Australians make new friends in the Indian Ocean, and the future of fighters in the Hawkeye State…

…welcome back to the blog.

First on the docket, we’re covering the bit of news that went amazingly under reported (even in Australia) earlier this month: that of an Australian P-3 Orion naval patrol aircraft and an Iranian Navy frigate.

Both sides’ public announcements seem to downplay what happened, but the entire episode goes to show just how randomly different foreign policies can interact: the Royal Australian Air Force P-3 was on patrol as part of Operation Gateway, which is: “part of Australia’s support to cancel people smuggling in the region” according to a Defense spokesman.

The P-3 was on this patrol in the southern part of the Indian Ocean when it came upon the Iranian frigate Sabalan, an almost 40 year-old ship originally designed in Britain, and then built for and ordered by the Shah in the 1970s.

The two apparently traded signals on radar until the Australian plane turned away to head back to it’s base. It’s at this point we’ll go to Iran’s state news agency, FARS, for the rest of the story: “The reconnaissance plane changed its flight route immediately after receiving the warships’ warning but dropped some subsurface detection devices in their path. All the dropped devices were hunted skillfully by the timely action of the Iranian Navy forces.”

At the risk of editorializing, I find this statement correct in the facts, but not in the intentions: the Australian aircraft, operating in the southern part of the Indian Ocean, was probably encountering the Iranian ship on the return leg of it’s journey from Singapore: the ship’s tank was 3/4 full while the plane’s tank was 1/2 dry. It probably would’ve turned away previously if it hadn’t acquired this Iranian ship. And THAT is where the interesting bits and pieces come in.

FARS quotes: “[The plane]…dropped some subsurface detection devices…”. These were more than likely sonobuoys, meant to record and track the sound and strength of the Sabalan’s engines and aid in Australian, American, and other Western navies’ tracking of Iranian warships. I don’t really have much of a doubt that this was a chance encounter. To think that one can find a single ship with a single plane over such a large area, even in this era of satellites…that person is welcome to go to Las Vegas and try their luck. But the information that was gathered on those sonobuoys, and the practice the Australians got by dropping them, is immeasurable.

Now…on to the hometown news.

According to the Des Moines Register’s March 18th story, Chuck Grassley has cosponsored a bill blocking the demobilization of F-16s from the Iowa Air National Guard. The bill to stop these has been cosigned by Democratic and Republican senators Montana, New Jersey, and others. The Iowa ANG’s aircraft were slated to be dispersed to other units or sites throughout the country, but that has been put on hold.
With this newest development and the release of the list of sponsors, an interesting name is missing: fellow Iowan Senator Tom Harkin. I have been told to expect an e-mail from his press office concerning his position on the ANG F-16s on Monday or Tuesday of next week. More when that arrives.

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