Military fuel supplies could be at risk in Pacific conflict

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By Carina

As the Red Hill fuel facility concludes its defueling process, leaving the U.S. Navy facing an extensive cleanup and closure period, questions arise about how the military will support its Indo-Pacific operations without this strategic asset. 

Simultaneously, Chinese military intellectuals delve into the historical context of U.S. military logistics, examining the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and its implications.

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Chinese analysis of historical significance

In the September 2023 issue of the Chinese publication Xiandai Jianchuan, an 18-page article titled “If the Japanese Destroyed the Oil Storage Tanks at Pearl Harbor” scrutinizes Imperial Japan’s strategic thinking during the Pearl Harbor attack. 

Lyle Goldstein, Director of Asia Engagement at the Defense Priorities Foundation, shared excerpts on social media, highlighting a growing trend in Chinese military journals revisiting historical battles.

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Strategic shift: Adapting military fuel storage in the Pacific

Goldstein emphasizes the importance of recognizing the real-world impact of potential conflict scenarios involving locations like Hawaii and Guam. 

The closure of the Red Hill facility, which held up to 250 million gallons of fuel, prompted a shift in military strategy, opting for a distributed approach to fuel storage across the region.

Strategic implications and regional challenges

Sal Mercogliano, a maritime historian, underscores Red Hill’s significant role in Indo-Pacific war plans and raises concerns about the potential vulnerability of alternative fuel storage points in conflict scenarios. 

The South China Sea tensions amplify the need for substantial fuel reserves to support high-intensity aircraft operations.

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Transition from Red Hill sparks future challenges

The transition from Red Hill introduces challenges as the military adapts to new logistics realities. 

Timothy Walton, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, acknowledges the necessity of shifting focus but expresses reservations about the military’s current readiness to meet the promises associated with the new strategy.

Underground fuel facilities construction triggers environmental viability debate 

The debate on constructing new underground fuel facilities emerges, with differing opinions on their environmental impact and tactical viability. 

Wayne Tanaka of the Sierra Club warns against placing fuel storage facilities underground, citing potential risks to vulnerable ecosystems and limited resources.

Challenges in Naval operation’s potential tanker shortages

Goldstein and Mercogliano highlight the importance of maintaining a robust reserve in the Central Pacific and express concerns about potential tanker shortages. 

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The availability and readiness of military and commercial tankers become critical factors in ensuring fuel supply lines during conflicts.

Emphasizing diplomacy in South China Sea tensions

As tensions rise in the South China Sea, diplomatic efforts gain importance.

Goldstein emphasizes the need for a strong diplomatic track with China to prevent potential conflicts. 

The ongoing military-to-military talks between the U.S. and China become crucial in managing regional disputes and averting war.

Impact on local relations and environmental consequences

The Red Hill water crisis strains relations between the military and Hawaii residents. 

The federal government faces calls to address contamination around Red Hill, highlighting the environmental and societal consequences of military operations.

The closure of the Red Hill facility prompts a reassessment of U.S. military logistics in the Indo-Pacific, sparking debates on strategic vulnerabilities, environmental considerations, and the diplomatic path forward in a region marked by geopolitical tensions.

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