Sunday, March 18, 2012

Were Britain's minesweepers cause of Cameron's warm Washington welcome?

The announcement of the dispatch of the US minesweepers from San Diego to Bahrain is peppered with some caution in this linked report.

It thus appears far less awesome than the peacetime Presidential Executive Order covering resources and even loans which is now gaining extra attention in the US.

Certainly in 1987 Britain maintained four minesweepers based on Bahrain, see here and the US Navy Times indicates that may still be the case, see the following quote from this link:

Four minesweepers already are based with the Fifth Fleet in Bahrain under a “forward-deployed” arrangement. The ships remain in the region year-round, while their crews rotate in and out at six-month intervals from the mine force’s home base in San Diego.
The four ships to be deployed from San Diego, Navy sources said, are the Sentry, Devastator, Pioneer and Warrior.
In the Persian Gulf, they’ll join with the Scout, Gladiator, Ardent and Dextrous.
Left in San Diego will be only two ships, the Champion and Chief.
Four other Avenger-class mine countermeasures ships are forward-deployed to Sasebo, Japan — the Avenger, Defender, Guardian and Patriot.
The 1,379-ton minesweepers, crewed by 84 sailors, employ the SLQ-48 mine neutralization system to identify and destroy a variety of enemy mines. Support for the system, however, has waned in recent years as Navy planners looked ahead to new systems that would be operated by the Littoral Combat Ship. But the new systems remain in development, and mine force sailors have struggled to keep their SLQ-48s operationally capable.
The decline in mission effectiveness led to an urgent needs requirement last year from Central Command (CENTCOM), the combatant commander authority that oversees the Persian Gulf region, demanding a more effective mine countermeasures system. The choice was SeaFox, from Atlas Elektronik and Ultra Electronics, used by all British Royal Navy minehunters.
Britain also maintains several minehunters in the gulf region, where they regularly operate with the U.S. ships.
The U.S. Navy is buying three Seafox sets for its ships, along with upgrading six Seafox aircraft units for use with MH-53E Sea Dragon helicopters. Those new systems are not scheduled to be operational until early next year.
The Navy could not immediately provide details on the additional helicopters that will be sent to Bahrain. Both helicopter mine countermeasures squadrons, HM-14 and HM-15, are based in Norfolk, Va.
Navy planners have been considering how to provide continuing support to a mine countermeasures force operating around the Strait, nearly 400 miles from Bahrain. The Ponce, an older amphibious ship that was to have been decommissioned this winter, is being refurbished in Norfolk for use as an afloat-forward staging base specifically to support mine forces, and the Navy is hoping to build two new ships for the role.



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