Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Mobile Offshore Base

The mystery of what the Chinese are doing with the ex-Varyag, the former Russian aircraft carrier that in theory could be turned into a floating casino, continues:

Thus the Varyag is a huge depository of useful information on how to build an aircraft carrier. And that's apparently how the Chinese are using it. At the same time, the Chinese are spending a lot of time, and money, installing new equipment on the Varyag (which arrived in China without engines.) So far, China has been silent on their plans for the Varyag, but judging from what has been going on with the ship in the Dalian harbor, something substantial is happening.

Interesting. The Chinese are not just conducting research and reverse engineering, but are actually doing work on the hull. Why? A single carrier does not make much sense other than for long-range planning. They couldn't expect a single carrier battlegroup to survive long at sea for long against us. Heck, the Japanese could destroy it. And it would take years just to get a Varyag battle group ready. It makes no sense to spend a lot of time and effort for an operational carrier when the PLAN hardly seems ready to graduate to distant power projection. This seems like a waste of resources when the Chinese are fairly frugal on military spending--except when it comes to spending for the specific mission of conquering Taiwan.

So what could it be used for if not a carrier and in light of China's focus on Taiwan? Mind you, this is just pure speculation on my part, but it could make sense. So here goes.

Well, if we assume the Chinese are not willing to waste a perfectly good hull, how about the Wal-Mart version of the Mobile Offshore Base? This is how we envision such a facility:

In concept, a Mobile Offshore Base (MOB) is a modular floating base that can be deployed to an area of national defense interest to provide flight, maintenance, supply and other forward logistics support operations for U.S. and Allied forces. MOB modules will most likely be semisubmersibles which have significantly smaller wave-induced motions compared to conventional hulls. This modularity supports the widest possible range of air support, ranging from vertical/short takeoff and landing (VSTOL) aircraft using a single module to conventional takeoff and landing (CTOL) aircraft using several serially aligned modules approaching 6,000 feet in length. In addition, a MOB accepts ship-borne cargo, provides nominally 3 million square feet for equipment storage and maintenance, stores 10 million gallons of fuel, houses up to 3,000 troops (an Army heavy brigade), and discharges resources to the shore via a variety of landing craft.

If China is truly interested in conquering Taiwan in the near future, might not the Varyag be useful as a staging base--a cheap MOB--that could be towed close to Taiwan? Load it with troops, SAMs, supplies, and helicopters, and tow it close to Taiwan where it will ferry troops to the beachheads? Ship in troops to the floating base using civilian vessels and then load them on military helicopters or smaller amphibious warfare vessels based on the jury-rigged MOB and get them ashore.

A cheap, made-in-China MOB could be one of many items that slip past our radar as we look for conventional amphibious warfare developments. The Varyag may be in play for a large Chinese throw of the dice, but it probably won't be a floating casino that emerges from Dalian.