Saturday, August 30, 2014

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Navy We Need

Power projection, preserving freedom of the seas, aiding allies, bothering bullies and the ability to “move U.S. soil anywhere in the world.”
USS Carl Vinson departs San Diego, headed west. (Photo by Lorna T.)
George Will writes an interesting opinion piece "Navy with a mission in mind" which contains the above quote from Rep. Randy Forbes and more:
Greenert’s Navy, which has fewer (290) but much more capable ships than the Navy had during the Reagan buildup (594), can still move nimbly to put anti-missile ships near North Korea or F/A-18s over the Islamic State. But cascading dangers are compelling Americans to think afresh about something they prefer not to think about at all — foreign policy. What they decide that they want will define the kind of nation they want America to be. This abstract question entails a concrete one: What kind of Navy do Americans want? The answer will determine whether U.S. power can, in Greenert’s formulation, “be where it matters when it matters.”
The question, however, is: Do Americans, demoralized by squandered valor in Iraq and Afghanistan, and dismayed in dramatically different ways by two consecutive commanders in chief — the recklessness of one and the lassitude of his successor — want U.S. power projected? They will answer that question with the Navy their representatives configure. The representatives should act on the assumption that every generation lives either in war years or in what subsequent historians will call “interwar years.”
He could have written much of that after WWI, when the Navy was cut way back only to be needed again in the face of a rising Asian power seeking to dominate the Western Pacific.

I should note that our Navy has been long been forward deployed and on a war footing since - what? 1987? We need more ships and more people in them. This is not the time to shrink away from our duties to ourselves and others.

Warships are long lead time investments. They are not something you can run down to the local "ShipMax" and pick up a nice barely used model on the cheap (unless you are a U.S. ally picking up our cast-offs). If you need a great big gray hull out there - to do the nation's bidding- you need to keep the shipyards working. The "quality versus quantity" debate becomes meaningless if you can't meet the demands placed on you due to the lack of hulls to be in the right places at the right times.

Written a couple of years ago, this CNN opinion piece by retired Brigadier General Paula Thornhill , "History shows danger of arbitrary defense cuts" expresses the right concerns:
As America embarks on a tough strategic journey in the aftermath of Iraq, and contends with an ailing economy, it is wise to be mindful of the difference between hope and fact. The president and Congress might focus on strengthening the economy and assume for a time that a smaller military will suffice. Pursuing prudent military reductions in this environment makes sense; however, relying on a budget-driven process to make these reductions does not.

The nation's leadership needs a Plan B so that a heroic assumption -- or hope -- about the unlikelihood of future wars does not inadvertently lead to strategic disaster. This is harder than it seems. Plan B would allow more flexibility to meet what could go wrong in the strategic environment rather than just making budget cuts.
"Plan B" should include sound thinking about the dangers ahead and the tools to face them. In my opinion, a solid Naval force should be item #1 in the tool box.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Disaster Escape Routes for the Home

Wherever you live - in a house, town home or apartment - it is a good idea to think about how to get out of the place should there be a fire or some other disaster that threatens your life.

Of all the scenarios which might pose a danger to life and limb, probably the most likely is that of a fire, so let's use that as our starting point for this discussion.

FEMA has a pretty good website on this topic, Learn About Fire Escape Plans:
In the event of a fire, remember that every second counts, so you and your family must always be prepared. Escape plans help you get out of your home quickly. In less than 30 seconds, a small flame can get completely out of control and turn into a major fire. It only takes minutes for a house to fill with thick black smoke and become engulfed in flames.

Prepare and practice your fire escape plan twice a year with everyone in your household, including children and people with disabilities. It's also a good idea to practice your plan with overnight guests. Some tips to consider when preparing your escape plan include:

Draw a map of each level of your home and show all doors and windows. Find two ways to get out of each room. Make sure all doors and windows that lead outside open easily.
  • Only purchase collapsible escape ladders evaluated by a recognized testing laboratory. Use the ladder only in a real emergency.
  • Teach children how to escape on their own in case you cannot help them.
  • Have a plan for everyone in your home who has a disability.
  • Practice your fire escape plan at night and during the daytime.
In case you missed it, the key point is to "identify two ways out of each room." It's also good to have a pre-arranged post-escape meeting place so that a head count can be made.

For those of us who live in two story houses, this might entail acquiring one of those "collapsible escape ladders." If you live in a two story house, that requires about 13 feet of ladder, assuming your house is on relatively level ground. For 3 stories, you need 20 feet and there are 4 or 5 story ladders that are 45 feet long. Amazon has, not surprisingly, a pretty extensive list of such ladders here. Prices range from $30 for a 2-story model to a little over $200 for the 45 foot ladder (which weighs about 40 pounds, so factor that in making decisions about where to store the thing). Other sources include, Home Depot and Lowe's.

 For those who don't like the thought of having to set up a ladder in the midst of an emergency, there are permanent mount fire escape ladders, like this one (not endorsing, just noting):
The REDI-EXIT® Fire Escape Ladder is a permanently mounted escape system that attaches outside a bedroom window, looking very similar to a downspout in its normally closed position. Just press the red release knob to open the REDI-EXIT Fire Escape Ladder.

The REDI-EXIT Fire Escape Ladder requires no heavy lifting to deploy and the ladder rungs are spaced 11" apart, making it easy for young children and the elderly to use.
Photos from the REDI-EXIT site, where the list price of a 2 story ladder is about $1300, and a 3 story version for about $1800. They make them up to 4 story lengths.

Werner ladders has a variation on the fixed ladder with its fire escape ladder, where a flexible ladder is permanently mounted for easy deployment.

One of the things to consider in developing your escape plan is the physical characteristics of the home occupants. Very young children and the elderly or infirm may need to have something different than a ladder than must be climbed down. How important is this? Well, for older residents the risks are higher:
In 2010, older adults (ages 65 and older) represented 13 percent of the United States population but suffered 35 percent of all fire deaths.

Older adults are 2.7 times more likely to die in a fire than the general population. The risk worsens as we age.

People ages 85 and older are 4.6 times more likely to die in a fire. Older adult males are 62 percent more likely to die in a fire than older adult females.
Here is a repetitive video to drive home this point.:

If you have elderly parents or are getting there yourself, you might want to consider relocating the sleeping area to a ground level room with a couple of exit routes that can be managed by people who may not be able to swing themselves over a window ledge and down a swinging ladder.

The key here, as usual is to have an escape plan and to practice that plan. Without practice, it won't be automatic in the event you need to execute the plan.

Oh, and smoke and fire alarms - lots of them!

As an aside, and while it's not in the "escape" plan system, one good idea for all homes, but especially those with "forgetful" or "distracted" people are automatic stove turn off devices. While these may seem pricey, consider what they are protecting. More ideas here.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Middle East History: Empires and Tribes

As a sort of follow-on to our Midrats show from Sunday, in which the topic of the shaping of the modern Middle East as a part of the end of World War I was discussed,
More Military Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with Midrats on BlogTalkRadio

There is this nice "Imperial History of the Middle East" from Maps of War, which takes us to about 2006:

And a discussion of how clans, tribes, religion and more all are factors in what may be a reshaping of the Middle East as 100 year old (or so) nation-states seem to melting away before more ancient demands, from StratFor:
The states the Europeans created were arbitrary, the inhabitants did not give their primary loyalty to them, and the tensions within states always went over the border to neighboring states. The British and French imposed ruling structures before the war, and then a wave of coups overthrew them after World War II. Syria and Iraq became pro-Soviet states while Israel, Jordan and the Arabians became pro-American, and monarchies and dictatorships ruled over most of the Arab countries. These authoritarian regimes held the countries together.

"Iraq and Syria Follow Lebanon's Precedent is republished with permission of Stratfor."

So, one point is that "stability" in most of the Middle East is not something that ought to be considered the norm but something that has been forced on the local tribes by various degrees of strong men and empires back to the dawn of history. As a friend of mine once said on reading the Old Testament, "It's a history of warfare going back thousands of years."

The other point, which should be clear after a long history of U.S. and other Western involvement in the Middle East, is that it is inappropriate to think in "Western" terms about the local political structures and the state lines drawn by old empires that have themselves faded away. In particular, Syria, Lebanon and Iraq are cobbled together constructs.

That is not to say that the West should stand by and watch groups like ISIS ravage through territory to impose their version of "normal" in the area. In helping the locals to resist ISIS, though, delicate balance is needed to allow the locals to find their own path to a structure that makes sense to them.

The danger is a collection of failed states and the Somiliazation of the Middle East albeit with heavier weapons.

As the old movie line goes, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"

Monday, August 25, 2014

Oil Matters: Iran Is Thinking of Oil Terminal Outside the Arabian/Persian Gulf

Most of Iran's ability to get oil and gas products to the world outside the Arabian/Persian Gulf can be blockaded by putting a "stopper" in the entrances to the sea line of communication chokepoint that is the Strait of Hormuz. That "stopper" could be naval forces or mines or air power sufficient to threaten shipping trying to leave the A/P Gulf.

To an extent, the great worry to many of those outside of Iran who rely on shipments of oil and gas from the area has been that Iran might place its own cork in the mouth of the Gulf and cut off vital supplies, creating an international energy shortage and chaos in energy markets.
Other oil and gas producing states in the A/P Gulf have taken steps to reduce the risk of economic harm caused by Iranian action by developing alternative paths (by which I mean pipelines) to carry products away from the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. See the nearby map of such alternatives. Click on it to enlarge it.

Iran's potential to close the Strait of Hormuz is a double-edged sword, however, because a truly effective Iranian cork (perhaps using mines) in the Strait of Hormuz might also hobble the Iranian oil and gas export business which is also dependent on an open Strait. This limitation affects the ability of Iran to apply "energy supply" leverage on the world to get what it wants.

This Iranian dependency on an open Strait also constitutes a powerful strategic lever against the Iranian government when international disputes arise. Due to the alternative export routes developed by its neighbors and that are currently unavailable to Iran, it is possible that through - a blockade or other action closing the Strait to it - Iran could be boxed in the Gulf with oil and gas but no way to get it to market. No sales of such products could wreak havoc on the economy of Iran. A Iranian economy that gets bad enough could lead to internal strife in Iran and an overthrow of the present "republic."

Recognizing this problem, Iran is pondering a way to build itself a way out of this "box." One possibility is to set up an oil and gas port outside of the chokepoint Strait of Hormuz. The Tehran Times reports on just such a plan, in "Iran to invest $2.5b to build oil terminal at Sea of Oman port" :
Iran is planning to invest $2.5 billion to build a new crude oil export terminal at Jask Port on the Sea of Oman, bypassing the strategic Strait of Hormuz, the only way in and out of the Persian Gulf, the managing director of the Iran Oil Terminals Company announced on Saturday.

Most of Iran’s exports are funneled through the big terminal on Kharg Island in the northern Persian Gulf, then shipped southward in supertankers through the Strait of Hormuz, the Mehr News Agency quoted IOTC Managing Director Pirouz Mousavi as saying.

Iran also plans to lay a pipeline running from the Caspian Sea in the north to Jask, Mousavi added.

An older look at Iran's oil and gas infrastructure (2004)
Since a large number of joint oil and gas fields are located in the Persian Gulf, such a terminal will help the country expedite oil storage and export operations, he stated.

The Jask oil terminal will be comprised of storage facilities with a total capacity of 20 million barrels, loading and unloading docks, as well as onshore and offshore facilities, Mousavi said.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said in a meeting with domestic researchers in Tehran on Saturday that the diversification of oil export routes is one of the most strategic policies of his administration.

Mohsen Qamsari, the deputy director for international affairs of the National Iranian Oil Company, recently said that Iran is exporting an average of one million barrels of oil per day based on the November 2013 interim nuclear deal with the 5+1 group (the United States, Britain, France, Russia, China, and Germany).

Under the deal, the six countries undertook to provide Iran with some sanctions relief in exchange for Iran agreeing to limit certain aspects of its nuclear activities.

The two sides agreed to extend the nuclear talks until November 24, with a view to achieving a permanent accord.

Iran produced 2.762 million barrels of oil per day in July, the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said in its latest report. (emphasis added)
Bandar-e-Jask Area
So, Iran is sitting on a million+ barrels of oil that it can't legally export under its agreement in the interim nuclear deal.

It needs an alternative path for its oil and gas. It has a small port at Jask on the Gulf of Oman - so . . . it has now floated a plan to enlarge that port and get an alternative out of the Gulf.

The arrow on the nearby map points to Jask.

Jask is also home, since 2008, to an Iranian naval base which it has asserted gives it the ability control the Strait of Hormuz:
"We are creating a new defence front in the region, thinking of a non-regional enemy," Adm Sayyari told state run Iranian radio.

"In this region we are capable of preventing the entry of any kind of enemy into the strategic Persian Gulf if need be," he said.
Is this proposed oil port real? If so, is it a sound and smart strategic plan or a bargaining chip for the nuclear talks? Or both?

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day #22

History is never surprising—after it happens.

“Logic of Empire” (1941)

On Midrats 24 Aug 2014- Episode 242: "Lost Opportunities: WWI and the Birth of the Modern World"

Please join us at 5pm (EDT) for Episode 242: "Lost Opportunities: WWI and the Birth of the Modern World":
A hundred years on, in 2014 what insights can we gain from the war that started 100 years ago in August of 2014? What are some of the lessons we need to remember in all four levers of national power; diplomatic, informational, military, and economic - in order to help steer our future course as a nation, and to better understand developing events?

Using his article in The National Interest, World War I: Five Ways Germany Could Have Won the First Battle of the Atlantic as a starting point for an hour long discussion, our guest will be James Holmes, PhD, professor of strategy at the Naval War College and senior fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs.

Jim is former U.S. Navy surface warfare officer, graduating from Vanderbilt University (B.A., mathematics and German) and completed graduate work at Salve Regina University (M.A., international relations), Providence College (M.A., mathematics), and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University (M.A.L.D. and Ph.D., international affairs).

His most recent books (with long-time coauthor Toshi Yoshihara) are Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age and Red Star over the Pacific.

Jim has published over 25 book chapters and 150 scholarly essays, along with hundreds of opinion columns, think-tank analyses, and other works. He blogs as the Naval Diplomat and is an occasional contributor to Foreign Policy, The National Interest, War on the Rocks, CNN, and the Naval Institute Proceedings.
Join us live at 5pm (EDT) if you can or pick the show up later by clicking here.