US to base UAV in Seychelles to fight piracy

September 3, 2009 -- The United States is planning to deploy armament-capable unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) in the Seychelles islands in the coming weeks to combat piracy. The use of land-based robot planes is a new approach to deter ship hijackings in the region.

The spokesman for the US military's Africa Command, Vince Crawley, says several General Atomics MQ9 Reaper UAVs will be in the Seychelles by late October or November. He says they will be used to conduct intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions throughout the Indian Ocean region.

"We have people going in individually for very short trips right now. We plan to start sending some of the teams that will assist in the September-October time frame. And then it would take a month to begin the flights," said Crawley. "It is widely recognized that western Indian Ocean piracy is extremely disruptive to international trade and this is simply a US contribution to the international effort against piracy."

Reapers are designed for long-endurance, high-altitude surveillance, capable of staying in the air for 30 hours and flying at speeds of more than 440 km an hour.

They can also carry weapons such as the Hellfire air-to-ground guided missile, but African Command says the drones being deployed in the Seychelles will not be armed.

The US Navy has long used ship-based unmanned aerial vehicles in counter-piracy missions. But the UAVs in the Seychelles will be housed at the international airport in the capital Mahe. Dozens of American military and civilian personnel will also be based at the airport to oversee the Navy-led mission for the next several months.

Crawley says the government in the Seychelles requested assistance from the US earlier this year after Somali pirates began extending their operations more than 1000 kilometers away from Somali shores. Since March, two Seychelles-flagged vessels have been hijacked and several others attacked in waters near the Seychelles and the Comoros Islands.

In addition to the Reaper UAVs, the US military is also considering basing Navy Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion patrol aircraft in the Seychelles for a limited time. Like the Reaper, the Orion can survey a large region and help deter attacks.

Maritime officials say the vastness of the Indian Ocean and the lack of naval patrols in the area are tempting some pirates to expand their operations further east. The Indian Ocean is considered a safer hunting ground than the Gulf of Aden, a narrow shipping lane to the north that is heavily patrolled by warships from more than a dozen countries.

For nearly a year, the international armada has been successful in keeping many ships from being hijacked. But it has done little to deter pirates from targeting ships.

In the first half of 2009, nearly 150 vessels were attacked by pirates in the Gulf of Aden and off the coast of Somalia, compared to less than 30 in the same period a year ago.

More than 30 vessels have been taken, with ransom demands now averaging about $2 million (R15 million) for the release of the ship and its crew.

Rough weather conditions have helped keep the number of pirate attacks in the region low for the past few months. But as the weather improves, sailors, ship owners, and maritime officials say they are bracing for another surge of pirate activity.


Exercise CHONG JU

An Australian Abrams M1A1 AIM-Main Battle Tank rolls out of its hide as soldiers from the School of Armour begin to assault the battlefield during a training run during Ex CHONG JU held at the Puckapunyal Military Training Area. (Foto:

September 4, 2009 -- The Goulburn Valley echoed to the crump of high explosives and the whine of screaming engines this week as EX CHONG JU steamrolled through Puckapunyal.

The biannual maneuver and firepower demonstration showcased to spectators M1A1 Abrams tanks, M113AS4 armored personnel carriers, ASLAV and the Javelin Medium Defensive Fire Support Weapon, all of which are available to an Australian combat team when it employs synchronised arms effects.

EX CHONG JU is named after a series of offensive actions by 3RAR on 29 October 1950 against North Koreans, during which infantry company advances were supported by US Army tanks and artillery.

“Bombs away” as a Royal Australian Air Force F-111 fighter bomber releases its payload on the battlefield during a simulated attack as part of EX CHONG JU. (Foto:

An Australian M113AS4 Armoured Personnel Carrier moves into attack position during a combat team combined arms attack as part of EX CHONG JU. (Foto:

The exercise is a training activity for the Combat Officer Advanced Course, which trains combat arms officers on combined arms tactics.

This year’s exercise was an opportunity for M113AS4 crews to show the impressive power upgrades of their carriers. The assaulting APCs easily maintained formation with their tanks during the live rehearsal and final fire power demonstration.

During Thursday’s live rehearsal, the organic recovery capability of the Combat Team was also put on display when an M113AS4 bogged during the initial stages of the combat team’s advance. The APC was dragged from its muddy hide as the range reverberated from M1A1 fire of the assaulting force.

Latest Pacific Patrol Boat Upgrade For Tonga

Tonga Navy patrol boat. (Photo:

September 4, 2009 -- The latest in a series of Australian-sponsored Pacific Patrol Boat refits has been completed and the refurbished vessel handed-back to the Kingdom of Tonga at a ceremony at the Rosshaven Marine Shipyard in Townsville QLD today.

Representing the Department of Defence, Air Commodore Tony Jones handed over the newly refitted Pacific Patrol Boat VOEA NEIAFU to the High Commissioner of the Kingdom of Tonga, His Royal Highness the Crown Prince Tupouto’a Lavaka.

The handover ceremony included an opening prayer and blessing of the ship, a parade by the Ship’s crew and the signing of an official Certificate of Completion by the General Manager of Rosshaven Marine Mr Christopher Helps, Air Commodore Jones and His Royal Highness the Crown Prince.

Under Australia’s Defence Cooperation Program - sponsored and funded by Defence’s International Policy Division - 22 Pacific Patrol Boats (PPB) were built and gifted to 12 Pacific nations between 1987 and 1997. The 31.5 metre PPBs are built to a commercial standard and are used by Pacific nations for maritime surveillance and response, in particular fisheries patrols.

Each PPB will undergo a six-month life extension refit that will see the repair and refurbishment of key systems to allow a further 15 years operation, bringing the total operational life of the boats to 30 years.

The refit program includes repairs to ageing hulls and superstructures, structural modifications to improve and strengthen the hull, improvements in refrigeration and air conditioning systems, engine, generator and gearbox overhauls and installation of advanced navigation systems.

Since 2003, twelve PPBs have completed life extension refits in North Queensland. All refits for the remaining PPBs are scheduled for completion by the end 2012.

Tonga has three PPBs – VOEA NEIAFU, VOEA SAVEA and VOEA PANGAI. Patrol Boat VOEA PANGAI will commence its refit in mid-September 2009.

USS Theodore Roosevelt Transitions to Newport News Shipyard for Complex Overhaul

The aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN 71) steams in the Atlantic Ocean during flight operations. Theodore Roosevelt and Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 are transiting the Atlantic Ocean after completion of a seven-month deployment operating in the U.S. 5th and 6th Fleet areas of responsibility. (U.S. Navy Photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Nathan Laird/Released). (Photo:

August 1, 2009, Newport News, Va. -- USS Theodore Roosevelt (TR) (CVN 71) made the move across the James River Aug. 29 to Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding in Newport News to begin the aircraft carrier's scheduled Refueling Complex Overhaul (RCOH).

During the "dead-stick" move, Sailors on the ship's bridge maneuvered the ship while it was moved by tugs en route to a dry-dock at the shipyard where it was built and commissioned nearly 25 years ago.

"RCOH is an important process for the life-span of the ship that will require the combined efforts of the shipyard and the Sailors to finish on time," said TR's commanding officer, Capt. Ladd Wheeler. "I am confident that the 'Big Stick' will complete this yard period safely and efficiently and return to the fleet in the coming years ready for full service."

A multi-year overhaul, RCOH involves the alterations, repair, maintenance, and refueling of the aircraft carrier. The RCOH enables the ship to meet future mission and continue service life requirements for approximately the next 25 years. USS Theodore Roosevelt is the fourth Nimitz-class aircraft carrier to participate in the RCOH at Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding.

Shortly after returning to Naval Station Norfolk on April 18, the ship began the process of preparing the ship for the transit to Newport News. This included making cuts in the ship's hull to accommodate removal and replacement of major ship components.

TR, along with embarked Carrier Air Wing (CVW) 8 and Carrier Strike Group (CSG) 2, completed a seven-and-a-half month deployment in April during which they deployed to the Gulf of Oman in support of Operation Enduring Freedom. The ship also made a historic visit to Cape Town, South Africa, and a port call in Portsmouth, England.

After successful completion of all mission requirements Theodore Roosevelt arrived at Naval Station Norfolk on May 30 and began the transition period from an operational front-line, surge capable aircraft carrier into a complex maintenance period where just about every space will undergo refurbishment to sustain the next 25 years of service. Referred to as the "Smart Start" period, Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding and other maintenance activities were able to get a jump start and prepare TR for entering drydock.

"The Smart Start period allowed the crew and the shipyard to begin building the foundation work on a successful RCOH," according to Cmdr. Gunter Braun, TR's chief engineer. "Based on the results the foundation for success is well-rooted."

Theodore Roosevelt, a Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, was commissioned Oct. 25, 1986. The 1,092-foot ship weighs 101,000 tons and carries a crew of approximately 3,200.


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