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Irish Gripens?

The Irish Air Corps dates back to 1922 as the National Army Air Service, making it the same age as modern independent Ireland. Equipped originally with a handful of RAF hand-me-down Brisfits and Buzzards, by WWII they enforced Ireland’s cautious neutrality, grounding 163 interloping aircraft during the conflict with the help of newly-acquired Hawker Hurricane and Gloster Gladiator fighters along with Anson patrol bombers– although Eamon de Valera would have surely bought some Messerschmitts and Heinkels if he would have had the chance.

After a post-war period with Supermarine Spitfires and Seafires, Ireland entered the jet age with six De Havilland Vampires in 1956, aircraft that remained the country’s primary fighter until they were retired in 1976. Picking up the mantle from the Vampires were a half dozen Fouga CM-170-2 Super Magisters, a sedate trainer akin to the T-2 Buckeye that could be armed if needed. Once the subsonic Magisters were put to pasture in 1999, Ireland was left with an all-prop and rotary-wing force, one they had put to effective use both before and since.

Using a Rolls-Royce built, fuel-injected, Continental IO-360D 210 hp engine with a constant-speed propeller, a Reims (Cessna) FR.172 Rocket No. 207 of the Irish Air Corps, equipped with 12x37mm Matra rockets, is seen taxiing in at Casement Aerodrome Baldonnel, Circa 1980. At the time these were Ireland’s most fearsome aircraft, as the only jets, Fouga Magisters, were typically just used for training. 

However, now some 21 years after leaving their handful of jets behind, Ireland appears to be beset by regular intrusion by Russian long-range bombers with Tu-95 Bears having to be twice this month run off by RAF fast movers called in for the task. This has led many to suggest Dublin get more muscular with their air sovereignty, as they have no active air search radars– depending on civil transponder-based receivers that bad actors can disappear from by turning off their squawk boxes.

Some are even calling for a small group of Irish jet fighters, as the country is outside of NATO and thus cannot count on the services of an air policing rotation such as seen in Iceland and the Baltic States. Likewise, the RAF has their hands full just keeping an alert over the UK and economically couldn’t assume regular protection over Ireland at the same time such a move would not be politically welcome among Irish politicians.

Other than picking up some surplus F-18Cs or F-16A/Bs sitting around a boneyard somewhere, the most budget-friendly option for an Irish Bear patrol would be Swedish Gripens.

Smelling the air, Saab just released an English-language Gripen commercial last week, with a tagline that seems tailored to such a pitch:

“Gripen’s low maintenance requirement results in the highest availability among today’s fighters. The fighter can be airborne just after a scramble signal, requiring only engine start and final automatic start-up tests. Gripen users can maintain a high sortie rate and always be ready to respond to any changing threats.”

So long, FF-1073

The Republic of China, aka KMT China, aka Taiwan, only has four somewhat operable diesel-electric submarines– two 1980s era Dutch Zwaardvis-class and two GUPPY-vintage Tench-class training boats– along with a shrinking supply of about 60 aging German-made 533mm AEG SUT 264 torpedoes. I say shrinking because last week, the country’s Navy burned at least one SUT on a retired frigate, the ex-ROCN Chi Yang (FF-932). Notably, it was the first time the country has fired a “warshot” torpedo in at least 13 years.

The SINKEX seems to have gone well.

Chi Yang was the former Knox-class destroyer escort/fast frigate USS Robert E. Peary (DE/FF-1073). Commissioned in 1972, she spent a solid 20 years stationed in the Pacific, including numerous Westpac cruises during the Vietnam era, before she was decommissioned in 1992 as part of the peace dividend.

Peary, the third such ship named for the famed Arctic explorer, in better times:

A starboard beam view of the frigate USS ROBERT E. PEARY (FF-1073) underway during Fleet Week activities. Visible in the background are the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge, and the San Francisco skyline. 1 October 1981. USN Photo DNSC8401914 PH3 CURT FARGO

The frigate went on to serve Taiwan for 25 years.

The ROCN still has six former Knoxes, now all in their mid-40s, in service as the much-modified Chi Yang-class, up-armed with Standard SM-1MR missiles in 10-cell box launchers as well as possibly new Hsiung Feng III missiles in addition to their old 5-inch gun, ASW torpedo tubes, and clunky Mk. 16 launcher filled with both Harpoons and ASROC. Of note, the country has over 20 frigates and destroyers, hulls that would be much in demand for sub-busting in the event that the PRC decides to get handsy.

As for replacement torpedos for the ROCN, in May, it was announced that the U.S. would sell Taiwan up to eighteen MK-48 Mod 6AT heavyweight torpedoes for $180 million, marking the first time the country has used such fish.

A Cod…Peace

This great shot taken from an 814 Naval Air Squadron Merlin shows the Type 23 (Duke)-class frigate HMS Westminster (F237), the Icelandic Coast Guard ship Thor, and Westminster’s sister, HMS Kent (F78), operating together during the opening phase of NATO Exercise Dynamic Mongoose off Iceland earlier this month. Unseen are three NATO submarines who are the OPFOR.

LPhot Dan Rosenbaum, HMS Kent

Of course, the Royal Navy and Icelandic Coast Guard may have been NATO allies since 1949, but that doesn’t mean they were friends by any accord.

Perhaps, you recall the Cod Wars?

India’s new FAL?

Since 1960, India’s state-owned Ordnance Factories Board has produced a domestic variant of the British L1A1 inch-pattern semi-auto-only FN FAL, dubbed the Ishapore 1A1. Keep in mind most of the other Commonwealth countries at the time to include Australia, Canada, and New Zealand ran the L1A1 as well.

The FAL had a universal adaptor in the Free World in the 1960s-80s

With as many as 1 million of these 7.62 NATO battle rifles produced, the OFB slowed production in the 1980s and finally closed down the line in 2012 in favor of imported AKM variants from around the globe and locally-made FAL-like INSAS 5.56 NATO rifles, the latter of which had a poor reputation.

However, with India increasingly facing Pakistan and China on its borders in mountainous regions that favor longer-ranged rifles, the country has been looking for a modern 7.62 NATO battle rifle and seems to have found it in the SIG 716. Like the FAL, it is a short-stroke gas piston gun. Unlike the old “Right Arm of the Free World,” however, it is slathered in M-LOK accessory slots, has an adjustable Magpul PLS stock, is a flat-top design that readily supports optics and, most importantly, is in standard production.

India ordered 72,000 last year and just announced plans to pick up another 72,000 this year.

More in my column at Guns.com 

After four days…

Below is a statement from RADM Philip E. Sobeck Commander, Expeditionary Strike Group THREE – ESG-3:

After four days of firefighting, all known fires have been extinguished aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

Our fire teams are investigating every space to verify the absence of fire. Until every space is checked and there are no active fires we will not be able to commence any official investigations.

We do not know the origin of the fire. We do not know the extent of the damage. It is too early to make any predictions or promises of what the future of the ship will be.

We cannot make any conclusions until the investigation is complete.

What we do know is, that brave Sailors from commands all across San Diego worked tirelessly alongside Federal Firefighters to get this fire extinguished and I want to thank them for their efforts. This was a Navy team effort. We had support from the air and sea. Three helicopter squadrons conducted more than 1,500 water bucket drops, fighting the fire and cooling the superstructure and flight deck enabling fire crews to get on board to fight the fire. Tugs also provided firefighting support from the waterline, cooling the ship’s hull.

We had 63 personnel, 40 U.S. Navy Sailors, and 23 civilians, treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. We have no personnel hospitalized.

The Navy continues to work together with regulators, county, and state in protecting our environment and preparing to address the community’s concerns as we move forward to the next phase.

I’d like to thank our partners from state and county, the U.S. Coast Guard, and all agencies for continued support.

Now comes the assessment. The worst damage to a U.S. carrier-style vessel since the 1967/1969 fires on Forrestal and Enterprise. Perhaps the worst since the Franklin in 1945. Like what occurred with USS Belknap in 1975, there will be another round of questions as to the use of aluminum in naval shipbuilding. We shall see what comes next.

As a former Ingalls employee that worked on LHDs back in the day (of note, I worked on Boxer, not BHR) and know first-hand the danger of hotwork on these vessels while in the yard, I can’t help but feel connected to “Bonnie Dick.” Whether or not the Navy decides to rebuild– which I would bet that they would, citing past total losses that were reconstructed for the sake of saying it will be done– that remains to be seen.

The fires are dying

The news from San Diego is that hose teams and DC crews have moved into the ship itself and are seeking out hotspots, putting “The Beast” on its heels. Unofficial images that have leaked out show pretty bad internal damage on the vehicle deck and holes on the flight deck. Nonetheless, she is still afloat and on a semi-even keel.

The latest on BHR from the Navy:

“Fire teams consisting of Federal Fire San Diego and U.S. Navy Sailors have been fighting the fire aboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). The fire teams consist of more than 400 Sailors from 12 San Diego-based ships. The ships providing firefighting support include:

The Merlins of Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 have conducted more than 1,500 helicopter water bucket drops, which is cooling the superstructure & flight deck enabling fire crews to get on board internally to fight the fire. Tugs are also providing firefighting support from the waterline.

Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized. 63 personnel, 40 Sailors, and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation.

On the bright side, just as the Navy learned from the massive USS Enterprise and USS Forrestal fires in the Vietnam era and the Inchon fires in 1989 and 2001, there will be a lot of teachable lessons to be had here that will (hopefully) translate to saving lives and ships down the line.

Meanwhile, USS Tripoli (LHA-7) was quietly commissioned today. The free space at Ingalls may be needed soon.

After SPIW, ACR, and OCIW, is NGSW the charm?

Despite past programs such as SPIW, ACR, and OCIW that left the U.S. Army still fielding successive generations of Eugene Stoner’s AR platform at the end of the day, today’s NGSW program could be different. The new Next Generation Squad Weapon program is moving right along and its competitors read like a who’s who of modern rifle, ammo, and optics makers.

Names like Beretta, Heckler & Koch, Leupold, Sig Sauer, Vortex, and Olin-Winchester are enumerated among the current vendors of what could end up as the most revolutionary small arms award of the 21st Century thus far.

The current field

More in my column at Guns.com

I Have Not Yet Begun to Fight

200712-N-MJ716-0498 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) A fire continues to be fought into the evening onboard the amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Austin Haist/Released)

LHD-6 continues to burn pierside at San Diego, now for 36 hours, with multiple federal, state, and local agencies responding, as well as her crew and those from other ships at the base.

Meanwhile, Oceanhawks from Helicopter Sea Combat Squadron (HSC) 3 are dropping dump buckets as fast as they can.

 

Latest from the Navy: 

UPDATED 9:06 p.m. July 13, 2020: firefighting teams continue operations onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6). 59 personnel, 36 U.S. Navy Sailors, and 23 civilians have been treated for minor injuries including heat exhaustion and smoke inhalation. Currently, there are no personnel hospitalized.

Gallery here 

While her rebuild– and the Navy will almost certainly rebuild just to show it can be done, see:  USS Squalus, USS Shaw, USS Forrestal, USS Cole, USS Samuel B. Roberts, USS Stark, USS Fitzgerald, and USS McCain— will probably cost $1 billion or more, at least the Navy will get some priceless after-action damage assessment lessons once the smoke clears. After all, the LHDs are set to be increasingly on the tip of the spear in the Lightning Carrier concept and, in the event they are actually needed, will surely take some hits.

Bonnie Dick in trouble

Commissioned in 1998, the Wasp-class gator carrier USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD-6)— the third ship to carry the name of John Paul Jones’ short-lived famous frigate, with the second being the hard-serving CV-31— has spent most of the past two years at Naval Base San Diego undergoing a long-term maintenance availability.

That availability is certainly to get much longer as she suffered, what seems from the outside anyway, to be a serious fire over the weekend.

The official statement:

Federal Fire San Diego is the on-scene lead for firefighting efforts on Naval Base San Diego combatting the fire on USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6).

“Currently there are two firefighting teams fighting the fire aboard the ship,” said Federal Fire San Diego Division Chief Rob Bondurant. “Federal Fire is rotating their crews aboard the ship with U.S. Navy firefighting crews from the waterfront to fight the fire in order to, find the seat of the fire and extinguish it. Also, Navy Region Southwest tugs are also continuously combatting the fire from the bay”

The origin of the fire is still unknown and is pending investigation.

Sailors reported a fire aboard the wasp-class amphibious assault ship USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) while moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego July 12, at approximately 8:30 a.m.

Thus far seventeen Sailors and four civilians are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries at a local hospital. All crew members have been accounted for.

At approximately 1:00 p.m. the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyers USS Fitzgerald (DDG 62) and USS Russell (DDG 59) shifted berths to a pier further away from the fire.

Bonhomme Richard is in San Diego for a regularly scheduled maintenance availability.

Naval Base San Diego, the City of San Diego Fire Department, Harbor Police fireboats, and fire teams from other ships continue firefighting efforts.

More information will be released as it becomes available.

200712-N-BL599-1044 SAN DIEGO (July 12, 2020) Port of San Diego Harbor Police Department boats combats a fire onboard USS Bonhomme Richard (LHD 6) at Naval Base San Diego, July 12. On the morning of July 12, a fire was called away aboard the ship while it was moored pier side at Naval Base San Diego. Local, base and shipboard firefighters responded to the fire. USS Bonhomme Richard is going through a maintenance availability, which began in 2018. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Christina Ross) 

Navy Gallery here 

A T-55 ‘Enigma’

Hanging out at the Bovington Tank Museum is a much-modded Russian (Soviet)-built T-55 tank that was used at one time by Poland during the Warsaw Pact days as it was upgraded to a T-55K command tank. Shipped to Iraq during Saddam’s-era, it has been converted with the addition of add-on armor up front and ballast blocks on the rear to balance it out.

Reportedly, it could survive Iranian TOW missiles and Milan strikes.

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