Reinventing the Cartwheel: A Strategic Interdiction Campaign in the Pacific

A White Paper by Col Michael W. “Starbaby” Pietrucha

The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Department of the Air Force or the US Government.

This is the second of a series of three papers intended to create a framework for a credible, affordable warfighting strategy against China.  The first paper, Re-Fighting the Wrong War, laid out China’s maritime vulnerabilities in the context of US experience against Japan in WWII.  The third, Airpower and Strategic Interdiction, discusses the impact on USAF force structure and capability design.

As strategists and operational artists, we must rid ourselves of the idea that the central feature of war is the clash of military forces. In strategic war, a clash may well take place, but it is not always necessary, should normally be avoided, and is almost always a means to an end and not an end in itself.

Col John A. Warden III[1]

The Air Campaign in DESERT STORM was a watershed for airpower. It demonstrated the effectiveness of precision munitions, marked a high water point for electronic warfare, and introduced radar stealth in a decisive manner. It also established a template for the application of airpower that has taken root in Air Force culture and remains firmly established a quarter century later. Unfortunately, the INSTANT THUNDER Air Campaign has also become the template for future air campaigns, despite being poorly suited for that role. In retrospect, we have learned many of the wrong lessons from DESERT STORM, in that we had time to build up forces, operated from a broad network of US-built bases, and essentially ravaged the military structure of a small, isolated nation with an incompetently led military using obsolete equipment and outdated employment doctrine. By the time ALLIED FORCE rolled around in 1999, it should have become clear that the same template produced uneven results at best, even when backed by a Combined NATO air force.

In the aftermath of a series of wars against relatively weak adversaries, planning for a larger war has descended into nonspecific terms. DoD discussions on force structure, posture and capabilities are often based on a “capabilities-based”, generic adversary reduced to the status of an opposition force. This adversary might be referred to as a “near peer”, characterized largely by the technology it brings to the fight rather than understood as a living, adaptable enemy that might have to be fought under unfavorable conditions. This habit ignores the reality that the People’s Republic of China has eclipsed the old Soviet Union and its successor as a superpower, militarily, economically, politically and technologically. We remain wedded to an inappropriate warfighting model leftover from the Gulf War, while ignoring China’s evolution as a military power. We ignore this evolution at our peril.

To attempt to apply the DESERT STORM air campaign model to other nations is of questionable utility, and applied to China in particular is pure folly. China is large, resilient, can mass military forces like few other nations, and is clearly a superior power when fighting in its own territory. Moreover, they have spend a quarter century of military development ensuring that the US can never be in a position to repeat DESERT STORM against the People’s Republic. Chinese military force design has been built specifically to counter the USAF’s reliance on stealth and forward basing, and to reduce the threat of carrier aviation by developing weapons designed to keep the carriers far away from the action. Our response has been to plan to fight symmetrically, matching our technological widgets against theirs in a battle in the PRC’s front yard. Strategically, this methodology replays the successful strategic campaign, whereby the USSR spent itself into collapse trying to match American technological prowess. This time, however, the US is on the wrong side of that strategy.

There is benefit of adopting an asymmetric offset strategy to deal with the PRC’s general technological parity and commanding position. There is additional benefit of adopting a strategy that could be executed today, without being dependent on technologies that have yet to emerge. The reality of the Chinese force structure is that it is largely a defensive structure whose utility wanes rapidly with distance from the Chinese coastline. Unlike Imperial Japan, China lacks a carrier-capable, blue-water navy with which to challenge the United States, and has not begun an overt territorial expansion that provides overseas basing facilities. Like Imperial Japan, China is heavily dependent on overseas supply lines, and thus subject to interdiction of critical warfighting resources, especially energy.

China’s import dependency is particularly acute for energy supplies, which have to travel long distances through unfavorable maritime terrain, only to then be dependent on a limited domestic transportation infrastructure which is itself energy-intensive. This means that the PRC is vulnerable to a counter-logistics campaign intended to limit China’s energy supplies in a fashion that reduces or eliminates their capability to project military power. The foundation for a military campaign against the PRC (presumably with the objective of stopping or reversing Chinese aggression) could be based on Strategic Interdiction (SI) – a Joint effort designed to prevent the movement of resources related to military forces or operations. An SI campaign would be designed to repeat the fundamental success of the Pacific War – isolating Japan to the point where it could no longer impede Allied operations in the Pacific.

Historical Background

A counter-logistics campaign has historical precedent in the Pacific. Indeed, we have volumes of data documenting the execution and effect of such a strategy against Japan. In February of 1942, Japanese forces wrested Rabaul, New Britain, from the outnumbered and unsupported Australian detachment. In short order, Rabaul became the primary forward base in the South Pacific and a major obstacle sitting squarely between both Allied theaters in the Pacific. General MacArthur’s plan to recapture the island fell afoul of resource constraints and the higher priority held by the war against Germany. By August of 1943, the President made the decision that Rabaul would instead by bypassed rather than seized, largely because of the emerging realization that Rabaul did not have to be captured in order to be neutralized. Operation Cartwheel, starting in December, neutralized the island citadel without a direct and costly amphibious assault, and without requiring resources above what was already allocated for the theater. Rabaul was attacked by air, isolated by maneuver and starved by air and naval forces to the point where it could no longer be used as a venue for power projection.[2] Australian forces liberated Rabaul without a shot fired, surrendering 4 days after the surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay.

While directed against only a small island group, the isolation of Rabaul is a relevant historical example of the success of a long-term strategy to neutralize powerful military forces in a critical position. Operation Cartwheel was a small example of what became a general strategy for the conduct of the Pacific War – that Japanese garrisons would be isolated and cut off, attacked in place, and that the home islands would be deprived of materials, energy and supplies that relied on water or rail transport. By the end of the war, a coherent maritime interdiction campaign brought the Japanese Home islands to the brink of surrender, while an air campaign against Japanese railroads tied up domestic transport to the point that needed resources could not even be moved internally. The US Strategic Bombing Survey Summary (Pacific) ends with a small section subtitled “hindsight” which indicates that airpower could have been used more effectively in an interdiction effort:

Prior to the occupation of the Marianas, B-29s could have been more effectively used in coordination with submarines for search, low-level attacks and mining in accelerating the destruction of Japanese shipping, or in destroying oil and metal plants in the southern areas, than in striking the Japanese “Inner Zone” from China bases.

In the final assault on the Japanese home islands we were handicapped by a lack of prewar economic intelligence. Greater economy of effort could have been attained, and much duplicative effort avoided, by extending and accelerating the strangulation of the Japanese economy already taking place as a result of prior attacks on shipping. This could have been done by an earlier commencement of the aerial mining program, concentration of carrier plane attacks in the last months of the war on Japan’s remaining merchant shipping rather than on her already immobilized warships, and a coordinated B-29 and carrier attack on Japan’s vulnerable railroad system beginning in April 1945.

We underestimated the ability of our air attack on Japan’s home islands, coupled as it was with blockade and previous military defeats, to achieve unconditional surrender without invasion. By July 1945, the weight of our air attack had as yet reached only a fraction of its planned proportion, Japan’s industrial potential had been fatally reduced, her civilian population had lost its confidence in victory and was approaching the limit of its endurance, and her leaders, convinced of the inevitability of defeat, were preparing to accept surrender. The only remaining problem was the timing and terms of that surrender.[3] (emphasis added)

A well-designed, pre-planned Strategic Interdiction campaign provides a potential way forward for a war-winning air and naval power application, specifically tailored to the PRC’s specific characteristics. In particular, the campaign is intended to apply lessons learned against Japan to China, as if China were in fact an island. From a transportation standpoint, China is over 98% island. China’s international land transportation networks, even in combination, are dwarfed by any of China’s larger ports taken singly, and its land transportation already suffers from a lack of capacity and susceptibility to disruption – both exploitable vulnerabilities.

Strategic Interdiction

A Strategic Interdiction (SI) campaign is a strategy based on denying logistical supplies to the fighting forces of an adversary. It is a combination of several efforts, including a limited blockade, interference with transportation networks, and disabling some energy production at the resource level. The primary objective here is to effectively neutralize certain elements of PRC military power by starving them of energy. In contrast with maritime interdiction, Strategic Interdiction is not an airtight blockade but is a targeted effort to interdict primarily the production and transport of energy resources all the way back to the source. A campaign would have four elements:

  • A “Counterforce” effort designed to attrit the adversary air forces (particularly bombers), naval forces (gray hulls) and naval auxiliaries (replenishment) to the point where they can neither project military power nor defend against US power projection, at least far beyond the PRC continental shelf.[a]
  • An “Inshore” element, which consists of operations to deny effective use of home waters, including rivers and coastal waters. Standoff or covert aerial mining is a key component of this element.
  • An “Infrastructure Degradation” plan intended to disrupt or destroy specific soft targets, such as oil terminals, oil refineries, pipelines and railway chokepoints such as tunnels and bridges. Many of these targets would be in airspace not defended by ground-based air defense.
  • A “Distant” maritime strategy, which occurs out of effective adversary military reach, intended to interdict energy supplies. This strategy is aimed primarily at bulk petroleum carriers (tankers) and secondarily at coal transports, and not at container, dry bulk, or passenger vessels. Such a strategy might not be lethally oriented, directed instead towards the seizure and internment of PRC-bound vessels.

In effect, this strategy targets its effects on naval and air forces, which rely on jet fuel, and leaves the gasoline and diesel-dependent army shorebound.  Along the way, secondary effects ripple through the industrial, refining, power generation and transportation sectors of the economy, with broad effects that are difficult to predict or quantify.  A strategic interdiction strategy is not a short war strategy.  It is a prolonged containment strategy derived from previous experience in the Pacific War.

While we don’t think of the PRC as an island nation, effectively it is one. Over 98% of the PRC’s external commerce (by tonnage moved) is seaborne. The transportation infrastructure over land borders accounts for a miniscule portion of PRC imports, and all goods crossing the borders are a long way from China’s industrial sector. The total volume of goods moved overland via train, road and watercraft through the borders in a year is exceeded by the port of Shanghai in 60 days, with room to spare.[4] This reality is effectively impossible to change or mitigate in any significant way, and clearly indicates the potential of an SI campaign focused on maritime transport.

Energy: The Sixth Ring

The targeting strategy for the Gulf War’s airpower application was based on Col John Warden’s “Five Rings”, which threated the subject country (in this case, Iraq) as a series of concentric rings. The outermost ring (fielded forces) protected the inner rings (population, infrastructure, organic essentials and leadership). As the theory went, one of the key advantages of airpower was that aircraft could fly over the outermost rings to get to the key one – leadership.[5] While applicable to Iraq in 1990, the applicability to China is questionable, as it is not a centralized Baath Party dictatorship led by a single individual. Furthermore, it is risky to attempt to execute a decapitation strategy against a state with a significant nuclear arsenal. Instead, an SI strategy is centered on the sixth ring, which doesn’t exist at all in Col Warden’s construct except as part of the second and third rings.

Figure 1: 2013 Primary Energy Consumption in million tons of oil (MTO) equivalent

Figure 1: 2013 Primary Energy Consumption in million tons of oil (MTO) equivalent

The Sixth Ring is the Energy ring. First laid out in Airpower and Globalization Effects: Rethinking the Five Rings[6], the sixth ring is not a ring at all. Rather, it is the glue that holds all of the rings together. In this modified construct, the center ring is still a physical target, but under an SI strategy, it is not one that is attacked directly. Effects aimed at it, along with every other ring, are secondary effects of an energy denial strategy.

China is a massive energy consumer, relying primarily on coal for electricity and oil for transportation.[b] The two are not really interchangeable, and each has its own vulnerabilities. Coal-fired power plants provide approximately 70% of China’s electricity generation, a percentage that has remained relatively constant since 1980. Nuclear, natural gas, solar and hydropower are a comparatively small portion of the power generation infrastructure, providing less energy combined than oil does alone. As these last four are comparatively minor energy sources, they are ignored in this analysis.


China is the world’s largest coal consumer.   Steam coal is used for power, and coking coal for industrial processes. Coal consumption is largely taken up by industry, including power generation. Even without counting heating demand, the power sector consumes more steam coal than industry.

Figure 2: Coal Consumption (Statistical Yearbook 2013)

Figure 2: Coal Consumption (Statistical Yearbook 2013)

China produces most of its coal domestically, producing 3.87 billion tonnes[c] of coal in 2014 and importing another 291 million tonnes in 2014, a domestic/import ratio of better than 13:1. In the past two years, Mongolia has emerged as a key supplier of imported coal, supplying by train and truck rather than by ship.

In 2012, China had 58 coal offload ports, scattered all along the coast, serving both domestic and international coal movement.[7]  While imported coal appears to be a drop in the bucket compared to the total coal supply, this is not true for all regions. Seventy percent of imported steam coal was consumed by power plants in coastal regions south of the Yangtze (Guangdong, Shanghai, Guangxi, Zhe-jiang, and Jiangsu) – the demand centers furthest from China’s main coal-producing regions.[8] This may not be related to the capacity of the transport system but its cost – for the southeastern provinces it is cheaper to import coal than to ship it domestically.


Crude oil accounted for roughly 19% of China’s electricity consumption in 2012, making it a distant second to coal. Oil supplies are mostly gobbled up in transportation, although diesel is also the fuel of choice for backup power generation. China’s appetite for crude is massive, requiring imports of 2.26 billion barrels[9] and another 219 million barrels[10] of refined fuels on top of domestic oil production of 1.53 billon barrels in 2014.[11] In total, in 2014 China imported 56% of its oil needs.

Figure 3: 2011 Oil Consumption (China Statistical Yearbook 2013)

Figure 3: 2011 Oil Consumption (China Statistical Yearbook 2013)

The lion’s share of petroleum consumption is taken up by industry, including electricity production, chemical manufacture, and refining. The transportation sector[d] in China consumes almost as much petroleum as industry, consuming the vast majority of middle and light distillates burned in a year. Transport accounts for 46% of the gasoline consumed, 91% of the kerosene, and 63% of the diesel fuel. Oddly enough, as much as two thirds of China’s annual diesel fuel consumption is burned transporting coal.[12] By comparison, the entire transportation sector consumes less than 2% of the electricity used in a year.[13]

China is making an effort to establish a strategic petroleum reserve (SPR) for crude oil.  In 2010, China had a commercial storage capacity of between 170 and 310 million barrels, but no national strategic reserve at all.  The PRC’ 10th 5-Year Plan (2000-2005) marked the beginning of the government SPR program.  Phase 1 established a capacity of 103 million barrels at four sites and was filled by 2009; phase 2 is expanding that to by another 226 million barrels at nine locations, of which 210 million barrels will be filled by the end of 2015.[14]  The last phase, (2020), should bring the SPR capacity to half a billion barrels of crude oil. Even at this capacity, the SPR holds less oil than the PRC imports in three months.  The SPR holds no refined products, which are entirely reliant on a commercial storage capacity estimated at 400 to 480 million barrels for all types of refined fuel combined.[15]  With one notable exception using a reclaimed salt mine, the SPR sites are conventional above-ground storage tanks, often on the coast, and often next to existing refineries.

The Internal Transportation Network

China has a well-developed transportation network all along the eastern corridor, consisting of waterways, roads and railways. Compared to the United States, China’s water transport enterprise is massive while the pipeline transport infrastructure is miniscule. As of 2013, the Chinese rail network consisted of 90,000 km of conventional railway lines and another 10,000 km of high-speed lines, which are mostly passenger lines. Of this, 56,000 km was electric and 48,000 km double-tracked.[16]  The country has 125,000 km of navigable inland waterways, including the Yangtze River, which moves more freight by far than any other inland waterway in the world. [17] The public road network consists of 4.36 million km[18] of roads, 34% of which are dirt[19] with 424,000 km of highways including 9600 km of expressway.[20] In 2012, the country reported having 9100 km of oil and gas pipelines, roughly 0.3% of the US pipeline infrastructure.

Infrastructure length (in km) Rail High-Speed Rail Pipeline Public Road


Unpaved Road Interstate Waterway
PRC 90,000 10,000 9,100 4.36 M 1.48M 9,600 125,000
US[21] 250,000 0 2.82M[e] 6.63M 2.31M 76,788 40,000

Table 1: Comparative Lengths of Transportation Infrastructure (2013)

The transportation network is substantially less dense away from the eastern provinces, and is comparatively sparse at the country’s borders or in the west. With respect to the tonnage of freight moved (which includes fossil fuels), China uses highways, waterways and rail, in that order, to move goods internally. Air transport is virtually insignificant by comparison, while pipeline transport for oil, refined products and gas is comparatively limited. Measured by tonne-kilometers rather than simply tonnage, waterways and highways switch places, because waterways are used to ship goods longer distances by far. In 2012, the average tonne of freight moved 1781 km by waterway, 748 km by road and a mere 187 by road.[22]

Many trips mix modes of surface transportation. The implication of this transport distribution is that China’s internal transport is reliant on the two modes that are most oil-intensive. In 2014 total freight traffic increased by over 7% compared to 2013, with roads and waterways gaining traffic (10 and 16% increases, respectively) and rail losing it (5.6% decrease).[23]

Transport Mode Tonnes (millions) % Tonne-km


Highway 33,430.0 76 6.114 T 33
Waterway 5,960.0 14 9.188 T 50
Rail 3,810.0 9 2.753 T 15
Pipeline[24] 69.0 1 0.388 2
Aviation 5.9 < 0.1 0.186 <1
Total 43,910.0 100 18.46 T 100

Table 2: 2014 Freight Movement by Mode[25]

Figure 4: Types of Freight Moved by Rail (2012)

Figure 4: Types of Freight Moved by Rail (2012)

It takes energy to move energy. Coal accounts for a full 52% of the tonnage shipped and 40% of the tonne-km hauled by rail and 21% of the domestic freight handled in the large coastal and river ports. Petroleum products account for only 4% of the rail tonnage and 9% of the port freight. On average, a tonne of coal moved by rail travels 647 km[26][27].Moving coal is nontrivial in China. The three top coal-producing provinces are Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia (outlined in black), which alone account for more than half of the national coal output. These three provinces are some distance from the coal-consuming provinces. The railway network was unable to keep up with the transport demand as China’s coal usage increased, and as a result from 1997 much coal traffic was diverted to multimode transport, where coal is carried by rail to the ports on the Bohai Sea and thence by coastal shipping to the south.[28] Truck transport is used extensively, resulting in world-class traffic jams. In 2010, Inner Mongolia coal traffic generated several major traffic jams, extending for more than 100 km and lasting for days.[29]

The difficulties moving coal often forces provinces far from the producing regions to ration power consumption in response to supply disruptions, including inclement weather. The strained coal transportation system is already imposing local coal shortages on the power industry, with the impact greatest on the southwestern provinces (Tibet, Sichuan, Chongqing, Gansu) and the provinces south of the Yangtze. [30] Oddly enough, Shanxi province exported so much of its production in 2012 that its own power plants ran short.

Figure 5: Coal Demand in China, 2012. The primary coal-producing provinces are outlined in black.

Figure 5: Coal Demand in China, 2012. The primary coal-producing provinces are outlined in black.

Figure 6: China's Energy Infrastructure. Crude oil pipelines are in green (orange if international), and oil product pipelines are blue. Refineries (gas pumps) that produce jet fuel are red, with orange producing jet fuel components. Green refineries mostly produce chemicals and no fuel. Oil terminals are green ships, green and purple circles are the SPR sites, and the rail network is in red. No teakettle refineries or province borders are displayed.

Figure 6: China’s Energy Infrastructure. Crude oil pipelines are in green (orange if international), and oil product pipelines are blue. Refineries (gas pumps) that produce jet fuel are red, with orange producing jet fuel components. Green refineries mostly produce chemicals and no fuel. Oil terminals are green ships, green and purple circles are the SPR sites, and the rail network is in red. No teakettle refineries or province borders are displayed.

The Refining Sector

Crude oil cannot be burned for any purpose until it has been refined. In short, getting refined petroleum products is dependent on the quality of the oil that goes in and the equipment available for processing the oil. Some products are distilled, while others are chemically broken down and reformed. Oil is full of impurities, especially water, salt and sulfur, which must be removed during refining. Chinese oil imports are largely Middle Eastern, heavy “sour” oils which require more refinery processing than the “light, sweet” crude produced elsewhere. A more in-depth discussion of refining is included in Appendix C, but in a nutshell, it is easier to make gasoline, diesel and fuel oil, and harder to make jet fuel.

The fuel that is most important from a military power projection standpoint is jet fuel, a high-quality mixture of kerosene, naphtha and additives used by aircraft and turbine-powered ships. Without fuel, aircraft are grounded and warships remain in port. One of the goals of an SI campaign it to make it really hard or impossible to make jet fuel. Turbine powered ships can operate with marine diesel fuel (the US Navy runs ship turbines on it) but aircraft turbines cannot.

In the past decade, the PRC has undertaken an ambitious effort to increase its refining capability from 6M barrels per day (bbl/d) in 2000 to 12.6M bbl/d in 2013[31], while simultaneously consolidating into fewer refineries of much greater size.[32]  As a result, there is excess capacity remaining and the number of lucrative targets has been reduced and refinery functions consolidated. The refinery sector operated at only 81% of capacity in 2012,[33] which has turned out to be a mixed blessing. This excess capacity actually delayed further expansion of domestic refineries originally planned for 2016 and 2017, leaving the Sino-Burmese pipeline unable to deliver oil for refining because the ground has not been broken for the refinery site that would have received the imported crude.

As late as 2012, China did not meet all of its refined fuel requirements with domestic refining, and in 2012 one out of every four barrels of petroleum imported was actually a refined product.[34] As the market shifted, so did the mix of refined fuels, as producers chased the more profitable products, especially jet fuel. In 2014, China was a net exporter of all refined fuel products except naphtha.[35] This occurred despite the fact that China’s surviving smaller “teakettle” refineries, which account for a quarter of the nation’s refinery capacity, produce no jet fuel components at all.[36]

Like coal, China’s refinery infrastructure is not evenly distributed. Refinery capacity is concentrated in the east, with a scattering of refineries along the sole railway link to the far west. Refineries in the country’s interior are largely reliant on domestic feedstock. Teakettle, or small privately – owned refineries, have to acquire a permit to use imported oil at all. Critically, the refineries along the coast are more reliant on imported oil, and the four southern provinces are close to 100% reliant on overseas imports for their feedstock.

Strategic Interdiction

Given China’s unique energy vulnerabilities, combining massive demand, significant imports, and a capacity-challenged transportation network, a military campaign designed to apply pressure at multiple points in the energy web would seem to be both cost-effective to execute and difficult to counter, even under conditions where operations in the Western Pacific are limited in scope and duration. The objectives of such a campaign would be to so disrupt the energy and transport sectors of the PRC such that there is a pervasive and enduring effect on fielded forces. The campaign design takes lessons learned from the Pacific War against Japan, where both the Imperial Japanese Fleet and its air arm were systematically deprived of fuel, which affected all aspects of their military enterprise from engine testing and training to flight time and vital resupply.

A Strategic Interdiction campaign rests on four pillars and is intended to provide a viable offset strategy that is based on a presumed need to coerce a specific adversary in a designated region – China in the Western Pacific. The campaign is a long-term, counter-logistics effort which rests on four pillars; Counterforce, Inshore, Infrastructure Degradation and Distant Interdiction.

I.  Counterforce

The Counterforce pillar is intended to neutralize any PLAN or PLANAF attempt to project power outside Chinese coastal regions and is built in expectation that the PLAN and PLAAF will come out to fight. In fact, such an adventure against Taiwan, the Senkaku Islands or any number of island possessions may be the event that requires a US response in the first place. The PLAN may conduct an amphibious operation, undertake convoy escort or execute any of the out-of-area missions that a blue-water navy would aspire to. It may be desirable to sink surface combatants, but also replenishment ships, auxiliaries or minesweeping vessels. It is also permissible to attack blockade runners regardless of ownership, N issue of particular importance to the fourth pillar.

PLAAF bomber aircraft armed with cruise missiles will undertake countermaritime and counterland missions at some distance, perhaps as far as Guam. It will be necessary to counter these operations, often from a standoff position. In the Pacific, the long expanses of open ocean will require a focus on counterair and countermaritime capabilities. US antiship capabilities have long since been allowed to atrophy, even in the Navy, as the PLAN has fielded increasingly capable anti-air-warfare (AAW) ships which must be attacked from increasingly long distances.

Without diving into specific weapon and sensor combinations, standoff and specificity are key antiship weapons attributes, and any aircraft or vessel that launches them must have a suitable sensor system or a connection to one. The simplest method, and the most difficult to affect by enemy action, is for the launching unit to have its own system for detection, identification and targeting of its onboard weapons. This is already approach used by fighter aircraft for air-to-air targets, and by all surface combatants. This approach could be extended to include countermaritime capabilities. Improved long-range sensors, especially radar and ELINT sensors useful in antisurface (ASuW) warfare, could transform our bomber fleet into the transoceanic countermaritime force that it used to be. Increasing the effectiveness of counterair capabilities is also a key component of this pillar.

II.  Inshore

Inshore operations are closely related to the counterforce pillar; there is significant overlap in capabilities. The purpose of inshore operations is somewhat different – the inshore pillar is intended to deny the PRC the unfettered use of waterways, rivers, harbors and offloading and replenishment facilities. The objective is twofold; to prevent the PLAN from being able to sortie, sustain at sea, and reload or replenish, while simultaneously interdicting energy supplies which are transported by oceangoing, coastal or riverine vessels. Strictly speaking, with the exception of river mining, this pillar does not require direct attack against the mainland, and relies as much on the threat of attack as actual attack.

Aerial or covert mining is a significant component of the inshore strategy, capitalizing on both the effects of actual mines and the suppressive nature that fear of mines has on shipping. Aerial mining is the only way to lay large offensive minefields quickly, while covert (underwater) mining may allow for precise placement of advanced mines. The Yangtze was mined by USAAF in World War II, and the Rangoon River in Burma was entirely closed to Japanese shipping by aerial mines.  PACOM has recently demonstrated the Quickstrike-ER, a standoff, precision version of the legacy Quickstrike bottom mine. Combined with the shorter-range Quickstrike-J, the US is now developing the capability for one aircraft to lay a minefield in a single pass. Combined with underwater minelaying, low altitude insertion or stealth aircraft, there is an emerging capability to lay minefields in areas where it was previously infeasible, including rivers, river mouths, and harbors. Smart target detection devices allow both limited selectivity of targeting and resistance to minesweeping.

The inshore pillar is aimed primarily against the waterborne element of the transportation network, with secondary effects against naval facilities and ships. It is intended to apply against domestic, short-haul shipping, and against ships carrying critical imports which penetrate an Allied naval cordon. It would be possible to interdict vessels at either end of the network for domestic traffic – coal traffic might be bottled either at the on-load or offload facilities. Fear of mines may be more effective at halting traffic than actual mines themselves. While under the 1907 Hague Convention all minefields have to be declared, not all declared fields have to be mined. In many cases, once mines have been employed somewhere, they could have been employed anywhere and this uncertainty is a powerful deterrent to movement.[f]

III.  Infrastructure Degradation

Interdiction of maritime transport alone will not necessarily achieve the full goals of the campaign by itself, although it will likely have a devastating (though reversible) effect on PRC industry and power generation. The PRC’s domestic energy supplies, combined with refining capability, ensure that the military could still be supplied with sufficient energy supplies to conduct sustained operations, albeit at a significant cost to other domestic priorities. Local energy shortages will likely be exacerbated and reallocation of suddenly scarce resources would be challenging even for a country where the actual flows of resources were well known.[g] The infrastructure degradation campaign is intended to give the resource denial efforts a push in the wrong direction by disrupting, incapacitiating or destroying critical chokepoints in energy transport and production. The most lucrative targets are rail tunnels and bridges, certain refinery components, international oil pipelines and oil transfer terminals. Nonlethal means may be used in addition to lethal ones, although even a nonlethal attack on petroleum handling or refining facilities can result in a lethal catastrophic effect.

The infrastructure degradation pillar is intended to constrain overland imports, while simultaneously destroying the refinery capacity necessary to turn strategic reserve or domestic crude oil into useable fuel and interdicting rail and water transportation at their most vulnerable points.

IV.  Distant Interdiction

The Distant Interdiction pillar involves a maritime interdiction effort aimed specifically against ships bound for China with energy cargos, particularly oil, refined oil products, and coal. It is the most legally complex of the pillars in that it involves action against both Chinese and foreign-owned shipping. (Legal issues are addressed in Appendix B). It is also the pillar that can and should consist largely of actions that involve minimal property destruction, although it does involve the use of force. It takes advantage of the fact that the vast majority of China’s imported energy supplies come through chokepoints that can be easily interdicted. The distant interdiction effort stretches from the Asian continental shelf all the way back to the original points of embarkation.

The maritime geography is unfavorable for China. Unlike the US, which has four coasts that are mostly devoid of potentially hostile neighbors (excepting Cuba, of course), China is hemmed in by island chains that are owned by nation-states with longstanding territorial disputes with China. Supply lines across the Pacific from the Panama Canal or South America pass nearby US territory on the way. Furthermore, China has neither a true blue-water navy nor a robust network of forward bases, and cannot project naval power long distances from the mainland. In short, the People’s Liberation Army Navy cannot protect its supply lines for energy back to the sources, which are typically in the Middle East for oil, or Australia for coal.

The distant interdiction portion of the campaign would aim to define energy supplies as contraband and to intercept, board and intern vessels carrying energy supplies to China. This would include vessels that are Chinese-flagged and foreign flagged ships carrying energy to China. The vast majority of ships, which are container ships, are of no interest and can be allowed through, but petroleum tankers (oil, oil products and LPG) and bulk coal carriers would be boarded, seized, and interned. The nature of these ship designs makes them the easiest to identify and greatly simplifies the execution of a blockade.

Figure 7: Maritime Freight Traffic History2014 (

Figure 7: Maritime Freight Traffic History2014 (

Under threat of attack, neutral ships may elect to avoid the conflict area, carrying other cargoes to other ports. There is little profit in attempting to deliver bulk cargo while risking damage or loss of the ship. Under such conditions insurance rates typically rise, and the premium for a brief exposure may reach upwards of 10% the market value of the vessel, plus cargo value.[37] The internment of Chinese-flagged vessels or neutrals with contraband bound for China is a compound-interest challenge. Every internment not only removes the current cargo from the delivery sequence, but removes all subsequent cargoes that might have been carried by that ship. In the case of very large crude carriers (VLCCs), that can account for very large cargos indeed. At this time, there are less than 100 Chinese-flagged VLCCs, accounting for under a sixth of the worldwide VLCC stock.[38] Given the favorable geography, the US Navy would not have to spread out far in order to interdict these ships, and may even block chokepoints outside Asia, like the Bab el Mandeb or Straits of Hormuz.

In 2014 an average of around 11-15 VLCCs transited the Straits of Malacca on any given date, travelling in both directions.[39]  Not all of these were bound for China, and a tanker may in fact carry oil for several destinations on a single voyage. A naval task force, supported by air, could intercept a significant number of these ships and interrupt their transit, either loaded or during the return voyage. Each ship that delivers cargo to China is subject to seizure on the return, providing two seizure opportunities on a single voyage.

The Targets

Sample targets were compiled for this analysis. A more detailed discussion of the hundred seven land targets is provided in Appendix A, along with the inshore minefields. The largest target category is rail lines, which are broken at tunnel entrances and bridges to make repair time consuming and difficult. There are 32 targets chosen (white targets) to interdict coal transport (mostly exiting Shanxi and Shaanxi provinces) and international coal and oil imports. All of the rail transport from these two coal-producing provinces plus Inner Mongolia is interdicted, blocking movement of 70% of the country’s domestic coal. All railway border crossings were interdicted on the Chinese side. Thirty-two additional rail targets (yellow targets) were selected to shatter the rail transportation network, mostly at river crossings, which are intended to have a secondary effect of blocking shipping channels. Every railroad bridge along the Yangtze 500 nm upstream from Shanghai is on the list. Combined with additional railroad bridges across other waterways, the rail links between north and south China are severed, excepting only the high-speed passenger lines which are only broken at the Yangtze. Every one of the country’s top ten freight corridors is broken in at least one place. Road bridges were only targeted across the Yangtze River (to block ship traffic) or when roads and railroads shared a bridge. Road tunnels were targeted only if adjacent to rail tunnel targets.

Pipelines accounted for six targets (orange), inside China’s borders, usually by targeting pumping stations but also the pipeline itself. There are 32 refinery targets (red), all allocated to refineries producing jet fuel, kerosene, and/or adjacent to strategic petroleum reserves. Distillation towers, rail terminals, rail access, power plants, and pumping stations consisted of the majority of aimpoints, with 2-10 aimpoints per refinery. Water terminals were left alone unless directly attached to a refinery. Some refineries were isolated by cutting the rail approaches at bridges and otherwise leaving the refinery alone. Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites were targeted when adjacent to refineries but not if otherwise located.

There are 39 inshore targets, all minefields (blue). Those minefields accounted for all PLAN bases and all large oil terminals, plus the mouths of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers. No river mining was conducted upstream of any river mouth. Only two minefields are offshore, both at oil terminals in the South China Sea, all others were within the 12 mile limit and often within the 3 mile limit. Because of the uncertainty involved with mining in defended airspace, most coastal refineries were double or triple-tapped, in that their rail links and refining capacity was directly attacked in addition to mining. Mined oil terminals are essentially double-tapped with the distant interdiction pillar.

No military facilities were directly targeted, nor were communications, underground petroleum storage, air defenses, commercial power plants, coal load/offload facilities, space control, space launch or leadership targets.

Figure 8: Sample Target Array. The Railroad network is in red, with the Yangtze displayed (quite improbably) in blue. Provinces are labeled.

Figure 8: Sample Target Array. The Railroad network is in red, with the Yangtze displayed (quite improbably) in blue. Provinces are labeled.


The direct effect of an SI strategy on PRC power projection capabilities cannot be precisely predicted from the data available from open sources. The goal of depriving PLAN and PLAAF forces of jet fuel will not be accomplished within a few weeks. While China has no strategic reserve for refined petroleum products, it does have commercial storage, plus (presumably) military storage of undetermined size and composition. Diversion from civilian use and reallocation of refinery resources are probable, but both of those efforts will be hampered by interference with transportation; reallocation of production may be prevented by damage to refineries.

Figure 9: Simple Energy Web for Transportation

Figure 9: Simple Energy Web for Transportation

A detailed analysis of the anticipated effects is both beyond the scope of this white paper and not suitable for public dissemination in any case. What is certain is that an energy denial strategy will have immediate effects on the PRC. Interdiction of oil imports will force both an immediate reallocation of resources and likely cause a dip into the strategic reserve. A reduction of coal imports will have a rapid effect on power generation, although a reduction in industrial power use could mitigate the effects of power shortages.   Any perturbations, including physical damage, against the rail transportation system will ripple through the country – the system is over capacity as it is and even weather events disrupt rail transport. Damage to refineries simply cannot be mitigated rapidly – these are the softest of soft targets and even relatively minor damage can cause a refinery to shut down.

Figure 10: Refinery Feedstock (Crude oil) Sources

Figure 10: Refinery Feedstock (Crude oil) Sources

It is equally certain that interdiction of coal and oil imports will have a disproportionate effect on the provinces bordering the South China Sea. Aside from the inevitable electricity shortages, oil interdiction will idle every refinery in the four southeastern provinces, taking 20% of the country’s total refinery capacity offline without any need to damage those refineries.

From an interdiction standpoint, it is easiest to interrupt foreign flows, whether they flow by sea or by pipeline. For coal, overseas interdiction is nevertheless worth the effort because of the disproportionate impact on the coastal provinces. Of course, 100% import interdiction cannot be achieved overnight and may never be achieved at all, given the willingness and capability of neighboring countries to revert to rail imports, however marginal. Interdiction of 90% of oil imports is not only achievable, but impossible to offset through other transport means. This will force the PRC to rely on its strategic reserve almost immediately and cause a massive reallocation of fuel use requirements. It may also have localized impacts on military forces, as it will be much harder to supply PLAN and PLAAF units based in the south. Only two of the Strategic Petroleum Reserve depots are in the south, comprising less than 20% of the SPR.

Additional effects on internal energy transport are another element of the strategy. The inshore effort is intended to disrupt both military and energy logistics. In the case of coal, 30% of domestic coal transport is by river and coastal traffic, which is especially vulnerable to mine warfare. Chinese short-haul shipping is a commercial and not a state enterprise, and civilian shipowners have been traditionally unwilling to risk their vessels in hostile waters. A ship sunk at a loading berth blocks the facility effectively and for a significant duration.

Figure 11: Coal Transport Modes (2013)

Figure 11: Coal Transport Modes (2013)

Infrastructure degradation will affect both water and rail transport, especially if rail bridges are dropped into major waterways. The Danube River was effectively closed to large traffic for five years after the Novi Sad bridges were dropped in ALLIED FORCE. Damage to pipeline pumping stations, rail tunnels, bridges and refineries will be time consuming and difficult to repair, and in the case of refineries, suitable equipment may not be available domestically.

The secondary effects on electricity production will likewise ripple through the transportation and industrial sectors. Electricity shortages caused by oil or coal interdiction will affect the train network; refineries starved of either feedstock or electricity cannot refine and pipelines without electricity do not move oil. Reduced diesel production will affect the non-electric portion of the rail network plus both maritime and truck transport, while at he same time diesel will be in demand for emergency power generation. Reprioritization of limited freight transport will affect industry (itself starved for power) and agriculture directly, as well as disrupting distribution of industrial or agricultural products. Local surpluses and shortages of fuel, coal and electricity are certain to occur, further complicating distribution challenges.

Similar effects can be directly observed from single industrial accident. In November of 2013 a Sinopec pipeline in Huangdao, Shandong Province exploded, killing over 60 people and shutting the pipeline down. This caused production cutbacks in two nearby refineries, a reallocation of refinery production company-wide, and a shutdown of the Qingdao oil terminal for a week. Tankers were diverted to other ports, causing offshore backups because of the lack of available offload facilities. Environmental damage took many weeks to clean up and the oil berths were out of commission for months.[40][41] All of these cascading events were the result of the equivalent of a single weapon hit and the pipeline was never repaired.

The duration of any campaign is difficult to predict. The amount of military storage for refined fuel remains an unknown factor. Similarly, there are absolute limits on refinery production, rail transport, and truck movement of refined products, none of which are known, perhaps even to the PRC government. Finally, the wartime consumption of jet fuel by the PLAN and PLAAF is largely conjectural. Further complicating any assessment is the fact that turbine-powered ships can and do run on marine diesel fuel, which is still refined distillate, but is closer to diesel fuel in composition than kerosene.


A counter-logistics campaign, fought from long range where possible, is intended to provide a strategy that avoids China’s strengths in air defense and relies on a very limited target list focused on targets that are neither hardened nor mobile. Instead of matching technologically advanced military forces against like systems in terrain favorable to China, it is intended to fight only those units that come out to fight and leave many of their advantages behind. This is a deliberate offset strategy, tailored to China, which avoids the pitfalls inherent in the misapplication of older airpower theory and takes the specific characteristics of the adversary into account. It is also a strategy that could be executed today, with todays’ force structure, posture and today’s personnel. The DoD could certainly improve in all of those areas, but the execution of an SI campaign will not need to wait for the development of new technologies and it does not hinge on transient vulnerabilities.

Our experience in World War II demonstrated the effectiveness of our efforts to successfully interdict the Japanese transportation systems and oil storage and production facilities. The Pacific Strategic Bombing Survey noted in retrospect that our efforts were inefficiently directed – if we had possessed accurate intelligence about the nature of Japan’s logistics network, we might have rearranged our targeting priorities to increase our effects and shortened our timelines. With respect to China, we do have significant knowledge about the energy sector, precisely because it is involved directly in foreign trade and a great deal of data is available. Instead of attempting to fight a generic “near peer” adversary with a template drawn from DESERT STORM, we should be planning to apply a counter-logistics strategy against a real adversary, with the attendant national characteristics, vulnerabilities, and geography.

Appendix A:  Selected Fixed Target List

The sample target set was drawn from a an unclassified database which included oil pipelines, rail transportation, refineries, oil terminals and People’s Liberation Army Navy shore support facilities. The 107 targets were arranged into four categories by intended effect and were chosen for vulnerability to standoff munitions, particularly cruise missiles.

Rail Tunnels (White)

Figure 12: Railroad Tunnel - Viaduct between Shanxi and Hubei Provinces. This is typical of the target selection, in that this is a complex construction in unfavorable terrain some distance from the nearest sizable town.

Figure 12: Railroad Tunnel – Viaduct between Shanxi and Hubei Provinces. This is typical of the target selection, in that this is a complex construction in unfavorable terrain some distance from the nearest sizable town.

Railroads transport the majority of coal, and are the prime method of moving products to and from refineries that do not have coastal or river access. The targeting scheme was intended to interdict railways at points where repair is time consuming, difficult, and far from population centers. Tunnels were potentially lucrative targets, although tunnels that exited onto bridges or viaducts were chosen where possible to further complicate repair efforts. Where possible, rail tunnels were chosen in locations where the road infrastructure was limited, to further burden repair crews. In cases where major highways were adjacent to the chosen rail tunnels, those tunnels were also hit, while still being counted as rail targets.

The tunnels chosen were intended to isolate Shanxi, Shaanxi, and Inner Mongolia. All rail lines exiting to the south or east were cut, breaking all of the rail transport lines used to transport coal to the Bohai Sea or northern provinces. Only the links into Ninxia or Inner Mongolia are left intact. Tunnel attacks were also used to break rail crossings from Russia, North Korea, and Kazakhstan. All three rail lines provide energy imports. The Russian and Kazakh links are broken at tunnels, while the North Korean link is broken at the Yalu River.

Figure 13: The southeastern entrance to the Livadica RR Tunnel, closed by two 2000-lb LGBs (NATO).

Figure 13: The southeastern entrance to the Livadica RR Tunnel, closed by two 2000-lb LGBs (NATO).

Tunnel attacks in ALLIED FORCE typically used a pair of 2000-lb. GBU-10 or GBU-24 LGBs, or a single AGM-130, which had far greater precision.

Rail Bridges (Yellow)

The 37 yellow targets were chosen to break up the PRC’s national rail system, with particular emphasis given to freight lines rather than high-speed rail. The breaks in the rail were chosen also to isolate specific refineries, to drop wreckage into shipping channels, and to close every rail crossing on the Yangtze River up to 800 nm from the river mouth, thereby splitting China in half. Guanxi and Guangdong provinces, in the south, were also deliberately isolated from the rail network and the rail ferry to Hainan Island was chosen for targeting. The sole rail line to Xinjiang province in the far west is broken at several points. Using Chinese statistical data, the top ten rail freight segments (based on annual tonne-km) were identified and every one is broken in at least one location.

Rail bridges are difficult to repair, it is often faster to replace bridges with temporary structures than to replace a destroyed bridge span. In Novi Sad, Serbia, the destroyed Zezelj Bridge was replaced by a temporary span over 400 meters long in 100 days,[42] but to date the original bridge has not been replaced with a permanent structure. Bridge construction typically takes two to five years.

Bridges can also be difficult targets to destroy, requiring large warheads in number. Typically, 2000-lb. warheads are required, although a single well-placed hit can collapse a bridge span. The aforementioned Zezelj Bridge shrugged off multiple hits by very precisely placed AGM-130s. While damaged, it was still standing. It wasn’t until a B-2 hit the bridge with ten 2000-lb. weapons in a single attack that the bridge came down.

Figure 14: Pre and poststrike photos of the Zezelj Bridge in Novi Sad (NATO)

Figure 14: Pre and poststrike photos of the Zezelj Bridge in Novi Sad (NATO)

The secondary purpose of targeting river bridges is to interfere with river traffic. In fact, the major reason that the expressway bridges in Shanghai are targeted is to block the shipping channels. Temporary repair or reconstruction work can interfere with river traffic on its own. Again, the NATO experience in Serbia demonstrated the effectiveness of bridge destruction in preventing river travel.

For four years afterward, the river was closed to traffic, the damaged bridge spans were removed, a pontoon crossing was set in place, and a 70-meter-wide channel was cleared through the river. These actions enabled some river traffic to resume, but it was limited to small ships that could navigate through the narrow, temporary channel. Many shipping organizations switched to trucks as their transportation means to bypass the stricken river. The estimated economic loss was one million euros per day.[43]

The additional burden of mapping debris to clear unexploded ordnance (UXOs) further slows down any clearance process. PMC Engineering, which led the Danube clearance efforts in Novi Sad, discovered and recovered six UXOs, three from ALLIED FORCE and three left over from World War II. While the targeting scheme in this analysis did not include deliberate aerial mining of bridge wreckage in the water, such measures would significantly impede clearance and recovery operations.

Figure 15: Xingbin's twin rail bridges require high spans because of the elevated banks, making this crossing difficult to repair temporarily. The next nearest railroad bridge is 100 nm downstream, and is also targeted.

Figure 15: Xingbin’s twin rail bridges require high spans because of the elevated banks, making this crossing difficult to repair temporarily. The next nearest railroad bridge is 100 nm downstream, and is also targeted.

There are workarounds. Pontoon bridges can be constructed quickly, but they effectively block river traffic and are weight-limited. Some river crossings cannot be crossed with pontoon bridges (see Fig. 17) because of high banks, marshy shores, or other conditions affecting the approaches to the shoreline. Transport can be shifted to roads, and in fact this is one of the reasons that road bridges are largely unmolested – to allow the transportation sector to utilize the most fuel-intensive and inefficient mode of transport.

Refinery Targets (Red)

Refinery targets were restricted to refineries that produce jet fuel or kerosene, the primary jet fuel component. Chemical refineries were left alone, as were all domestic minor (teakettle) refineries.

Figure 16: Post-strike imagery of the Novi Sad Petroleum Refinery (NATO). Catastrophic secondary damage to the refining plant from this fire extended to only one nearby distillation tower, while damage to the tank farms was largely limited to the tanks that were actually hit.

Figure 16: Post-strike imagery of the Novi Sad Petroleum Refinery (NATO). Catastrophic secondary damage to the refining plant from this fire extended to only one nearby distillation tower, while damage to the tank farms was largely limited to the tanks that were actually hit.

Refineries are often spread out- some PRC refineries cover more then ten square kilometers. While full of flammable materials, newer refineries have built-in passive safeguards (such as increased distance between refining units) that can prevent catastrophic events from spreading uncontrollably. Oil tank farms are likewise surrounded by concrete berms, ensuring that burning petroleum products do not flow to other portions of the refinery. Fires in tank farms will often burn themselves out without any firefighting effort. Coastal refineries have effectively unlimited water supplies for firefighting. To do a complete job of refinery destruction can take a significant number of weapons. Alternately, a refinery can be rendered inoperable with the destruction of the control and monitoring systems, which in China are almost entirely Western-built and impossible to replace from domestic sources.

If a refining plant doesn’t burn to the ground doesn’t mean it is capable of interrupted production, even at reduced capacity. Fragmentation damage to pipelines and ducting can be extensive and widespread. Loss of electrical power can impede refining operations, while loss of pipelines and pumping stations can prevent crude oil or refinery products from moving. Destruction of the oil terminals, pipeline infrastructure and rail access can effectively starve a refinery. Ironically, a number of the refineries examined in this analysis are reliant on on-site coal-fired power plants, making rail interdiction particularly effective at reducing refinery operations.

In theory, sections of a refinery plant could be deliberately targeted to deprive the refinery of the capability to produce specific products. In this analysis, because the author is not proficient at recognizing refinery functions from overhead imagery, control rooms and specific refining units (such as hydrocrackers) were not targeted.

Figure 17: Dushanzi suffers from attacks on its power station, pipeline pumphouse, and two refining towers. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve tank farm to the west loses its pumping station.

Figure 17: Dushanzi suffers from attacks on its power station, pipeline pumphouse, and two refining towers. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve tank farm to the west loses its pumping station.

Refinery targeting typically consisted of identifying four or five aimpoints intended to reduce the operating capacity of the plant. Typical choices included the rail terminals intended for offloading and loading tank cars, distillation towers and other large refining arrays, and power plant turbine rooms. In a number of cases, rail traffic to the refinery was routed over a single bridge on a trunk line, making for an even worse day for the rail infrastructure, although these bridges were still counted as refinery targets. Tank farms were rarely targeted, although the tank farms at Strategic Petroleum Reserve sites would suffer from the loss of their pumping stations. Aimpoints were well separated in order to maximize the difficulty of conducting simultaneous firefighting operations.

Figure 18: The first Chinese pumping station on the Sino-Russian Pipeline

Figure 18: The first Chinese pumping station on the Sino-Russian Pipeline

Pipeline Targets

Because the PRC is largely devoid of long-haul pipelines, this target set turned out to be relatively small at six. Local refinery pipelines were targeted within refinery complexes, but the operational long haul international pipelines were targeted independently. The Sino-Kazakh pipeline was targeted at the first pumping station on the Chinese side and at a particularly unfortunate point where it crosses under the sole rail link. The Sino-Russian pipeline was targeted at the first two pumping stations inside the border. Without these stations, the oil cannot be pumped over the intervening hills. The SPR facility pumphouse at Shanshan, adjacent to the Dushanzi-Lanzhou pipeline, was also targeted, isolating this facility.

Inshore Targets

Inshore targets were entirely selected for vulnerability to mining. Minefields, in this context, were limited to a minefield that could be laid by a single bomber, and are not particularly large or dense. These minefields are mostly intended to damage or sink the occasional ship rather than provide an impenetrable barrier to ship passage. The exceptions are for small, tight harbors such as the submarine base at Yulin harbor on the southern tip of Hainan Island. This facility is an artificially improved harbor, with two breakwater gaps 1000 feet wide and a natural channel only 3600 ft. wide from beach to beach. If mines can be laid inside the harbor, the sea entrance to the underground sub pens could be effectively blocked.

Figure 19: Yulin Harbor

Figure 19: Yulin Harbor

Inshore targets included large oil terminals, capable of berthing very large crude carriers, the two offshore oil terminals south of Hong Kong and most PLAN facilities. The mouths of the Yangtze and Pearl rivers are included, because mines in these areas affect a number of facilities. Nevertheless, the width of the Yangtze and presumed air defenses likely mean that this particular river cannot be densely seeded with mines. Nevertheless, even a single mine detonation can have deterrent effects, particularly against merchant shipping.

Appendix B:  Maritime Interdiction and International Law

There are legal strictures that attach themselves to both mining and blockading efforts, particularly with respect to international waters and neutral shipping. The US mining of North Vietnamese harbors and the US reflagging and escort operations during the Tanker War in the Persian Gulf both provide modern templates for measures advocated in this analysis; both were conducted under contemporary interpretations of international law.

Any strategic Interdiction campaign relies on two actions, mining and blockade, which involve some limited constraints imposed by the current state of international law. In addition, the declaration of a Maritime Exclusion Zone had been subject to numerous interpretations over the last century, and remains somewhat undefined. Notably, there have been no international treaties clarifying the conduct of warfare at sea since before World War I, despite the extensive use of anticommerce warfare in both World Wars. The current state of international treaty with respect to mining remains the 1907 Hague Convention (VIII). Similarly, the international laws covering blockades were not updated prior to the First World War, and no treaty which defines blockades and the means by which they may be conducted is currently in force. There are no agreed-upon standards for Maritime Exclusion Zones.

As a matter of customary international law rather than treaty, the conditions are different. The current state of the rules of warfare for maritime conflicts is encompassed in the San Remo Manual, released in 1995 after substantial work by a large number of international participants. It was commissioned by the Institute of International Humanitarian Law (IIHL) based in Sanremo, Italy, published as the San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea. The San Remo Manual is likewise not a binding treaty, but a collection of commonly understood legal constraints established by customary international law, including the Geneva Conventions and Protocol I. It was not a binding treaty, but is considered as established law by many navies, including the US Navy and the Royal Navy.[h]

The San Remo Manual is broad ranging and consists of 183 numbered paragraphs[i]. The manual applies to warfare at sea, conducted globally:

  1. Subject to other applicable rules of the law of armed conflict at sea contained in this document or elsewhere, hostile actions by naval forces may be conducted in, on or over:
    (a) the territorial sea and internal waters, the land territories, the exclusive economic zone and continental shelf and, where applicable, the archipelagic waters, of belligerent States;
    (b) the high seas; and
    (c) subject to paragraphs 34 and 35, the exclusive economic zone and the continental shelf of neutral States.

The restrictions on mine warfare are largely concerned with contact mines, which were in service in 1907, but are considered applicable to all underwater mines. With respect to the employment of mines, the San Remo Manual includes the following provisions:

  1. Mines may only be used for legitimate military purposes including the denial of sea areas to the enemy.
  2. Without prejudice to the rules set out in paragraph 82, the parties to the conflict shall not lay mines unless effective neutralization occurs when they have become detached or control over them is otherwise lost.
  3. It is forbidden to use free-floating mines unless:
    (a) they are directed against a military objective; and
    (b) they become harmless within an hour after loss of control over them.
  4. The laying of armed mines or the arming of pre-laid mines must be notified unless the mines can only detonate against vessels which are military objectives.
  5. Belligerents shall record the locations where they have laid mines.
  6. Mining operations in the internal waters, territorial sea or archipelagic waters of a belligerent State should provide, when the mining is first executed, for free exit of shipping of neutral States.
  7. Mining of neutral waters by a belligerent is prohibited.
  8. Mining shall not have the practical effect of preventing passage between neutral waters and international waters.
  9. The minelaying States shall pay due regard to the legitimate uses of the high seas by, inter alia, providing safe alternative routes for shipping of neutral States.
  10. Transit passage through international straits and passage through waters subject to the right of archipelagic sea lanes passage shall not be impeded unless safe and convenient alternative routes are provided.
  11. After the cessation of active hostilities, parties to the conflict shall do their utmost to remove or render harmless the mines they have laid, each party removing its own mines. With regard to mines laid in the territorial seas of the enemy, each party shall notify their position and shall proceed with the least possible delay to remove the mines in its territorial sea or otherwise render the territorial sea safe for navigation.
  12. In addition to their obligations under paragraph 90, parties to the conflict shall endeavour to reach agreement, both among themselves and, where appropriate, with other States and with international organizations, on the provision of information and technical and material assistance, including in appropriate circumstances joint operations, necessary to remove minefields or otherwise render them harmless.
  13. Neutral States do not commit an act inconsistent with the laws of neutrality by clearing mines laid in violation of international law.


Notably, mines may be laid in the EEZ of a neutral power, provided that the minefields do not impede the neutrals’ exploitation of their offshore resources or access to offshore installations.

With respect to blockade, there has been over a century of jurisprudence on what constitutes an “effective” blockade, under which the legal provisions of a blockade apply. This interpretation has evolved over time but the fundamental premise remains: that a “paper” blockade has no legal value, and that a nation declaring a blockade to be in effect must maintain an effective blockade, which is considered a “question of fact”. In short, if a belligerent state can maintain a blockade, then a blockade is in effect for the purposes of international law. In the San Remo Manual, blockades are considered a method of warfare, conducted as follows:

  1. A blockade shall be declared and notified to all belligerents and neutral States.
  2. The declaration shall specify the commencement, duration, location, and extent of the blockade and the period within which vessels of neutral States may leave the blockaded coastline.
  3. A blockade must be effective. The question whether a blockade is effective is a question of fact.
  4. The force maintaining the blockade may be stationed at a distance determined by military requirements.
  5. A blockade may be enforced and maintained by a combination of legitimate methods and means of warfare provided this combination does not result in acts inconsistent with the rules set out in this document.
  6. Merchant vessels believed on reasonable grounds to be breaching a blockade may be captured. Merchant vessels which, after prior warning, clearly resist capture may be attacked.
  7. A blockade must not bar access to the ports and coasts of neutral States.
  8. A blockade must be applied impartially to the vessels of all States.
  9. The cessation, temporary lifting, re-establishment, extension or other alteration of a blockade must be declared and notified as in paragraphs 93 and 94.
  10. The declaration or establishment of a blockade is prohibited if:
    (a) it has the sole purpose of starving the civilian population or denying it other objects essential for its survival; or
    (b) the damage to the civilian population is, or may be expected to be, excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated from the blockade.
  11. If the civilian population of the blockaded territory is inadequately provided with food and other objects essential for its survival, the blockading party must provide for free passage of such foodstuffs and other essential supplies, subject to:
    (a) the right to prescribe the technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted; and
    (b) the condition that the distribution of such supplies shall be made under the local supervision of a Protecting Power or a humanitarian organization which offers guarantees of impartiality, such as the International Committee of the Red Cross.
  12. The blockading belligerent shall allow the passage of medical supplies for the civilian population or for the wounded and sick members of armed forces, subject to the right to prescribe technical arrangements, including search, under which such passage is permitted.

The key blockade issues for a Maritime Interdiction Campaign are that an “over the horizon” blockade is legal if enforced, food supplies should not be blockaded, and that even neutral vessels running contraband may be captured or attacked if resisting capture. Section VI specifies the conditions under which neutral shipping may be attacked or captured. Contraband is broadly defined, must be documented on a specific, published “contraband list” and can clearly be used to define energy supplies:

  1. Contraband is defined as goods which are ultimately destined for territory under the control of the enemy and which may be susceptible for use in armed conflict.

Maritime exclusion zones have been used by multiple parties since at least 1904, with more recent use in warfare by the United Kingdom and Argentina around the Falklands, and by Iran and Iraq in the Persian Gulf.[44] In such cases, shipping located within the zones, even neutral shipping, was presumed hostile and subject to attack, often without warning. Under such conditions insurance rates typically rise, and the premium for a brief exposure may reach upwards of 10% the market value of the vessel, plus cargo value.[45] The declaration of a maritime exclusion zone affecting the PRC, even only within the 12-mile limits, can be expected to have a deterrent effect on the movement of foreign-flagged vessels.

The San Remo Manual addresses declared “zones” only to a very limited extent. There is no provision for the kind of exclusion zone declared by the RN during the Falklands War, nor is there a prohibition against one:

  1. A belligerent cannot be absolved of its duties under international humanitarian law by establishing zones which might adversely affect the legitimate uses of defined areas of the sea.
  2. Should a belligerent, as an exceptional measure, establish such a zone:
    (a) the same body of law applies both inside and outside the zone;
    (b) the extent, location and duration of the zone and the measures imposed shall not exceed what is strictly required by military necessity and the principles of proportionality;
    (c) due regard shall be given to the rights of neutral States to legitimate uses of the seas;
    (d) necessary safe passage through the zone for neutral vessels and aircraft shall be provided:
    (i) where the geographical extent of the zone significantly impedes free and safe access to the ports and coasts of a neutral State;
    (ii) in other cases where normal navigation routes are affected, except where military requirements do not permit; and
    (e) the commencement, duration, location and extent of the zone, as well as the restrictions imposed, shall be publicly declared and appropriately notified.
  3. Compliance with the measures taken by one belligerent in the zone shall not be construed as an act harmful to the opposing belligerent.
  4. Nothing in this Section should be deemed to derogate from the customary belligerent right to control neutral vessels and aircraft in the immediate vicinity of naval operations.

As with any consideration of the Law of Armed Conflict, campaign planning should be undertaken under consultation with appropriate legal advice.   Having said that, the lack of treaty provisions on the conduct of maritime warfare places a heavy burden on the interpretation of customary law with respect to warfare at sea.

Appendix C:  Oil Refinery Operations

Oil refining processes have been used for more than a century, starting with simple fractional distillation. In fractional distillation, crude oil is heated and the different components (with different boiling points) are condensed off. Fractional distillation produces light distillates (gasoline and light naphtha), middle distillates (diesel, kerosene and heavy naphtha), and residue, which is often used as fuel oil and is the foundation of the plastics industry.

Figure 20: Simplified Oil Refinery Processes for light and middle distillates. Critical processes or products for jet fuels are outlined in red; hydrotreating machinery is foreign-sourced.

Figure 20: Simplified Oil Refinery Processes for light and middle distillates. Critical processes or products for jet fuels are outlined in red; hydrotreating machinery is foreign-sourced.

Jet fuel is a blend of middle distillates, which as previously noted, are voraciously consumed by the transportation sector.  As seen in Table 3, the middle distillates, from which jet fuel is made, are the most heavily consumed in China, in comparison to the US, where light distillate consumption outpaces the middle distillates, at 48.3% to 28.5%.

China[46] 2002 2011 2012 % change from 2011 2012 % of total
Light Distillates (gasoline, LDF) 1359 2985 3182 +6.6% 31.1%
Middle Distillates (kerosene, jet fuel, diesel) 1785 3660 3741 +2.2% 36.6%
Fuel Oil 783 764 820 +7.2% 8.0%
Others 1335 2341 2466 +5.8% 24.2%
Total China 5262 9750 10221 +4.8% 100%

Table 3: China Oil Product Consumption 2002, 2011, 2012

Refineries have a capability to shift from producing one product to another, within limitations imposed by the type of refining equipment available and its capacity. A typical large refinery will have multiple “plants”, which are essentially complete refining packages. These plants are large, vulnerable systems with no capability to gracefully degrade if damaged. Refineries are dangerous, volatile industrial facilities filled with energetic materials on a day-to day basis. Chinese statistics on refinery accidents are not made public, but even in the US, refinery mishaps occur regularly without any outside assistance.

Figure 21: Naphtha Hydrotreating Unit (C&I Engineering)

Figure 21: Naphtha Hydrotreating Unit (C&I Engineering)

Oil is desalted and dewatered before it even hits the distillation towers. Fractional distillation, by which the light, medium and heavy products are separated from crude feedstock, is a well-known process in use since 1861, while other processes such as catalytic cracking and hydroprocessing, are much more recent. The hydroprocessing and reforming processes at a refinery are dependent on very specific equipment that in China is largely foreign-sourced, mostly from the West.

One process by which oil is refined to make it suitable for use as diesel or jet fuel is called hydroprocessing, which includes hydrotreating and the more complex hydrocracking. Of China’s total refinery capacity in 2012, 33% is dedicated to hydrotreating and 8% hydrocracking.[47] All diesel, jet fuel components, and gasoline blends pass through several processing stages to purify and sweeten the final product. The heavier naphtha necessary for jet fuel is typically hydrotreated and sometimes catalytically reformed (at 7% of total refinery capacity). There are practical limits on what can be refined – no more than 42% of 2012’s total refinery capacity could be dedicated to producing middle distillates. There is another limit on jet fuel production – the highest possible yield of jet fuel from crude oil feedstock is 30%, based on the physical limits of the hydrocarbon combinations available.[48]


[a] Because of the density and capability of PRC ground-based air defenses (GBAD), counterforce in this context does not include OCA or interdiction efforts on or over the mainland.

[c] The spelling “tonnes” refers to metric tons and is consistent when metric mass measurements are used.

[d] Rail transport data does not include military railways, private railways or other rail systems not used commercially. The data does not capture railways built by mining companies for first-stage mineral or coal transport to a loading facility.

[e] This is not a typo. In 2012, the US had 2.5 million km of gas pipeline and 299,000 km of oil pipeline.

[f] The mines laid in POCKET MONEY were considered so threatening during the Vietnam War that not a single Eastern Bloc ship entered or left Haiphong Harbor from the day the required mining declaration was made to the end of the mine clearing operation.

[g] John Balfe, in a long analysis written for the Office of Net Assessment, points out that pervasive corruption effects not only data intended for foreign consumption, but data intended for domestic use as well. It seems likely that various echelons of the Chinese government are themselves unaware of the precise characteristics of their own resource flows and energy requirements. Balfe, John. “Blockading China: How Long, to What Effect?” November 30, 2012

[h] Haines, Steven. 1907 Hague Convention VIII Relative to the Laying of Automatic Submarine Contact Mines, Stockton Center for the Study of International Law, Vol 90, 2014.

[i] “San Remo Manual on International Law Applicable to Armed Conflicts at Sea”. International Committee of the Red Cross. 31 December 1995. (Accessed 6 April 2015)

[1] Warden, John A. III, Col, USAF.  “The Enemy as a System”, Airpower Journal, Spring 1995

[2] Miller, John. Jr. Cartwheel, the Reduction of Rabaul.  US Army in World War II: The Army in the Pacific, Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, Washington DC, 1959.  Pg 222-225. (accessed on 12 March 2015)

[3] United States Strategic Bombing Survey: Summary Report (Pacific War), US Government Printing Office, Washington DC. Pg 28-30

[4] and Jiaoe Wang, Yang Cheng and Huihui Mo, “The Spatio-Temporal Distribution and Development Modes of Border Ports in China”, Sustainability 2014, 6(10), 7089-7106; at (accessed on 7 March 2015)

[5] Warden.

[6] Pietrucha, Michael W., Col, “Airpower and Globalization Effects: Rethinking the Five Rings”, Joint Force Quarterly Vol. 73, April 01, 2014

[7] Wang, et al. Page 4

[8] Wang, et al. Page 4

[9] Hornby, Lucy, Anjli Raval and Neil Hume.  “China’s oil imports climb above 7m barrels a day for first time”. Financial Times, January 13, 2015. (accessed 8 March 2015)

[10] National Bureau of Statistics of China, “Statistical Communiqué of the People’s Republic of China on the 2014 National Economic and Social Development”, Table 9. February 26, 2015.  (accessed 8 March 2015)

[11] Graeber, Daniel J. “China’s oil production increases; Natural gas output following suit, with 10.7 percent rise year-on-year”. UPI. Jan. 13, 2015. (accessed 8 March 2015)

[12] Meidan, Michael, Amrita Sen, Energy and Robert Campbell, “China: The New Normal”, Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, February 2015. (accessed 8 March 2015)

[13] National Bureau of Statistics of China, “China Statistical Yearbook 2014”, Table 9-9, Consumption of Energy by sector (2012), China Statistics Press, 2014.

[14] “China SPR fill could help rebalance market, support oil prices: analyst”,, 22 Oct 2014 (accessed 9 March 2015)

[15] “Oil and Gas Security: People’s Republic of China, 2012” International Energy Agency, Paris, France, 2012. (accessed 18 March 2015)

[16] Length of China Railways’ rail network from 2008 to 2013, by railroad embankment type (in 1,000 kilometers). (accessed March 19, 2015).

[17] Ministry of Transport of China. Length of inland waterways in China from 2003 to 2013 (in 1,000 kilometers). (accessed March 19, 2015).

[18] Ministry of Transport of China. Total length of public roads in China from 2003 to 2013 (in million kilometers). (accessed March 19, 2015).

[19] Ministry of Transport of China. Share of roads in China in 2012, by surface. (accessed March 19, 2015).

[20] National Bureau of Statistics of China, “China Statistical Yearbook 2013”, Table 16-2 Basic Conditions of Transport, China Statistics Press, 2013.

[21] U.S. Department of Transportation’s Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS), National Transportation Statistics 2014 and Office of Highway Policy Information (October 2013). Table HM-20: Public Road Length (2012) (Report). Federal Highway Administration. accessed 19 March, 2015.

[22] National Bureau of Statistics of China, “China Statistical Yearbook 2014”, Table 16-11 Average Transport Distance of Freight

[23] Statistical Communiqué, Table 13

[24] Includes crude oil, refined petroleum products, and gas

[25] Statistical Communiqué Table 13

[26] “China Statistical Yearbook 2014”, Table 18-30, Volume of Freight Handled in Coastal Ports above Designated Size by Type of Freight.  The “designated size refers to ocean ports of 10million tons capacity or larger, and river ports with 2 million tons capacity or larger.

[27]“China Statistical Yearbook 2014”, Table 18-19 National Railway Freight Traffic by Category of Cargo

[28] Tu, Kevin Jianjun and Sabine Johnson-Reiser.  “Understanding China’s Rising Coal Imports”. Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, February 16, 2012 (accessed 19 March 2015)

[29] “China coal trucks stuck in 120 km traffic jam”, Reuters, 2 Sep 2010 (accessed 19 March 2015)

[30] Wang, et al.

[31] “Oil: Refinery Capacities”, BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, (accessed 19 March 2015)

[32] “China Overview”, US Energy Information Administration, 4 February 2014, (accessed 19 March 2015)

[33]BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014, (accessed 19 March 2015)

[34]BP Statistical Review of World Energy, 2013, (accessed 19 March 2015)

[35] “Jet: Asia glutted as China backs out imports”, Platts Jet Fuel, March 10, 2015 (accessed on 13 March at )

[36] “ China Teapot Refineries May Access Imported Oil Under New Rule”,, 16 February 2015.

(accessed 19 March 2015)

[37] Robert S. Strauss Center, Insurance Market. University of Texas at Austin, (accessed 19 March 2015)

[38] “VLCC orderbook stands at 13% of global fleet, market is still in positive mood”.  Hellenic Shipping News, 28 February 2015. (accessed 21 March 2015)

[39] “Malacca Strait traffic hits an all time high in 2014, VLCCs and dry bulk lead growth”. Bunker Ports News, 28 February 2015. (accessed 21 March 2015)

[40] “Tankers Remain at Anchorage at Qingdao Port Following Explosion [Update]”.  Maritime, November 25, 2013. (accessed 21 March 2015)

[41] “An overview of the impact of the 11.22 Sinopec Qingdao oil spill and blast”.  China ESG Portal, November 2013. (accessed 21 March 2015)

[42]European Commission. Feasibility Study for Repair of Ostruznica and Zezelj Bridges, Serbia. Terms of Reference

(accessed 23 March 2015)

[43] “Clearing the Beautiful Blue Danube”.  POB Online, 1 March 2005. (accessed 23 March 2015)

[44] Michaelsen, Christopher, Maritime Exclusion Zones in Times of Armed Conflict at Sea (February 7, 2003). Journal of Conflict & Security Law, Vol. 8, No. 2, pp. 363-390, 2003. Available at SSRN: (accessed 23 March 2015)

[45] Insurance Market

[46] BP, 2014

[47] “Current Status and Outlook for China’s Oil Market”, CNPC Economics & Technology Research Institute December 2012, (accessed 23 March 2015)

[48] Kelanic, Rosemary. “Oil Security and Conventional War: Lessons From a China-Taiwan Air War Scenario.” Oct 2013. Council on Foreign Relations. (accessed 23 March 2015)


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