Monday, June 17, 2019

Iranian Tanker Attack

By now, you’ve read about the two tankers, one Norwegian and one Japanese, supposedly attacked by Iranian forces in the Gulf of Oman on 13-Jun-2019.  The US believes the Iranians were responsible.  Publicly released evidence is sketchy but includes,
  • Photos and video, provided by US Central Command, of Iranian boats removing an unexploded limpet mine from a tanker. (1)
  • Unverified report of an Iranian vessel firing a surface-to-air missile at a US MQ-9 Reaper UAV a few hours before the tanker attacks. (1)
  • The belief that no other actor in the region would have the motivation, skill, and resources to conduct such an attack. (2)

On a related note, the crew of the Japanese ship reported being attacked by a flying object but there has been no other such reports or verification. (2)

Also on a related note, you might recall that a month ago four oil tankers were damaged in an attack off the coast of the United Arab Emirates using what were likely limpet mines. (2)

The US appears satisfied with whatever evidence it has and is blaming the Iranians for the attacks.

"It is the assessment of the U.S. government that Iran is responsible for today's attacks in the Gulf of Oman," Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said. "These attacks are a threat to international peace and security, a blatant assault on the freedom of navigation, and an unacceptable escalation of tension by Iran." (1)

As I said, the publicly released evidence is sketchy although the video of the Iranian boat removing the limpet mine is fairly damning.  One would assume that the US has additional evidence that it prefers not to release so as to protect sources although that’s just speculation on my part. 

Photo From Surveillance Video Showing Iranian Boat Removing Limpet Mine From Tanker

Let’s set aside the question of absolute proof or not and, instead, examine the larger issue of maritime security and the US Navy’s role.

By their own claim, the US Navy’s mission is to ensure the freedom of the maritime global commons.  From the Navy website,

The mission of the Navy is to maintain, train and equip combat-ready Naval forces capable of winning wars, deterring aggression and maintaining freedom of the seas. (3)

So, the Navy exists not just to protect US-flagged shipping but to deter aggression, apparently from any source and directed anywhere and at anyone and to maintain the ‘freedom of the seas’ which, again, suggests that the Navy is defending the maritime commons for ALL nations.  Thus, an attack on any country’s ship constitutes aggression, which is the Navy’s self-proclaimed mission to prevent, and a threat to the general freedom of the seas which, again, is the Navy’s job to prevent.  This then eliminates the idea that since the attacked ships weren’t US-flagged, the Navy can’t get involved.

We have, then, ample justification for naval action with the only question being, against whom?  Since we just read that the US Secretary of State is unequivocally assigning the blame to Iran, it follows that the Navy is duty bound to take action against Iran.

Now, suppose we don’t take action.  This would lead one to wonder why we bother with our much ballyhooed forward presence.  What’s the point of presence if we won’t take action when we believe we have clear evidence of aggression and a threat to the freedom of the seas?  The Navy justifies its ships, deployments, operating costs, etc. on the basis of forward presence and yet that forward presence is rarely, bordering on never, used.

We have seen a pattern of inaction in response to provocations, aggression, and threats.  For example, the Iranians illegally seized our boats and crews when they were lost, the Chinese have made outrageous territorial claims and attributed non-existent attributes to EEZ zones, the Russians have conducted multiple unsafe aerial and naval acts around our forces, the Chinese have ordered us out of ‘their’ South China Sea (ignoring the fact that it is international waters!), the Chinese have seized our unmanned underwater vehicles, the Iranians have interfered with our carrier aviation operations, and the list goes on and on – a buffet of aggression and threats to the freedom of the seas.  The only recent exception to this pattern of inaction on our part was the launching of some Tomahawks at purported radar sites in Yemen in response to a claimed attack on a Burke destroyer – an attack that public evidence strongly suggests never occurred.

So, I repeat, why are we wasting time, effort, and resources maintaining a forward presence when we clearly have no intention of using them?  Now, perhaps I’ll be surprised and wake up tomorrow to read about a retaliatory attack on Iran but I suspect not.  If we’re not going to use the Navy then bring the ships and crews home and let’s save unimaginable amounts of money.

The video of the Iranians removing the mine from the ship was taken by a US drone.  What better opportunity and justification could there be for action?  Instead, we did nothing.  The fleet is useless.  It’s accomplishing nothing.  Bring it home.


(1)Business Insider website, “An Iranian boat reportedly fired a missile at a US drone right before the tanker attack”, Ryan Pickrell, 15-Jun-2019,

(2)BBC News website, “Gulf of Oman tanker attacks: US says video shows Iran removing mine”, 14-Jun-2019,


  1. There’ s growing evidence that it was Iranian limpet mines.
    This also shows the old fashioned danger of well trained frogmen. A seal with a limpet mine is quieter than a sub on passive and looks like a shark on active sonar. Too bad we use most of our SEALs in desert mountains.

    This is also the kind of incursion patrol craft are meant to deal with. Patrols like the one that surrendered to Iran without a shot.

    Your “in or out” approach is right on the money.
    I vote “in” but we have fight like we are in.

    An important thing to remember is that this was probably not the actual Iranian Navy but their religious secret police/terrorist units. (The name escapes me at the moment). So if the US wanted to show counter-aggression, we could specifically target their paramilitary units. Perhaps raiding the paramilitary ports in a similar fashion assuming the seals remember how to swim after traipsing around Afghanistan for a decade.

    1. Correction to above : I should have specified a “stunned or concussed shark” on active as some sonars are quite potent at close range.

    2. "well trained frogmen"....sorry but that video only shows a bunch of guys standing around on a boat. I'm not even sure anybody was pulling guard duty!LOL! Anyways, if USA had them under surveillance, why didn't we intercept the boat in open waters after it left the tanker? Why don't we see the video of the boat arriving or nearing Iranian water?....there's quite a few things just weird about this video but back to point, why didn't USA do anything about it right then and there? Sounds like a perfect opportunity to catch Iran with it's hand in the cookie jar and we let it pass. Bad SOP or bad ROE, doesn't matter, we waited and USN didn't do anything. We have a TF there, Im sure we have some SEALs in the region, not like we don't have enough assets, maybe USN really does need an LCS in theater! LOL!

    3. " We have a TF there"

      This is the point of the post. Why have these expensive forces deployed if we refuse to use them? Bring 'em home and save money.

    4. True, we keep hearing how US carriers are the big stick and how we need USN forward deployed to be a deterrent and the Iranians? went straight up to a tanker and put some mines on it, then screwed up and went back to retrieve it right under our noses....doesn't sound like "deterrence" and "big stick" are working....if we aren't going to use any of this stuff, why are we there now for??? And are we sure a carrier is a "deterrent" anymore? Sure doesn't seem to deter Iran...or who ever did it....

      All jesting aside, this would have been a good time to have some LCSs, some ASW assets, plenty of ISR, some SEALS, etc,not sure we really need a carrier and high end assets, if we need presence, let's do it with cheaper and far more available ships than 1 carrier....makes one wonder if USN knows what it really needs to do a job...or if it has what it needs to do a job.

    5. I wouldn't be at all surprised to find the Saudis had something to do with this instead of the Iranians.

      The Front Altair loaded in Abu Dhabi. The Kokuka Courageous loaded in Messiad, Qatar.

      Placing some limpets in either port probably wouldn't be out of the question.

      What does confuse the issue is there is no consistent pattern. Qatar are the UAE are very definitely NOT buddies right now. Saudi and the UAE are the best of buddies.

      Qatar and Iran work closely together to manage the enormous North Gas Field that spans their borders, which is one of the reasons the UAE dislikes Qatar so much.

      Iran is mostly Shiite, the UAE and Saudi are mostly Sunni as is Qatar.


  2. Alt-history, 6/15/2019

    The US Navy has conducted an major bombardment of Iranian
    port facilities, as a task group headed by the USS Zumwalt and USS Monsoor escorted by 11 Littoral combat ships.
    The Monsoor and Zumwalt fired over 300 high precison shells doing extensive damage to port facilities and Iranian fast attack craft. The Iranian attempt to
    attack the Navy vessels resulted was easily repelled
    by the escort ships. No damage to US ships was reported.

    1. The preferred method in situations like this is a cruise missile strike.

    2. Alternatively, based on the claims of the F-35 supporters, a single F-35 could penetrate Iranian air space, land undetected at an Iranian base, taxi around shooting up everything, take a moment to spread democracy, and leave, all without ever being seen.

    3. Next time I'll tag my post "bitter-irony"

      I prefer "Hell Divers" staring the Saratoga and Wallace Beery.

    4. I'm afraid as soon as the F-35 opened its ordinance bay to disburse a barrage of strongly-worded leaflets, it would appear on their radar screens...

    5. "Attempts by the F-35 to distribute chocolate to Iranian schoolchildren result in grotesque candy related wounds. High-velocity candy-jacketed M&Ms pierced flesh and shattered bones. Melted Hershey bars melted upon release, creating a spray of milk chocolate napalm...."

  3. "land undetected...spread democracy, and leave..."
    Thanks for the morning laugh to accompany my coffee...!! Wow those F-35s ARE amazing!!
    Good points about forward forces not being used. Iran has bern a pain in the worlds *** since 1979. I think our lack of response right now is more a political game to try and get world opinion to swing against Iran, and other nations involved. As much as I could care less about world opinion, and think taking Iran down a few notches is overdue, I do tire of us being the "world police". Its not that it doesnt need to be done, I just wish our "Allies" took a greater part in it. For instance the Spanish frigate leaving the Lincoln group when this newest escalation started. Frankly when we send a carrier to a hot-spot, there ought to be a half dizen more ships from other countries tagging along. When the call to send some cruise missles comes, they should be firing theirs... Let our "Allies" expend some of their defense dollars for a change!! Dont misunderstand this for wanting to ignore Iran. Sooner or later, we are going to end up in a scuffle with them, and we ought to absolutely crush their military capabilities, as well as destroy any nuclear program sites while we are at it. Id just like to see some help with the heavy lifting for a change!!

    1. It is a potentially valid position to stand back and say, if the Norwegians want to protect their ship, let them send a warship and if Japan wants to protect its ship, let them send a warship. If it's not our ship, we don't protect it.

      Of course, there are drawbacks to that position, as well.

  4. USN forward presence is a long term commitment due to Pax Americana disposition. POTUS comes and goes, and a black swan Presidency of Trump is rarer still.

    Unless that disposition changes, USN just have to weather coming & going of WH tenures, including this one.

  5. "Now, suppose we don’t take action. This would lead one to wonder why we bother with our much ballyhooed forward presence."

    We obviously haven't struck back at Iran militarily, which I don't think is warranted at this point. But, we don't know what is being done that isn't being reported. I'm sure were ramping up patrols and surveillance in the area. I'm sure were applying diplomatic pressure on Iran too and encouraging our allies to do the same. Maybe we put Iran on notice that the US will sink any Iranian ship laying mines in international waters.

    1. "ramping up patrols"

      ??? I'm sure that would have Iran quaking in their boots!

      "applying diplomatic pressure"

      How much more diplomatic pressure can we apply than we already have? Talk about an absolutely pointless, useless gesture.

      "encouraging our allies to do the same."

      Yeah, that's gonna work because our allies are the ones who want to remove sanctions and make treaties with Iran.

      "on notice that the US will sink any Iranian ship laying mines in international waters. "

      So, they can attach limpet mines but not lay mines? I'm not quite getting how the one is okay but the other is not.

      Look, obviously Iran pays no attention to our threats and warnings, whatsoever. Appeasement only encourages more aggression. At some point, you have to punch the bully in the nose.

      " I don't think is warranted at this point."

      So, where is your tipping point? Apparently you're okay with mining international ships (6 in the last month, it appears!).

    2. Remember if we go to war with Iran, it has to be total victory. We can't allow them to remain intact and do this again. That means a massive bombing campaign followed by a ground invasion in order to achieve Iran's unconditional surrender. Then there is the rebuilding phase to install, if not a democratic government, at least a benign authoritarian government.

  6. None of these attacks were on US ships or in US waters. While Norway and Japan are allies who can call on mutual defense treaties, they haven't even asked for military action. If they want it they darned well ought to pitch in, too.

    Until someone actually requests US action and puts some of their own troops on the line there is zero reason for us to be involved.

    Forward presence is a crock. It costs money better spent on maintenance and training...

    1. "Forward presence is a crock. It costs money better spent on maintenance and training..."

      That was the point of the post! The Navy's mission, in their own words, is defense of the global maritime commons which means we defend the ships of every country. We need to either change that mission to just defending US ships or we need to execute our stated mission. Right now, we just look weak and impotent.

  7. I will say so far while looks like Iran as somebody above noted I not sure I can shake the feeling that pushing the US into action would not be something the House of Saud would not do. I mean really attacking a Japanese tanker while the Japanese PM was in Iran? Or maybe we have factionalism in Iran I can also see hardliners wanting to force a confrontation so they could spin a US reaction into getting the upper hand over moderates.

    I not sure what the good push back is except maybe shadow Iranian ships more aggressively and with more fire power not just tiny boats that have no hope resistance.

    On Russia just ignore Putin we really don't want to go back to the Cuban missile crises thing again and if the record shows the Russians and instigators we are in a better place when they screw up and actually cause a collision.

    On China we should push hard back. We need the navy to be out helping everyone who gets armed intimidation from China over its we own the sea BS. And why not buy some fishing boats and park them next the islands, with back up just over the horizon.

    1. A dozen ships like the Pegasus class might be nice fast small and armed to the teeth for responding to Iran.

    2. "Pay no attention to the Saudi behind the curtains..."

      This is a win for Saudi hardliners including MBS. Its a win for Iranian hardliners.

      Both sides would like nothing better than to drag the US into a shooting war. The tricky part is going to be staying out of one.

    3. " Its a win for Iranian hardliners."

      I get that there could be a benefit for Saudi Arabia but where's the benefit to Iran to provoke the US into a shooting war?

    4. If Iran can can pull the US into something premature without rock-solid proof, then there is a lot to gain politically in Iran and the broader world community.

      I believe there is a substantial faction within the Iran leadership that is unconvinced the US has the appetite for the level of struggle involved in bringing Iran to heel. US Embassy hostage incident plus the Persian Empire history as contributing factors.

      If these tanker attacks really are Iran baiting the US, then the little bit of low-intensity "dabbling" we are seeing so far seems to be designed to achieve a disproportionate knee-jerk reaction that may judged badly.

      This feels a bit like a Russian doll currently. Lots of he said, she said misdirection with a lot of smoke and not much fire. I smell a rat, just not sure which nationality or faction.

    5. The risk Iran runs is that a shooting war could mean the end of the Iran, as it currently exists. This would be the ultimate disaster for the (presumably dead after that) Iranian leadership. That is a LOT of risk for a fairly small gain. On the other hand, no has ever accused Iranian leadership of excessive intelligence.

    6. This article ties in well with my thoughts and our discussion.

    7. I discourage links with no discussion or value added. What aspect(s) of the article do you find particularly interesting and why? Give me some value to the comment/link.

    8. Its just a reference to expand the thought that Iran (or at least certain leadership factions) may be trying to bait the US into a hasty response.

      With little marine pollution and loss of life, it would be hard to justify a massive retaliation.

      Where I'm struggling is what would happen next? Let's say the US launches a strike on mainly military and nuclear targets with a couple of hundred cruise missiles? I can see Iran being prepared to accept the damage, then paint the US as the Great Satan yet again.

      But would Israel join in? If so, what would the Arab Gulf think about that, particularly when they are already splintered over Qatar?

      Qatar has a pretty high quality but small military and has a HUGE problem with Saudi and the UAE. But they get along pretty well with Iran and extremely well with Turkey. Qatar also hosts the biggest US base in the entire Middle East at Al-Udeid Air Base just outside Doha. That base is widely and accurately viewed as a hedge against Saudi aggression.

      Qatar is regularly accused of "stealing" CentCom from Saudi, which is arguably exactly what happened in 2003.

      Oman, for example, also has a pretty good military and has stayed out of the squabbling so far. Would China or India get involved? They both buy Iranian oil.

      Would Turkey get involved? They are not a huge fan of the US at the moment over F-35s/S-400s and they are somewhat of a supporter of Iran. Big military but not much clarity as to real capabilities.

      Great little propaganda piece here about how everyone around the Gulf is busy stabbing each other in the back.

      and a really good if somewhat dated article on how this mess came about in recent times.

      Personally I don't see anything good coming to the US from getting involved in this mess. As has been rightly pointed out, there is no requirement for either the oil or Liquefied Natural Gas any more beyond a minor inconvenience in redistributing supply. The Chinese, Japanese, Indians and others do need the product.

      Let them sort it out themselves.

    9. Good contribution. I'm struggling to see any real benefit to Iran for goading the US. They've already pronounced us the Great Satan. It's not like that will get any worse. Every country interested in the region has already picked sides and formed opinions. One skirmish, more or less, isn't going to change anyone's minds.

      On the negative side, Iran risks angering Norway and Japan who are potential oil buyers (sanctions aside) and risks angering the countries that supported the UN agreement.

      Several people have put forth various conspiracy theories but I'm just not seeing the core logic. Of course, Iran is not logical or rational by our standards so they may have goals that we don't/can't see or that make no sense to us.

  8. Never fight a war that you don't intend to win. We've tied down how many personnel in now 3 Mideast countries for a decade plus, without any idea of what is a win, much less how to go about attaining such a win.

    Either fight to win or come home. Forward deployed means nothing if those forward deployed forces are not looking to win.

    Thanks to shale, North America is basically energy independent, so we don't need the oil from there. Who does need the oil, absolutely, would be India, China, and Japan. Either knock out Bandar Abbas or admit that we aren't there to win and come home.

    As an aside, perhaps more to the point with respect to Syria, never never never never fight a war when you don't want anybody to win.

    1. And even more important than fighting to win is having some idea what winning looks like (i.e. goal/ end state).

  9. The strategic asymmetry driving international relations in the post-2003 era is that the US prefers things to remain peaceful and stable, whereas our opponents (chiefly Russia & Iran, but also Venezuela, Cuba, Syria, China...) see advantage in destabilizing the world, thus making US hegemony difficult to maintain.

    (Are we wrong in our calculus? I don't think so. We are rich, secure, and trade-dependent. A world with more atomic weapons, more violence, more unrest, more suffering only tends to reduce those advantages.)

    However, the law of entropy says chaos is a lot cheaper to create than order--hence our enemies have a much easier job.

    In that context, the question is not whether we can make Iran feel pain, but whether that will help us achieve our objectives.

    One may reasonably disagree with the Iran deal, Cuba rapprochement, etc., but the strategic calculation underlying that foreign policy was that the best way to enhance global stability was to show "bad actors" they had something to gain. Carrot.

    More recently we've largely relied on brandishing the stick instead (though Trump is clearly hesitant to actually use it). But even if we unleash the stick, in the near term it increases destabilization, thus works to our enemy's benefit. Iraq 2003 created instabilities we're still paying for, and which have created many openings for Russia and China. So, before acting, one has to have good reason to expect that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs.

    With respect to Iran, I think that calculus looks ugly. If I was an Iranian leader, my reasoning would be:

    (a) My goal, as a good Shiite cleric, is to secure the divinely inspired Islamic Republic (which has been threatened by the West since its inception)

    (b) The most important lesson of last two years is: if you have the bomb, US will defer to you, otherwise US will threaten you

    (c) The JCPOA corollary is that the US cannot be trusted to keep an agreement made. Thus there is no diplomatic way to achieve my goal.

    (d) Inaction is to US advantage, not mine. If things are stable, my people get annoyed over trivial things like economy and democracy and sanctions.

    (e) On the other hand, short of US occupation and enforced regime change, conflict only strengthens my hand. It robs internal dissent of legitimacy and focus, rallies patriotic feelings to my regime, gives me an excuse for economic failures, etc.

    (f) If and when cruise missiles do rain down, it will be on nuclear facilities first

    (g) Hence, my main task is to rebuild a disbursed, hardened, secret, redundant nuclear program. (My good relations with Pakistan & NK will help.)

    (h) While doing that, I need to keep conflict simmering, but short of pushing US to invade.

    (i) I also need to create conditions that will give US reason to pause before invading (e.g. lots of fanatical Rev Guard cells which will create hell-on-Earth for occupiers to make Iraq 2004 look like child's play).

    (j) Fortunately, US really doesn't want to invade, because it will be a mess for them. So, I just need to ride out the missiles and bombs, get an atomic weapon, and US will be my lapdog.

    Returning to the US perspective: one plausible conclusion that might be drawn from this reasoning (not my conclusion, but one perhaps congruent with the Victory in War post a few days ago) would be that the best way to deal with Iran, in isolation, would be to invade and conquer.

    Yet I feel confident Xi and Putin would LOVE it if we did that, as it would likely involve many of the worst challenges of both the Iraq and Afghan wars, and thus be a tremendous drain on us.

    Hence our indecision.

    Anyway, to return to the original post--which raises a very reasonable question--one could argue that it elides the degree of uncertainty that exists, around when and how using military force is to our advantage, and how we might come to that determination. In that light, one might justify "forward deployment" as a way of keeping our options open.

    1. "The strategic asymmetry driving international relations"

      Before I reply to anything specific, let me say that this is exactly the kind of comment/discussion that I value. It's well reasoned, thought out, adds to the discussion, presents information, establishes a position, and draws conclusions.

      That said, I agree with much of the 'set up' portion and largely disagree with the conclusions. However, my agreement is not a requirement for producing an excellent comment. I love that readers can see a thoughtful comment that offers a different view.

      Really, really well done!

    2. "Iraq 2003 created instabilities we're still paying for"

      Yes and no.

      For some historical perspective, Desert Storm created the major instability (to use your terminology) by failing to finish the job and allowing Sadaam to remain in control with an intact military, government, and support system. This lead directly to continued oppression of the populace, support for terrorism, threats of WMD (chemical weapons were found and biological labs were found), etc. The Iraq 2003 conflict ended that instability by eliminating Sadaam, his government, and his military. Since then, we have seen no state sponsored terrorism, a stable, reasonably friendly government, and no Iraqi disruption of regional peace. The negative was the rise of ISIS due to the mismanagement of the post-conflict by the US. In the grand scheme of things, Iraq was removed as a problem and the ISIS threat has turned out to be a momentary blip in the historical sense. In fact, one could argue that the rise of ISIS allowed the West to much more efficiently identify and kill terrorists while they were densely packed and easily located and dealt with.

    3. "before acting, one has to have good reason to expect that the long-term benefits will outweigh the short-term costs."

      Of course! One also has to have a solid and effective post-conflict plan.

    4. "The JCPOA corollary is that the US cannot be trusted to keep an agreement made."

      Just to be technically clear, the agreement was never ratified by the Senate in the usual manner so it's debatable whether it was ever a legally binding agreement.

    5. " it would likely involve many of the worst challenges of both the Iraq and Afghan wars, and thus be a tremendous drain on us. "

      Only if we go about it as a half-hearted effort. If we approached a war with Iraq as we did Desert Storm, the 'war' would only last a matter of weeks. If we approached it like Afg and Iraq, with lots of restrictive ROE, an emphasis on avoiding collateral damage over accomplishment of military objectives, and an unwillingness to totally commit then, yes, you're correct. But, we should never enter into a conflict unless we want to totally, brutally, and effectively achieve rapid, total victory.

    6. "We are rich, secure, and trade-dependent."

      We are rich and relatively secure. But we are not really trade-dependent. Peter Zeihan makes the point that our imports and exports, as a percent of GDP, are smaller that for any other developed country, and most of what international trade does exist is with Canada and Mexico. With the shale oil revolution, North America is pretty much energy independent, removing what was probably formerly the biggest component of our international trade.

      Where we get involved is in the role of world policeman that we took on after WWII. We bribed up an alliance to win the Cold War by promising free trade and US guarantees of secure sea lines of communication (SLOC) in exchange for allegiance to us against the communists. The problem is that nobody anticipated winning the Cold War, so we have been running for 30 years with an outmoded paradigm. These days, the primary beneficiaries of our efforts to keep the sea lanes open for Mideast oil are India, China, and Japan, who are the primary consumers of that oil.

      We need to figure out where we go from here. In 1992, Ross Perot said something that I had been thinking for some time by then, "In the post-Cold-War era, economic power will be more important than military power." We haven't addressed it in 30 years, but now is time.

    7. "These days, the primary beneficiaries of our efforts to keep the sea lanes open for Mideast oil are India, China, and Japan, who are the primary consumers of that oil."

      Interesting statement. I don't know what data that's based on so I can't evaluate it but it's thought provoking. If true, two of those three are, or could be, very important allies against, or counterweights to, China so one could argue that maintaining the freedom of the seas IS in our strategic interest.

      "We need to figure out where we go from here."

      Indeed! I've called for withdrawing from Europe (and possible NATO!), among other actions. What's your thinking?

    8. China, India, Japan, and South Korea are 4 of the top 5 oil importers (the US is the other one).

      Per Internet statistics (which seem about right to me), imports for the other four are:
      China - 8.4 MMBBL/day, 43% from Mideast, 16% from Russia (Russia is completing a second oil pipeline to China, so the Russian share could maybe double).
      India - 4.9 MMBBL/day, 62% from Mideast
      Japan - 3.4 MMBBL/day, 79% from Mideast, 9% from Russia.
      South Korea - 2.9 MMBBL/day, 81% from Mideast, 5% from Russia.

      So that's around 11-12 MMBBL/day from the Mideast for the 4 of them.

      The US gets about 6 MMBBL/day from Canada and Mexico and about 1.5 MMBBL/day from the Mideast, and US imports are declining rapidly as shale kicks in. North America is very close to total energy independence.

      Until somebody figures out how to build a pipeline across the Himalayas, China's Mideast oil has to come by sea through the Straits of Hormuz, around India, and through the Straits of Malacca or other passage through Indonesia. That is a long and risky supply chain, and China doesn't really have a blue water navy capable of protecting it. Any one of the three I's--Iran, India, or Indonesia--could basically shut them down if they wanted to.

    9. "Indeed! I've called for withdrawing from Europe (and possible NATO!), among other actions. What's your thinking?"

      I don't know about totally withdrawing from Europe or NATO, but I think it's fair to say that they need to pick up more of the load going forward. Go back to the deal we made at Bretton Woods in 1944. We will give you free trade access to our markets without requiring you to reciprocate, so you have a market to sell stuff to rebuild your economy, and our Navy will protect your sea lines of communication (SLOCs), so you don't have to rebuild your navies, and in return you will pick our side and do what we tell you to in the Cold War. Problem is, we won, and that paradigm has been out of date for 30 years, but we still haven't figured out what to do next. I think it takes some combination of getting allies to support more of the load, and leveling up the trade playing field. As long as they all have consumption taxes (VAT/GST) and we don't, we can't really level the field with tariffs.

      I'm not sure what we can negotiate on either side of that. We can do the consumption tax unilaterally, without any WTO involvement, and that would help. I'm not sure we can do on the defense front, but this is one reason why I have been more supportive of combined operations than you have generally been.

      One thing that I found very interesting from my Naval Reserve days. We have troops in Europe, but they don't have a lot of supplies. The concept was always that we would resupply from the states by ship. But ships take a long time to cross the Atlantic, and I'm not sure that our folks wouldn't run out of bullets before we got there. I always thought it would make more sense to have supplies over there, or afloat in the region, with a cadre guarding them, and fly additional troops over in a hurry if things started to deteriorate.

    10. "The concept was always that we would resupply from the states by ship. ... I always thought it would make more sense to have supplies over there, or afloat in the region, with a cadre guarding them,"

      I see two issues with stockpiling supplies locally.

      1. Any large 'warehouse' of supplies is a prime target for a Hour-1 strike. We can break the large warehouse into many small warehouses but then the cost of guarding and maintaining them goes way up. Similarly, afloat supplies represent attractive targets. This is one of my concerns with the Pacific PrePositioning Ships. They would make very attractive 'Pearl Harbor' targets.

      2. We shouldn't need supplies (at least not for initial efforts) when we have an entire continent of advanced military countries who should be, at the very least, providing supplies.

    11. The us has an enormous capacity to airlift supplies to Europe in an emergency. How many wide bodied jets could be made available by US flagged airlines at short notice. A 50000 tonnes a day is my estimate.

    12. "I see two issues with stockpiling supplies locally."

      I think both your issues have validity. The problem I had with the current situation is that we had something on the order of 100,000 troops over there with something like two clips of ammo per rifle. As far as drawing supplies from allies, so many of their weapons systems are not compatible with ours that our ability to do so be limited. In terms of the old, "beans, bullets, and fuel," mantra, we could get beans and fuel, but maybe not bullets. One other issue with prepositioning supplies is how do we run them enough to make sure they actually work?

      As far as airlifting supplies, yes we can get some stuff over, but a lot of equipment would be difficult to impossible to fit into even a wide body. It's easier to move people than tanks, so maybe we have the tanks there and the people here.

      My bottom line is that I don't think there are any good solutions without more effort from our allies.

      If Brexit comes to pass, then our relationship with UK can be separated from our relationship with the rest of the EU going forward. I would push for trade and military pacts with them ASAP, in large part to minimize the harmful impacts of Brexit on them, but also to help leverage our forces. They have already agreed to commit their new carriers to combined task forces.

  10. Does anyone have a good line of reasoning why the limpit mines were placed above the water line instead of below?

    1. You ask a good question. Along that same line, a couple little limpet mines won't, and didn't, do much damage. More of an annoyance than anything. What's the point or objective? It's clearly not to sink the ships. Is it just a simple message? If so, what's the message - that they could shut the shipping lanes down if they wanted? That the US is impotent? I'm frankly at a loss to understand the rationale.

    2. "The waterline" isn't a fixed point.
      A fully loaded tanker is lower than an empty tanker, perhaps they miscalculated or planted it believing it to be empty
      Perhaps they didn't want to sink it.

      Perhaps they lack divers and mines capable of underwater laying and delayed detonation.

  11. There's a day color picture that personally, raises even more questions about this. For what I presume Iranians were trying to keep somewhat "deniable", everybody on board looks very relaxed, at ease, somebody does seem to be manning the twin 20mm? and maybe somebody is taking a picture or is on the phone? I am happy that they all seem to be wearing their safety gear and for Iranian military, they sure look well shaven!

    The boat doesn't seem to be speeding away...

    Apparently, the latest USA response to this "incident" on the sea is to send another 1000 troops...which really makes a whole lot of sense....not.

  12. I find the logic bizarre. If tankers exploded off the US coast and a mine was seen attached. What would the USA do? Send a team to disarm and remove the mine? Would this be proof that the USA planted the mine?

    Pompeo is such a bad liar. He didn't call for a full investigation and say he would withhold judgement until the facts are known. No, he immediately blamed Iran. Sane people know that Iran did not plant these mines. There are many nations who have demanded the USA attack Iran. They are the prime suspects?

    1. There was mention of intelligence weeks ago about Iranian action of some some against US interests. It was serious to move bombers and hasten some ship movements. Thst intel might still be developing, or being analyzed. Making all of it public may reveal or endanger sources. So whatever that information is, coupled with the tanker attacks, evidently points to Iran. As armchair Admirals, we cant truly know the facts, unlike people in govt who are privy to the whole story...

    2. "If tankers exploded off the US coast and a mine was seen attached. What would the USA do? Send a team to disarm and remove the mine? Would this be proof that the USA planted the mine?"

      So, you're thinking that the famously magnanimous Iran somehow, with their limited intel and surveillance resources, not only heard about the minings but were able to quickly spot and identify an unexploded limpet mine and immediately, out of the goodness of their feelings toward Western countries, dispatched a rescue boat? Seriously, does that seem even remotely plausible?

      Or, perhaps you think that the Japanese ship, having discovered an unexploded mine, decided to immediately call Iran for help rather than the US or any other friendly nations in the area? Again, not even remotely plausible.

      I have a degree of skepticism towards the evidence but I also apply objectivity and logic which, if it doesn't tell me the entire true story, at least allows me to rule out the absurd.

      "Sane people know that Iran did not plant these mines."

      No, they don't know that. Given the evidence, sane people know that Iran is the number one suspect while keeping other scenarios and suspects firmly in mind.

    3. "we cant truly know the facts, unlike people in govt who are privy to the whole story..."

      Yes. Well … kind of yes. Our foreign intel track record is pretty poor. Just off the top of my head, we apparently had no warning about Russia's seizure of Crimea or their 'invasion' of Ukraine, we had no warning of the actual Benghazi embassy attack (although Clinton refused requests for increased security), we were, at best, only about 30% right about WMD pre-Iraq, we utterly failed to foresee China's artificial island building effort, and so on.

      So, I prefer to remain pretty skeptical about placing much trust in 'secret' government intel. Yes, they ought to know much more than is publicly known but history pretty convincingly says they don't.

    4. The most likely groups that attacked are saudi arabia, uae, israel and of course the USA itself. It smells of a false flag attack. The mines could only of been placed while the ships were docked. My bet is that it was either saudi or Israel.

    5. The ships sent out a distress call and were on fire. Surely the Iranian navy noticed and while looking at the damage would notice something attached to the hull. One ship was from Japan while its prime minister was visiting Iran. Why would Iran attack that ship? And it is far easier to attach such mines while a ship is in port than while cruising in the open. Anyone who doesn't see this as a false flag attack just doesn't understand what that phrase means.

    6. "Anyone who doesn't see this as a false flag attack just doesn't understand "

      The evidence, sketchy as it is, points primarily to Iran. That doesn't mean you're wrong and that someone else is responsible but you're obviously biased to the point of losing objectivity and logic.

    7. "Surely the Iranian navy noticed and while looking at the damage would notice something attached to the hull."

      And, with their long history of sailing around and helping people, just jumped right in to help. You're trying to talk yourself into believing what you want to believe instead of following the facts and logic.

    8. The problem is that the USA is not seen currently as an honest broker by the rest of the world. There have been many instances in the past where intelligence has been fabricated to achieve political ends ie Weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. Gulf of Tonkin incident. You state that there is evidence that Iran did this. There is in fact no evidence at all that Iran has done this. That video is not evidence of anything. Ask yourself who wants war in the region. There are two main players.

      Unfortunately US foreign policy has been hijaked by Israel and Kushner who have been prodding the USA to attack Iran since this president was elected. Israel fears Iran because Iran is the only nation in the region that appears to be able to organise itself as a threat. The rest of the middle eastern countries are just hopeless and are no threat at all to Israel. Saudia Arabia has been executing dissidents (Shia political prisoners) all year in an effort to provoke Iran. They have a large Shia minority whose mobilisation they fear. One of the key features that distinguishes Sunni and Shia islam is the centralised nature of Shia islam. They have a leadership structure. Sunni Islam has no leadership structure. They are really a rabble that can be easily divided.

      Unfortunately the USA cannot be trusted as an honest broker and must be considered biased. Blaming Iran is actually illogical. They have nothing to gain from a confrontation. The NATO allies have remained silent except for the lunatics in the British conservative party who are supporting arms sales to Saudia Arabia. The silence of the Nato allies points to what they think of the claims of Iranian provocation.

    9. Because of the nature of this issue, I've given you quite a bit of latitude and allowed you to have your say. This is now over. No further comments of this nature will be allowed.

  13. @Anon
    I wonder, do all Iranian patrol boats carry bomb disposal teams or was this just a lucky coincidence?

    Where is the bomb now?

  14. The Iranians have been killing our armed forces for decades. Khobar
    Towers in 96. Supplying the highly sophisticated IED's that shot liquid copper through our armored vehicles in Iraq. Hundreds of US servicemen died at their hands. We don't need to worry if they are guilty or not. They used to produce and sell 2.4 mbd of oil and our sanctions have reduced that to 400k per day. We are killing their economy and taking away money from the revolutionary guards who cannot send convoys through Iraq to
    Syria because they don't have the money to pay off the numerous warlords en route. Winning.

    I do not understand how we can do freedom of the seas by keeping our fleet at home. If the 5th fleet were not there the vacuum would be filled by either russia or china. Every time the Iranians send out their subs we "sit on top of them". KInd of hard to surface... Just like the chinese the iranians keep most of their ballistic force in hardened mountainous bunkers that took a long time to build. Be hard to miss those!

    I would argue that we should keep our presence in the region
    to protect our allies and a close watch on the Iranian threat. We might consider seizing Kharg Island to attempt to change their attitude. The people of Iran the nation, like Americans and would like to be free like us. They tried in the Green Revoulution to do that but the Badzees on motorbikes cut them to pieces. Iran is one country I would advocate invading and occupying.

    1. " If the 5th fleet were not there the vacuum would be filled by either russia or china."

      A good argument for forward presence, however, how is our presence preventing Russia or China from accomplishing whatever their goals might be? You'll note that we don't actually interfere with anything so one could argue that it makes no difference whether we have forward presence or not? These recent tanker minings are a case in point. Our drone watched at least some of the proceedings and yet we did nothing.

      Our forward presence did nothing to stop Russia from moving into Syria, establishing a naval base, and propping up the Syrian regime.

      Our forward presence did nothing to dissuade China from building illegal artificial islands and annexing the entire South China Sea.

      Forward presence is an appealing theoretical argument but, as executed by the US fleet (meaning no execution, just inaction) accomplishes little or nothing.

      I'm sorry but in the face of a great deal of evidence to the contrary, you're going to have to offer some proof that forward presence works beyond the theoretical (and, so far, disproven by events!) possibility that it would prevent Russia and China from filling a vacuum. They seem to be filling it whether we're there or not!

      If you want to argue for the effectiveness of forward presence, you'll have to look harder for actual evidence of it working. Alternatively, if you think it can work but the US is just not executing it correctly, then offer a vision of how we should be going about. I'd be very interested in that because I do happen to believe it can work but only if we're willing to conduct a great deal of gunboat diplomacy.

    2. " I do happen to believe it can work but only if we're willing to conduct a great deal of gunboat diplomacy."

      Agree. Either we are willing to do the gunboat diplomacy thing or we need to forget the forward presence idea. Never fight a war that you don't intend to win, and forward presence has gotten us into a lot of situations that violated that principle.

      We got into the forward presence idea in the course of performing the global policeman role that we took on at Bretton Woods. That was our plan to win the Cold War, and it worked. Nobody ever figured out what to do next.

      It seems to me that we have to address that first. It probably requires some changes to both our treaty alliances and our trade policies. We can no longer make the deal that we made in 1944, and there in today's world we need a different deal.

    3. @CDR Chip " Never fight a war that you don't intend to win..."

      My maxim is to never fight a fight you do not have to fight!


  15. I showed the above to three marines in the "office" and two said it gave them a woody. Nuff Said

    1. Well, I guess its a good thing that wood floats, given that doctrine requires the transports to stay 25-50 miles off the beach!!

  16. Just a layperson commenting so I apologize for not having a deep dive take on this.

    But to me this seems like a great opportunity to utilize a battleship as part of a surface group.

    An Iowa class ship configured as in the 'Return of the Broadside' scenario would be a great asset to have. Even better would be if there were Baltimore class heavy cruisers with their 8" guns available to similarly update.

    An updated Iowa and a pair of updated Baltimore's would form the core of a pretty intimidating battle group parked in that area of the world.

    1. " in that area of the world."

      In any area of the world! You're absolutely correct, however, it would only be effective if we were willing to actually use it. If we continue to refuse to act then it doesn't matter what we have. For example, we have a carrier group in the Mid East and it's obviously having no effect because Iran knows we aren't going to use it.

  17. CNO,

    This is not our fight - yet.

    The gulf countries most affected by this nonsense (Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, etc.) have enjoyed the greatest wealth transfers in recorded history (post 1973 oil embargo); yet done nothing to build oil pipe lines they promised to build ~three decades ago to minimize the threat by circumventing the gulf.

    Nor have these same gulf countries deployed air and naval power necessary to deter the threat of mines, gunboats, ASCMs, and TACAIR against their vital trade.

    We should also be conscious that many of these allied nations are the great supporters and sources of Islamic terrorist groups.

    Even if this becomes our fight, and the gulf states and Europeans better put skin and cash in the game to bring us to the table, it makes absolutely zero military sense to deploy carrier groups or any warships into the gulf.

    Our primary instrument of national power against Iran is to weaponize the U.S treasury, Secret Service, and FBI to absolutely punish the “Islamic Republic” and its leaders. Not sexy, or macho, but effective and cheap.


    1. "This is not our fight - yet."

      I note and agree with your earlier maxim, never fight a war you don't have to fight. To tie that to this comment, that this is not our fight - yet, one has to ask, what fight are you specifically referring to?

      In the immediate term, in which Iran appears to have mined a couple of non-US ships, this, alone, is not our fight.

      In the slightly broader perspective of peace and safe movement of commercial shipping through the region, one can make a good case for US involvement since international shipping benefits the US whether the individual ships are US-flagged or not. On the other hand, one can make a good case for expecting Norway and Japan to provide for their own shipping protection rather than depend on the US.

      In the much broader context, one can make a very good case for military involvement in the Mid East in order to curtail the rise of terrorist groups before they gain strength, the prevention of attainment of nuclear capability by rogue nations (Iran), and the promotion of a neutral or pro-Western outlook in the region so as to impede or prevent the establishment of Russian and Chinese presence and projects (silk road, oil pipelines, military bases, etc.), all of which would make it that much harder to combat Russia (unlikely) or China (inevitable) down the road.

      So, "this is not our fight - yet", depends on the specific fight you're referring to. I see value in involvement at the higher, broader level but only if we intend to do so emphatically and ruthlessly.

      "Our primary instrument of national power against Iran is to weaponize the U.S treasury, Secret Service, and FBI to absolutely punish the “Islamic Republic” and its leaders."

      This is a naval/military blog so I deal mostly/exclusively with military aspects. That doesn't mean I don't recognize the value of other avenues. The legal/financial methods you've suggested are a perfect example of non-military methods we should be using to achieve our objectives prior to committing to military action. You could not be more right!

    2. The argument for US intervention fails the: “Can we do it? Should we do it?” argument; the root of this nonsense is a nasty civil war within Islam that we have no good answer to other than to let the Sunnis and Shia sort it out.

      1. The legitimacy of any intervention in the Gulf is suspect; Congress has largely ceded its constitutional duty to declare war, fund military operations, and provide oversight; but John/Jane Q. Public are not on board with intervention and certainly would not agree with the cost of such adventures, especially with the budget priorities given a $23.4 trillion national debt.

      2. Alternatives? Has anyone even considered options other than the Treasury/SS/FBI financial task force I suggested? We have people who do bad things in the shadows too, why is this a military problem and not an issue for our intelligence and paramilitary communities?

      3. Purpose, Method, End-state for intervention are ill-defined or not considered. What is the goal of intervention: regime change, or simple destruction? Do we really want to send a carrier battle group in constricted waters (closer than the Navy claims it can send our amphibs), or could we fly a few squadrons int Ali al Salem or Riyadh? Or do we need a heavy brigade combat team? How does our military action shape the situation one or two generations from now?

      4. And where is the pipeline that our erstwhile allies the Saudis promised to build after the original tanker war? Where are the EU navies and air forces? Why should Uncle Sam eat the cost?

      5. Strategy: I would like nothing better than to see the Russians and or Chinese bogged down in the endless morass that is Southwest Asia. Much better that they tie down their forces and treasure hundreds or thousands of miles from home than we.

      I am very skeptical about intervention given the unending problems we have in the USA. Most of the arguments in favor of military action are little more than expensive playground nonsense in the long-term.


    3. "no good answer to other than to let the Sunnis and Shia sort it out."

      And if that were the limit of it, I'd agree 100%. However, the groups and associated governments are exporting (and importing!) terrorism, regional nuclear blackmail, genocidal threats towards Israel, supporting Chinese and Russian arms sales, destabilizing the broader region, etc. in order to fund and pursue their various goals. So, yes, in isolation I agree, let them sort it out but while they're doing so they're wreaking havoc on all around them both directly and indirectly. Thus, I'm not for no intervention but I'm for carefully thought out intervention with absolutely decisive results (non-military methods first).

      "John/Jane Q. Public are not on board with intervention and certainly would not agree with the cost of such adventures"

      It all depends on what our goals are. The public enthusiastically agreed with Desert Storm, for example, where a concrete villain and goals were presented. On the other hand, jumping into vague, nebulous conflicts where you need a scorecard to keep track of your enemies/friends is not going to garner support. At the moment, we have failed to elucidate goals and plans for Iraq, Syria, Afg, and Iran. Thus, no support for involvement. If we want to get involved then we need to make the case, assuming there's a case to be made.

      "We have people who do bad things in the shadows too,"

      We lack the will to dirty our hands, preferring to believe in fairy tale worlds. As just one example, we could turn the SEALs attention to widespread sabotage and clandestine destruction of Iranian boat/naval assets and facilities (not saying this is the best way, just another option; cruise missiles are still the most efficient but offer no deniability).

      "I am very skeptical about intervention"

      I am slightly less skeptical than you but insist on concrete achievable goals that support our geopolitical strategic interests (to the extent that we've even defined such interests) before intervening.

      I see two broad strategic interests that could justify intervention:

      1. Preventing Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.
      2. Preventing China (and Russia to a lesser extent) from acquiring strategic benefits in the region (secure oil supply, bases, beneficial trade, arms sales, etc.).

      The former would, in my mind, justify military action. The latter justifies all the non-military but very aggressive actions along the lines you've suggested. And this intervention, while occurring in the Mid East region is more of an anti-Chinese intervention than a Mid East one.

      Where we may differ somewhat in our thought is that I believe abandoning the Mid East will result in Russia/China gaining strategic advantages that will cost us down the road. I believe we're already at war with China (they're certainly at war with us!) and failure to engage now will cost us latter.

  18. I have yet to hear any military option that will improve the Iranian situation, or the broader middle-east in a *meaningful way* over the long-term. Protecting the ultra-wealthy Arab states against Iran is not our problem. The threat is not new, but the gulf states have been greedy and short sighted in their defenses - where is that oil pipeline again? The American tax payer should not subsidize the greed of Saudi Arabia so they can send more money to extreme Wahabi madrassas that underpin Islamic extremism. This is a clear case of weak strategic thinking, meets institutional inertia to alternate thinking. In fact, the U.S. stands to profit by inaction as our oil exports become more valuable.

    We find ourselves dealing with the messes created by our short-term/short-sighted Cold-War strategies of “Containment” and nuclear nonproliferation; the latter is particularly farcical given the reality of the Pakistani bomb (and all that it implies).

    Our support for Pakistan and Turkey against the USSR seems silly in retrospect. One is an unstable *nuclear-armed* totalitarian regime that could collapse at any moment, with ties to NK, supported AQ as well as the Taliban, and is a major impediment to good relations with the largest democracy on the planet (India). The latter has become a major threat to allies (Israel, Greece, Kurds).

    Saudi Arabia repaid us with 911; in Afghanistan the ‘mujahedeen’ who armed, and in some cases helped train, splintered into Al Qaeda, Daesh, and of course the Taliban who we have fought for almost two decades. And who could forget Saddam Hussein…

    The “Islamic Republic” is led by a bunch of religious bigots, thugs, and sociopaths, nonetheless, we have few levers, and none positive, having lost a lot of moral credibility by our interference in the 1953 elections (even though Mosaddeq and the National Front were totalitarian asses), and our shoot down of Iran Air Flight 655.



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