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Russian attack submarine sailed in Gulf of Mexico undetected for weeks, U.S. officials say

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BY: Bill Gertz
August 14, 2012 5:00 am

A Russian nuclear-powered attack submarine armed with long-range cruise missiles operated undetected in the Gulf of Mexico for several weeks and its travel in strategic U.S. waters was only confirmed after it left the region, the Washington Free Beacon has learned.

It is only the second time since 2009 that a Russian attack submarine has patrolled so close to U.S. shores.

The stealth underwater incursion in the Gulf took place at the same time Russian strategic bombers made incursions into restricted U.S. airspace near Alaska and California in June and July, and highlights a growing military assertiveness by Moscow.

The submarine patrol also exposed what U.S. officials said were deficiencies in U.S. anti-submarine warfare capabilities—forces that are facing cuts under the Obama administration’s plan to reduce defense spending by $487 billion over the next 10 years.

The Navy is in charge of detecting submarines, especially those that sail near U.S. nuclear missile submarines, and uses undersea sensors and satellites to locate and track them.

The fact that the Akula was not detected in the Gulf is cause for concern, U.S. officials said.

The officials who are familiar with reports of the submarine patrol in the Gulf of Mexico said the vessel was a nuclear-powered Akula-class attack submarine, one of Russia’s quietest submarines.

A Navy spokeswoman declined to comment.

One official said the Akula operated without being detected for a month.

“The Akula was built for one reason and one reason only: To kill U.S. Navy ballistic missile submarines and their crews,” said a second U.S. official.

“It’s a very stealthy boat so it can sneak around and avoid detection and hope to get past any protective screen a boomer might have in place,” the official said, referring to the Navy nickname for strategic missile submarines.

The U.S. Navy operates a strategic nuclear submarine base at Kings Bay, Georgia. The base is homeport to eight missile-firing submarines, six of them equipped with nuclear-tipped missiles, and two armed with conventional warhead missiles.

“Sending a nuclear-propelled submarine into the Gulf of Mexico-Caribbean region is another manifestation of President Putin demonstrating that Russia is still a player on the world’s political-military stage,” said naval analyst and submarine warfare specialist Norman Polmar.

“Like the recent deployment of a task force led by a nuclear cruiser into the Caribbean, the Russian Navy provides him with a means of ‘showing the flag’ that is not possible with Russian air and ground forces,” Polmar said in an email.

The last time an Akula submarine was known to be close to U.S. shores was 2009, when two Akulas were spotted patrolling off the east coast of the United States.

Those submarine patrols raised concerns at the time about a new Russian military assertiveness toward the United States, according to the New York Times, which first reported the 2009 Akula submarine activity.

The latest submarine incursion in the Gulf further highlights the failure of the Obama administration’s “reset” policy of conciliatory actions designed to develop closer ties with Moscow.

Instead of closer ties, Russia under President Vladimir Putin, an ex-KGB intelligence officer who has said he wants to restore elements of Russia’s Soviet communist past, has adopted growing hardline policies against the United States.

Of the submarine activity, Sen. John Cornyn (R., Texas), member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, said, “It’s a confounding situation arising from a lack of leadership in our dealings with Moscow. While the president is touting our supposed ‘reset’ in relations with Russia, Vladimir Putin is actively working against American interests, whether it’s in Syria or here in our own backyard.”

The Navy is facing sharp cuts in forces needed to detect and counter such submarine activity.

The Obama administration’s defense budget proposal in February cut $1.3 billion from Navy shipbuilding projects, which will result in scrapping plans to build 16 new warships through 2017.

The budget also called for cutting plans to buy 10 advanced P-8 anti-submarine warfare jets needed for submarine detection.

In June, Russian strategic nuclear bombers and support aircraft conducted a large-scale nuclear bomber exercise in the arctic. The exercise included simulated strikes on “enemy” strategic sites that defense officials say likely included notional attacks on U.S. missile defenses in Alaska.

Under the terms of the 2010 New START arms accord, such exercises require 14-day advanced notice of strategic bomber drills, and notification after the drills end. No such notification was given.

A second, alarming air incursion took place July 4 on the West Coast when a Bear H strategic bomber flew into U.S. airspace near California and was met by U.S. interceptor jets.

That incursion was said to have been a bomber incursion that has not been seen since before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.

It could not be learned whether the submarine in the Gulf of Mexico was an Akula 1 type submarine or a more advanced Akula 2.

It is also not known why the submarine conducted the operation. Theories among U.S. analysts include the notion that submarine incursion was designed to further signal Russian displeasure at U.S. and NATO plans to deploy missile defenses in Europe.

Russia’s chief of the general staff, Gen. Nikolai Makarov, said in May that Russian forces would consider preemptive attacks on U.S. and allied missile defenses in Europe, and claimed the defenses are destabilizing in a crisis.

Makarov met with Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in July. Dempsey questioned him about the Russian strategic bomber flights near U.S. territory.

The voyage of the submarine also could be part of Russian efforts to export the Akula.

Russia delivered one of its Akula-2 submarines to India in 2009. The submarine is distinctive for its large tail fin.

Brazil’s O Estado de Sao Paoli reported Aug. 2 that Russia plans to sell Venezuela up to 11 new submarines, including one Akula.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow’s military is working to set up naval replenishment facilities in Vietnam and Cuba, but denied there were plans to base naval forces in those states.

Asked if Russia planned a naval base in Cuba, Lavrov said July 28: “We are not speaking of any bases. The Russian navy ships serve exercise cruises and training in the same regions. To harbor, resupply, and enable the crew to rest are absolutely natural needs. We have spoken of such opportunities with our Cuban friends.” The comment was posted in the Russian Foreign Ministry website.

Russian warships and support vessels were sent to Venezuela in 2008 to take part in naval exercises in a show of Russian support for the leftist regime of Hugo Chavez. The ships also stopped in Cuba.

Russian Deputy Premier Dmitri Rogozin announced in February that Russia was working on a plan to build 10 new attack submarines and 10 new missile submarines through 2030, along with new aircraft carriers.

Submarine warfare specialists say the Akula remains the core of the Russian attack submarine force.

The submarines can fire both cruise missiles and torpedoes, and are equipped with the SSN-21 and SSN-27 submarine-launched cruise missiles, as well as SSN-15 anti-submarine-warfare missiles. The submarines also can lay mines.

The SSN-21 has a range of up to 1,860 miles.

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On Energy Policy, Navy Secretary Is Either Dishonest or Misinformed

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Lachlan Markay
March 28, 2012 at 10:29 am

In response to a congressional inquiry regarding a Navy purchase of expensive biofuels, Secretary Ray Mabus made numerous claims that are either factually incorrect or misleading regarding federal energy policy and the nation’s oil reserves.

Mabus was responding to concerns raised by Reps. Doug Lamborn (R-CO) and Mike Conaway (R-TX) regarding a Navy purchase of 450,000 gallons of biofuels – the largest-ever federal purchase of such fuel – at $15 per gallon. That is more than three times the price of conventional diesel fuel.

The company providing the fuel, Solazyme, is advised by an energy consultant who helped write the alternative energy portion of president’s stimulus package.

“The math is clear,” Mabus told Lamborn in a letter dated March 23. “Opening up every possible source of oil available to us still would not provide enough to supply all our needs.”

That statement is categorically untrue. The United States has 1.4 trillion barrels of recoverable oil, more than the proven reserves (note: reserves, not recoverable resources) of any other nation, and more than the entire non-North American world combined, according to a study by the Institute for Energy Research.

It is true that the U.S. has only two percent of the world’s oil reserves, a statistic that Mabus cited in his letter in highly misleading fashion. But that measure only accounts for oil that is recoverable at current prices and under current law. In other words, if all government-owned land were open to oil development, that two percent figure would skyrocket.

What’s more, Lamborn did not suggest that all of the military’s energy should be met using oil. The issue is how best to determine what mix of energy sources should be used. The Obama administration apparently believes that bureaucrats, not market forces, are best suited to make that decision, despite evidence that the market is better suited to the task.

Mabus also touted one of the White House’s favorite talking points on energy production. “President Obama’s ‘All of the Above’ energy strategy clearly advocates increasing domestic oil production as much as possible,” Mabus wrote. “In fact, domestic oil production has risen and foreign oil imports have declined in each of the last three years.”

But as Scribe has reported, oil production on federal lands – lands over which the president has authority – is at a nine-year low. The increase in oil production that Mabus cites is due primarily to activity on privately-owned land.

As for oil imports, the decline Mabus cites is primarily attributable to decreases in domestic demand brought on by the economic downturn, and policies put in place by Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush, according to independent energy analysts.

Mabus went on to cite the potential price shocks that result from changes in global oil prices, claiming, “every dollar increase in the price of a barrel of oil costs the Navy an additional $30 million.”

But unless oil prices rise so rapidly that the per-gallon cost of fuel reaches $15 – the price paid for the biofuels that spurred Lamborn’s letter – even these price shocks cannot cost the Navy as much, per gallon of fuel, as the biofuel purchase in question.

Indeed, Mabus insisted, “a competitively priced and domestically produced liquid fuel that can be dropped in as a replacement to diesel or aviation gas can give us greater energy independence.” But Lamborn’s issue is precisely that the biofuels the Navy purchased are not “competitively priced.” They are many times the price of conventional fuel.

Mabus attempted to deflect that obvious point by noting that alternative energy remains expensive because “we have not provided the type or level of incentives for alternative fuels that we provide the oil industry to encourage exploration and production.”

Again, this claim is untrue. Most of the incentives enjoyed by the oil industry are enjoyed by a multitude of other businesses. They include standard tax write-offs for operating expenses, and tax breaks offered to all manufacturing or natural resource extraction companies. Alternative energy sources, meanwhile, enjoy specific and targeted subsidies aimed at benefitting certain technologies, industries, or companies.

The level of benefits afforded the oil industry is in fact below that given to the alternative energy sector. Tax breaks for oil companies – again, the primary source of federal support – pales in comparison to tax breaks given to alternative energy companies, as a recent Congressional Budget Office report pointed out.

Those facts aside, “every American would be better served by getting rid of all energy subsidies,” Heritage energy policy expert Jack Spencer told Scribe. “The fact is that the federal government doesn’t need to waste taxpayer money to bring new energy technologies on line.”

Spencer noted that if Mabus is correct and oil prices skyrocket to unaffordable levels, market forces would naturally offer a foothold for biofuels and other renewables without making the purchase of economically uncompetitive fuel sources necessary.

The Navy’s biofuel purchase, and Mabus’s defense of it, is part of an ongoing mission “that needlessly bleeds scarce resources away from core missions to advance a political agenda is untenable,” Spencer noted in a report on the effort.

“The White House is pushing the idea that the alternative energy industry would get the kick start it needs if the military will just commit to using them,” Spencer added. “But the assumptions behind this argument are flawed, and the strategy would increase demands on the military budget while harming national security.”

Here is the full text of Mabus’s letter: Mabus Letter

Source

Navy Buys Biofuels for $15 Per Gallon From Stimulus-Linked Firm

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Lachlan Markay
December 13, 2011 at 11:00 am

A California company has been hired to provide 450,000 gallons of advanced biofuels to the U.S. Navy – the “single largest purchase of biofuel in government history,” according to the Navy – at $15 per gallon, or about four times the market price of conventional jet fuel.

The Institute for Energy Research unearthed the purchase in a recent post on its website:

Last week, the Navy signed a contract with two biofuel companies to purchase 450,000 gallons of advanced biofuels at $12 million to assist in President Obama’s goal to establish a domestic biofuels industry and to advance it in ways that do not require Congressional approval. Of course, given the Navy’s mission, they claim to be pursuing biofuels to ensure adequate fuel in the future without relying on crude from the Middle East or other overseas sources that may be a threat to our national security. While this purchase is only a drop in the bucket compared to the Navy’s annual usage of more than 670 million gallons, their goal is to fuel a normal Navy mission with a 50-percent blend of biofuels and gasoline by 2016.

The company selling the fuel to the Navy is called Solazyme. The company’s corporate board includes “strategic advisor” T.J. Glauthier, who “advises companies dealing with the complex competitive and regulatory challenges in the energy sector today.”

Glauthier was the Deputy Secretary and Chief Operations Officer of the Department of Energy from 1999 to 2001, meaning he has experience dealing with energy issues on both sides of the regulatory equation.

Also of note: Glauthier served (pro bono) on President Obama’s White House Transition Team, where he specifically worked on the energy provisions of the stimulus package, according to Solazyme’s website. Solazyme itself landed a $21.8 million stimulus grant to build a biofuel refinery.

Now the company looks to have scored big once again. But the benefits extend beyond the immediate profit to be made from the sale. As Wired Magazine noted, “the often-struggling biofuels industry will be a lot closer to proving its viability” with Solazyme’s massive Navy contract.

“Our use of fossil fuels is a very real threat to our national security,” the Navy insisted in defending the purchase, apparently in reference to the supposed limits on fossil fuel availability. But as IER noted, the United States sits on enough oil and natural gas to power the country for hundreds of years – if only the federal government would permit expanded exploration and development.

The administration seems to be looking for ways to push alternative fuels without congressional action, and the military is the logical place to start. Heritage research fellow Jack Spencer noticed the trend earlier this year: “The Pentagon and the environmental movement seem to have found common cause by linking America’s national security to the basic tenets of the President’s green agenda,” Spencer noted. “Unfortunately, there are real costs for national security, energy technology, the taxpayer, and the American consumer.”

Government efforts to prop up favored industries also tend to benefit the politically connected. Solazyme certainly fits the bill.

(h/t J.E. Dyer and Whitney Pitcher)

Posted in Energy and Environment, Featured, Scribe

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