Welcome to the CavasShips Podcast with Christopher P. Cavas and Chris Servello…a weekly podcast looking at naval and maritime events and issues of the day – in the US, across the seas and around the world. This week…it was a key week for the 2023 defense budget as several Capitol Hill committees moved their versions forward through the Congressional budget process. And while ships, aircraft and of course money get the most attention, a number of policy adjustments also are in those bills. We’ll talk with one key congressman, Mike Gallagher, about a provision he authored that could affect the peacetime role of the U.S. Navy.
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This Week’s Naval Round Up:
A US Navy P-8A Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft flew over the Taiwan Strait June 24 after a week where multiple Chinese military aircraft entered Taiwan’s ADIZ, or Air Defense Identification Zone. The flight was reported by CNN and confirmed by US Indo-Pacific Command. As we record this there’s been no announcement but it’s also about time for the roughly once-a-month US Navy ship transit of the strait, the last taking place May 10.
Three small high-speed vessels from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy sped close to two US Navy ships in the Strait of Hormuz on June 20, resulting in US protests that the boats, quote, “interacted in an unsafe and unprofessional manner.” In the incident, the US patrol ship SIROCCO was escorting the fast transport CHOCTAW COUNTY through the strait. The reported harassment lasted about an hour, according to the US.
The US Navy’s hospital ship MERCY arrived at Vung Ro, Vietnam on June 19 as part of the annual Pacific Partnership humanitarian assistance mission. The ship, with an embarked medical team and service members from Japan, Australia and the United Kingdom will spend two weeks in Vietnam providing a variety of medical services, while US Navy teams will build new buildings for several schools.
Denmark announced June 24 that the frigate PETER WILLEMOES will operate with the USS GERALD R FORD carrier strike group in October when the FORD begins her first deployment. WILLEMOES previously operated in 2017 as a member of the USS GEORGE H W BUSH carrier strike group, accompanying the US carrier to the Persian Gulf.
In new ship news: the Virginia-class submarine MONTANA SSN 794, delivered from Newport News Shipbuilding, will be ceremonially commissioned June 25 at Norfolk Naval Base in Virginia. On the same day in San Diego, the expeditionary sea base ship JOHN L CANLEY ESB 6 will be christened by the namesake’s daughter, having been floated out earlier this week at General Dynamics NASSCO Shipbuilding.
And in old ship news, a group led by ocean explorer Victor Vescovo announced June 24 the discovery of the wreck of the famous destroyer escort USS SAMUEL B ROBERTS DE 413, sunk in October 1944 by Japanese warships while valiantly defending a group of small US “jeep” carriers in the Battle off Samar during the larger Battle of Leyte Gulf. The wreck, discovered at a depth of 6,895 meters – 22,621 feet – is the deepest-known shipwreck world-wide. Identification of the wreck was conclusive, with the ship’s hull number still plainly visible on the bow. ROBERTS was one of a group of US destroyers and destroyer escorts – dubbed the Last Stand of the Tin Can Sailors — that bravely charged the Japanese fleet – including the YAMATO, the world’s largest battleship – when the American escort group was surprised while conducting support operations. Ninety US sailors died with the ROBERTS, even as 120 survived. Three other US ships were sunk in the same battle.
We noted last week the launch of China’s new aircraft carrier FUJIAN – the largest warship ever built outside the United States and a design packed with technologies and features new to the Chinese Navy. While it will be some years before the ship is fully operational, what we’re seeing are the results of decisions made years ago – five, seven, even ten or more years back. Like the rise of the Chinese Navy, it’s all been playing out pretty much in full view.
That naval growth is at the point of looking for new outlets, new demonstrations of the expanding reach and power of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy. The Chinese understand the value of messaging and propaganda, and they’re likely gearing up for a major demonstration of their new abilities.
I know I’m just an armchair admiral, but here’s a thought. If I’m the Chinese, I’m looking to make a real splash with my fancy and expensive new fleet. The world’s largest naval exercise – the US-sponsored Rim of the Pacific, or RIMPAC, is days away from beginning in the waters around Hawaii. China isn’t invited – even though they were welcome participants in the 2014 and 2016 exercises before being disinvited in 2018.
But what’s to stop them from sailing a sizeable force – even centered on one of their aircraft carriers — halfway across the Pacific and taking station near – or even alongside – the more than 40 warships from more than two dozen nations taking part in RIMPAC.
The Chinese certainly have the capability to do this. They’ve been building a balanced fleet complete with large, capable supply ships that can support warships in overseas, blue-water deployments. There are no laws of the sea preventing them from operating in the same waters as other ships. Even if no-go zones are declared by the US, what’s really to stop them if they simply move in? Are we going to shoot them if they get too close? Probably not. Maybe they’ll even be topside engaging in friendly waves.
What will the US do if that happens? Are the authorities gaming this out? What kinds of scenarios do they envision? The videos and images from such an event could be played out in a variety of ways – not all with a happy outcome from the US point of view.
Even if it doesn’t happen this year, there’s no reason to think the same possibility won’t come around again during RIMPAC 2024. Is the US Navy – and by extension the Pentagon and the While House – ready for such an event?
Hope so. But as in all things, I really hate hoping as a strategy.