Modern Warships

cold war warships

Modern Naval Encycopedia (1990-…)

Since the end of the cold war and of the USSR until now (as this article is written), in 2020, thirty years has passed. Thirty years combined with moore’s law over computing power and technological evolution made ships more autonomous, and with more capabilities, while budgets were reduced, especially in Europe while they jumped in Asia and were maintained high with a flurry of new operational concepts in the USN, such as the Zumwalt class DDGs, Gerald R. Ford-class nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, Littoral Combat Ship (Freedom-class and Independence-class). Over it lurked the shadow of a completely new Chinese Navy, almost completed overnight, the largest, fastest fleet expansion since the Reichsmarine in 1900 and probably a dedicing factors in shifting geopolitics for the first quarter of a century.

New geopolitics

5 nations task force NATO
NATO’s 5 nations task force.

The end of the cold war could have led to the disruption and dissolution of NATO. But it never happened. Well embedded already with the EU’ own organizational schemes to compensate for the lack of Integrated European Defence and even grew with the arrival of new members such as Poland and Romania, the Czech Republic, Hungary… So the “Atlantic” military alliance is framing now basically European and “Western” defence as a whole.

However in recent news appeared the state of impreparedness of European defence, especially the German Land component and lack of true will and commitment of the Western Europeans in general to create a true military organization inside the EU. Renewal of the European fleets also mirrored these new, more budget-constrained naval policies, although the will is there to keep an edge on International affairs, as showed by the joint intervention of the French and Royal Navy in South China sea and 2000s acquisitions of capital ships such as the Charles de Gaulle (2001) and the Queen Elisabeth (2016).

hms queen elisabeth

NATO combined naval forces:

On the organizational level, NATO military command structure integrates the Headquarters Allied Maritime Command HQ is based at Northwood, GB.
And comprises as of today the:

  • Standing NATO Maritime Groups
    • Standing NATO Maritime Group 1 (SNMG1)
    • Standing NATO Maritime Group 2 (SNMG2)
    • Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 1 (SNMCMG1)
    • Standing NATO Mine Countermeasures Group 2 (SNMCMG2)
  • MARCOM Subordinate Commands
    • NATO Maritime Air Command (COMMARAIR)
    • NATO Submarine Command (COMSUBNATO)
  • NATO Shipping Centre

Under the Rapidly Deployable Corps Headquarters (HQ based in UK) there are rapid reaction forces from seven countries, while under the SACEUR is placed a naval component called the Naval Striking and Support Forces, also STRIKFORNATO based in Lisbon, Portugal.
Under the Allied Command Transformation (ACT), is placed the Maritime Interdiction Operational Training Center (NMIOTC) in Souda Naval Base, Crete.
Also NATO comprised accredited centers of excellence, among which are the Combined Joint Operations from the Sea (CJOS). Specialist organizations such as the Military Oceanography (MILOC) Group, Military Committee Meteorological Group (MCMG) but also inter-services organisms such as the NATO Electronic Warfare Advisory Committee (NEWAC) or those attached to the mastery of the air and command-control.

NATO critics

It is difficult to have a clear picture of the organization flexibility and reactivity in case of the worst scenario, a concerted attack of Russia and China with an isolationist USA. Combined exercises has been done on a regular basis, despite post-cold war budgetary limitations. Fortunately after the Lisbon Summit in November 2010, NATO leaders agreed on a new Strategic Concept for in a process of continual reform, with the goal of to streamlining structures and improving working methods to maximise efficiency in case of a major crisis. Rapid intervention against localized threats, mostly post-2001 terrorist threats has been a pluri-national military affair with more or less intervention and endorsement by NATO and the UN. However on the naval plan, the military ambitions of China and first-class navy to achieve local hegemony is quite a challenge for the western organization which was tailored first and foremost to answer a Soviet threat. There comes SEATO.

SEATO: A failed Asian match

SEATO as its name suggests is the equivalent of NATO in the Asia-Pacific region. Called Southeast Asian Treaty Organization it was suggested by president Eisenhower in 1954 and set in place at the Manila Pact, and ran until 1977, where it was dissolved. Outside the usual Western leaders such as USA, France and UK which had interests in the region, the alliance comprised Australia, NZ, and more crucially Thailand just after the end of the war of the name against the French at the treaty of Paris, the Philippines, Indonesia (then neutral).

It was headquartered at Bangkok, Thailand and aimed as a counterweight to Communist China (and later communist North Vietnam and North Korea). But because internal disagreements, few exercises took place and most of its member nations contributed very little to the alliance. In fact after the Sino-Soviet split, and in 1969 a rapprochement of China to the west, plus the end of the Vietnam war the context had changed dramatically for SEATO and focus came bask to USSR and NATO.

In fact if the organization’s military side was a failure, its civilian side, SEATO’s Committee of Information, Culture, Education, and Labor Activities, were a success that endures to this day under other names and forms. Nowadays ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) is its contemporary inheritor, but comprises communist countries and mostly aimed at civilian cooperation.

ASEAN 2015
ASEAN in 2015.

ASEAN naval policy

Of course with the recent grow of the Chinese PLAN and growing, obvious ambitions in particular in the south China sea, it was difficult not for ASEAN to develop some form of military cooperation, more so with the recent, arguably more isolationnist policy of Donald Trump. Even if USN disengagement of the south pacific area is not a priority, the development of substantial naval forces of Thailand, South Korea, Japan, Indonesia among others justify a close cooperation, which traduced now into naval exercizes. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) which comprises in addition to the countries already mentioned (but the exclusion of South Korea and Japan which had their own cooperation treaties with the US) Malaysia, the Philippines and Singapore, indeed went beyond their classical naval missions of coastal defence, exclusion zone, fising areas, and safe passage of trade. However these nations grew preoccupied of new concepts in the sea law as each is now entitled to claim extended exclusive economic zones (EEZs) on continental shelves, with overlapping areas. Combating piracy and smugglers are also now perceived as a global problem and new patrol functions has to be setup to cover offshore resources and ensure the respect of new extended maritime areas.

On the other hand, the large naval exercize that was announced in October 2018 and took place in 2019 was proposed by China and integrated both China, the ASEAN and the US in order to ease relations between the two superpowers in the region. This joint naval drill will be followed by another in 2020. “ASEAN has always tried to walk the tight rope between the two great powers, US and China,” said William Choong, Asia Pacific security analyst from London-based research institution the International Institute for Strategic Studies.
It is important here to underline the abence in these exercises by the other major naval forces of the asiatic region at large: The Indian, Japanese and South Korean navies. Although the last two have somewhat privileged relations with the US and already conducts joint naval drills for dozens of years, the Indian Navy always has been staunchy neutral, which also traduced in its choices of military procurements, but her past war with China means the perceived threat is real. Therefore Indian attempted a rapprochement with the organisation, seeking an India-ASEAN strategic partnership (with China’s disapproval). Interests well understood by the presence near Vietnam of exploring hydrocarbon resources with ONGC Videsh Ltd. (OVL).