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Take a Look at America’s Secret “Ninja Missile”

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 13:50

Caleb Larson

Missiles, Americas

A video posted to social media shows several recovered AGM-114 R9X Hellfire missiles.

Here's What You Need to Know: Instead of an explosive charge, the missile uses several pop-out blades to chop up targets and prevent civilian casualties.

The Hellfire missile was originally developed in the 1980s as an anti-tank missile, though its role has been expanded for a variety of missions thanks to the missile’s high precision. It is currently in service with a number of countries including the United States, and is most often used with the Predator or Reaper drones for operations in crowded urban environments.

The missile is particularly well suited to urban operations. Though the missile’s overall weight is around 100 pounds, or about 45 kilograms, its warhead makes up only a fifth of the missile’s weight. Smaller, more controlled explosions are absolutely crucial in these environments where civilian casualties can seriously undermine long-term mission success. But one of the Hellfire variants doesn’t have an explosive warhead—and is just as deadly.

AGM-114 R9X Hellfire

In a video posted to social media, several recovered AGM-114 R9X Hellfire missiles were seen after they had been fired. In the video, the spent missile parts can be seen along with markings on them, including the R9X designation. Though fragmentary, the missile pieces appear to be parts of missile bodies, as well as a centrally located hub where the missile’s long, deadly blades attach to. Red spheres can also be seen inside the missile body that are likely responsible for acceleration. Another photo on Twitter gives a better look at the missile’s blade hub and part of a twisted blade.

Geçtiğimiz günlerde İdlip'te bir araca yönelik saldırıda kullanılan AGM-114 Hellfire Füzesine (Ninja Füzesi) ait parçaların görüntüleri. @orko_8 @Acemal71 @hkilichsword2 https://t.co/3lJOIWgxcO pic.twitter.com/6EoYjAWlK1

— Turkey In The World (@TRintheworld) June 17, 2020

This fragment is reported to have been found at the site of what may have been an RX9 (Hellfire with frikken swords) strike.

If you looks closely, you can see what appear to be hinges, as well as being and twisted projections from those hinges.

H/T @obretix, who found this. pic.twitter.com/db7ZOE6S1x

— Nick Waters (@N_Waters89) December 4, 2019

These missiles are seldom used. They lack an explosive warhead, and instead of blowing up, they use several pop-out blades to take out targets kinetically—hence the ninja nickname. The missile is designed to reduce civilian casualties, especially in dense urban environments. Thus far the missile seems to have been favored against individuals in cars, and is said to have the ability to target individual seats preventing other passengers from being killed.

Other photos and video posted to Twitter appear to show a car hit by at least one R9X missiles. Unlike usual missile strikes, this car is not burned, but looks like it’s been on a giant chopping block. The front windshield, roof, and seats are sliced through and what appears to be one of the missile’s blades can be seen on the ground next to the vehicle.

The secretive missile, likely carried by a drone, is reported to be used exclusively by the Central Intelligence Agency and the United States’ Joint Special Operations Command.

Postscript

Despite the dearth of concrete knowledge publicly available on the R9X missile, its aftermath is unmistakable. Use of the R9X is increasing—and keeping it a secret in the future will be next to impossible. Stay tuned for more info on this so-called ninja missile.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

This article first appeared in June 2020.

Image: REUTERS/Josh Smith

Does East Asia Need a Collective Defense?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 13:30

James Holmes

China Missile, East Asia, China, United States

NATO could serve as guidance.

Here's What You Need to Remember:  A Golden Rule governs alliances and ententes of all types: the ally who furnishes the gold makes the rules.

Last week the University of Sydney’s United States Studies Center (USSC) set policy circles aflutter when it issued a novella-length report that questions the staying power of U.S. military strategy in the Indo-Pacific theater while urging inhabitants of the region to take up their share of the defense burden vis-à-vis a domineering China. Read the whole thing.

In one sense the report presents little new information or insight. That the U.S. military has retooled itself for counterinsurgency warfare and must now reinvent itself again for great power strategic competition is old news. So is the notion that Washington suffers from strategic ADHD, taking on new commitments around the world willy-nilly while shedding few old ones to conserve finite resources and policy energy. Over the past decade-plus, it’s become plain that Communist China is a serious, strategically-minded maritime contender and has equipped itself with formidable shore-based weaponry to assail U.S. and allied bases in the region and supply firepower support to its increasingly impressive battle fleet. Beijing can now hope to fend off U.S. reinforcements from coming to the aid of regional allies, to slow them down, or to make the effort so expensive in terms of lives and hardware that no U.S. president would order the attempt. If it does any of these things it could spring a fait accompli on the region, accomplishing limited goals before powerful outsiders could intercede.

This is old—if still potent—wine in a new bottle.

And yet. The report is clearly written and forceful, no small virtues. It adds a welcome new voice to the chorus—and that voice booms out from the region rather than from such precincts as Washington, DC or Newport, RI. One hopes the leadership in Canberra listens up, and other Indo-Pacific governments wary of Chinese Communist Party pretensions should bend an ear as well. The USSC coauthors’ central message—that the United States can no longer provide for common security alone and must have help—is precisely correct. They stop short of espousing an Asian NATO by name, but they invoke the basic concept underlying the Atlantic Alliance, namely “collective defense.” Allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific must shoulder their part of the defense burden, just as Europeans helped stave off the Soviet menace.

For its part, Washington must stop trying to do it all alone—and afford allies and friends the deference their interests and contributions warrant. All parties to the common defense must readjust not just strategy, resources, and hardware but also their way of thinking about these matters. They must nurture a culture of collective defense.

Three points the report puts forward are worth exploring: culture, strategy and operations, and alliance building and maintenance. First, culture. Note the coauthors: “In an era of constrained budgets and multiplying geopolitical flashpoints, prioritizing great power competition with China means America’s armed forces must scale back other global responsibilities.” But culture is a stubborn thing—and the strategic culture in Washington lags behind disconcerting new realities. The report maintains that “political leaders and much of the foreign policy establishment remain wedded to a superpower mindset that regards America’s role in the world as defending an expansive liberal order.” Acting as the lone custodian of the world order, including freedom of the sea, sets the United States up for strategic overreach and failure. Something will give.

The classics of strategy instruct statesmen and military commanders to wind down commitments or theaters that have outlived their usefulness, that no longer command the same importance they once did, or that have come to consume resources needed for more pressing priorities. That’s easy to say. It’s a simple matter of toting up costs and benefits, estimating the opportunity costs of one commitment against another, applying resources to the most important priorities, and downgrading or jettisoning the rest. But breaking up is hard to do, even with an Afghanistan where eighteen years of combat and diplomacy have yet to yield a durable sovereign government. Why such obtuse stick-to-it-iveness? Because every foreign commitment attracts a constituency within the establishment, the think-tank sector, or academia. That constituency sees its chosen commitment as the top priority for Washington, bar none, and clamors tirelessly for policy attention and resources.

For bureaucratic institutions, the easiest path is to try to please everyone and do everything. Yet setting and enforcing priorities is what strategy is at its most fundamental. Political leaders must harden their hearts when deciding on policy and strategy. If the Indo-Pacific is now the most critical geopolitical theater, other worthwhile commitments may have to give way.

Second, strategy and operations. The Australian coauthors do not counsel despair. They deny that “America is becoming a paper tiger.” It still fields “the world’s largest and most sophisticated armed forces, and is likely to continue to supply the central elements of any military counterweight to China in the Indo-Pacific.” Still, “the United States’ longstanding ability to uphold a favorable regional balance of power by itself faces mounting and ultimately insurmountable challenges.” Just so. But let’s not sell ourselves short, either as the U.S. armed forces or as part of alliances that have endured for seven decades. It may be the case that Fortress China now boasts the capacity to reach out and smite allied military bases, or even forces in the field. But let’s refuse to succumb to a reverse form of the fallacy of “scriptwriting.” We have options.

Scriptwriting in strategy reduces a living, thinking, impassioned foe to an inert, docile mass on which we work our will. Scriptwriters in Los Angeles or New York develop storylines that instruct the characters in a drama or sitcom what to do, and the actors do it. But in strategic competition or warfare, some of the “actors” in our script are under no obligation to play the part we set out for them. In fact, they have every incentive to go off-script and wreck our production so that they can fulfill goals diametrically opposed to our own. Now flip that logic around. Sure, Communist China may be able to pound our legacy infrastructure or forces. But the United States and its allies aren’t lifeless masses. We too have ingenuity and the desire to prevail. Let’s refuse to follow Beijing’s script—and figure out how to ruin its production.

How do multinational and joint forces go off China’s script? The U.S. Studies Center insists that girding for strategic competition in the Indo-Pacific “will not be easy or cheap. On the contrary, it will require major changes to the U.S. military’s force structure, regional posture and concepts of operations, only some of which are currently in train.” But dodging the brunt of People’s Liberation Army (PLA) strategy while giving PLA commanders strategic headaches may be less burdensome than all that. Read the Commandant’s Planning Guidance issued by the new U.S. Marine Corps leadership last month. Geography favors the allies. They can deploy low-cost measures along the first island chain, throwing up a barricade to Chinese maritime movement between the China seas, the Western Pacific, and the Indian Ocean. Small bodies of ground troops could fan out along the island chain, using volleys of anti-ship missiles to halt surface traffic. Sea mines, diesel submarines, and surface patrol craft could lend their firepower to the mix. Etc.

There’s no free lunch in strategy, but such measures could levy some serious military, economic, and diplomatic pain at manageable cost to the allies. One leading strategy professor in China pronounces challenging such a strategy a “suicide mission” for the PLA. If that reflects how Chinese Communist magnates reckon matters, then the prospects for deterrence—and thus for peacetime strategic success—may be brighter and more affordable than the Australian team lets on. Offbeat approaches to force design, operations, and strategy merit debating in allied circles.

And third, alliance building and maintenance. There are unmistakable signs that what the strategic canon calls a “community of interest” is gelling around the idea of counterbalancing Chinese overreach. What the U.S. Studies Center depicts as a brave new world in the Indo-Pacific is in many ways a return to geopolitical business as usual. During the Cold War, few deluded themselves that the United States could deter or defeat the Soviet empire all by itself. Allies chipped in niche capabilities without which the U.S. armed forces would have found it hard to execute their strategy. For instance, I was grateful to NATO navies for supplying minesweepers in the Persian Gulf back in 1991. Approaching the Kuwaiti coast would have been perilous in the extreme without Europeans running interference for us. Mine warfare is a traditional zone of neglect for the U.S. Navy—not so for the allies. Same goes for the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force, whose diesel submarines prowled along the first island chain throughout the Cold War to cramp communist maritime movement. Another niche but invaluable capability.

Such examples are legion. It’s good to see allies take ownership of their own security, and of freedom of the sea. The French and British governments have bruited about a return to Asia, possibly including naval bases in the South China Sea where aircraft-carrier groups can tarry. Here’s how a grand bargain could work should the USSC team get its way. A Golden Rule governs alliances and ententes of all types: the ally who furnishes the gold makes the rules. If Washington could provide for the common defense all by itself, it would have little reason to consult with allies or heed their advice. It would remain the sole agenda-setter. But if others contribute significant resources of their own, Washington must consult with them and consider—and perhaps embrace—their advice. U.S. leaders often deferred to allies during the Cold War, allowing them a say in policy and strategy. Consensus prevailed for the most part, even when decisions ran afoul of American preferences. And U.S. alliances proved resilient for the most part.

So America needs to rediscover the habit of strategic humility after being top dog for a generation. Here’s what Indo-Pacific allies need to do: help us help you. Even if island-chain defense works out, U.S. reinforcements must gain access to the Western Pacific to prevail in wartime. PLA commanders have predicated their access-denial strategy on disheartening their U.S. counterparts or convincing the U.S. administration the military effort cannot succeed at a cost the country is prepared to pay. Allies and partners should devise strategies and operations that hold down the price of access for U.S. forces—and thus make it thinkable if not easy for an American president to order them into combat.

Let’s march jointly in the Indo-Pacific.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone. 

This piece was originally featured in 2019 and is being republished due to reader's interest.

Image: Reuters

COVID-19: Licensing agreement for new candidate drug ‘an important first step’

UN News Centre - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 13:10
Access to a new COVID-19 drug will be expanded in low- and middle-income countries following a voluntary licensing agreement between the pharmaceutical company Pfizer and a UN-backed global health initiative, announced in Geneva on Tuesday.

Undersea Technologies are One Way to Keep Submarines Safe

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 13:00

Kris Osborn

U.S. Submarines, Americas

Northrop Grumman isn't only good for stealth bombers.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Part of the challenge is finding ways to minimize Navy submarine vulnerability to enemy detection and attack by simply remaining at safer depths, yet in order to achieve a high-degree of high-speed connectivity, submarines need to break the ocean surface by coming to “periscope depth,” which is closer to the surface.

Sub-hunting spy planes armed with torpedoes, maritime drones armed with missiles, high-resolution, surface scanning cameras, and fast-moving surface ships dragging sonar sensors while conducting surface reconnaissance are all fast-growing threats to U.S. Navy submarines.

Part of the challenge is finding ways to minimize Navy submarine vulnerability to enemy detection and attack by simply remaining at safer depths, yet in order to achieve a high-degree of high-speed connectivity, submarines need to break the ocean surface by coming to “periscope depth,” which is closer to the surface.

The U.S. Navy is working with a number of industry partners such as Northrop Grumman to identify, evolve and refine new kinds of undersea communications technology.

“Today, the submarine comes to periscope depth and conducts the majority of its transmissions at this depth. Capabilities we’re developing at Northrop Grumman will allow the submarine to never have to come up to the surface, because it is at its most vulnerable when at periscope depth,” Alan Lytle, vice president of Strategy & Mission Solutions, Maritime/Land Systems & Sensors division, Northrop Grumman, told The National Interest in an interview.

Interestingly, while most people might immediately associate Northrop Grumman with high-profile programs such as its B-2 and B-21 stealth bombers, the company’s history with undersea warfare goes back nearly 100 years, including substantial World War II efforts. Years ago, Northrop Grumman was involved in adapting radio frequency (RF) technologies to undersea acoustic systems and developed the first electric torpedoes for Navy submarines.

“We have been working in the undersea domain for well over 50-years, and our support for the Navy stretches back even further,” said Jenny Roberts, director of strategy, investments & integration, Maritime/Land Systems & Sensors division, Northrop Grumman.

Roberts, who formerly worked as a director for undersea influence at the Navy’s Undersea Warfare Division, says Northrop Grumman innovators seek to align closely with the sense of mission and purpose now driving the U.S. Navy’s push to stay in front of undersea warfare technology.

“We bring together the power of the corporation’s continuous innovation to provide capabilities our Navy customers need for mission success,” Roberts explained to The National Interest. As part of the ongoing effort to synchronize efforts with the Navy, Northrop Grumman developers are placing a special premium on innovation in the areas of undersea warfare and cross-domain networking.

For instance, perhaps a surface drone, submarine, ship, or fighter jet can identify and share time-sensitive targeting data across domains in near real-time, integrating crucial threat information exponentially faster than ever before. The ultimate goal of this is to massively truncate sensor-to-shooter timelines. Perhaps an undersea drone could identify an enemy subsea target, pass the data back to an undersea-warfare commander who in turn instantly sends coordinates to a helicopter armed with Very Light Weight Torpedoes. This innovative kill-chain concept was demonstrated by Northrop Grumman in a Navy exercise.

“To deter future conflict or to ensure we win if future conflict arises, we need to provide capabilities which expand the influence of the undersea force, including connectivity across all domains,” Lytle added.

In light of this, Northrop Grumman developers discuss their efforts to link undersea and space domains in the context of the Pentagon’s fast-evolving Joint All Domain Command and Control initiative. JADC2, as it is called, seeks to engender a kind of multi-node connectivity between otherwise disparate pools of information across multiple domains.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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.

This article is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Flickr

Should the United States Be Worried About China's Drones?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 12:30

Kris Osborn

China Drones, Asia

It's leaning like no, but it doesn't mean the Pentagon should discard the threat altogether.

Here's What You Need to Remember: While it is certainly possible that Chinese robots are more capable in terms of autonomy than what may have appeared in the newspaper report, however advanced degrees of autonomy or man-machine networking were not mentioned as potential mission options presented by the robots. This leads to the question as to whether China can in fact truly compete with current U.S. Army unmanned systems technology. 

The visible Chinese effort to fast-track new carriers, fighter jets, destroyers and armored artillery vehicles shows no sign of slowing down. Now, a lesser-known but equally impactful commensurate initiative can be seen in China’s apparent attempt to match or exceed the U.S. explosion in the production and development of surface, air and undersea drones. 

China also appears to be accelerating the development of land and undersea robots to conduct forward surveillance, deliver supplies, search for targets and even launch attacks. A Chinese newspaper report says the People’s Liberation Army “Pathbreaker” robot is a small, 1.2-ton unmanned vehicle able to hit speeds of thirty kilometers. It is a tracked vehicle, meaning it is configured for rugged terrain and off-road missions and intended for what the Chinese paper calls “armed reconnaissance, fire assault, patrol, search and destroy operations, as well as strike guidance in complicated terrain at high mobility.”

The technical description of the robot indicates it can be teleoperated or programmed to “automatically follow combat personnel and independently avoid obstacles.”  This seems quite interesting, given that the U.S. Army has been teleoperating or remotely controlling robots for more than fifteen years as well as operating with what’s called “leader follower” algorithms wherein an unmanned system mirrors or follows a manned vehicle leading the way. The U.S. Army refined this technology, along with obstacle avoidance, nearly two decades ago and is now operating robots with extremely advanced levels of autonomous navigation.

While it is certainly possible that Chinese robots are more capable in terms of autonomy than what may have appeared in the newspaper report, however advanced degrees of autonomy or man-machine networking were not mentioned as potential mission options presented by the robots. This leads to the question as to whether China can in fact truly compete with current U.S. Army unmanned systems technology. 

At 1.2 tons, the new Chinese “Pathbreaker” robot may or may not be similar in size or form factor to the U.S. Army’s emerging Light Robotic Combat Vehicle, a now-in-development program to introduce a new fleet of highly-capable unmanned systems able to independently operate forward, network with air drones and manned vehicles and, for instance, test an enemy perimeter, move to contact or conduct an actual “breach.” The robots are closely aligned with the networking capacity and measure of computer-enabled autonomy, according to U.S. Army developers.

It may simply be that Chinese weapons developers are behind the United States when it comes to advancing levels of robotic autonomy, as it is something the U.S. Army has been working on for many years. Autonomous navigation on the ground is particularly challenging and seen as something more complex and challenging than aerial autonomy, simply due to the number of obstacles, variables and fast-changing conditions. An air drone often has few actual “impediments” to its flight path and, absent some kind of fast emerging enemy aircraft or incoming missile, can align autonomous navigation with little difficulty.

Ground autonomy, however, must operate with extremely advanced algorithms able to make nearly instantaneous decisions in response to dynamic changes in the environment. Perhaps new terrain challenges pop up, or a column of enemy vehicles approaches its path? An autonomous ground vehicle would not only have to “course correct” but make instant determinations regarding any particular obstacle it may encounter. 

This is something which, based on the engineering and scientific progress now being cataloged with the Army’s robotic combat vehicle program in terms of artificial-intelligence-enabled autonomy, drone-to-drone networking and unmanned operations in general, the Chinese simply may not be able to match. 

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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.

This article is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters

What Does the Pentagon's "Integrated Deterrence" Strategy Mean?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 12:00

Kris Osborn

Integrated Deterrence, World

Whether or not it will be effective is yet to be decided.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The concept is to look collectively to a degree, meaning it might make more sense to envision a coordinated, multinational military operation benefitting from both the unique attributes of a given countries’ weapons system and an ability to cross-train, collaborate and secure information sharing in real-time in war. 

Massive investment in innovation and new technology greatly strengthened cooperation with European and Pacific allies, and a new dispersed, yet highly networked force are all fundamental elements of the Pentagon’s new “Integrated Deterrence” approach. 

The concept was introduced by Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin during public remarks at the Global Emerging Technology Summit of The National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence. He explained that new levels of deterrence could be reached through the combined strength of the United States and its many allies, a vigorous commitment to research and development funding, and sustained technological superiority. 

“Integrated deterrence is about using the right mix of technology, operational concepts, and capabilities—all woven together in a networked way that is so credible, and flexible, and formidable that it will give any adversary pause,” Austin said according to a Pentagon transcript. 

Instead of relying upon pure numbers or force size to achieve military overmatch against potential adversaries, Austin’s “Integrated Deterrence” strategy points to the wide-spanning impact of innovation, dispersed, yet secure networking, and technological superiority.

The integration focus of the strategy is clearly invested in the need for multi-domain operations and joint U.S.-allied war preparation exercises. If the U.S. military truly strengthens its clear margin of technological superiority and of course solidifies its connection to allies, then it could lead to a potentially effective deterrence strategy. 

more dispersed, multi-domain force able to successfully network with allies can exponentially increase the size and speed of its striking power. Longer ranges can also help cultivate new tactical and strategic approaches to align with how weapons might be used differently in a modern or future warfare environment. Much of the success of this would, it seems, depend upon the measure of secure networking and connectivity made possible through hardened data links, artificial-intelligence-enabled computing and high-speed data processing. The concept is to look collectively to a degree, meaning it might make more sense to envision a coordinated, multinational military operation benefitting from both the unique attributes of a given countries’ weapons system and an ability to cross-train, collaborate and secure information sharing in real-time in war. 

Integrated Deterrence “means investing in cutting-edge capabilities for the future, in all domains of potential conflict,” Austin said.

“America’s integrated deterrence relies on both innovation and investment,” he added. “And we understand that those are interwoven. Innovation requires the resources to develop new ideas and scale them appropriately.”

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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.

This article is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Reuters

Can the U.S. Navy Take Lessons from Sci-fi Television?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 11:30

James Holmes

Future Warfare, Asia, China, United States

StarTrek and Battlestar Galactica may have some interesting insights.

Here's What You Need To Remember: Chinese commanders would doubtless deploy deceptive measures to make the campaign even more wearisome.

How would you punk the U.S. Navy if the lords of naval warfare handed you the keys to, say, China’s navy? Well, you might do the obvious thing: read or watch some science fiction!

In the latest Star Trek flick, for instance, a new foe harnesses swarm tactics to eviscerate the starship Enterprise. A coordinated stream of small craft overpowers the starship’s defenses through the simple expedient of presenting more targets than the Enterprise crew can shoot down. Its overseer then concentrates fire at vital nodes to dismember the ship’s structure.

Such tactics are an otherworldly counterpart to saturation missile barrages meant to overwhelm U.S. surface combatants’ Aegis combat systems. Rather than try to evade Aegis defenses, attackers simply aim more rounds at this combination radar, fire-control and surface-to-air missile system than it can handle. Some get through—and sow havoc. Life imitates sci-fi.

And then there’s Battlestar Galactica, a TV show with a similar ripped-from-the-headlines feel. The conceit behind the show: rather than risk a slugfest against the human colonies’ fleet of capital ships and their Viper fighter squadrons, the archenemy Cylons insinuate a computer virus into the fleet. The virus spreads through the ubiquitous computer networks whereby commanders coordinate their endeavors. It disables heavy ships and fighter spacecraft alike, leaving the fleet easy prey.

Sound strategy, that. Why duel a stronger antagonist and risk losing when cyberwarfare can nullify combat power before shots are fired? Galactica, an aged man-of-war, rides out the onslaught because her old-school commander, William Adama, refuses to permit the computers on board to be networked. When modern Vipers—the F-35s of this faraway universe—shut down, the battlestar’s deck crew salvages obsolescent fighters. Old tech proves too low-tech for viruses to infect—yet still lethal enough for skilled aviators to repulse attack.

Network-centric warfare” remains U.S. forces’ warfighting method of choice, even though the phrase has fallen out of fashion. It comes with grave perils. Live by the computer network, die by the computer network.

But Battlestar Galactica also hints at subtler ways to outfight a stronger opponent. The weak need not vanquish the strong outright. They can harry the strong—enfeebling them until their margin of supremacy vanishes.

Wise combatants, then, study their foes, discern their strengths and frailties, and design operations to tame the former while exploiting the latter. A prospective enemy like China would try to divine the American “center of gravity” or, as Carl von Clausewitz describes it somewhat mystically, the “hub of all power and movement, on which everything depends.” Should a fight erupt, Chinese forces would then aim “blow after blow” at that center of gravity—pounding away until U.S. forces capitulated or, more likely, lost heart and went away.

There’s a curious thing about centers of gravity, though. They can be innocuous. Petroleum refineries turned out to be a center of gravity for Hitler’s war machine, humble freighters and tankers for Tojo’s. By pummeling industry and merchantmen from sky and sea, the Allies starved Axis forces of irreplaceable war materiel.

A related idea from Prussia’s master of strategy: Clausewitz advises strategists that, in the folksy terms I like to employ in Newport, the enemy is not a potted plant. In strategy, in other words, one antagonist doesn’t work its will on a lifeless mass that’s unable to strike a counterblow. Rather, warfare involves an intensely interactive “collision of two living forces”—both imbued with ingenuity and with zeal for their causes. It’s the Golden Rule of combat: the foe does unto you even as you do unto him.

But here’s the thing. It may be possible, through dexterous strategy and operations, to transform a foe into a potted plant—dulling his reactions and material capacity until he’s little more than an inert mass with little prospect of protecting himself or thwarting your will. Better yet, such operations could yield an opponent prone to self-defeating mistakes. Inert pugilists make easy pickings.

By the Golden Rule, moreover, he may do things to reduce you to a potted plant, hampering your ability to adapt to change to the tactical surroundings—change he himself may have wrought. If he renders you inert, you can no longer compete effectively or efficiently. He imposes his will on you—and wins.

Which brings us back to the sci-fi universe. In the very second episode of Battlestar Galactica, titled “33,” the Cylons hit upon an ingenious stratagem: weary Galactica’s and the colonial fleet’s defenders through small-scale but frequent assaults, then strike a fatal blow against a foe too tired, addle-brained and mistake-prone to fight back effectively.

Clausewitz would instantly recognize the approach. He notes that the components of combat strength are force—material capability—and resolve. Quite so. The Cylon onslaught targets both the hardware and human dimensions, enervating the colonial fleet over time. The Cylons smuggle a homing device onto a transport to track its movements, then repeatedly “jump” in faster-than-light strike forces to menace the fleet. Cylon fighters appear every thirty-three minutes. It becomes plain to Galactica’s leadership that the attacks’ purpose is less to inflict damage than to compel the fleet to keep jumping. Relentless assault prevents repairs and upkeep to fighting ships while keeping crews awake.

The campaign takes its toll on hardware and bodies, debilitating the fleet’s fighting power. Think about scrambling an air wing for action every half-hour: you assemble pilots for a preflight briefing, launch, do battle, and recover through “combat landings” that require pilots to slam fuselages on the ship’s flight deck to get the squadron aboard fast. Little maintenance gets done under such circumstances. Machinery needs downtime, and it dislikes transients. Repeatedly starting and stopping it is stressful—even leaving aside the rigors of deep-space combat.

Nor do the equipment’s operators fare much better. “We’re getting slower,” observes Commander Adama grimly after fatigue cascades into computer problems that in turn delay a faster-than-light jump out of harm’s way. The mistake almost subjects not just the battlestar but its consorts—mostly unarmed transports—to Cylon missile fire. Laments the weapons scientist and turncoat Gaius Baltar, “there are limits” beyond which human physiology can’t be pushed. It’s just a matter of time, observes Baltar, before the fleet’s defenders commit a fatal blunder.

And that’s the impact of wearisome tactics on a ship of war that appears amply stocked with manpower. Throughout most of its history, the U.S. Navy manned its ships under a similar philosophy, reasoning that it takes a surplus of manpower to fight a ship in combat. Combat means losses. Now imagine Cylon pinprick attacks’ impact on Galactica and her coterie were it “minimally manned”—that is, if every crewman were assigned multiple jobs, and if the vessels lacked any manpower reserve when (not if) battle damage and casualties occur.

In all likelihood, colonial commanders would have committed a final mistake sooner rather than later, as demands on crews mounted to unbearable proportions. Humanity’s end would have come with it.

This foray into sci-fi represents a roundabout way of proposing that personnel policy may constitute a U.S. Navy center of gravity. Late-model surface vessels—ranging from diminutive littoral combat ships to hulking Zumwalt-class destroyersand Ford-class aircraft carriers—are indeed minimally manned. The logic behind this approach is simple: U.S. defense budgets are stagnant, sailors are expensive. Ergo, substitute technology for people to save taxpayer dollars. The navy doesn’t have to pay, say, an automated firefighting or ammunition-loading system a salary or pension, or fund its health care. The leaner the crew, the greater the savings.

Now, minimal manning may make sense for routine peacetime steaming. Transiting from point A to point B on the nautical chart represents a steady-state environment, entailing predictable demands and few extra stresses to wear down crews. It’s worth noting, though, that every crewman shoulders lots of different duties for different situations—even during everyday operations. That’s true even of ships manned under the traditional, more generous personnel policy. The same sailor might help launch or recover aircraft, take on fuel or supplies from a logistics vessel, fight fires or flooding, and on and on, depending on what the ship’s doing at the time.

Capping the number of crewmen caps the supply of labor. That means automation must reduce the demand for labor enough to keep supply in sync with demand. Can it? Color me skeptical. It’s an open question whether enough shipboard tasks can be automated, wholly or partially, to sustain that balance. I served in a warship operated by half the manpower that operated it in its first life, during World War II. You can indeed reduce manpower by replacing sailors with gee-whiz technology—to a point. It worked for us, but there were times when the makers of Galactica could have cast our crew as characters in “33.” We were the walking dead.

But if minimal manning may suffice for peacetime operations, when no enemy is trying to turn American shortcomings to advantage, what about combat—an environment without a manageable, predictable rhythm? War unfolds not by peacetime cost-benefit logic but by its own paradoxical logic, the logic of unforeseen reversals of fortune. It’s a helter-skelter realm that comes complete with antagonists bent on enfeebling and defeating warriors and materiel.

“Redundancy” is the traditional antidote for battle damage and other emergencies. It imparts resiliency to a combat unit. In hardware terms, redundancy means furnishing a spare of everything you can—shipwrights installing duplicate machinery so that a vessel has an extra generator, pump, piping system, whatever. Lose one widget, and you put a duplicate in service. Excess capacity thus lets crews reroute around damage. It lets a unit sustain its fighting strength despite absorbing a pounding. Spare manpower serves the same purpose. It provides skippers replacements for those who fall in action. Individuals may be incapacitated; the ship as a whole fights on.

If you’re China and confront an antagonist that opts to do without redundancy, you can deploy a troublemaking strategy. You whittle away at the center of gravity manifest in minimal manning. The object of such a strategy? Tire and bewilder crews that may already be overworked. Fling a variety of challenges at them, along as many axes as you can, as simultaneously as you can. Give each crewman more to do than he can, on the Cylon-esque reasoning that imposing numerous, repeated contingencies compounds the demands on people and hardware. Such tactics constitute the precursor to a crushing blow—or to an American withdrawal under duress.

China’s navy, in short, could ape the Cylons’ strategy. In purely martial terms, posing missile, gun, and torpedo threats from many points of the compass from as many domains as possible—from the surface, the depths, and aloft—would compel a ship’s beleaguered defenders to cope with more challenges, perhaps, than they could manage. Flooding an embattled zone with China Coast Guard vessels, fishing craft, and purportedly civilian sea and air traffic—interspersing combat units among nonmilitary ships and planes—would further complicate U.S. commanders’ picture of the surroundings. It would be hard to act for fear of hitting the wrong target—and having pictures of an errant shot splashed across TV and computer screens around the world.

That’s a fate few captains relish. And Chinese commanders would doubtless deploy deceptive measures to make the campaign even more wearisome. To glimpse the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) mindset toward deception, dust off that old copy of Sun Tzu’s Art of War. Among other things, Book I of the Chinese masterwork instructs generals to “feign disorder,” “feign incapacity,” sow confusion among the enemy leadership, divide an enemy host and fall on the weaker fractions, and generally deploy “normal” and “extraordinary” forces in mercurial combinations to confound and weaken opponents. Such ideas find their way into contemporary works on PLA strategy.

Do all that, and a weaker but resolute China stands some chance of overcoming its brawnier foe. It could land a heavy hit or, failing that, simply outlast the foe. How to respond? First and foremost, the U.S. Navy should acknowledge—should grok, as sci-fi master Robert Heinlein might say—that a manpower deficit represents a grave weakness in a hot war. Taking the problem seriously constitutes the first step toward a solution.

Second, it should conscript some imaginative tacticians to play the “red team,” projecting how PLA forces might harness troublemaking strategies. Realistic wargames illuminate the contours of problems while hinting at workarounds.

Third, there may be no substitute for stationing sailors aboard American surface combatants in greater numbers. The service leadership already expanded the crew of littoral combat ships by 25 percent. That’s a welcome boost in percentage terms, but a 25 percent boost equates to just ten more seafarers. Exercises will show how many more mariners are needed, and what skills they should boast to bolster these vessels’ resiliency.

And lastly, the nation is poised to undergo a change of presidential administrations that will usher in a president inclinedto bulk up the U.S. Navy, along with a secretary of the navy reportedly inclined to agree. The next few months, then, represent the ideal time for the navy leadership to put the case for new policies—including less minimal manning—before a political leadership favorably disposed toward such policies.

Let’s hand them a sci-fi tract while we’re at it. Therein lies wisdom.

James Holmes is professor of strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific (second edition forthcoming 2018). The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

This article is being republished due to readers' interests.

Image: Reuters

Boeing vs. Lockheed Martin: How the X-32 Couldn't Win the F-35 Contract

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 11:00

Mark Episkopos

X-32 Fighter, United States

Despite their significantly different designs, the X-32’s performance was roughly in line with rival Lockheed’s Martin’s X-35 concept demonstrator.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The X-32 used the same, massive delta wing as the foundation for all of the three fighter variants mandated by the JSF program. The result was, by wide consensus, an exceedingly ugly-looking aircraft.

Over a decade after its introduction, the F-35 stealth fighter jet is among the most recognizable symbols of American airpower. And yet, the emergence of the F-35 as a technological standard bearer for the U.S. Air Force was anything but inevitable.

Here is the F-32 that could have been.

In 1993, the U.S. government launched the Common Affordable Lightweight Fighter project (CALF) to phase out a slew of older fighters— including the F-15 and F-16— and provide a cost-effective development platform for the next generation of U.S. fighter aircraft. CALF was rolled into the Joint Strike Fighter Program (JSF) in the following year, and the bidding phase ensued. Emerging as the front runners from the first selection round, Boeing and Lockheed Martin were both offered contracts to produce two concept demonstrator fighters.

With little flexibility on the Pentagon’s highly detailed checklist of features and specifications, Boeing sought to distinguish itself based on cost. To this end, the X-32 used the same, massive delta wing as the foundation for all of the three fighter variants mandated by the JSF program. The result was, by wide consensus, an exceedingly ugly-looking aircraft. There is some indication that Boeing planned big design changes for future models, including a sleeker delta wing and redesigned nose, but nevertheless: the X-32 demonstrator model’s bizarre aesthetic hardly did Boeing any favors.

Employing a direct-lift thrust vectoring system, the X-32 reached top speeds of just under Mach 1.6 . The X-32’s internal bay loadout supported six AMRAAM air-to-air missiles, or a combination of up to two air-to-air missiles and two bombs. Despite their significantly different designs, the X-32’s performance was roughly in line with rival Lockheed’s Martin’s X-35 concept demonstrator.

So, why didn’t the X-32 make the cut? For one, its direct lift system was prone to pop stalls, or severe malfunction caused by hot air being ingested into the engine. The government also expressed concerns as to whether the X-32’s engine was powerful enough to support its reported maximum take-off weight of 50,000 pounds.

Worse still, eight months into the competition, the JSF’s aerodynamic requirements were revised at the behest of the Navy. Boeing engineers managed to make some slight changes to the tail, but it was too late to meaningfully redesign the delta wing to fully comport with the new JSF guidelines.

Despite its cost-cutting strategy, Boeing wound up building two prototypes, each demonstrating different aspects of the JSF’s specifications guidelines: a conventional-flight model demonstrating supersonic performance, and an X-32B short take-off and vertical landing (STOVL) variant. Boeing insisted that these features will be unified with the serial F-32, but its rival X-35 demonstrator model was already capable of doing both. Vertical take-off/landing capability was a core pillar of the JSF guidelines, and the Pentagon simply did not buy into Boeing’s vision for STOVL integration.

The Lockheed Martin X-35 was formally declared the winner over Boeing’s X-32 in 2001. In hindsight, it’s difficult to gauge whether or not the DoD made the right decision. From rampant budget concerns to the implicit technical challenges of implementing cutting-edge technologies like sensor fusion, it’s highly likely that Boeing would have encountered broadly similar problems as to those that have plagued the F-35 program for the past decade.

Boeing, for its part, has taken the loss in stride, describing the X-32’s R&D process as a “strategic investment” that paid off during subsequent work done on the F/A-18E/F Super Hornet fighter and X-45A drone.

Mark Episkopos is the new national security reporter for the National Interest. This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Meet the M1 Carbine: America’s Answer to the German StG44

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 10:30

Caleb Larson

M1, Americas

An estimated 6 million plus units were built before the carbine was retired—a pretty good service record for a somewhat underpowered plinker.

Here's What You Need to Know: As a carbine, the M1 was much more compact than the full-sized M1 Garand.

During the Second World War, the shortcoming to most countries’ standard-issue rifles became apparent. Most European and American military rifles were chambered for cartridges that were quite high-powered and not practical for the closer range that firefights normally occurred at. The United States’ service rifle during World War II was the venerable American M1 Garand, and was chambered in the powerful .30-06 round. In the hands of a skilled shooter, accurate shooting was possible past 500 yards.

However, most firefights, especially in the Pacific Theatre, took place at 300 yards or less. The M1 was both too long and too heavy, and a common troop complaint was a lack of maneuverability when using the weapon. While the Soviet Union issued the lower-powered SKS rifle, and Germany the StG44 assault rifle to give troops more firepower at these ranges, the United States also issued troops a more compact, less powerful weapon: the M1 Carbine.

.30 Carbine

The M1 Carbine was built around the .30 Carbine round. The cartridge was essentially a copy of a much older cartridge designed by Winchester around the turn of the century, though the .30 Carbine had superior performance thanks to the use of updated propellant.

Though sometimes criticized as under-powered, the .30 Carbine cartridge fell roughly in between the M1 Garand’s .30-06 cartridge and the .45 ACP cartridge used in the familiar Thompson submachine gun. Still, the .30 Carbine is easily outperformed by both the Russian AK-47 and the German StG44 assault rifles.

M1 Carbine

As a carbine, the M1 was much more compact than the full-sized M1 Garand. Initially it was issued with a folding wire stock to paratroopers, and with a fully wooden stock to artillery troops, mortarmen, drivers, other support troops, and infantry riflemen, though it was not originally intended to fill this front-line role in the same way that the M1 Garand or Thompson submachine gun did.

The carbine’s geometry was praised. It was much more maneuverable in tight urban spaces and could be more easily handled in claustrophobic jungle environments than the M1. The carbine’s small size and low weight was favored especially by soldiers or Marines that handled crew-served weapons and had to carry tripods, machine gun ammunition, or mortar parts in addition to their rifle.

One of the carbine’s main drawbacks was its relatively modest stopping power compared to the full-sized M1 Garand which easily outclassed the smallish .30 Carbine round. A number of both Army and Marine Corps post-action combat reports document instances of enemy soldiers sustaining multiple hits with the M1 Carbine before being stopped.

In response to the Germany issuing the StG44 assault rifle in ever-increasing numbers, the M1 was modified to shoot fully automatically in addition to semi-automatic, augmenting the individual rifleman’s firepower.

Postscript

Post-war, the United States exported the M1 Carbine broadly to allies in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia. In America’s own military, the M1 would serve in some capacity until replaced in the mid-1960s by the M16 rifle. An estimated 6 million plus units were built before the carbine was retired—a pretty good service record for a somewhat underpowered plinker.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

This article first appeared in June 2020.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

How Much Longer Will the Air Force Fly the F-15C Strike Eagle?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 10:00

Mark Episkopos

F-15C, United States

The iconic F-15 variant has an important mission, but is seeing rising costs and becoming more difficult to maintain.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The F-15C is an improved variant of the iconic McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, introduced in 1979. By 1985, around 480 F-15C units were built.

Almost fifty years since its introduction, the F-15 platform has set yet another record.

An F-15C Eagle executed the longest known air-to-air missile shot in March 2021, according to a press statement issued earlier this week by the 53rd Wing of the U.S. Air Force (USAF). “An F-15C Eagle fired an AIM-120 AMRAAM at a BQM-167 subscale drone, resulting in a “kill” of the aerial target from the furthest distance ever recorded,” the statement read. 

“This test effort supported requests from the CAF for ‘long range kill chain’ capabilities,” said Maj. Aaron Osborne, 28th TES. “Key partnerships within the 53rd Wing enabled the expansion of capabilities on a currently fielded weapons system, resulting in warfighters gaining enhanced weapons employment envelopes.” The statement added that the test in question was conducted “at a relatively low cost, showcasing innovation and directly supporting the 2018 [National Defense Strategy’s] calls for increased lethality and affordability.”

The press release does not specify what the new record is. The F-15 platform previously broke as many as eight world-time-to-climb records. The fighter is likewise among the world’s most successful air-to-air combat platforms, achieving an impressive 104 recorded kills while reportedly never having been shot down over the course of air-to-air combat. 

The F-15C is an improved variant of the iconic McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle air superiority fighter, introduced in 1979; by 1985, around 480 F-15C units were built. The F-15C upgrade package initially added expanded internal fuel, an improved central computer, and more robust weapons compatibility. The F-15C supports air-to-air missiles from the AIM-7, AIM-9 Sidewinder, and AIM-120 AMRAAM series spread across nine hardpoints with a total payload capacity of up to 7,300 kilograms. As with its F-14 Tomcat counterpart, The F-15C also carries the M61 Vulcan 20-millimeter Gatling gun.

Although the F-22 Raptor is considered by many to be the best air superiority technology available, there simply aren’t enough F-22 jets to fulfill USAF’s robust rotation commitments across Pacific, European, and Middle-Eastern theaters. This is why USAF’s fleet of around two hundred F-15C/D’s remains a core component of American air superiority capabilities—these fighters continue to be upgraded in order to maintain their battlefield relevance to the present day. Later F-15C models came with an improved engine and, more recently, the AN/APG-63(V)3 AESA radar. It was likewise reported that a certain number of F-15C jets are being fitted with infrared search and track systems. 

Still, the USAF is aware that the aging F-15 Eagle platform is getting increasingly more cost-ineffective to maintain and operate. The pace of upgrades has slowed significantly in recent years, with the service ordering a 47 percent cut to the number of F-15C fighter aircraft eligible for modernization.

The Air Force is reviewing plans to retire the F-15C/D fleet around the mid-2020s, though a final decision has yet to be made. The proposal’s supporters argue that the F-16 Fighting Falcon can reproduce much of the capabilities of an F-15C jet at a lower cost. 

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for The National Interest. This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

The Glock 22's Gen5 Upgrades Keep this Pistol Relevant

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 09:30

Mark Episkopos

Glock 22 Gen5, United States

The Gen5 Glock 22 is available in two variants: the baseline model, and the Modular Optic System (MOS) variant that adds compatibility with popular aftermarket optics solutions

Here's What You Need To Remember: Gen5’s slew of small-but-thoughtful changes quickly add up to produce a more formidable Glock 22 that’s not only more accurate but offers better handling and improved durability.

One of America’s most popular service handguns, the Glock 22 got even better in 2020 with the vaunted Gen5 upgrade.  

First introduced in 1990, the Glock 22 is a .40 S&W version of the iconic Glock 17. The .40 Smith & Wesson round was designed specifically for law enforcement in 1990, following the infamous 1986 Miami Shootout in which eight FBI agents were outgunned by just two robbers. The Glock 22 became one of the first mass-produced .40 S&W guns, widely adopted by police departments across the United States. Their visual similarities notwithstanding, the Glock 22 employs a slightly different frame from the Glock 17 to account for its heavier .40 S&W rounds. It also carries two less rounds, for a total of fifteen as opposed to the Glock 17’s seventeen. The baseline Glock 22 is only slightly heavier than the Glock 17 but boasts an identical barrel length and trigger pull.  

In the decades that followed, Glock released a steady stream of revisionsdubbed “generations”to keep pace with competitors. The informal second generation brought minor frame revisions and caliber options for certain models; Gen3 was a more comprehensive upgrade package, offering numerous ergonomics updates in addition to a universal accessory rail for mounting such tools as lights or lasers. Introduced in 2010, the Gen4 revision featured a new backstrap system and Rough Textured Frame (RTF) surface for additional grip support, among other quality of life improvements.

The Glock 22, along with its smaller Glock 23 counterpart, was recently upgraded to the Gen4 standard. But in 2020, the Glock 22 made the leap to Gen5Glock’s latest handgun platform. Gen5 brings nDLC  (diamond-like carbon) coating for added protection against scratches and corrosion, the new  GLOCK Marksman Barrel (GMB) with superior rifling, flared magwell for more streamlined reloads, ambidextrous slide stop, smoother and more ergonomic trigger design, and the removal of finger grooves to better accommodate all possible hand sizes.

The Gen5 Glock 22 is available in two variants: the baseline model, and the Modular Optic System (MOS) variant that adds compatibility with popular aftermarket optics solutions. The Gen5 iteration of the Glock 22 has little interchangeability with prior models.  

Not terribly impactful by themselves, Gen5’s slew of small-but-thoughtful changes quickly add up to produce a more formidable Glock 22 that’s not only more accurate but offers better handling and improved durability. Nevertheless, the .40 S&W caliber’s popularity has declined precipitously in recent years; even the FBI, which originally commissioned the round, has stopped using it, returning instead to higher-capacity, softer-shooting, and more compact 9mm guns. Although too unwieldy for law enforcement, the 10-millimeter caliber has recently resurfaced as an increasingly popular option for consumers (especially some hunters) who want the stopping power and don’t mind the recoil.

The Gen5 upgrade breathes much-needed new life into Glock’s .40 S&W range, but it likely won’t be enough to reverse the .40 S&W ongoing downwards spiral in the consumer and law enforcement markets. 

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.

This piece first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being reprinted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

Russia Has Plans for a New Fleet Focused on the Arctic

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 09:00

Mark Episkopos

Russian Arctic Fleet, arctic

Moscow has expressed concerns that the United States is seeking to ramp up its military presence along the Northern Sea Route with airpower and submarines.

Here's What You Need to Know: A new Russian fleet, exclusively dedicated to guaranteeing the integrity of the Northern Sea Route, could help to streamline the duties of Russia’s other fleets, making for more effective and resource-efficient deployment rotations across the Navy.

Russia’s military is reviewing plans to create a new fleet, according to sources within the Navy.  

“The Russian Arctic Fleet, a new structure, is under consideration,” a Navy source told Russia’s TASS state news outlet. “It will be a separate formation within the Navy, and its responsibility will be to ensure the safety of the Northern Sea Route and the Arctic coast in the area of responsibility of the Northern and Pacific fleets.”

The source added that the Arctic Fleet is intended to complement, not replace, the existing Northern Fleet. “The plan is that the infrastructure of the new association will be separate from the Northern and Pacific fleets,” the source told Tass. “In the future, it will have ships and special equipment suitable for the Arctic. The Northern Sea Route is a shipping route spanning Russia’s Arctic coast, stretching from the Kara Sea to the Bering Strait.  

This news remains uncorroborated and unconfirmed by the Russian government as of the time of writing. Nevertheless, TASS has distinguished itself in prior years as a generally reliable source of information on Russia’s military and defense industry.  

Russia’s Navy currently consists of the Baltic, Pacific, and Black Sea fleets, as well as the Caspian Flotilla. A new fleet, exclusively dedicated to guaranteeing the integrity of the Northern Sea Route, could help to streamline the duties of Russia’s other fleets, making for more effective and resource-efficient deployment rotations across the Navy. It is unclear to what extent the Arctic Fleet will be constituted through hardware transfers from other fleets, as opposed to brand new equipment. It also remains to be seen how big this prospective fleet will be, given its relatively modest role.

Moscow has expressed concerns that the United States, which is reportedly planning to build six new icebreaker ships through 2029, seeks to ramp up its military presence along the Northern Sea Route with airpower and submarines. Russian observers reacted with alarm to the recent flight of three U.S. B-2 stealth bombers from the Whiteman Air Force Base in Missouri to the Keflavik Air Base in Iceland, the first such deployment since 2006. “The Americans are forcing Russia to increase its military spending and spend more resources on ensuring the military security of the Northern Sea Route,” said retired Lt. Col. Vladimir Ovchinnikov. “However, I think that these expenses will be justified. The traffic of goods through Russia's Arctic ports has grown this year.” Discussions around a prospective Arctic Fleet signal the Kremlin’s renewed resolve to secure its maritime interests against the perceived threat of NATO encroachment.  

Russia has steadily built up its Arctic military posture in recent years with bases, weapons installations, and other military infrastructure along the country’s northern coastline and adjacent territories. “Russia is refurbishing Soviet-era airfields and radar installations, constructing new ports and search-and-rescue centers, and building up its fleet of nuclear- and conventionally-powered icebreakers,” Lt. Col. Thomas Campbell told CNN. Russia’s military also has taken steps to integrate large swathes of the Arctic into its sprawling air/missile defense network, installing S-400 “Triumf” and S-300P missile systems on the Novaya Zemlya Archipelago to Russia’s north.  

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest.

This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

Great Britain Bought F-35s, But Is Still Developing the Tempest Fighter

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 08:30

Mark Episkopos

Tempest Stealth Fighter, Europe

As the Tempest project moves further along in the development stage, the fate of the UK’s massive F-35 jet procurement plans hangs in the balance.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Tempest project is betting big on future-oriented experimental avionics systems, with BAE Systems working on a “wearable cockpit” interface that replaces both analog and digital inputs with augmented reality (AR) display, supported by an integrated network of artificial intelligence (AI) features.

London is doubling down on plans to indigenously produce its upcoming BAE Systems Tempest jet fighter, a next-generation successor to the United Kingdom’s Eurofighter Typhoon fleet. In a March 2021 Command Paper to Parliament, the British Ministry of Defense (MOD) reiterated that the Tempest fighter will be a major procurement priority into the coming decades. “Tempest will exploit our unique industrial base to create a 6th generation combat air enterprise centred in the UK,” the paper reads. “This fully digital enterprise will transform delivery, achieving pace and lowering cost and disrupting traditional approaches to defence procurement.”

The Tempest project’s current partners include Italy and Sweden. The government, which has always been clear that the financial solvency of the Tempest project hinges on securing a steady stream of foreign investment, is also currently exploring partnership opportunities with Japan.

As with most other next-generation fighters, the Tempest fighter will offer its own form of sensor fusion. The fighter’s ambitious Tempest’s Multi-Function Radio Frequency System (MFRFS) data collection protocols will be “four times as accurate as existing sensors in a package 1/10th the size,” according to defense contractor and Tempest partner Leonardo. The MFRFS will filter the battlefield information it collects through its onboard processor suite, generating a dynamic picture of the battlefield that can include everything from enemy movements to terrain layout. Like the F-35 jet, the Tempest fighter can also act as a flying command and control center by feeding some of that information to nearby friendly units. The Tempest project is betting big on future-oriented experimental avionics systems, with BAE Systems working on a “wearable cockpit” interface that replaces both analog and digital inputs with augmented reality (AR) display, supported by an integrated network of artificial intelligence (AI) features.

The Tempest’s project’s preoccupation with unorthodox prototype technologies extends to its weapons loadout. At a Rome seminar on missile defense, Italy’s General Enzo Vecciarelli suggested that the Tempest fighter could incorporate directed-energy weapons to counter hypersonic missiles. “On Tempest there will be a large amount of energy available and I don’t rule out the use of directed energy,” Vecciarelli said. It was previously confirmed that the Tempest fighter will also carry hypersonic missiles of its own, in addition to being able to operate drone swarms.

As the Tempest project moves further along in the development stage, the fate of the UK’s massive F-35 jet procurement plans hangs in the balance. As a “Level 1” partner in the F-35 program, London previously stated it will purchase as many as 138 units of Lockheed Martin’s fifth-generation stealth fighter. London, however, has so far only ordered forty-eight F-35 jet fighters. The MOD says it plans to “grow the [F-35] Force, increasing the fleet size beyond the 48 aircraft that we have already ordered,” but is dragging its feet on whether or not it remains committed to an acquisition target of 138 F-35 fighters.

The Tempest fighter is projected to reach Initial Operating Capability (IOC) by 2035.

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for The National Interest.

This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

Just How Deadly Were Nazi Germany's Anti-Tank Rifles?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 08:00

Caleb Larson

Anti-Tank Weapons, Europe

The guns were quickly made obsolete.

Here's What You Need to Know: Though the gun used some pretty unique ammunition, it lacked stopping power—an essential requirement for an anti-tank gun.

The advent of the tank in 1916 during the First World War spurred the development of anti-tank warfare. Large-sized landmines were a static defense that depended on successfully estimating what paths through no-man’s land tanks would use—a pure guessing-game. Field artillery was another possible solution, though getting big guns to accurately bear down on armor proved to be difficult. Something more mobile was needed—an anti-tank rifle.

During that war, the Germany Army took a page out of African big-game hunter’s books and started issuing the enormous T-Gewehr to troops as a stopgap measure for taking out British armor, making the T-Gewehr the world’s first anti-tank rifle.

Though the rifle was moderately successful at harassing or killing tank crews when initially issued, improvements in British and French armor later in the war made the T-Gewehr and its massive 13.2 millimeter TuF round obsolete. After Germany’s World War I defeat and the post-war restrictions imposed by the victorious allies via the Versailles Treaty, further development of both the T-Gewehr and the TuF round were halted.

New War, New Rifle

In the 1930s, Germany went to the drawing board once again in hopes of creating a better anti-tank rifle. To that end, the 7.92×94mm round was used. The round itself was rather unique. Using a steel core, the round was intended to penetrate tank armor, though the bullet’s small diameter was unlikely to result in much damage to the tank.

Rather, the bullet was intended to make tankers evacuate. Just behind the steel core, a small tear gas capsule was incorporated into the bullet. If all went according to plan, the capsule would be deposited inside the tank, and the ensuing gas cloud would force the tank crew to bail.

It didn’t work as intended. The bullet had insufficient penetration power for all but the thinnest of armor, and the capsule could not reliably be delivered into a tank. Later rounds eliminated the capsule and exchanged the steel core for a tungsten carbide penetrator, improving somewhat better penetration.

Panzerbüchse 38/39

The Panzerbüchse 38 and 39 were similar single-shot rifles, both built to fire the 7.92×94mm round. The improvements to the Panzerbüchse 38, an unwieldy 35-pound rifle, resulted in the lighter Panzerbüchse 39. Since the rifles were single-shot, two 10-shot cases were carried next to the breech to allow shooters to more quickly reload.

Regardless, both rifles lacked sufficient penetrating power, even with improved tungsten-carbide ammunition. Their shortcomings evident, the rifles were reassigned rifle grenade duty. In this capacity, the rifles could fire anti-personnel and both light and heavy anti-armor grenades using a purpose-built wooden bullet.

Though both the Panzerbüchse 38 and Panzerbüchse 39 had been produced in much higher numbers than their T-Gewehr predecessor, they were quickly made obsolete just a couple years after their introduction thanks to improvements in armor protection.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

This article first appeared in June 2020.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Is South Korea’s K2 Black Panther Tank Worth the High Price Tag?

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 07:30

Mark Episkopos

K2 Black Panther, South Korea

The K2 features a variety of design improvements. These include a sophisticated fire control system, linked with shot stabilization technology to optimize accuracy in the uneven terrain.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Where the K2 distinguishes itself from many of its contemporaries is in its forward-looking munitions choices. In addition to the standard MBT catalog of high-explosive rounds and kinetic energy penetrators, the K2 features Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition (KSTAM) top-attack rounds.

South Korea’s K2 Black Panther is, by most measures, the most expensive main battle tank (MBT) in the world. As one of only a handful of currently-serving fourth-generation MBTs, it is also among the most sophisticated. 

In the 1990s, Seoul set out to procure a next-generation MBT. The South Korean Army’s K1 series of tanks is already markedly superior to its decrepit, outdated North Korean counterparts, but the procurement has value as a long-term investment with a potential export windfall.  

The initial batch of K2 tanks rolled out in 2014, making South Korea one of the first and only owners of a fourth-generation MBT—second only to Japan’s introduction of the Type 10 MBT in 2012.  

The tank weighs fifty-five tons and is meant to be powered by the domestically-produced Doosan 1,500 horsepower engine, outputting a top speed of seventy kilometers per hour. 

Earlier K2 units boasted an unmanned turret scheme similar to Russia’s T-14 Armata, but the serial production model features a more traditional manned turret design. The main armament is a Hyundai 120mm smoothbore gun, with a forty-round ammunition capacity and autoloader capability. Where the K2 distinguishes itself from many of its contemporaries is in its forward-looking munitions choices. In addition to the standard MBT catalog of high-explosive rounds and kinetic energy penetrators, the K2 features Korean Smart Top-Attack Munition (KSTAM) top-attack rounds. These munitions, available in two variants-- the KSTAM-I and KSTAM-II-- are fired in a high trajectory with a range of eight km. The munition deploys a parachute mid-flight, firing an explosive penetrator downwards at a tank’s vulnerable top armor. 

The K2 features a variety of design improvements suited for pitched engagements in the Korean Peninsula. These include a sophisticated fire control system, linked with shot stabilization technology to optimize accuracy in the uneven terrain. The Black Panther also boasts impressive fording capability, being able to traverse waters as deep as four meters, as well as a suspension system allowing the chassis to make dynamic profile adjustments for added maneuverability in rough or terrain.  

South Korea’s venture into cutting-edge tank production has not been without growing pains. It was reported last year that South Korea outfitted its third K2 batch with a German transmission system, despite Seoul’s longstanding efforts to transition to an indigenous supply chain. In the 2010s, concerns over the reliability of a domestically-made transmission system slowed the pace of K2 deliveries to South Korea’s Armed Forces. 

Transmission system woes have also cast a pall over Seoul’s ambitious export plans. South Korea has aggressively staked out a market share for the K2, starting with a 2008 technology transfer and design assistance agreement with Turkey. The deal, worth $540 million, faced an uncertain fate following engine and transmission system-related delays. Nevertheless, the K2 continues to attract foreign interest—Warsaw announced that it had entered into negotiations with Hyundai for a K2 licensed production deal, while the Norwegian Army is currently deciding whether to sign a contract for the K2 or Germany’s Leopard 2A7V.  

At $8.5 million per model, the K2 is widely regarded as the most expensive currently-serving tank in the world. Still, the Black Panther arguably provides meaningful performance value for its price, and—with the notable exception of the T-14 Armata—is not terribly out of step with the costs of other fourth-generation MBTs. It remains to be seen whether or not South Korea’s big-ticket bet on next-generation tank technology pays off militarily and financially, but one thing is clear: the K2 is one of the most capable MBTs in service today.  

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for the National Interest. 

This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikipedia.

Need for Speed: Naval Warfare Demands Fast-Paced Technologies

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 07:00

Kris Osborn

U.S. Navy Lasers, Americas

It's like what CNO Adm. Michael Gilday said: "Speed matters." 

Here's What You Need to Remember: Also, lasers could, in some instances, enable surface warships to encroach on enemy positions given that deck-mounted guns could be supplemented by laser weapons capable of attacking at the speed of light and pinpointing narrow target areas with precision-guidance technology.

The Navy is moving quickly to arm its growing fleet of destroyers with a variety of scalable, high-powered lasers intended to incinerate enemy drones, helicopters and fixed-wing targets. These destroyers will intercept incoming anti-ship missiles and even perform surveillance optics and targeting for ship-mounted weapons systems. 

Ship-fired lasers can introduce an entirely new, and highly impactful, tactical advantage to U.S. Navy warship offensive and defensive operations. Of course, they cost less than expensive interceptor missiles but they are also inherently scalable, meaning they can be tailored to either disable or destroy targets. 

Should an incoming enemy anti-ship missile be traveling over heavily trafficked ocean areas, then a kinetic “explosion” dispersing fragments would likely cause civilian casualties. A laser weapon, however, can simply incinerate the target with much less fragmentation and explosive “energetics.” 

The Navy is integrating on its ships a laser system called HELIOS, an acronym that stands for High-Energy Laser with Optical-dazzler and Surveillance. It has added the system to DDG-51 destroyers, which can use the offensive and defensive weapons capability. Lasers like HELIOS provide these destroyers with a substantial optical component, meaning they can act as a sensor to track targets and help with necessary surveillance missions. Also, lasers could, in some instances, enable surface warships to encroach on enemy positions given that deck-mounted guns could be supplemented by laser weapons capable of attacking at the speed of light and pinpointing narrow target areas with precision-guidance technology.

Speed is increasingly vital to ocean warfare. New technologies are entering the sphere of Naval warfare all the time, greatly changing the tactical equation. That is why the Navy’s much-discussed Distributed Maritime Operations calls for a more dispersed, yet networked fleet able to leverage a new generation of long-range sensors and weapons. 

Modern Maritime warfare, as described in the U.S. Navy’s recently released Chief of Naval Operations Navigation Plan strategy document, is becoming increasingly dispersed, networked and driven by new levels of artificial-intelligence-enabled autonomy.

“Ubiquitous and persistent sensors, advanced battle networks, and weapons of increasing range and speed have driven us to a more dispersed type of fight . . . keeping ahead of our competitors requires us to rapidly field state-of-the-art systems,” CNO Adm. Michael Gilday noted in the document. “Speed matters.”

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. 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. 

This article is being reprinted for reader interest.

Image: Flickr

These Tools Make Israel's Air Force One of the Middle East's Best

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 06:30

Kyle Mizokami

Israeli Air Force, Middle East

The IAF has been instrumental in Israel’s defense for decades. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: At total mobilization, the IAF enjoys a comfortable ratio of 91 personnel for every one aircraft, far above the Egyptian Air Force’s 30 to one ratio and the Royal Saudi Air Force’s 38 to one.

The Israeli Air Force was founded on May 28, 1948, exactly two weeks after the founding of the State of Israel. A motley force of veteran World War II pilots and obsolete aircraft, it has matured into one of the most powerful air forces in the world.

The Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been instrumental in Israel’s defense, providing air superiority over Israel, close air support over Israeli ground forces, and performing strikes against targets deep in the enemy’s homeland. Over the past three decades it has also taken on a counterterrorism role, using airstrikes to assassinate terrorist leaders and destroy caches of weapons from the Tunis to the Sudan.

The IAF has an estimated 648 aircraft of all types, manned and serviced by 35,000 active duty personnel. An additional 24,500 reservists can be called up during wartime. At total mobilization, the IAF enjoys a comfortable ratio of 91 personnel for every one aircraft, far above the Egyptian Air Force’s 30 to one ratio and the Royal Saudi Air Force’s 38 to one.

F-15A/C Baz (“Falcon”)

Israel received its first F-15 Eagle fighters as part of the “Peace Fox” program. Four F-15As—the precursor to the F-15C—were delivered on December 10, 1976. At the time, Israeli Defense Forces Chief of Staff Mordecai Gur said of the fighter, “A state with F-15s no longer resembles a state without them.” Israel would eventually be equipped with 58 F-15 fighters.

A lot was riding on the F-15, which the IAF anticipated would give Israel air supremacy over its territory and air superiority over the entire Middle East. They weren’t wrong. On June 2nd 1979, six F-15s escorting air strikes against the PLO in Lebanon shot down five MiG-21s in a single engagement. In September, four more MiG-21s were lost to F-15s. Between 1976 and the end of the 1982 Lebanon war, Israeli F-15s shot down 58 enemy planes with zero losses.

Israeli F-15A fighters have been progressively upgraded to the F-15C standard. Israeli F-15 Baz fighters continue to provide air superiority for Israel. Baz fighters would undoubtedly fly top cover for any Israeli air strikes against Iran.

F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”)

Israel’s version of the F-15E Strike Eagle, the F-15I Ra’am is a multi-mission aircraft capable of air superiority and strike missions. Israel announced its intention to procure the Ra’am in 1994, a result of its lack of long-range strike aircraft capable of hunting down Iraqi Scud missiles during the 1991 Gulf War.

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Twenty five Ra’am fighters were purchased, with deliveries completed by 1998. Air to air armament includes short-range Python missiles and medium-range AMRAAM missiles. Air to ground armament includes laser guided bombs, Joint Directed Attack Munitions, and Popeye missiles. Israeli modifications include an electronic warfare suite, GPS, communications, the helmet display system and a data collection and transfer system.

In the event of an Israeli air strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, the 25 Ra’am fighters will be tasked with striking Iran’s farthest and most heavily defended targets.

F-16I Sufa (“Storm”)

The F-16I Sufa is a derivative of the F-16 Block 52 multirole fighter. A two seat fighter also capable of strike missions, it is probably best described as “Ra’am Lite.”

Like other F-16 Block 52 fighters, the F-16I includes conformal fuel tanks added to the fuselage to increase range. Israeli technology on the Sufa includes the heads-up display, satellite communications, and the Litening II targeting and navigation pod. Armament includes the Python 5 short-range air to air missile, laser guided bombs, and JDAM satellite guided bombs.

Israel is thought to have 99-100 Sufa fighters. Israel also has 243 older F-16 A/B/C fighters, making Israel’s F-16 force the largest outside of the U.S. Air Force. In any Israeli attack on Iran, the F-16I fighters will likely fulfill two roles: first knocking out Iran’s air defenses and then supplementing the F-15I in striking targets on the ground.

AH-64 Seraph (“Winged Serpent”)

The Israeli Army is equipped with 42 AH-64A Apache attack helicopters. The “A” model is the original Apache helicopter, quite a bit older than the U.S. Army’s newest AH-64E Guardian. The AH-64As were purchased in the late 1980s, making the oldest at least 25 years old.

The Seraph has been used in anti-terrorism campaigns and recent conflicts, providing a hovering surveillance platform capable of executing its own anti-personnel strikes. Israel has used the Seraph to conduct strikes in urban areas, against terrorist targets hiding among civilian populations. The Seraph has assassinated Hamas and Hezbollah leaders, and provided fire support to ground forces in the wars against Hezbollah in 2006 and Hamas in 2008 and 2014.

Israel embarked on a program to modernize the electronics of its A models, bringing them to an “AH-61Ai” standard. This is alleged to be the equivalent of modernizing them to the more recent AH-64D standard. The upgrades include new electronic warfare, anti-missile protection systems, battle management and communications systems. The AH-64i is armed with the Spike long-range air to ground missile system.

Jericho III Intercontinental Ballistic Missile:

The Jericho III is the third missile to serve as Israel’s land-based nuclear deterrent. The Jericho III is believed to have a range between 4,800 and 6,000 kilometers, and is capable of carrying a 1,000 kilogram warhead payload. A range of 4,800 kilometers would enable it to strike from Morocco to eastern India, while an 6,500 kilometer range would enable it to target as far as western China.

The missile is reportedly solid-fueled, meaning it can be launched with minimum preparation, and reportedly based in silos capable of resisting attack. The Jericho III, as well as the older generation Jericho II missiles, may be based at Palmachim Air Base.

Jericho III is believed to carry a single nuclear warhead or three low-yield multiple independently targetable reentry vehicles. The precise yield of Israel’s ICBM warheads is unknown but unconfirmed reports peg them at 20 kilotons. By way of comparison, the atomic bomb dropped on Hiroshima was 16 kilotons.

Kyle Mizokami is a 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.

This article first appeared several years ago and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

Chinese Dominance in the South China Sea Is Unacceptable

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 06:00

James Holmes

South China Sea, South China Sea, China, United States

Global prosperity hinges on freedom of navigation.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The CCP is not seeking an empire in the South China Sea, strictly speaking. An empire exercises dominion over foreign territories from an imperial center. Beijing wants far more than a maritime empire. It covets ownership.

It feels like 2014 again. That’s when it came to light that the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) had embarked on a seemingly quixotic project: manufacturing islands out of reefs and atolls in the South China Sea and then fortifying them to extend its sway vis-à-vis Southeast Asian rivals impertinent enough to insist on their maritime rights. The region was a fixture in headlines that year and into the next while Washington and Beijing traded barbs accusing each other of “militarizing” the situation.

This week the Trump administration renewed the controversy, issuing a revised “U.S. Position on Maritime Claims in the South China Sea.” In the key paragraph Secretary of State Mike Pompeo proclaimed that “the world will not allow Beijing to treat the South China Sea as its maritime empire. America stands with our Southeast Asian allies and partners in protecting their sovereign rights to offshore resources, consistent with their rights and obligations under international law. We stand with the international community in defense of freedom of the seas and respect for sovereignty and reject any push to impose ‘might makes right’ in the South China Sea or the wider region.”

Now, empire is a freighted word for sure. Communist China defines itself in opposition to European and Japanese imperialism, a scourge CCP leaders decry for inflicting a “century of humiliation” on Asia’s leading power. Unsurprisingly, then, China’s embassy in Washington DC leapt to deny Pompeo’s accusation.

And indeed, the CCP is not seeking an empire in the South China Sea, strictly speaking. An empire exercises dominion over foreign territories from an imperial center. Beijing wants far more than a maritime empire. It covets ownership. It wants to make the South China Sea what Romans once called the Mediterranean Sea—namely mare liberum, or “our sea.”

CCP magnates make no effort to conceal their aims. Since 2009, in fact, officialdom has frankly and regularly avowed that its paramount goal is “indisputable sovereignty” within a “nine-dashed line” enclosing the vast majority of the South China Sea. This is an extravagant claim. Think about what sovereignty is. A sovereign government exercises a monopoly on the use of armed force within borders inscribed on the map. It ordains and others obey. The law of the sea, which proscribes national ownership of maritime space—with few, specific, and narrowly drawn exceptions, none of which justify Beijing’s claims—will be no more in the South China Sea if Xi Jinping & Co. get their way.

The waters and land features within the nine-dashed line will be Chinese territory.

And an awful precedent will have been set. Surrendering the South China Sea would embolden other coastal states to repeal the law of the sea by fiat if they felt strongly about offshore seas and possessed sufficient physical might to enforce their will. Hence Secretary Pompeo’s warning against letting the primeval principle that might makes right—that the strong seize what they want in international affairs and the weak accommodate themselves to the strong—prevail.

Freedom of the sea is a pressing interest for the United States and any seafaring society. It should be nonnegotiable.

But there are reasons apart from international law why Americans should care whether the Chinese Communist Party rules a faraway expanse of which they know little. First, access. As Alfred Thayer Mahan pointed out a century ago, the paramount goal of maritime strategy is to ensure commercial, diplomatic, and military access to important trading regions such as East Asia. Commerce is king. Military access assures political access assures commercial access and the blessings trade brings. At the same time access is a crucial enabler for maritime strategy. Commerce generates wealth sufficient to fund a navy to protect commerce. Acquiescing in Beijing’s maritime claims would encumber freedom of movement for merchantmen and warships—threatening to interrupt this virtuous cycle and hurt American prosperity.

It’s never a good time to put prosperity at hazard. Doing so in a pandemic year—a year rife with economic uncertainty—would amount to strategic malpractice. What happens in Southeast Asia has direct implications for Americans.

Second, geopolitics. If U.S. foreign policy has aimed at securing commercial access since the age of Mahan, it also aims at keeping the “rimlands” of East Asia and Western Europe from falling under the dominion of some hostile power or alliance. North America occupies a fortunate geographic position, buffered against Eurasian enmities by the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. If some geopolitical competitor unified one of the rimlands under its rule, however, it might wrest away martial resources sufficient to reach out across the ocean and do the United States harm in its own hemisphere.

To keep the rimlands fragmented among competing powers and hold danger at bay, U.S. diplomats and seafarers have to be able to get to the rimlands. Consequently, the U.S. Navy, affiliated joint forces, and allied military services must rule what geopolitics sage Nicholas Spykman termed the “girdle of marginal seas” adjoining the Eurasian perimeter. The South China Sea figures prominently among these marginal waterways—and thus to America’s rimlands strategy. Washington cannot let it go.

And third, friends and allies. The United States has no strategic position in the Western Pacific without local partners and the harbors and bases they supply. It must keep its commitments to treaty allies such as the Philippine Islands lest they resign themselves to Chinese Communist supremacy and close their soil to U.S. forces. America could find itself locked out of the region. Its commercially and geopolitically driven foreign policy would falter as a result. Manila is a primary target of CCP abuse in the South China Sea, having seen waters apportioned to it under the law of the sea purloined by China’s maritime militia, coast guard, and navy. Deterring new aggression while reversing past transgressions must be central to U.S. strategy.

Clearly, then, failing to honor longstanding security guarantees to the Philippines and other allies would place U.S. foreign policy and strategy in jeopardy in manifold ways. If Americans prefer a world of wealth and safety, they have ample reason to take an interest in Southeast Asian affairs. Abandoning the region to a Roman fate risks sacrificing our own future.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone.

This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

This Strange Looking ‘Tankette’ Fought the Japanese in Alaska

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 05:30

Caleb Larson

World War II, Americas

The Marmon-Herrington CTLS was quite small and had room for just two—a gunner and a driver.

Here's What You Need to Know: The CTLS served during the Aleutian Islands campaign, one of the only times when the United States was invaded by a foreign force.

Light tanks are usually considered relics of the past. Take Nazi Germany’s Sonderkraftfahrzeug, which used one variant to destroy enemy bunkers via remote control. Or the present-day Bundeswehr’s Weisel reconnaissance tankette that is still in service despite its small size and limited firepower. We won’t see any American tankettes rolling off assembly lines anytime soon, but this lesser-known American tankette did a brief stint in Alaska during World War II. 

Marmon-Herrington CTLS

In an effort to find an amphibious light tank, the United States Marine Corps turned to the truck and tractor manufacturer Marmon-Herrington and solicited a light tank design. In compliance with the Marine Corps’ design specifications, the Marmon-Herrington CTLS was quite small and had room for just two—a gunner and a driver.

The tiny tank was lightly armed as well. Though production model’s armament varied somewhat, the Marmon-Herrington CTLS in American service were generally armed with either a turret-mounted .50 caliber machine gun or a .30 caliber machine gun as its main gun, and had two .30 caliber M1919 machine guns mounted side by side in the hull glacis. The smaller guns were set into ball turrets and had overlapping fields of fire, whereas the turret mounted gun swiveled using a hand crank and had a more limited field of fire, as it could not rotate a full 360 degrees.

Due to the Marine Corps’ amphibious capability requirement, the Marmon-Herrington CTLS sacrificed armor protection for lighter overall weight. At maximum thickness, frontal hull armor was only half an inch thick, or 12.7 millimeters, leaving the tank decidedly under-protected and resistant only to some small-arms fire. However, the CTLS’ mobility benefited from being relatively light weight and had suspension that was quite similar to the American M4 Sherman tank of World War II fame. But one of the design’s major shortcomings was its treads which lacked robustness and were prone to failure.

Into Battle

Despite being manufactured from the outset to Marine Corps specifications, the little tank was rejected by the Marine Corps due in part to insufficient armor protection and limited amphibious capabilities. But, the CTLS enjoyed a second life in the hands of United States Army tankers, who received the tanks after the Pearl Harbor attack as a stopgap measure.

In Army hands, the CTLS served during the Aleutian Islands campaign, one of the only times when the United States was invaded by a foreign force. During the campaign—an invasion of some of Alaska’s Aleutian Islands by the Japanese—a small number of CTLS tanks were used to dislodge the Japanese from American territory.

Postscript

The CTLS had a longer service life as an export tank than in American service. Several hundred of the CTLS were exported to China, and a number served in Indonesia until the early 1950s. Though the tank was under-gunned and underpowered, the CTLS holds the special distinction of being the only tank used by the United States to fight off an invading force on American territory.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer with the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

This article first appeared in June 2020.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Russian Interceptor Missiles Take Another Step Forward

The National Interest - Tue, 16/11/2021 - 05:00

Mark Episkopos

Ballistic Missile Defense, Russia

Russia announced a successful test launch of an anti-ballistic missile, but nothing has been confirmed in terms of exact specifications.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Russian defense observers argue that the new interceptor missile will further widen what they believe to be the already considerable gap between Russian and U.S. missile defense capabilities.

Russia’s Aerospaces Forces have tested a new interceptor missile, one of Moscow’s latest investments into its rapidly growing missile defense network.  

“The combat team of the Aerospace Force’s air and anti-ballistic missile defense troops conducted another successful test-launch of a new missile of the Russian anti-ballistic missile defense system at the Sary-Shagan proving ground (the Republic of Kazakhstan),” read a statement issued by Russia’s Defense Ministry.

The statement was accompanied by a video from the launch, published on the Defense Ministry’s Youtube channel. The clip showed the missile being transported, loaded into a silo, and launched. “The ABM system’s new interceptor missile reliably proved its inherent characteristics while the combat teams successfully accomplished the task, striking a mock target with the required accuracy,” Aerospace Force Anti-Ballistic Missile Defense Formation Major Gen. Sergei Grabchuk told reporters. The Defense Ministry’s statement indicates that this was not the missile’s first test, though concrete production and delivery timelines remain elusive. Following an earlier test of what appears to be the same missile, Deputy Commander of the Air and Missile Defense of the Aerospace Forces Andrey Prikhodko told Russian media that the missile “considerably surpasses those of weapons operational today” in such categories as range, accuracy, and service life. Russian defense sources believe that the new interceptor missile can handily outperform the anti-missile capabilities of the S-400 missile defense systemin particular, Russian experts maintain that it can reliably intercept hypersonic ballistic missiles.  

The missile is launched at an initial speed of one thousand kilometers per hour, rapidly accelerating to supersonic speeds. Elsewhere, Russian sources stated that the missile travels in excess of three kilometers or more than four times the speed of a Kalashnikov assault rifle. Still, nothing has been confirmed by way of the weapon’s concrete specifications.

Russian defense observers argue that the new interceptor missile will further widen what they believe to be the already considerable gap between Russian and U.S. missile defense capabilities. “Comparing Russian and American missile defense capabilities, it is not difficult to notice that, in contrast with Russian missile defenses, US missile interceptors have the speed of a turtle. The [new missile interceptors] ensures the highly effective interception of any target, possibly including those of the hypersonic kind,” a Russian defense analyst told the aviation publication Avia.pro.

The Pentagon has noted the need to invest in modernized missile defenses in the face of growing Russian and Chinese capabilities, as well as looming challenges from such regional actors as North Korea. During an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies in February, Air Force Gen. John Hyten stressed the need for a new, integrated missile defense infrastructure to defend the United States from sophisticated ballistic missile threats into the coming decades. Hyten joined other senior U.S. officials, including Vice Admiral Jon Hill and Air Force Gen. Glen VanHerck, in stressing that the ongoing  Next Generation Interceptor project is a crucial next step in guaranteeing the long-term integrity of U.S. missile defenses. It is expected to enter service by 2028.  

Mark Episkopos is a national security reporter for The National Interest. 

This article first appeared earlier in 2021 and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

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