Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Once Again, Chokepoints, SLOCs, the Importance of Navies

First off, what is a "chokepoint?" There is very nice definition by John Daly here:

Ever since men first put to sea, conflicts have swirled around narrow maritime passages known as choke points. A subset of the broader category of Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs), maritime choke points act as funnels drawing in shipping from surrounding seas. As critical pressure points in naval struggles for "command of the sea," every navy seeks to secure them while denying their use to the enemy.

Oh, those "Sea Lines of Communication?" Back in 2011, I tried to clarify:

Back in the beginning days of this blog, I had a couple of posts about "sea lanes" and their importance. For example, from 2005, there was a post cleverly titled "Sea Lanes". I wrote then:

I keep posting about sea lanes. What are these things? Sea lanes are trade routes - almost like highways in the sea, where due to geography, ocean going vessels follow certain paths to avoid islands, shallows and other impediments to their travel. They are also generally the most efficient routes to get from Point A to Point B - as close to straight line travel as a ship can accomplish given the number of obstacles in its path.
Since then, there have been hundreds of posts here in which I refer to either "sea lanes" or "sea lines of communication" (see, e.g. Sea Lines of Communication (SLOCs)). There can be a difference between the two terms, since SLOC can have a military meaning that I have generally ignored here.

However, what is important to know about sea lanes or SLOCs is that they exist and that they are a major reason that nations interested in international commerce have navies - to keep the sea lanes open. In discussing maritime security, keeping sea lanes open is a major topic.

We hear a lot about how many things travel by sea. From crude oil to grain to large screen TVs to cars and much more, cheaper shipping has allowed the entire world to benefit from global product distribution (see here and here). Where do these products travel? Sea lanes. An excellent example of these sea lanes is shown on this Naval War College slide (which I have borrowed without shame):

There it is, a picture of world commerce. Those are not war ships wending their way across oceans, those are merchant ships moving the goods that make the world go. You might note that there are places where the traffic converges to pass through narrow areas. These are referred to as "chokepoints", "Chokepoints are narrow channels along widely used global sea routes . . ."

Large ships sail on rigid schedules, carrying parts from Japan to the U.S. or to Europe in such a reliable manner that warehouse costs are reduced by planning for "just in time" deliveries of products.

So, when there is a disruption in the smooth flow of goods, say from the recent earthquake in Japan, there are ripple effects that impact more than the Japanese part manufacturers.

A similar effect is caused by things that interfere with sea lanes. These might be something like a catastrophe that strikes a chokepoint like a closure of the Suez Canal.

Over 16 years ago,  I first discussed the importance of "chokepoints" on this blog.  During that period, we have seen the effects of pirates and nations interdicting ships headed to and from key chokepoints leading to and from the Indian Ocean, in the Straits of Malacca and Hormuz. 

After the recent ship grounding in the Suez Canal which is, after all,  both a very long "chokepoint" and a SLOC, some people seem to have finally taken note that there is a world-wide system of movement of trade goods and vital energy cargo that takes place on the oceans and seas of the world. 

If they had been paying attention, they could have referred to the U.S. Energy Information Agency and its World Oil Transit Chokepoints Analysis Brief from whence comes the below illustration:


All estimates in million barrels per day. Includes crude oil and petroleum liquids. Based on 2016 data.
Source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

In 1996, the U.S. National Defense University published Chokepoints: Maritime Economic Concerns in Southeast Asia which I have added below. While the data contained therein is no longer valid, and probably hugely understated given the growth of the economies of the countries of Asia, the concerns expressed are not outdated, and, like the data, probably understated.

Strategic Chokepoints of So... by lawofsea

How do we keep these vital SLOCs and chokepoints open? We have navies and coast guards that patrol the seas to thwart pirates and sea robbers. We worry about the effects of local rebel or national forces who occupy territory adjacent to chokepoints who might do damage to ships as they transit them, as we see with the Houti rebels in Yemen or the forces of countries like Iran. Remember the attempted attack on a U.S. Navy destroyer in 2016?

U.S. Navy photo by Photographer's Mate 2nd Class Peter J. Carney 

A U.S. Navy guided missile destroyer was targeted on Sunday in a failed missile attack from territory in Yemen controlled by Iran-aligned Houthi rebels, a U.S. military spokesman told Reuters, saying neither of the two missiles hit the ship.


The attempted strike on the USS Mason, which was first reported by Reuters, came just a week after a United Arab Emirates vessel came under attack from Houthis and suggests growing risks to the U.S. military from Yemen’s conflict.


Last week’s attack on the UAE vessel also took place around the Bab al-Mandab strait, in what the UAE branded an “act of terrorism.”

In 2013, more than 3.4 million barrels of oil passed through the 20 km (12 mile)-wide Bab al-Mandab each day, the U.S. Energy Information Administration says.

It was unclear what actions the U.S. military might take, but Davis stressed a commitment to defend freedom of navigation and protect U.S. forces.

"Defend fredom of navigation." Exactly. And which is why we need a large and strong Navy.

Monday, March 29, 2021

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) for 24 February to 24 March 2021

U.S. Navy Office of Naval I... by lawofsea

Not mentioned, probably because it occurred after ONI closed its report, is a reported missile attack in the Arabian Sea, reported here:

A cargo ship owned by an Israeli company was damaged by a missile in the Arabian Sea on Thursday in what was suspected to be an Iranian attack, an Israeli security official said.

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said the ship was on its way from Tanzania to India and was able to continue its voyage after the attack.

The official did not provide further details.

According to Israel’s Ynet news website, the ship sailing under a Liberian flag did not sustain serious damage and Channel 12 news reported the ship is owned by XT Management, based in the port city of Haifa.

Dryad Global has more info and pictures here.

Saturday, March 27, 2021

On Midrats 28 March 2021 - Episode 586: Focus DOD, Focus – with Thomas Spoehr

Please join us at 5pm on 28 March 2021 EDT for Midrats Episode 586: Focus DOD, Focus – with Thomas Spoehr:

Can a military organization suffer from attention deficit disorder? There are very few moments in time – the mid-1990s was a rare one – where a nation’s national security apparatus has the luxury and white space to get distracted and complacent. 2021 is not one of those times.

With a new leadership team in place in DOD, are we sure they are focused on the important challenges of China, North Korea, Iran, and Russia?

What are the top distractions that those concerned with the proper stewardship of our nation’s defense need to make sure don’t entice away time, money, and effort?

With his recent article, Don’t Let the Department of Defense Become the Department of Distraction, as a starting point for our conversation, our guest this Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern will be Thomas Spoehr, Lieutenant General, USA (Ret.).

Thomas is the director of The Heritage Foundation's Center for National Defense where he is responsible for supervising research on matters involving U.S. national defense. He is an expert on national defense policy and strategy, and has testified before the U.S. Congress on defense strategy, budgets and equipment modernization. His articles and commentary have been published widely in both civilian and military media and he is often called upon to provide expert commentary and analysis.

He earned a bachelor’s degree in Biology from the College of William and Mary, Williamsburg, VA, a Masters of Arts in Public Administration from Webster University in St. Louis, MO, and a Master of Arts in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Army War College, Carlisle, PA.

If you use Apple Podcasts, and miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Wednesday, March 24, 2021

"Well, Yes It Was Wrong to Fire You, Colonel. Good Luck Getting Your Reputation Back."

A sad tale that never should have happened, Navy board, former commandant agree: Marine colonel should not have been fired

On Feb. 22 the Board of Correction of Naval Records issued its decision, that all adverse paperwork related to Mann’s relief be removed from his official record.

“The Board noted that Petitioner’s relief was due to a loss of trust and confidence in his ability to command and lead Marines, but that the (Command Investigation) contained no information that Petitioner knew about the inappropriate actions of his subordinates that led to the sergeant’s Request Mast, or that he contributed to a climate that would have accepted that conduct,” the board wrote.

“In fact, the (Command Investigation) reveals that (Mann) took actions to correct the problems with the climate in the command and when he learned of his subordinate’s actions, he reversed their poor decisions,” the board wrote.

The board specifically addressed McMillian’s reasoning that commanders are responsible for all that their unit does and fails to do, noting, “that there are limits to what is reasonable.”

The board found that Mann was held to an “unreasonable level of accountability.”

Interesting. It's like common sense prevailed over knee jerk reaction. Hope it's a trend for the future.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Monday, March 22, 2021

The Biden "Interim National Security Strategic Guidance" March 2021

You can read this and assess what "strategic guidance" it offers. As noted by Thomas Spoehr here it has some "hits and misses" but also as noted in Don’t Let the Department of Defense Become the Department of Distraction to have some confusion about what constitutes a national security threat and what is a national problem. As Spoehr sets out:

To guide the Biden administration’s initial efforts, the White House recently published a 24-page guidance document on the interim national security strategy. Unfortunately, if you were the secretary of defense hoping to glean insights on how the administration wants you to shape the nation’s defenses, you would come away unfulfilled after reading this document.

While many believe a strong Navy will be important to contain China, there is curiously no mention of the service in the new guidance.

Maybe some thoughts about the new Space Force and the significant challenges America faces in space? Nope.

The role of the Air Force? Nada.

What about climate change? Jackpot! Mentioned 14 times.

COVID-19 gets a shout-out nine times, and racial justice or equity—three times. Keep in mind, this is national security guidance.

Ten days into his presidency, Biden signed an executive order calling for the need to put “the climate crisis at the center of United States foreign policy and national security.”

Climate change is real, and as many are quick to point out, can lead to global instability and could be the spark that ignites conflict between nations. But so too can rapid population growth, disputes concerning sovereign fishing rights, or conflicting claims regarding off-shore oil fields.

Other national problems which threaten our well-being and similarly warrant attention include the rise in obesity, youth hunger, and the opioid epidemic.

But, national security threats are different. Not more important, but distinct from other national problems. When prior administrations sought to characterize the fight on illegal drugs as a “war” and involve the Pentagon, there is a reason that never felt quite right. It was a conflation of a national problem with a national security threat.

By their nature, national security threats represent proximate dangers to America’s safety or security. Left unaddressed they can lead to a profoundly injurious change in the American way of life.

Interim National Security S... by lawofsea

Sunday, March 21, 2021

On Midrats 21 March 2021 - Episode 585: A March Madness Midrats

Please join us at 5pm EDT on 21 March 2021 for Midrats Episode 585: A March Madness Midrats:

The Navy wants to talk some more about unmanned systems, the unknown war we have been fighting for years along the bleeding edge of Islam in Africa seems to be going nowhere we want it to go, China decides to let the mask slip at last, in the mandated extremism training The Pentagon realized the military reflects the nation it serves and not the readers of The Washington Post ... and we still don't have any Service Secretaries nominated.

This week produced more news than can be covered in one Midrats, but we're going to try.

This Sunday from 5-6pm Eastern come join us for a Midrats free for all.

Open topic, open chat, open phones.

If you use Apple Podcasts, and miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

On Midrats 14 March 2021 - Episode 584: Facing Today's China, with Dean Cheng

Please join us at 5pm (EDT!) on 14 March for Midrats Episode 584: Facing Today's China, with Dean Cheng

While the rest of the world paused to focus on COVID-19 the last year, even though the pandemic started there, the People's Republic of China did not stop her long, steady push out to the world to take the place she feels she in entitled to.

From the border of India to South America and back to the Western Pacific, China feels the wind at her back.

Where is China signaling she will be be the greatest challenge to her neighbors and the global community?

Returning to Midrats this Sunday for the full hour will be our guest Dean Cheng.

Dean is the Senior Research Fellow for Chinese political and security affairs at the Asia Studies Center of The Heritage Foundation. He specializes in Chinese military and foreign policy, and has written extensively on Chinese military doctrine, technological implications of its space program, and “dual use” issues associated with China’s industrial and scientific infrastructure. He is the author of “Cyber Dragon: Inside China's Information Warfare and Cyber Operations.”

Before joining The Heritage Foundation, he was a senior analyst with the Center for Naval Analyses, a federally funded research and development center, and a senior analyst with Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC, now Leidos), the Fortune 500 specialist in defense and homeland security. He has testified before Congress, spoken at the (American) National Defense University, US Air Force Academy, and the National Space Symposium, and been published in the Wall Street Journal and the Washington Post.

If you use Apple Podcasts, and miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Sunday, March 07, 2021

On Midrats 7 March 2021 - Episode 583: The Navalist View from Singapore, with Blake Herzinger

Please join us at 5pm on 7 March 2021 for Midrats Episode 583: The Navalist View from Singapore, with Blake Herzinger

If geography is destiny, then Singapore is a nation of destiny.

Sitting astride one of the world's most critical chokepoints, this polyglot island republic with a population of Denmark on a spot of land 1/4 the size of Rhode Island.

For her size, she has a modern, large, and capable navy and military - important for what has always been a rough neighborhood.

What makes Singapore's national security requirements unique, and what role does she play as the Indo-Pacific Theater becomes the center of global concern?

Returning to Midrats to discuss this and more will be Blake Herzinger.

Blake is a Non-resident WSD-Handa Fellow with the Pacific Forum and President of the Singapore chapter of CIMSEC.

He studied political science at Brigham Young University before spending a decade in active service with the U.S. Navy as an intelligence officer.

His analysis has been published in Foreign Policy, War on the Rocks, and The Diplomat, as well as the publications for the Lowy Institute and the Australian Strategic Policy Institute. He's lived in Singapore since 2013 and is a 2017 graduate of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies.

Blake’s research focus is on security assistance dynamics, maritime security, and seapower.

If you use Apple Podcasts, and miss the show live, you can pick up this episode and others and add Midrats to your podcast list simply by going to here. Or on Spreaker. Or on Spotify.

Saturday, March 06, 2021

Saturday Is Old Radio Day" "This is your FBI' - "Murder on the High Seas" (1945)

Back when J. Edgar was very conscious of marketing the FBI.

This Is Your FBI was a radio crime drama which aired in the United States on ABC from April 6, 1945 to January 30, 1953 for a total of 409 shows. The show featured true cases from FBI, and told from an agent's viewpoint. FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover gave it his endorsement, considering it "Our Show" and calling it "the finest dramatic program on the air"

Monday, March 01, 2021

China's Fishing Tentacles Disrupt the Well-Being of the Rest of the WOrld

Interesting article at Indo-Pacific Defense Forum China’s distant-water fishing fleet harms developing countries’ economies, food security

The People’s Republic of China’s (PRC’s) distant-water fishing fleet continues to harm developing countries through the loss of billions of dollars in revenues and by contributing to unsustainable levels of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing, all of which threaten the livelihoods and food security of legitimate fishers and communities, according to a series of reports released in the past year. Having exhausted much of its fish stocks in domestic waters, the PRC has amassed the world’s largest distant-water fleet with close to 17,000 vessels, five to eight times more than previously documented, according to the Overseas Development Institute (ODI), an independent global think tank.

The repory of ODI can be found here. Highlights:

  • With 16,966 vessels, China’s DWF fleet is 5–8 times larger than previous estimates.
  • Trawlers are the most common DWF vessel, and most vessels are in the Northwest Pacific.
  • Almost 1,000 Chinese DWF vessels are registered in other countries. The ownership and operational control of China’s DWF fleet is both complex and opaque.
  • At least 183 vessels in China’s DWF fleet are suspected of involvement in IUU fishing.
The image above is from the report.

U.S. Navy Office of Naval Intelligence Worldwide Threat to Shipping (WTS) for 27 January to 24 February 2021

U.S. Navy Office of Naval I... by lawofsea

In other news, the U.S. Coast Guard nabbed drug smugglers as reported in here

Crews aboard two Alameda-based Coast Guard cutters interdicted three suspected drug smuggling vessels in the Eastern Pacific Ocean between Jan. 26 and Feb. 1 and seized more than 9,000 pounds of cocaine worth an estimated $156 million.

Conducting the operations were the crews of the Coast Guard Cutters Munro (WMSL 755) and Bertholf (WMSL 750).

Munro's crew boarded a fishing vessel Jan. 26 suspected of smuggling illicit narcotics. Exercising a bilateral agreement with a partner nation, the boarding teams searched and discovered 1,300 pounds of cocaine concealed within the vessel.

Munro’s crew interdicted a second suspected drug smuggling vessel hours later after a maritime patrol aircraft detected a suspicious vessel and directed Munro’s crew towards it. Munro launched a helicopter aircrew and boarding teams, and together they interdicted a low-profile vessel. The boarding teams discovered 3,439 pounds of cocaine aboard the purpose-built drug smuggling vessel.

U.S. Coast Guard photos courtesy of the Coast Guard Cutter Bertholf.