Giuseppe Sandro Mela.
Il problema del Mare Cinese del Sud è facilissimo da enunciarsi e difficilissimo da risolversi.
Ma, anche se non se ne parla facilmente, cambiati i termini ed i contendenti, esiste anche il problema del Mare di Okhotsk e del mar del Giappone.
I cinesi reclamano la territorialità del Mare Cinese del Sud e gli Stati Uniti la internazionalità.
I russi considerano il Mare di Okhotsk alla stregua di un lago territoriale interno e gli Stati Uniti acque internazionali.
I cinesi hanno costruito nel Mare Cinese del Sud almeno sette isole artificiali, adesso armate di tutto punto, e gli Stati Uniti asseriscono che siano illegali: però ci sono.
Gli Stati Uniti sicuramente possono farvi transitare delle portaerei dirette alla Korea del Sud, loro alleata, ma ben difficilmente potrebbero sostenere un conflitto militare nella zona: lo perderebbero.
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Cerchiamo di capire adesso cosa sia cambiato.
Fino ad un decennio fa le portaerei nucleari americane, e le relative flotte di supporto, godevano di una forza e di una invulnerabilità che surclassava quella di tutte le altre potenze militari. I confini marittimi degli Stati Uniti erano le coste dei potenziali avversari.
Poi è avvenuto questo cambiamento, dapprima in Russia, quindi in Cina.
Lo si legga con la massima attenzione.
«La Russia ha recentemente puntato al missile antiportaerei che vola a velocità ipersonica a bassa quota. La prima fase sperimentale del nuovo missile 3M22 Tzirkon iniziava il 18 marzo 2016, su una piattaforma navale russa. L’agenzia RIA Novosti affermava che il missile ipersonico 3M22 Tzirkon ha una velocità di Mach 6,2 (6500 km/h), un peso di 5 tonnellate e nella prima fase avrà un’autonomia di 400 km. Successivamente, aumentando il carico di carburante, il campo operativo del missile Tzirkon potrebbe raggiungere i 1000 km. Il missile Tzirkon può essere lanciato da navi di superficie, sottomarini e aerei russi. Un certo numero di incrociatori e cacciatorpediniere russi sarà dotato di lanciatori verticali 3S-14-11442M simili al sistema di lancio statunitense Mk41 con 128 cellule, utilizzando diversi tipi di missili, come Tzirkon, Oniks, Kalibr, S-400 e S-350E. Attualmente le corvette classe Bujan-M della Flottiglia del Mar Caspio (che ha partecipato all’operazione in Siria) e le fregate classe Steregushhij, Gepard, Admiral Gorshkov e Neustrashimij avranno un sistema ridotto 3S14 con 8 cellule di lancio per missili da crociera Kalibr e missili antinave Oniks. Il missile da crociera Kalibr-NK ha una gittata di 4000 km ma il rovescio della medaglia è che è subsonico. Il missile antinave P-800 Oniks è l’equivalente russo del BrahMos I (coproduzione russo-indiana) che utilizza un motore ramjet, dalla velocità di Mach 2,8 al livello del mare e gittata di 300 km. Il missile antinave ipersonico BrahMos II con motore ramjet dovrebbe assomigliare al 3M22 Tzirkon con gittata di 300 km e velocità di Mach 7. BrahMos-II ha completato le prove in galleria del vento e inizierà quelle di volo nel 2017 .
Un missile che vola a 6000 km/h a bassa quota è molto difficile da intercettare, dato che tra il momento dell’individuazione sul radar e l’impatto sulla portaerei, i sistemi di difesa hanno solo un minuto per inquadrarlo e attivare le contromisure. I missili antibalistici SM-3 Block IB non possono essere usati contro i missili Tzirkon perché non sono balistici e non volano alla quota di 80000 metri, dove si azionano i sensori di rilevamento dell’SM-3 Block IB. Dato che il costo di una portaerei è di diversi miliardi, od oltre 10000 volte quello di un missile Tzirkon, gli esperti ritengono che il missile, se lanciato soprattutto da un aereo, potrebbe cambiare la configurazione delle future guerre aeronavali.
Nel 2016, la Russia prevede di schierare i sistemi missilistici antinave K-300P Bastion (con missili P-800 Oniks) e droni da ricognizione sulle isole Curili. L’anno scorso, diversi sistemi di difesa antiaerea Tor-M2U diventarono operativi nelle isole Curili, ed aerei Su-27M, armati di missili antinave Kh-41 Moskit dalla gittata di 250 km e un velocità di Mach 3,2 (3587 km/h) furono schierati permanentemente sulla base aerea di Burevestnik, sull’isola di Iturup, nell’arcipelago delle Curili. Il sistema difensivo delle Isole Curili comprende il radar OTH (oltre l’orizzonte) Duga-3, a Komsomolsk-na-Amur (sulle coste del Pacifico), nell’ambito della rete russa di primo allarme antibalistico. Il radar opera su radio ad onde corte decimetriche riflettenti sullo strato ionosferico dell’atmosfera terrestre. La portata del radar non è influenzata dalla curvatura della Terra. Questo radar ha dimostrato la capacità di monitorare i test dei missili balistici intercontinentali Minuteman III degli Stati Uniti lanciati dalla Vandenberg Air Force Base (in California) verso il poligono di Kwajalein. Il radar Duga ha un’apertura di 240° e controlla i gruppi navali degli Stati Uniti nel Pacifico orientale. Armando le batterie costiere e gli aerei Su-27M con missili 3M22 Tzirkon si creerebbero gravi problemi agli statunitensi, dato che l’isola di Iturup è a 190 km dall’isola giapponese di Hokkaido, dove si trova la base statunitense FAC 1054.» [Aurora]
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Il cuore del problema è racchiuso in queste due frasi:
«Un missile che vola a 6000 km/h a bassa quota è molto difficile da intercettare, dato che tra il momento dell’individuazione sul radar e l’impatto sulla portaerei, i sistemi di difesa hanno solo un minuto per inquadrarlo e attivare le contromisure»
«Dato che il costo di una portaerei è di diversi miliardi, od oltre 10000 volte quello di un missile Tzirkon, gli esperti ritengono che il missile, se lanciato soprattutto da un aereo, potrebbe cambiare la configurazione delle future guerre aeronavali»
Non ci si faccia nessuna illusione.
Il prossimo oggetto del contendere sarà il dominio militare dell’Oceano Pacifico. E non si fermerà lì. È la supremazia navale americana ad essere messa in discussione. Certo, gli americani sono ancora molto potenti ed hanno ottime tecnologie, ma intanto sono stati sfrattati dal Mare Cinese del Sud. Dieci anni fa il problema non esisteva: gli americani mandavano le loro navi militari dove volevano. Oggi non più. Ma fra dieci anni? Il futuro esiste.
→ Reuters. 2017-02-20. Is Beijing outflanking the United States in the South China Sea?
For much of the last week, the U.S. aircraft carrier Carl Vinson has been patrolling the South China Sea. It is just the kind of display of Washington’s power and global reach that the U.S. Navy excels at – both to reassure allies and, in this case, send a message to potential foes.
How much longer Washington will be able to perform such operations unchallenged, however, is an increasingly open question.
Some military experts project that within a little more than a decade, China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy may have more warships than Washington under its command. Beijing’s military buildup is part of its strategy to dominate many disputed territories in the South China Sea – and push America back.
Retaining U.S. global military dominance is at the heart of President Donald Trump’s plan to up Pentagon spending by $54 billion, or roughly 9 percent. That alone, however, will not be enough to maintain Washington’s regional military edge. China’s own defense budget has increased by double digits almost every year for the last two decades – although it slowed slightly last year. More importantly, Beijing is also adopting a range of tactics to which Washington lacks a truly effective response.
While Washington’s approach in Asia has always been focused on its ability to move aircraft carriers through China’s backyard, Beijing has been doing everything it can to tilt the strategic balance against its possible foes. It’s a strategy that includes new weapons systems, considerable conventional naval expansion but also a host of other tactics including building naval bases, floating power stations and artificial islands.
Some current and former U.S. military officials believe it is a question of when, rather than if, a regional conflict takes place. What seems equally plausible is a decades-long – and perhaps largely bloodless – confrontation remaining just below the threshold of anything that might trigger actual war.
That may well be China’s plan.
It’s a game that Beijing has played in increasing earnest since 1995, when the Chinese military fired several missiles and conducted military maneuvers around Taiwan, which Beijing sees as a breakaway province. U.S. President Bill Clinton responded by sending two aircraft carriers to patrol the waters between Taiwan and mainland China, a move that Beijing’s military could do little to stop without sparking a war it knew it would not win.
Since then, China has focused on gaining the ability to keep U.S. forces – particularly aircraft carriers – out of its immediate neighborhood. Many analysts believe it now possesses enough weapons technology – submarines, missiles and strike aircraft in particular – that U.S. planners would be reluctant to risk their carriers that close to China’s coast again.
China is believed to have thousands of ballistic missiles aimed at the island, as well as naval weaponry to destroy nearby warships. Some experts believe Beijing might try to regain control of the island sometime in the next two decades.
Beijing’s next immediate goal appears to be expanding its military capability much further out – to a number of potentially energy-rich atolls and islands claimed by the Philippines, Vietnam and Malaysia.
Beijing’s most grandiose claims in the South China Sea were rejected last year by the U.N.’s top international maritime court. China has, however, continued to build and expand, particularly around the disputed Scarborough Shoal. The Chinese military landed on the islands – also claimed by the Philippines – in 2012 and have since built up their presence there.
From these disputed bases, Beijing’s military claims a range of air and sea areas under its jurisdiction, demanding foreign aircraft and ships register with them. American, Australian and other military forces make a point of flouting these rules – which have little international legitimacy – with relative impunity.
No one has a strategy to stop the Chinese. At his confirmation hearings, new U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson raised eyebrows by suggesting U.S. forces might somehow deny China access to the disputed islands. That would almost certainly start a war, however, and the idea has not been mentioned since.
In many ways, what has happened in the South China Sea resembles a more gradual version of what Vladimir Putin’s Russia achieved in Crimea during its 2014 takeover – using armed men without uniform to change the reality on the ground before Ukraine or its allies could react.
In Ukraine, Russia later proved itself willing to use more overt – although still officially denied – military force to seize control of some Russian-speaking areas in the east of the country. The question in the South China Sea is whether Beijing might consider something similar – and what might happen if it does.
China has also become increasingly focused on acquiring the kind of high-level, high-value military assets that the United States has used against it in the past. China’s first aircraft carrier – a former Soviet vessel rebuilt – is becoming ever more effective, although it remains primarily used for training. In December, it conducted what appeared to be its first long-range patrol outside China’s coastal waters. China is also constructing its first domestically built carrier and reportedly working on another.
Such ships are important to Beijing’s international image – witness the attention Russia got through sending its only carrier to conduct airstrikes in Syria late last year. So are the ballistic missile submarines that – like Russia – Beijing is increasingly building, a stark reminder to any potential enemies of the cataclysmic consequences of outright war.
According to some estimates, over the next 10 to15 years, China could build its fleet to a total of 500, including up to four aircraft carriers and 100 submarines as well as smaller but sophisticated corvettes, patrol boats and other combat craft. That compares to Trump’s planned expansion of the U.S. Navy to some 350 vessels, including a larger proportion of more powerful vessels, but spread across the entire world.
In sailing through the disputed waters of the South China Sea, the Carl Vinson has once again shown America’s military might. In the event of an actual war, however, it is far from clear how long such a massive vessel would survive before being sunk.
In any case, the Carl Vinson will be gone next week – although other forces will remain – and the Chinese will still be building.
→ Military. 2017-02-19. US Aircraft Carrier Strike Group Patrolling S. China Sea
A U.S. aircraft carrier strike group is patrolling in the South China Sea, the U.S. Navy said Saturday, days after Beijing told Washington not to challenge its sovereignty in the region.
China asserts ownership of almost all of the resource-rich waters despite rival claims from several Southeast Asian countries. It has rapidly built reefs into artificial islands capable of hosting military planes.
The USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier group was engaging in “routine operations in the South China Sea,” the navy said in a statement on its website.
It noted that the ships and aircraft had recently conducted exercises off Hawaii and Guam to “maintain and improve their readiness and develop cohesion as a strike group.”
“We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region,” strike group commander Rear Admiral James Kilby said in the statement.
China’s foreign ministry said ships and aircraft were allowed to operate in the area according to international law.
But Beijing “firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight,” spokesman Geng Shuang told journalists Wednesday, responding to reports that the Vinson was headed to the South China Sea.
“We also urge the U.S. to refrain from challenging China’s sovereignty and security and to respect regional countries’ efforts to maintain peace and stability in the South China Sea,” he said.
The Vinson has deployed to the South China Sea 16 times in its 35-year history, the Navy said.
Washington says it does not take sides in the territorial disputes but has several times sent warships and planes to assert freedom of navigation in the area, sparking protests from Beijing.
→ Cnn. 2016-02-20. US carrier starts ‘routine’ patrols in South China Sea
(CNN)The United States deployed the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson to the disputed waters of the South China Sea on Saturday as part of maritime “routine operations.”
Sailing with the 97,000-ton Vinson is the guided-missile destroyer USS Wayne E. Meyer, the Navy said in a statement. The Vinson carries a flight group of more than 60 aircraft, including F/A-18 jet fighters.
The operation comes amid growing tensions between the United States and China over territory and trade, and as the Trump administration looks set to take a more confrontational stance toward China than its predecessor.
During his confirmation hearing, new Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said China should be blocked from accessing the artificial islands it’s built, setting the stage for a potential showdown.
In a news conference Wednesday, China’s Foreign Ministry said it heard about the planned deployment of the Vinson days before it happened, and warned Washington against challenging its sovereignty.
“China respects and upholds the freedom of navigation and overflight in the South China Sea, which countries enjoy under international law, but firmly opposes any country’s attempt to undermine China’s sovereignty and security in the name of the freedom of navigation and overflight,” China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
The contested waters are a crucial shipping route at the heart of a territorial dispute that pits multiple countries against one another.
China has a long history of maritime disputes with its South China Sea neighbors.
China claims almost all of the South China Sea, including islands more than 800 miles from the Chinese mainland, despite objections from neighbors such as the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Vietnam.
Beijing has also created artificial islands in the area, outfitting some of them with military features. According to the US, China has reclaimed more than 3,000 acres in the Spratly Islands since 2014.
Satellite imagery released by Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative in December showed China has installed weapon systems on all seven artificial islands.
Though the US takes no position on the territorial dispute in the South China Sea, its warships have conducted routine “freedom of navigation” operations near the reclaimed islands, eliciting warnings from Beijing.
The most recent of those was in October by the guided-missile destroyer USS Decatur.
China at the time called it a serious breach of law and an intentional provocation.
There is no word whether the Vinson or the Meyer would be getting near the Chinese-claimed islands.
But Chinese media reacted quickly to the Vinson’s cruise.
An opinion article in China’s state-sanctioned Global Times declared that the deployment of the Vinson showed that the US wants to “create provocations and drive a wedge” between China and other countries party to the South China Sea.
“This may trigger frictions or even military clashes between China and the US,” wrote Li Jie, a Beijing-based naval expert.
A separate Global Times article decried Trump’s policy in the South China Sea as “unclear” and said that it may escalate tensions.
Compared to Barack Obama, Trump poses more of a risk to the area and China should “prepare diplomatically and militarily,” Li is quoted as saying.
US aircraft carrier operations in the South China Sea are not unusual. Almost a year ago, the USS John C. Stennis led a similar cruise through the area. And the Vinson was in the South China Sea in 2015, just one of its 16 operations in the South China Sea in its 35-year history.
The cruise of the Vinson in the South China Sea is the second of a high-profile US Navy vessel this month.
Last week, the littoral combat ship USS Coronado, which is temporarily based in Singapore, was conducting training operations in the South China Sea, according to a Navy statement.
“While underway, we are conducting training across multiple mission areas including weapons training, manned and unmanned flight operations, ship handling, and damage control drills,” said Cmdr. Scott Larson, the Coronado’s commanding officer. “Training at sea in these warfare areas maintains crew proficiency and ensures we are ready to operate successfully in a variety of missions.”
Rear Adm. James Kilby, commander of the Vinson strike group, had a similar message.
“The training completed over the past few weeks has really brought the team together and improved our effectiveness and readiness as a strike group,” Kilby said in a statement. “We are looking forward to demonstrating those capabilities while building upon existing strong relationships with our allies, partners and friends in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region.”
Among those friends has been the Philippines, which last week was hosting the crew of the attack submarine USS Louisville in Subic Bay. The Navy did not give details of the mission of the 6,000-ton sub, saying only its presence at the Philippine port “demonstrates the U.S. Navy’s commitment to regional stability and maritime security in the U.S. 7th Fleet area of operations,” which includes the South China Sea.
→ Ebl News. 2016-03-13. US aircraft carrier arrives in South Korea for exercises
A US aircraft carrier arrived in South Korea Sunday for manoeuvres, a media report said, amid increasing tensions with North Korea.
The atomic-powered USS John C Stennis is visiting the port of Pusan and will take part in the Key Resolve military exercises involving US and South Korean forces, the Yonhap News Agency reported.
Three US guided-missile destroyers and a cruiser will also participate in the visit to the port on the south-east coast of South Korea, 450 kilometres from Seoul.
The USS John C Stennis weighs 103,000 tons and has a maximum speed of 56 kilometres per hour.
The Key Resolve exercises are held annually.
Tensions have risen on the Korean Peninsula since North Korea carried out its fourth atomic test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February.
→ The Diplomat. 2017-02-07. US Clears $140 Million Missile Deal With South Korea
The Republic of Korea Air Force is slated to receive over 100 new U.S.-made air-to-air and air-to-ground missiles.
The U.S. Department of State has approved the possible sale of 89 AGM-65G-2 Maverick missiles, 60 AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder missiles, and related support to South Korea, according to two separate press releases published by the U.S. Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) — the Pentagon’s lead agency when it comes to arms sales to allied nations — on February 1.
The two missile sales, which also include missile containers and other related elements of support, are estimated to be worth $140 million, with U.S. defense firm Raytheon as the principal contractor in both cases. The sales will still need to be approved by the U.S. Congress before entering final contract negotiations.
“It is vital to U.S. national interests to assist our Korean ally in developing and maintaining a strong and ready self-defense capability. This sale increases the ROK’s capability to participate in Pacific regional security operations and improves its national security posture as a key U.S. ally,” according to a DSCA statement.
The Republic of Korea Air Force (ROKAF) has both weapons already in its inventory. The AGM-2 Maverick is a precision-attack ground-to-air tactical missile designed for close air support, whereas the AIM-9X-2 Sidewinder is an infrared tracking short-range air-to-air and surface-to-air missile. The missiles can be carried by ROKAF F-15K Slam Eagle multi-role fighter jets and the KF-16, a South Korean variant of the General Dynamics F-16 Fighting Falcon.
As I reported previously (See: “South Korea: Upgraded F-16s Capable of Striking Key North Korean Targets”), the ROKAF currently operates 170 KF-16C/D Block 50/52 fighter aircraft, 134 of which will be undergoing extensive modernization and upgrades including arming the aircraft with bombs (e.g., the GBU-31 Joint Direct Attack Munition air-to-ground guided bomb) capable of destroying key underground targets in North Korea. The ROKAF started acquiring 61 F-15Ks, an advanced variant of Boeing’s F-15E Strike Eagle, beginning in 2005.
The U.S. Air Force will also deploy 12 F-16 fighter jets to Osan Air Base, located approximately 48 kilometers south of Seoul, in February, according to a recent U.S. Pacific Command press release. “The U.S. Air Force routinely deploys fighter aircraft to the region to provide U.S. PACOM and Pacific Air Forces with Theater Security Packages, which help maintain a deterrent against threats to regional security and stability,” the statement reads.
The U.S. State Department cleared the weapons sales prior to the first official visit of the new U.S. secretary of defense, retired Marine Corps Gen. James Mattis, to South Korea in early February. The new U.S. secretary of defense and South Korea’s acting president, Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, reiterated their commitment to deploy an advanced U.S. missile defense system on the Korean peninsula, the so-called the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD).