The Al-Shamik corvette, which serves in the Royal Navy of Oman, is based on British offshore patrol vessels. (Wikipedia)
DUBAI — Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states are increasing security around their offshore oil infrastructure, due to an array of threats from sea-based dangers.
According to Michele Cosentino, a former Italian Navy commodore, GCC members have chosen different approaches to carry out their maritime strategies, especially protecting oil facilities and commercial shipping.
Cosentino, in an article he authored for the 2013 Offshore Patrol Vessels conference in Abu Dhabi, wrote that the newly re-established Iraqi Navy’s primary focus also is on its offshore infrastructure.
“All GCC navies have benefited both directly and indirectly by the increasing presence of US military forces in the region during the past years, but they have correctly considered the implications of a dramatic drawdown of these forces under the Obama administration in the aftermath of the US disengagement from Iraq and Afghanistan,” Cosentino wrote.
According to the Global Naval Vessels and Surface Combatants Market Report 2013-2023, the United States will lead global spending on naval assets.
The report stated that an increase in coalition missions — such as international peacekeeping missions, offshore operations and disaster relief operations — has created a need for interoperable weapon systems that adhere to NATO standards.
“An increase in out-of-area operations has also created a need for participating nations to acquire interoperability with key coalition partners” the report read.
Despite GCC navies being capable of protecting their offshore assets and borders, they continue to face an evolving threat from state and non-state actors, argues Matthew Hedges, from the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis.
“Incidents, such as the killing of Indian seamen in Jebel Ali, highlight the seriousness of the situation the region is in,” he said, alluding to the 2012 killing of an Indian fisherman after his vessel rapidly approached the US replenishment oiler Rappahannock off the United Arab Emirates coast.
“As the states of the GCC are host to foreign militaries, they will always attract delinquents and extremists opposed to their presence, and will have to continue to protect these assets and allies where possible,” he said.
Furthermore, Hedges said that both sea and air assets in the region are in use to counter threats to naval trade, and are often used in combination to counter these threats.
“Constant surveillance assets are used in the region, and a number are made within the UAE,” he said.
There are two major types of challenges and threats facing the GCC and Iraqi navies, according to Cosentino.
“The first is located in the Arabian Gulf and stems from Iran’s attitude toward a regional hegemony, while the second is linked to the disruption of maritime trade caused by piracy and other illicit trafficking taking place around the Horn of Africa and off Yemeni and Omani coasts,” he wrote. “In both cases, challenges and threats have a clear maritime focus, and facing them requires the availability of a range of capabilities that can be easily expressed by light surface combatants and offshore patrol vessels [OPVs].”
GCC navies have therefore chosen different paths to face such challenges and threats in accordance with their ability to manage a range of naval assets.
“GCC navies can be grouped into two groups, the first including naval forces able to field and manage OPVs, corvettes and frigates like the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman and Iraq; and the second comprising smaller naval forces equipped mostly with coastal patrol boats like Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait and Yemen,” he wrote.
The UAE has employed the upper hand of the OPV/corvette range to enhance its capabilities, Cosentino wrote.
“The flagship of the UAE Navy is the corvette Abu Dhabi, a vessel of about 1,500 tons of displacement which was built in Italy according to the design of the Comandanti-class OPVs, of which six units are in service in the Italian Navy.
“Abu Dhabi maintains the general layout of an OPV, but she has been equipped with a range of weapons and sensors that confirms how an OPV design can be easily adapted to the user requirements.”
The Royal Navy of Oman has chosen a similar approach, he added.
“The Karheef program was initially related to the construction of three Al-Shamik-class OPVs that are designed and built in the UK, but they were recently reclassified as corvettes,” he wrote. “Although their hull is based on a British-derived OPV, the Al-Shamiks displace 2,550 tons, have stealthy features and are equipped with anti-ship and anti-air missiles, other than a 76mm main gun.”
The Iraqi Navy has chosen a traditional approach.
“The two major surface vessels of the new Iraqi Navy are the two Al-Basrah-class OPVs, conceived for the surveillance and the protection of the offshore oil infrastructures that are located in the northern part of the Arabian Gulf,” he wrote.
They are 60 meters long, armed with a 30mm light gun and equipped with fast craft for close protection. ■