Saturday 31 August 2013

Build-up in the Meditteranean

Sixth U.S. ship now in eastern Mediterranean 'as precaution'
A sixth U.S. warship is now operating in the eastern Mediterranean, near five U.S. destroyers armed with cruise missiles that could soon be directed against Syria as part of a "limited, precise" strike, defense officials said late on Friday.

30 August, 2013

They stressed that the USS San Antonio, an amphibious ship with several hundred U.S. Marines on board, was in the region for a different reason and there were no plans to put Marines on the ground as part of any military action against Syria.

One of the officials said the San Antonio's passage into the Mediterranean was long-planned, but officials thought it prudent to keep the ship in the eastern Mediterranean near the destroyers given the current situation.

"It's been kept there as a precaution," said one of the officials, who was not authorized to speak publicly.

The San Antonio transited through the Suez Canal on Thursday from the Red Sea, and received new orders on Friday to remain in the eastern Mediterranean, near the destroyers, according to defense officials. It is one of three ships that are carrying 2,200 Marines who have been on a six-month deployment in the region around the Arabian peninsula.

The Obama administration released evidence on Friday that it said demonstrated the Syrian government had used chemical weapons against civilians. It made clear on Friday that it would punish Syrian President Bashar al-Assad for the "brutal and flagrant" attack that it says killed more than 1,400 people in Damascus last week.

Officials cautioned the operation under discussion involved a limited, precise set of targets that would be of a short duration, unlike the broader campaign against Libya in March 2011.

The U.S. Navy generally keeps three destroyers in the Mediterranean, but kept two additional destroyers there at the end of their deployments as the situation evolved in Syria over the past week.

The five destroyers are each carrying an estimated three dozen or more Tomahawk missiles for a combined total of about 200 missiles, according to defense officials.

Byron Callan, analyst with Capital Alpha Partners, projected that a limited Syrian strike would use about 200 to 300 Tomahawk missiles, compared to about 221 used in the Libya operation.

Defense officials said a more narrowly targeted operation against Syria could involve even less missiles.

They cited a debate within the Obama administration about striking the right balance between a limited cruise missile attack aimed at delivering a message about chemical weapons, and a broader attack that could be seen as a strong insertion of the United States into the Syrian civil war.

Military and civilian officials have expressed the need for caution to avert a cascading military conflict that could have repercussions throughout the region. Some officials have cautioned that even an attack on military helicopters could be seen as part of a U.S. campaign to disable the Syrian military.

Retired Admiral Gary Roughead, who served as chief of naval operations during the 2011 strikes on Libya, said any strike on Syria would have to be targeted precisely to do the maximum amount of damage to Syrian military headquarters and other key sites - and to avert the possibility of retaliatory action.

"If you're going to try to shape events, you really need to hurt them," said Roughead, now a visiting fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. "You would have to do something that would diminish the effectiveness of the Syrian military and that would be their command and control, perhaps their leadership, and then their ability to control air space."

Russia sends warships to Syria
Russia is sending two warships to the eastern Mediterranean, which includes Syria’s coast, including a large anti-submarine ship and a powerful missile cruiser in the “coming days.”

30 August, 2013

Reuters reports Moscow as saying the move is a routine one, but the fact that the missile cruiser RFS Moskva was in the Atlantic and has been deployed to the Mediterranean makes it appear more likely that the move is aimed at countering similar moves by Western navies.

Reuters quoted a Russian source saying:

"The well-known situation now in the eastern Mediterranean required us to make some adjustments to the naval force.

Another Reuters report quoted defence experts saying the two ships in question could give the Assad regime — supported in many ways by Russia — early warning of cruise missile launches, especially if launched from submarines or the newly-arriving ships could jam radars or navigation systems of Western ships.

Lee Willett, editor of the respected journal, IHS Jane's Navy International, said:
"What we may be seeing here is an example of gunboat diplomacy rather than a deliberate attempt to interfere directly in any coalition strike militarily. The simple presence of any ships will have an impact politically, and that is the primary intent."

Russia is already reported to have 16 warships and three ship-based helicopters in the Mediterranean. This will be increased by at least two, on board the Moskva.

The report says the Russian deployment in June is the first permanent deployment to the Mediterranean by the country since the Cold War.

Sky News, meanwhile, says the US has now deployed up to five missile cruisers into the Mediterranean, the last one being the USS Stout. The USS Mahan was expected to be withdrawn, but with the current crisis, may well remain in the region.

Both US warships are Arleigh Burke class missile destroyers and are approximately equivalent to the Russian Moskva missile cruiser.

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