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Stunning photo: Hornet breaking sound barrier 10, June 2011

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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I’m no aviation aficionado whatsoever, but think that this photo is just wholly stunning.

It’s taken from the superb UPI, a site that never fails to have something interesting, new and different, as compared to its competition.

The photo is of an F/A-18c Hornet breaking the sound barrier somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.

US announce expansion of Bahrain navy base (again) 27, May 2010

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations, Bahrain.
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The US Navy is to spend nearly $600 million upgrading and expanding their navy base in Bahrain. Whilst part of this was announced some time ago, it appears that this is yet another expansion of port facilities. Clearly, they are not planning to go anywhere anytime soon.

(Incidentally, is that not the most ridiculous picture? I can almost see the incredulity on the faces of the Bahraini royals “You want ME to pick up a SHOVEL??” I bet they were chauffeured home as quickly as possible so their servants could give their hands a thorough – yet gentle – scrubbing…)

US Navy leads the way with new Zumwalt Class 25, November 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in American ME Relations.
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Aside from having a rather nifty name, it appears as if the US Navy’s newest generation of boats ships will be rather uesful. Indeed, at a cost of some $3.3 billion each along with $4 billion in lifetime running costs for of each Zumwalt Class Destroyer, this is probably just as well. For a more detailed (i.e. a remotely useful article…) looking at the new Zumwalt class ships, go to the ever-useful and interesting ISN website.

Picture: Defense Industry Daily

US expand military port in Bahrain 8, June 2009

Posted by thegulfblog.com in Bahrain.
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The ever-reliable MEED reports on the US acquisition of extra port space in Bahrain. Despite having their largest American military port outside the US already in Bahrain, the US clearly feel that they need more capacity and have thus bought up a former container port to convert to military use. Bahrain authorities will be pleased to hear this. Not only do they have to think (worry) about a potentially hostile Iran but relations with their disenfranchise Shia majority is getting increasing fractious leading to, as you can see, riots:

The MEED report, quoted at length below, also list some interesting facts about the US in Bahrain.

The 5th Fleet has some 3,500 personnel and 16 vessels based in Bahrain, while the total fleet numbers 25,000 sailors and marines, and close to 40 ships. The vacant facilities at Mina Salman will provide the navy with 15 extra berths, cargo and container facilities.The current lease agreement at the site sees the navy pay the Bahrain government $6.7m a year for use of its current 265,000 sq m of space in Bahrain, including harbour patrol space and berthing at Mina Salman, and aviation unit space at Bahrain International airport. The US will pay an additional $2.9m a year for the extra waterfront space.

“The navy’s lease agreement is renewed on a yearly basis, with an indefinite number of renewal terms,” says the spokeswoman.

The US is also seeking permission to build a flyover bridge linking its base close to Mina Salman with the port itself, to improve security for US personnel.

Had the agreement not gone ahead, other ventures for the site had been proposed. “If the base had not been there I think Mina Salman would have been converted into a tourist terminal but with the fleet next door that wasn’t really viable,” says a ports official in Bahrain.

Bahrain’s new commercial facility, Khalifa Bin Salman Port, received its first ships in April and is operated by the Dutch group APM Terminals.

The site has initial container capacity for 1 million 20-foot equivalent units.

China and their defence budget: devious or defensive? 6, March 2008

Posted by thegulfblog.com in China.
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There are two broad theses regarding China’s future. The first suggests that China is essentially a peacefully creature looking to expand its economy, improve its society, and generally emerge as a modern developed nation. It will do this by being neither more nor less aggressive than any other country in the state system.

The alternative thesis suggests that China is an angry country. For the vast majority of its history it was the superpower in its corner of the world. This all came to an end with the arrival, interference, and subjugation at the hands of Europeans (and the Japanese briefly). China is, therefore, seeking to emerge from its ‘century of humiliation’ and eager to reassert its rightful place at the top of the international tree. They will pursue this goal single-mindedly and with vigour, spurred on by the painful and humiliating memories of its recent history.

These opinions (though particularly the latter) can clearly be seen as soon as China releases its defence spending figures. Now that the Soviet Union is dead and buried (in its old guise at least) the US Department of Defence (DOD) now produces an annual assessment of the Chinese military threat as opposed to the Soviet one. This time around the headline is China’s 17.6% increase in defence spending. That sounds like a lot. Yet, if the absolute figure is compared to US defence spending and assuming that China has released an honest appraisal of its spending (which many people doubt), then we are comparing China’s paltry $57.2 billion to the US’ mammoth $700 billion. Even accounting for any Chinese ‘creative accounting’ when arriving at the $57.2 figure, it would still be utterly dwarfed by US spending.

However, it is not really the money per se that has the US DOD worried, but what they are spending it on and the apparent furtiveness with which China seek to disguise such spending.

Firstly, the Chinese are – sensibly – employing asymmetric tactics when it comes to thinking about America and its military. For example, the US navy currently has twenty-four aircraft carriers, which is more than twice the number that the rest of the world has put together and twenty-four times as many as China. These gigantic floating fortresses are staggeringly powerful and play a crucial role in guaranteeing America’s pre-eminence in the Pacific and elsewhere. China – somewhat unsportingly as far as the US DOD are concerned – are not spending hundreds of billions of dollars on creating their own fleet of aircraft carriers, but instead only tens or hundreds of millions of dollars on designing and producing highly advanced cruise missiles with the potential capability of taking out America’s aircraft carriers. Other important aspects of China’s asymmetric warfare potential are their development of satellite-killing missiles to take advantage of the US military’s dependence on their spying and communication satellites as well as China’s apparent investment in cyber-warfare.

David Sedney the US deputy assistant secretary of defence for East Asia neatly describes America’s secondary concern.

“China’s military build-up has been characterized by opacity…The real story is the continuing development, the continuing modernization, the continuing acquisition of capabilities and the corresponding and unfortunate lack of understanding, lack of transparency about the intentions of those and how they are going to be employed. What is China going to do with all that?”

America seem to want China to be more forthcoming than rational prudence would suggest is sensible. Of course China is keeping some things a secret from the rest of the world. Why is this such a great shock? All countries do this to some degree. Whilst America may well be one of the most open countries about such things, they are the world hegemon and account for 48% of the world’s spending on the military, as much as China, Russia, the UK, France, Japan, Germany, Italy, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, India, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Spain, Turkey, Israel, the Netherlands, the UAE, Taiwan, Greece, Iran, Myanmar, Singapore, Poland, Sweden, Colombia, Chile, Belgium, Egypt, Pakistan, Denmark, Indonesia, Switzerland, Kuwait, South Africa, Oman, Malaysia, Mexico, Portugal, Algeria, Finland, Austria, Venezuela, the Czech Republic, Romania, Qatar and Thailand put together. They have nearly 170,000 troops between China and America, including nearly 70,000 right on China’s doorstep. This list of the manifestations of American pre-eminence, as you can probably imagine, could go on for a while. In short, it is easy to be sanctimonious and somewhat smug when you have such staggering hegemony.

Yet just think of how China sees the American position. They see, I would argue, American military presence filtered through two prisms: Taiwan and resource procurement. Taiwan is one of the most sensitive subjects for China. They see it as an utterly private and internal matter. They viscerally despise American intervention in it and it is often – rightly – quoted as a potential flashpoint for US-Chinese relations. China, therefore, see the advanced American hardware floating around the South China sea (and indeed, just about every other sea of importance). They see the 70,000 American troops stationed in South Korea (less than a three hour flight away), Japan (less than a four hour flight away) and Guam (armed with long-range stealth B-2s). They see America’s huge defence budget. They see and believe America’s stated stance to defend Taiwan in the event of Chinese aggression, and are, somewhat understandably, nervous.

China’s other prism is that of resource protection. China is becoming ever increasingly dependent on Middle Eastern oil despite numerous attempts to procure other energy sources from other locales. Whilst they have very good relations with the producing states themselves, they still have to get it back to the homeland. The only viable way to do this (for the medium term at least) is to ship it. The problem here is – again – that America rules the waves. No nation on earth would have its lifeline so firmly in the hands of another power, friendly or unfriendly. China has tried to redress this balance by establishing a base on Gwadar in Pakistan, close to the Straits of Hormuz from where they can project some power. Also, as the US DOD report points out, China will have almost twice as many submarines as America by 2010. Whilst this is an important statistic, it must be remembered that the vast majority of these submarines are vastly inferior to their American counterparts and don’t forget the rest of the American hi-tech arsenal. Overall, therefore, China is still woefully outmatched by America on this front. Hence their asymmetric stance.

There is clearly enough information in these arguments which sounds sufficiently plausible and convincing to make either case. The numbers can be alarming. Yet if the situation can be seen from the Chinese perspective many of China’s actions seem like a perfectly reasonable course of action, however much we in the West may see them as unnecessary.