U.S. and Russia Locked in Icy Arctic Dispute

By Reuters 2015-10-06 14:31:17

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Alaska helped draw attention to global climate change – and to the national-security tensions that could result from a warming Arctic region.

Surveyors believe that the seabed under Arctic waters could contain hundreds of billions of barrels of untapped oil. As the North Pole becomes more accessible, and so more valuable, Arctic countries – each with its own and in some cases overlapping territorial claims – are getting ready for some serious competition.

The United States and Russia are geopolitical rivals and uneasy Arctic neighbors. More and more Russian and U.S. military forces are deploying on and under the Arctic Ocean.

But Washington and Moscow are approaching their Arctic build-ups quite differently. The Kremlin holds the advantage on the ocean’s surface; the Pentagon dominates beneath the waves. Though Russia and the United States both train Arctic ground troops, Washington is also building a northern strike force of high-tech stealth warplanes.

These different approaches are the results of military policies and priorities going back decades. Moscow chose to invest in icebreakers to work along its vast Arctic frontier, while Washington spent its money on submarines and warplanes that are equally useful outside the polar regions.

While Obama was in Alaska, the White House announced that the administration would push for more and better icebreakers. After decades of neglect, the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates all U.S. icebreakers, possesses just three of the tough, ice-shattering vessels, and American companies own another two. These five ships must divide their time between the north and south poles, plowing paths through sea ice so other vessels can safely navigate frigid waters.

“The administration will propose,” the White House explained on its official website, “to accelerate acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022, begin planning for construction of additional icebreakers and call on Congress to work with the administration to provide sufficient resources to fund these critical investments.”

But even after adding a few icebreakers, Washington will still be far behind Moscow in this category of Arctic weaponry. The Russian government owns 22 icebreakers; Russian industry possesses another 19 of the specialized vessels. Moscow has another 11 icebreakers under construction or in planning.

To be fair, Russia’s Arctic coastline is many hundreds of miles longer than that of the United States. In theory, Russia’s icebreakers are spread out over a wider area during routine, peacetime operations. In wartime, however, the Kremlin could quickly concentrate its icebreakers, which could carve channels for Russian warships far more quickly than the Pentagon could do for its own ships.

But the United States’ Arctic strategy depends less on surface ships than Russia’s strategy does. Instead, the U.S. military is betting on submarines to exert its influence in the far north.

“The submarine is the best platform to operate in the Arctic,” Commander Jeff Bierley, skipper of the U.S. Navy submarine Seawolf, told Reuters, “because it can spend the majority of its time under the ice.”

The U.S. fleet operates 41 nuclear-powered attack subs with equipment for sailing under – and punching through – Arctic ice. Russia’s ice-capable attack-submarine force numbers just 25 vessels.

These U.S. subs likely deploy more regularly than Russia’s do. Amid economic volatility, the Kremlin has struggled to consistently fund naval deployments. Meanwhile, every two years the U.S. Navy sends a pair of attack subs into the Arctic Circle on a training and scientific mission. In the years between these ice experiments, Seawolf-class subs based in Washington state sail through the Bering Strait and under the ice cap, crossing over the top of the world and traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and then back.

The Navy designed Seawolf and her two sister ships specifically for Arctic operations. The vessels have ice-scanning sonar and equipment to help the subs force their way through the ice cap to reach the surface during emergencies.

On the ice, the two countries are at near-parity. The U.S. Army oversees three combat brigades in Alaska, each composed of roughly 3,000 soldiers. One brigade features paratroopers, another is in Stryker armored vehicles and a third is made up of reconnaissance troops.

The paratroopers regularly practice parachuting onto the Arctic ice. During one February 2015 training exercise, called Spartan Pegasus, two C-17 and two C-130 transport planes based in Alaska dropped 180 paratroopers plus two vehicles and supplies onto a training range north of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures hover around 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

“The purpose of Spartan Pegasus,” the Army stated on its website, “was to validate soldier mobility across frozen terrain, a key fundamental of U.S. Army Alaska’s capacity as the Army’s northernmost command.”

The Strykers are less mobile. A C-17 – the U.S. Air Force keeps eight of the four-engine cargo planes in Alaska – can carry several Strykers, which weigh roughly 25 tons each, but the Air Force doesn’t often practice landings on Arctic runways. The Canadian air force does, however. It staged its own C-17s landings and take-offs from Arctic villages in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

So in theory the U.S. Air Force could move the Army’s Alaska-based Stryker brigade to Arctic battlegrounds. A C-17 can also drop Strykers via parachute, though the Air Force has only done this in tests.

The Russian army’s Arctic command is smaller. It controls just two brigades with armored vehicles. But combat units from outside the command regularly head north for training, in particular, paratroopers and the transport planes that ferry them. One Arctic exercise in March reportedly involved 80,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen plus more than 200 aircraft. An official photo from the war game depicts an An-72 transport plane and white-clad infantry on an airfield carved in the snow.

Russia has proved it can patrol the airspace over the Arctic. The U.S. Air Force, however, holds the northern advantage. In addition to C-17 and C-130 transports, the American air arm maintains E-3 radar planes and three fighter squadrons in Alaska – two with 20 high-tech F-22 stealth fighters each and one with 18 older F-16s.

In coming years, up to two squadrons of new F-35 stealth fighters will join the F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, which will increase the Alaskan fighter fleet by at least a third. In February, the Air Force wrapped up cold-weather testing of the F-35 that proved the new radar-evading warplane can function in the Arctic climate.

“We’re pushing the F-35 to its environmental limits,” said Billie Flynn, an F-35 test pilot, “ranging from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 40 degrees, and every possible weather condition in between.”

In a kind of literal Cold War, Russian forces will continue to dominate the surface of the Arctic Ocean while the American military preserves its edge below and above the ice. Meanwhile, both countries are training thousands of ground troops for Arctic ops – just in case the Cold War turns hot in the thawing polar region.

Details

U.S. & Russia Locked in Icy Arctic Dispute

By Reuters 2015-10-06 14:31:17

President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Alaska helped draw attention to global climate change – and to the national-security tensions that could result from a warming Arctic region.

Surveyors believe that the seabed under Arctic waters could contain hundreds of billions of barrels of untapped oil. As the North Pole becomes more accessible, and so more valuable, Arctic countries – each with its own and in some cases overlapping territorial claims – are getting ready for some serious competition.

The United States and Russia are geopolitical rivals and uneasy Arctic neighbors. More and more Russian and U.S. military forces are deploying on and under the Arctic Ocean.

But Washington and Moscow are approaching their Arctic build-ups quite differently. The Kremlin holds the advantage on the ocean’s surface; the Pentagon dominates beneath the waves. Though Russia and the United States both train Arctic ground troops, Washington is also building a northern strike force of high-tech stealth warplanes.

These different approaches are the results of military policies and priorities going back decades. Moscow chose to invest in icebreakers to work along its vast Arctic frontier, while Washington spent its money on submarines and warplanes that are equally useful outside the polar regions.

While Obama was in Alaska, the White House announced that the administration would push for more and better icebreakers. After decades of neglect, the U.S. Coast Guard, which operates all U.S. icebreakers, possesses just three of the tough, ice-shattering vessels, and American companies own another two. These five ships must divide their time between the north and south poles, plowing paths through sea ice so other vessels can safely navigate frigid waters.

“The administration will propose,” the White House explained on its official website, “to accelerate acquisition of a replacement heavy icebreaker to 2020 from 2022, begin planning for construction of additional icebreakers and call on Congress to work with the administration to provide sufficient resources to fund these critical investments.”

But even after adding a few icebreakers, Washington will still be far behind Moscow in this category of Arctic weaponry. The Russian government owns 22 icebreakers; Russian industry possesses another 19 of the specialized vessels. Moscow has another 11 icebreakers under construction or in planning.

To be fair, Russia’s Arctic coastline is many hundreds of miles longer than that of the United States. In theory, Russia’s icebreakers are spread out over a wider area during routine, peacetime operations. In wartime, however, the Kremlin could quickly concentrate its icebreakers, which could carve channels for Russian warships far more quickly than the Pentagon could do for its own ships.

But the United States’ Arctic strategy depends less on surface ships than Russia’s strategy does. Instead, the U.S. military is betting on submarines to exert its influence in the far north.

“The submarine is the best platform to operate in the Arctic,” Commander Jeff Bierley, skipper of the U.S. Navy submarine Seawolf, told Reuters, “because it can spend the majority of its time under the ice.”

The U.S. fleet operates 41 nuclear-powered attack subs with equipment for sailing under – and punching through – Arctic ice. Russia’s ice-capable attack-submarine force numbers just 25 vessels.

These U.S. subs likely deploy more regularly than Russia’s do. Amid economic volatility, the Kremlin has struggled to consistently fund naval deployments. Meanwhile, every two years the U.S. Navy sends a pair of attack subs into the Arctic Circle on a training and scientific mission. In the years between these ice experiments, Seawolf-class subs based in Washington state sail through the Bering Strait and under the ice cap, crossing over the top of the world and traveling from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic and then back.

The Navy designed Seawolf and her two sister ships specifically for Arctic operations. The vessels have ice-scanning sonar and equipment to help the subs force their way through the ice cap to reach the surface during emergencies.

On the ice, the two countries are at near-parity. The U.S. Army oversees three combat brigades in Alaska, each composed of roughly 3,000 soldiers. One brigade features paratroopers, another is in Stryker armored vehicles and a third is made up of reconnaissance troops.

The paratroopers regularly practice parachuting onto the Arctic ice. During one February 2015 training exercise, called Spartan Pegasus, two C-17 and two C-130 transport planes based in Alaska dropped 180 paratroopers plus two vehicles and supplies onto a training range north of the Arctic Circle, where temperatures hover around 20 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

“The purpose of Spartan Pegasus,” the Army stated on its website, “was to validate soldier mobility across frozen terrain, a key fundamental of U.S. Army Alaska’s capacity as the Army’s northernmost command.”

The Strykers are less mobile. A C-17 – the U.S. Air Force keeps eight of the four-engine cargo planes in Alaska – can carry several Strykers, which weigh roughly 25 tons each, but the Air Force doesn’t often practice landings on Arctic runways. The Canadian air force does, however. It staged its own C-17s landings and take-offs from Arctic villages in temperatures as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit.

So in theory the U.S. Air Force could move the Army’s Alaska-based Stryker brigade to Arctic battlegrounds. A C-17 can also drop Strykers via parachute, though the Air Force has only done this in tests.

The Russian army’s Arctic command is smaller. It controls just two brigades with armored vehicles. But combat units from outside the command regularly head north for training, in particular, paratroopers and the transport planes that ferry them. One Arctic exercise in March reportedly involved 80,000 soldiers, sailors and airmen plus more than 200 aircraft. An official photo from the war game depicts an An-72 transport plane and white-clad infantry on an airfield carved in the snow.

Russia has proved it can patrol the airspace over the Arctic. The U.S. Air Force, however, holds the northern advantage. In addition to C-17 and C-130 transports, the American air arm maintains E-3 radar planes and three fighter squadrons in Alaska – two with 20 high-tech F-22 stealth fighters each and one with 18 older F-16s.

In coming years, up to two squadrons of new F-35 stealth fighters will join the F-16s at Eielson Air Force Base near Fairbanks, Alaska, which will increase the Alaskan fighter fleet by at least a third. In February, the Air Force wrapped up cold-weather testing of the F-35 that proved the new radar-evading warplane can function in the Arctic climate.

“We’re pushing the F-35 to its environmental limits,” said Billie Flynn, an F-35 test pilot, “ranging from 120 degrees Fahrenheit to negative 40 degrees, and every possible weather condition in between.”

In a kind of literal Cold War, Russian forces will continue to dominate the surface of the Arctic Ocean while the American military preserves its edge below and above the ice. Meanwhile, both countries are training thousands of ground troops for Arctic ops – just in case the Cold War turns hot in the thawing polar region.

Details

Taiwanese Interest Attacks Jones Act using El Faro Sinking

By MarEx 2015-10-06 14:08:29

AKA Taiwanese Animators released an anti-Jones Act video on YouTube, which uses the El Faro sinking in a disgusting display by Chinese interest to attack U.S. cabotage.

The video portrays Jones Act vessels as “old geezers” that are owned by U.S. special interests gouging Americans by mandated labor and ships that move domestic cargoes. The video also attacked the Jones Act by using analogies like a pizza delivery service using American gas guzzling cars or families put in danger because they are forced to fly in 40-year old planes.

This callously rude Chinese video uses this tragic U.S. maritime accident, which is still unfolding, to attack U.S. cabotage. It is a disgusting video whose commentary is meant to lift the ban on the Jones Acts, but is filled with stupid examples and commentary about American greed at any cost.

The video should be sent to your local, state and national representatives along with your vocal support for the U.S. Merchant Marine and Jones Act, which creates jobs and strengthens the economy. In January, Senator John McCain, a long-time proponent of lifting U.S. cabotage for the benefit of large multi-national corporations that would like to reduce costs at the expense of U.S. jobs.

Details

Chinese Interest Attack Jones Act using El Faro Sinking

By MarEx 2015-10-06 14:08:29

AKA Taiwanese Animators released an anti-Jones Act video on YouTube, which uses the El Faro sinking in a disgusting display by Chinese interest to attack U.S. cabotage.

The video portrays Jones Act vessels as “old geezers” that are owned by U.S. special interests gouging Americans by mandated labor and ships that move domestic cargoes. The video also attacked the Jones Act by using analogies like a pizza delivery service using American gas guzzling cars or families put in danger because they are forced to fly in 40-year old planes.

This callously rude Chinese video uses this tragic U.S. maritime accident, which is still unfolding, to attack U.S. cabotage. It is a disgusting video whose commentary is meant to lift the ban on the Jones Acts, but is filled with stupid examples and commentary about American greed at any cost.

The video should be sent to your local, state and national representatives along with your vocal support for the U.S. Merchant Marine and Jones Act, which creates jobs and strengthens the economy. In January, Senator John McCain, a long-time proponent of lifting U.S. cabotage for the benefit of large multi-national corporations that would like to reduce costs at the expense of U.S. jobs.

Details

Piraeus privatisation pushed back

The Greek government has had to postpone the sale of a majority stake in Piraeus, its largest port.
The privatisation of the port was a requirement of the third bailout agreed with the country’s creditors. However, the recent national elections slowed down work at the ministries of shipping and
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SEACAT Anti-Pracy Exercises Begin

By MarEx 2015-10-06 12:24:32

On October 5th, the U.S. and six other nations began a five-day naval exercise. The Singapore-based Southeast Asia Cooperation and Training Exercise (SEACAT) wants more ability to combat the growing amounts of piracyincidents in the region.

SEACAT did its first anti-terrorism exercise in 2002, and has expanded the program to include piracy and smuggling.

The joint exercise will included more than 100 U.S. sailors and personnel from Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand. Bangladeshi navy officials will also observe the exercises. Meanwhile, participating naval officers will receive simulated reports of suspicious activity in the Straits of Singapore and Malacca, the Andaman Sea and the South China Sea in order to run simulated response tactics.

The South China Sea has experienced a marked increase in piracy and robbery this year as well.

In July, the Regional Cooperation Agreement on Combating Piracy and Armed Robbery against Ships in Asia (ReCAAP) said that incidents of piracy and armed robbery had risen 18 percent during the first half of 2015 over last year. There were about 106 incidents reported between January and June 2015 verses a total of 90 in 2014.

The U.S. Navy said it also sees the exercise as an opportunity to contribute to the region in disaster relief, humanitarian aid and search-and rescue operations. The U.S. Navy said an increased presence of warships in the region could intercept suspicious vessels and improve responses times.

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Port of Piraeus Sale Delayed

By Reuters 2015-10-06 11:08:49

Greece will put off by a few weeks the sale of a majority stake in its largest port, Piraeus , after a September 20 snap election held up work at ministries, government officials said on Tuesday.

Setting a date to submit binding bids for Piraeus port is one of the actions that Athens needs to complete to conclude its first bailout review and qualify for more funds from its 86 billion euro bailout.

China’s Cosco Group, Dutch container terminal operator APM Terminals and Philippines-based International Container Terminal Services have until October 30 to submit binding bids for a 51 percent stake in the port operator OLP.

But the early election has held up work and the deadline may be pushed back, government officials said.

“We will fall behind by about 20 days because the concession agreement that the shipping and finance ministries have to sign is causing a short delay,” a government official close to the matter said on condition of anonymity.

The shipping ministry still needs to review the draft agreement before it is presented to investors, another official said, adding that the re-elected minister had received the relevant material only “very recently.”

Cosco currently manages two cargo piers at the Piraeus Port under a 2009 concession agreement. Athens operates one pier at the port, which is currently 74 percent state owned.

Under the deal, would-be buyers will also have the option to acquire an additional 16 percent stake in OLP over five years after completing mandatory investments.

Divisions among local authorities over the terms of the concession agreement could also hold up the process. Port workers, who fear job cuts, have threatened to block the sale with protests and strikes and have taken legal action against the project.

Dock workers staged repeated strikes against the possible sale of the country’s two largest ports in 2008-2009.

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Water Depth Will Hinder El Faro Search

By MarEx 2015-10-06 10:37:21

Representatives from the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) have arrived in Jacksonville, Florida as part of the ongoing investigation of the M/V El Faro, which is lost at sea after being caught in the path of Hurricane Joaquin. One crewmember is confirmed dead and U.S. Coast Guard officials are searching for the box ship’s remaining 32 crewmembers.

The El Faro departed from Jacksonville last week en route to San Juan, Puerto Rico, before disappearing in what maritime experts called the worst cargo shipping disaster involving a U.S.-flagged vessel in more than 30 years. USCG officials have stated that they are no longer searching for the vessel after discovering a 225-square-mile debris field over the weekend. Life jackets, containers, oil sheen and a life raft were among the items spotted by USCG aircrews flying over the Bahamas.

NTSB member Bella Dinh-Zarr acknowledged the investigation would be difficult with the ship having sunk in an unknown location after its last known location off Crooked Island in the Bahamas.

“It’s a big challenge when there’s such a large area of water and at such depth,” Dinh-Zarr said. “We hope for the best and that the ship will be recovered.”

On Monday, the ship’s owner Tote Maritiime said the vessel was undergoing engine room work before it sank off the Bahamas.

Tote Services President Philip Greene said he did not think the engine room work was linked to a propulsion problem reported by the ship’s captain.

NTSB investigation is separate from that by the U.S. Coast Guard and will check the vessel’s maintenance records and other paperwork.

El Faro, a 735-foot box ship with 28 U.S. citizens and five Polish nationals on board and reported losing propulsion and that it was listing and taking on water two days into its journey on October 1.

Records show that the U.S. National Hurricane Center issued a warning about the likelihood of Joaquin becoming a hurricane at 5 p.m. EDT on Tuesday, nearly three hours before El Faro left port.

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