Archive for the ‘Persian Gulf’ Category

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China’s challenging relations in the Persian Gulf

August 22, 2013

John Alterman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies  (link opens a pdf file) examines the increasingly difficult relations that China is facing in the Persian Gulf:

Even as Iran, Iraq, and the GCC states all seek stronger ties with China, and many seek a greater role for China in the Middle East, China remains cautious. Wary of the Iran-GCC rivalry and keeping a watchful eye on the United States, China continues to seek to avoid becoming entangled in these regional dynamics. With growing domestic energy demands and a less certain U.S. global role, the balance may prove increasingly difficult to strike.

As China’s supply chain stretches it, it inevitably facings more and more challenges in keeping it secure.  It’s navy cannot even dominate its home waters, and several rival navies between China and the Gulf are near peers, peers or superiors in the maritime realm.  China – like every other trading nation – has relied on the US Navy to secure free use of the global maritime commons.   Ironically, China may be the nation least able to afford a diminution of US naval strength, at least in the near and middle terms.

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The Strait of Hormuz

October 26, 2012

Last month, I listed the seven Keys that Lock Up the Energy World, a list of the chokepoints that potentially constrict and therefore control the flows of oil and natural gas from producing to consuming regions.  This post presents a look at the most critical of those five keys, the Strait of Hormuz, through which as much as 35% of the world’s crude oil and 20% of natural gas must pass in order to reach markets.

Earlier this month, the Financial Times published a detailed examination of the likelihood that Iran would try to close the straits.  Iran has threatened the straits for decades, but have usually had their threats dismissed as empty bluster – they need the straits as much or more as anyone else, as most of their imports and exports must also pass through them.  However, as sanctions bite down harder and harder and internal dissent grows, the notion of closing the straits might change from strategic folly to political necessity.

Would they be able to accomplish this feat?  It would require a remarkable David vs. Goliath victory, as the Iranian Navy’s swarm tactics would try to defeat two different US Navy Air Craft Carrier Task Forces currently in the area.  Raytheon has already supplied the Navy with a new system designed to counteract presumed Iranian tactics, and one would assume that Boeing’s new CHAMP missiles would be deployed very early any such battle, shutting down much of Iran’s capability and blinding the rest.

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How vulnerable is the US Navy to Iranian countermeasures in the Persian Gulf?

July 27, 2012

In yesterday’s Washington Post, Joby Warrick detailed the new array of asymmetric weapons and tactics that Iran would bring to bear on the US Navy if a conflict erupts in the Persian Gulf:

Iran is rapidly gaining new capabilities to strike at U.S. warships in the Persian Gulf, amassing an arsenal of sophisticated anti-ship missiles while expanding its fleet of fast-attack boats and submarines, U.S. and Middle Eastern analysts say.

The new systems, many of them developed with foreign assistance, are giving Iran’s commanders new confidence that they could quickly damage or destroy U.S. ships if hostilities erupt, the officials say.

. . . A Middle Eastern intelligence official who helps coordinate strategy for the gulf with U.S. counterparts said some Navy ships could find themselves in a “360-degree threat environment,” simultaneously in the cross hairs of adversaries on land, in the air, at sea and even underwater.

“This is the scenario that is giving people nightmares,” said the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in discussing strategy for defending against a possible Iranian attack.

. . .  Modern U.S. warships are equipped with multiple defense systems, such as the ship-based Aegis missile shield. But Iran has sought to neutralize the U.S. technological advantage by honing an ability to strike from multiple directions at once. The emerging strategy relies not only on mobile missile launchers but also on new mini-submarines, helicopters and hundreds of heavily armed small boats known as fast-attack craft.

These highly maneuverable small boats, some barely as long as a subway car, have become a cornerstone of Iran’s strategy for defending the gulf against a much larger adversary. The vessels can rapidly deploy Iran’s estimated 2,000 anti-ship mines or mass in groups to strike large warships from multiple sides at once, like a cloud of wasps attacking much larger prey.

The Navy, however, is not standing still.  Raytheon has begun delivery of its advanced Air and Missile Defense Radar (AMDR) system which will help combat multiple threats to US warships.  The AMDR concept is illustrated below:

a Raytheon produced video of how an AMDR supplied flotilla would respond to attack by multiple weapons platforms  is also provided at the following link:

Raytheon AMDR Simulated Engagement

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US, Israeli options for strike on Iran

November 8, 2011

Alexander Wilner at the Center for Strategic & Intelligence Studies (CSIS) has put together a very thorough analysis of the military balance of power between Iran on the one side and the US and Israel on the other (pdf here).  As Iran appears close to full development of nuclear weapon capability, the pressure on Israel to respond to what it sees as a truly existential threat is growing.  Israeli leaders cannot sit by and do nothing; their history and their strategic position demands action.  However, while Israel certainly has the theoretical capability to hit Iran, the reality of the situation is that they will have to traverse potentially hostile skies all the way to Iran and back.  Also, although they have the ability to hit Iran, it is an open question whether they have the ability to deliver a devastating blow without resorting to their own nuclear arsenal (I tend to think not).

Wilner assesses Israel’s capability to conduct both a conventional and a nuclear strike on Iran.  In either case, the likely outcomes are suboptimal both from a pure military as well as a global opinion point of view.

If a military strike is to be made, it has to be the US that conducts it.  Wilner lays out the array of choices before US policymakers.  There are six basic options:

  • Demonstrative, coercive or deterrent strikes – a very small number of cruise missile strikes to demonstrate US seriousness and possible willingness to escalate should Iran comply with demands
  • Limited US attacks – dozens of cruise missile and attack aircraft strikes designed to destroy are critically damage 2 or 3 major nuclear and/or missile facilities
  • Major attacks on missile and nuclear targets – hundreds of strikes over a number of days designed to destroy or critically damage a wide array of nuclear and/or missile facilities
  • Major attacks on military and civilian targets – 1000 to 2500 strikes to destroy nuclear/missile facilities, “technological bases” such as universities, and critical military and asymmetric warfare functions.
  • Delay and then strike – lay the foundation for any of the above options, but wait for further evidence and/or allied support
  • Ride out Iranian proliferation – a number of defensive/deterrent options, such as publicly announcing the nuclear targeting of Iranian sites, encouraging Israel to also make such a declaration, aiding Saudi Arabia in the acquisition of a nuclear deterrent, building anti missile capability in GCC nations, etc.

Wilner goes over each option in much more detail.  I believe that the Obama administration will take military action against Iran in the coming months, and I strongly recommend this report to anyone who wants to understand the problems and potentials that will inform that decision.

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US searching for new Strategic Ellipse approach

October 31, 2011

The long time American military commitment to the Persian Gulf region will not end when US forces leave Iraq at the end of 2011.  There is already word that the Pentagon and Obama Administration are preparing to beef up the American military presence in the six states of the Gulf Cooperation Council.  This is almost farcical.  One of the major issues put forth by Osama bin Laden in his original fatwa against the US was the presence of “infidel” military forces in Saudi Arabia, home of Islams two most holy cities.  One of the great benefits of the Iraq war was that, by removing Saddam Hussein’s perpetual threat to the Gulf oil fields, it allowed the US to remove its forces from Saudi Arabia, and in so doing to remove a driving force for jihad against America.  Now, due to what seems like blind disregard, the US will be forced to redeploy military forces to the Land of the Two Mosques.  What was one of the few clear benefits of the Iraq War is being tossed away.  This just sets us up for another generation of radicals with a clear grievance against the US to emerge . . . we are right back where we started.

In the other theater of the rapidly ending War on Terror, the State Department has launched the “New Silk Road” initiative to fill the gap as the US military mission to Afghanistan winds down.  On paper, this seems like a good idea, but Americans have had a number of good ideas on paper.  The Bug Pit points out that most people in the region believe this effort will prove to be “unfeasible . . . and so not worth worrying too much about.”  And, if it does turn out to be feasible, it does not appear from published statements that State has not game planned for what would be a robust Russian response.

I think a New Silk Road is a promising strategy, but it has to have real support.  It would help if there was a general foreign policy consensus in the US that bridged various administrations, as containment of the Soviet Union did for so long.  I humbly submit that an awareness of Long Cycle Theory in general and EnerGeoPolitcs in particular might go a long way toward creating that consensus.  We are nearing the endpoint of the current phase, probably within 20-30 years, and the coalitioning ahead of that macrodecision is occurring now, whether we actively acknowledge it or not.