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Oil Shale news: RedLeaf begins mining

April 17, 2014

Red Leaf Resources has begun mining operations at its Seep Ridge property in Utah.  This is the demonstration project which will show whether or not crude oil can be cheaply and efficiently wrung from the rocks of the massive Eocene Shale formation of the Rocky Mountain states.  Red Leaf asserts that its EcoShale process can produce oil with little external energy inputs and with little water other than that needed to sustain crews (critical in the parched US west).  An EROI (energy returned from energy invested) of 10:1 would make it competitive with normally pumped crude.  If successful, the US suddenly will have more than twice the total oil reserves of Saudi Arabia.  This would radically transform the energy geopolitics of the entire world.

 

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Military spending up everywhere . . . except in the West

April 16, 2014

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) has released its annual report on global military spending, and has found that spending has increased in every region of the globe – except the US and its European allies.

Power, like nature itself, abhors a vacuum.  As the West declines, other powers rush to fill the gap.  The EU, today, sees events in Ukraine as a wake up call and is set to increase defense budgets.  The US, constrained by sequestration, is not – but doesn’t need to.  The US only needs to spend wisely – of course, it takes a kind of seriousness and courage rarely seen in budgeters to hack through all the politically protected items in the Pentagon budget.  We won’t get everything, but hopefully we can get enough.

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US Naval Institute looks at China

April 14, 2014

Proceedings is the monthly journal of the US Naval institute.  The April 2014 issue is focused primarily on the naval challenge that China presents to the US.   Several of the articles are open to the general public, but many require membership with USNI (which includes both a digital and paper subscription to Proceedings – well worth the price of membership for anyone interested in geopolitics).  This issue does a good job of covering many different possible approaches to dealing with China in the Western Pacific.  James R. Holmes argues for a very forward strategy of fortifying and patrolling the First Island Chain, while Milan Vego argues for the less aggressive approach of a distant blockade of Chinese shipping  as it transits from the Indian to Pacific Oceans.

The First and Second Island Chains

The First and Second Island Chains

I strongly recommend reading the entire issue, but these two pieces in particular.  I also read with particular interest the Navy’s dormant plans for transforming Guam into a forward base capable of hosting aircraft carriers.  This would make Guam a clear and early target for preemptive attack . . . which is actually another reason why I believe that Guam should be made a state.  An aggressor would be far more reticent about attacking a US state than it would a territory, IMO.

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Does the stealthy F-35 need a non-stealthy escort to be effective?

April 11, 2014

That is the argument being made by the Navy, which wants to order more EA-18 Growler electronic warfare aircraft.  Boeing, the Growler manufacturer, is also lobbying for increased production.

“The notion they (F-35s)  can go in alone and unafraid is just plain wrong. The threat is doing two things. Their search radars are at VHF [frequencies] and getting lower, and with computer processing power they are getting much better. They (Chinese and Russian radars) can see them [fifth generation attack aircraft] hundreds of miles away, just like any other aircraft.”

The F-35 is the most expensive weapons program in history, and it has been troubled from the start (to be sure, this is often the case – I recall that many of  the new systems during the 1980s defense buildup were troubled, but they amazed the world when they finally saw combat in the Gulf War).

Probably the most fascinating thing about this article is the passionate debate that is being carried on in the comments section.  Read the whole thing – especially the comments.

 

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Is Germany the real target of Russia’s Ukraine adventure?

April 10, 2014

Interesting thoughts from Jan Techau:

Eighty-one percent of (Germans) asked believed that Russia is not a trustworthy partner … (b)ut 58 percent thought the same about the United States … 49 percent of Germans stated that their desired political position is equidistance between the West and Russia … (o)nly 45 percent believed that Germany should be firmly embedded in the West.

Equidistance is precisely the position into which Soviet and then Russian leaders have tried to lure Germany since the 1950s. Attempts have ranged from Stalin’s repeated offer to grant Germany neutrality in return for unification in 1952, to Leonid Brezhnev’s long-term strategy to use energy dependence to bind Germany to Russian interests, to President Vladimir Putin’s masterful psychological exploitation of German fears on issues such as missile defense or Ukraine. In all these instances, Moscow’s aim was to de facto neutralize Germany despite its integration into the West.

These efforts have never been fully successful. But they have been successful enough to make Germany an often wobbly ally and to spread uncertainty and fear, especially among Central European countries, most notably Poland. The Kremlin knows full well that uncertainty and fear are the very ingredients that, if nurtured for long enough, will poison every relationship and even the strongest alliance.

Driving a wedge into Westbindung remains a preeminent goal of the Russian leadership. Moscow’s spokespeople and pundits in the West are in high rotation to increase the spread of propaganda aimed at loosening Germany’s ties with the West. Russia’s representatives are smart, they are in it for the long haul, and they often do their job with considerable skill.

 

Read the whole thing.

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How the US Lost the Naval War of 2015

April 9, 2014

That is the title of a 2010 journal article by James Kraska:

By 2015, U.S. command of the global commons could no longer be taken for granted. The oceans and the airspace above them had been the exclusive domain of the U.S. Navy and the nation’s edifice of military power for seventy-five years. During the age of U.S. supremacy, the Navy used the oceans as the world’s largest maneuver space to outflank its enemies. Maritime mobility on the surface of the ocean, in the air and under the water was the cornerstone of U.S. military power. The United States was able to utilize its maritime dominance to envelop and topple rogue regimes, as it demonstrated in Grenada and Panama, and use the maritime commons to ferry huge ground armies to the other side of the world and sustain them indefinitely, as it did in Vietnam and twice in Iraq. The unique capability to project decisive power rapidly in any corner of the world gave the United States deterrent power and unrivalled military influence.

All that changed in 2015, when the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS George Washington, forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan, sunk to the bottom of the East China Sea. More than 4,000 sailors and airmen died and the Navy lost eighty aircraft. A ship that would take seven years and $ 9 billion to replace slipped into the waves. The incident upset not just the balance of naval power in Asia, but ushered in a new epoch of international order in which Beijing emerged to displace the United States.

If you have never read Kraska’s article, read it now.  If you have, read it again.  And ponder it while listening to senior US and Chinese officials trade tough talk over maritime disputes in the Western Pacific.

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The Obama Doctrine: Nixon Doctrine redux?

April 7, 2014

James Kitfield with a very alarming piece of analysis for Breaking Defense:

Spiral of Decline

Indeed, to grasp the perils of this era of retrenchment after the post-9/11 wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, it’s important to understand how at some invisible point the Nixon Doctrine of retrenchment became a de facto strategy of managing military decline, with disastrous results by decade’s end. A balky Congress weary of the Vietnam conflict and of Nixon himself withdrew air support from South Vietnamese forces, leading to the fall of Saigon and South Vietnam in 1975. Reductions in defense spending cut too deep for too long, infamously leading to the “hollow Army” of 1980. The Shah of Iran, the United States’ top client in the Middle East, was overthrown by an Islamist revolution that heralded three decades of enmity between Washington and the Islamic Republic.  Sensing our strategic weakness, the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan and installed a puppet regime in 1979, putting Soviet forces on the doorstep of the Persian Gulf, America’s energy breadbasket.

What’s remarkable about the current era of retrenchment is how fast evidence is gathering of a similar spiral of decline. By conspiring in the imposition of “sequestration” spending caps, the administration and Congress have already caused a military readiness crisis, and if the caps are not lifted the Pentagon says it will have to cut U.S. ground forces to 420,000 troops, far below the 450,000 planned under the recently released defense budget (a level already down from the wartime peak of 570,000). Congress also plans to blunt the tools of statecraft, with a recent House Appropriations Committee spending bill proposing a $4.3 billion spending cut from the State Department’s $49 billion budget.

Read the whole thing.

I readily admit that I endorse a similar pattern – beggar the Army to the benefit of the Navy and the Air Force – but sequestration is a too blunt instrument, and the change is not being done with an eye toward a coherent embrace of any strategic framework, such as Offshore Balancing.   And the Obama Doctrine is not a product of sequestration, it was well in effect before the budget battles that led to sequestration.  But, for all the pre-positioning we read from the myriad potential presidential candidates, none are offering any sort of clear strategic vision for the US from 2017 onward.

 

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