Monday, March 30, 2015

China: A South Atlantic Pivot? Base rights in Southwest Africa?

If the U.S. is doing a "Pacific Pivot," is China countering with expansion into the South Atlantic?
Click to enlarge. Namibia Circled.

The Diplomat asks Is China Secretly Building a Navy Base in Africa?
Writing for Real Clear Defense, Robert C. O’Brien explores reports that China is looking to build an overseas naval base in Namibia. O’Brien notes the historical strategic importance of Walvis Bay, Namibia’s sole deep water port, adding that the South Atlantic is generally “below the radar of most policy makers today.” If the PLA Navy does construct a base at Walvis Bay, he writes, “It would have the ability to patrol the critical Cape of Good Hope around Africa and Cape Horn around South America. The approaches to the key North Atlantic sea lanes linking the Americas, Africa and Europe would be nearby.”
Mr. O'Brien's piece is China's Next Move: A Naval Base in the South Atlantic?:
During my visit to Walvis Bay, China's plan to build a naval base was the talk of the town. Several Namibians pointed out that China already has a major satellite tracking installation in-country. China is developing key uranium mines. Chinese immigrants are opening shops in every corner of the land. A Namibian told me he would not be surprised if Namibia soon elects its first Chinese member of parliament. One local, who works at the harbor, said he has heard the PLA Navy will deploy four to six warships to the prospective base. Once that happens, he said, Namibia becomes, in essence, a Chinese colony.
David Tweed had this story back in November 2014 at Bloomberg reporting on an article from the Namibian, China Mulls Building Naval Base in Namibia, Namibian Times Says. The Namibian report from Nov 19 2014 is "Chinese naval base for Walvis Bay" by Adam Hartman:
According to reports in the Chinese media, Walvis Bay will be one of 18 naval bases that will be established in various regions: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mynanmar in the northern Indian Ocean; Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the western Indian Ocean; and Seychelles and Madagascar in the central South Indian Ocean.

“These three strategic lines will further enhance China's effectiveness in taking responsibility for maintaining the safety of international maritime routes thereby maintaining regional and world stability,” the media reports said.

Other naval bases are: Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea), Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), Dhaka Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti),

Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania) and Luanda Port (Angola).
As the Tweed piece notes, however,
The Namibian Times report was based on an unofficial Chinese Internet report and was “inaccurate,” “exaggerated” and therefore “groundless,” Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a monthly press conference in Beijing today, according to a transcript of his remarks. Geng didn’t say which parts of the report, if any, were accurate.
The game's afoot. And it's a big one.

As seen on the above map, the Chinese, if the reported "naval base" list is correct, would build an interesting string of ports available to them. The listed countries that would host bases are under the red ovals. I added China and I added in the Nicaragua canal that it appears the Chinese may fund/engineer/build.

IN 2013 there was this report, China’s moves in Western Hemisphere have U.S. stepping up its game:
China’s courting of Latin America and the Caribbean – signaled anew this week by a visit by its president – is prodding the United States to step up its outreach to the rapidly emerging economies, which are showing greater global clout.

President Xi Jinping’s weeklong trip to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico starting Friday comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, and follows by just a day Vice President Joe Biden’s three-nation tour of the region. Xi will meet with Obama at the close of his trip, June 7-8 in California.

China has eclipsed the United States as Brazil and Chile’s largest trading partner, purchasing soybeans, iron ore and oil to fuel its rapidly expanding economy. Latin American exports to China accounted for just $5 billion in 2000; by 2012, they topped $104 billion.
May we live in interesting times.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Space Exploration: Inflatable Habitat Ready for Space Station Trip

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
Inflatable Habitat Ready for Space Station Trip:
According to Bigelow Aerospace, the demonstration of expandable space habitat technology supports NASA's plans in the realm of human spaceflight, which ultimately lead to putting boots on Mars. Developing a deep-space habitat is an important step along the path to the Red Planet, agency officials say.

Founded in 1999 by entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, Bigelow Aerospace has as a goal the creation of a new paradigm in space commerce and exploration via the development and use of expandable habitat technology. Expandable habitats are viewed as offering dramatically larger volumes than rigid, metallic structures as well as enhanced protection against both radiation and physical debris.
Hmmm. Inflatable space craft.

Seems I read something about this concept in The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun:
Nelsen didn't listen anymore. His and Paul's attention had wandered to the largest color photo thumbtacked to the wall, above the TV set, and the shelf of dog-eared technical books. It showed a fragile, pearly ring, almost diaphanous, hanging tilted against spatial blackness and pinpoint stars. Its hub was a cylindrical spindle, with radial guys of fine, stainless steel wire. It was like the earliest ideas about a space station, yet it was also different. To many—Frank Nelsen and Paul Hendricks certainly included—such devices had as much beauty as a yacht under full sail had ever had for anybody.

Old Paul smirked with pleasure. "It's a shame, ain't it, Frank—calling a pretty thing like that a 'bubb'—it's an ugly word. Or even a 'space bubble.' Technical talk gets kind of cheap."

"I don't mind," Frank Nelsen answered. "Our first one, here, could look just as nice—inflated, and riding free against the stars."

He touched the crinkly material, draped across its wooden support.

"It will," the old man promised. "Funny—not so long ago people thought that space ships would have to be really rigid—all metal. So how did they turn out? Made of stellene, mostly—an improved form of polyethylene—almost the same stuff as a weather balloon."

"A few millimeters thick, light, perfectly flexible when deflated," Nelsen added. "Cut out and cement your bubb together in any shape you choose. Fold it up firmly, like a parachute—it makes a small package that can be carried up into orbit in a blastoff rocket with the best efficiency. There, attached flasks of breathable atmosphere fill it out in a minute. Eight pounds pressure makes it fairly solid in a vacuum. So, behold—you've got breathing and living room, inside. There's nylon cording for increased strength—as in an automobile tire—though not nearly as much. There's a silicone gum between the thin double layers, to seal possible meteor punctures. A darkening lead-salt impregnation in the otherwise transparent stellene cuts radiation entry below the danger level, and filters the glare and the hard ultra-violet out of the sunshine. So there you are, all set up."

"Rig your hub and guy wires," old Paul carried on, cheerfully. "Attach your sun-powered ionic drive, set up your air-restorer, spin your vehicle for centrifuge-gravity, and you're ready to move—out of orbit."

They laughed, because getting into space wasn't as easy as they made it sound. The bubbs, one of the basic inventions that made interplanetary travel possible, were, for all their almost vagabondish simplicity, still a concession in lightness and compactness for atmospheric transit, to that first and greatest problem—breaking the terrific initial grip of Earth's gravity from the ground upward, and gaining stable orbital speed. Only a tremendously costly rocket, with a thrust greater than its own weight when fully loaded, could do that. Buying a blastoff passage had to be expensive.
Of course, Gallun wrote in 1961, so we all know that his idea of a space craft made of cheap materials and dependent on recycled air (or air produced by plants grown on board) was . . . ahead of its time?

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
Bigelow Aerospace seems to believe in the concept. Here's info about its B330:
B330 will have 330 cubic meters (12,000 cu ft) of internal space, hence its numeric designation. The craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, however, it has potential as a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars.
Flexible, expandable? Check. Self-sealing? Check. Solar power? Check. Ion Thruster power? Possible. Affordable? Umm. Still face that cost of getting the package to space. Perhaps a space elevator could help.

But, you might ask, why? Asteroid mining? It seems, in addition to mining rare earth elements from the ocean floor (see here), there is a movement afoot to explore asteroid mining for rare earth elements(and gold and other valuable metals). There are start ups looking into making this work, e.g. Planetary Resources. Most of these efforts seem to be directed at robot mining, but why not allow individuals driven by profit motive to get out there and try their hand at space mining?

Asteroid Mining:
Early evidence suggests that there are trillions of dollars' worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids that come close to the Earth. Asteroids are so close that many scientists think an asteroid mining mission is easily feasible.
Plus, you know, freedom.

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Midrats 29 March 15 - Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC

Please join us on Sunday 29 March 2015 at 5pm, EDT for Midrats Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC:
This week we will return to the “unsexy but important” topic, specifically that of “alternative naval platforms and missions.”

In part, the concepts that underlay Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons” are in practice on a smaller scale today. In most cases they are being conducted using Military Sealift Command assets and the Navy Reserve.

To focus on this part of our maritime power, our guest for the full hour will be Commander Chris Rawley, USNR. President of Periplus Holdings in his day job, he is also Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Afloat Mission Command and Control Units in the Navy Reserve, in addition to being Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or pick the show up later from our iTunes page here.

Friday Fun Film: "Ships of the U.S. Navy (1942)"

Basic ship familiarization film of its day. Part of the Bluejackets Manual series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Chem Lights, "Glow Sticks" and the like

One of my favorite disaster (and non-disaster) items is the "chem light" or "glow stick"
A glow stick is a self-contained, short-term light-source. It consists of a translucent plastic tube containing isolated substances that, when combined, make light through chemiluminescence, so it does not require an external energy source. The light cannot be turned off, and can be used only once. Glow sticks are often used for recreation, but may also be relied upon for light during military, police, fire, or EMS operations.
Several US patents for "glow stick" type devices were received by various inventors. Most of these are assigned to the US Navy.
Glow sticks are used for many purposes. They are waterproof, do not use batteries, generate negligible heat, are inexpensive, and are reasonably disposable. They can tolerate high pressures, such as those found underwater. They are used as light sources and light markers by military forces, campers, and recreational divers. Glow sticks are considered the only light source that is safe for use immediately following any catastrophic emergency.
Live in a multistory building and need to provide light in stairwells when the power goes off? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to mark the position of injured or trapped people so rescue teams can find them more easily? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to mark a hazard to warn people away? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to have light source that will not ignite gas or other other flammable materials? Chem lights are great for that.

Cyalume Technologies, a manufacturer of chem lights offers this:
Safety is a necessity for work, travel or rest. Safety depends on risk reduction. Danger is often revealed in an unexpected instant – therefore preparation is the key. Safe lighting is taken for granted until it is not there. There is a higher standard at work to adequately set the stage for safety in commerce. Cyalume builds portable lighting to this higher standard by involving employees and customers in the development of solutions that work reliably in any emergency circumstance.

The most unique advantage of Cyalume chemical light products is their ability to remain operational for years, free of any dependency on batteries or electrical connections. Additional advantages include operation without spark or flame, and without oxygen consumption. Such rock solid reliability and safety in a self contained system enables the application of Cyalume technology in many demanding circumstances, where risk reduction can make a major difference in commercial operations affecting large numbers of people

Developed for the Military, Cyalume SnapLights are now tested, proven, and recommended for:

- Utilities: Reliable, Flameless, Waterproof lights to get the job done - indoors and out
- Hotels: Evacuation lights, room and hallway lighting during power outages
- Businesses: Work lighting during power outages, evacuation lights
(emphasis added)
Which points out that it is a good idea to pack a few of these sticks in you luggage when on a trip and you are staying in a hotel along the way. You just never know. I keep several in our cars at all times.

It's not clear whether TSA will allow you to carry a couple of sticks in your carry on as part of your "liquids" pack. If you attempt it, I would suggest keeping them in their original package and letting the TSA agent know you've got them. If not allowed, you may be out a couple of bucks. Would be nice to have under many scenarios I can imagine . . .

You can buy these things from Amazon, Walmart and many other places.

If you need a handy way to store these things, a good idea from Cyalume:
The Cyalume LightStation Model 20 includes 40 yellow chemical Snaplight light sticks measuring 10" long, for providing instant 360 degree illumination, that can be seen up to a mile away for up to four hours in optimal conditions. The LightStation is housed in a red, fire-resistant case with a luminescent label for use in the dark. When the front cover is pulled open, one light stick automatically activates upon opening, and the 39 additional sticks can be handed out and activated by individuals for use in an emergency.
$68 at Amazon.

I prefer longer lived sticks (12 hour) but 4 hours is enough for most emergency purposes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Cratering of Yemen

Excellent piece from Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal US military, diplomatic personnel quit Yemen as country descends into civil war
The US government has withdrawn its military and remaining diplomatic personnel from Yemen as the security situation has spiraled out of control over the past week. Among the forces pulled from Yemen were more than 100 military advisors who were training Yemeni counterterrorism personnel to battle al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The withdrawal of US forces from Yemen takes place just six months after President Barack Obama described the US strategy of partnering with local Yemeni forces as “one that we have successfully pursued … for years.”

The US yanked its military forces Al Anad Air Base after AQAP forces and allied tribes briefly took control of the nearby city of Houta, the capital of Lahj province, on March 20. Al Anad is located just 20 miles north of Houta. Yemeni military forces loyal to ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is based in the nearby city of Aden, regained control of Houta after AQAP fighters withdrew without a fight.

AQAP’s foray into Houta was preceded by attacks from the rival Islamic State, Shia Houthi rebels, and infighting between forces loyal to President Hadi. Additionally, today Houthi forces have taken control of the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest and are now just 120 miles from Aden, The New York Times reported.

On March 20, the Islamic State deployed four suicide bombers at two Houthi mosques in the capital of Sana’a’, killing more than 100 worshiper. The Islamic State threatened to carry out more such attacks.

On the previous day, forces loyal to Hadi battled a rival military commander at Aden’s international airport. Thirteen people were killed before Hadi’s troops took control of the airport, Reuters reported. During the fighting, an aircraft thought to have been flown by the Houthi-led government based in Sana’a struck the presidential palace in Aden.

Hadi fled to Aden in late February after escaping house arrest in Sana’a. He was forced to resign his presidency in January after intense pressure from the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, who took control of much of northern and western Yemen late last summer. Hadi has been the US’ biggest supporter in the fight against al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. He was a vocal supporter of the unpopular drone strikes, which have targeted al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives in Yemen.
"Yemen war detailed map" by 0ali1 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Actually, a sensible precaution in getting U.S. folks out of way while the Yemenis continue to abuse each other.

It must be noted that Yemen has a long history of being a area of unrest. As noted back in the 16th Century, here:
The country was in a state of incessant anarchy and discord . . .
Back in the 1960's the country was split in two parts, North Yemen and South Yemen (a/k/a People's Democratic Republic of Yemen). It wasn't until 1990 that there was "one Yemen" under Ali Abdallah Saleh. However, even in its united state, it has been a difficult place with a Shia sect uprising:
The Shia insurgency in Yemen began in June 2004 when dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaidi Shia sect, launched an uprising against the Yemeni government. The Yemeni government alleged that the Houthis were seeking to overthrow it and to implement Shī'a religious law. The rebels counter that they are "defending their community against discrimination" and government aggression.
Toss in al Qaeda in the the Arabian Peninsula and,
In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen, and many of its members were Saudi nationals who had been released from Guantanamo Bay. Saleh released 176 al-Qaeda suspects on condition of good behaviour, but terrorist activities continued.
Perhaps not the best decision ever made. Saleh gets replaced, but things do not calm down.

Nice summary of events in Yemen from the BBC here:
2014 September - Houthi rebels take control of the capital Sanaa. The UN brokers a peace deal according to which the Houthis agree to withdraw their fighters from cities they have seized once a new national unity government has been formed.

2015 January - The Houthis reject the draft of a new constitution proposed by the government. They seize state TV and clash with troops in the capital, in what the government called a coup attempt.

President Hadi and his government resign in protest at the takeover by Houthi rebels of the capital. He later flees to his native city of Aden and rescinds his resignation.

2015 February - Houthi rebels say that they are seizing power and that transitional five-member presidential council will replace President Hadi.
Now, UN envoy warns: Yemen is being pushed 'to the edge of civil war'. No kidding.

UPDATE: About ISIS in Yemen, ISIS in Yemen: Fueling the sectarian fire by Alex Knutsen at the AEI:
The Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) carried out five suicide bombings in Yemen today. The attacks are the first by ISIS in Yemen, and ISIS’s targeting of Zaydi Shia mosques will fundamentally change political and security dynamics. The Yemeni state is already fragmenting. Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who resigned in protest in January, is establishing a rival government in the south to challenge the authority of the one now under Iranian-backed al Houthi control in the capital, Sana’a. The al Houthi-Hadi conflict remained largely a political one until fighter jets bombed Hadi’s residence on March 19. There is now a multi-faceted conflict in Yemen that also includes al Qaeda’s affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is fighting both the al Houthis and the Yemeni security forces. The arrival of ISIS in Yemen could fuel a broader sectarian war. (emphasis added)

Yemen sits on the vital sea lanes of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden where shipping routes to and from the Suez Canal are located.

In the wrong hands . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day #48

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
"A friend who offers help without asking for explanations is a treasure beyond price.”

On Midrats 22 March 2015 - Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again - with Will Beasley

Please join us on 22 March 2015 at 5pm U.S. EDT for Midrats Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again - with Will Beasley
What are the intellectual responsibilities of the naval professional? What is the canon sound thought in the maritime realm is based?
Historically, what has been done, what has worked, and what should we be doing? Should the naval professional just focus on his narrow area of expertise, or does he need to have a more interdisciplinary approach to his intellectual development?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be William M. Beasley, Jr., associate attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLP in Mississippi. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Mississippi with a BA and MA in history where his graduate thesis examined the impact of popular culture, inter-service rivalry, civil-military relations, strategic planning, and defense unification on the "Revolt of the Admirals" of 1949.

Mr. Beasley received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal. Prior to joining Phelps Dunbar, Mr. Beasley worked as a research consultant with the Potomac Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He is a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and his work on maritime history and security has appeared in Proceedings, The Strategy Bridge, and USNI Blog.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also get the show later from the Midrats iTunes page.