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From Jail To Berlin: How Prison Helped Hitler Take Over Germany

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 05:00

David Axe

History, Europe

Hitler's life had troubled beginnings. 

Key point: Hitler wasted no time leading his country into a genocidal war.

On April 1, 1924, 34-year-old Adolf Hitler — a socially awkward painter and former soldier from Austria — arrived at Landsberg prison in Bavaria to serve a five-year sentence for organizing a failed coup that got 18 men killed, including four policemen.

Hitler stepped into Landsberg as the occasionally self-doubting head of a tiny, impoverished and amateurish anti-semitic political movement — the National Socialist German Workers’ Party. He would walk out nine months later a more self-assured figure steadily gaining prominence and power.

And arguably more importantly, Hitler left prison as the author of Mein Kampf, a two-volume memoir and political screed that, in the words of biographer Volker Ullrich, “connected [Hitler’s] biography and his political program.”

In doing so, Mein Kampf — published between July and December 1925 — did the initial work of creating a cult of personality around its author and subject. Hitler was the Nazi Party. And Landsberg was his, and Nazism’s, laboratory.

There is no shortage of books about Hitler. But Ullrich’s new biography Hitler: Ascent, 1889–1939, recently translated from German to English, stands out for its thorough research and aversion to myth-making. “The global entertainment industry has long since appropriated and transformed Hitler into a sensationalist, pop-cultural icon of horror,” Ullrich writes.

Equally troubling, studies of Hitler tend to skew toward one of two extremes — structuralism and intentionalism. That is, did larger political and cultural forces create Hitler the leader? Or did Hitler create himself?

Ullrich’s mission, he writes, is “bringing it all together and synthesizing it.” This balance is evident as Ullrich explores Hitler’s time in Landsberg. “Imprisonment only encouraged Hitler’s belief in himself and his historic mission.”

Helpfully for the budding dictator, Bavarian authorities had imprisoned Hitler and his fellow coup plotters — most notably, Rudolf Hess, Hitler’s future deputy — together. Hitler’s “fellow inmates, first and foremost Hess, did everything they could to strengthen his conviction.”

The Austrian and his imprisoned compatriots met daily for lunch. “Hitler’s fellow inmates would wait, standing silently behind their chairs, for the cry, ‘Attention!’ The Fuehrer would then walk, accompanied by his inner circle, through the rows of his faithful followers and sit down at the top end of the table.”

Hitler gave a little speech. “Sieg heil!” his followers cried.

Landsberg was eminently comfortable for Hitler — more comfortable, in fact, than many of the shabby apartments and boarding houses young Hitler had lived in for most of his adult life.

This was no accident. Through Hitler’s arrest to his trial and sentencing, the Bavarian government had demonstrated that it was equally fearful of Hitler’s rising influence and sympathetic to his philosophy of racial bigotry. “I know you,” one of Hitler’s prison guards told him. “I’m a National Socialist, too.”

“Hitler enjoyed a wide variety of privileges,” according to Ullrich. “His ‘cell’ was a large, airy, comfortably furnished room with an expansive view. In addition to the hearty food cooked by the prison kitchen, Hitler constantly received care packages; his quarters reminded some visitors of a ‘delicatessen.’”

Hitler’s abortive putsch — and his commensurate prison sentence — demonstrated to the German populace that Hitler was “a man who not only talked, but acted in critical situations — and who was willing to take great personal risks.”

And for Hitler, being in prison eased the stress of daily living, allowed him plenty of time to visit with supporters — up to five per day — and afforded him the leisure and focus to write Mein Kampf, which he tapped out “hunt-and-peck” style on a typewriter that prison officials gave him.

And so Hitler relaxed, ate, honed his leadership and oratory skills, worked on his book — and behaved himself. In sharp contrast to the seditious behavior that had landed him in Landsberg, while in prison Hitler was a perfect angel. “Hitler scrupulously avoided any conflict with prison authorities.”

Behaving wasn’t just Hitler’s way of maintaining his prison privileges. Playing nice also represented a key philosophical turn for Hitler. Where before the aspiring strongman had aspired to overthrow the state, now Hitler wanted to gain control of the state … by way of the state’s own mechanisms.

“It was while imprisoned in Landsberg, Hitler recollected in February 1942, that he ‘became convinced that violence would not work since the state is too established and has all the weapons in its possession,’” Ullrich writes.

Hitler lived by that conviction. Released early from prison in December 1924, Hitler reorganized his National Socialist party, promoted his book and cultivated a mass audience that, amid economic stress and global political tensions, was becoming more and more sympathetic to anti-semitic rhetoric.

In 1932, Hitler ran for president and lost. But with Hitler’s leadership, the Nazis won the largest bloc of seats in parliament. Pres. Paul von Hindenburg reluctantly appointed Hitler as chancellor. A year later, Nazi legislators passed a law that paved the way for Hitler to eventually gain dictatorial powers.

Hitler wasted no time leading his country into a genocidal war. An entirely accommodating prison term had prepared him.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

Image: Wikipedia.

(This article first appeared several years ago and is being republished due to reader interest.)

Hate Donald Trump? That Feeling Won't Win the Election in November

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 04:33

Daniel A. Cox

Politics, Americas

Rage isn't the answer.

Barring a seismic makeover, Donald Trump is poised to run for reelection disliked by most Americans. Even as his job approval ticks up in recent polls, the public’s view of Trump is largely settled. The RealClearPolitics average has Trump facing a double-digit deficit in personal popularity. Fifty-four percent of the public have an unfavorable opinion about him while 43 percent view him favorably.

What’s more, Trump inspires asymmetric passion among the public. The number of Americans who strongly dislike Trump consistently outnumbers those who view him very positively. The January American Perspectives Survey found that 42 percent of the public had a very unfavorable opinion of Trump while 24 percent expressed a very favorable view of him.

But if Democrats plan to coast by on public antipathy alone, they could be in for a rude awakening. First, Donald Trump was elected in 2016 despite historically low favorability ratings. One week before the 2016 election, a majority (57 percent) of Americans had an unfavorable view of Trump. True, his opponent was historically unpopular as well. But a polarized electorate likely means both candidates will be relatively unpopular this year as well.

Second, Americans who express strong affinity for Trump are far more politically engaged than those who express strongly negative feelings. Roughly two-thirds (66 percent) of Americans who have a very favorable view of Trump say they pay attention to politics most of the time compared to about half (51 percent) of those with very unfavorable views of the president.

Similarly, close to two-thirds (64 percent) of strong Trump supporters say they always vote in elections while fewer than half (48 percent) of those who view him very negatively say the same. And Americans who passionately support the president are more likely to be paying at least fairly close attention to the 2020 election than those who are critical of him (75 percent vs. 66 percent).

Conventional wisdom holds that elections are all about the incumbent’s performance in office and personal appeal. But public disaffection for Trump may not be the most relevant metric to assess his reelection prospects. Trump’s supporters look poised to turn out to support him in large numbers, while his critics’ supporters appear less politically motivated. Democrats will need to offer an appealing candidate and vision for the country if they are to be successful in November.

This article by Daniel A. Cox first appeared in 2020 on the AEI Ideas blog. 

Image: Reuters.

China's Censorship And Propaganda Have Made Coronavirus Into A Monster

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 04:00

Paul Gardner

Security, Asia

Early action could have made a difference.

China’s political leaders will be hoping that when concerns about the coronavirus eventually start to recede, memories about the state’s failings early on in the outbreak will also fade. They will be particularly keen for people to forget the anger many felt after the death from Covid-19 of Dr Li Wenliang, the doctor censured for trying to warn colleagues about the outbreak. After Dr Li’s death, the phrase “We want freedom of speech” was even trending on Chinese social media for several hours before the posts were deleted.

Dr Li had told fellow medical professionals about the new virus in a chat group on 30 December. He was accused of “rumour-mongering” and officials either ignored or played down the risks well into January. “If officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” Dr Li told the New York Times, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency”.

I am currently researching the Chinese party-state’s efforts to increase legitimacy by controlling the information that reaches its citizens. The lack of openness and transparency in this crucial early phase of the outbreak was partly because officials were gathering for annual meetings of the local Communist Party-run legislatures, when propaganda departments instruct the media not to cover negative stories.

However, the censorship in this period also reflects increasingly tight control over information in China. As Chinese media expert Anne-Marie Brady notes, from the beginning of his presidency, Xi Jinping was clear the media should “focus on positive news stories that uphold unity and stability and are encouraging”.

Curtailing media freedoms

The deterioration in the media’s limited freedoms under Xi Jinping was underlined by a visit he made to media organisations in 2016, declaring that, “All Party media have the surname Party”, and demanding loyalty to the Chinese Communist Party (CCP).

There have been a series of good quality investigative reports, notably by the business publication Caixin, since the authorities fully acknowledged the virus. As political scientist Maria Repnikova argues, providing temporary space for the media to report more freely can help the party-state “project an image of managed transparency”. However, the clampdown has undoubtedly had a significant effect on the media’s ability to provide effective investigative reporting, particularly early on in the outbreak.

Online, there have been a succession of measures to limit speech the party deems a threat. These include laws that mean the threat of jail for anyone found guilty of spreading “rumours”. In an authoritarian regime, stopping rumours limits people’s ability to raise concerns and potentially discover the truth. A point made only too clearly by Dr Li’s case.

The party focuses its censorship on problems that might undermine its legitimacy. Part of my ongoing research into information control in China involves an analysis of leaked censorship instructions collected by the US-based China Digital Times. This shows that between 2013 and 2018, over 100 leaked instructions concerned problems about the environment, food safety, health, education, natural disasters and major accidents. The actual number is likely to far exceed this.

For example, after an explosion at a petrochemical factory, media organisations were told to censor “negative commentary related to petrochemical projects”. And after parents protested about tainted vaccines, the media were instructed that only information provided by official sources could be used on front pages.

State media play a key role in the CCP’s efforts to set the agenda online. My research shows that the number of stories featuring problems about the environment and disasters posted by People’s Daily newspaper on Sina Weibo (China’s equivalent of Twitter) fell significantly between 2013 and 2018.

Around 4.5% of all People Daily’s Weibo posts between 2013 and 2015 were about the environment, but by 2018 had fallen to as low as 1%. Similarly, around 8%-10% of all posts by the newspaper were about disasters and major accidents between 2013 and 2015, but this figure fell to below 4% in the following three years.

The party wants people to focus instead on topics it thinks will enhance its legitimacy. The number of posts by People’s Daily focusing on nationalism had doubled to 12% of the total by 2018.

Citizen journalism fights back

As well as investigative reports on the outbreak in parts of the media, some Chinese individuals have also gone to great lengths to communicate information about the virus and conditions in Wuhan. However, the authorities have been steadily silencing significant critical voices and stepping up their efforts to censor other content they deem particularly unhelpful.

The censors do not stop everything, but as the China scholar Margaret E. Roberts suggests, “porous censorship” can still be very effective. She points out that the Chinese authorities’ efforts to make it more difficult for people to access critical content that does make it online, while flooding the internet with information the CCP wants them to see, can still be very effective.

When a problem cannot be avoided, my research shows that the propaganda authorities try to control the narrative by ensuring the media focus on the state’s efforts to tackle the problem. After a landslide at a mine in Tibet, the media were told to “cover disaster relief promptly and abundantly”. Coverage of such disasters by People’s Daily focuses on images of heroic rescue workers.

This same propaganda effort is in evidence now. As the China Media Project’s David Bandurski notes, media coverage in China is increasingly seeking to portray the Chinese Communist Party “as the enabler of miraculous human feats” battling the virus.

After Dr Li’s death, CCP leaders sought to blame local officials for admonishing him. However, the actions taken against Dr Li were fully consistent with the Party’s approach to controlling information under Xi Jinping.

It is impossible to know how many people have died, or might die in future, because people have decided to self-censor, rather than risk punishment for spreading rumours, or because the authorities have sought to avoid information reaching the public. The coronavirus outbreak highlights the risks of a system that puts social stability and ruling party legitimacy above the public interest.

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, PhD Candidate in Chinese Studies and Political Communication, University of Glasgow

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters.

The Royal Navy Absolutely Annihilated Germany's Most Heavily-Armed Battleship

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 03:32

Sebastien Roblin

History, Europe

The Scharnhorst proved far more than the Kriegsmarine’s other capital ships.

Key point: German battleships never engaged their British peers again in battle.

The Scharnhorst was far from the most heavily armed battleship deployed by the Kriegsmarine—but she arguably was its most successful. She and sistership Gneisenau were laid down in 1935 with nine 283-millimeter guns with a range of twenty-five miles—significantly smaller than those on British battleships so as not to spook London over German rearmament.

Nonetheless, Scharnhorst measured 234 meters, which is longer than two football fields, and displaced a massive forty-two thousand tons fully loaded with fuel, ammunition and a wartime-crew of nearly two thousand men. The ship’s three Swiss-built steam turbines allowed her to attain flank speeds of thirty-one knots or higher—fast enough to outrun most warships. Indeed, Scharnhorst was a battlecruiser designed to chase down and overmatch smaller vessels rather than duel enemy battleships.

The Scharnhorst’s guns were mounted in 750-ton triple-gun turrets named Anton and Bruno in the bow, and Caesar on the stern. Twelve quick-firing 150-millimeter guns provided additional firepower. The Scharnhorst’s two Seetakt radars, one forward and one rearward-facing, had a surface-search range of around ten miles and were primarily used for gun-laying. Three Arado 196 seaplanes served as the battlecruiser’s long-range “eyes.”

For air defense, the Scharnhorst additionally mounted seven twin 105-millimeter flak turrets that could spit air-bursting shells up to forty-thousand-feet high, and dozens of smaller thirty-seven-millimeter and twenty-millimeter auto-cannons for close defense. She was well-protected from long-range hits by up to fourteen inches of Krupp cemented steel girding her turrets, bridge and hull. However, her two-inch deck armor was vulnerable.

For all her speed, the Scharnhorst was not highly maneuverable and frequently returned to port damaged by rough seas. In sea trials after commissioning in January 1939, the Scharnhorst’s bow took on so much water she was promptly refitted with a flared “clipper-style” bow.

Despite these flaws, the Scharnhorst proved far more than the Kriegsmarine’s other capital ships. On her maiden war-cruise in November 1939, she sank the auxiliary cruiser HMS Rawalpindi. Then in June 1940, the battlecruiser ambushed the aircraft carrier HMS Glorious, sinking her and two escorting destroyers, though Scharnhorst sustained a torpedo hit in battle.

Like an outlaw continually outwitting justice, the Scharnhorst was a notoriously “lucky” battleship, weathering numerous attacks by British bombers. In 1941, she managed to slip into the Atlantic and sink ten merchant ships, then evaded retribution under cover of sea squall to make port at Brest, France where she was outfitted with six torpedo tubes.

Heavily damaged in a July 1941 air-raid, Scharnhorst joined other German capital ships five months later in the notorious “Channel Dash” that was staged under the nose of Britain’s coastal defense, though she struck two mines in the process.

However, by 1943, German capital ships had fallen out of favor with Hitler after the Battle of the Barents Sea, a botched attack on an Arctic convoy carrying Allied aid for the Soviet Union. The Fuhrer had to be talked back from scrapping all his capital ships.

As the Wehrmacht’s woes in Russia mounted, in December 1943 Adm. Karl Donitz decided to again attempt a surface sortie targeting the Arctic convoys as they skirted past German-occupied Norway—and tapped Scharnhorst for the job.

However, not only were the British listening in to Donitz’s radio messages, but Home Fleet commander Adm. Bruce Fraser was already planning to lure the Scharnhorst into battle. Though the Royal Navy far outnumbered German surface combatants, it had to devote disproportionate resource to guard against possible sorties.

Fraser planned to use JW 55B as bait, reinforcing her ten escorting destroyers with three cruisers in “Force 1” under Vice Adm. Robert Burnett, which had just escorted a preceding convoy. Meanwhile, “Force 2” would sortie from the west, including the battleship Duke of York, the heavy cruiser Jamaica and four S-class destroyers.

The Brits made no effort to prevent German patrol planes from spotting the convoy on December 22. On Christmas Day, Fraser was pleased to learn that Scharnhorst and five destroyers had departed Altafjord at 7 p.m. under command of Adm. Erich Bay.

However, the German force failed to contact the nineteen-ship convoy. This far north, there was less than an hour of daylight, and gale-force winds were gusting heavy snowfall over the water. Bay fanned out his destroyers to extend his search—ultimately depriving his flagship of badly needed support.

At 9 a.m., the light cruiser Belfast of Force 1 picked up the Scharnhorst with her superior radar. The two sides finally spotted each other at a distance of about 7.5 miles and exchanged fire. While Scharnhorst missed, she was struck twice. One 8-inch shell fatefully smashed the battlecruiser’s forward-looking radar, crippling her situational awareness and the accuracy of her guns.

Scharnhorst disengaged, while the British escorts withdrew to screen the convoy as Force 2 raced to support them. But Bey circled Scharnhorst around and at noon bumped into Force 1 a second time. This time the battlecruiser’s guns twice struck the Norfolk, the huge 727-pound armored-piercing rounds passing clean through, knocking out a gun turret and radar.

Bey then decided to head south back to port with Force 1 in pursuit—though only the lighter Belfast could keep up.

However, the more numerous and powerful radars on Force 2’s Duke of York finally picked up the Scharnhorst twenty-five miles away after 4 p.m. Her sole forward radar knocked out, and nightfall and blizzard decreasing visibility, Scharnhorst was blind to the powerful British force barreling towards her from the west. Force 2 finally opened fire at six-miles range.

Norman Scarth, a sailor onboard the destroyer Matchless described the moment in a BBC interview:

All of us met up and all hell broke loose. Although it was pitch black the sky was lit up, bright as day, by star shells, which fired into the sky like fireworks, providing brilliant light illuminating the area as broad as day.

One huge fourteen-inch shell jammed the in Anton turret, silencing its triple-guns. Another strike triggered an ammunition fire in Bruno, forcing the gun crew to flood the turret to avoid an explosion. Now only Caesar could return fire—and fire she did, in turn knocking out a radar on the Duke of York.

However, the superior British fire-control radars gave British warships greater accuracy, while their flash-less charge left them difficult to spot with the naked eye.

Bey tried tacking back north away from Force 2, only to run afoul of the cruisers of Force 1. The battlecruiser finally began pulling away eastward at maximum speed. However, a long-range fourteen-foot abruptly penetrated Scharnhorst’s belt armor and blew apart one of her boiler rooms, reducing her speed to just twelve knots. Bey radioed his superiors “We will fight on until the last shell is fired.”

As the British barrage relentlessly crippled Scharnhorst’s main guns, smaller British destroyers swarmed in to attempt torpedo runs. Some of Scharnhorst’s smaller guns remained active, though, and one blasted a shell straight through the fire control tower of the Saumarez, killing eleven crew. Meanwhile, the Savage and Norwegian destroyer Stord dashed up to within a mile of the beleaguered battlecruiser and slammed three twenty-one-inch torpedoes into her port side approaching 7 p.m.

For nearly an hour more, the British ships relentlessly pounded the crippled Scharnhorst, with shells and torpedoes. The latter were known to occasionally sink capital ships with just a few lucky hits. The Scharnhorst, however, sustained nineteen torpedoes before she finally capsized.

As Scarth recounted:

She looked magnificent and beautiful . . . She was firing with all guns still available to her. Most of the big guns were put out. They were gradually disabled one by one. As we were steaming past at full speed a twenty-millimeter cannon was firing tracer bullets from the Scharnhorst.

A twenty-millimeter cannon was like a pea-shooter compared to the other guns and it could have no part in this battle . . . And that's one of the things that remains in my memory—a futile gesture but it was a gesture of defiance right to the very end.

Afterward, Matchless and Scorpion picked up just thirty-six survivors from the freezing Arctic waters before receiving the order to abandon the rest for fear of a counterattack.

German battleships never engaged their British peers again in battle. Fifty-seven years later, a Norwegian-led expedition located the Scharnhorst’s mangled wreckage 290-meters deep on the seafloor.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in December 2018.

Image: Wikipedia.

Why America Is Increasingly Concerned With China's Military Improvements

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 03:00

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

Who's sacred?

Key point: Beijing has long gone full steam ahead on modernization. That means building or buying all of the latest goodies from drones to stealth fighters.

On January 12, 2019, the Defense Intelligence Agency released an annual report highlighting the radical reorganization of China’s People’s Liberation Army to become faster-responding, more flexible and more lethal than ever before.

This first appeared in January 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The PLA was formed in 1927 as a Communist revolutionary force to oppose the Nationalist Kuomintang government and (later) invading Japanese forces. Unlike Western militaries, the PLA remains loyal to the Chinese Communist Party, not a theoretical independent Chinese state. A cadre of political officers (commissars or zhengwei) still operate at every level of the command structure to ensure loyalty and manage personnel.

Even after securing the mainland in 1949 and sprouting Navy and Air Force branches, the PLA adhered to a defensive “People’s War Strategy” which assumed that technologically superior foreign invaders (the United States or Soviet Union) would need to be lured deep into Chinese territory to be worn down by guerilla warfare and superior numbers.

Serious PLA modernization efforts began in 1991 when the trouncing of Iraq’s huge mechanized army in the Gulf War caused Beijing to realize its dated, World War II-style military was similarly vulnerable. By 2004, a new doctrine focused on proactively defeating enemies beyond China’s borders, including through preemptive strike if necessary, as well as undertaking global governance missions befitting its superpower status.

Between 2000 and 2016, while the Chinese economy averaged official annual growth rates around 7-8 percent, the PLA’s budget grew even faster at 10 percent. Despite that, the PLA’s current roughly $200 billion dollar budget totals less than one-third of U.S. defense spending. However, China pays much lower costs for hardware and personnel because of China’s “latecomer advantage” as the DIA report explains:

“China has routinely adopted the best and most effective platforms found in foreign militaries through direct purchase, retrofits, or theft of intellectual property. By doing so, China has been able to focus on expediting its military modernization at a small fraction of the original cost.”

Prominent examples include China’s aircraft carriers and its J-11 jet fighters.

By 2017, Chinese defense spending growth declined to 5-7%percent and the PLA shed 300,000 personnel, bringing it down to 2 million-strong—still the largest armed force on the planet. This transition sought to remodel the PLA into a leaner, more flexible force suited for fast-paced modern warfare.

Indeed, that year Beijing fundamentally restructured how the PLA worked, consigning the traditionally dominant ground forces to their own branch on equal footing with the PLA Air Force, Navy, Rocket Force, and a brand-new Strategic Support Force. This last addition combines satellite-launch and satellite-killing capabilities, with elite hacker and electronic warfare units to collect vital intelligence while disrupting the adversary’s own recon capabilities.

Rather than being siloed in their respective branches, operational units now fall under five regional commands, each with its own Joint Operations Command Center to enable air-, land- and sea-warfare branches of the PLA to rapidly coordinate using robust and redundant communication networks and inter-service chains of command.

The theater commands fall under the ultimate control of a Central Military Committee. The Army’s large division-sized units have mostly been dissolved, with assets devolved to seventy-eight combined-arms brigades mixing together armor and infantry with organic artillery and anti-aircraft units. Special forces and helicopter units also doubled in number.

The new organization allows lower-ranking officers to act more flexibly without depending on higher headquarters for orders and support assets. However, the transition is proving culturally difficult for the traditionally hierarchy-obsessed PLA and complicates logistics and training for units now combining several types of equipment.

Nonetheless, transforming rigid command and control and logistical systems, and rooting out endemic corruption, is one of the chief aims of the reforms. So is implementing realistic combat training emphasizing joint operations, instead of reputation-burnishing scripted exercises.

Beijing’s Strategic Forces

The PLA’s huge Rocket Force has a diverse array of over a thousand ballistic and cruise missiles armed with both conventional and nuclear warheads, most of them short- or intermediate-range weapons to strike targets in Asia and the Pacific, as well as a smaller number of inter-continental ballistic missiles that can reach U.S. cities. New truck-launched DF-21D missiles may uniquely boast the precision-guidance capabilities to strike aircraft carriers hundreds of miles away from China.

China’s arsenal of around 300 nuclear warheads is primarily delivered by the Rocket Force, but the PLA Navy also operates nuclear-powered ballistic-missile submarines, which may soon have the ability to strike U.S. targets without sortieing far from the Chinese coast. In 2017, the PLA reintroduced a nuclear role for the Air Force, likely to be fulfilled by the forthcoming H-20 stealth bomber.

However, Beijing has a no-first-use nuclear policy: it only plans to launch nukes if attacked with them first. A network of hardened underground facilities means the Rocket Force is likely to survive a first strike to inflict a retaliatory attack. China does not stockpile biological or chemical weapons.

The PLA’s New Mission

The PLA’s strategic objectives have expanded from territorial defense to achieving regional military dominance over East Asia and the western half of the Pacific, as well as expansion into the Indian Ocean. Beijing eventually aims to displace or render indefensible the Pentagon’s East Asian footholds, notably island bases in Guam and Okinawa and alliances with South Korea and Japan.

Regional hotspots include a border dispute with India, potential instability in North Korea, and maritime sovereignty disputes with Japan, Vietnam and the Philippines. Beijing also requires the PLA to maintain a credible capability for invading Taiwan, including fighting off or deterring U.S. intervention on Taipei’s behalf. The PLA Navy operates Yuzhao-class Landing Platform Docks, and its Marine Corps recently tripled in size to around 35,000 personnel in seven brigades. The Army also maintains six combined arms brigades equipped with amphibious tanks and infantry fighting vehicles.

Operations other than war are also of increasing importance to the PLA, including suppressing protest and unrest in Tibet and Xinjiang—where reportedly hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uighurs have been placed in forced labor camps—as well as providing disaster relief and evacuating nationals abroad in emergencies.

Though the PLA is focused on fighting regional, not global conflicts, it’s developing a limited capacity for global expeditionary operations—particularly evident in the opening of its first overseas base in Djibouti. Beijing is preparing the ground for additional overseas bases in Pakistan, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and various Pacific islands. The introduction of huge new Y-20 “Chubby Girl” transport planes will significantly improve China’s global logistical capabilities.

These technologies and reforms have only begun to address longstanding PLA deficiencies in command-and-control, logistics, unrealistic training and lack of recent combat experience. Furthermore, while the PLA does field cutting-edge systems like the Type 99 tank, J-20 stealth fighter and Type 055 destroyer, roughly 40 percent of its armor and fighter units still use outdated 1950s-era hardware like Type 59 tanks, Type 63 APCs and J-7 fighters. The rapidly growing PLA Navy still relies on many noisy diesel submarines, and its two new carriers are less capable than U.S. nuclear-powered carriers.

Despite these weaknesses, the radical reorganization of the PLA shows awareness at senior levels that overcoming the PLA’s shortcomings isn’t only a matter of procuring better technologies, but changing how the military uses them.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in January 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

See This Boring Looking Plane? It Beat Hitler and Won World War II

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 02:30

Sam McGowan

History, Americas

And it kept going in Korea and Vietnam.

Even though, technically at least, it was not a combat airplane, the performance of the Douglas C-47 transport led General of the Army Dwight Eisenhower to label it as one of the most important weapons of World War II.

It carried no armament and was not designed to drop bombs, but the C-47 and other variations of the Douglas DC-3 twin-engine airliner quickly proved their worth both on and off the battlefield as they became a familiar sight all over the world. Eisenhower was not exaggerating with his accolade. The C-47 became crucial to the conduct of the war in at least three theaters and proved beneficial to military operations around the world in roles that varied from limited to indispensable. By the end of the war, the Army had purchased more than 10,000 of the Douglas twin-engine transports in several variants.

From the DC-3 to the C-47

The C-47 is the most commonly known military designation for the airplane that revolutionized the civilian air transportation industry in the 1930s. Douglas Aircraft Company’s DC-3 was a follow-on to the DC-2, the first modern American-built transport aircraft. By the outbreak of war in 1939, the DC-3 had proven to be a safe, reliable transport capable of operating from short, relatively unimproved airstrips. Although it had not been designed with military needs in mind, the DC-3 was the natural choice to be the first widely produced Allied military transport aircraft.

The Army purchased a number of DC-2s, giving them the military designation of C-39; the bomber derivative was the B-18. When the DC-3 came out, the Army ordered several built to military specifications and designated them as C-47s. The bomber version was designated as the B-23, but it was not much of a bomber, so the Air Corps converted most of them for transport use, including for dropping paratroops, and called them C-67s.

When the Army began experimenting with airborne forces, it turned to the 50th Transport Wing, which had been established at Wright Field under the Air Corps Maintenance Command, for the use of its C-39s and C-47s to drop the fledgling airborne troops. Activated on January 14, 1941, as the parent unit for the Air Corps transport squadrons, the wing transported more cargo during the first half of 1941 than the entire U.S. civilian airline industry. The new airborne mission placed a heavy additional burden on the wing, so the Army placed orders for more transports and began training crews to fly them.

The original DC-3 was designed to carry 21 passengers, although increased engine performance on later models allowed 28. Other designations were given to production DC-3s that were taken over by the military but lacked the reinforced cargo floor and other amenities of the basic C-47. When the Army decided to develop the airborne mission, it contracted for a number of DC-3s specially configured to carry troops, with bucket seats and a door designed for paratrooper exit, and called it the C-53 Sky Trooper. Shackles were attached under the fuselage of the C-53s to carry parapacks, special bundles that could be filled with items too large to be carried by individual troops during a parachute assault.

In addition to dropping paratroopers, C-53s were also used for supply drops and as glider tugs. Although thousands of C-53s were produced, as the war continued the C-47 designation became generic. A later modification with larger engines and a redesigned tail was designated as the C-117. Various versions of the Douglas transport would see service with Army, Navy, and Marine transport squadrons as well as in the air forces of most of the Allied nations.

Building Allied Air Transport Wings

Several Douglas transports entered service in North Africa in 1941 when the U.S. Army Ferrying Command contracted with Pan American Airways to provide air transportation for British forces fighting Field Marshal Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps. The British had ordered their own Douglas transports, and the Royal Air Force (RAF) gave them a new name—Dakota. The Pan American DC-3s were sent to Africa to fill the gap until the RAF had received its own Dakotas and established air transport squadrons. The first British transports were DC-3s requisitioned from the airlines since the U.S. Army lacked the numbers to provide airplanes from its own stock.

The first Douglas transports to see operational duty were a trio of C-53s that arrived in Australia aboard ship in February. They joined an ad hoc group of transport aircraft and obsolete combat planes in the newly created Far East Air Forces Air Transport Command and went to work hauling cargo and personnel around Australia and northward to New Guinea—and even as far north as the southern Philippines, which were still in Allied hands. A reorganization of U.S. Army air transportation in June 1942 resulted in the redesignation of the air transport units as troop carriers, while a new Air Transport Command was created from the Army Ferry Command.

In early 1942, the Australia-based transports supported combat operations in the defense of Java. Until the American surrender of the Philippines, transports operated into airstrips on Mindanao, the southernmost of the Philippine islands, where American forces remained until their surrender in May 1942. A few weeks later, the transports proved their worth as the lifeline for Australian troops battling Japanese forces advancing southward toward Port Moresby over the rugged Kokoda Track in the Owen Stanley Range of Papua, New Guinea. The rough terrain ruled out resupply by truck, and the distances involved required hundreds of human porters. Air transportation allowed timely resupply as the transports landed on rude jungle strips when possible, and air-dropped ammunition and rations when no suitable landing strip lay close enough to the troops. A lack of suitable airdrop containers and parachutes led to the adaptation of cardboard ice cream containers packed with straw to deliver packets of ammunition and foodstuffs. The Australian infantrymen began referring to the transports of the 21st and 22nd Troop Carrier Squadrons as “Biscuit Bombers.”

The Troop Airlift Concept Takes Off

When Lieutenant General George C. Kenney arrived in Australia in mid-1942 to assume the role of chief of staff for air under General Douglas MacArthur, he brought many ideas with him, including the concept of using the airplane to move troops into battle and keep them supplied. An opportunity to prove his theories arose in September when MacArthur decided to move the U.S. 32nd Infantry Division northward to New Guinea. Kenney persuaded MacArthur to let him move a regiment by air; the event came off so well that he got permission to move a second regiment. The two regiments were in place in Port Moresby several days before the rest of the division arrived by ship.

Allied successes in New Guinea—thanks largely to the efforts of Kenney’s Fifth Air Force—raised the value of Kenney’s stock in Washington considerably. Part of the payoff for earlier successes was the assignment of an airborne regiment to the Southwest Pacific Area of Operations, and its arrival allowed Kenney to mount the attack on Nadzab he had been planning for several months. The 54th Troop Carrier Wing C-47s dropped the troops without a hitch, and the airfield was in Allied hands within a matter of minutes. MacArthur used the new installation to mount a two-pronged attack on Lae that led to the destruction of Japanese efforts in New Guinea.

The early successes of the C-47s and other transports in New Guinea led to the development of tactics built around the use of air transport to airlift troops into battle and also to move air units forward. Air evacuation of casualties made its debut in New Guinea during the battle for Buna. Young female flight nurses were assigned to troop carrier squadrons to care for wounded men who were brought from the forward airfields. Regularly scheduled air evacuation flights were established between Port Moresby and rear area hospitals in Australia. The success of air evacuation in the Southwest Pacific led to it becoming part of the troop carrier mission throughout the world. Thanks to the use of the airplane to move the seriously wounded, the combat death rate was drastically reduced.

The dependable C-47s and C-53s soldiered on, racking up hundreds, then thousands of hours in combat operations. One of the C-53s that had arrived in Australia in early 1942 had amassed more than 10,000 hours by 1944. The efforts of the troop carrier C-47 crews did not go unappreciated by the senior officers in their chain of command. General Kenney recognized the efforts of his troop carriers and said so in dispatches to the War Department in Washington, D.C. In one request for additional troop carrier pilots, Kenney told General Henry “Hap” Arnold, chief of the U.S. Army Air Forces, that the life expectancy of his C-47 crew members was less than that of the P-39 fighter pilots in his command.

The Hump Airlift

In the spring and summer of 1942, while the two troop carrier squadrons in New Guinea were making their mark, developing air transportation efforts in the China-Burma-India Theater began another chapter in the story of the Douglas transport. In early 1942, a small contingent of Pan American DC-3s was sent to India to airlift fuel and oil to Chinese bases in preparation for the arrival of the North American B-25 Mitchell bombers of the Doolittle mission against the Japanese home islands.

The civilian contingent was soon joined by a squadron of Army C-47s that arrived in India as part of Colonel Caleb Haynes’s AQUILA project that was intended to serve as the nucleus of a heavy bomber effort against Japan from Chinese bases. A Japanese offensive in China in retaliation for the Doolittle mission deprived the Allies of the planned bomber bases, and the Army and civilian C-47/DC-3 crews soon found themselves in the middle of the battle for Burma. When it became apparent that the Japanese had gained the upper hand, the transports were put to work evacuating Allied troops.

Although combat operations in defense of India were requiring most of Tenth Air Force’s efforts, it was imperative that supplies get to China, where the American Volunteer Group, popularly known as the Flying Tigers, was doing a good job of harassing the Japanese. Fortunately, there was another air transport organization in the theater. Before the war Pan American Airways had contracted with the Chinese government to operate a national airline. The China National Airways Corporation (CNAC) operated a fleet of DC-3s with civilian crews, mostly Americans.

Tenth Air Force contracted with CNAC to airlift supplies to China, beginning what came to be known as the Hump Airlift. Throughout 1942, DC-3s and C-47s operated the airlift, but the massive amounts of material requiring airlift dictated the use of larger airplanes with greater payloads. In late 1942 the airlift of supplies to China was taken over by the newly created Air Transport Command (ATC). ATC began the airlift with C-47s but switched to larger Curtiss C-46s and Consolidated C-87s, the cargo version of the B-24 Liberator bomber, as they became available.

Although the C-47 was replaced within the ATC airlift to China, the Douglas transports continued to play a major role. One of the conditions of the transfer of the China Air Ferry to the ATC was that Tenth Air Force would receive a troop carrier group equipped with C-47s. Additional Douglas transports came in the form of Royal Air Force Dakotas.

Many Roles in Many Theaters

Air transport would be a feature of new tactics worked out by the eccentric British Brigadier Orde Wingate, the commander of a special force made up of British and Commonwealth troops known as Chindits. In the spring of 1944, Wingate’s special force invaded Burma from the air. The entire Tenth Air Force effort was directed toward supporting the operation, which consisted of a glider assault onto landing zones in Burma that would be used as forward bases supported by troop carrier C-47s. The three C-47 squadrons of Tenth Air Force had been joined by a fourth squadron that came to India as part of Colonel Philip Cochran’s air commando group, and had been further augmented by the temporary assignment of the 64th Troop Carrier Group from the Mediterranean.

The air commando C-47s were assigned to glider towing duty while the troop carrier command transports airlifted men and equipment into the hastily prepared landing zones. One troop carrier squadron was assigned to support the American provisional force under Brig. Gen. Frank Merrill, who walked into Burma in the north. Once again the C-47 proved its worth as the twin-engine transports operated into airstrips that had been constructed with small bulldozers and graders that had been landed by glider.

The role of the C-47 in Europe was initially primarily logistical. In the summer of 1942, the 51st Troop Carrier Wing and its three groups moved to England as part of the Eighth Air Force. Throughout the summer the wing’s C-47s and C-53s supported the newly arrived bomber and fighter groups. Planning for the invasion of North Africa called for the wing to transfer to Africa. Several squadrons of C-47s left England carrying the paratroopers of the 503rd Parachute Infantry Regiment, the first American paratroop unit to see combat.

There were a handful of limited airborne operations in North Africa, but the transport mission became support of air and ground combat units, particularly after the battle moved away from the coast. Military planners had not taken the troop carrier transports into consideration, but their presence proved highly beneficial as they were used to airlift bombs and supplies for combat squadrons to airfields in the desert and to support motorized columns. Troop carriers in North Africa borrowed a page from the Southwest Pacific as they began evacuating casualties from forward areas to rear area hospitals.

In European Combat Operations

Plans for Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily, called for the use of paratroops and glider-borne forces. The airborne operations did not go well, thanks in part to high winds that blew the formations off course. Jittery antiaircraft gunners on ships offshore took the approaching C-47 formation under fire and shot down quite a few transports. Dozens of paratroopers fell into the sea and were drowned. Many gliders cut loose too early and failed to make the beaches, leaving their occupants to the same fate as the paratroopers who fell into the sea.

In spite of the numerous problems, the few paratroopers and glider troops who managed to arrive in one piece caused so much confusion among the German and Italian defenders that airborne operations were planned for future invasions. There was one paratroop drop in Italy when General Mark Clark decided to reinforce the beachhead at Salerno. Once Allied air units were established in Italy, the C-47s assumed a new mission, the resupply of partisans in Yugoslavia.

Operation Overlord, the invasion of Normandy, included the massive use of American and British airborne forces. The D-Day airdrops have become famous and are perhaps the one World War II event most associated with C-47s. Unfortunately, the drops did not go well, while dozens of C-47s were shot down and hundreds were damaged by intense German fire. Once the beachhead had been established, landing strips were constructed for C-47s arriving on the continent from England.

The American breakout from the beaches in early August saw the C-47s in an important new role as they were called upon to support the rapidly moving armored columns of General George Patton’s Third Army. Patton came to depend on the C-47s and other transports to bring in fuel for his tanks and trucks, and when they were taken away his rapid advance ground to a halt.

The Troop Carrier Command was dedicated to the support of the First Allied Airborne Army when it was established in early August, and its squadrons were taken off combat operations to train for Operation Market-Garden, the upcoming airborne invasion of Holland. An additional 100 C-47s were taken off Air Transport Command domestic operations in the United States and sent to England to beef up the Service Command transport forces.

The drops in Holland saw the C-47 crews earn the respect of the paratroopers. While previous airborne operations had often been characterized by confusion, the drops in Holland were well organized and the crews were motivated to risk their own lives to ensure that the troops were dropped on target. Paratroopers returned from Holland to tell of courageous C-47 pilots were able to hold their course in burning airplanes so their troops could jump, and then went to fiery deaths as their stricken craft crashed. Troop Carrier Command C-47s, supplemented by B-24s detached from Eighth Air Force, kept the troops in Holland supplied until ground links were opened.

During the Battle of the Bulge paratroopers from the 101st Airborne Division were sent to hold the town of Bastogne, where they soon found themselves surrounded by a determined enemy and cut off from all means of ground resupply. Terrible winter weather, with low clouds, fog, drizzle, and snow, prevented the C-47s from delivering supplies by air for several days. As their supplies dwindled, the Screaming Eagles held on. Finally, on December 23 the skies cleared and parachutes blossomed over Bastogne as C-47 crews braved German fire to deliver their loads of ammunition, rations, and medical supplies. By evening, 101st artillery crews were firing shells that had just been dropped in. The Bastogne relief was perhaps the C-47’s finest hour.

The Goony Bird Behind the Front

While the airborne operations in the European theater, the Hump Airlift, and the New Guinea missions were their most important, the Douglas transports were a familiar sight all over the world. Army C-47s supported combat operations in the Aleutians, while the Navy and Marine Corps established transport squadrons for duty in the islands of the Central Pacific with their own C-47s, which were given the naval designation of R4D. It was probably the Navy and Marine crews who gave the DC-3 its most famous name—Gooney Bird. Nature’s gooney birds are a species of albatross that are unique to Midway atoll, where sailors and Marines had been entertained by the ungainly creatures long before Midway became famous in mid-1942.

By 1943 the U.S. military was active all over the world as ferry and transport routes were developed over which young, inexperienced crews delivered bombers, fighters, and transports to combat squadrons overseas. Engine trouble, bad weather, and enemy action led to the loss of aircraft and crews who went down in the ocean or over hostile terrain. The Air Transport Command developed its own search and rescue units to look for downed airmen, and C-47s were equipped for the role. Some C-47s were equipped with skis to allow landings close to downed airmen in Arctic terrain. The C-47C was equipped with giant Edo floats to allow water landings. Tests were even conducted with a glider version of the C-47, when an early model was converted to become the XCG-17.

On May 5, 1945, the 10,000th DC-3 was delivered to the United States Army Air Forces; all but 500 were built after Pearl Harbor. By the end of 1944, all the DC-3s that had been procured from the airlines for military use had been returned. The airlines also benefited from the military production, as hundreds of C-47s and C-53s became surplus to the military’s needs and were released for civilian purchase.

Immediately after the war, the C-47s were instrumental in airlifting supplies to areas that had been devastated by the conflict and providing support for occupying forces. Unlike most other U.S. military aircraft of World War II, the C-47 remained in active military service during both the Korean and Vietnam conflicts.

This article by Sam McGowan first appeared at the Warfare History Network in 2016.

Image: Douglas C-47 "Skytrains", 12th Air Force Troop Carrier Wing, loaded with paratroopers on their way for the invasion of southern France, 15 August 1944. (U.S. Air Force photo) 

Romney Stands Up Against Probe Into Hunter Biden and Burisma

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 02:19

Andrew Kerr

Politics, Americas

He could hold the key to stopping a subpoena.

Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said Thursday that people are tired of politically motivated investigations such as Republican Wisconsin Sen. Ron Johnson’s probe into Burisma Holdings, the Ukrainian gas company linked to Hunter Biden.

Romney is a member of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, whose chairman, Johnson, plans to hold a vote on March 11 to subpoena Andrii Telizhenko, a former consultant for a firm that Burisma hired to fight against corruption allegations.

Johnson’s effort to issue the subpoena could be halted if Romney votes against the measure, CNN reported. Republicans hold eight seats on the committee to the six seats held by Democrats.

“There’s no question that the appearance of looking into Burisma and Hunter Biden appears political,” Romney told reporters Thursday when asked about the upcoming subpoena vote. “I think people are tired of these kind of political investigations.”

“I would hope if there is something of significance that needs to be evaluated that would be done perhaps the FBI or some other agency that’s not as political as perhaps a committee of our body,” the Utah senator continued. “We also have a lot of work to do on matters that are not related to Burisma. We probably ought to focus on those things.”

Romney, who was the only Republican lawmaker to vote to convict President Donald Trump on the abuse of power impeachment charge in February, said he would be meeting with Johnson to discuss the merits of his investigation into Burisma.

When asked if he will support Johnson’s subpoena effort, Romney said: “I will make that decision after I’ve had the chance to meet the chairman and see what information he has.”

Romney’s office did not return a request for comment.

Johnson’s committee is investigating whether Hunter Biden leveraged his relationship with his father, former Vice President Joe Biden, to help Burisma combat allegations of corruption.

Johnson wrote in a letter to Democratic Sen. Gary Peters of Michigan on Monday that his committee has “received U.S. government records indicating that Blue Star sought to leverage Hunter Biden’s role as a board member of Burisma to gain access to, and potentially influence matters at, the State Department.”

Blue Star co-founder Karen Tramontano also reached out to State Department officials throughout 2016 to discuss Ukraine and Burisma, department records show.

Telizhenko, the former Blue Star consultant, has provided some Burisma-related documents to Johnson’s committee, but a non-disclosure agreement is preventing him from handing over any more without being compelled by a subpoena, Johnson told Peters in his letter.

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Image: U.S. Senator Mitt Romney (R-UT) rides in a U.S. Capitol elevator to the U.S. Senate floor to cast a guilty vote during the final votes in the Senate impeachment trial of U.S. President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., February 5, 2020. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

Trump Isn't the Only American Who Thinks Climate Change Is a Hoax

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 02:18

Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy

Environment, Americas

American polarization has deep roots in racial, religious and ideological divisions and can be traced back to the reaction of conservatives to the cultural, social and political transformations of the 1960s and 1970s.

2019 will not be remembered as the year when the world finally united to save the planet. Despite massive worldwide demonstrations and increasing global awareness and anxiety, the December 2019 UN Climate Change Conference (a.k.a., COP25) in Madrid failed spectacularly.

The reason? A handful of countries blocked significant action, in particular the United States, Brazil, Australia and Saudi Arabia, while China and India conveniently used the pretext of the historical responsibility of rich nations as an excuse for doing nothing.

A month before the COP25, President Trump formally confirmed the exit of the United States from the Paris climate agreement – just one policy change among more than 90 others aimed at rolling back environmental regulations. Because the United States is still the most powerful country in the world whose president has the most media coverage, this has created a toxic “Trump effect” that has weakened the credibility of international commitments and emboldened others, especially populists and nationalists, to shirk their responsibilities.

But how much do the aggressively anti-environmental actions of a minority president actually reflect American public opinion?

The US versus the rest of the world?

Even though Americans are less likely to be concerned about climate change than the rest of the world (by at least about 10 to 20 percentage points), a majority (59%) still see it as a serious threat – a 17-point increase in six years (Pew Research). But the devil is in the details. Only about 27% of Republicans say climate change is a major threat, compared with 83% of Democrats, a 56-percentage point difference!

Global concerns about climate change. Pew Research CenterGlobal Threats. Pew Research Center

Climate skepticism/denial exists in other Western democracies, mostly among right-wing populists, but even by comparison, the American Republicans are the least likely to see it as a major threat.

This in turn raises another question: why are American Republicans more skeptical about climate change than right-wing voters in other countries? The first reason has to do with polarization in politics and identity.


American polarization has deep roots in racial, religious and ideological divisions and can be traced back to the reaction of conservatives to the cultural, social and political transformations of the 1960s and 1970s. This polarization eventually made its way into politics in the 1980s and, even more so, in the 1990s when it became a ‘culture war.’ As global warming emerged on the US national agenda, it became one of those divisive hot-button issues in the culture war, along with abortion, gun control, health care, race, women and LGBTQ’s rights.

The fact that progressive Democrats took on the issue of global warming early on – former vice president Al Gore was a leading voice on the issue – and that the solutions they offered had to do with statist measure such as carbon taxes, a cap-and-trade system, or energy rationing resulted in further politicization of the issue.

In 2001, then-president George W. Bush withdrew from the Kyoto protocol asserting that it would be too costly for the US economy. And in 2010, the Tea Party movement solidified Republican hostility toward the climate-change issue, preventing Congress from passing a cap-and-trade bill. It came as no surprise then when Donald Trump’s comment that climate change was a “concept created by the Chinese” to make “US manufacturing non-competitive” did little to damage his 2016 presidential campaign.


Indeed, his criticism of the Paris accord as being “very, very expensive”, “unfair”, “job killing” and “income-killing” clearly resonated with his electorate.

As much as Donald Trump’s political strategy has been to intensify polarization and to appeal to his base, he is more the symptom than the deeper cause of this polarization. Undeniably, the measures needed to curb greenhouse-gas emissions imply government intervention and internationally binding treaties that go against the conservatives’ ideals of individual freedom, limited government and free markets.

Trust and mistrust

More than most other issues, our acceptance of the human impact on climate change is contingent on our trust in science and environmental scientists. For most of us, It is a matter of trust and not intelligence since we cannot do the science ourselves. Americans of all stripes generally trust scientists (86%), except for environmental research where there is a 30-point gap between Republicans and Democrats, a gap – more surprisingly – that is persistent among those with high science knowledge.

Pew Research Center

Trust in government is also highly partisan, but Republicans have tended to be more specifically wary of international institutions. For instance, only 43% of Republicans have a favorable view of the United Nations compared to 80% of Democrats. There are fringe conservatives, like Alex Jones or members of the John Birch Society the alt-right who want to “get out of the UN.”

In many ways, Donald Trump’s “America first” nationalist slogan is a rejection of international institutions, internationalism and cosmopolitanism – something he made clear at the the 73rd Session of the United Nations General Assembly in 2018.

Anti-intellectualism and anti-science

Americans have always tended to distrust the government, the elite and expertise. This is nothing new. In his 1964 Pulitzer Prize winning book, Anti-Intellectualism in American Life, Richard Hofstadter identified two sources of American anti-intellectual sentiment: business, which he depicted as unreflective, and religion, particularly evangelicalism. With its market-oriented, pro-business, and pro-religious agenda, the Republican party is naturally more distrustful of intellectuals and academics, including scientists.

This is fertile ground for right-wing think-tanks and lobbyists to sow doubt in the minds of conservatives who have a cognitive bias against climate change. And there has been no shortage of those, from the Global Climate Coalition, the Koch brothers to the Cato Institute, the Heritage Foundation, the fossil-fuel industry or the Heartland Institute. In Merchants of Doubt, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway have shown how these groups use a strategy questioning scientific research similar to that used by the tobacco industry in the 1970s and 1980s.

For a long time, these pressure groups allies in the American press that more often portrayed climate science as “uncertain” than the press in other developed nations. More significantly, Fox News has been the true echo chamber of climate-change deniers. The result is that Fox News viewers are less likely to accept the science of global warming and climate change. And now, the social media have only made the situation worse. A recent study found that videos challenging the scientific consensus on climate change were outnumbered by those that supported it. Then there is Donald Trump who has, since becoming president, attacked the scientists in his own administration by censoring their findings, shutting down government studies and pressuring scientists (full report available here) to reflect his own thinking on the issue.

Confronted with the reality of natural disasters and rising temperatures, most Republicans no longer deny climate change, rather they deny that humans are responsible, and warn that it will affect the economy.

The Frontier myth of an endless economic bonanza

When confronted by journalists about climate change, President Trump diverts the questions by focusing on the immediate benefits are more concrete than potential, vague, long-term gains, as he did during his news conference with President Macron of France in Biarritz, in August 2019.

This idea that nature offers vast untapped reserves that will yield perpetual and painless growth is evocative of what historian Richard Slotkin called the Frontier’s “bonanza economics”. It is an old American story that back to the Puritans: that the wilderness had to be conquered and transformed, that the Anglo-Saxon race was defined by its ability to exploit it, which also justified the displacement of indigenous people who did not work the land.

In this story, the president becomes the Frontier hero who ventures into the wilderness (of nature and politics) to transform it. His professed love for “beautiful clean coal” not only pleases his voters in coal-mining states, it also taps into the belief that nature is first and foremost an infinite provider of wealth that will contribute to the prosperity of all Americans. From Alaska to Minnesota, the Trump administration is all about easing restrictions on drilling, logging and mining at the expense of the protection of the land.

Yet there is another quintessentially American approach to nature. One that sees the presence of the divine in nature and has acknowledged the exhaustability of land and resources. One that is reflected in the writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Henry David Thoreau, in the paintings of the Hudson River School, and in the activism of John Muir. It is also ingrained in the politics of Theodore Roosevelt, who used the ethos of the Frontier for his conservationist policies. If values trump facts, maybe this is the American story that today’s conservatives should embrace.

Thomas Cole, The Oxbow, the Connecticut River near Northampton (1836).

Jérôme Viala-Gaudefroy, Assistant lecturer, Université Paris Nanterre – Université Paris Lumières

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Why the Coronavirus Really Terrifies Us

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 02:08

Victor Davis Hanson

Public Health, World

Keep calm and wash your hands.

The recent spread of the coronavirus is causing a global panic. Our shared terror arises not so much from the death toll of the new flu-like disease—more than 3,000 people have died worldwide—but from what we don’t know about it.

Experts at least agree that the virus originated in China. But Beijing’s authoritarian government hid information about its origins, spread, and severity for weeks.

Such duplicity only fanned the fears of a global plague—a hysteria not seen since the groundless fears of a Y2K global computer meltdown in the year 2000, or the political feeding frenzy during the Hurricane Katrina relief effort.

Wild speculation followed that the coronavirus was a virulent or mutated superbug. Had it arisen naturally or escaped from a nearby military lab? Did it originate from a sick lab animal? A conspiracy theory arose that it was a manufactured virus that had escaped from scientists’ botched efforts to create either a vaccine or a biological weapon.

Is the outbreak an indication that China’s scientists are well behind their Western peers, at least in the areas of virology and bacteriology? Or is the problem that Chinese culture still features outdated traditions such as open-air “wet markets”? Unfounded rumors spread that the virus may have originated in one of these markets, where exotic mammals such as bats and pangolins are still sold for human consumption.

For all China’s gleaming high-speed rail lines and new airports, hundreds of millions of Chinese still live in places with suspect food safety and waste disposal—the historic incubators of epidemics.

The method of the contagion has been perplexing to experts. Why is the mortality rate for infected patients in Iran roughly double that of patients in countries such as South Korea, Italy, and Japan? Why have almost no children under 10 died from the infection?

Are governments unable (or unwilling) to count the infected, given the similarities in symptoms between the coronavirus and various colds and flus? Does such uncertainty suggest that we are undercounting the number of people sickened or killed by the coronavirus?

Or are we instead overestimating its dangers? Thousands of patients may have already recovered from mild cases—and perhaps never knew they were sick in the first place.

Evidence suggests that only about 2% of patients will die after infection. As in the case of other viral illness, the unfortunate victims are mostly elderly people with existing illnesses. Does that pattern suggest the coronavirus may be more like annual influenza outbreaks—deadly to thousands but hardly the stuff to shut down a global economy?

The common theme of history’s great plagues—Athens in 430 B.C., Constantinople in 541, and the Black Plague of 1347—was that preindustrial conditions of filth and ignorance helped spread what were usually bacterial diseases transmitted by lice, fleas, and rodents.

Real plagues can certainly change history. A stricken Athens afterward lacked the power to defeat Sparta in the Peloponnesian War. The Byzantine emperor Justinian would never finish his half-completed dreams of a new reunited Rome. The Black Plague helped usher in the end of the Middle Ages.

Great literature—from Thucydides, Procopius, Boccaccio, and Camus—often chronicled the human suffering, and especially the hysteria, that follows from the breakdown of civilized norms.

History also reminds us that nature remains unforgiving. We may live in the age of the internet, smartphones, and jet travel, but viruses are indifferent to so-called human progress.

Modern life squeezes millions into cities as never before. Jet travel, with its crowded planes and airports, can spread diseases from continent to continent in hours.

Globalization is a two-edged sword. It may enrich billions of people, but the leveling effects of instant communication and travel can spread disease at a speed undreamed of in the past.

The dissemination of sophisticated Western science to non-Western societies that lack advanced research centers may be increasingly suicidal. Borders are now considered passe in the age of globalization. But their enforcement reminds us that not all nations are alike. All sovereign peoples should have the right to take measures for their own safety well beyond the purview of the transnational elites.

Finally, is it wise or safe to allow hundreds of thousands of homeless to live crowded among filth, vermin, and squalor on the sidewalks of America’s major cities?

The coronavirus threat and the unfounded hysteria that has accompanied it will pass.

But the specter of a pandemic offers a timely warning to remember that we are not necessarily any more immune from volatile nature—and humankind’s paranoid response to it—than were the ancients.

This article by Victor Davis Hanson originally appeared at The Daily Signal. This article first appeared in 2020.

Image: Reuters

Yes Grenade Launchers Are Still a Favored Weapon by Troops Around the World

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 02:00

James Clark

Security, Americas

A very useful weapon.

Key point: When you need a good explosion during a fire fight, grenade launchers will help in a pinch. This is why they are still kept in arsenals the world over.

Infantry platoons bristle with direct-fire weapons, but everyone loves a grenade. Grenades give ground troops the ability to send a big boom of fire and shrapnel over a wall or hedgerow, inside a window, or wherever else you can wing one. The catch, of course, is that a hand grenade’s range tops out at roughly 40 meters, depending on whether the grenade-hurler tried out for the minors before joining the military.

Enter the ubiquitous grenade launcher. Today, that simplest of standoff weapons is often mounted in the turrets of armored vehicles; lugged along by a dog-tired grunt in the form of a man-portable 15-plus pound system; or most of the time, just affixed to the underbarrel of an infantryman’s rifle.

But who cooked up the idea of a gun that burps explosive grenades — and how’d they end up on so many M4s and M16s in the first place?

Glad you asked. Turns out grenade launchers have a rich century’s worth of weird history, from the earliest steampunk-looking trench-warfare crossbows and bomb-apults of World War I.

“A New Type of Explosive Grenade That is Fired From a Rifle”

The earliest serious incarnations were rifle grenades, which were exactly what they sounded like: special charges meant to be mounted on the business end of your rifle barrel and shot off, at five times the range of their handheld counterparts. A rifle grenade could be fired in a plunging arc overhead, and unlike other indirect fire weapons like mortars or artillery, they could go wherever a rifleman went — anywhere — as this 1914 edition of Popular Mechanics notes.

Throughout World War I and World War II, American infantrymen relied on a wide variety of rifle grenades, according to U.S. Grenade Launchers, Gordon L. Rottman’s historical account of the weapon system published last September. The armaments were a mainstay of American combat troops for decades, but the weapons weren’t without shortcomings: The more distant the target, the less accurate the grenades became, and their range often maxed out around 200 meters — leaving a lot to be desired.

“40 Mike-Mike”​

In the early 1950s, weapons developers at the Army’s Ballistic Research Laboratories at Aberdeen Proving Ground in Maryland were hard at work on a new type of grenade inspired by experimental German anti-tank munitions during World War II. The program was called Project Niblick — named after a 9-iron golf club, to highlight the similar arcing trajectories of a golf ball and a grenade in flight, according to Rottman.

By 1953, Project Niblick had its ace in the hole: the 40mm grenade. In the years that followed, that first “40 Mike-Mike” birthed a generation of aluminum-encased ordnance for a variety of launchers and payloads, from high explosives to buckshot to white phosphorous to parachute flares and non-lethal rounds.

The original “bloop gun”

By turns dubbed the “bloop tube” and “blooper,” owing to the sound made as a 40mm is launched from the barrel — or “thump-gun,” because of the noise it makes when said round lands — the M79 was created by Springfield Armory in Massachusetts in the 1950s. The idea was a weapon that could lob a high explosive munition up to 400 meters — though the effective range for most launchers comes in at around 350 meters, or less — and with no more recoil than a 12-gauge shotgun.

This article first appeared in 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The break-action shotgun-style launcher was officially approved by the military in 1961 and immediately began making its way into the hands of U.S. troops. Though it mostly saw service in Vietnam — and between 1961 and 1971, roughly 350,000 “bloopers” were manufactured — the M79 didn’t vanish after the war; the “thumper” even did a stint of field-testing in Iraq as an anti-IED system during the early days of Operation Enduring Freedom, where its range provided enough “standoff distance” to detonate suspected roadside bombs with a well-placed 40mm HE round.

Simple in design, with a wooden stock — typically black walnut or birch, though plastic eventually was an option, too — the M79 weighs about the same as an M16, and at two and a half feet in length, when not cut down, it’s man-portable. But it only fires one round at a time.

The military had also tested out the T148, a semi-automatic grenade launcher that could lob three rounds in the air before the first hit the ground. But its side-feeding magazine often snagged on a GI’s equipment, became tangled in heavy brush, or got gummed up with debris and muck, causing jams, according to Rottman. After minimal field testing, that prototype got scrapped in 1960.

The fabled “China Lake” SEAL “blooper”

The need for a standalone launcher that could get more grenades downrange ricky tick without jamming was met by the beastly 8-pound pump-action China Lake grenade launcher, which had a capacity of three 40mm grenades — though, according to Rottman, veteran grenadiers figured out a way to load an additional two rounds, one in the chamber, and a second onto the elevator plate, which carries the munitions from the feedway to the chamber. Created at Naval Weapons Center in China Lake, California in 1968, the weapon was fielded mainly by Navy SEAL detachments in Vietnam.

The China Lake was a one-trick pony, though: It was prone to jamming when any 40mm rounds other than high-explosive were used. Only a few of the weapons were made, likely between 16 and 50 — that’s as high as the serial numbers go — and just four are known to remain intact, safely stowed in museums, Rottman writes.

Getting the “bloop” and the “bang” in one boomstick

In May 1963, the U.S. military sought to field an under-the-barrel grenade launcher to complement the newly designed M16 assault rifle, War Is Boring notes. After a few missteps with the XM-148 — a finicky rifle attachment that was inaccurate, hard to clean, and prone to breaking — the military found the M203.

The first M203s reached U.S. troops in Vietnam in 1969, where they were well received: The launcher was rugged, reliable, and less likely to snag on heavy jungle growth than the XM-148. For the first time since the rifle grenades of World War II, infantry squads and fire teams had the firepower of a grenade launcher without sacrificing a rifleman — or burdening a grenadier with a heavy weapon and ammunition.

For the next half-century, the M203 performed its role admirably: taking out groups of enemies, providing a heavy base of fire for advancing or retreating troops, and depending on the grenade used — marking critical targets or locations.

The new kid in town​

But in the last decade, the M203 has given way to the M320. The advanced replacement first made its hands to the Army in 2009, and this year the Marines got their first batch following testing during Sea Dragon 2025, an 18-month initiative during which the Corps was trying out new weapon systems and tactics, Task & Purpose reported in June.

Both the M203 and the M320 can lob 5 to 7 rounds per minute and are effective against area targets up to 350 meters away. The most significant difference is the M320’s ability to function as a standalone weapon when broken away from a service rifle.

Though underslung grenade launchers have the niche of “squads artillery” pretty well covered, new advancements are continually being researched — like smart grenades that detonate inside of a doorway, and an M320-launched guided missile.

The six-shooter solution​

In 2005, the Marine Corps decided to procure the M32, a six-round rapid fire grenade launcher that looks like a giant’s revolver. The need arose during the Second Battle of Fallujah in 2004, when Marines on the ground concluded that they needed a way to sling boatloads of HE into congested and enemy-occupied buildings, quickly, according to Rottman. The launcher, which was fielded in 2008 and weighs in at 18 pounds with a full payload, was seen less as a replacement to its underslung siblings, and more as a way to beef up an infantry squad’s firepower.

Given how far grenade launchers have come — from a medieval-type crossbow to a single shot 40mm bloop tube to a cornucopia of multishot hand cannons and underbarrel ’nade launchers —  it’s hard to know exactly where they’ll end up. One thing’s certain though: these “thump-guns” aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, having blooped into grunts’ hearts the world over.

This article by James Clark originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter. This article first appeared in 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

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Why the Air Force Never Built Its YF-23 Mach 1.6 Stealth Fighter

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 01:48

David Axe


Lost opportunity?

Key point: The Air Force instead ordered what became the F-22. Although it could have been replaced by a faster plane, the F-22 has held its own.

The U.S. Air Force came very close to buying a rocket ship.

In 1991, the Air Force selected Lockheed’s YF-22 fighter over Northrop’s YF-23 as the basis for the service’s new air-superiority fighter.

That wasn’t the only major decision the Air Force made at the time. The service also selected Pratt & Whitney’s YF-119 as the engine that would power that YF-22, in the process rejecting General Electric’s YF-120.

It’s apparent 28 years later that the Air Force preferred the YF-119 because it seemed it would be cheaper and easier to develop and build. The YF-120 demonstrably was more powerful. But that power came at a cost that the flying branch decided was unacceptable.

History flows in one direction and fantastical conjecture about long-ago weapons programs can be toxic. But in 2019 as the Air Force begins considering how eventually to replace the F-22, it’s worth considering the implications of choosing cheaper and more reliable technology over riskier, pricier but potentially more powerful tech.

The Air Force in 1971 began studying requirements for a new fighter to succeed the F-15, which itself at the time was still in development, recalled Paul Metz, a former Northrop test pilot who flew the YF-23.

Metz and fellow YF-23 test pilot Jim Sandberg in 2015 spoke at length about the YF-23 in a lecture series at the Western Museum of Flight in California.

Studies continued for 10 years before the service finally approached the aerospace industry. The Air Force in 1981 asked nine companies to pitch new fighter designs. Seven responded. The Air Force in 1986 tapped Lockheed and Northrop each to build and test two prototypes. The deadline was in 1991.

Meanwhile, the Air Force tapped Pratt & Whitney and General Electric each to develop a new engine to power the two YF-22s and two YF-23s that Lockheed and Northrop were building. One of each type of demonstrator would fly with the Pratt & Whitney YF-119 while the other flew with General Electric’s YF-120.

In a sense, the Air Force planned to consider not two competing fighter designs, but four. That’s how different the two motors were. “This was a competition between two airplane designs but also two engine designs,” Sandberg said.

One key requirement was that the demonstrators be able to “supercruise” at supersonic speed without using their fuel-thirsty afterburners. In designing the YF-119, Pratt & Whitney stressed “a balance between performance, safety and reliability, maintainability and low life-cycle cost,” according to

General Electric, by contrast, “was focused on performance for the supercruise requirement,” David Aronstein, Michael Hirschberg and Albert Piccirillo wrote in their book Advanced Tactical Fighter to F-22 Raptor: Origins of the 21st Century Air Dominance Fighter.

During a brief but intensive flight-test program ending in early 1991, the YF-120 proved to be the more powerful of the two engines. The YF-22 and YF-23 both supercruised faster with the YF-120 than they did with the YF-119, Sandberg said.

The YF-120-powered YF-23 in particular was a veritable rocketship, supercruising faster than Mach 1.6.

But that power came at a cost. The YF-120 might be more difficult, and more expensive, to develop for mass production. When the Air Force tapped the YF-22 as the basis for its next fighter, it also selected the YF-119 as that fighter’s engine.

“The Air Force did not consider this demonstration to be a performance ‘fly-off’ but rather a demonstration of the technical and management capability needed to meet the program objectives during [development] with the least technical risk and the lowest cost," California think-tank RAND explained.

The service’s risk-aversion also helped to explain its preference for the YF-22, which many observers believed was an inferior performer compared to the YF-23. But Lockheed reportedly pitched what the Air Force considered to be a low-risk development and production process that the service hoped would minimize delays and cost overruns.

Sandberg for one called the Air Force’s preference for the lower-performing Pratt & Whitney engine “interesting.”

History seems to have validated the Air Force’s 1991 decisions. In 2019 the F-119-powered F-22 probably is the most capable fighter in the world.

If the flying branch applies the same criteria to a new fighter design to replace the F-22, it might opt for airframe and engine designs that are sophisticated … without being too sophisticated.

David Axe serves as Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War FixWar Is Boring and Machete Squad.

This first appeared in 2019.

Image: Reuters

Why Everyone Is Arguing Over Who Broke the F-35's Computers

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 01:00

Sebastien Roblin

Politics, Americas

An expensive mistake.

Key point: Washington is livid. The trillion-dollar F-35 stealth fighter has computer problems but no one wants to take the blame.

The U.S. military sees the Lockheed F-35 Lightning as representing a new paradigm of air warfare. The new tactical jet fighter controversially trades in some of the raw agility of preceding fourth-generation jet fighters in favor of capabilities emphasizing stealth, and reliance upon networked computers and powerful long-range sensors and missiles.

This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

But the F-35 Lightning also represents a new business paradigm—one in which the jets are offered more and more as a service than as a physical product, with manufacturer Lockheed Martin retaining exclusive rights to modify much of the aircraft’s critical mission and ground-based software.

Earlier, while attempting to persuade Turkey not to purchase Russian surface-to-air missiles, the United States even reportedly threatened that it could cut off software support for any F-35 delivered to Turkey, rendering them virtually unusable.

Of course, maintenance, training, and spare parts contracts have for decades meant that jet fighters amounted to lucrative long-term revenue streams for their manufacturers. But the F-35 advances this paradigm dramatically in that Lockheed retain exclusive rights to modify its operating software, a fact which has not sat well not only with foreign importers but even the U.S. military. 

Only Israel has received permission to install an overarching software shell “on top” of the jet’s computer in its customized F-35I fighters. Still, some will argue deeper privatization of jet fighter operations is unobjectionable if it delivers services more cheaply and efficiently than the military. But that may not be the case in this instance. The F-35’s ground-based ALIS logistical system, intended to streamline reporting and implement predictive maintenance, has for years remained buggy to the point of dysfunctionality—requiring constant manual inputs and workarounds when automated systems failed to do what they were supposed to do.

In a keynote address earlier this year, former Air Force Secretary Heather Wilson described ALIS as “a proprietary system so frustrating to use, maintainers said they were wasting 10-15 hours a week fighting with it . . . and looking for ways to bypass it to try to make F-35s mission capable.”

Worse, government reports have repeatedly identified ALIS as being vulnerable to hacking—which could have disastrous consequences given how dependent the jet is on its computer systems.

Indeed, the Pentagon has reportedly become so exasperated with ALIS’s continuing dysfunction it by early 2019 it had its in-house Kessel Run software team develop an alternative computer cloud called Mad Hatter to do the same job.

Lockheed, however, insists that it’s spending $170 million of its own money to fix ALIS.

Nonetheless, in mid-November, defense undersecretary Ellen Lord told Congress that “understanding where all the intellectual property is and making sure the government has access to what it has paid for is a key part of rearchitecting ALIS.”

In other words, the Defense Department’s desire to directly implement fixes of bugs in the F-35 is running afoul of Lockheed’s sweeping proprietary ownership of those digital support systems and the data they’re recording.

According to a Defense News article by David Larter and Joe Gould, F-35 program chief General David Fick also criticized how at times intellectual property disputes “that bordered on the ridiculous” were preventing the program from advancing.

“Everything from something as simple as U.S. government documents that get uploaded into a system and come back with Lockheed Martin proprietary markings on it . . . What we’re working to do is to figure out where are the places at which intellectual property assertions actually prevent us from doing the kind of work that we intend to do.”

Furthermore, Lord also testified that the Defense Department hired an independent consulting group to find ways to lower the F-35’s operating costs from around $35,000 per hour to the target $25,000, which would make it only slightly more expensive than a single-engine F-16 jet. 

Reportedly the consultants discovered $3,000 in per-hour costs that they couldn’t account for. Lord said they were working with Lockheed to “understand” the “confusion.”

Not all the news is bad. The F-35 program’s formerly crippling shortage of spare parts has reportedly been alleviated with a buildup in inventory and presumably reforms to its inefficient depot logistic system. This has helped raise mission-capable rates from around 50 percent to roughly 70 percent—though still short of the target 80 percent. 

The flyaway cost of the land-based F-35A model has also decreased to around $85 million, meaning those jets individually cost little more than advanced fourth-generation fighters if you don’t count-in operating expenses. And the more expensive F-35B jump-jet model is inspiring a renaissance in small-carrier fixed-wing aviation in countries like Japan and South Korea, and even the amphibious carriers of the U.S. Navy.

As the F-35 is currently set to be the most extensively manufactured warplane of the twenty-first century with projected sales of two to three thousand units—making it the most expensive weapons program in human history to date— more of the jet’s persistent defect may be laboriously smoothed away as multi-million dollar software patches introduce new capabilities and fix old problems.

But for now, the Pentagon and Lockheed appear to be facing off in a showdown over to what extent the U.S. military actually owns the jets it’s paying for.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in 2019 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

These Marines Explain Why They Only Use Fully Automatic Fire During the Most Intense Firefights

The National Interest - Sat, 07/03/2020 - 00:00

Task and Purpose

Technology, Americas

An effective measure.

Key point: Close quarters combat requires a lot of fire power to quickly deal with the enemy. That is why U.S. Marines don't go full automatic unless the situation requires it.

“America! Ahhhhh!” roars Chief Warrant Officer Christian Wade as he unloads with the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle — and not with any of that wimpy “pew, pew, pew” slow and steady squeeze stuff. The 2nd Marine Division gunner goes full auto in his latest fact or fiction video, before pausing to ask: “Is that really necessary?”

The answer: Sometimes.

From 5, 30, and 80 meters, Wade and Cpl. Gerald Trado, an infantryman with 3rd Battalion, 6th Marines, take turns sending rounds down range in semi-automatic and fully automatic. In terms of accuracy, the results are mixed.

While shooting on automatic at the closest distance, the vast majority of rounds fired hit right on target, but as the Marines move further away, their shot placements start to veer off. By the time they’re at 80 meters, just the first two or three rounds are landing center mass, with the remainder trailing up and to the left. As for what Wade calls “aggressive semi-automatic” fire? Well, there’s fewer rounds but all are either dead center or in the T-box, which is what you expect when you have two infantry Marines on the range.

It’s no mystery why the video features the M27 Infantry Automatic Rifle. The Corps’ long-sought-after replacement for the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon is also expected to replace the majority of M4s for infantry Marines, Marine Corps Times reported in August. The rifle offers a shooter the ability to provide heavy suppressive fire, or accurate semi-auto fire, and outranges the M4 by 100 to 150 meters. Though as Wade points out in the video, just how accurate those rounds will be depends on what mode you’re firing in.

“So here’s the point,” Wade says. “There are some times when fully automatic fire is appropriate: up close and personal, very extremely violent engagements. But at some point when you regain fire superiority you might want to transition back over to aggressive semi-automatic fire.”

Automatic fire may be fun, hell it definitely is, there’s a time and place for it — close in, or when you need to send a lot of lead downrange to keep the bad guys’ heads down. And once that’s done, you can switch back to semi-automatic fire and finish the job.

James Clark is a staff writer for Task & Purpose. He is a former Marine combat correspondent and a veteran of the War in Afghanistan. You can reach him via email at Follow James Clark on Twitter@JamesWClark.

This article originally appeared at Task & Purpose. Follow Task & Purpose on Twitter.

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- 7 Veteran-Friendly Manufacturers That Are Hiring

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Image: Flickr / Department of Defense

No Porn for Chinese Stuck Under Virus Lockdown

Foreign Policy - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 23:13
Internet controls have proved even more restrictive as Chinese life moves online under quarantine.

What If America's Aircraft Carriers Were Destroyed in a War With Russia or China?

The National Interest - Fri, 06/03/2020 - 23:00

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Eurasia

No ship in unsinkable.

Key point: American carriers are well-made and well-defended. However, they can be overwhelmed by missiles or still sunk by submarines.

On May 31, 2017, the U.S. Navy accepted into service USS Gerald Ford, the first of up to four new fleet carriers. The massive 1,100-foot-long vessel will eventually embark around sixty aircraft, including twenty-four F-35 Lightning stealth fighters and another twenty to twenty-four FA-18 Super Hornets. It features a faster elevator for loading munitions, and new electromagnetic launch catapults (EMALS) and arresting hooks to increase the tempo of flight operations while reducing maintenance costs. All of these new perks come at roughly a $13 billion price tag—more than twice the cost of the preceding USS George H. W. Bush.

This first appeared in August 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

The United States’ nuclear-powered fleet carriers are currently without rival in the world, and their onboard Carrier Air Wings can unleash tremendous sustained firepower. They serve as potent symbols of American military power, and floating air bases for campaigns in Libya, Iraq and the Balkans.

But how would the supercarriers fare when taking on something tougher than a third-world despot? Advances in missile and submarine technology put in question whether such large and expensive ships are survivable when operating within striking distance of an enemy coastline.

That striking distance is dictated by the roughly seven-hundred-mile combat radius of the carrier’s F-35C stealth fighters, with a shorter range for the Super Hornets. Inflight refueling may extend that distance a bit, though one should bear in mind that a carrier air wing has only a modest ability to refuel itself with its Super Hornet tankers without resorting to larger land-based tanker support. However, sailing a carrier strike group close enough for its fighters to attack coastal targets also places the carrier well within harm’s way of a variety of nasty new weapons.

Long Littoral Reach

One of the newer threats comes from ground-based ballistic missiles—normally a weapon we think of as exclusively used for striking land targets. However, the new Chinese DF-21D Intermediate-Range Ballistic Missiles (IRBM) possess a high degree of accuracy and the capability to adjust course midflight. Both traits enable the rocket to hit a moving target like an aircraft carrier.

The DF-21D “East Wind” IRBM has a range of nine hundred miles, and can adjust its flight path using targeting data fed to it by other platforms, including a series of Yaogan satellites put into space over the last several years. The U.S. Naval Institute claimed the massive kinetic energy of a descending DF-21D, combined with the explosive payload, could potentially destroy a carrier in one hit.

It’s important to note that the East Wind is a mobile weapons system, and could thus prove difficult to preemptively strike. On the other hand, while dozens of the missiles have been deployed to PLA units, it doesn’t appear that the weapon has ever been tested against a moving naval target.

Until recently IRBMs were nearly impossible to shoot down. Today, U.S. cruisers and destroyers carry SM-3 air-defense missiles, which supposedly might be able to swat down an incoming IRBM—although it’s not expected to be easy. There also a number of potential methods for messing up an IRBM’s guidance systems.

Stealthy Submarines—or Subs with Big Missiles

Torpedo-launching submarines sank several aircraft carriers during World War II—though both land- and carrier-based aircraft played a major role in countering the submarine threat. At the time, submarines were especially vulnerable to patrol planes because they had to surface a couple of times a day to keep their batteries charged. Even when lurking underwater, they relied on noisy air-breathing diesel engines that made them easier to pick up on sonar.

During the 1950s and ’60s, new nuclear-powered submarines increased the underwater endurance of subs from hours or a few days at best to months at a time. Nuclear propulsion also enabled them to become far faster and quieter than diesel submarines. Other innovations, such as anechoic tiles and teardrop-shaped hulls reinforced the sonar stealth trend. The quieting technology had reached such a peak by the end of the Cold War that nuclear submarines obliviously collided with each other in 1992, 1993 and as recently as 2009, due to their inability to detect each other.

Of course, carriers are always escorted by destroyers or frigates specialized in antisubmarine warfare. Furthermore, long-distance maritime patrol planes and shipboard helicopters also assist in sweeping the seas for enemy subs. However, while Russian submarines were initially much noisier than their Western counterparts during most of that period, later Cold War designs, such as the nuclear-powered Akula class, were nearly peers to their Western counterparts in quietness.

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Nuclear submarines, however, cost well over $2 billion apiece in modern times, so noisier diesel submarines remain more common across the world. However, in the 1990s Sweden deployed the first submarine to use Air Independent Propulsion (AIP), the Gotland. A variety of AIP technologies allow for a new generation of very quiet and very cheap ship-hunting submarines that cost as little as roughly one-sixth the price of a nuclear submarine, and can operate up to two to four weeks underwater, albeit at fairly slow speeds.

China now possesses fifteen Type 41 submarines, employing the same Stirling AIP system as the Gotland, with another fifteen planned, while dozens of German-made Type 212, 214 and 218 AIP submarines are entering service across Europe and Asia. In fact, the Pacific in particular has become the site of a veritable submarine arms race.

Both nuclear and AIP submarines, including the Gotland, have repeatedly succeeded in sinking aircraft carriers during NATO naval exercises. This is even more alarming considering how cheap the latter type of submarines are to build. In addition to being quiet, AIP submarines possess the range and endurance to hunt for carriers across regional waters, even if most aren’t suitable for deep-ocean operations. Another limitation is that they are significantly slower than the carriers they are hunting, especially while attempting to maximize battery life, forcing them to rely more on ambush tactics.

Still, creeping up to within torpedo range of a carrier strike group is a risky business. Some submarines are designed to hunt their targets from afar. The Russian Oscar-class cruise missile submarine, for example, is not especially stealthy, but it does not have to get close to a carrier group’s surface escorts, thanks to the four-hundred-mile range of its P-700 Granit missiles, which it can launch while underwater. The ten-meter-long missiles travel at supersonic speeds, and are designed to network together to overwhelm defensive countermeasures.

Cruise Missile Defense

This brings us into the realm of missile defense, a long-established threat that carrier strike groups have evolved to counter. While carriers carry short-range antiaircraft missiles and Phalanx CIWS guns for self-defense, their escorting Ticonderoga-class cruisers and Arleigh Burke–class destroyers are armed with a diverse array of medium- and long-range air antiaircraft missiles, designed to thin out incoming missile barrages from hundreds of miles away. These defenses are backed up by networked radars and coordinated by the sophisticated Aegis defense system.

The challenge facing carrier strike groups today is that new antiship missiles are becoming faster, longer-range and more widespread, and can be deployed from platforms including long-distance patrol planes and bombers, small and stealthy fast-attack boats, and even shipping containers concealed in a harbor.

The greater range means new missiles can be more safely lobbed at the carrier without necessarily entering within range for easy retaliation. The greater speed means they are harder to shoot down. And the ability to deploy them from a variety of platforms means the missile-launching units might prove difficult to detect and comprehensively eradicate preemptively.

Take, for example, the Russian Kalibr cruise missile, the “Sizzler” antiship variant of which can strike naval targets up to four hundred miles away. The missile skims just above the sea, making it difficult to detect at a distance, before leaping up to three times the speed of sound on the terminal approach—offering a challenging target for missile-defense systems. The Kalibr can be fired not only from underwater by submarines, but also by relatively small and cheap corvettes.

The heavier but shorter-range BrahMos missile entering use on sea, land and air platforms in the Indian military approaches the target at Mach 2.8, and is designed to perform an L-shaped evasive maneuver to fool a ship’s missile defenses. And China, needless to say, has developed its own range of similar antiship missiles, including both clones of Russian weapons as well as truly indigenous designs.

Even more troubling for a carrier’s air defenses are a new generation of hypersonic missiles—weapons exceeding five times the speed of sound. On June 3, Russia claimed to have successfully tested the hypersonic Zircon missile, with a reported speed of 4,600 miles per hour.

If a carrier tasks forces defense’s function properly—not something to take for granted when both the attacking and defensive systems have scant operational records—then they should be able to handle a few incoming missiles. However, an attacker would seek to “saturate” the defender’s defenses by launching large volleys of the missiles all at once, and it may only take a few getting through to wreak considerable havoc.

This, however, brings us to the major critique common to all these carrier-killing tactics: they often require a high degree of coordination, operational planning and networking.

Breaking the Kill Chain

Set aside the air-defense missiles for a moment—a carrier’s first defense is that its thousand-foot-long flight deck is still nothing more than a tiny pinprick measured against the millions of square miles that make up the ocean. A tiny moving pinprick. Not just locating but also tracking a carrier across all that space relies on having a maritime observation apparatus coordinating long-distance patrol planes, submarines, over-the-horizon radars and satellites—many of which are vulnerable in turn to a carrier strike group’s aircraft and missiles.

Once that apparatus identifies a carrier’s position, the targeting data needs to make it back in a timely fashion to air, land or naval units to put them in position for an attack. This sort of “cueing” is also very important in submarine operations. In many cases, a separate platform will have to network targeting data on the carrier, as the launch platforms may be too far away to acquire them on their own radars. Of course, that targeting data may also be disrupted by electronic warfare and defensive countermeasures. Just as likely, the observers may lose track of the carrier task force’s position before elements can get into place to make the strike.

These considerations lead National Interest contributor Rob Farley to argue that China and Russia lack adequate the maritime intelligence assets and operational experience to mount a well-coordinated maritime search-and-destroy campaign against a carrier task force, even if they possess armaments that could theoretically prove effective against one.

The Operational Track Record—Such As It Is

It’s important to stress that nobody really knows how effective both the offensive and defensive naval technologies will prove against each other, as there have fortunately been no large-scale naval wars since World War II.

However, the smaller-scale naval conflicts that have occurred in the Persian Gulf, Arabian Sea and the South Atlantic all suggest long-range antiship missiles pose a substantial threat.

Consider the two British ships sunk by air-launched Exocet missiles in the Falkland War, with a third damaged by a ground-launched weapon. The first attack was not detected until seconds before the moment of impact. Argentina’s possession of just a few of the missiles nearly led London to dispatch a suicidal commando raid on Argentine soil to negate the threat.

During the same conflict, an Argentine diesel-electric submarine twice managed to launch torpedo attacks on British vessels without being detected—though, fortunately for the Royal Navy, the torpedoes all malfunctioned! Meanwhile, Argentina’s own carrier did not participate in the conflict due to the threat posed by British submarines, one of which had sunk cruiser General Belgrano.

On the other hand, antiship missiles liberally employed during the Iran-Iraq War generally failed to sink large tanker vessels—which may imply that supercarriers will also prove similarly resilient.

Obviously, these decades-old incidents should not be over-extrapolated into applying to current technology—but their lessons shouldn’t be dismissed out of hand.

One should also recall how many navies continued to invest in battleships in between the world wars, skeptical that then-new aircraft carriers could seriously challenge them. Surely, early carrier-based aircraft must not have seemed nearly as dependable as the sixteen-inch guns on a battleship turret. But those primitive warplanes and the operational doctrine for their use matured to the point where their ability to search for and destroy targets across hundreds of miles rendered the battleship obsolete.

Actual combat in World War II proved revelatory. In the December 7 raid on Pearl Harbor, Japanese warplanes sank three U.S. battleships and severely damaged several more. Shortly afterward, land-based bombers sank the British battleship Prince of Wales and the battlecruiser Repulse in a few of frenetic hours of action. To cap it off, the subsequent decisive naval battles of the Coral Sea and Midway were fought entirely by carrier air strikes and submarine attacks. It took these brutal encounters with reality to finally sweep away many navies’ long-held devotion to a weapon system that no longer provided results commensurate with the expense of building them.

Today’s supercarriers will likely serve on for decades. However, the new threats arrayed against them, combined with the limited range of the current generation of carrier-based aircraft, suggest they may prove too vulnerable to operate within striking distance of near-peer opponents.

It would make sense to plan future naval strategy around these new adversary capabilities, rather than simply doubling down on the supercarrier model because it has worked so far in permissive environments. Solutions that have been suggested to meet the new challenges posed by operating in littoral waters include using long-range carrier-based drones that will allow carriers to operate further afield from dangerous coastlines, relying on stealthy submarines to deliver cruise-missile attacks and distributing firepower across a larger fleet of individually less expensive ships. Above all, planners should seriously consider whether supercarriers loaded with relatively short-range warplanes remain a survivable and cost-efficient linchpin of U.S. naval strategy.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring. This first appeared in August 2017 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

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