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Russia Is Ramping Up Arms Exports To Africa

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 03:15

Mark Episkopos

Russian Military, Africa

As of 2020, Rosoboronexport—Russia’s state arms export agency—accounts for a whopping 49 percent of Africa’s arms imports

Here's What You Need to Remember: Although military helicopters, strike fighter aircraft, tanks, and various types of anti-tank missiles continue to comprise the vast chunk of Russia’s arms exports to Africa, the Kremlin has been looking to diversify its portfolio into amphibious warfare systems.

Russia’s defense industry is preparing to unveil the new Strela amphibious armored vehicle at ShieldAfrica 2021 exposition, the latest in its ongoing attempts to expand its presence in the lucrative and rapidly growing African arms market.

“Live samples of VPK-Ural armored vehicle, Tigr special armored vehicle in the ‘Raid’ variant, and Strela amphibious vehicle have already been dispatched [for the expo]," announced Russian defense manufacturer Military Industrial Company (MIC). ShieldAfrica 2021 will be held from June 8–10 in Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire, with the organizers reporting as many as 145 exhibitors and 74 official delegations.

First displayed at the Army 2020 exhibition near Moscow, the amphibious Strela is part of a family of six multi-purpose, maneuverable, light armored vehicles. The Strela amphibious variant boasts a payload capacity of 800 kilograms, top speed of 120 kilometers per hour, maximum swimming speed of 7 kilometers per hour, and range of up to 1000 kilometers. Strela models offer partial parts interchangeability with the other vehicles in MIC’s catalog, such as the VPK-Ural. The MIC—Russia’s largest manufacturer of wheeled armored vehicles—maintains that Strela is not only cheap to produce by virtue of its modularity, but has no equal among Russia’s current roster of amphibious vehicles. The Strela family’s utility extends to ease of maintenance. “Due to wide use of parts from commercial cars, the Strela vehicles could be services and repaired at the vast car service station network,” noted an MIC executive. With its cost-efficiency, modularity, and simplified repair process, MIC intends for the Strela amphibious vehicle to make a splash in African arms import markets. The Strela vehicle can reportedly be transported by certain military helicopter models, including the prolific Soviet and now Russian Mil Mi-8 helicopter that continues to be widely used across Africa.

Although military helicopters, strike fighter aircraft, tanks, and various types of anti-tank missiles continue to comprise the vast chunk of Russia’s arms exports to Africa, the Kremlin has been looking to diversify its portfolio into amphibious warfare systems. In 2020, Russia’s Kalashnikov Concern sold a number of BK-10 assault boats to a country in Sub-Saharan Africa. MIC is seeking to make up for lost ground following a drop in transactions amid the coronavirus pandemic. “Such aggressive policy on conquering the African market is caused by a significant decrease in business activity last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, so we are catching up,” MIC CEO Alexander Krasovitsky told reporters.

As of 2020, Rosoboronexport—Russia’s state arms export agency—accounts for a whopping 49 percent of Africa’s arms imports. Algeria and Egypt are historically Moscow’s two biggest clients, but Russian exporters have pushed in recent years to expand their presence in states including Nigeria, Tanzania, and Cameroon. Beyond direct import contracts, Moscow is exploring a local production and distribution arrangement with Angola. Russia has considerably widened its export lead over the next two biggest players in the African market, France and the United States, over the past two decades.

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

See this Soviet Semi-Automatic Pistol? It Was Born from a Submachine Gun

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 03:00

Caleb Larson

History, Eurasia

Before Fedor Tokarev's iconic guns left the drawing board, he tried his hand at a submachine gun.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Ultimately, the Tokarev Model 1927 was rejected by Soviet leadership in favor of the PPD submachine gun design.

In an effort to wean the Soviet Union away from a reliance on foreign ammunition calibers and foster self-sufficiency in weapon design, Soviet leadership turned to one of the heavyweight weapon designers: Fedor Tokarev.

Some of Tokarev’s most important weapon designs came to fruition in the 1930s or early 1940s, including the iconic TT pistol and SVT-38 and SVT-40. But before those two influential designs left the drawing board, Tokarev tried his hand at a submachine gun.

Model 1927

Great effort was made to ensure that the Tokarev Model 1927 was simple and inexpensive to manufacture. The Model 1927 was chambered in the widely-available 7.62×38mmR cartridge, a unique and fairly stout pistol cartridge for its time that was originally designed for the Nagant M1895 revolver.

Both the M1895 and the Mosin-Nagant rifle have an identical bore diameter, a commonality that was of benefit to the USSR, as some machine tooling could be used to manufacture both the revolver and the rifle. Had the Model 1927 been accepted into service, the Soviet Union would have had a full-length rifle, submachine gun, and revolver that all featured the same .30 bore diameter, with ammunition commonality between the revolver and submachine gun.

One of the Model 1927’s most prominent features is its forward grip, which also partially houses the magazine for better control during automatic fire by preventing “muzzle rise.” Though rather small, the grip would likely have afforded the Model 1927 good controllability.

Another of the Model 1927’s more unique features was the submachine gun’s trigger group. Two triggers, one for fully automatic fire, and another for semi-automatic shooting were housed within a rather large trigger guard.

The Model 1927’s magazines held 21 rounds, making their capacity rather small. In another interesting design choice, a spare magazine could be stored within the gun’s buttstock, in reserve as a last magazine when necessary.

At least one variant of the Model 1927 exists. In addition to a single trigger, likely for semi-automatic fire only, the variant also has a longer barrel, and a modified rear sight assembly marked to 800 meters, though the 7.62×38mmR cartridge would have been unable to accurately hit even area targets at those ranges.


Before submachine gun trials, the Soviet Army specified that all entrants should be chambered in the more modern 7.62×25mm Tokarev pistol cartridge, necessitating changes to the Model 1927 design. Ultimately the design was rejected by Soviet leadership in favor of the PPD submachine gun design.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with The National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technologyfocusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Killer Taiwanese Missiles Might Just Be Able to Fend Off China

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:30

Caleb Larson

Taiwanese Air Force, Asia

Getting anti-ship missiles in the air is a strong message to Beijing.

Here's What You Need to Remember: If a China-Taiwan conflict were to break out, Taiwan's Harpoon missiles could factor heavily in hampering the People’s Liberation Army Navy.

Living on China’s doorstep is an exercise in patience. As the country with the second-largest military budget in the world, China is well positioned to eventually invade Taiwan, which China sees as a rogue province rather than an independent country.

And Taiwan is in an unenviable position—the island of democracy in the South China Sea is a mere 100 or so miles—about 160 kilometers—from mainland China. The tiny republic has neither the military budget nor the manpower to guarantee a win in a potential fight against China. But, Taipei might just be able to make the cost of winning so great for Beijing, that a Chinese invasion never comes.

Taiwan Strait

Any attack by China on Taiwan is sure at some stage to include hundreds of ships sailing across the Taiwan Strait. This is where Taiwan could excel—repelling an amphibious Chinese invasion. Taiwan boasts a large assortment of missiles that have a modest 100-150 mile range and are intended to take out Chinese ships. 

Photos recently surfaced online that show Taiwanese F-16s equipped with the American-designed Harpoon anti-ship missile. The photos, published in the Taiwanese Liberty Times, showed that the Taiwanese planes were also armed with AIM-120 a beyond visual range air-to-air missile, as well as smaller Sidewinder missile. The display was considered by some as a pointed show of force for an island country that has typically tried to keep the waters between the two countries calm.

Territorial Dispute

A long-standing dispute between China and Taiwan over the Dongsha Islands may have prompted the recent Taiwanese Harpoon missile display. The islands, actually three small atolls, lie in the South China Sea and could become strategically important if they were to be fortified or militarized.

Earlier this year, reports surfaced that claimed PLA troops were preparing drills and military exercises that simulated the takeover of the Dongsha Islands. If China were to take over the islands, Beijing could better access the South China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. 


If a China-Taiwan conflict were to break out, the island republic’s Harpoon missiles could factor heavily in hampering the People’s Liberation Army Navy. Getting the missile in the air is a strong message to Beijing—Taiwan may have a smaller military and by comparison a miniscule defense budget—but the island republic could nevertheless send Chinese ships to the bottom of the Taiwan Strait.

Caleb Larson is a multimedia journalist and Defense Writer with The National Interest. He lives in Berlin and covers the intersection of conflict, security, and technologyfocusing on American foreign policy, European security, and German society.

This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

Could the Child Tax Credit Lead to a Universal Basic Income?

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:26

Stephen Silver

economy, Americas

The expanded child tax credit that passed as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act could serve as a “pilot program” for a future universal basic income.

The United States does not offer its citizens a universal basic income, although that idea has been out in the ether a bit more in recent years than it had been for a while. 

Democrat Andrew Yang’s signature proposal when he ran for president in the 2020 cycle was for a “Freedom Dividend,” which would have entailed $1,000 a month in direct cash payments to every adult in the country. 

“This is independent of one’s work status or any other factor,” Yang’s campaign website said of that proposal. “This would enable all Americans to pay their bills, educate themselves, start businesses, be more creative, stay healthy, relocate for work, spend time with their children, take care of loved ones, and have a real stake in the future.”

Yang did not win the presidency nor did he prevail in his subsequent bid for the mayoralty of New York. Once Joe Biden was elected, he did not make a universal basic income part of his platform. 

Earlier this summer, Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota introduced legislation meant to create a universal basic income known as The Sending Unconditional Payments to People Overcoming Resistances to Triumph (SUPPORT) Act and the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI) Act. That legislation does not appear to have advanced through Congress. 

However, some people have noted that the expanded child tax credit that passed as part of Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act could serve as a “pilot program” for a future universal basic income. That idea has been the basis for an episode of The New Yorker’s “Politics and More” podcast

The editor of The New Yorker, David Remnick, spoke with a U.S. Senator, Michael Bennet, about that connection. Bennet, like Yang, had campaigned for president in 2020 while pushing for recurring payments for all Americans, although his campaign didn’t last nearly as long. 

“The child tax credit, received by more than thirty-five million families, isn’t entirely new,” according to the description of the episode on the magazine’s website. “But the way it’s distributed is almost a revolution in American politics: instead of having it show up once a year, at tax time, the government also provides money ahead of time, in predictable monthly payments. Wide-scale, direct cash payments are anathema to Reagan-era austerity economics. Is this policy the first sign that that consensus may be coming to an end?”

The podcast also featured a debate between the University of Pennsylvania’s Amy Castro and the American Enterprise Institute’s Michael Strain, over the worthiness of the universal basic income idea. 

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for the National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia InquirerPhilly VoicePhiladelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic AgencyLiving Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver.

Image: Reuters

U.S. Hypersonic Weapons Pale In Comparison To China And Russia's

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:25

Mark Episkopos

Hypersonic Missile, Americas

Russian commentators are mocking the Biden administration over the U.S. Air Force’s failed hypersonic weapons test.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The U.S. military is deploying a slew of hypersonic systems that are expected to reach operational maturity by the turn of the decade. Unfortunately, both China and Russia have already fielded hypersonic weapons.  

Russian commentators are mocking the Biden administration over the U.S. Air Force’s failed hypersonic weapons test.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Air Force (USAF) conducted the first booster flight of the long-range hypersonic AGM-183A Air-launched Rapid Response Weapon (ARRW). USAF noted in a statement that the missile did not “complete its launch sequence” from a B-52H Stratofortress bomber, and was subsequently returned to Edwards Air Force Base in California.  

The ARRW setback made a big splash among foreign defense observers, but none took as keen an interest in the failed launch as Russian commentators. The news was picked up by a slew of major Russian media outlets and reported on cable TV. Dmitry Kiselyev, one of Russia’s most prominent news anchors, devoted an entire segment of his weekend show to highlighting Russia’s military might vis-à-vis the United States. “If we were to reconstruct Biden’s thoughts, the failed test of America’s hypersonic airborne missile must have been chilling for him. The missile has not yet flown once. For all intents and purposes, it does not exist,” he said. “The first mock-ups were taken to the air by planes. When they decided to finally launch this missile from a B-52 on April 6 . . . the product didn’t even turn on, let alone detach. Disgraceful. Biden was upset. He grieved for a week. And maybe he remembered how his mentor Barack Obama refused to go to war with Russia even over Crimea,” Kiselyev added, referencing ongoing tensions between Russia and Washington over the Donbass conflict in Ukraine.

“Biden, as a way of putting it, blinked first,” Kieseliev continued. “At some point, even Joe Biden understood that America’s security guarantee to Ukraine is essentially a bluff. America will not go to war over Donbass. And if it does, [it will suffer a] defeat so shameful that it will lose face even before its allies in NATO and across the world. What would the U.S. security guarantee be worth after that? And how, after this, could [the United States] threaten anyone or remain solvent?”

Retired Col. Viktor Litovkin gave a less politically-tinged, but still pointed assessment to Russian outlet Izvestia. “No missile, no aircraft, flies on the very first time. There is always a testing period, mistakes and failures will occur . . . however, Americans have boasted of their hypersonic weapons, their hypersonic missiles, for the last twenty yearsand still cannot accomplish anything.” Litovkin maintained that, with Russia’s Tsirkon, Kh-47M2 Kinzhal, and Avangard systems already in service, it will take the United States another ten years to catch up with Russia’s hypersonic weapons capabilities. Shortly following the failed ARRW test, Russian outlet Tsargrad touted these systems as “three blows to America’s self-confidence.”  

The U.S. military is deploying a slew of hypersonic systems that are expected to reach operational maturity by the turn of the decade. Unfortunately, both China and Russia have already fielded hypersonic weapons.  

Not only does the United States currently lack parallel capabilities, but it may not have a reliable means of countering these threats. Testifying about the challenges posed by Chinese and Russian hypersonic weapons programs, former Under Secretary of Defense for Research and Engineering Michael Griffin said that Washington does not “have systems which can hold them [China and Russia] at risk in a corresponding manner, and we don’t have defenses against those systems.”

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. This article is being reprinted due to reader interests.

Image: Reuters.

How Bad Leadership Cost the U.S. Navy One of Its Most Deadly Warships

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:15

James Holmes

Aircraft Carriers, World

Captain Leslie E. Gehres marred the USS Franklin’s human component.

Here's What You Need to Know: A ship is more than a hunk of steel.

Seldom does your humble scribe come away incensed from reading history. The saga of the World War II aircraft carrier USS Franklin (CV-13) constitutes an exception. We normally think of Franklin’s history as a parable about the importance of shipboard firefighting and damage control. It’s about materiel and methods, in other words. And these things are important without a doubt. Fighting ships are metal boxes packed with explosives and flammables. Suppressing fire represents a crucial function, which is why the first thing a new sailor does after reporting aboard is qualify in rudimentary damage control.

But a ship is more than a hunk of steel. The hunk of steel plus the crew that lives on board it comprises the ship. Bad leadership marred Franklin’s human component. In the end, then, this is a story with mixed lessons. It is not merely about the material dimension of naval warfare.

USS Franklin lived a short but eventful life, joining the Pacific Fleet in mid-1944. Franklin was the first fleet carrier to absorb a direct strike from a Japanese kamikaze, in the aftermath of the Battle of Leyte Gulf in October 1944. But the flattop was to endure its worst trial in March 1945, while operating with Task Force 58 off the Japanese seacoast. On the morning of March 19 a “Judy” dive bomber eluded the fleet’s air defenses, dumping two bombs on a Franklin whose decks were crowded with fully armed, fully fueled aircraft preparing to raid sites on Kyushu.

Armor plating shielded the carrier’s innards—in particular the engineering plant—from destruction. The crew eventually managed to restart propulsion, and Franklin made the fleet anchorage at Ulithi Atoll under her own power. In the interim, however, dozens of secondary explosions spanning five hours transformed the flight and hangar decks into something out of Dante. It was a charnel house. The blasts killed the damage-control team while disabling fire fighting equipment on the hangar deck. Ammunition “cooked off,” amplifying the destruction. Aircraft fuselages melted. Rivers of burning fuel sluiced into the hangar deck and beneath from fractured pipes. Over 800 perished out of a crew of around 3,400 sailors and aviators.

Recovery operations were fitful under these circumstances. The crew managed to start a diesel-powered fire pump and organize makeshift fire parties. Cruiser USS Santa Fe came alongside and executed a controlled crash with the flat top so seamen could pass across supplies, render such firefighting aid as they could, and take aboard Franklin crewmen. The carrier survived, returning to New York via the Panama Canal.

This is a Pacific War story rich in insights for practitioners of sea power. For instance, it reveals much about the strategic and operational environment in Eurasian waters today. To wit: a foe with no navy of consequence can still exert influence at sea. It can deploy shore-based implements of sea power to punish a hostile navy cruising off its shores. The Imperial Japanese Navy met its doom at Leyte Gulf in October 1944. It could do little despite a flashy last-ditch effort or two to stem the American advance. But airfields in the home islands could act as unsinkable if stationary aircraft carriers once U.S. Navy task forces came within reach. Japan fielded an array of tactical aircraft along with munitions to arm them and pilots to fly them or, in the case of the kamikaze, crash them into American vessels. Tokyo waged an “anti-access” strategy long before the term was invented.

Franklin’s ordeal also yielded hard-won lessons about naval architecture and shipboard practices, and about firefighting and damage control in particular. These are the standard lessons of the affair. To oversimplify, the chief lesson was: equip ships with more of everything. Assigning more people to a damage-control organization would give it a better chance of withstanding damage. Installing more and longer fire hoses would bolster fire parties’ capacity to get at blazes in remote recesses of the ship. Furnishing more portable pumps would let firefighters do their work should fireplugs fail. More high-capacity foam systems would help control and extinguish flaming fuel. Mounting quick-access “scuttles” on armored hatches would allow crewmen to escape compartments should hatches become jammed or too hot to handle. And on and on.

These are all valuable insights. To me, though, the tale of USS Franklin represents a cautionary tale about the scourge of “toxic leadership.” When I reported at the Surface Warfare Officers’ School a few brief years ago, my check-in interview with the skipper amounted to this: leave the place better than you found it. Toxic leaders leave the place worse than they found it. They put themselves ahead of the institution, and they deploy leadership and management tactics that advance their personal interests—even at the expense of colleagues or subordinates.

I’ve known toxic leaders. So have you if you’ve worn a military uniform. They appear from time to time, often as ship captains. Why them in particular? It’s been said a ship captain is the world’s last absolute monarch once underway. And like any absolute monarch, the skipper can be a tyrant if he rules in his selfish interest rather than the common good. He can abuse his authority in an effort to get ahead.

Enter Captain Leslie E. Gehres. Captain Gehres assumed command of Franklin at Ulithi on the heels of the October 1944 kamikaze strike. Historian Joseph Springer, the author of a gripping oral history of the carrier’s travails, recounts how the new skipper introduced himself to the crew. Gehres relieved Captain J. M. Shoemaker at Ulithi. At the change-of-command ceremony, according to one Franklin sailor, Gehres proclaimed: “‘It was your fault because you didn’t shoot [the kamikaze] down. You didn’t do your duty; you’re incompetent, lazy, and careless. Evidently you don’t know your jobs and I’m going to do my best to shape up this crew!’ We just stood there and couldn’t believe our ears. He sure got a lot of cheers for that.”

Imagine that. You’ve just been through hell. Dozens of your shipmates are dead, dozens more wounded. And the first thing your new commanding officer does is upbraid you and your shipmates while insulting his predecessor in his presence. That’s extreme toxicity. According to crew accounts relayed by Springer, as many as three hundred sailors jumped ship in Bremerton, Washington, when the carrier made port there for shipyard repairs. They did so in large part because they believed Franklin was jinxed following the suicide strike. In part, though, they fled to escape Captain Gehres and his noxious brand of leadership.

It gets worse. Japanese warplanes harried Task Force 58 relentlessly in the hours leading up to the March 19 attack. Franklin had gone to general quarters a dozen times in six hours, so Captain Gehres relaxed the ship’s posture to allow the crew to get a hot meal.

The captain’s after-action report and the official war damage report indicate that the skies were clear the morning of March 19. The deck log—the official record of a ship’s doings—says otherwise. At 0654 the ship’s Combat Information Center reported a “bogey,” or unidentified aircraft, thirty miles off. Two other sightings followed. The range was decreasing. At last, at 0708, lookouts on board USS Hancock positively identified the Judy. Hancock radioed Franklin: “Bogey closing you!” The dive bomber was twelve miles off at that point, and inbound fast. (The aircraft would cover that distance in under three minutes, scant reaction time for the best-trained crew.)

Yet Gehres never ordered Franklin to general quarters—meaning the bombs struck the flat top when it was less than fully ready for battle.

When Santa Fe came alongside he ordered the wounded evacuated and then, writes Springer, issued an order that “could not possibly have been more vague.” Gehres directed the air officer to evacuate anyone who “would not be needed to save the ship.” A mass exodus to the cruiser ensued as those who defined themselves as nonessential fled. Ship-wide communications were out, and in the confusion many crewmen believed “abandon ship” had been ordered. The skipper then stopped the evacuation. He later directed about one hundred sailors—including some blown overboard by bomb blasts—to return to Franklin, whereupon he demanded that they state in writing why they had “left this vessel while she was in action and seriously damaged when no order had been issued to abandon ship.” Springer opines that his action “nearly tainted” the carrier’s gallant struggle to survive.

Nearly tainted? Gehres announced that 215 Franklin crewmen would be charged with desertion, and insisted that ships carrying them treat them as prisoners. He founded the “Big Ben 704 Club” to honor the crewmen who had remained on board (and ostentatiously exclude everyone else), barred evacuees from attending the memorial service for fallen shipmates, made sure no evacuee received a medal, and laid the legal groundwork for courts-martial against officers and chief petty officers who took refuge in Santa Fe. (Thankfully the navy leadership ignored his legal maneuvering.) “The treatment of these Franklin crewmen,” concludes Springer, constituted “one of the greatest but least-known injustices involving the U.S. Navy in World War II.”

And how. No bad deed went unrewarded in the case of Leslie Gehres. The navy whitewashed his misdeeds. He was decorated with the Navy Cross, its loftiest award for martial valor, and ultimately promoted to a rear admiral. Here was a navy captain who assumed command of a wounded vessel, shattered its culture, scapegoated his way out of high-seas disaster, and in fact garnered promotions and high honors for his trouble. Many individual Franklin mariners—the ship’s chaplain and one of her engineering officers in particular—displayed conspicuous gallantry following the March 19 cataclysm. Indeed, the flattop is the most decorated U.S. Navy warship ever. Yet this was far from the navy’s finest hour.

This is a story worth telling and retelling. It supplies insight into material matters, along with examples of grit and fortitude. It also supplies a case study in how not to lead. Let’s detoxify the sea service.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.

This article first appeared in August 2017.

Image: U.S. Navy / Wikimedia Commons

Multiple International Organizations are Campaigning to Ban Svinets-1 and the Svinets-2 Uranium Shells

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 02:00

Michael Peck

Tanks, Eurasia

Old Russian tanks cannot pierce modern tank armor, these unorthodox shells can do the job. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: There are several international organizations campaigning to ban depleted uranium shells. Whether the Russian government will heed them is another matter. 

Russia is arming its tanks with controversial depleted uranium shells.

While depleted uranium, or DU, is extremely dense and can punch through thick tank armor, many believe that these shells release small doses of radiation, like miniature neutron bombs. The U.S. has used DU shells in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.

A Russian Defense Ministry bulletin said Russian T-80BV tanks would be armed with these powerful munitions, according to Russia’s TASS news agency. The bulletin noted that “the T-80BVM (the letter M stands for ‘modernized’) features ‘the improved weapons stabilizer and the loading mechanism for the 3BM59 Svinets-1 and 3BM60 Svinets-2 munitions.’”

The Svinets-1 has a tungsten carbide core, while the Svinets-2 uses depleted uranium. according to the Below the Ring armor site, published by a pair of Dutch defense experts. A 2016 post speculated that Russia might have been producing these special rounds for several years as replacements for existing tank ammunition.

The shells “utilize an aluminum sabot with three points of contact - this is rather unique, as most other types of APFSDS sabot use only two points of contacts,” Below the Ring said. “If and how this affects accuracy and barrel wear is currently not known.”

The Svinets-2 is not the first Russian shell to use depleted uranium. The 3BM-32 Vant, designed for Soviet 125-millimeter tank cannon, also contained a DU core. But the new rounds are longer.

“Compared to the 3BM-32 Vant APFSDS with a 380-mm-long [14.7-inch] DU penetrator, the two types of new ammunition have an approximately 79 to 84 percent longer projectile, which should lead to a significant increase in penetration power,” Below the Ring estimated.

The problem is that older Russian tank ammunition has difficulty piercing advanced tank armor such as that found on the U.S. M-1 Abrams or Israeli Merkava. “The 3BM-42 Mango relies on an outdated penetrator design, using two relatively short tungsten rods inside a steel body,” according to Below the Ring. “...Steel penetrates armor less efficiently than a high-density heavy metal alloy.”

Thus, the appeal of DU shells as tank killers (you can find a concise scientific explanation of depleted uranium ammunition here). There are 120-millimeter DU shells for the M-1 Abrams and 30-millimeter shell for the A-10 Warthog. Ironically, the Abrams tank uses depleted uranium in its armor plating to stop anti-tank shells.

The U.S. military says depleted uranium ammunition is safe, for the most part. “When fired, or after ‘cooking off’ in fires or explosions, the exposed depleted uranium rod poses an extremely low radiological threat as long as it remains outside the body,” says a U.S. Air Force fact sheet. “Taken into the body via metal fragments or dust-like particles, depleted uranium may pose a long-term health hazard to personnel if the amount is large. However, the amount which remains in the body depends on a number of factors, including the amount inhaled or ingested, the particle size and the ability of the particles to dissolve in body fluids.”

However, even the Veterans Administration acknowledges that depleted uranium poses health risks to soldiers, such as those who fought in Operation Desert Storm, where DU rounds were used to destroy Iraqi tanks. There are also complaints that depleted uranium contaminates the environment, such as in Iraq. The Pentagon promised that it wouldn’t use DU ammunition in Syria, though it later admitted that it fired thousands of rounds in 2015.

There are several international organizations campaigning to ban depleted uranium shells. Whether the Russian government will heed them is another matter.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared last year and is being republished due to reader interest.

What to Do When Federal Unemployment Checks Run Out: Look to States

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 01:30

Ethen Kim Lieser

Unemployment Benefits,

The U.S. Department of Labor has opened up the possibility of unemployed Americans still being able to receive some form of government-issued payments. It recently noted that states could, in fact, disburse periodic or one-time direct cash payments to those who are still searching for work.

In less than two weeks, the enhanced federal unemployment benefits are slated to come to a screeching halt.

That means come Labor Day, according to a study conducted by the People’s Policy Project, citing data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s Household Pulse Survey, approximately ten million more Americans on unemployment will lose those extra $300 in weekly benefits. The Century Foundation is supporting such projections as it has claimed that 7.5 million will lose all their jobless benefits in September.

But the U.S. Department of Labor has opened up the possibility of unemployed Americans still being able to receive some form of government-issued payments. It recently noted that states could, in fact, disburse periodic or one-time direct cash payments to those who are still searching for work.

States Taking Action

On the heels of this statement, there are already several states that are tapping into federal relief funds from President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan to hand out their own “stimulus” checks to their respective residents.

For example, in California, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed the 2021 California Comeback Plan last month that included $8.1 billion for stimulus payments. Taxpayers earning between $30,000 and $75,000 annually will receive a $600 check. In all, roughly two-thirds of the state’s total population can expect to receive some form of cash payment.

And in Florida, lawmakers are using federal funds from Biden’s stimulus bill to deliver $1,000 stimulus checks to teachers and educators in the state. In addition, Georgia, Michigan, and Tennessee are giving out similar cash payments to those working in schools.

Furthermore, do take note that the Internal Revenue Service is still working on distributing the remaining refunds from 2020 unemployment benefits. It was only a few weeks ago when the agency was able to disburse a sizeable batch of 1.5 million refunds averaging nearly $1,700—and more cash payments are expected to head out. Since May, the agency has issued about nine million unemployment refunds with a value of more than $10 billion.

Ending Benefits Cut Spending

What a recent study authored by economists and researchers at Columbia University, Harvard University, the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, and the University of Toronto is showing is that the twenty-six states that decided to withdraw early from the enhanced unemployment benefits did, in fact, see slightly higher job growth—but it was also responsible for a massive $2 billion cut in overall household spending.

According to the study’s data, the states that ended the benefits early witnessed employment rise 4.4 percentage points compared to the states that continued with the benefits. But that translated to only one in eight unemployed individuals in the “cutoff states” who eventually found employment. These same states also saw a 20 percent cut in weekly spending from their residents—which amounted to about $145 each week.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn

Image: Reuters

The F-35C Will Transform the U.S. Navy

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 01:15

Mark Episkopos

military, Americas

The Navy aims to accept as many as 273 F-35C fighter jets into service, a procurement that will transform U.S. naval aviation and define the power projection capabilities of the American carrier strike group for decades to come. 

Unmatched in its performance and versatility, the F-35C fighter jet is set to revolutionize the Navy’s carrier air wing. 

The Variants 

Although commonly referred to in the singular, Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation F-35 stealth fighter jet was designed as three separate planes, purpose-built to accomplish different tasks in three of the U.S. military’s service branches. The F-35A is a conventional take-off and landing variant that will replace Air Force’s venerable F-16 Fighting Falcon, while the F-35B is a short takeoff and vertical landing model tailored to the Marine Corps’ unique operating requirements. Finally, there is the F-35C: a catapult-assisted take-off but arrested recovery variant that is designed to operate from aircraft carriers as part of the U.S. Navy’s carrier strike groups (CSGs).  

Enter the F-35C

The F-35C was introduced in 2019 as the Navy’s first aircraft-carrier-based next-generation stealth fighter. The fighter embarked on its first CSG deployment aboard the Nimitz-class USS Carl Vinson in August 2021. Whereas the F-35A and B variants are widely similar in external design, the F-35C can instantly be recognized for its large foldable wings that are meant to save space on crowded aircraft carrier decks—the plane has a forty-three foot-wingspan as opposed to the thirty-five feet of its two A and B counterparts. It is the heaviest F-35 variant, boasting seventy thousand pounds at full payload capacity. It also carries the most internal fuel by a slight margin, though this does not translate into a significant combat radius advantage over the F-35A. The F-35C carries over five thousand pounds worth of weapons in its internal weapons bays or a combined eighteen thousand pounds in external and internal slots for situations where the fighter can afford to sacrifice stealth performance in exchange for maximum firepower.

The Navy’s current workhorse fighter, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, has a combat radius of just under four hundred nautical miles. This is a serious potential vulnerability at a time of rapidly growing Chinese and Russian tactical strike capabilities. The latter will soon field the formidable new 3M22 Tsirkon winged, hypersonic anti-ship cruise missile. With a range of up to one thousand kilometers (around 621 miles) and flight speed of around Mach 9, Russian military officials and defense experts are projecting confidence that Tsirkon can effectively bypass the surface-to-air systems of CSGs and disable U.S. aircraft carriers with just one hit. The Chinese military is developing parallel capabilities with its hypersonic DF-17 medium-range ballistic missile. This means that, in their current form, the Navy’s carrier air wings will increasingly be forced to operate within strike distance of the latest Russian and Chinese missiles, putting their CSG at greater risk and compromising the formation’s ability to effectively project power.

The Advantage

That’s where the F-35C comes in. With an unrefueled combat radius of 670 nautical miles, Lockheed’s fighter reduces the potential for missiles like Tsirkon to threaten the Navy’s CSG’s whilst enhancing the formation’s battlespace persistence. As a fifth-generation stealth fighter, the F-35C is more survivable than the Super Hornet. Not only is it safer to operate across the board, but the F-35C vastly expands the Navy’s scope of mission possibilities—these include strike missions against high-value targets deep into enemy airspace, as well as the potential to execute multiple strikes within a single sortie. With arguably the most advanced and robust sensor suite of any active-service fighter in the world, the F-35C likewise introduces a whole new dimension of networking and interlinked performance. The fighter acts as a force multiplier for the rest of the CSG with its groundbreaking “sensor fusion” capabilities, painting a dynamic picture of the battlefield for nearby friendly sea, air, and ground units. 

The Navy aims to accept as many as 273 F-35C fighter jets into service, a procurement that will transform U.S. naval aviation and define the power projection capabilities of the American carrier strike group for decades to come.  

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest

Image: Reuters

How the USS San Francisco Survived a Seamount

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 01:00

Kyle Mizokami

military, Americas

If a submarine’s hull remained intact, then it was able to surface and the reactor continued to operate the crew had a shot at survival. The USS San Francisco was able to do all three.

Here's What You Need To Remember: In 2005, a U.S. Navy attack submarine collided head-on with an undersea mountain at more than thirty miles an hour. Despite the damage the ship sustained and the crew’s injuries, the USS San Francisco managed to limp to its homeport of Guam on its own power. The incident was a testament to the design of the submarine and the training and professionalism of its crew.

USS San Francisco is a Los Angeles-class nuclear attack submarine. Submarine builder Newport News Shipyard began construction on it in 1977, and it was commissioned on April 24, 1981. The submarine joined the U.S. Pacific Fleet and served there throughout its career.

Like all Los Angeles-class submarines, it displaced 6,900 tons submerged, was 362 feet long, and had a beam of 33 feet. A General Electric PWR S6G nuclear reactor provided 35,000 shipboard horsepower, driving the submarine to a speedy 33 knots. A typical crew consisted of 129 officers and enlisted men.

On January 8, 2005, the USS San Francisco was traveling at flank (full) speed—approximately 38 miles an hour at a depth of 525 feet. It was 360 miles southeast of Guam heading to Brisbane, Australia for a liberty stop. Navigation plotted the route based on undersea maps that were generally agreed to give the most complete view of the seabed. According to the New York Times, the captain went to lunch and the navigation officer, believing it was safe to do so, dived the submarine from 400 to 525 feet and accelerated to flank speed.

At approximately 11:42 local time, while transiting the Caroline Islands mountain chain, the submarine came to an abrupt—and unexpected—halt. There was a shudder and then a tremendous noise. Men throughout the ship were thrown from their stations against their surroundings. In an instant many suffered bruises, lacerations, broken bones and fractures. A chief petty officer described the scene as looking like a “slaughterhouse,” with blood running everywhere. Ninety-eight crewmen were injured with one, Machinist's Mate Second Class Joseph Allen Ashley, fatally injured.

Despite their injuries, and not having any idea what had just happened, the captain and his crew rushed to surface the boat. The crew threw the emergency blow activator, known as the “chicken switch,” that immediately blast compressed air into the USS San Francisco’s ballast tanks. Unknown to the crew, the impact of the explosion had punched huge holes in the forward ballast tanks. The submarine was supposed to immediately rise, but it was an agonizing thirty seconds before the submarine began to surface. By 11:44 the submarine had surfaced.

Damage control reported the USS San Francisco’s inner hull was intact, its Mk. 48 torpedoes and Tomahawk cruise missiles were unharmed, and remarkably, its nuclear reactor was completely undamaged. All alone in the Pacific, the submarine began the long trip back to Guam. The submarine limped back into Apra Harbor in Guam thirty hours later on January 10, the crews of other moored submarines manning their rails in the stricken submarine’s honor.

Later, an investigation would reveal the submarine had crashed into a seamount rising 6,500 feet from the ocean floor. The seamount had not appeared on the charts that San Francisco’s crew had used to plot their course, but appeared on other charts as a “potential hazard.” The hazard was reported two miles from the site of the collision and the Captain of the San Francisco has stated that had he known about it, he would have given the potential obstacle a wide berth.

The chart used by the USS San Francisco’s crew was prepared by the Defense Mapping Agency in 1989. According to a study of the incident prepared by the University of Massachusetts in 2008, a Landsat satellite image showed a seamount in the area of the collision that rose to within one hundred feet of the surface. The Navy’s charts were not updated with the new data—according to the UMass report, the Navy believed that with the cessation of the Cold War the crash site area was not a high priority for mapping, and that priority had instead been given to the Middle East region to support the Global War on Terror.

After repairs to ensure hull integrity, San Francisco traveled under its own power to Puget Sound, Washington. The damaged portion of the boat’s bow was removed. The bow of sister submarine USS Honolulu, soon to be retired, was removed and welded onto San Francisco. The submarine rejoined the fleet in 2009 and served for another seven years. In January, it began a two-year conversion that will turn it into a permanently moored training submarine.

The heroic actions of the crew were essential to the submarine’s survival. Still, how did a submarine survive a high-speed collision with a mountain? In 1963, immediately after the loss of USS Thresher, the Navy instituted the SUBSAFE program. The goal of the program was to ensure that a submarine’s hull would retain pressure in the event of an accident and it would be able to surface. The Navy’s Nuclear Propulsion Program made safe, resilient nuclear reactors an absolute top priority.

If a submarine’s hull remained intact, then it was able to surface and the reactor continued to operate the crew had a shot at survival. The USS San Francisco was able to do all three. That it was able to survive was no accident but rather the culmination of decades of hard work and dedication by the U.S. submarine force.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This piece was originally featured in 2016.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Why U.S. Military Strategy Should Return to the Basics

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 00:30

James Holmes

U.S. Military, Americas

The time is now to match means to ends against specific threats.

Here's What You Need to Know: The masters of strategy agree: let’s get back to basics.

The congressionally-chartered National Defense Strategy Commission set tongues a-wagging in November 2018 by issuing a novella-length report entitled Providing for the Common Defense.

Here’s a tip: read the whole thing.

Nor is it any mystery why the report generated buzz. The commissioners postulate that “Americans could face a decisive military defeat” if the U.S. armed forces tangle with, say, Russia in the Baltic Sea or China in the Taiwan Strait. That’s dark language and marks quite a turnabout from the triumphalism of the post-Cold War years, when Americans talked themselves into believing history had ended in Western triumph underwritten by perpetual U.S. maritime supremacy.

But it’s also accurate language, and has been for some time. Think about the algebra of Eurasian warfare. Likely contingencies would pit a fraction of U.S. forces against the concentrated military might of Russia in the Baltic or China in the Taiwan Strait. The same would go for other hotspots. Decisive defeat is always a possibility when part of one force squares off against the whole of another on the latter’s home turf.

Welcome Back to History

Congress charged the commission with critiquing the 2018 National Defense Strategy, the Trump Pentagon’s most authoritative statement of how it saw the world and intended to manage it. To me the report’s most acute criticism involves fudge factors. Admiral J. C. Wylie observes that lawmakers make strategic decisions through the budgetary process all the time. Hence it behooves national security professionals to explain the repercussions of such decisions for martial undertakings.

In so doing they bolster the likelihood of sound decisions. By fixing the overall budget or allocating funding to some priorities—and, strategy being the art of setting and enforcing priorities, neglecting others—Congress could cap or deform U.S. military effectiveness in certain contingencies. Wrongfoot the armed forces and they may fail to attain the tactical, operational, or strategic goals assigned to them. Fail to achieve those goals and America has suffered a defeat—perhaps a decisive one if the foe gets everything it wants.

Decisive defeat need not mean losing the force in an afternoon (although that does seem to be what the commissioners mean). Yet one contender need not annihilate another’s armed force to score a decisive victory. Even Carl von Clausewitz defines “destruction” as destroying the enemy force as a fighting force, not necessarily as wreaking physical destruction. In theory, every enemy soldier, airman, or sailor could survive an encounter with all of their weaponry intact and still could have suffered catastrophe.

Not every decisive battle or campaign need be a Trafalgar, Tsushima, or Leyte Gulf, an engagement that inflicts wholesale human and material destruction on one of the antagonists. Strategic and political results are what distinguish victory from defeat.

Back to fudge factors, lawmakers may restrict budgets—and thus military options—while administration officials decline to slacken demands on the force. As a result, it’s natural for the Pentagon and service magnates to try to accomplish the goals they’re given with the manpower and taxpayer resources supplied to them. They approach with a can-do spirit.

This has pitfalls. Though not in so many words, the commissioners take the framers of the National Defense Strategy to task for fudging in hopes that the armed services can fulfill all assigned missions with inadequate resources. For instance, they find the strategy’s emphasis on “dynamic force employment” to be “imprecise and unpersuasive.” It appears to mean “creating efficiencies within the force and decreasing the need to expand force structure by having a single asset perform multiple missions in different theaters on a near-simultaneous basis.”

If so, this is indeed a troubling sign. Wringing new efficiencies out of existing budgets and force structure to fund operations or hardware acquisitions is a staple of defense debates. It looks like conjuring new resources out of thin air. Seldom, however, do such economies yield the windfalls advertised for them. And if dynamic force employment means shifting forces constantly from theater to theater, it may be a throwback to the 1970s, when overseers of the shrunken and “hollow” post-Vietnam force foresaw “swinging” naval forces from Pacific to Atlantic in times of war.

That’s a precedent America should reject with all its might. Eliminating the need to swing forces from side to side on the map constituted a major part of the rationale impelling the Reagan administration’s defense buildup in the 1980s. Again: one hopes the National Defense Strategy isn’t taking us back to the groovy 1970s. Disco is dead. Let swinging stay buried next to it.

Beware of Fudge Factors

I confess my favorite part of Providing for the Common Defense isn’t the consensus text, though. My favorite bit comes from my colleague Andrew Krepinevich in an appendix toward the report’s end. (Krepinevich and I are island-chain defenders of long standing.) If the commissioners proffer a critique of the National Defense Strategy, Professor Krepinevich critiques the critique. That’s the hallmark of sound analysis and writing. Kudos to the commission for publishing a dissent.

In fact, Andy reprimands his fellow commissioners for the same failings they identify in the National Defense Strategy. He faults them in particular for global, vague, abstract thinking.

In his telling the coauthors revert to “‘capabilities-based’ planning rather than ‘threat-based’ planning.” Capabilities-based planning was long in vogue at the Pentagon after the Cold War, when no peer competitor had appeared on the horizon and none seemed to be in the making. That being the case, U.S. strategists and planners took to imagining what capabilities—a “capability” being “the ability to” do X, Y, or Z—the U.S. armed forces needed to prosecute a generic contingency in a generic setting against a generic foe to be named later. Then the services built those capabilities and trusted that they would fit real-life situations.

By contrast, threat-based planning designates a prospective opponent and theater of conflict and gears planning and force design to foreseeable contingencies involving that opponent in that theater. Naming an enemy has its hazards from a diplomatic standpoint; from a military standpoint it’s valuable beyond measure. It situates capabilities in real settings. It’s concrete and actionable compared to capabilities-based planning. And it supplies a benchmark against which to measure U.S. tactical and operational efficacy.

It Connects Plans and Forces with Reality

And it helps ward off bad habits. We often caution Naval War College students against “script-writing” in strategy. That’s the fallacy of choreographing a strategy and supporting operations, often in minute detail, and expecting hostile actors to play the parts the choreographers set forth for them. It’s one thing for Hollywood screenwriters to script out events; they pay the actors and can expect them to comply with instructions. Not so in armed strife.

Moreover, script-writing has a way of locking friendly commanders or officialdom into a particular doctrine for doing things. Which is fine except it ignores the fact that some characters listed in the dramatis personae—meaning foes—have every interest in spoiling our script.

Accordingly, it’s high time to get back to judging ourselves against real competitors. As Krepinevich notes, “it is now possible to identify the character of major threats to our security with far greater clarity” than it was during the heyday of capabilities-based planning. As Clausewitz might put it, we can now envision the “nature of the war” and venture some net assessment of the surroundings and likely combatants. We now brandish a yardstick.

That may mean it’s inadvisable or impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all force design to suit all theaters against all adversaries at all times. Carrier task forces may remain the right implement for waging war in the North Atlantic, for example. The Pentagon seems to think so in light of the USS Harry S. Truman strike group’s recent deployment for exercises in northern climes. It certainly feels like the 1980s are back in the strategic competition against Russia.

But traditional formations may not be the right tool elsewhere. A force skewed more toward light surface combatants, a mix of diesel and conventional submarines, and land-based air and missile forces might be the optimal instrument against China. If the strategic goal is to confine Chinese air and sea forces within the China seas, nontraditional forces might close the straits while aircraft carriers and other high-end combatants play the role of supporting mobile forces in the Western Pacific—behind the island chain. In a sense, the battle fleet as usually construed would take a back seat to lesser forces that are better suited to the job.

Bottom line, it’s time to get specific about dreaming up and wargaming real-world scenarios and designing capabilities around them.

Krepinevich closes by proposing a series of big-think capabilities that sound as though they could have been drafted by Julian Corbett, the English marine historian of the turn of the century. Corbett maintains that a maritime hegemon can wage limited war in distant theaters if it can accomplish three goals: assure seaborne access to the theater, isolate the geographic object from the sea, and safeguard its homeland from an “unlimited” counterattack—meaning an enemy effort at regime change from afar. For instance, unseating the government in Washington could settle matters in favor of Moscow or Beijing without major combat on the scene.

In other words, a global maritime power like the United States must guard North America while preserving its command of the maritime commons that connects North America to embattled zones. Applying that Corbettian logic to the Baltic Sea, Taiwan Strait, and other contested areas would furnish strategists and planners a north star for their efforts.

The masters of strategy agree: let’s get back to basics.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.

This article first appeared in November 2018.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Olympia O. McCoy

Forget the Nukes: North Korea's Artillery Army Could Kill 250,000

The National Interest - Thu, 09/09/2021 - 00:00

David Axe

North Korea, Asia

Pyongyang's nukes are scary, but don't forget about North Korea's artillery.

Here's What You Need to Remember: In firing the artillery at the same time as it launched a ballistic missile, North Korea reminded the world of its enormous conventional firepower.

Years back, North Korea on May 4, 2019 test-fired a short-range ballistic missile -- its first major launch in the 18 months since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un suspended missile testing ahead of a summit with U.S. president Donald Trump.

Pyongyang on May 9, 2019 launched a second “projectile,” South Korean officials said.

The May tests of at least one apparently nuclear-capable short-range missile startled foreign observers and threatened to elevate tensions between the United States and its allies South Korea and Japan on one side and, on the other side, North Korea and its main patron China.

But a less dramatic test of North Korea’s heavy artillery that occured at the same time as the May 4 rocket launch arguably is more important.

“On May 4, under the watchful eye of Kim Jong Un, North Korea launched a series of projectiles featuring two types of large-caliber, multiple launch rocket systems and a new short-range ballistic missile,” Michael Elleman wrote for 38 North, a North Korea-focused think tank associated with the Washington, D.C.-based Stimson Center.

“A few days later, North Korea released photographs of tested projectiles, which provides a basis for preliminary evaluations,” Elleman continued. “The 240-millimeter and 300-millimeter diameter MLRS systems are not new to North Korea, nor do they alter the country’s battlefield capabilities.”

It’s true that Pyongyang long has operated large-caliber artillery systems. But Elleman is wrong to downplay the significance of the May 2019 artillery test. That’s because North Korea’s roughly 13,000 artillery pieces arguably pose a greater immediate threat than do Pyongyang’s nukes to South Koreans and Americans living in South Korea.

In firing the artillery at the same time as it launched a ballistic missile, North Korea reminded the world of its enormous conventional firepower. North Korea previously tested, in November 2018, upgrades to its non-nuclear artillery.

Much of Pyongyang’s artillery is in range of the Seoul Greater Metropolitan Area, which begins just 25 miles south of the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas. Some 10 million people live in the Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area and another 15 million reside just outside of the metropolitan area. South Korea has prepared underground shelters for Seoul’s entire population.

“Though the expanding range of North Korea’s ballistic missiles is concerning, a serious, credible threat to 25 million [Republic of Korea] citizens and approximately 150,000 U.S. citizens living in the [Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area] is also posed from its long-range artillery.” U.S. Army general Vincent Brooks, head of U.S. Forces Korea, told a U.S. Senate committee in March 2018.

“North Korea has deployed at least three artillery systems capable of ranging targets in the [Greater Seoul Metropolitan Area] with virtually no warning,” Brooks warned. The 170-millimeter Koksan gun is the most numerous. It can fire a distance of 37 miles. North Korea also deploys truck-mounted launchers that can fire a volley of as many as 22 240-millimeter rocket out to a range of 37 miles.

The 300-millimeter KN-09 rocket artillery is the newest system. “The rocket was first tested in 2013, with subsequent tests performed in 2014 and 2016,” Elleman explained.

It has a reported range of [118 to 124 miles] and carries a light, conventional warhead. It is powered by a standard composite-type solid fuel. Photographs show that the rocket is steered during flight by four small canard fins mounted at the rocket’s front end, near the warhead section, which provides for precision strikes if the guidance unit includes a satellite navigation receiver to update the inertial navigation components.”

The KN-09 is fielded on a six-wheeled truck equipped with two launch pods, each having four launch tubes. Its primary mission is to strike rear echelon targets, some [31 to 62 miles] behind the primary line of battle.

"Even without using nuclear weapons, North Korea has the capacity to unleash a devastating level of violence against a significant portion of the ROK population through some mix of conventional artillery and possibly chemical munitions," according to a January 2019 report from RAND, a California think tank with close ties to the U.S. military.

A North Korean artillery barrage could inflict as many as 250,000 casualties in Seoul alone, RAND reported, citing a U.S. Defense Department estimate.

David Axe was Defense Editor of the National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels  War FixWar Is Boring and Machete Squad. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters. 

Right Now, The U.S. Air Force To Fight For Taiwan

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 23:36

Mark Episkopos

Great Power Competition, Pacific

The Air Force concluded that a fundamentally different approach is needed.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The United States would have to deploy as much as 80 percent of its Navy and Air Force to win a pitched conflict with China in the South and East China Seas, where the latter enjoys significant logistical and operational advantages, according to an estimate by Lu Li-shih,  a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung.

The U.S. Air Force finally has a plan for successfully repelling a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, but only at a steep cost.  

China has spent the past decade gradually building up its strength against U.S. assets operating in the Pacific, but a series of earlier war games have shown just how drastically the regional balance of power has shifted in Beijing’s favor. Noting China’s growing success in countering U.S. power projection capabilities, Air Force Lt. Gen. Clinton Hinote offered a bleak assessment: “At that point, the trend in our war games was not just that we were losing, but we were losing faster . . .  After the 2018 war game I distinctly remember one of our gurus of wargaming standing in front of the Air Force secretary and chief of staff and telling them that we should never play this war game scenario [of a Chinese attack on Taiwan] again because we know what is going to happen.”  

“The definitive answer, if the U.S. military doesn’t change course” Hinote continued, “is that we’re going to lose fast. In that case, an American president would likely be presented with almost a fait accompli.”  

The Air Force concluded that a fundamentally different approach is needed. The service repelled a Chinese invasion of Taiwan with a roster of advanced drones and next-generation fighters during a war game held late last fall, according to Defense News. This networked, survivable force spearheaded the defense of Taiwan, rebuffing the Chinese invasion force and thus blocking Beijing from realizing its long-held strategic goal of absorbing the island nation to its east.  

At first glance, the war game seemed to herald something of a turning point: for the first time in recent years, the U.S. military won a simulated conflict with China. However, that victory comes with serious caveats. First, any such conflict implies substantial losses for both the U.S. and Taiwanese sides. “The force that we had programmed, say, in 2018 took devastating losses. This force doesn’t take those devastating losses. They do take losses. We do lose a lot of airmen. It is a difficult fight,” Hinote said. “And that kind of gets to the point of what does it take to stand up to China in the Indo-Pacific, literally on their front doorstep. And the answer is: It takes a willingness to be able to suffer those losses. It’s just a difficult, very sobering reality that we have.” The United States would have to deploy as much as 80 percent of its Navy and Air Force to win a pitched conflict with China in the South and East China Seas, where the latter enjoys significant logistical and operational advantages, according to an estimate by Lu Li-shih,  a former instructor at Taiwan’s Naval Academy in Kaohsiung.

But there is yet another problem: the U.S. military won the war game in large part with technology it does not currently possess, and under assumptions that may not hold up in real-life circumstances. The upcoming Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) fighter played a key role in high-risk penetration operations into enemy airspace, as did several types of autonomous “loyal wingman” drones that are currently either in the development or acquisition stage. The simulation’s force composition and deployment patterns were partially pre-determined in a way that is beneficial to the U.S. side. The war game also assumed that the military had fully implemented its ongoing Joint All Domain Command and Control, allowing U.S. assets to fight as an interlinked force; it likewise presumed certain future defense investments on the part of Taipei.  

The war game signals a step in the right conceptual direction, but there is much more work to be doneboth in terms of strategic planning as well as ongoing defense investmentsif Washington is to acquire the capability to credibly deter and defeat a Chinese invasion of Taiwan. 

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. This article is being reprinted due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Taiwan is Making a Major Investment in Mines to Deter China

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 23:30

David Axe

Taiwan, Asia

Taiwan is betting big that mines can deter China's impressive navy. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: Taiwan’s loading up on new minelaying vessels. And it’s not hard to see why. With no realistic prospect of matching the Chinese navy warship for warship, the Taiwanese fleet is hoping that underwater minefields might help to sink an invasion fleet.

Lungteh shipyard on April 17, 2020 laid the keel for the third and fourth Min Jiang-class minelayer. The Republic of China Navy plans to begin accepting the minelayers in 2021.

The Taiwanese fleet’s existing minelayers are modified landing craft.

The Min Jiangs are not large. Just 120 feet long and displacing around 400 tons, they are lightly built and minimally armed with a handful of guns. Their mission, in wartime, is to use their automated mine-deploying systems quickly to lay minefields in the path of a Chinese invasion fleet.

The minefields presumably would be close to shore. “The minelayer ships were designed to face down an attack by amphibious vehicles trying to land in Taiwan,” a Taiwanese defense official said at the keel-laying ceremony for the first Min Jiang.

Sea mines are among the most dangerous naval weapons. It’s not for no reason that Iran leans heavily on mines in its strategy for closing the strategic Strait of Hormuz. It only helps navies such as Taiwan’s that many rival fleets struggle to maintain adequate minesweeping forces.

The Min Jiangs are part of a three-way approach to an “asymmetric” naval strategy. Instead of trying to match China’s scores of big, heavily-armed -- and expensive -- frigates, destroyers, cruisers and aircraft carriers, Taiwan plans to exploit specific Chinese weaknesses in order to raise the cost of an invasion.

In addition to the Min Jiangs, Taiwan also is building at least 11 new catamaran missile corvettes of the Tuo Chiang. Each of the speedy, 600-tons-displacement vessels carries 16 anti-ship missiles. The Tuo Chiangs will complement 42 older missile boats when they enter service beginning in 2021.

The third part of Taiwan’s asymmetric naval strategy lags by a few years. In addition to minelayers and missile corvettes, Taiwan is trying to build eight new diesel-electric attack submarines to replace four very old submarines currently in the fleet.

Since none of the world’s major submarine-builders will risk China’s wrath by selling an existing sub design to Taiwan, Taipei is spending potentially billions of dollars developing the submarines on its own, albeit with the help of foreign consultants.

Work on the new boats began in May 2019 at a shipyard in Kaohsiung. The coronavirus pandemic that swept East Asia starting the following December slowed the work. Taipei’s ban on foreign visitors, meant to halt the virus’s spread, also denied entry to Taiwan for dozens of foreign consultants working on the submarine project.

Expect work to resume as soon as possible. The submarine program and the other asymmetric naval efforts are top priorities in Taiwan.

After all, losing a large number of amphibious ships and landing craft to submarines, missiles and sea mines could compel China to call off an invasion, or at least delay the invasion long enough for U.S. forces to intervene.

David Axe was defense editor of The National Interest. He is the author of the graphic novels War FixWar Is Boring and Machete SquadThis article is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters. 

The Secret History of the Military’s Fifth-Generation Jets

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 23:00

Kris Osborn

military, Americas

Skunk Works has been deeply immersed in the study and exploration of fifth-generation platforms for more than a decade.

The world’s first-ever stealth aircraft, the U-2 spy plane, the fastest manned aircraft in existence and the first fifth-generation fighter jet were all created by the highly secretive Skunk Works division of Lockheed Martin. The Gulf War debut of the F-117 Night Hawk introduced the world to stealth technology, the SR-71 Blackbird set unprecedented speed records and the F-22 Raptor is credited as the world’s first-ever fifth-generation platform. 

How did something so impactful and famous begin? Part of its origin can be traced to Nazi fighter jets such as the World War II plane which made up the bulk of Germany’s Luftwaffe, the Messerschmitt Bf 109. Beginning in the early 1940s, the dangers presented by the German aircraft drove the United States to fast track its first jet-propulsion fighter jet, the XP 80 Shooting Star.

“Take yourself back to the late 1930s and early 1940s. World War II is ongoing. All of a sudden, jet propulsion is a thing but hasn’t really deployed operationally,” Renee Pasman, Integrated Systems Director, Lockheed Martin Skunk Works®, told the National Interest. “All of a sudden, the Germans start showing up with the Messerschmitt Bf 109 . . . and the U.S. didn’t really have an immediate answer.”

Amazing to think that Nazi Germany’s jet-propulsion fighter jet laid part of the comparative foundation for the United States to designate special teams of highly expert innovators such as scientists, researchers and weapons developers. Since its inception, the premise of Skunk Works has been based upon being proactive and not merely “reactive.”

“We prefer to be disruptors instead of being disrupted,” Pasman said. “If we see a problem coming, we want to make sure that, you know, as a nation we’re prepared to respond. Skunk Works was really set up to do one thing, which was to solve a national need and do things that hadn’t been done before by pushing the boundaries of what’s possible.”

Given this history, which included early work on what became the F-35 fighter jet, many might wonder what Skunk Works is working on now. Who knows? Most of its work is, by design, secret for obvious security reasons.

Part of the innovation philosophy is to pair or team up collections of otherwise disconnected experts who might specialize in different, yet potentially overlapping areas of expertise, Pasman explained. It would make sense as this kind of “teaming” might give rise to unanticipated synergies or potential avenues of exploration.

For instance, take the now airborne sixth-generation stealth fighter jet. While previous concepts and planning predicted the new potentially paradigm-changing plane would emerge in the 2030s, early prototypes are already airborne. There are likely a number of reasons for its acceleration and developmental success, which include things like digital engineering. It is unsurprising that Skunk Works has been deeply immersed in the study and exploration of fifth-generation platforms for more than a decade. While the specifics of what Skunk Works contributed to the technology are naturally unavailable, it would not be a huge stretch to imagine it has had much to do with advancing the technology so that it could be used much sooner than expected. 

Kris Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master's Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

Image: Flickr / U.S. Air Force

Which Tank Does Russia Love Most?

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 22:30

Michael Peck

Tanks, Eurasia

A renowned tank program gets evaluated.

Here's What You Need to Know: Tanks may differ across nations, but not the challenges of modern armored warfare.

Which tank does Russia love most?

Russia operates a variety of tanks, including the T-72, T-80 and T-90. In an interview with the military newspaper Red Star [English translation here], Major General Sergey Kisel, commander of the First Guards Tank Army, offered his assessment of the various tanks operated by his unit.

Kisel should know. The First Guard Tanks Army is arguably the most famous Russian armored formation, spearheading the Red Army’s drive to Berlin in 1945. Disbanded in 1998, it was reactivated in 2016 in western Russia, where it would in the forefront of a conflict with NATO.

The workhorse of the First Guards Tank Army is the T-72B3, which Kisel described as “a reliable tank.” An upgraded version of the venerable Cold War T-72, the fifty-ton T-72B3 has better armor, thermal imaging sensors and improved fire control. “Our main battle tank, the T-72B3, possesses sufficient specifications to detect and destroy any enemy on the battlefield,” said Kisel. “Their electronics make it possible significantly to enhance the accuracy of hitting targets.”

 “It differs from foreign models in that it is far smaller - which makes it less vulnerable,” he added. “At the same time, it has a faster rate of fire and possesses good marching capabilities.”

In contrast, the forty-six-ton T-80 is the racehorse built for mobility. As with the U.S. M-1 Abrams, the gas-turbine engine on the T-80 has been panned for being a fuel guzzler. But the T-80BV and T-80U “have gotten a good name for themselves,” says Kisel, who notes that the T-80 was originally developed as a breakthrough tank and can reach a speed of 90 kilometers per hour [56 miles per hour].”

 “The armament system on the T-80BV is the same as on the T-72B3 and the T-90,” he adds. “A special feature of the T-80BV is that this tank is capable of operating at low temperatures. Its gas turbine engine, whose design does not provide for a cooling liquid, is undemanding in frosts. The T-80BV and the T-80U are distinguished by unique marching specifications and are capable of covering large distances in a short space of time.

Kisel did not have as much to say about the T-90, other than that the 1st Guards Tank Army has “subunits with T-90 tanks that differ fundamentally from other vehicles in terms of the degree of protection for the crew, the long firing range, and more powerful engine.” Essentially a heavily modernized T-72, the fifty-one-ton T-90 is equipped with the Shtora defensive countermeasures system and explosive reactive armor to deflect anti-tank weapons. Its 125-millimeter 2A46M smoothbore cannon can fire both conventional shells and AT-11 Sniper anti-tank guided missiles.

What’s also interesting are Kisel’s observations on tank warfare. Tanks may differ across nations, but not the challenges of modern armored warfare. When asked by Red Star about the impact of technologies such as drones, robot vehicles and computerized systems, Kisel’s observation could have been uttered by an American or Israeli commander.

“The introduction of increasingly complex technical systems requires constant raising of the servicemen’s level of knowledge and combat training. Thus, a tankman is obliged to have thorough knowledge of hardware, ballistics, and the special features of modern combined-arms combat, which has become exponentially more complex in recent decades. Today demands are made of a tank commander that at one time were made of commanders of large subunits.”

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in 2019.

Image: REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

How the F-14 Went From Temperamental to Top Gun

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 22:00

Robert Farley

F-14, United States

The F-14 became an iconic fighter after going through some early growing pains.

Here's What You Need To Remember: In its early years, the Tomcat itself faced problems. The engines were temperamental, and the fighter was both heavy and costly. Design decisions, including swept-wings, made the Tomcat a complex beast to manage.

What if the F-14 Tomcat had never happened? The iconic fighter served the U.S. Navy for more than thirty years before finally (and some say prematurely) being retired in 2006. Over time, the F-14 shifted from its initial long-range fleet air-defense role to a ground-attack mission. But what if the problems that plagued the program in the 1960s and 1970s had proved insoluble? How would the Navy have filled the gap?

The Problem:

The F-14 grew out of the F-111 project, pushed by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara as a fighter that could serve in both the Navy and the Air Force. USN and USAF's needs differed, however; the Navy wanted for a long-range carrier-based interceptor came from concern over Soviet air-launched cruise missiles. Soviet bombers could strike American carrier battle groups from a great distance, without entering the envelope either of ship-based SAMs or short-range fighters. This disrupted the layered missile, interceptor, and gun systems that the Navy had developed for air defense since World War II.

Unfortunately, the F-111 did not work out; too many capabilities were pushed into the frame, resulting in a fighter too large for the Navy’s needs, and not particularly well-suited to the air-superiority mission. By the mid-1960s the Navy began work on an alternative project, which eventually became the F-14. The Tomcat contributed to solving the Soviet bomber problem by combining long-range and high speed with the Phoenix missile, which could kill targets at extreme BVR.

But in its early years, the Tomcat itself faced problems. The engines were temperamental, and the fighter was both heavy and costly. Design decisions, including swept-wings, made the Tomcat a complex beast to manage. Congress complained, comparing the performance of the Tomcat unfavorably with the Air Force’s new heavy fighter, the F-15 Eagle. With the general post-Vietnam drawdown in full swing, the Tomcat’s journey to operability was touch and go; a decision at several points could have ended the project.


What would have taken the Tomcat’s place? The F-14 began to enter service in 1974; the F/A-18 would not reach the Navy until 1983. This would leave a nine-year gap, not to mention the substantial capabilities gaps between the two aircraft. How would the Navy have filled it?

One alternative would simply have been to retain the F-4 in its interceptor and air superiority roles. The Phantom was more than adequate for such missions, although it lacked the range and BVR capability of the Tomcat. Indeed, the F-4 remained in Navy service until the F/A-18 came online, in large part because of the need to populate the decks of USS Midway and USS Coral Sea. But of course, the F-4 was not the Tomcat, and the balance of capabilities would have tilted in the direction of the big Soviet bomber formations, especially after the deployment of the Tu-22M “Backfire.”

Another alternative would have involved developing a naval version of the F-15 Eagle. Much thought was given to this in the early 1970s, with various concepts hitting the drawing board. After considerable modification to operate off carriers and carry the long-range Phoenix missile, the “Sea Eagle” might have made an adequate fighter, although probably not the equal of the Tomcat. And the Navy has consistently resisted efforts to force it to buy the same aircraft as the Air Force.

Bigger Changes:

In the early 1970s, as today, the Navy debated the future of the big carrier. Much like today, some argued that the ships were simply to expensive, wrapping up too much value into one vulnerable platform. After the order of the USS Carl Vinson in 1974, the future of the big carrier was an open question. Had the Tomcat not offered a resolution to at least one of those threats (long-range Soviet bombers) alternative arguments might have carried the day.

One option popular in the early 1970s, as the Essex class carriers were approaching the end of their useful service lives, was the “Sea Control Ship.” Light carriers dedicated to the anti-submarine mission, these fourteen-thousand-ton ships would have carried VSTOL fighters (such as the Harrier) and helicopters. Far cheaper than the big carriers, they offered a means of defending the trans-Atlantic corridor from Soviet submarines at a reasonable cost and were probably too small to attract the attention of the Soviet bomber formations.

Another option involved retooling the surface fleet to take on some of the roles played by carriers. The nuclear strike cruiser project offered a large surface combatant bristling with missiles and carrying an early version of the Aegis combat system. This ship would have combined strike and air defense capabilities at lower cost than a carrier battle group and would have been supported by additional Aegis-equipped cruisers and destroyers.

Parting Thoughts:

The Navy eventually worked out the problems with the F-14, and the Tomcat became a superlative air defense fighter. Eventually, it even gained a ground-attack mission. The temperamental nature of the design, the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the success of the Super Hornet made the Tomcat superfluous by the 2000s, however, and the Navy now lacks a long-range interceptor. The main threats to carrier battle groups no longer come from flights of bombers, but rather from ballistic missiles, and no fighter has yet demonstrated much promise at the ABM mission. Nevertheless, the Tomcat contributed a core defensive capability during one of the critical periods of the development of the supercarrier.

Robert Farley, a frequent contributor to TNI, is the author of The Battleship Book. He serves as a Senior Lecturer at the Patterson School of Diplomacy and International Commerce at the University of Kentucky. His work includes military doctrine, national security, and maritime affairs. He blogs at Lawyers, Guns, and Money and Information Dissemination and The Diplomat.

Image: Wikipedia.

This story was originally published in July 2018.

Canada’s Arrow Supersonic Interceptor Lived Up to the Legends

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 21:30

Robert Farley

Air Force, Canada

The CF-105 is one of the great "What If" designs of the Cold War.

Here's What You Need to Know: The CF-105 had the potential to be a deadly Cold War-era interceptor, but changes in the strategic environment made it uneccesary. 

In the early 1950s, the Canadian government began to solicit orders for a new high-speed interceptor. The explosion in jet technology had rendered Canada’s first- and second-generation interceptors obsolete; in order to patrol Canada’s vast airspace, the Royal Canadian Air Force would need something awesome.

Avro Canada answered the call with the CF-105 Avro Arrow, a high-performance interceptor on the cutting edge of existing aviation technology. A big, beautiful fighter, the Arrow offered a promise to patrol Canadian airspace for decades, while also throwing a lifeline to Canada’s military aviation industry.

But the Arrow was not to be. Changes in technology, politics and defense priorities would work to kill the CF-105, and with it the greater portion of Canada’s defense aviation industry. Still, the legend of the Avro Arrow would survive for a very long time.

An Interceptor

The Arrow emerged as part of the same intellectual and engineering ferment as the B-58 Hustler and the MiG-21 Fishbed. The early 1950s saw remarkable leaps in airframe and engine technology, such that developmental aircraft offered enormous improvements in capability over existing warplanes. Jets designed in the early part of the decade were utterly obsolete by the end.

The expansion of Soviet Long-Range Aviation provided the strategic backdrop. In the late 1940s, the USSR built its first fleet of strategic bombers around the Tu-4, a copy of the American B-29 Superfortress. The next generation of Soviet bombers could fly faster and higher, and would undoubtedly cross Canadian airspace on its way to targets in the United States. Canada’s interceptor of the early 1950s, the CF-100 Canuck, could neither catch nor kill these fast bombers.

Enter the CF-105 Avro Arrow. The Arrow’s mission mirrored that of the later MiG-25 Foxbat; hunt and destroy high-flying Soviet bombers as they entered Canadian airspace. Initial testing indicated that the Arrow could, with Orenda Iroquois engines (then under development) exceed Mach 2 for a sustained period. The Arrow would have carried between three and eight long-range air-to-air missiles, and had the capacity to launch nuclear-tipped antiair rockets. In overall performance, the Arrow was not altogether dissimilar from the Convair F-106 Delta Dart, a close contemporary in design.

In an interesting parallel to the F-35, Canada pursued a no-prototype policy, meaning that the design changes continued as the earliest planes reached flight status. Although fifty years apart, this resembles the “concurrency” effort with the F-35, which relied on computer simulation and testing to push aircraft into flight status sooner.

The End

But, as flight testing ensued and initial production expectations ramped up, the Arrow ran into strategic problems. The first issue pitted the Arrow against the surface-to-air missile (SAM). The appearance of effective SAMs made life difficult to impossible for high-flying bombers, meaning that they had to change tactics (either flying low and slow, or using long-range cruise missiles) or disappear. Suddenly, an integrated air-defense network that focused on high-speed interceptors seemed more expensive and less effective than one that concentrated on SAM installations. A world-class defense network included both, of course, but the role of the interceptor became less central. Second, the development of the intercontinental ballistic missile (Avro introduced the Arrow on the same day that Sputnik reached space) made it difficult to imagine that any defensive network could successfully protect the Canadian homeland.

The United States and the United Kingdom both concluded that the future did not lie with high-speed interceptors, and canceled projects in development (although the F-106, for example, would remain in service for many years). Canada followed suit on February 20, 1959. The decision had a devastating ripple effect across Canada’s defense aviation industry; Avro Canada would shut its doors within three years (Hawker Siddeley picked up the pieces) and Orenda Engines was sharply curtailed.

Instead of the CF-105, the RCAF invested in a variety of Century Series fighters from the United States. These included the F-104 Starfighter (46 percent of which were lost in Canadian service), and (more controversial, given the cancellation of the Arrow) the CF-101 Voodoo. The Voodoo served as an interceptor, but at a level of performance generally below that expected of the Arrow.

The death of the Arrow also played a role in Canada’s decision to unify its three military services. Although the proximate causes of unification included concerns over civilian control during the Cuban Missile Crisis and a funding crunch, the interservice conflicts of the 1950s (the Army and Navy had sharply disagreed with the decision to pursue the Arrow) played a role. Moreover, with the death of the Canadian military aircraft industry, the Royal Canadian Air Force lost a key advocate outside of government.

The Legend

But the legend of the Arrow did not die with its cancellation. Because of the circumstances associated with the end of the plane, including the scrapping of all extant prototypes and all industrial tooling associated with the program, a series of conspiracies emerged regarding the causes of its demise. Many of these concentrated on the United States, suggesting that Washington had used nefarious influence to somehow kill the Arrow and prevent it from competing with less advanced U.S. designs.

To this day, the saga of the CF-105 remains near and dear to the hearts of many Canadian aviation enthusiasts. Some still claim that one of the prototypes was hidden from destruction, which (while deeply unlikely) would be a huge boon for a lucky museum someday. In 2012, some commentators suggested (seriously or not) redeveloping the Arrow as a replacement for the troubled F-35. The Canadian government rejected the proposal out of hand. And many Canadians still recognize the Arrow’s distinctive silhouette; in 2015, Canadian travel security personnel recognized a pair of die-cast CF-105 toys in the author’s luggage from the x-ray alone.

In some sense, the Arrow would have been a Foxbat before the Foxbat; a super high-performance interceptor with some glaring flaws as an air superiority fighter. Advances in technology could have increased the Arrow’s speed (although not to that of the Foxbat), but the design had many problems common to second- and third-generation fighters. Like the Foxbat (or the F-106), the Arrow could have served in an attack role only with great difficulty. Given the sharp turn towards multirole fighter-bombers that would ensue in the 1970s, the Arrow would likely before long have begun to resemble a white-and-orange elephant.

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005.  He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004.  Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APACWorld Politics Review, and the American Prospect.  Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

This article first appeared several years ago.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

How Did Russia Get Its Very Own U.S. D-21 Stealth Drone?

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 21:00

Michael Peck

Drones, Eurasia

In November 1969, the U.S. Air Force sent Russia an early Christmas gift.

Here's What You Need to Know: The D-21 was conceived in the mid-1960s as a solution to the problem of spying on the Soviet Union.

In November 1969, the U.S. Air Force sent Russia an early Christmas gift.

It was a sleek flying machine that bore an uncanny resemblance to the SR-71 Blackbird spy plane.

The American generosity was purely unintentional. The aircraft was actually a cutting-edge drone dispatched on a mission to photograph Communist Chinese nuclear sites. And the drone did what it was supposed to until it failed to turn around, and kept on going north into Siberia before crashing.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Russia paid the skilled aircraft designers at Lockheed the highest compliment: they tried to copy their work.

The drone in question was the D-21. With its graceful delta wings, the D-21 resembled a miniature SR-71, which was no coincidence given that they were products of Lockheed’s famed Skunk Works, the originator of many an amazing secret project. In fact, the D-21 was originally designed to be mounted and launched from the tail of an SR-71, itself famous for its Mach 3 speed and its 85,000-feet maximum altitude.

The D-21 was conceived in the mid-1960s as a solution to the problem of spying on the Soviet Union. Soviet surface-to-air missiles, like the one that downed a U-2 over Russia in 1960, were making photo missions over Communist territory more hazardous. The SR-71 could fly high and fast enough to be safe, but why risk a manned aircraft and its pilot when a robot could do the job?

The idea was for the D-21 to be mounted atop an M-21, a specially modified two-seat SR-71, according to documents recently declassified by the National Reconnaissance Office. After completing its mission, the drone would eject its film canister, which would be snatched in mid-air by a C-130 transport. But launch problems, including an accident that crashed the launch M-21 and killed one crewman, saw the B-52H as the new launch vehicle for the improved D-21B.

Unfortunately, the project didn’t work out as planned. There were four D-21B flights, carried by B-52s launched from Guam. Their target was Communist China, specifically China’s nuclear test site at Lop Nor. All of them failed. Out of the last three, mid-air recovery failed to recover film canisters from two of them, which crashed into the Pacific on the flight out, while one drone crashed in China.

It is the fate of the first mission, in November 1969, that’s interesting. The D-21B crossed into China – and kept going into the Soviet Union, where it crashed.

“This proved to be of great interest to the Soviet aircraft industry, as it was a fairly compact machine equipped with up-to-date reconnaissance equipment and designed for prolonged reconnaissance flights at high supersonic speeds under conditions of strong kinetic heating,” write Russian aviation historians Yefim Gordon and Vladimir Rigamant. “Many leading enterprises and organizations of the aircraft, electronic and defense industries were commissioned to study the design of the D-21 together with the materials used in its construction, its production technology and its equipment.”

The result was the Voron (“Raven”) project to develop a supersonic strategic reconnaissance drone. The Voron would have been launched by a Tu-95 or Tu-160 bomber. After separation, a solid-fuel booster would have accelerated the drone to supersonic speed, at which point the ramjet would have kicked in, according to Gordon and Rigamant. The craft would then follow a pre-programmed flight path using an inertial navigation system. Once the unmanned aircraft returned to base, the film canister would be ejected and land by parachute, after which the drone itself would land.

But much like manned reconnaissance aircraft, the Voron idea fell victim to the advent of spy satellites that could soar over foreign territory without fear of being shot down. Another advantage is that satellites would not crash-land and have their secrets recovered by the enemy, as happened to the D-21.

But at least no one can accuse the Soviets of being ungenerous. In the mid-1980s, Ben Rich, a Lockheed engineer who worked on the D-21, recalled being given a metal panel by a CIA employee. It was a piece of the D-21 that had crashed in Siberia, and which had been recovered by a shepherd. The piece was returned by a KGB agent.

Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on Twitter and Facebook.

This article first appeared in April 2019.

Image: U.S. Air Force / Wikimedia Commons

How the F-15EX Breathes New Life Into a Classic Design

The National Interest - Wed, 08/09/2021 - 20:30

Robert Farley

Security, United States

The combination of new technologies in a proven airframe design means the F-15 will be flying for decades to come.

Here's What You Need to Know: At the very least, the F-15EX project means that the Air Force will have new, advanced airframes capable of doing the jobs that F-15s have been doing for decades. 

As was widely reported in July 2020, the Air Force has decided to acquire a large number of F-15EX fighters over the next several years. The F-15EX was initially expected to replace the elderly F-15 C/D, but the latest reports indicate that it may also replace the Air Force’s fleet of F-15Es.

Essentially, the F-15EX concept binds generations of technological innovation into the very old F-15 airframe. The F-15EX uses the classic F-15 frame but incorporates a host of technological improvements developed over the course of the last thirty years. 

Serial production of the F-15, driven largely by foreign sales in recent years, enables the integration of new technologies and keeps both the workforce and the manufacturing facilities fresh. The logic of replacing the F-15E (alongside the F-15C/D) is straightforward:

At the very least, the F-15EX project means that the Air Force will have new, advanced airframes capable of doing the jobs that F-15s have been doing for decades. 

More interesting, however, is the idea that the F-15EX may offer a pathway into the Digital Century Series (DCS). To review, the Century Series concept (associated most notably with Air Force chief of acquisition Wil Roper) involves designing and building an evolutionary set of airframes in small batches with open-source architecture. Roper has embraced the “Century Series” metaphor, notwithstanding the lack of success of the first “Century Series” which produced a set of mediocre aircraft soon eclipsed by the F-4 Phantom II, and critiques that the focus on manned aircraft is misplaced, and that the attention given to the DCS would be more profitably spent on unmanned aerial vehicles.

In the DCS concept, digital engineering technologies would allow the separation of production and design, while the use of 3D printing and other advanced manufacturing technologies would remedy some of the problems associated with the multiplication of spares and maintenance procedures. More importantly, the system would enable to continuous integration of new technologies into new airframes, as opposed to the much slower process necessitated by the precise requirements of stealth airframes. Thus, the “Digital Century Series” represents an entirely new way of thinking about aircraft acquisition, and indeed could lead to a substantial restructuring of the US aerospace industry. 

It’s wrong to say that the F-15EX is the first stage of the DCS. Stephen Trimble argues that while the F-15EX program uses many of the same tools that the Digital Century Series envisions, including advanced computer modeling and a modular platform, it is not part of the DCS per se. Trimble also discusses some differences in the handling of intellectual property between the two systems, as Boeing retains substantial rights over the F-15EX while the DCS system envisions full ownership of the relevant IP by the Air Force.

But this does not mean that the F-15EX experience will not serve as a useful test for the DCS process. Boeing has noted that the F-15EX will include a set of design features that will enable rapid upgrades, and also access to the Air Force’s new battle management system, a key part of DCS thinking. Roper himself has touted the connections between the F-15EX and the DCS, notwithstanding the evident architectural gaps.

Not least important, the F-15EX ensures that Boeing will remain a player in the fighter business.  Part of Roper’s objective in pursuing the DCS has been to limit and possibly reverse the industry consolidation that occurred in the military aerospace sector from the 1990s on. Some DCS advocates have even suggested the nationalization of certain aspects of the military aerospace industry, which would resemble in some ways the Soviet system of separate state-owned design bureaus and production facilities. This seems perhaps a step too far, given the history of the US defense industrial base and existing U.S. political realities. But the ability of Boeing to use digital tools to design and produce the F-15EX necessarily makes it a player in the next stage of the Air Force’s project development.

The F-15EX is hardly an inexpensive aircraft, with the cost of new models exceeds that of the F-35A. From the basis of a very old airplane, however, it offers the potential for a new way of thinking about how the Air Force will manage the age-old problem of balancing the existing fleet needs against the relentless advance of technology. If the F-15EX program leads to important lessons learned that enables the DCS, it resolves the problem of putting all of the Air Force’s eggs into a single high-technology basket, such as the F-22 or F-35. But the practical application of this theory of design remains untested, and it cannot be denied that building legacy fighters during a period of resurgent great power competition opens up many questions about the ability of the US aerospace industry to offer long-term defense solutions.  

Dr. Robert Farley has taught security and diplomacy courses at the Patterson School since 2005.  He received his BS from the University of Oregon in 1997, and his Ph.D. from the University of Washington in 2004. Dr. Farley is the author of Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force (University Press of Kentucky, 2014), the Battleship Book (Wildside, 2016), and Patents for Power: Intellectual Property Law and the Diffusion of Military Technology (University of Chicago, 2020). He has contributed extensively to a number of journals and magazines, including the National Interest, the Diplomat: APACWorld Politics Review, and the American Prospect. Dr. Farley is also a founder and senior editor of Lawyers, Guns and Money.

This article first appeared in September 2020.

Image: Flickr.