cable would be a connection of around 10,500 km from Japan and China to Kirkenes in Norway and the Kola Peninsula in Russia,” the report reads. From Kirkenes, the fiber cable will cross into Finnish Lapland and further south to central Europe.



Slowly but surely, China is carving a foothold through the Arctic

Chinese icebreaker Xue Long – ‘Snow Dragon’

Polar research vessel’s journey along Northwest Passage could pave the way for commercial development in the resource-rich region.

China has made progress on its ambition to establish a foothold in the Arctic with the first voyage by its research icebreaker through the frozen waters of the Northwest Passage.

Will the Arctic be the next stop on China’s new Silk Road?

Experts said the latest voyage could pave the way for commercial development in the resource-rich northernmost region of the world.

“Polar regions, together with the oceans, the internet and space exploration, have become new but strategic areas where China is seeking to develop in the future,” Wang Chuanxing, a polar researcher at Tongji University in Shanghai, said.

“This voyage is just one of [China’s] practical moves in the Arctic though it remains at a very early stage in terms of commercial development.

”The State Oceanic Administration, which oversees China’s polar programmes, said the expedition helped it “acquire navigation techniques and experience in the complicated and frozen environment of the Arctic … and obtain first-hand information on its shipping routes”.

China has made progress on its ambition to establish a foothold in the Arctic with the first voyage by its research icebreaker through the frozen waters of the Northwest Passage.

It was China’s eighth scientific expedition to the Arctic and came after President Xi Jinping reiterated in Moscow in July that China wanted to work with Russia to develop an “Ice Silk Road” along the Northern Sea Route to be a “new growth driver” of cooperation between the countries.

China has stepped up its engagement in the mineral-rich Arctic in recent years, becoming one of only six nations with observer status on the Arctic Council in 2013 – which gives Beijing input on governance of the region.

The Arctic Circle is also part of Beijing’s ambitious belt and road trade and infrastructure initiative spanning Asia, Africa and Europe.

Meanwhile, in its first white paper on Antarctica, released in May, it pledged to further expand its presence in the largely uninhabited continent, including building its fifth research station there.

It vowed to “elevate Antarctic infrastructure and comprehensive support ­capabilities” and boost “scientific investigation and research capability”.

But it has yet to release a clear policy on its plans for the Arctic region, which has some nations worried.

“China is now seeking resources from all around the world – and Chinese investment is almost everywhere – but we are still waiting to see a detailed policy from China … then we [will] be more clear about what China wants to do in the Arctic,” a diplomat from an Arctic nation told the South China Morning Post on condition of anonymity.

Research team member Shi Xingan greets his son in Shanghai. Xue Long’s latest voyage covered more than 20,000 nautical miles and lasted 83 days. Photo: Xinhua

Speculation about China’s ambitions in the Arctic region is mounting. The world’s second largest economy has been on the hunt to secure enough energy resources to meet its growing demand – and the Arctic has 30 per cent of the world’s undiscovered natural gas and 13 per cent of its undiscovered oil reserves.

And as rising temperatures result in sea ice melting across the Arctic, there are also new opportunities for ships to travel through previously inaccessible, resource-rich areas.

An Arctic trade route would also be more convenient for China. The shortest and most common shipping route from Asia to Europe goes through the Strait of Malacca and the Suez Canal and takes 35 days, while a route through the Arctic would take just 22 days.

Russia remains China’s biggest partner in the Arctic. China’s state-owned Silk Road Fund and China National Petroleum both hold stakes in Arctic gas project Yamal LNG – in partnership with Russia’s Novatek and France’s Total – while a proposed deep-water port near Arkhangelsk, on Russia’s White Sea, has been on Beijing and Moscow’s agenda.

“China is very aware that Russia holds the keys to much of Beijing’s Arctic interests, including in regards to current and future shipping, so there is great interest between the two governments in cooperating further in Arctic economic development,” said Marc Lanteigne, an expert in China, East Asia and polar regions at Massey University in New Zealand.

“China is interested in helping the Putin government develop various projects, including port and transport infrastructure, in both Siberia and the Russian Far East.”

Cheng Baozhi, an associate researcher at the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies, said the Arctic was an area of untapped potential for China.

“Russia is the largest Arctic nation in the world and there’s no way to bypass it in any Arctic-related activity,” Cheng said. “The two nations realise there is huge potential for them to cooperate, so why not exploit that potential?”

But China’s path through the Arctic will not be easy – aside from the technical and environmental challenges, it will also face political uncertainties and potential cultural conflicts in its commercial development plans.

MV Xue Long’s Russian Kamov Ka-32 rescue helicopter. PHOTO / Jessica Fitzpatrick

“Chinese companies need to carefully study the possible risks before they set foot in the Arctic – otherwise they could end up involved in disputes,” Wang from Tongji University said.

There was the possibility of conflict with cultural and environmental agencies, local governments and even the region’s aboriginal peoples, he said.

In the meantime, China has started building its second icebreaker, the Xue Long II, which is expected to set sail in 2019. Also, state-owned cargo shipping giant Cosco is planning to send six vessels along the Northern Sea Route to transport items including equipment, steel and pulp, Xinhua reported.


Second stage of Russian-Chinese naval exercise to involve 11 ships, 2 submarines

Chinese Navy (PLAN) Shijiazhuang destroyer

VLADIVOSTOK, September 17. /TASS/.

Russia and China will deploy 11 ships and two submarines to take part in the second stage of their joint naval exercise, Maritime Cooperation-2017, a Pacific Fleet spokesman said on Sunday.

The second stage of the exercise will begin on Monday in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.

“The second stage of the international Russian-Chinese Maritime Cooperation-2017 exercise will involve 11 surface ships, two submarines, two deep-submergence rescue vehicles, four anti-suibmarine warfare aircraft and four shipborne helicopters,” spokesman Vladimir Matveyev said.

Russia will send the Admiral Tributs Udaloy-class destroyer, the Sovershenny corvette and the Igor Belousov rescue ship, carrying the AS-40 deep-submergence rescue vehicle and the R-11 missile corvette. In addition, the Pacific Fleet will also be represented by the Sovetskaya Gavan Grisha-class corvette, the Viktor Faleyev hydrographic survey vessel, the MB-93 sea tug and two diesel-electric submarines that were not named.

Russian Pacific Fleet sovershenny Corvette
The four-vessel Chinese task force will be led by the Shijiazhuang destroyer.

“In addition, the naval phase of the exercise will involve the training of ship-aircraft coordination. This element will involve two Il-38 planes, two Tu-142M3 planes, a Ka-27PS and a Ka-27 helicopters of the Pacific Fleet’s naval aviation. The aviation of the Chinese Navy will be represented by Z-9C and Z-9D shipborne helicopters,” Matveyev said.

Harbin Z-9EC ASW “Haitun”, Chinese: 海豚, Chinese Naval Air Arm

The second stage of the Russian-Chinese Maritime Cooperation-2017 exercise will take place between September 18 and 26 and will consist of the coastal and the naval phases. The coastal phase will be held in Russia’s Far Eastern city of Vladivostok on September 18-21. The naval part is scheduled for September 22-26 in the Sea of Okhotsk and the Sea of Japan.

The first stage of the Russian-Chinese naval exercises ‘Maritime Cooperation-2017’ was held from July 21 to July 28 in Baltiysk, the coastal city in Russia’s westernmost Baltic exclave of Kaliningrad. Russia’s new generation Project 20380 corvettes – the Steregushchy and the Boiky – as well as a rescue tug, the Ka-27 multi-purpose shipborne helicopters, the Su-24 tactical bomber and the An-26 military transport aircraft took part in the drills.China sent the Hefei destroyer, the Yuncheng frigate and the Luoma Lake supply ship to the drills.




China, Russia set for second round of naval drills

Chinese and Russian Navy ships are scheduled to start the second round of bilateral drills as part of the “Naval Interaction 2017” set of engagements between the two countries.

Taking place near Russian Pacific Fleet base in Vladivostok, the exercises are planned to last from September 18 to 26.

According to Vladimir Matveev, spokesman for the ministry’s Eastern Military District, the exercise will consist of a shore phase in Vladivostok and an at-sea phase which will unfold in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk.

Chinese ships taking part in the second phase of Naval Interaction 2017 will be different from the ones that participated in the first portion in July this year.

This time, the Chinese task group will be made up of Type 051C destroyer Shijiazhuang, Type 054A frigate Daqing and Type 926 submarine rescue ship Changdao.

It was not specified which Russian Navy ships will be taking part in the drill. Exercises conducted in July involved over 20 ships overall.


Drills with Russia put Chinese navy to the test in unfamiliar waters

PLAN Jiankai II-class Frigate

Exercise aimed at showing two countries are drawing closer, experts say.

Naval experts said the exercises were aimed at showing that China and Russia were drawing closer amid simmering tensions over the Korean peninsula, with Beijing calling on the United States, Japan and South Korea to scale back their military drills in the region.

A Chinese missile destroyer, missile frigate, supply ship and submarine rescue vessel along with shipborne helicopters and submersible rescue vehicles set sail from Qingdao on Wednesday, according to a statement on the PLA Navy website.

The drills will be held in the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk from Monday to September 26, official news agency Xinhua reported.

The first part of the joint naval exercise was held in July, with the Chinese navy sailing over 10,000 nautical miles to reach the Baltic Sea. It was the first time the two countries had held a joint drill there.

Next week will be the first time the Chinese navy has conducted a drill in unfamiliar waters – the Sea of Okhotsk, off the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Russian Pacific Fleet missile corvettes en-route to the Sino-Russian Naval Exercise.

It will also involve complicated submarine rescues and anti-submarine drills that have not been included in previous joint exercises between the two countries.

They will begin with coastal drills in Vladivostok from Monday to Thursday, and sea exercises from September 22 to 26, the Russian defence ministry said.

Beijing-based military expert Li Jie said China wanted to demonstrate its global fighting prowess with the drills.

“If the Chinese navy wants to be a real blue-water navy, it needs to be able to operate in all weather conditions and in unfamiliar waters. Only Russia can give China this type of training location,” Li said.

The People’s Liberation Army Navy Fleet

He also noted that the drills were happening at a time when the US was putting pressure on China to rein in North Korea’s nuclear ambitions while it continued to hold exercises of its own with Japan and South Korea in waters off the Korean peninsula.

“There’s a need for the PLA Navy to show off its fighting capabilities in case there is a military conflict in the area,” he said.

Shanghai-based naval expert Ni Lexiong said Japan would be displeased by the drills because they will be held in waters close to the disputed Kuril islands that are claimed by Japan and controlled by Russia.

“Moscow wouldn’t need Chinese help in the event of a maritime conflict with Japan, yet it is willing to make these important waters available for joint exercises. This shows Russia’s support for Beijing both politically and diplomatically,” Ni said.

The drills will be the eighth joint exercises between the two navies in the past six years. In 2015, China and Russia held two sets of drills – in the Mediterranean and the Sea of Japan.


Breaking News: North Korea launches another missile over Japan

The Pentagon considers North Korean mobile ballistic missiles a top threat.

In a major show of defiance to the international community, North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido Friday.

The launch is the second to fly over Japan in less than a month, and the first since North Korea’s sixth nuclear test and new United Nations sanctions on the country. 

Friday’s missile test follows the release of a statement Wednesday, in which the North Korean state news agency KCNA threatened the “four islands of the (Japanese) archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche,” referring to the ruling ideology of North Korea.

Speaking to reporters Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was “totally unacceptable” and went against “the international community’s strong, united will for a peaceful solution.”


Launch and response

North Korea’s latest missile was fired from the district of Sunan in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, home to the country’s main airport, the South Korean military said.

The missile flew about 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) and reached an altitude of 770 kilometers (480) miles before landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Initial US assessments suggested North Korea had fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile, similar to that fired over Japan last month.

In response to North Korea’s launch, South Korea carried out a “live fire drill” that included a missile launch which the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said was capable of striking the Sunan airport launch site near Pyongyang used for today’s launch.

The South Korean missile, which was launched from the country’s east coast while the North Korean missile was still in the air, was “a show of force in response to North Korea’s latest provocation,” a South Korean official told CNN.

A second missile that was fired at the same time failed and “sank into the sea off the east coast,” an official said.

Park Soo-hyun, spokesman for South Korean President Moon Jae-in, said the country’s military had been ordered “to prepare a stern measure that can effectively counter North Korea’s increasing nuclear and military threats.”

President Moon Jae-in

Japan on high alert

Friday’s missile test set off sirens as a government warning, known as the J-Alert, went out to citizens across a broad swath of northern Japan.

“The government is advising people to stay away from anything that could be missile debris,” NHK reported.

In a statement, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said the missile test was the second time the people of Japan “have been directly threatened in recent weeks.”

“The international community needs to unite and send clear message after North Korea’s dangerous provocation,” Abe told reporters. “We must let North Korea understand there is no bright future for North Korea if it continues in this way.”

He said the Japanese government tracked the launch of the missile and “took all possible measures.”

Japan and the US have requested the UN Security Council hold “urgent consultations” at 3 p.m. ET Friday, according to the Ethiopian Mission to the UN. Ethiopian Ambassador Tekeda Alemu is the current UN Security Council president.

A Japanese soldier walks past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile launcher deployed at the Defence Ministry in Tokyo. Japan is on full alert due to a missile launch by North Korea today. AFP PHOTO/Toru YAMANAKA

Need for more pressure

The launch came just hours after North Korea responded to the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous approval of additional sanctions by threatening to “sink” Japan and reduce the US mainland into “ash and darkness.”

Those sanctions were prompted by North Korea’s sixth nuclear test that occurred on September 3, which Pyongyang said was a successful test of a hydrogen bomb.

That explosion created a magnitude-6.3 tremor, making it the most powerful weapon Pyongyang has ever tested.

The nuclear test prompted discussions inside South Korea about the the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in the country, an idea that the majority of the country’s citizens approve of, according to recent polls.

But on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in dismissed the possibility, warning it could “lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.”

Both Abe and Tillerson called for an intensifying of pressure on North Korea, including the full implementation of the new UN sanctions.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe

“These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation,” Tillerson said.

“United Nations Security Council resolutions, including the most recent unanimous sanctions resolution, represent the floor, not the ceiling, of the actions we should take. We call on all nations to take new measures against the Kim regime.”

He singled out Chinese oil supplies and Russia’s use of North Korean migrant workers as two areas in which the two countries could take “direct action” against North Korea.

Rapid pace

2017 has been a year of rapid progress for North Korea’s missile program.

Less than six years into his reign, Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And this year has been no exception.

Prior to its most recent launch, the country has fired 21 missiles during 14 tests since February, further perfecting its technology with each launch.

There’s also a political aspect to the tests, analysts say.

“This new missile test … is both a reaction to the stringent UN sanctions of Monday evening and a wake-up call about the limits of sanctions and military threats as a way to change North Korea’s behavior,” said George A Lopez, a former member of the UN Security Council panel of experts for sanctions on North Korea.

He said Trump should use his speech to the UN General Assembly next week to “demonstrate US leadership in loyalty to all allies in the region and state our commitment to developing new and vibrant security guarantees for all states, including (North Korea), that are not based on the threat or use of nuclear weapons.”

The White House has been pursuing a strategy of what it calls “peaceful pressure” in dealing with North Korea — trying to build a global coalition to squeeze North Korea’s revenue and isolate it diplomatically so it will eventually put its missiles on the negotiating table.

China has been key to that strategy, as Beijing accounts for nearly 90% of all of North Korea’s imports, according to recent data from the United Nations.

Hours before the launch, Trump touted his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and their collaboration in addressing North Korea’s rapidly escalating missile and nuclear programs.

“We have a very good relationship with China and with the President of China. We are working on different things,” Trump said. “I can’t tell you, obviously, what I’m working on. But believe me, the people of this country will be very, very safe.”

CNN’s Taehoon Lee, Junko Ogura, Paula Hancocks and Richard Roth contributed to this report.


Vladimir Putin warns world faces ‘global catastrophe’ over North Korea

Russian President Vladimir Putin warned that the escalating crisis over North Korea’s weapons program risks developing into a “global catastrophe” with mass casualties.

But Putin, speaking in China on Tuesday, cautioned against “military hysteria” and said that the only way to resolve the crisis was through diplomacy.

He warned that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has calculated that the survival of his regime depends on its development of nuclear weapons. Kim had seen how western intervention in Iraq had ended in the overthrow of Saddam Hussein after which the country was ravaged by war, Putin warned, and Kim was determined not to suffer the same fate.

“Saddam Hussein rejected the production of weapons of mass destruction, but even under that pretense, he was destroyed and members of his family were killed,” Putin said.

“The country was demolished and Saddam Hussein was hanged. Everyone knows that and everyone in North Korea knows that.”

On Monday, US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley said Kim was “begging for war” and urged the UN Security Council to adopt the strongest sanctions measures possible to stop Pyongyang’s nuclear program.

But speaking at the closure of the BRICs summit in Beijing — which hosted the leaders of Brazil, India, China and South Africa — Putin said that while Russia condemned North Korea’s latest actions, imposing any kind of sanctions would be “useless and ineffective.” Kim would rather starve his people than see his regime overthrown, he said.

“They will eat grass but they will not turn away from the path that will provide for their security,” he said.

The latest escalation of the crisis came on Sunday when Pyongyang announced it had conducted a sixth nuclear test, which it claimed was of a hydrogen bomb. The claim has not been independently verified, but seismological data indicated that the weapon was the most powerful ever to be detonated by Pyongyang.

North Korea claims it now has the capability of mounting a thermonuclear weapon on a long-range missile capable of striking the United States.


Weapons experts say it’s almost impossible to verify if the warhead and missile could be successfully paired unless North Korea were to fire a nuclear-tipped ICBM.

North Korea has test-fired a number of missiles this summer, including two long-range ones in July and an intermediate-range one in August that overflew the Japanese island of Hokkaido. South Korea has claimed that the North is making preparations for another ICBM test.  

Putin said it was clear that Pyongyang already had a nuclear capability — and in any case, no missile defense system could offer adequate protection against conventional long-range artillery.

“We know that North Korea has nukes, we also know that North Korea has long-range artillery and it has other types of weapons and there are no weapons against long-range artillery — and these weapons can be difficult to locate.

“So we think that this military hysteria will not lead to good results. It could lead to global catastrophe with lots of victims.”

In response to the latest tests, the South Korean Navy announced Tuesday it conducted live-fire drills off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to check its “immediate operational readiness” after the country’s air force and army conducted their own joint drills. It had already mounted a huge show of military force on Monday.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke with US President Donald Trump on Monday and agreed to lift current restrictions on the payload weight of South Korea’s ballistic missiles, according to a South Korean presidential spokesman.

CNN’s Taehoon Lee, Josh Berlinger and Sarah Faidell contributed to this article.

In a changing Arctic, a lone Coast Guard icebreaker maneuvers through ice and geopolitics

Ice floes surround the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy in the Arctic Ocean

Coast Guard Ensign Ryan Carpenter peered north through a front window of this 420-foot-long ship, directing its bright-red hull through jagged chunks of ice hundreds of miles north of Alaska.

It was only the second time that Carpenter, 23, had driven the 16,400-ton USCGC Healy, one of the U.S. military’s two working polar icebreakers. He turned the ship slightly to the left in the sapphire-blue water, and a few seconds later, the ship’s bow rumbled through the crusty white ice floe at about 10 mph. Metallic shudders rippled throughout the vessel, a feeling that Arctic rookies often find unnerving.

Carpenter is part of an increasingly pointed U.S. strategy to prepare for competition — and possible conflict — in what was once a frosty no man’s land. The warming climate has created Arctic waterways that are growing freer of ice, and with China and Russia increasingly looking toward the region for resources, the United States is studying how many new icebreakers to build, whether to arm them with cruise missiles, and how to deal with more commercial traffic in an area that is still unpredictable and deadly.

Capt. Jason Hamilton, 43, sits in the captains chair on the bridge of the Coast Guard icebreaker Healy during a training cruise.

Adm. Paul Zukunft, the Coast Guard commandant, recently warned that Russia and China are already encroaching on Arctic waters over the extended U.S. continental shelf. The region is about the size of Texas and rich with oil, minerals and other resources that could be extracted as technology improves.

Zukunft said last month in Washington that the situation in the Arctic could someday resemble the contentious disputes in the South China Sea, where China has built man-made islands and military installations over the objections of its neighbors. Russia already has made contested claims that stretch to the North Pole and possesses more than 25 icebreakers, with more on the way.

The next generations of Russian icebreakers aren’t being built just to transit polar ice but to fight in it. One kind of ship in the works, the 374-foot Project 23550-class, is designed to be nimble in this environment while carrying naval guns and cruise missiles. The Kremlin also has disclosed plans to build or expand numerous bases along the northeastern Russian coastline, north of the Arctic Circle, including on Wrangel Island, Kotelny Island and at Cape Schmidt.

Meanwhile, China also has arrived in the Arctic, sailing research and exploration vessels while arguing that no nation has sovereignty over these waters and the natural resources below. Chinese military officials have said that sovereignty disputes in the Arctic could require the use of force, according to an assessment written for the Naval War College Review.

The Obama administration proposed building new icebreakers in 2015, citing the warming seas and concerns about Russia’s intentions. But the effort to do so has gained new attention in recent months. Despite President Trump’s skepticism about climate change, he marveled at the power of polar icebreakers during a May 17 commencement speech at the Coast Guard Academy and promised his administration will build “many of them.”

Zukunft said that a fleet comprising three new medium icebreakers and three heavy icebreakers would allow the service to retire its older ships and keep one icebreaker perpetually patrolling in both the Arctic and Antarctic.

The Healy was commissioned in 1999, but the other working polar icebreaker, the USCGC Polar Star, is more than 40 years old. It deploys each year to Antarctica, but crew members have resorted to searching eBay for some parts because they are so hard to find, according to Healy crew members familiar with the sister ship.

The cost of the new icebreakers is uncertain at this point. Estimates are often reported to be about $1 billion each because of the reinforced hull and robust engines needed to operate in ice, but Zukunft said he thinks it will be less. A report by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine published in July recommended that a single class of four heavy icebreakers be purchased in one block buy to save money and suggested that time is running out to do so.

“The nation is ill-equipped to protect its interests and maintain leadership in these regions and has fallen behind other Arctic nations, which have mobilized to expand their access to ice-covered regions,” the report said.

A Canadian CCG Bo 105 Helicopter on the Flight Deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Healy (Credit: Jessica K Robertson, U.S. Geological Survey. Public domain.)

A Washington Post reporter and photographer sailed on the Healy from July 28 through Aug. 6, arriving on a Coast Guard helicopter off Alaska’s Cape Lisburne and departing on a small seacraft in the port of Nome, Alaska. In between, the ship meandered at least 230 miles northeast of Point Barrow, the northernmost point in the United States, before turning back.

The Healy, which travels annually to the Arctic, deployed this year on June 27 from its home port in Seattle with about 85 Coast Guardsmen and 40 scientists. It will make several trips to and from the Arctic Circle this summer, with stops in Alaskan port cities such as Seward to swap out scientists and gather supplies.

Arctic territorial claims by Canada, Denmark, Norway, Russia and the United States

Missions on the Healy vary, based on what the scientists aboard need. On this trip, the ship carried members of the Coast Guard Research and Development Center as they tested unmanned boat systems among the ice floes, including an oil skimmer, a quadcopter and a 10-foot yellow vessel that was named the “Minion,” after the popular cartoon characters.

Scot Tripp, the chief civilian scientist on the mission, said that when he started coming to the Arctic in 2012, there was ice nearly all the way south to Alaska’s northern shores until June or July. That is no longer the case, prompting the service to evaluate what kind of new equipment it might need if a crisis emerges.

Scientists recovering ice samples in one of Healy’s small boats. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Bob Selby.

“There was no need for the Coast Guard to be up here,” Tripp said. “This was frozen, and now it’s not. So now there are waterways and cruise ships coming up, so you run into the possibility of disaster with one of those.”

Even with the warming climate, the Arctic environment is unforgiving. The summer water and air temperatures are about 30 degrees, and winds often howl at 30 to 40 mph. Coast Guard members work the decks in thick snowsuits, steel-toed boots and hard hats, and anyone leaving the Healy on a smaller seacraft used for exploration must wear a winter suit with a rubberized shell to extend how long they can survive if they fall in the water.

Officers piloting the Healy said that they do their best to avoid ice, but in areas where it is inevitable, it is considered safer to use the reinforced front of the ship to punch straight through it, rather than “shouldering it” and taking a glancing blow. Even then, sticky situations still emerge.

Ensign Taylor Peace, 23, who is on her second Arctic tour, said that last summer, the Healy spent four days wiggling out of an ice floe that wouldn’t let go of the ship.

“No one flipped out,” said Peace of Fairfax, Va. “You just keep trying. All you’re doing is waiting for the wind to change direction so it can relieve the pressure, or so you can at least make five inches in an hour.”

The harsh environment was on full display July 29, as the Healy carried out two consecutive missions on the water in a smaller sea craft. In the first, the Healy lowered a small landing craft carrying members of the scientific team to examine the usefulness of the Minion and other equipment as the drone boat bounced between craggy ice floes. The ­banana-yellow vessel, carrying solar panels and a camera, got stuck only after its battery died, prompting the crew to tow it back to the Healy.

“This is a good chance to try it in a harsh environment, coming out here to work these vehicles,” said Jason Story, a Coast Guard naval architect who designed the Minion.

Members of HEALY crew standing by on the mess deck during a damage control drill.

Winds picked up and fog thickened during the second mission of the day as divers marked a return to something that had not occurred in the Arctic since Aug. 17, 2006: Coast Guard ice diving. The long hiatus followed the deaths of two Healy crew members — Lt. Jessica Hill, 31, and Petty Officer 2nd Class Steven Duque, 26 — during an ice dive that a service investigation found was poorly supervised.

The Coast Guard subsequently started its own ice-diving school and made diving a primary occupation, rather than a collateral duty. The divers can perform maintenance on the ship, assist other vessels that are in trouble or perform salvage operations involving ships that have sunk.

“When we deploy to the Arctic, there is no bench strength nearby,” said Capt. Greg Tlapa, the Healy’s commanding officer. “No one is coming to save us. So, the more self-sufficient you are in terms of underwater inspection and hull repair, the less risk there is to a deployment.”

On a bone-chilling afternoon, teams of two divers dove among the floes while a third diver sat ready in case his help was required. The sea craft was anchored to a hulking piece of ice on the ocean’s surface.
The divers marveled at the clearness of the water and the crystallized ice — about 85 percent of the sea ice floating in the Arctic is beneath the surface.

“It’s like diving in outer space,” said one of the divers, Chief Petty Officer Chuck Ashmore. “I think that’s the closest comparison I could make. You’re seeing some just incredible structures down there.”

Photos taken during the Arctic West Summer 2006 deployment aboard the CGC Healy.




Sky Views: Military action in North Korea is risky

Katie Stallard, Asia Correspondent

Kim Jong Un is calling Donald Trump’s bluff.

By firing a missile over Japan (a US ally), testing a hydrogen bomb, and now possibly preparing to launch another intercontinental ballistic missile, the North Korean leader is effectively saying he does not believe the US President’s threat to unleash “fire and fury”.

His family’s experience over the last 60 years tells him he is right.

The reason no American president has ordered military action against North Korea in that time remains the same – Seoul and its 10 million residents are well within range of the conventional artillery and rockets already deployed along the border.

Pyongyang doesn’t need nuclear weapons and ICBMs to be able to threaten massive retaliation against an American ally, likely including chemical and biological weapons.

As Steve Bannon, President Trump’s former chief strategist, put it: “Until somebody solves the part of the equation that shows me that 10 million people in Seoul don’t die in the first 30 minutes from conventional weapons, I don’t know what you’re talking about, there’s no military solution here, they got us.”

But what if that is also a bluff?

Kim Jong Un is not the cartoon villain caricature he is often portrayed as. We need to move beyond the hair jokes, and the image of the crazy despot.

To be clear, he is a despot, responsible for the brutal repression of his people, and he is running a regime accused of crimes against humanity, but he does not appear to be crazy.

Thus far, I have seen no evidence he is anything other than entirely rational, and playing a bad hand very shrewdly.

So assuming his main goal is staying in power, and staying alive, why are we so sure that no military action is possible and that even a limited strike would result in an assault on Seoul?

President Trump and President Xi Jinping have differing views about how to deal with North Korea. Sanctions or Diplomacy?

Kim Jong Un and his generals must understand that returning fire, with a large-scale attack on civilians in Seoul or Tokyo, would be suicide and that they would be ensuring the end of their regime.

Surely a more logical response would be to accept the strike on the nuclear test facility, or missile launch site, which could be spun domestically as further proof of the aggressive US enemy at the gates its people are already told is poised to attack and invade at any time, and live to rail against the imperialists another day.

The problem is communicating to Pyongyang that this is what is happening, and not the start of an all-out attack, in which case they would have nothing to lose, and would try to get their nuclear retaliation in first.

A North Korean mobile ICBM launcher

Despite what Mr Trump might think, China does not have the influence it once did on North Korea – there is mistrust on both sides, and relations have cooled significantly since the days when they were “as close as lips and teeth”.

Without that channel to reliably communicate those intentions, you are counting on Kim Jong Un and his advisers to draw the right conclusion in the critical minutes after the strike, and not to order the counter-attack.

That’s a hell of a gamble to take with 10 million people’s lives.

Which is why Kim’s assessment is probably right – that for all the talk of fire and fury, Donald Trump will ultimately come to the same conclusion as all the others before him: that the risks of military action are simply too great, and these were just empty words.


UK’s Military Promise To Japan Creates New Concerns

Royal Navy Type-23 Frigate HMS Argyll (F231) MoD

LONDON, Sept 2 (Bernama) — British Prime Minister Theresa May has already stirred up new concerns as she headed for home on Friday, wrapping up her three-day Japan tour, China’s Xinhua news agency reported.

At the time when Downing Street needed to reassure East Asia post-Brexit certainty, it was instead signalling uncertainty.

On her trip to Japan, she agreed with her Japanese counterpart, Shinzo Abe, to the deployment of HMS Argyll to the region next year as well as joint training exercises between troops of the two countries.

In her speech Thursday in Tokyo, May said, “We have highlighted our opposition to any actions on the South and East China Seas likely to increase tension.”

People can not help but wondering: how come sending an aircraft carrier by an outsider to the region does not count as an action which increases tension?

The latest promise the British government made to Japan would end up further complicating the situation in the already troubled region and also inviting uncertainty to the country’s relations with China.

The British government’s latest decision could be viewed as another expression of its stubborn determination to meddle in disputes involving China.

Earlier, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson claimed Britain would send its new aircraft carriers “on a freedom of navigation operation” in the South China Sea. Defense Secretary Michael Fallon echoed that London “won’t be constrained by China from sailing through the region.”

The way the May cabinet woos Japan has created an awkward situation. While it was attempting to demonstrate its closeness to Japan, a major investor in Britain, UK irritated China, an equally and increasingly more important partner.

In the name of security cooperation, Tokyo and London are joining hands. But their cooperation will only lead to some insecurity in the region, simply because this kind of collaboration is not constructive at all.

By doing so, Japan is inviting an outside military force to intervene in the region, which is more of a provocation than cooperation.

In essence, the bilateral cooperation should not be at the cost of sacrificing the security of a third country, in this case China. Otherwise, it can only backfire.