Wednesday, April 4, 2012

China's Jugular Vein: Straits of Malacca and Oil

     In recent years there has been much talk about the strength of the Chinese economy, and wethere or not the U.S. could win a war versus China. However, what is not usually discussed in China's energy situation. China as of 2010, China consumed 9 billion barrels of oil per day (bbl/d), of which 4.8 billion barrels were imported, roughly 53%. In comparison the U.S. the consumed 19.2 bbl/d in 2010, of which 10.2 billion barrels were imported (53%). These numbers show that China is heavily dependent on foreign oil, and if that oil could not reach China, their economy would grind to a halt.
     Most of China's oil passes through the Strait of Malacca, and or the Lombok Strait. The Strait of Malacca is the body of water between Singapore, and Indonesia, and is 3km wide at it's widest. The Sraait carried 13.6  million bbl/d in 2009 to Asian markets (South Korea, Japan, China, Taiwan, etc). The Lombok Strait is only used by ships too large to pass through the Strait of Malacca, and is not draft limited. If the Straits of Malacca and the Lombok Strait were to be closed, say by quickstrike mines and a few 688 SSNs, things would get very hairy for the Chinese due to the fact that they have no meaningful strategic oil reserves. However, the problem arises as to what happens to the oil supply of U.S. allies Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and the Philippines.

The other oil choke point for China is her refineries, without which crude oil is just a flammable black liquid. Most of China's refineries are located on the coast, around Shanghai and to the north. If these refineries are hit by a cruise missile strike it would destroy China's ability to produce refined oil products such as jet fuel, gasoline, along with diesel and petroleum-based lubricants.
      The Spratley Islands. China has laid claim to the entire South China Sea, even going as far as to question an Indian Navy ship what it was doing in the area. China desperately needs needs new oil reserves, as all their current fields have reached maturity, and with oil consumption rising they need new oil fields to satiate their demand for oil. The Spratley Islands are sitting on top of an estimated 213 billion barrels of oil and 5 trillion cubic feet of natural gas. China wants this oil, as do Vietnam, Malaysia, Borneo, the Philippines, and Taiwan. We cannot allow China to take control of the South China Sea region, this is why the U.S. has been selling the Philippines several old Coast Guard cutters, and is among other reasons why most countries on South China Sea are building up their navy. 
     Finally, strategic oil reserves. If China's oil supply were cut, they would automatically switch over to the oil in storage. However, China only has about storage for 270 million barrels of crude oil, plus 300 million barrels is commercial storage, assuming these facilities were filled to capacity. The Chinese government also plans to establish a stockpile of 80 million barrels of refined petroleum products. This would not pose a problem to destroying the Chinese economy and military as these are fixed targets, and could be destroyed by cruise missiles like the refineries.
     This idea is primarily meant to cripple the ability of the Chinese military to function with economic effects being a side benefit. I might add that electricity production would be relatively unaffected by this, as most of it is produced by coal and natural gas. Still, the Chinese Navy would be unable to sail a great deal, and the  Air Force would be for the most part grounded for a lack of gas. And there is a historical precedent for, back in WWII the U.S. Navy specifically targeted Japanese tankers, thereby denying the IJN and IJAF of gas.

Charts from the U.S. Energy Information Administration 


Monday, April 2, 2012

A Strategy For The 21st Century, Part 8: The Air Force

     The Air Force. Airpower has in the last 100 year, determined America's success on the battlefield, and is the key to winning a war. That is why the Air Force is so important. However, the Air Force is among all the services, is the service with the most problems, here they are, and some ideas on how to fix them.
     1. Stand By The F-35A to the end. Have a contingency ready if the F-35 is canceled. The Air Force has hung it's hat on the F-35A, and must not back down. In recent months, writers like Carlo Kopp of Air Power Australia, and Bill Sweetman of Aviation Week has stepped up attacks on the F-35 (I tend to agree with them on the fact that the F-35 is a piece of crap, but at the same time a piece of crap is better than no piece of crap). The Air Force must move forward and defend the F-35A, they have done an excellent job of this, but must keep it up. Also, the Air Focre must have a Plan B in case something does happen to the F-35A, something along the lines of the F-15SE, F-16E/F, or a watered down F-22. 
     2. Develop a new ICBM and nuclear weapons. The U.S. has not developed a new ICBM since 1986, and a new nuclear weapon since 1988 (as a interesting side not, the U.S. has not conducted a nuclear test since Operation Julin in 1992). The Air Force has begun looking into developing a new ICBM to replace the Minuteman III. However, as I outlined in "Air Force Looking Into Producing A New ICBM"  there will be many problems with developing a new ICBM, especially since the the skills honed during the Cold War have been all but lost. 
     3. Develop a replacement for the B-52. The B-52 was developed in 1945, but was not actually fielded until mid-1955. The B-52 was originally a long range nuclear bomber, but is now used as a low cost bomb truck. The B-52 can carry 32,000kg (70000lbs) worth of ordnance, and with it's long range it was optimal for staying over an area and providing air support as needed. The Air Force plans to operate the B-52 through 2040, 85 years since it was first fielded in 1955. The problem here is that the Air Force has no plan for after 2040. The Air Force needs to have a replacement for the B-52 ready before 2040, as they would lose an extremely valuble capability with the retirement of the B-52.
    4. Develop a replacement for the A-10. As of 2012, the Air Force plans to field the A-10 through 2028, when it will be replaced by the F-35A. This is NOT  a smart move by the Air Force, the A-10 is designed to go low and slow and take a lot of punishment, and still get the pilot home (see example here, point made?). The F-35 simply cannot absorb several dozen 23mm hits and stay airborne.
     Once again, these are just a series of ideas, that if implemented would go aoong way towards bringing the Air Force back on track.