Category Archives: Maritime Security

Russian tug off Florida: supporting nuclear attack subs or observing SpaceX launch?

Space X

A Russian tug has been operating off Florida for some weeks. What is it doing over so far from home?

The Russian tug “Nikolay Chiker” is an ocean tag that has often deployed alongside Russian Navy’s high value assets. According to Information Dissemination, the ship accompanied Russia’s spy ship Viktor Leonov to Cuba last month, before moving off Florida, where it was parked on Mar. 15, ahead of the launch of Dragon spacecraft (Space Shuttle Orbiter replacement) on SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket scheduled of Mar. 16 from the SLC-40 Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

However, the SpaceX launch was delayed and, since then, the ship has moved back and forth along U.S. East coast: it headed southbound, has made a port visit to Curacao, then it has operated in the Caribbean Sea and eventually returned more or less where it was on Mar. 15 and it is right now: off Cape Canaveral.

The fact that the tug moved off Cape Kennedy in the days of the scheduled launch of SpaceX and returned there in anticipation of the new launch window suggests that the “Nilolay Chiker” is somehow interested in observing the Falcon 9 rocket and the Dragon spacecraft on the company’s third commercial resupply mission and fourth visit to the space station.

However, there’s someone who suggested that the ocean tug is actually supporting Russian nuclear attack submarines monitoring U.S. Navy East coast bases.

Hard to say.

For sure the Russian tug is not there by accident. During the Cold War, Russian and Americans have monitored each others special special operations, military exercises, invasions, maiden flights etc. This is not changed with the collapse of the USSR. On the contrary, close encounters (as the one in the Black Sea) and reciprocal snooping are probably going to increase.

Image credit:



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Here’s the position of the two U.S. Navy warships off Sochi for Olympics Security

USS Mount Whitney

U.S. Navy’s USS Mount Whitney and USS Taylor have entered the Black Sea and are currently operating west of Sochi.

An amphibious command ship and a guided-missile frigate, on a routine and pre-scheduled deployment within the Sixth Fleet AOR (Area of Responsibility) have arrived near Sochi, the resort town on Russia’s Black Sea coast.

Their position can be tracked online using

Indeed, they are using AIS (Automatic Identification System), an automatic tracking system used for identification and geo-localization of vessels that can be considered the naval homologous of the ADS-B used by airplanes and it is used for collision avoidance, search and rescue, and for aids to navigation.

It is mainly used by commercial vessels but even US Navy warships trasmit AIS signals every now and then.

Here below you can see a screenshot from Shipfinder, showing the position of USS Taylor (on top of the article you’ll see the position of USS Mount Whitney).

USS Taylor

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USS Mount Whitney is the flagship of the U.S. Navy’s 6th Fleet. As it did during the Libya Air War back in 2011, it will perform the command-and-control task, managing all the military activities related to the Winter Olympic Games security.

USS Taylor is an Oliver Hazard Perry-class frigate that is on its last deployment before being retired next year. The warship has been stripped out of the main AAW (Anti-Aircraft Warfare) armament and, along with a limited “Point Defense” capability, it usually performs a POS (Protection Of Shipping) mission offering an ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) escort to other U.S. Navy units. The ship carrier two SH-60 Light Airborne Multi-Purpose System (LAMPS) helos, that can be used for the maritime warfare with a secondary search and rescue capability.

Hence, while USS Mount Whitney will coordinate any aerial or maritime operation following an eventual terrorist attack, the USS Taylor will provide cover (most probably keeping also an eye on the Russian submarines, spy ships and Moskva, the flagship of guided missile cruisers in the Russian Navy, that are operating in the same waters…)

Fears over terrorism increased in the last months following the threats against athletes and, above all, following suicide attacks on Volgograd in December last year.


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[Photo] Periscope of U.S. submarine emerges next to UK aircraft carrier in Middle East waters

USS Dallas

Released by the UK Ministry of Defense, this image shows the periscope of the American submarine USS Dallas cutting through the surface as UK aircraft carrier HMS Illustrious sails past.

Both units, along with RFA Fort Victoria, RFA Fort Austin and USS Bulkeley and the American Los Angeles Class took part in a joint ASW (Anti Submarine Warfare) exercise in the waters of the Gulf.

The exercise foresaw three phases.

The sonar sonar environment of the warm and shallow waters of the Middle East is particularly challenging, hence, during the first one, ships and submarines tested acoustic and non-acoustics sensor performance against known positions, gaining useful real life data for the region.

The second phase saw ships escorting HMS Illustrious as the Mission Essential Unit (MEU) along a passage whilst evading detection and simulated torpedo attacks by the American submarine.

Finally, the Los Angeles class USS Dallas tried to locate and destroy RFA Fort Austin as the MEU, in a holding box which simulated an anchorage, as the UK and US naval ships provided protection.

The exercise, saw also Merlin, Seahawk and Lynx helicopter support to the ships.

Image credit: UK MoD

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North Korea-flaggeg cargo ship seized by Panama carried Fan Song radar of an SA-2 Surface to Air Missile system

Fan Song 2

On Jul. 16, Panamiam authorities seized a North Korea-flagged cargo ship on a voyage from Cuba toward the Panama Canal enroute back to its home country.

The “Chong Chon Gang” was carrying components of a missile system cloaked in a cargo of sugar in what would be considered, if confirmed, a clear violation of UN sanctions on Pyongyang.

Later on the same day, President Ricardo Martinelli of Panama, posted a photograph in a Twitter message of what he described as “sophisticated missile equipment” found in the cargo.

After an open source imagery analysis, the military equipments found inside the containers can be identified as Russian made (or eventual clones of) SNR-75 Fan Song series engagement radar for the S-75/SA-2 Surface to Air Missile family.

Giuliano Ranieri, a contributor to The Aviationist, highlighted the matching details in the photo posted by Martinelli and one of the radar available on the Internet.

Image credit: Giuliano Ranieri. Sources: Martinelli and

The component is a P-11 swept beam horizontal array of the Fan Song.

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Here’s how Coalition Patrol Planes Hunt Somali Pirates in the Horn of Africa

DJIBOUTI – The shipping lanes of the pirate-infested Somali basin have faded somewhat from the headlines in the past year as attacks and successful hijackings have dropped significantly.  The decrease is due in part to the continued efforts of several coalition air forces to patrol the Indian Ocean and Gulf of Aden in a continuous, coordinated way.

The Aviationist took an in-depth look at the forces and methods involved to help fight piracy from the air.

The former French Foreign Legion outpost in Djibouti has become a hotbed of military activity as Western forces have waged a protracted but largely secret campaign against extremists in the hinterlands of Somalia, Yemen, and the waters off East Africa.  Predator and Reaper drones fly daily from the base, striking targets in restive northern Yemen and Southern Somalia.  The airbase is also home to a contingent of maritime patrol aircraft from a variety of nations.


Image credit: U.S. Navy

Since the early 2000′s, Djibouti has hosted P-3 Orion patrol aircraft from the U.S. Navy (USN), Spanish Air Force, and German Navy.  In 2009, Japan Maritime Self Defense Force (JMSDF) Orion crews made history when they began the nation’s first deployment abroad since the end of World War II.  While the humanitarian aspect of anti-piracy operations blunt some criticism, the reality of the JMSDF deploying aircraft far from home is not lost on either Japanese nationalists, yearning for a return of an assertive, interventionist military, or critics of the nation’s conduct half a century ago.  In 2010, Singapore marked a first when it deployed Fokker F-50 patrol aircraft, following the hijacking of a Singaporean cargo ship.

The P-3′s fly daily from Djibouti, working in concert with a task-force of warships from multiple nations to provide over-watch and real-time updates on the position of suspected pirate vessels.  The geography and lack of assets are challenges for the naval task force.  As countermeasures have increased and pirates have gained experience, aggressive captains have pushed out further and further from their home waters in hopes of hijacking a vulnerable cargo ship and earning a hefty ransom.  In recent years, attacks have been recorded as far as 800 nautical miles off the Somali coast.  The distances and areas involved demand close coordination between all aircraft and ships involved.

While military spokesmen declined to comment, observers have noted that the Orions fly their anti-piracy sorties unarmed.  The aircrews rely on information to neutralize the threat of piracy, rather than escalating the situation with weapons.  While counter-intuitive, understanding the motives of pirate crews helps to explain the desire to deescalate a potentially deadly situation.  The goal of Somali pirate crews is to board a relatively helpless cargo ship, overpower the crew, and steam as rapidly as possible towards the Somali coast.  Once the ship is near the coast, the crewmembers are brought ashore, taken inland and hidden, to prevent a rescue attempt.  The owners of the ship are then contacted and negotiations begin to ransom both the ship and the crew.  The vast majority of hijackings end with the crew and vessel returned safely to their owners following a ransom payment.  Any attempt by military forces to stage a rescue or use violence against the pirates ultimately imperils the crew and other hostages.

P-3 2

Image credit: U.S. Navy

With weapons removed from the playing field, aircrews use surveillance equipment and simple physics to their advantage.  The crews aim first to identify suspected pirate vessels and warn nearby merchant ships to alter course.  Somali pirates use medium sized fishing dhows as “motherships”, allowing them to sail far out to sea and lie in wait for weeks on end.  When the mothership notices a cargo ship approaching, several small skiffs are launched.  These speedboats are quick, but cannot sail far or handle heavy seas.  As a result, in order to catch a cargo ship, the mothership has to effectively be out in front of the target.  A merchant ship steaming at 20 knots can use its speed advantage to disengage and prevent the mothership from getting close enough to launch her skiffs, if given enough warning to change course and disrupt the engagement.

The challenge of differentiating motherships from innocent fishermen is made a bit easier by visual clues used to spot potential pirates.  Skiffs on the deck, extra cans of gas, and boarding ladders are simple signs that a dhow is probably on the look-out for something other than fish.  A fishing dhow cruising the Indian Ocean shipping lanes without any nets is also an easy signal that trouble is in store.  Orion crews take note of suspected pirate motherships and broadcast warning messages to merchant ships in the area.

USN Orion crews have been involved in several high-profile piracy incidents, including the hijacking of the M/V Maersk Alabama and dramatic rescue of her captain in April 2009.  A P-3C from USN VP-8 was the first aircraft or ship on the scene following the hijacking.  VP-8 crews provided surveillance during the negotiations and were overhead sending real-time imagery to commanders during the attack that lead to the death of the remaining pirates and the rescue of Capt. Richard Phillips.  USN Orions also provided support following the hijacking of the sailing vessel Quest in Feb. 2011.  Sadly, the crew of the Quest was killed by hijackers before negotiations could be successfully completed.

While attacks and hijackings have decreased, the patrol plane presence has not.  The JMSDF is currently building a hanger and support facilities to allow a continuous detachment to operate from the Djibouti-Ambouli airfield.  Likewise, western naval forces show no signs of departing from this strategically located African base.

Michael Glynn for

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