The Swiss blog Offiziere.ch has recently published a piece by Paul Pryce, analysing the Brazilian Navy’s current endeavours whilst trying to figure out what bearing it is sailing. Pryce evaluates the ‘quiet expansion’ of the Brazilian Navy, and whilst he delivers a brief but sound level of analysis, he fails to deliver an accurate reading of some of the key underlying issues. These issues include the ‘military industrial compound’ dimension of the Navy, the often unspoken aspects of civil-military relations in Brazil and the competition for budget between branches.
The war against naval factoids is a quagmire! A primary theater in this whack-a-mole struggle is the notion that America’s navy is “stronger” than the next X navies, and thus, we should rest easy about our republic’s strategic position in Eurasia. The usual figure given for X is 13, although a reputable commentator recently inflated it to 16. The latest purveyor of this claim is David Axe, the normally reliable proprietor of War Is Boring. On Tuesday, Axe contended, “By some measures, the U.S. Navy maintains a 13-navy standard. In other words, it can deploy as much combat power as the next 13 largest fleets combined.”
The recent announcement that the Navy Research Lab (NRL) had successfullyconverted seawater into fuel was greeted by hyperbolic claims that this “game changer” was going to allow the Navy to “say goodbye to oil.”As impressive a scientific feat as this was, the Navy has a very long way to go from flying a model plane powered by molecularly restructured seawater around a field to powering a sizeable portion of the non-nuclear fleet. This research was the latest in a series of milestones achieved in pursuance of what the Navy calls the “Great Green Fleet.” The objective is to reduce oil consumption by 50% and utilize alternative energy for 50% of the Navy’s energy requirements by 2020, a goal that even many supporters find aggressive. The aims of the seawater-to-fuel program are to make it possible for the fleet to remain 100% operational by eliminating the need for ships to come into port to fuel, and to avoid logistical nightmares resulting from the fact that a large portion of petroleum comes from unstable areas and must flow through some of the world’s major chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz.
Last Thursday, many Australian viewers switched their televisions over to the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in an attempt to escape from the media frenzy surrounding the release of Australian citizenSchapelle Corby from prison in Indonesia. They found the national broadcaster’s Lateline program reporting on another, far more significant story emanating from their near north.
On February 1, the Chinese navy (PLAN) sent a taskforce of three warships from Hainan in southern China through the Sunda Strait in Indonesia, along the south coast of Java and past Christmas Island into the Indian Ocean. Two Chinese destroyers accompanied an advanced 20,000-ton amphibious ship, capable of carrying hundreds of marines, and conducted a series of combat simulations before heading north through the Lombok and Makassar Straits and into the Pacific.
China commissioned its first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, on September 25, 2012. It was a milestone that owes much to the vision of Admiral Liu Huaqing, who commanded the Chinese navy – formally the People’s Liberation Army Navy – from 1982 to 1988 and served as a vice-chairman of the Central Military Commission until 1997. In those positions, he helped shape China’s maritime outlook and shift its navy from a coastal defense force to one capable of projecting power into the western Pacific. Liu argued that for the navy to fully transform it had to have an aircraft carrier. Ultimately he prevailed over resistance from the army and within his own service, though he did not live to see the Liaoning underway at sea.
While the aircraft carrier is not a revolutionary combat platform today, it remains symbolic of a navy that has reached the world’s first rank. Since China accelerated its naval modernization in the 1990s, its shipyards have produced scores of new vessels that range from nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines to amphibious assault ships. And over that time, Chinese naval engineers have had many opportunities to study aircraft carrier design—including decommissioned foreign aircraft carriers that Chinese entities acquired as well as the information gleaned from various exchanges. In one such exchange in 1995, Spain’s Empresa Nacional Bazan, which built the light aircraft carrier Chakri Naruebet for Thailand, offered China plans for a similar ship. Chinese officials also inspected and received bids for other retired aircraft carriers, such as France’s Clemenceau in 1996 and Argentina’s Vienticinco De Mayo in 1997.