Friday, July 31, 2015

Beware China’s ‘Basing’ Strategy: Former US Navy Chief

Beware China’s ‘Basing’ Strategy: Former US Navy Chief

Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Beware China’s ‘Basing’ Strategy: Former US Navy Chief

Admiral Gary Roughead issues a warning about Beijing’s growing network of ‘places.’



China is developing a widening network of strategic ‘bases’ that further heightens the challenge it poses to the United States, a former U.S. naval chief told a conference Tuesday.

Beijing has already sought to secure access and rights in strategic countries to boost its influence and support its naval forces as it deploys them further out for patrols in the Indian Ocean or anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa. These include ports in Oman, Pakistan and Djibouti.

But Admiral Gary Roughead, the former Chief of Naval Operations, told a two-day conference at the Center for Naval Analyses that Beijing may be looking to expand its network of distributed, critical outposts across regions for various functions including projecting power, establishing necessary supporting infrastructure and gathering intelligence. New nodes, Roughead said, may include Greece to establish a foothold in the energy-rich Eastern Meditteranean and even Iran which already has a burgeoning maritime partnership with Beijing.

“We are beginning to see the Chinese version of ‘places not bases’,” Roughead said in his keynote address, using the term U.S. officials use to distinguish between older, tighter agreements it had with allies like Japan to permanently station forces there and looser pacts offering temporary and limited access to facilities as with Singapore.

Apart from Greece and Iran, Roughead said that further nodes could be developed as well, especially if they are “synchronized” with China’s ambitious ‘One Belt, One Road’ initiative which seeks to boost connectivity and cooperation primarily with countries in Eurasia. However, he stressed that this network would be stitched together with a “light touch” and be “distributed,” quite apart from the more alarmist ‘string of pearls’ interpretations that continue to persist.

He also urged to think of China’s island-building activities in the South China Sea in a similar way, with Beijing looking to use its artificial islands to build maritime infrastructure, enhance its power projection capabilities, and establish information nodes to improve its surveillance of the region.

The confluence of Chinese economic initiatives and its ongoing military buildup, he said, made Beijing the most consequential strategic challenge facing the United States today, in spite of the fact that many in the United States may now perceive greater threats from the Islamic State or Russia.

Roughead said he was not yet worried about the United States being outmatched militarily since it had a significant qualitative advantage in spite of Chinese quantitative advances, ensuring that Washington would be “in a good place” for at least the next decade. But he acknowledged that those rising Chinese numbers would matter over time. In particular, if Beijing continues increasing its out of area missions and boosting key capabilities – including submarines – Roughead said the United States would need to make adjustments to ensure it maintains its relative position.

“Numbers will continue to matter, and presence will be the driver,” he said.

In terms of capabilities, he encouraged the United States to continue with ongoing to shift more resources from the Atlantic to Pacific, including at least another aircraft carrier and an additional amphibious ready group to help support Southeast Asia. He also emphasized the need to invest in key areas like cyber and never relinquish American dominance in the undersea domain.

Beyond what Washington could do itself, he stressed the need for more engagement with traditional U.S. allies like Japan and Australia but also emerging partners like Vietnam and India. He also joined the chorus of former U.S. officials in underscoring the importance of the 12-member Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, noting that the U.S. stock in the region would be “significantly less” if it is not concluded.

“Our China strategy needs to be more about our allies and partners instead of about China,” Roughead said.

More broadly, he called for the United States to extend its strategic thinking from shorter stints out to the end of the next U.S. administration in 2024. He said this would make more sense since it would be much more in line with potential leadership transitions in the region, with Xi Jinping’s leadership ending in 2022 and key U.S. partners Prime Ministers Abe and Modi potentially lasting up till then as well.

“My bottom line here is that we need to put away the calendars,” Roughead said.

Despite his concerns about China’s behavior, Roughead also did say that the United States ought to seek cooperation with Beijing where possible. He urged Washington to seize opportunities to work with the Chinese navy in the far seas where possible and to continue to try to make progress in the cyber domain despite existing differences.

Beyond that, he also stressed that the United States needs to get to know the new generation of China’s military leaders that they would be dealing with over the next few years.

“There is a new generation of…leadership and we need to get to know them,” he said.

USS Indianapolis survivors honored with special brew

Mare Island Brewing Co. co-founder Ryan Gibbons poses with a bottle of a specially-brewed pale ale, ‘Survivor’s Tale Pale Ale,’ created in honor of the 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis and the subsequent heroic tale of its survivors. MIKE JORY — VALLEJO TIMES-HERALD

The USS Indianapolis is shown at the dry docks on Mare Island on July 12, 1945.ASSOCIATED PRESS — NAVAL HISTORICAL CENTER

The 70th anniversary of the sinking of the USS Indianapolis — known as the worst disaster in U.S. naval history — is being commemorated here in a unique way: A specially-brewed pale ale by Mare Island Brewing Company named the “Survivor’s Tale Pale Ale.”

The USS Indianapolis was hit and sunk by two Japanese torpedoes in World War II on July 30, 1945, while travelling in the Philippine Sea.

On board was a crew of 1,196 men, 300 of whom perished with the ship. The remaining survivors were left out to sea for four days dealing with shark-infested waters and a lack of food and drinkable water. By the time the group was spotted, the number of survivors totaled only 317 men.

Mare Island was one of the last locations the ship and crew spent in the United States before heading on its mission to carry portions of the first atomic bomb — “Little Boy” — that would later be dropped on Hiroshima, helping to bring an end to the war.

Mare Island Brewing Company co-owners Ryan Gibbons and Kent Fortner were approached last year by Peggy McCall Campo, Secretary for the USS Indianapolis Survivors Organization, to come up with a unique beer for the group of survivors. But as a new company, the brewery and tap room were barely up and running, thus unable for work on the project. Gibbons, whose father is a naval history enthusiast, never forgot the group and in February began working on a beer with Fortner to honor the survivors.

“They were looking to have something from the area at last year’s reunion and she fell upon the brewery and thought it’d be great to have a beer,” Gibbons said. “(At the time) we didn’t have any beer that we could donate or send out and what we ended up doing was we sent out 36 of our logo pint glasses ... and the guys were really thrilled about that.”

“Ever since then I’ve stayed in contact with Peggy (Campo) and I said, ‘I’m going to make you a beer.’”

The beer was made with the Indianapolis and its crew in mind, with the idea that Gibbons would bring the beer to the reunion of the ship’s crew and family members and present it at a banquet in Indianapolis on July 25. Starting in 1960, the survivors had made it a point to meet up and see one another.

In recent years, the reunion became an annual tradition, with 14 of the remaining 31 survivors attending this past weekend’s gathering.

Harold Bray, 88, of Benicia is one of the survivors of the Indianapolis who attended the reunion, saying that it is a social occasion and the only time the group can talk to one another about their stories.

“Our families come to the reunion to know the story and we hope they carry on the legacy of our ship,” Bray wrote in an email after the reunion. “I’ve talked to groups, schools, and organizations about our story. It should never be forgotten — especially the court martial of our captain, Charles McVay, due to the mistakes by the Navy.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind story — the sinking of our ship, being lost at sea for five days, the court martial of our captain, the Navy bringing the Japanese Commander of I-58 submarine that sank us to Washington to testify against our captain, and the curiosity of an 11-year-old boy, Hunter Scott, that ultimately led to the exoneration of our captain.”

Bray’s captain, Charles McVay III, was only recently cleared of charges brought against him following the sinking of the Indianapolis. He had been convicted of placing the ship in harm’s way. Scott’s research of the ship helped pave the way for McVay’s exoneration in 2001, when Scott researched the sinking as a part of school report.

The reunion is of importance not just for the survivors but for the families and for people like Gibbons, who attended the weekend’s festivities and presented the beer and its label honoring the ship and its crew. Gibbons was proud to bring a beer from Vallejo to serve to the group and spoke of the honor it was for him to help create this special pale ale.

“(I told them) ‘We’re really honored to carry on the tradition and story of the crew of the Indianapolis so we’ve made the survivor’s tale pale ale in honor of you,” Gibbons said, recalling the unveiling at Saturday night’s banquet. “I held up a bottle and the whole room of 500 people just erupted. I said ‘beer’ and after all that, my nerves went away and everyone was just tuned in to what I had to say.”

Campo, whose father Donald McCall was an Indianapolis survivor, hopes the beer will serve to educate those unaware of the ship’s place in history.

“I hope that what comes of this (is) that when people are in the tap room and enjoying the beer, that they will reflect on the story of the USS Indianapolis,” Campo said. “They have an incredible history of service and in their time during the war, they’ve earned 10 battle stars and they were torpedoed and sunk after completing their secret mission ... and they lost 880 men — that’s just a huge number of lost sailors and Marines.”

For Gibbons, the weekend was a way for him to not only commemorate the sinking with the bottles of beer, but for him to meet some of the men from the Indianapolis and speak with them about their experience.

“For me, the biggest takeaway is perseverance,” Gibbons said of the reunion. “These guys went through some of the worst hell ever and seeing their friends and shipmates drowning and eaten by sharks and their will to live and to carry on and get back to their family ... it’s just powerful. You can’t explain it. This is one of those moments where you’re face to face with history and you realize as an American that freedom isn’t free.”

Russia to open first repository for extremely hazardous radioactive waste, but experts have doubts


Seversk chemical combine

Russia’s first point for long term storage of “special” radioactive waste is to be built at the site of the EI-2 uranium graphite weapons-grade plutonium production reactor in Siberia’s closed nuclear city of Seversk by the end of December, Russian news sources reported.

The repository will rely on exclusively natural barriers between the environment and some of the most radioactively dangerous waste generated in the history of nuclear weapons production.

But scant information on what this barrier will consist of and and how effective it will be have caused doubts about its touted safety among Bellona’s nuclear experts.

The storage site’s completion should, according to reports in Russian media, coincide with the decommissioning of the EI-2 reactor, which is slated before the end of 2015. The repository will hold waste from that and other weapons-grade plutonium manufacturing reactors at the Seversk site.

Russia’s 2011 law on Management of Radioactive Waste characterizes as “special” radioactive waste that is too risky or too expensive to move.

Siberian Chemical Comine Seversk

The Siberian Chemical Combine at Seversk’s radiochemical plant. (Photo: Siberian Chemical Combine)

The project to store the special waste at Seversk was announced to RIA-Novosti on Tuesday by Andrei Izmestyev of the Pilot and Demonstration Center for Decommissioning of Uranium-Graphite Reactors, a division of Russia’s state nuclear company Rosatom that was tasked with implementing a decommissioning concept for the country’s 13 shut-down uranium-graphite military plutonium production reactors.

The production reactors are located across Russia, with five at Ozersk, which hosts the Mayak Chemical Combine, three at Zheleznogorsk’s Mining & Chemical Combine, and five at Seversk. Together, they produced 170 tons of weapon-grade plutonium between 1948 and 1994, according to the World Nuclear Association.

The EI-2 will the first of Seversk’s reactors to be decommissioned. It’s Russia’s first dual-purpose production uranium-graphite reactor, capable of supplying thermal heat for energy and weapons grade nuclear material the same time.

The remaining four reactors at Seversk should be decommissioned by 2030, Seversk’s director, Sergei Tochilin, told RIA Novosti in October.

The decommissioning concept developed by the Pilot and Demonstration Center provides for building multiple safety barriers and sealing off shut down reactors rather than dismantling them individually.

This approach is estimated to cost $ 67 million per reactor. The reactors produced some 170 tons of weapon-grade plutonium between 1948 and 1994, according to the World Nuclear Association.

Izmestyev told the news agency that, by law, waste produced by government armament and defense programs –such as the production reactors at Seversk – and waste which arises as a result of a nuclear accident is automatically characterized as “special.”

Siberian Chemical Combine 2

Centrifuges enrich uranium hexafluoride with uranium 235. (Photo:

He also said that the technologies that would be used to store the special waste were specifically developed for the purposes at Seversk, and are the first of their kind, RIA Novosti quoted him as saying.

“Thanks to the developed technology […] there’s a way for the first time in world practice to safely decommission a uranium-graphite nuclear reactor via in-situ storage” with the creation of repository for special radioactive waste, he said.

Alexei Shchukin, expert for nuclear programs with the Environmental Rights Center (ERC) Bellona, said that such boasts without any description of the technology involved are less than desired for an undertaking this dangerous. He also doubted that the technology referred to by Izmestyev was truly as innovative as he suggested to the news portal.

“There is very little information in these comments,” Shchukin said by email. “As is known, the half life of carbon-14 [which is a radioactive by product of irradiating graphite] is 57,000 years – that means at minimum you need at minimum 60,000 years of storage so the radioactivity can reach acceptably low levels.”

Izmestyev said that additional safety barriers between the special waste produced by the EI-2 and the environment were created with exclusively natural materials. He did not specify, however, what these natural barriers were made of and how they would be fabricated into the needed protective shielding.

Email requests to the Pilot and Demonstration Center sent do Bellona have gone unanswered.

“Yes, some clays that have unchangeable properties in all directions is capable of such storage,” said Shchukin. “How to achieve such properties in a man made barrier is beyond my understanding – whatever the case, it had better be able to control the escape of radionuclides for countless thousands of years.”

Izmestyev told RIA Novosti that, “Any technological material has its limited terms of usefulness, where the application of natural materials guarantees nuclear and radiological safety for tens of thousands of years.”

Bellona will continue to send Izmestyev requests requesting information on the technical specifications of the repository and its natural components.

Charles Digges

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