Bonner, Kit

Latest worldwide Maritime and Naval happenings

On 30 April 2004, two coastal defense craft departed Bahrain for their new home in Iraq as components of the recently formed Iraqi Coastal Defense Force (ICDF). These 100-ton full load craft are the lead ships of five to come and are identified as P-102 and P-103. It is certain that the Iraqi Coastal Defense Force will come up with names for each but, as for now, they are numbered craft manned by British/Australian ratings and officers for the trip to Iraq.

The boats were initially sold to Saddam Hussein’s government as part of the oil for food program, yet the transfer from Taiwan’s Maritime Security Police was halted by Western concerns about the military capabilities of craft.

The five craft were at one time units of the Taiwanese Maritime Security Force and had been refurbished and modernized for use by Iraq. The boats were laid up in a dry-dock at Jebel Ali, a port of the United Arab Emirates where they have been waiting for the green light for two years. The 27-meter long craft were built by the China Shipbuilding Corporation and used by Taiwan for inshore patrol, maritime police issues and counterinsurgency.

The boats are capable of 40-kts and employ three Fraschini diesels that generate up to 3000-bhp. As part of the Taiwanese inventory, they were moderately armed with heavy machine guns and are distinguishable by a large searchlight on the pilot house roof.

A German firm was contracted to bring the boats to the UAR for overhaul and they have since been purchased by the US for the (ICDF). The Royal Navy and Australian Navy will assist the ICDF as will the US Navy until the new force becomes fully operational.

The ICDF became a reality in January 2004, when training began for 214 volunteers who have had some previous military experience in the Iraqi armed forces. The volunteers are paid a beginning salary of US $120 per month which, considering the current state of Iraqi financial affairs, it is quite high. Each of the selectees is anxious to learn the ways of the sea and what amounts to littoral warfare in their own backyard. It is ironic that many of the officers and ratings that will make up the IDCF at one time fought the Coalition led by the US.

In 1991, they resisted the Coalition’s successful effort to eject Saddam Hussein’s armed forces from Kuwait and in 2003-2004 to destroy the Hussein empire and the international terrorist network it has spawned and supported. At the end of both wars, the Iraqi Navy which was small and almost insignificant from the outset had lost 100 vessels including 19 Naval craft. The warships and Naval aircraft in the Iraqi Navy posed little threat. However, peripheral weapons such as missiles and mines caused justifiable concern.

The Coalition was anxious over various Silkworm anti-ship batteries sited along the 80-meter coastline, and by mid-2003, these were bombed and bombarded into oblivion. The Silkworm missile, an import from the Republic of China, has wrought periodic havoc on tankers in transit in the Gulf if they were within a 50-nm range. The missile threat was matched by sea mines often sown in the path of ships and, on at least three occasions, US ships (USS Princeton CG-59; USS Samuel B. Roberts FFG-58 and USS Tripoli LPH-10), were immobilized by inexpensive, but always deadly, sea mines.

This problem continues and is matched by the suicide craft that have begun to attack Coalition forces and the two main oil terminals which are offshore (Khawr al Amaya and al Basra). Initially, these terminals were all but deserted (except for huge ravenous rats) and placed under the control of the US Coast Guard. For several months they have been operational and tankers are regularly taking on crude oil to the worth of $10 billion as of June 2003. In short, they produce huge profits for the people of Iraq and must be protected. The ICDF will eventually assume this role from the Coalition.

However, tragically, a suicide dhow (small indigenous cargo carriers) exploded and killed two US Navy sailors and a Coast Guard boarding officer on 24 April 2004. The dhow was attempting to blow up the oil terminal at Khawr al Amaya while other similar bomb-laden vessels were on their way to hit the al Basra terminal. All were destroyed before they could detonate at their targets. The need for an ICDF was again confirmed by this action.

If Iraq hopes to rebuild itself, it must protect its major source of national income (oil) from terrorism. It is also incumbent upon the oil-needy nations of the world to not allow the second largest deposit of oil to fall into the hands of terrorists.

The ICDF will ultimately consist of 407 personnel and its first officer contingent has received training at the Royal Navy’s prestigious Dartmouth College. Further training will be ongoing at the reconstituted Arab Gulf Academy for Sea Studies. Competition for posts in the IDCF is fierce, and the USN and Navies of Great Britain and Australia are picking the cream of the crop of applicants for positions in the new force.

A brigadier general will command the force of men who will make up the ICDF Organization and assets which consists of:

1. Squadron of five 27-meter high speed heavily armed coastal patrol boats currently being deployed with a crew of six each.

2. Ten rigid hull inflatable craft with light weapons (similar to eleven-meter US Navy SEAL insertion/extraction craft).

3. A Coastal Defense Regiment of personnel being trained with the Army yet will operate similar to the Marines.

4. Naval Base at Umm Qsar.

The primary threats to this new force will be from terrorists and attacks from small craft from Iran. The Iranian Navy has a large number of heavily-armed small craft, and will definitely sortie to attack and do battle with the ICDF. Even now, the Iranian Navy sends various small patrol boats to harass Coalition force frigates and patrol craft. The chief offender has been the Boghammer-class of Swedish-built small patrol boats that are armed with small missiles and heavy machine guns. Almost always, they attack in packs rather than a one-on-one basis.

The timetable set by the Coalition Provisional Authority is that the ICDF will operate during the daylight hours from June 2004 until 30 September 2004. At that time, the ICDF will operate around the clock protecting Iraqi waters out to the twelve mile limit with emphasis on drug interdiction, anti-smuggling and counterinsurgency. The Coalition will withdraw its frigates and destroyers from the area, and only respond if called upon for assistance.

The nights in the North Arabian Gulf will then likely resemble those in 1940-1944 in the English Channel or the Narrow Seas. Many battles will be fought in tight quarters with the stakes being very high. It is hoped that the ICDF and its new squadron of patrol boats and RHIBs will be up to the task.

Copyright Challenge Publications Inc. Sep 2004

Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning Company. All rights Reserved

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