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The U.S. Navy's New Nightmare: Is the Era of the Big Warship Over?

The National Interest - Wed, 13/03/2024 - 13:18

The Future of Warships: Lessons from the U.S. Navy's Engagement with Houthi Rebels: On Monday, the United States Navy conducted six defense strikes and fired 18 anti-ship missiles in Yemen in response to two anti-ship ballistic missiles that were fired by the Iranian-back Houthi rebels into the Red Sea.

The Future of Warships: Lessons from the U.S. Navy's Engagement with Houthi Rebels

"Between 2:50-11:30 p.m. (Sanaa time) on March 11, United States Central Command conducted six self-defense strikes destroying an unmanned underwater vessel and 18 anti-ship missiles in Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. It was determined these weapons presented an imminent threat to merchant vessels and U.S. Navy ships in the region. These actions are taken to protect freedom of navigation and make international waters safer and more secure for U.S. Navy and merchant vessels," The United States Central Command (CENTCOM) announced.

Since the U.S. Navy began its campaign of airstrikes launched in January, it has shot down and destroyed more than 100 Houthi missiles, according to an Associated Press analysis – yet, the onslaught from the Houthi rebels has shown no signs of abating.

It bears repeating, the brave sailors on the U.S. Navy vessels need to do everything right, every single time – and an enemy only needs to get lucky once. The Houthis are now clearly playing a "long game," hoping that one time they'll actually get lucky. If – and hopefully there is not a when – such a moment occurs, America's adversaries will take note, as will the world.

It won't be remembered that a hundred missiles were destroyed. All it will take is for one to make that lucky shot. Even minimal damage would be "proof" that the U.S. Navy isn't invincible.

This begs the question, "Is the era of the big, expensive warship over?"

The answer is complex.

The fact remains that frigates today already operate with vastly smaller crews than they did just a few decades ago, and will likely continue to shrink in size. At the same time, the weapon capabilities of those warships have increased. Thus, the era of the battleship and large cruisers has long since passed, and warships will simply need to adapt as they always did.

Fool to Fight a Fort – But Foolish to Think We Can Do Without Warships

The Royal Navy's Lord Admiral Nelson famously argued "A ship's a fool to fight a fort," but he was clearly proven wrong in how warships played a vital role in providing the firepower to allow for a successful amphibious invasion. World War Two's D-Day landings in Normandy, France, and the island-hopping campaign in the Pacific couldn't have occurred without the big guns from the battleship. Nelson can be forgiven for not being a forward thinker, and his comments were made more than 150 years earlier.

Yet, other forward thinkers, such as U.S. Army General Billy Mitchell, predicted the days of those massive behemoths would be superseded by aircraft. His portent to the potential of aviation was proven right as nearly two dozen battleships were sunk by aircraft during the Second World War. By contrast, only one aircraft carrier was sunk by a battleship – the HMS Glorious, which was retired as a battlecruiser and reconstructed as an aircraft carrier.

Yet, the real death knell for the capital ships in the Cold War was that it was determined that carrier-based aircraft and guided-missile cruisers could do the job more effectively than large battleships.

Thus we should recognize the fact that land-based missiles won't completely single the end of warships. Instead, the technology of warships will simply evolve.

The introduction of cannons didn't mean the end of warships. Instead, the wooden ships grew in size and were armed with more guns. That eventually led to the era of ironclads and then to steel warships, which further grew in size – with HMS Dreadnought ushering in the short-lived era of the modern battleship.

Bigger was better, at least until it wasn't.

Thus, the future will likely see smaller, faster warships, armed with missiles rather than big guns. Those vessels will be supported by unmanned vehicles in the air, on the surface, and under the water. But yes, the era of big, expensive warships like battleships is long over.

Even aircraft carriers may need to adapt given the advances in land-based "carrier killer" missiles. While carrier strike groups will continue to have a place in the world, those too will likely evolve. The future CSG will also likely employ drones and other systems, while the flattops and escorts will be armed with lasers to counter enemy drones, missiles, and aircraft.

The future U.S. Navy – and all naval forces for that matter – will likely be unrecognizable, but it will be an evolutionary rather than revolutionary step forward.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

The Era of the Aircraft Carrier is RIP

The National Interest - Wed, 13/03/2024 - 13:03

Summary: The aircraft carrier, once a cornerstone of American naval power, is becoming increasingly obsolete due to the proliferation of anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) technologies by U.S. adversaries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. These technologies make carriers, with their high costs and vulnerabilities, less effective in modern conflict scenarios, especially against China's A2/AD capabilities in potential conflicts over Taiwan or the South China Sea. Despite this, the U.S. continues to invest heavily in carriers, which also serve as cultural icons, even as their strategic utility diminishes against cheaper and more proliferate A2/AD systems.

A2/AD: The Rising Threat to America's Aircraft Carriers and the Future of Naval Warfare

The aircraft carrier is one of the most expensive weapons platforms in history. It helped win the Pacific Theater of the Second World War. During the Cold War, it deterred the communists. After the Cold War, it helped to preserve that hard won peace. Yet, by the 2000s—especially from the 2010s, onwards—the aircraft carrier has been the victim of extremely diminishing returns

Despite this, the US Navy and Congress keep throwing gobs of tax dollars at the aircraft carrier. Meanwhile, with each passing year, the aircraft carrier’s usefulness is made less so, thanks in large part to the rise of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) technologies that America’s great power rivals (China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea) are deploying with wanton abandon.

Should a conflict erupt between the United States and the People’s Republic of China, over Taiwan or for control over the South China Sea, given China’s immense A2/AD capabilities, it is likely that America’s aircraft carriers would be sidelined at the outset of the war. They are simply too expensive, too irreplaceable, and too vulnerable to China’s robust arsenal of A2/AD weapons. 

Despite these facts, the US government has invested considerable money into this platform. Further, it has become a cultural icon in the United States. 

Aircraft Carriers: A Wasting Asset

Thus, the likelihood that anyone in power in Washington would be willing to drop the flat top in favor of more relevant weapons systems is low. Instead, these monstrosities would be tasked with ancillary missions in areas of the world where US enemies did not possess A2/AD systems.

Of course, the bigger issue for the aircraft carriers is that they are far more expensive and complex than the A2/AD weapons that threaten them. What’s more, those A2/AD systems are easy to proliferate. So, China or Russia could easily hand this technology off to other American rivals, such as Iran or North Korea or Venezuela. Any of these rival states could, in turn, give the A2/AD capabilities over to non-state actors aligned with them. 

For example, Iran has spent the last decade building up the capabilities of the Houthi Rebels based in Yemen. Today, the Houthis are terrorizing the high seas by attacking major global shipping routes in the Red Sea and Strait of Bab El-Mandeb. The Houthis already possess an impressive array of drones given to them by Iran that pose a certain level of danger to US warships. 

Should the Iranians (or Chinese or Russians) hand off the advanced A2/AD systems they possess to the Houthis, the Yemen-based Shiite Islamist terrorist group could further deny US aircraft carriers another area of operation.

The point is that the A2/AD threat is not going away. It is only becoming more advanced. And with each year that the A2/AD threat to US surface warships increases, the usefulness of those surface warships—notably aircraft carriers—diminishes to such a point that they become sunk costs, both in terms of economics as well as in terms of strategy. 

Even non-state actors, like the Houthis, could field A2/AD systems that could shield them from the US Navy’s wrath. 

The Incredibly Shrinking Role of Aircraft Carriers

For those who agree that A2/AD represents a real threat to the US Navy’s aircraft carriers but that those carriers can simply be used for other, less threatening missions, don’t kid yourselves. Once it becomes common knowledge among America’s rivals that the crown jewels of the US surface fleet can be held hostage by relatively cheap A2/AD systems, every single US foe will acquire these systems. 

Overnight, the carriers and other surface warships will no longer be the great projectors of American military power into distant lands. Instead, they will become the equivalent of a strategic paperweight. These expensive and complex systems will have less and less to do, negating any justification for their cost. 

That is, until the US military can develop effective countermeasures to the growing coterie of A2/AD systems around the world. Things like creating advanced fleets of drones to conduct long-range offensive operations in A2/AD bubbles, building workable hypersonic weapons to overcome—and destroy—any A2/AD systems that exist, constructing smaller and more maneuverable surface ships while expanding the Navy’s submarine fleet, these are all moves that will stunt and overcome the growing A2/AD threat.

A Strategic Gap US Rivals Will Exploit

Once the A2/AD threat can be mitigated, when the US military is certain it can survive prolonged contact with an enemy force in the era of A2/AD systems, only then can the Navy consider deploying its larger legacy platforms, like the aircraft carriers, into this contested battlespace. But until these necessary adaptations occur, the US Navy’s most iconic warships, its carriers, will be kept out of the fray as a wasting asset. 

The carrier's absence will leave a massive gap in America’s strategic capabilities. A gap that America’s enemies, such as China, will happily exploit.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Old F-16 Fighters for Ukraine Won't Win the War Against Russia

The National Interest - Wed, 13/03/2024 - 12:50

Can F-16 Fighters Win the War for Ukraine? Ukraine has lost the war with Russia. Whatever happens next—no matter what Western media sources may claim—the Ukrainians will not defeat the Russians, who are entrenched in their positions in Eastern Ukraine and in Crimea. The best Kyiv’s desperate leaders can hope for is to achieve a stalemate via negotiated settlement. 

But that is not what Western leaders are advising their Ukrainian clients to seek out from Russia. Instead, Western leaders are filling the Ukrainians’ minds with the siren song of airpower. 

After last year’s ode to main battle tanks from NATO nations did little to alter the direction of the war at the strategic level, one would have thought that both NATO and the Ukrainians would have learned their lesson. 

No weapons system can save Ukraine from the realities of Russian military and industrial power or from the even more painful realities of geography. 

Reason, of course, is the first victim of warfare. 

F-16: The Siren Song of Airpower

Even though NATO provided Leopard-2s and Challenger-2 tanks—to say nothing of the fact that America’s much promised Abrams tanks have yet to arrive in any substantial numbers—have done little to sway events in Ukraine’s favor, Kiev is now told that F-16 fighter jets will do the trick. 

To be clear: the F-16s will make no difference for multiple reasons.

First, these systems are secondhand warplanes that are at the end of their life cycles. Being old and sent into high-tempo aerial combat is not going to bode well for the Ukrainians. 

Second, they are being given a miniscule amount of the aging F-16s meaning these systems will not make a substantial difference. 

Third, it will take four-to-five years to fully train Ukrainian pilots to properly fly the warplanes in question. By that time, the war will have fundamentally shifted, and Russia will probably have an even stronger hand. 

Further, the older F-16s are not a match against Russia’s next generation warplanes. They might be able to be deployed for ground cover missions but these operations would be limited and hardly worth the headache. As my colleague at the Asia Times wrote a year ago on this subject, “Used F-16s at the end of their life, are not really going the war chessboard.” That was true in 2023. It is truer today in 2024. 

Wasted Tanks, Wasted Time for Ukraine 

The sad fact is, though, Ukraine has become a dumping ground for old NATO equipment. Just look at the much-ballyhooed tanks that NATO has showered Ukraine with. 

The French have poured in lightly armored French-built AMX-10RC. These vehicles are antiques from the 1970s—and the Ukrainian military deemed them to be “unsuitable” for the combat operations that have defined the Ukraine War. 

Nevertheless, the French sent them by planeload into Ukraine. 

The handful of British Challenger-2 tanks were also older variants. The 14 or so advanced German-built Leopard-2 main battle tanks were insufficient in number to do much more than get in the way on the Ukrainian battlefield (after it took far longer than the Ukrainians expected to get these units into position). 

Lastly, the Americans promised an astonishing 31 M1 Abrams tanks…only to admit shortly after they declared that these war machines were being given to the Ukrainians that the bulk of the shipment would be composed of out-of-order and older variants because the US arsenal lacked adequate numbers of more modern variants of the Abrams.

So, there is a pattern to NATO aid in this conflict. The aid is almost always insufficient to the task at hand. Just as with the tanks, the systems being promised are too old to be useful and are never given over in abundance (because the West lacks sufficient numbers of any major weapons platform, thanks in large part to the shabby state the defense industrial base is in). What’s more, they rarely arrive in a timely fashion. All this leads to the same dreadful place: no weapon system given to Ukraine by NATO will turn the tide of the war. 

Ukraine Must Negotiate, or It Will Sure Fall to Russia

Rather than cling onto the delusion that Ukraine’s slipshod, underdog army is going to somehow overcome the numerical and technological advantages of the Russian military and liberate the Russian enclaves of Eastern Ukraine or Crimea, Kiev’s leaders should have been feverishly negotiating with their Russian counterparts for a ceasefire before Moscow decides to simply ground down the Ukrainians. 

No amount of F-16s, at this point in the war, will help. 

Washington and Brussels should stop overpromising and under-delivering to the Ukrainians. They’re getting innocent Ukrainians killed and needlessly dragging on the war. Negotiate an end to the war and quit trying to find and use a NATO silver bullet. NATO’s arsenal of democracy has run empty and replacements aren’t coming anytime soon.

About the Author 

Brandon J. Weichert is a former Congressional staffer and geopolitical analyst who is a contributor at The Washington Times, as well as at American Greatness and the Asia Times. He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers), Biohacked: China’s Race to Control Life, and The Shadow War: Iran’s Quest for Supremacy. Weichert can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon.

Russia's Sukhoi Su-57 Felon Is No Super Fighter Afterall

The National Interest - Wed, 13/03/2024 - 02:21

Summary: As the Russo-Ukraine War extends into its third year, Russia's military shortcomings are increasingly evident, particularly in its failure to dominate the airspace over Ukraine. This situation highlights the limitations of Russia's air force and its reliance on the Sukhoi Su-57, a fifth-generation fighter jet with significant potential but plagued by production delays and technical issues. Despite its advanced capabilities and potential role in enhancing Russian air superiority, only a small number have been deployed. The Su-57's struggles reflect broader challenges in Russia's military operations, even as it gains pop culture prominence in films like "Top Gun: Maverick."

The Sukhoi Su-57: Behind Russia's Struggle for Air Superiority in Ukraine

With the Russo-Ukraine War entering its third year, Russia’s military struggles are clear to see. 

The war has become a conflict of attrition. Russia is not gaining meaningful amounts of territory, and surprisingly, it is failing to control the airspace above Ukraine. That failure emphasizes the shortcomings of Russia’s air force. It draws attention to the jets at Russia’s disposal – and the jets not at Russia’s disposal, namely, the fifth-generation Sukhoi Su-57.

Introducing the Su-57

The Su-57 is a fifth-generation multirole fighter. The jet’s first flight took place in 2010, yet all these years later, only 32 have been built. (Production began in 2019.)

Consistent setbacks and delays have hampered the Su-57s production, but even the completed aircraft often fail to impress, as Alex Hollings of Sandboxx News wrote: 

“Radar cross-sections (RCS) are subject to a great deal of debate online and should always be taken with a grain of salt, but expert assessments of the Su-57 suggest that it boasts an RCS of about .5 square meters – which is about the same as a 4th generation F/A-18 Super Hornet when flying without ordnance and 5,000 times bigger than the F-22 Raptor.”

Hollings continued, “Stealthy woes aren’t the Su-57s only problem – delays in Russia’s 5th generation engine program have left its Felon fleet operating the same AL-41F1 engines found in Russia’s non-stealth but highly capable 4th generation Su-35S. A Rand Corporation analysis of the aircraft’s advanced 360-degree sensor suite posits that the system itself remains incomplete as well, likely hindered by international sanctions placed on Russia following its 2014 invasion of Ukraine.”

Still, the Su-57 is a capable aircraft, as defense expert Christian Orr writes: 

“All of these woes plaguing the Su-57 doesn’t mean the F-22 or F-35 pilots – or especially pilots of the 4th generation fighter planes – can afford to take [the Su-57] lightly.” 

Indeed, the Su-57 is still an advanced fighter jet with a 360-degree thrust vectoring control that facilitates nuanced maneuverability. The Su-57 also has impressive speed, maxing out around Mach 2. 

Despite the flaws, the Su-57 would likely make a positive contribution to Russian objectives in the skies over Ukraine – if the Russians could only bring it to the fight.

The Su-57 Felon in Film

While the Su-57 has not appeared regularly in Russian force structures, the jet did appear in the top grossing film of 2022, Top Gun: Maverick. Well, technically the jet featured was not acknowledged as the Su-57, and the operator remained unidentified. But the jet depicted was clearly the Su-57, albeit in CGI form. 

In Top Gun, the Su-57 appears menacingly at the film’s climax, flying over Tom Cruise’s shoulder as he pilots a resurrected F-14 Tomcat. The Su-57 is depicted as lethal and advanced, earning the respect of Cruise’s character. Cruise manages, of course, to defeat two Su-57s when they both come in for a close look at Cruise.

Keep an eye out for the Su-57 in the Top Gun 3, if not over the skies of Ukraine.

About the Author: Harrison Kass

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

China’s Dim Economic Prospects

The National Interest - Wed, 13/03/2024 - 01:10

China’s economy is in a grim place these days, far from the past when many journalists and politicians praised Beijing’s policies and spoke of that economy’s imminent dominance. Beijing just released a 5 percent real growth target for 2024, the same pace as last year. Much of the forecasting community is rightfully skeptical of whether that kind of growth is possible. A lot of skepticism remains over last year’s figure. Whether China hits the target or not hardly makes a difference. The important point is that 5 percent is only about half the growth pace averaged in past years. Something clearly has gone wrong.

Very little in Chinese economics has looked good since the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020. The nation’s population and, critically, its labor force are shrinking. A property crisis continues to weigh on building, home buying, and real estate values, and hence on the consumer as well as business confidence. China’s once-exuberant consumers remain reluctant to spend. Private businesses have reduced their levels of investment, expansion, and hiring. A huge overhang of questionable debt—from defunct developers as well as local governments that have long depended for revenues on real estate development—has hamstrung the ability of Chinese finance to support economic growth. Meanwhile, Western and Japanese businesses continue to diversify supply chains away from China, slowing the growth of buying and the flow of investment money into the country. Accordingly, Chinese exports—the economy’s mainstay—have suffered, and though shipments rose in the opening months of 2024, they remain anemic compared with past years. Meanwhile, governments in Washington, Brussels, and Tokyo have replaced their former support for Chinese development with open hostility.

In this sorry picture, there is plenty of blame to go around. China’s property developers were less than prudent in their use of debt and the locations for some of their projects. If American, European, and Japanese businesses had shown good judgment, they would never have created such a heavy dependence on China in the first place and would not have had to engineer a withdrawal. Washington, Brussels, and Tokyo should have known from the start that once China achieved sufficient development, Beijing would pursue its interests more aggressively. However, for all the mistakes of others, most of the blame for China’s problems belongs to the nation’s leadership in Beijing.

Take China’s demographic problem. Birth rates have been so low for so long that China lacks a sufficient flow of young people into the workforce to replace the large numbers now retiring. A limited workforce has already constrained production potentials and will do so increasingly for some time to come. This is very different from China’s gloried economic past. When China first opened its economy in the late 1970s, the country had an abundance of working-age people eager for gainful employment. In no small respect, this demographic reality powered the economy’s astounding growth of almost 10 percent a year, year after year. But with this age cohort retiring and few replacements, the older, favorable demographic has turned on its head.

Though much of the developed world faces the same problem, China’s situation is especially severe, largely because of Beijing’s policies. When the country first opened to the world, then-President Deng Xiaoping wanted to free up as much of the labor force as possible. To relieve potential workers from family obligations, he promulgated the “one-child policy,” effectively making it a crime for a family to have more than one child. It worked for economic growth for a long while, but Deng failed to consider its long-term implications. His policy lies at the root of today’s severe shortage of young workers. In recent years, Beijing has recognized the problem and rescinded the one-child rule. However, after years of dominating family decisionmaking, it has become part of Chinese culture. The recent change in the law has produced no increase in Chinese fertility rates, which continue to fall. Even if it did raise fertility rates, it would take fifteen to twenty years to make a difference in China’s available workforce.

Another policy error has compounded this demographic problem. Since the future of high technology demands a highly educated workforce, China has poured funds into higher education for years. It graduated engineers and scientists at such a rapid rate that American commentators routinely point to the figures with quavering voices and fearful eyes. Had China also adjusted its economy toward services, it would have worked well. But that did not happen. Instead, China’s economy continues to depend in no small measure on lower-skilled and low-technology products. Assembling iPads does not require a degree in electronic engineering, and certainly, neither does making shirts for the American market. Because of this, China, while suffering a labor shortage in manufacturing, also faces a surplus of college graduates. Today in China, factory owners go begging for workers, while the country records a nearly 20 percent youth unemployment rate. The rate is so embarrassing that Beijing has discontinued publishing such statistics.

Policy failures also surround the severity of the country’s property crisis. These began quite some time ago when Beijing enthusiastically encouraged residential development, pushing local governments to get involved and providing easy credit for developers and homebuyers. Because China had a housing shortage in the late twentieth century, this policy seemed well-founded. But Beijing carried on with it even after the housing stock had caught up with the nation’s needs. At its height, residential real estate development amounted to an astronomical 30 percent of the economy. Developers, following Beijing’s lead, became ever more leveraged and pursued projects in dubious locations. Then, in 2020, Beijing abruptly removed the support, so fast, in fact, that neither developers nor homebuyers had time to adjust. Failures were inevitable. They began in 2021, with the announcement by the giant developer Evergrande that it could not service its some $300 billion in liabilities.

In response to this emergency, Beijing did nothing, and so the crisis metastasized. The growing overhang of questionable debt left Chinese banks and other financial institutions unable to support new investments in any area of the economy. With millions of homebuyers who had prepaid apartments that were never constructed, more bankruptcies ensued. Confidence throughout the household sector cratered. Few were willing to put money at risk, buying rates fell, and with the drop in demand, so did real estate prices. The damage that declining property values did to household wealth depressed confidence and, with it, anyone’s willingness to spend. By the time Beijing finally acted late last year, some twenty-four months after the problems first became evident, the remedies they offered were far from sufficient to address a problem that had already festered for years.

Nor are these policy mistakes, severe as they are, all that Beijing has done to screw up China’s economy. Its zero-COVID policy exacerbated much that was already wrong. That policy kept China under lockdowns and quarantines long after the rest of the world began its recovery from the pandemic. Indeed, Beijing waited until early 2023 before it lifted severe restrictions on productive activity and on the movement of people and goods. These restrictions’ legacy has left households less confident than ever in the security of their finances and incomes and made them even more reluctant to consume than they were, much less make an investment in a new home. Private Chinese businesses, too, have lost confidence in the future and cut back on any expansion plans. It did not help that Xi Jinping, during the lockdowns, went out of his way to denigrate private business owners for following the interests of their firms instead of those of the Chinese Communist Party. Xi, now desperate to get the economy moving, has since changed his tune, referring to these business owners as “our own people,” but the damage was done.

The shutdowns also disillusioned Japanese, American, and European businesses about sourcing from and investing in China. Earlier in China’s development, businesspeople all around the world not only saw the attraction of low Chinese wages but also the reliability of Chinese operations. They met the terms of the contracts and delivered on time. Attitudes had begun to change even before the pandemic. Beijing’s insistence that foreign firms operating in China had to have a Chinese partner to whom they had to transfer technologies and trade secrets began to chafe increasingly. Chinese production and sourcing also lost appeal due to its reputation for bullying. Beijing has resorted to punitive tariffs on unrelated issues. It imposed severe duties on Australian goods in retaliation for Canberra’s questions about the origins of COVID-19. It Beijing threatened to cut off supplies of rare earth elements to Japan over a sovereignty dispute in the East China Sea. On top of these irritants, the seemingly arbitrary shipping interruptions greatly reinforced doubts about the once-revered reliability of Chinese sourcing.

Beijing also played its cards wrong with Washington, Brussels, and Tokyo. Not too long ago, China had considerable goodwill with all these nations. There was widespread support for Chinese development. It was thought that it would bring China into the community of nations as a positive economic and diplomatic influence. Had Beijing resisted the impulse to bully and use its blunt power at every turn, it might have kept that goodwill for longer. However, having reached for its guns and shown no interest in compromise with any of its trading partners, China has generated considerable hostility in all these capitals. Tokyo is leading a joint effort of G-7 nations to procure rare earth elements outside China. Brussels is seeking penalties against China for dumping underpriced products on European markets. Washington has blocked China’s trade in high-technology items and has forbidden American investments in Chinese technology. None of this helps China’s economic prospects.

China’s leadership seems to have awakened to the need to help the economy. It has recently announced a one trillion yuan ($139 billion) program to stimulate economic activity. It is far from certain that this program will get the economy back on track. Its focus on the kinds of huge infrastructure projects China has previously promoted suggests that Beijing is not yet aware of the roots of the economy’s problems. Nor is it apparent that such projects will pay off as they once did. Massive infrastructure projects in less developed economies tend to have huge returns, but that is not as certain in the more fully developed economy China has become. A “tell” that Beijing may be aware of these constraints lies in its decision to use what it describes as “ultralong” bonds to finance the infrastructure spending. Long financing maturities announce that Beijing does not expect a payoff any time soon.

It is not a pretty picture. Although there is no indication that China will implode or cease to be a major economic and diplomatic power, these facts should nonetheless force a major rethink of all forecasts of imminent Chinese dominance.

Milton Ezrati is a contributing editor at The National Interest, an affiliate of the Center for the Study of Human Capital at the University at Buffalo (SUNY), and chief economist for Vested, the New York-based communications firm. His latest books are Thirty Tomorrows: The Next Three Decades of Globalization, Demographics, and How We Will Live and Bite-Sized Investing.


Joe Biden’s Botched Ecuador Policy

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 23:51

Ecuador is in the midst of a dire security crisis as violent drug gangs wreak havoc on the once-peaceful Andean country, prompting a spike in migrant outflows to the United States as well as the consolidation of a new illicit narcotics hub in South America. The United States has responded to Ecuador’s rapid decline in stability by ramping up coordination and engagement with the government of President Daniel Noboa. However, a decision by the Biden administration to explicitly link support for Ecuador to the war in Ukraine has put Ecuador in an even more vulnerable position.

What happens in Ecuador does not stay in Ecuador. Drug trafficking organizations from across the globe have worked to solidify their hold in Ecuador and create a new narcotics trafficking center in South America, ramping up the flow of deadly illegal drugs into the United States. At the same time, the wave of violence in Ecuador is exacerbating the region’s migratory crisis, with a 368 percent increase in Ecuadorians arriving at the U.S. border from 2022 to 2023. Additionally, over the past several years, China and Russia have turned Ecuador into a critical political and economic foothold, making the country’s current crisis a unique opportunity for the United States to regain dwindling influence in its hemisphere.

All of this led the United States to rightly offer support to Ecuador in recent months as it engages in a perilous fight against violent drug traffickers. A planned weapons swap was a key pillar of the renewed effort by the United States to support Ecuador by empowering its underequipped security forces. Under the deal, the United States would have sent Ecuador $200 million in modern weaponry in exchange for Ecuador’s aging Soviet-era equipment, including Mi-8 and Mi-17 helicopters, BM-21 Grad multiple rocket launchers, and Strela-2 and Igla man-portable air defense systems.

The Biden administration planned to send these weapons to Ukraine and support the fight against Russia’s invasion. It is unclear how useful Soviet-era equipment dubbed as “junk” by Noboa would be to Ukraine. Ecuador was reportedly aware that the United States would send its weapons to Ukraine, but Noboa says he was caught off guard when this was made public by the Biden administration.

The Biden administration’s diplomatic missteps and tunnel vision have now put Ecuador in an even more precarious position as its government struggles to regain control from violent drug gangs. Predictably, Russia, a top trading partner for Ecuador, has retaliated against the small South American country by imposing a painful ban on a series of key agricultural imports from the small South American nation. Ecuador’s fragile economy cannot afford to sustain such a blow, particularly as Noboa works to fund a needed increase in security spending for the country. Unsurprisingly, Ecuador has called off the weapons swap with the United States, leaving it to contend with Russia’s punishing trade restrictions and a lack of new U.S. equipment.

In short, the Biden administration’s handling of this situation has been an unmitigated disaster. The effort has displayed a lack of seriousness from the Biden administration that plays into negative stereotypes about inconstant U.S. engagement in Latin America. The entire episode, from the country’s security crisis to the collapse of the weapons deal, exhibits the troubling consequences of U.S. inattention to its hemisphere. As conflicts much further away absorb Washington’s attention, the Biden administration has stood by as counternarcotics capabilities are actively dismantled by governments from Mexico to Colombia, flooding our hemisphere and countries like Ecuador with criminality.

Ecuador’s decision to call off the weapons deal also shows how a lack of U.S. engagement has given Moscow the power to set the terms of U.S. cooperation with its neighbors and otherwise willing partners. Ecuador remains economically beholden to Russia in part because the United States has refused to move on a trade agreement with the country in recent years. And Russia’s influence in the region dwindles in comparison to China’s. Washington’s number one adversary has taken full advantage of the U.S. absence from Latin America. If U.S.-China tensions do boil over on the other side of the Pacific, Beijing will leverage its regional influence in much the same way Moscow has done in Ecuador, but on a much larger and more dangerous level.  

It is not too late to enact a course correction. Washington should handle crises in the Western Hemisphere with the seriousness and attention they deserve. In the case of Ecuador, the United States must ensure that its support for Ukraine does not come at the cost of confronting threats to security and stability in its own hemisphere. To this end, congressional oversight and pressure should be brought to bear. Going forward, a new U.S. administration must work to ensure that neither Moscow nor Beijing are in a position to veto U.S. engagement with our neighbors.

Andres Martinez-Fernandez is a senior policy analyst at the Heritage Foundation’s Allison Center for National Security. Follow him on X @AndresMartFern.


Are Sanctions Hurting Russia?

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 21:46

Last month, the European Union introduced its thirteenth sanctions package against Moscow. In 2021, before the invasion of Ukraine, Russia ranked among Europe’s top trading partners. Two-way commerce in goods and services totaled €257 billion. By December 2023, sanctions had reduced these trade flows by more than two-thirds. As the second anniversary of Russia’s invasion has passed, it’s worth asking what can actually be achieved by further constricting two-way commerce.

History may already have answers to this important question. Over the past century (and stretching back to the Napoleonic era), economic sanctions have sought objectives echoing criminal law: deterrence, rehabilitation, deprivation, and retribution. How do these objectives stack up in the current case of Russia? Deterrence has been elusive. In 1960, there were twenty active sanctions cases worldwide. By 2014, that number had reached 170. This sharp escalation indicates that past episodes did not seriously deter new offenders—neither countries that abused human rights, staged military coups, sought nuclear weapons, nor invaded their neighbors. After Russia seized Crimea in 2014, the tepid U.S.-EU sanctions package hurt individual Russian firms and a few oligarchs but did not deter Putin’s massive assault against Ukraine in February 2022. Threats President Biden and European leaders voiced in the weeks before the invasion likewise had no impact on Putin’s war plans.

The rehabilitation record since 1914 shows instances of success through economic sanctions but seldom in cases against major or even middle-sized powers. Analysis by the Peterson Institute indicates that sanctions achieved some (rarely all) of the enactors’ foreign policy goals in just a third of cases since the First World War. However, successes are concentrated in sanctions against small countries with weak governments:. Regime change in Chile in 1973 and the reversal of the Ivory Coast coup in 2000 are illustrative.

Contrary to those successes, strong sanctions against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the ayatollahs in Iran did not change their territorial or nuclear objectives. Even against small autocratic countries, notably Cuba and North Korea, decades of sanctions have not yielded rehabilitation. Venezuela, under the grip of dictator Nicolas Maduro, now threatens neighboring Guyana despite a multitude of U.S. sanctions. For Ukraine, history records no instances where economic sanctions have rehabilitated the military goals of a major power—not Germany and its allies in the First World War, not Germany and Japan in the Second World War, not China in the Korean War, not the USSR in the Cold War, and not Russia in the Ukraine War.

That leaves deprivation and retribution as reasonable objectives for sanctions against Russia. Consider deprivation. Russia has lost direct access to European, American, and other allied markets for a wide range of military components. In turn, Russia has repurposed domestic factories to produce military rather than civilian goods—tanks rather than autos—while seeking transshipments through friendly or neutral intermediaries such as Kazakhstan, China, and Turkey. Russia has also purchased substitute drones and artillery shells from Iran and North Korea and basic semiconductors from China. While deprivation is a worthy goal and accompanies all wartime sanctions, troublesome leakages must be expected for a target with the geographic and economic magnitude of Russia.

The remaining objective is retribution—punishment for its own sake. At the outset of the invasion, the United States and EU imposed far stronger sanctions on finance and trade than Russia ever expected. It was widely predicted that the Russian economy would suffer a double-digit decline. To be sure, the Moscow stock market and the ruble both collapsed, but they soon recovered. As the IMF recently reported, the Russian economy contracted only 1.2 percent in 2022 and even grew 3.6 percent in 2023. This reflected both Russia’s ability to sell huge volumes of oil at discounted rates to its friends and the stimulus of war production.

But it would be wrong to conclude that ordinary Russians escaped Western retribution. Shortages are widespread, and as the war drags on, they are getting worse. Retribution seeks to punish officials and oligarchs. However, elites can always provide for themselves and pass on the suffering to lesser mortals. This is the experience of multiple sanctions episodes. During the First World War, some 300,000 persons in Central Europe died from the Allied naval blockade. In contemporary times, the sad story finds echoes in North Korea, Iraq, Iran, Zimbabwe, Venezuela, and today Russia.

U.S. and EU sanctions have clearly inflicted misery on ordinary citizens. It must be asked whether retribution for its own sake accomplishes the military and economic aims of Washington and Brussels. Working-class people have no political power, and yet political elites threaten their livelihoods as part of a broader global power struggle. Russian, European, and American workers all have practically no say in the trade actions their leaders choose to enact, yet they bear the eventual consequences. Decades of research and historical insight attest to the harm inflicted by punitive sanctions. National leaders should put time and effort into designing alternative policies to punish international wrongdoing.

Gary Hufbauer is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics.


F/A-XX 6th Generation Fighter and Virginia-Class Sub Cut in New Navy Budget

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 20:15

Summary: The U.S. Navy's Fiscal Year 2025 budget request highlights a strategic shift towards prioritizing current operations, personnel, and innovative technologies like unmanned systems. With a modest 0.7% increase to $257.6 billion, the plan reduces the research and development budget by 2.7% and military construction by over 26%. The Navy will request funding for six new warships, down from seven, emphasizing readiness and adaptability to immediate threats, particularly from China. Major programs like the F/A-XX next-generation strike fighter see funding cuts, while investments in current aircraft and a focus on the Virginia-class submarine program reflect a balanced approach to maintaining naval dominance.

U.S. Navy 2025 Budget: Strategic Cuts and Priorities Shift Toward Immediate Readiness

The U.S. Navy in its latest budget request moved several modernization programs to the proverbial backburner. The service will trim its research and development budget by 2.7% while cutting its military construction spending by more than one-quarter (26.1%). 

According to its Fiscal Year 2025 budget request, the Navy will only request six new warships, down from a previously planned seven.

The request calls for $257.6 billion in FY25 for the U.S. Navy and the U.S. Marine Corps. That figure is up 0.7% from the FY24 request, which Congress has yet to pass more than five months into the fiscal year. The Department of Defense's overall spending plan has also been capped at a 1% increase compared to FY24 under the Fiscal Responsibility Act, which dictates FY24 and FY25 spending levels.

Navy officials intend to prioritize current operations and personnel, along with small unmanned systems and the Pentagon-led Replicator program, which could yield faster results for the fleet, Defense News reported. The service remains focused on the near-term. It considers the 2020s a decade of concern, especially due to the potential for China to invade Taiwan.

"Our request prioritizes readiness and people in a constrained topline. The DON strategically allocates resources to our operations and readiness accounts to position the Nation's Naval Force forward in defense of our interests today,” the Department of the Navy announced March 11. “It enables our Naval and Marine forces to respond to contingencies, enhance interoperability with allied navies, and adapt to the emerging threats and opportunities in the maritime domain. 

“Our request continues to show we are developing strong warfighting teams, recruiting/retaining talented people, and ensuring our quality of service meets the highest standards." 

F/A-XX: Cutting Back R&D For the Next Generation Strike Fighter

About $1 billion in funding for the development of the U.S. Navy's next-generation strike fighter has been delayed – a move senior leadership said was necessary to maintain readiness.

The FY25 budget requests include $16.2 billion for the procurement of 75 aircraft along with modifications, spares, and support equipment. These include thirteen F-35Cs, thirteen F-35Bs, and fifteen CH-53Ks. 

The figure is down from the requested $17.3 billion in FY24 that covered 88 aircraft, including nineteen F-35Cs and sixteen F-35Bs.

More significantly, the Navy will "rephase" the development of the F/A-XX across the Future Years Defense Plan, budget documents show. The FY24 budget sought $1.5 billion to develop and design the future aircraft and its enabling technology, but for FY25, the U.S. Navy has only called for a third of that.

"We're still committed to the F/A-XX," Rear Adm. Ben Reynolds, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget and director of the USN Fiscal Management Division, said on March 8, Janes reported. "We're rephasing as the technology matures."

The F/A-XX is intended to replace the F/A-18 Super Hornet. The scaled-back budget is likely to be unwelcome news to top aerospace contractors, but Lockheed Martin might be pleased that the U.S. Navy remains on track to acquire eighty-two F-35Cs and eighty-two F-35Bs across the Future Years Defense Program.

"We're absolutely committed to the capacity and lethality of the carrier wing," Reynolds also told reporters last week. "The capacity [and] the firepower of the air wing is orders of magnitude above anything else that [the Defense Department] has."

That Sinking Feeling 

The U.S. Navy's FY25 budget request includes money for just one Virginia-class attack submarine instead of the planned two. The service has been buying attack subs at a rate of two per year since FY11, but industry has not kept up in recent years, delivering closer to an average of 1.2 boats annually. The boats set to be delivered this year are arriving on average 30 months late, and the Navy has delayed several major shipbuilding and modernization efforts. In that context, the sea service opted to save some $4 billion in the FY25 spending plan by nixing the second Virginia-class sub.

"We did reduce the funding to one Virginia-class submarine in FY25. But we maintain the funding for nine out of the planned 10 Virginia class [during the five-year FYDP]," Under Secretary Erik Raven told reporters.

The one FY25 Virginia-class boat delivered this year will be the first of the new Block VI design.

The Navy also requested $586.9 million for its SSN(X) next-generation attack submarine design and development efforts. That is up from the $544.7 million it requested in FY24. 

The service requested $102.7 million for its DDG(X) next-generation destroyer concept, down from FY24's $187.4 million request.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

The U.S. Navy's F/A-XX Stealth Fighter Has Money Problems

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 19:36

Summary: The U.S. Navy's recent decision to reallocate about $1 billion in funds earmarked for the development of the F/A-XX, a sixth-generation strike fighter, highlights the ongoing tension between maintaining current military readiness and investing in future capabilities. This move, driven by budgetary constraints and the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023, delays significant progress on the F/A-XX, impacting the timelines for potential contracts with major aerospace contractors like Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrop Grumman. The Navy's prioritization of current operational readiness over long-term modernization efforts, despite a defense spending cap that significantly exceeds that of its nearest competitors, China and Russia, underscores the strategic challenges faced in balancing immediate needs with future threats.

F/A-XX Has a Money Challenge 

The U.S. Navy announced yesterday that it will withhold about $1 billion in funds that were earmarked for the F/A-XX project. Navy leadership said the decision to reallocate funds away from the effort to develop a sixth-generation strike fighter reflects the priority of current readiness levels over modernization efforts.

“The funding delay means any major decisions about awarding a contract on the program will be kicked down the road,” Breaking Defense reported, “unwelcome news to the country’s top three aerospace prime contractors – Boeing, Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman – which have all signaled their intent to fight for a production contract.”

“We’re absolutely committed to the capacity and lethality of the carrier wing,” said Rear Adm. Ben Reynolds, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget. “The capacity, the firepower of the air wing is orders of magnitude above anything else that [the Defense Department] has.”

Reassessing the FY25 Budget

The F/A-XX was originally projected to receive about $1.5 billion in Fiscal Year 2025, but constraints from the Fiscal Responsibility Act of 2023 “forced the Navy to disperse much of that money into future budgets,” so the F/A-XX was slashed

“The FRA, signed into law last June, provides an FY25 defense spending cap of $895 billion, and the Navy and Marine Corps’ share of that topline under the newly-released budget is $257.6 billion,” Breaking Defense added in its report. 

For perspective, consider that the $895 billion defense spending cap is about three times higher than the military spending of second-place China, and ten times as much as the world’s third-biggest defense spender, Russia. 

“In terms of what comes at the top of the list, it is readiness. It is people. It is the today issues that we have to get on top of,” Under Secretary of the Navy Erik Raven told reporters. “Where our guidance directs us to take risks is in future modernization.”

What is the F/A-XX?

The F/A-XX is a next-generation strike fighter project that will eventually phase out the F/A-18 Super Hornet. Details about the F/A-XX’s specifications have not been made public. Pentagon officials have suggested that the Navy and Air Force will not collaborate on a joint design as they did with the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Last summer, a spokesperson said the Navy had “identified operational reach, capacity, long range kill chains, autonomy, and next generation survivability as key enablers in the Air Wing of the Future and supporting Family of Systems.” That’s a lot of military-industrial marketing-speak, but we can expect the F/A-XX to be significantly more advanced than the F-22 or F-35. 

The Navy has pared down its F/A-18 purchases with the expectation that the F/A-XX will come online soon. With F/A-XX development delayed, the decision to stop buying new F/A-18s will probably face renewed scrutiny.

About the Author: Harrison Kass 

Harrison Kass is a defense and national security writer with over 1,000 total pieces on issues involving global affairs. An attorney, pilot, guitarist, and minor pro hockey player, Harrison joined the US Air Force as a Pilot Trainee but was medically discharged. Harrison holds a BA from Lake Forest College, a JD from the University of Oregon, and an MA from New York University. Harrison listens to Dokken.

F/A-XX: The U.S. Navy's New 6th Generation Fighter Is In Trouble

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 19:27

Summary: The U.S. Navy is at a pivotal juncture, facing the dual challenge of maintaining current operational capabilities while preparing for future warfare dominance through the development of the F/A-XX, a sixth-generation stealth fighter jet. With the strategic imperative to ensure the carrier air wing's capacity and lethality, the Navy acknowledges the critical role of aircraft carriers and their complement of fighter jets in potential conflict scenarios, particularly in the Indo-Pacific against a backdrop of rising tensions with China. However, constrained by budgetary limits, the Navy is compelled to delay $1 billion in funding for the F/A-XX program, reallocating these funds to future budgets. This decision underscores the harsh realities of defense spending, where immediate readiness and personnel needs take precedence over long-term modernization efforts.

The Navy Has Big Choices to Make 

Widespread technological innovations are pushing forward the global defense industry, with militaries funding cutting-edge projects in all domains. When it comes to next-generation aircraft, the U.S. Navy is looking to ensure its future superiority on the battlefield through the F/A-XX sixth-generation stealth fighter jet

However, budgetary constraints are forcing the Navy to make tough decisions about its next fighter jet.

F/A-XX: Funds Pushed Down the Line 

The Navy is delaying $1 billion in funding for the F/A-XX program for future budgets. 

Budgetary constraints and specific limits force the Navy to reallocate funds intended for the development of the F/A-XX into future budgets, thus likely delaying the introduction of the sixth-generation fighter jet. 

“We’re absolutely committed to the capacity and lethality of the of the carrier wing,” Rear Adm. Ben Reynolds, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for budget, said during a press event last week. 

Reynolds highlighted that the capacity and firepower of the carrier air wing are at the top of the priorities for the Department of Defense. The reason for that is that the aircraft carrier remains the primary tool for power projection. In a potential conflict with China in the Indo-Pacific, aircraft carriers would be at the center of the fighting. As such, the fighter jets would determine much of the fighting and potentially a whole conflict. 

Although Navy officials acknowledge the importance of future programs like the F/A-XX, in the absence of unlimited funding, they have to make tough decisions to ensure current operational readiness remains high. 

Budgetary constraints and specific limits force the Navy to reallocate funds intended for the development of the F/A-XX into future budgets, thus likely delaying the introduction of the sixth-generation fighter jet. 

“In terms of what comes at the top of the list, it is readiness. It is people. It is the today issues that we have to get on top of,” Navy Under Secretary Erik Raven told reporters while speaking alongside Reynolds. “Where our guidance directs us to take risk is in future modernization.”

The F/A-XX 6th Generation Stealth Fighter, Explained

Alongside the Air Force’s Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, the F/A-XX will be a sixth-generation fighter jet with manned and unmanned capabilities. 

The Navy is looking for an aircraft that would be able to operate from aircraft carriers—it will require a stronger structure and landing gear compared to aircraft designed for conventional operations. In terms of capabilities, from what it is known, the Navy is looking for a fighter jet that would have directed energy kinetic capabilities (laser weapons) and the ability to operate with and control drone swarms. As for mission sets, the Navy is looking for an aircraft that would be able to operate in permissive or semi-permissive environments with potent adversary air defense systems and establish air superiority through long-range kill chains. 

Right now, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, and Northrup Grumman are the three companies vying for the F/A-XX contract, with Pratt & Whitney and GE Aerospace competing for the stealth fighter jet’s engine. 

About the Author 

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP.

The U.S. Navy's Real China Problem Won't Be Easy to Fix

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 19:18

Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro recently barnstormed Northeast Asian shipyards in hopes of enlisting investment from allied nations to help revivify the U.S. shipbuilding sector. The secretary entreated the leaderships of such industrial heavyweights as South Korea’s HD Hyundai Heavy Industries and Hanwha Ocean and Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries to reopen one or more mothballed U.S. yards. 

And not a moment too soon. Adding marine industrial capacity is a must if the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, and Coast Guard are to keep pace with the challenges of our time—chiefly Chinese sea power. China, the world’s biggest shipbuilding nation, reputedly boasts over 200 times the United States’ capacity. It is flourishing in the nautical realm while America struggles. Because Chinese yards are outbuilding their U.S. counterparts at a helter-skelter rate, China will go to war with a larger navy than the U.S. Navy and it will be able to repair or replace battle losses more swiftly. 

That is a big deal. The arithmetic of war is stern. A force that can speedily regenerate combat power after taking a punch, as all forces do, is resilient; one that cannot is fragile. The People’s Liberation Army Navy may not measure up to the U.S. Navy on a ship-for-ship, airframe-for-airframe, missile-for-missile basis. But the balance of resiliency yaws the PLA Navy’s way to an alarming degree. China has a bigger fleet and can replenish it faster. 

Manufacturing supremacy bestows an advantage of worrisome import on Beijing. 

So the strategic rationale for soliciting foreign investment is impeccable: America needs more hulls and more capacity to maintain and overhaul them. It should amass that capacity wherever it may and in a hurry. And there is precedent for what Del Toro is asking. Australian shipbuilding firm Austal already constructs warships in Alabama, for instance, as does Italy’s Fincantieri in Wisconsin. It only makes sense to add the world’s second- and third-largest shipbuilding nations to the mix. 

But. What about the business rationale? 

That’s less compelling, and the Navy Department needs to figure out how to burnish its case by the numbers. Look at Del Toro’s appeal through the eyes of Asian business magnates. One imagines they will evaluate any North American venture by the closely interconnected standards of profit, risk, and time. First, profit. Shipbuilders are not philanthropies. Show them the money! Company officers will crave assurances that there will be enough demand for their wares to repay their investments on these shores, plus enough more to make it worth their while. That chiefly means would-be suppliers want to know there will be sufficient demand from the U.S. government, by definition the United States’ sole customer for ships of war and merchantmen that support the fight. 

Convincing Asian shipbuilders that the United States actually means to build a much larger fleet, as laid out in the navy’s 30-year shipbuilding plans, will be pivotal in negotiations. This will be a tough sell. The U.S. Navy’s inventory is still dawdling below 300 ships years after Congress mandated a 355-ship fleet. Shipbuilding budgets have fallen well short of paying for those extra 60-odd ships, remain in limbo under a continuing resolution almost halfway through the fiscal year, and are set to remain stagnant. This is a recurring pattern within the Beltway. Recalls former acting Secretary of the Navy Tom Modly: “Everyone seemed to talk a good game to each other about the requirement for the 355-ship navy, but there was no commitment, no plan, and no money to actually build one.” 

Sea power is a conscious political choice, and it’s far from clear that American society as a whole has resolved to bulk up the sea services. Washington has some ‘splaining to do if it covets Asian investment. 

Second, risk. Firm leaders will want assurances that the demand signal for military and mercantile shipping will remain vibrant. Otherwise they may balk at what promises to be a capital-intensive enterprise. How many resources it will take remains to be determined. Presumably naval shipyards in such ports as Long Beach and Philadelphia were laid up with an eye toward preserving and perhaps recommissioning them in some future time of crisis. But chronological age matters even if crews did their preservation job to perfection. Machinery decays. Long Beach Naval Shipyard was shuttered in 1997, Philadelphia in 1995. The degree to which buildings and hardware remain in good order after sitting idle for so long is unclear, and is sure to come up when U.S. officialdom parleys with shipbuilders. (It also appears the Philly site has undergone partial redevelopment—adding another wrinkle.) 

Answering questions about the scope of the project will help HD Hyundai, Mitsubishi & Co. gauge and manage risk—making it easier to get to yes in talks. Candor pays. 

If not reassured decisionmakers could blanch at the risk. Think about the politics of naval shipbuilding. To all appearances Congress has elected not to meet the martial challenges of our time. Peacetime strategy is about designing and fielding forces fit for war. That being the case, lawmakers make strategy through the budgetary process all the time. They make strategy by what they fund—and by what they don’t. As Admiral J. C. Wylie points out: “The Congressman voting on an military appropriation is, in a very real sense indeed, making a fundamental strategic decision . . . .” 

And how. Refusing to approve military appropriations for this fiscal year marks a fundamental strategic decision that stasis shall prevail in naval and military affairs. Given the highly visible budgetary impasse in Washington, it’s unclear what kind of assurances U.S. naval and military leaders could concoct to show that demand for South Korean- and Japanese-built ships will remain strong and steady. Recent history says just the opposite. But the effort must be made. 

And third, time. Shipbuilders will want assurances not only that an American venture will be profitable at reasonable risk, but that U.S. government orders for warships will remain robust enough to sustain yard operations for a long, long time. Constancy is a virtue on the demand side when courting the supply side. Assuming one were forthcoming, an initial burst of new-construction dollars would do little for builders if demand dwindled over the long term, leaving them operating at a loss with a wasting asset on their hands. 

They might rebuff a transpacific partnership rather than risk eventual ruin. 

In short, Secretary Del Toro has taken on an unenviable task: persuading Asian business leaders to invest in the U.S. shipbuilding complex at a time when domestic political headwinds are fierce. Profit, risk, time. Let’s wish him well. 

About the Author: Dr. James Holmes 

Dr. James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and a Nonresident Fellow at the University of Georgia School of Public and International Affairs. The views voiced here are his alone.

Image: Creative Commons. 

Reclaiming Responsibility: A Call for Congressional Accountability in U.S. Foreign Policy

Foreign Policy Blogs - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 18:45

For years, I have argued that America’s legislative branch has failed to live up to its obligations in guiding U.S. foreign policy. Trends dating back before the turn of the millennium reveal that the Legislative branch has spent an increasingly small amount of time discussing and researching important foreign policy questions. Beyond that, when important foreign policy topics are discussed, individual legislators are increasingly likely to grandstand or fundraise instead of work towards policy solutions for major issues. 

For most of my life, this dereliction of duty has resulted in American involvement in unguided and near-unending conflicts across the Middle East and North Africa. Two pieces of legislation (the 2001 and 2002 Authorization(s) for the Use of Military Force) passed the House and Senate in the turbulent months following the September 11th terror attacks. Those two bills combined to serve as justification for roughly two decades of continued fighting across almost 80 nations, resulting in 8,000,000,000,000 dollars in expenses, over 7,000 American casualties alongside 230,000 civilian casualties. Most all, including President Obama when he unsuccessfully petitioned Congress to vote on military action in Syria, agree that many of the conflicts funded through the AUMFs extend well beyond the legeslation’s original intent. 

As a consequence of making the  purposeful choice to remain on the foreign policy sidelines, the members of the House and Senate ignore the combined wisdom of their 535 duly elected members in favor of the President and their small band of advisors. This is an obvious mistake. 

In response to this embarrassing state of affairs, and before the Biden administration’s top-down withdrawal from Afghanistan, I wrote advocating that both chambers of the Legislature adopt the following rule-

Before the end of each congressional cycle, each representative must vote for or against continued funding for each of America’s ongoing military conflicts. In the event that neither branch of the legislature votes in support for continued funding for any individual conflict, funding for that conflict is assigned a sunset date one year from the day of the vote.

While the language of the proposal would likely benefit from some fine-tuning, the driving force behind the proposal -the idea that the legislative branch should be held responsible for completing its constitutionally assigned foreign policy responsibilities- remains as relevant today as it was years ago.

In the current moment, and in defiance of recent historical precedent, both chambers of the Legislature appear primed to express their views on key foreign policy issues ranging from the ongoing invasion of Ukraine to the continued tragedy taking place in Gaza. If media predictions can be believed there is sufficient support in both chambers to pass additional funding for the defense of Ukraine- so long as that funding can receive a clean vote. This support is mirrored in the general American public. Why then has no vote taken place? 

This is the case because leadership in the House of Representatives has decided to make it so. Congressional leaders are using their agenda setting authority to thwart both the will of the institutions in which they serve and the citizens that they represent. This trend is not new, nor is it the sole responsibility of the current speaker- past speakers were unwilling to bring votes to the floor during other modern military romps.  Some have suggested that this is due to electoral considerations, others have pointed to internal politics, others still have highlighted personal considerations. Few have suggested that the lack of a vote is in pursuit of sound foreign policy. 

Regardless of the reason, the fact that Congressional leaders would appropriate House rules as an excuse to ignore their constitutionally assigned responsibilities is shameful. It is, for a moment, unimportant  where we might personally stand regarding continued funding for Ukraine or the IDF, each of us has a right to know where our representatives stand on these critical questions. Current leadership in the House is working to make sure that their band is shielded from the sanitizing light of a public ballot. 

This brings me back once more to the rule I propose requiring representatives to take timely votes for or against continued funding for military missions. The original intent with the institutional rule was to push for a vote and end funding for the wars in the Middle East. Today, the rule would likely result in additional funding for the defense of Ukraine. The goal of the proposal is not inherently “more peace” or “more war” but instead “more thoughtfulness” to replace today’s willful rudderlessness. Who can argue with that?

Perhaps it should come as little surprise that as conflicts spring up in hotspots around the world and the risks begin to feel closer to home, many in the Legislature would like to have their voices heard. Perhaps it should also come as little surprise that decades of ignoring foreign policy questions has brought about conditions in which dealing with foreign policy questions is increasingly urgent. Adopting the proposed rule would both help guide the United States through today’s turbulent moment, and it would also help maintain thoughtful foreign policy moving forwards. 

Peter Scaturro is the Director of Studies at the Foreign Policy Association. The views expressed here are his, and not necessarily those of the FPA. 

Russia's Su-57 Felon Fighter Nightmare Just Won't End

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 17:03

Summary: Russia's advanced Su-57 Felon fighter remains a rare sight on the Ukrainian battlefield. Production delays and Western sanctions cripple its ability to mass-produce the aircraft despite Moscow's urgent need. Even the use of innovative augmented reality techniques hasn't solved the issue. While touted as a stealth fighter, Western analysis remains skeptical. Its limited, cautious use in Ukraine shows its preciousness and emphasizes how production issues have left the Su-57 unable to make a significant impact on the war.

Russia's Su-57 Felon Fighter Has A Problem 

The Su-57 Felon is the most advanced fighter jet in the Russian military’s arsenal. 

Despite an urgent need caused by the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, the Russian Aerospace Forces can only field a handful of Su-57 fighter jets, most of which are prototypes pressed into operational service. 

Production issues coupled with Western sanctions likely prevent the Russian aerospace industry from producing additional aircraft in a manner that could make a difference in the war in Ukraine. 

Su-57 Felon Production

For years, the aircraft's production has been plagued by problems and delays. The first production Su-57 Felon aircraft crashed soon after leaving the factory in 2019. 

The Kremlin unconventionally put the first dozen prototypes into service. This rather desperate move indicates an urgency to demonstrate fifth-generation capability and join the “big boys club” alongside the United States and China. 

However, production issues and Western sanctions on military hardware and technology mean that despite innovative manufacturing processes, Russia will unlikely produce more Su-57 fighter jets soon. 

Perhaps the most impressive of these methods is augmented reality. Russian technicians have been using augmented reality to assemble the aircraft. Major parts of the aircraft carry QR codes that a technician scans and the technician then uses augmented reality to figure out where they go. Essentially, it is like the technician has IKEA assembly instructions in front of him. 

Similar technology and processes are being used in the automobile industry to facilitate the faster production of cars. 

Extreme precision in the manufacturing of aircraft like the Su-57 is essential, less its low-observable attributes, which contribute to the designation of an aircraft as stealth or not, are off. If, for example, a technician improperly installs a screw that causes the airframe to be slightly off, that could impact the fighter jet’s stealth characteristics. 

The Su-57 Felon, Explained 

The Su-57 Felon is a twin-engine, single-seat fighter jet that can perform several different mission sets. Although the Russian military claims the aircraft has stealth capabilities, Western analyses don’t necessarily corroborate that claim. 

Nevertheless, the Su-57 Felon brings essential capabilities to the Russian Aerospace Forces. In terms of weaponry, the fighter jet can carry a wide range of munitions, including R-73 heat-seeking air-to-air missiles and R-27 radar-homing air-to-air missiles, as well as cruise missiles, hypersonic munitions, glide bombs, rockets, and conventional bombs. 

The Su-57 Felon also carries a powerful 30mm Gryazev-Shipunov GSh-30-1 cannon with 150 rounds for dogfights or strafing. When not in use, the cannon's muzzle is concealed to maintain the fighter jet’s aerodynamic performance and low-observability attributes. 

According to Western intelligence services, the Russian Aerospace Forces have used their limited fleet of Su-57 Felon fighter jets in the conflict in Ukraine. However, the Kremlin has been cautious with its most advanced fighter jet, using it in limited instances and only for long-range strike missions with stand-off munitions. 

Thus far, Moscow’s technological pride has failed to meet expectations and hasn’t made any difference in the largest conflict the Russian miliary has found itself since the Great Patriotic War in World War Two. 

About the Author

Stavros Atlamazoglou is a seasoned defense journalist specializing in special operations and a Hellenic Army veteran (national service with the 575th Marine Battalion and Army HQ). He holds a BA from Johns Hopkins University and an MA from the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). His work has been featured in Business Insider, Sandboxx, and SOFREP. Email the author:

Ukraine Shot Down Two Russian A-50 Spy Planes (and Hit the Repair Factory)

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 16:49

Summary: Ukraine's strikes on Russia's costly A-50 surveillance planes are seriously impacting Moscow's intelligence capabilities. Kyiv has destroyed at least two A-50s in the air, with another damaged in Belarus. Russia, possessing only a handful of these aircraft, struggles to replace them. Ukraine's recent attack on a repair facility further hinders Russia's efforts. This leaves Moscow with potentially only six operational A-50s, restricting their ability to track Ukrainian movements and forcing them closer to the frontlines, increasing vulnerability. While Russia did destroy a US-supplied Patriot missile system, drone surveillance remains an imperfect substitute for the A-50s.

The Russian Air Force Has Problems in Ukraine 

Already this year, Ukraine's military has shot down two of Russia's A-50 long-range radar detection and control aircraft, worth $330 million each. A Ukrainian drone also damaged another on the ground in Belarus last year. The loss of any of the aircraft has been seen as potentially devastating for Moscow, as Russia began the war just over two years ago with only nine of the reconnaissance planes.

One of the Beriev A-50 airborne warning and control (AWACS) was downed over the Sea of Azov in mid-January, while a second was shot down over Russian territory in late February. The Kremlin has scrambled to replace the aircraft, reportedly attempting to refurbish least one A-50 from the several dozen that are no longer deemed flyable.

Ukraine responded by conducting a drone strike on the aviation facility in the city of Taganrog tasked with repairing A-50s. According to a report from Newsweek , the plant was "heavily damaged," and an A-50 aircraft close to the facility was either destroyed or sustained significant damage. It isn't clear whether that particular plane was damaged or operational.

Kyiv's claims haven't been independently verified and the Kremlin hasn't commented on the news. However, as reported – citing open source intelligence – as recently as February 29, an A-50 was parked outside the final-assembly shed. The aircraft wasn't visible in the post-strike imagery, and there is speculation it was inside the shed when the drone attack occurred.

Russia may now have as few as six A-50s in the sky, which could limit its ability to monitor the skies over Ukraine. That could force the remaining A-50s to operate closer to the frontlines, which would put them in the crosshairs of Kyiv's anti-aircraft launchers.

The good news for Moscow is that its forces destroyed a U.S.-made MIM-104 Patriot air defense system last week while it was being relocated to a new forward position. Both sides have thus taken a loss of equipment that can only be described as irreplaceable in the short term. Moscow has already been attempting to fill the reconnaissance gap with drones, but the stop-gap measure has reportedly been met with limited success.

A-50: Russia's AWACS

The Beriev A-50 (NATO reporting name "Mainstay") was developed by the Soviet Union in the 1970s and is based on the Ilyushin Il-76 transport. Developed to replace the Tupolev Tu-126 (NATO reporting name "Moss"), the A-50 took its maiden flight in 1978 and entered service in 1985.

As previously reported by The National Interest, the aircraft has been compared to the United States Air Force's E-3 Sentry – commonly known as the AWACS (Airborne Warning and Command System) – but with notably fewer capabilities.

The A-50 is a four-engine jet-propelled aircraft, equipped with rotating radar that scans 360 degrees, detecting radars and potential targets in the air and on land. Each aircraft has a crew of 15 personnel who are tasked with interpreting radar returns and then relaying the information to up to ten fighter aircraft for either air-to-air intercepts or air-to-surface attack missions.

The aircraft can track air targets at a distance of up to 650 km (400 miles) and ground targets at 300 km (190 miles), while it can track around 300 ground or 40 air targets simultaneously. Without external support from airborne tankers, the A-50 can stay airborne for up to four hours and has a range of 1,000 km (620 miles). The A-50M variant has been modified to allow airborne refueling by Il-78 tankers, which can extend its loiter and surveillance time.

While a total of 40 were built, just nine were reported to be in operation when Russia launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine almost two years ago.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

The B-21 Raider Stealth Bomber Is No Perfect Weapon

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 16:39

Key Point: The vulnerability of the high-value B-21 Raider, a $700 million strategic bomber crucial to U.S. national security, to various cost-effective threats is an important point lost on many national security experts.

The B-21 Raider Is No Perfect Bomber

The Ghoul is a low-cost first-person-view Russian drone used successfully in Ukraine against $10 million Abrams tanks. At $500 per drone, the cost of a Ghoul measures in at a 1:20,000 ratio to that of the tank. 

The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider will play a vital role in U.S. national security and strategic deterrence. What are some cost-effective “ghouls” that could take the glorious B-21 “angel” out of the sky? To find the answer, we start by asking what can fly faster, farther, or higher than the B-21. Other systems might not even need to match the Raider’s flight capabilities. 

The weapons in service, development, and theory that pose the most danger fall into four general categories, with some overlap: energy directed weapons (EDW), hypersonic glide vehicles (HGV), nuclear powered missiles (NPM), and orbital bombardment systems (OBS). 

(No) Need for Speed

EDWs overcome the need for greater speed or range. When fielded, energy directed weapons will offer the ability to point a laser or multiple lasers at the B-21 from satellites in space, ground-based systems, or airborne systems such as drones. This is an effective way to bring down the Raider – a $700 million aircraft – and its two pilots. 

The cost of the B-21’s arsenal also enters the equation. Equipping a B-21 Raider with a range of advanced munitions, including the modernized B61-12 nuclear bomb and precision-guided munitions like the AGM-158B JASSM-ER, JDAM kits, and AARGMs, could add at least $20 million to the Raider’s value while in flight. The inclusion of just one B61-12, after its Life Extension Program, represents a significant portion of this additional expenditure, potentially costing from $20 million to $22.5 million per unit. 

Sticking with the 1:20,000 ratio defined above, if an EDW fires and hits the Raider at a cost of $35,000 or less, that is the Raider’s ghoul. These threats are not yet fully online, but they will be. They will pose a significant threat to the B-21 when the Raider fully assumes its role as the Air Force’s workhorse bomber for the remainder of this century. 

Another cheap option is to detonate a tactical nuke in the vicinity of the Raider, which would not require a direct hit. Despite widespread aversion to using nukes, the exchange could be a bargain. 

B-21 Raider: Ghoulish Capabilities

The Raider’s baseball stats are classified, but we do know the B-21 is a strategic bomber with an emphasis on stealth. A more aerodynamic body built with materials that emphasize speed would make the bomber more easily detectable by radar. We can thus speculate that on the generous side, the B-21 has a maximum range of 6,500 miles with a top speed of no more than Mach 1, and a maximum ceiling of 55,000 feet. 

So what can fly faster, farther, or higher and threaten the flight of the B-21? 

A handful of Russian and Chinese ghouls fit the description. Three of them are hypersonic glide vehicles, including Russia’s Avangard as well as China’s DF-17 and DF-ZF. 

HGVs travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 with advanced maneuverability, making interception difficult. If deployed against a B-21, their hypersonic speeds would drastically reduce the reaction time available for the bomber to evade, or for defensive systems to intercept the missile. HGVs equipped with sophisticated targeting and guidance systems might exploit vulnerabilities in the stealth bomber’s defensive measures, especially if the HGVs are launched in a coordinated attack designed to saturate defenses.

At a reported speed of Mach 20, the Russian-made Avangard is 20 times faster than the B-21’s likely top speed. A human pilot might be able to outmaneuver the Avangard – the B-21 has longer staying power in the air compared to the Avangard and its range of about 3,700 miles. 

However, the conditions of such an encounter would not favor the Raider’s evasion. The Avangard would be launched atop an intercontinental ballistic missile, giving it a head start before it started gliding independently toward its target at hypersonic speed. Further, the B21 likely already flew at least a few thousand miles by the time it detected the Avangard, negating the advantage in range.

At a reported top speed of Mach 10 with a range of 1,200 miles, China’s DF-ZF grabs fewer headlines than the Avangard but is still a threat to the B-21. With a high speed of Mach 7 and a range of 1,400 miles, the DF-17 could threaten a B-21 as it approaches China. 

HGVs might become more lethal still as artificial intelligence is integrated into the weapons. AI might enhance the missiles’ evasion capabilities against missile defense systems, as well as improving decisionmaking and target recognition.

A Nuclear Submarine in the Sky

Russia’s SSC-X-9 Skyfall nuclear-powered cruise missile is still under development, but if Moscow deploys it, the device could pose a powerful threat to aircraft like the B-21. 

The Skyfall would use a nuclear reactor to heat air for jet propulsion, giving it potentially unlimited range and a speculated speed of Mach 4-6. The Skyfall could operate at various altitudes depending on mission phase and strategic requirements. It could sustain flight at low altitudes for stealth penetration, and reach higher altitudes to prioritize speed or range.

This is not the most obvious choice of weapon to pit against a B-21, but by virtue of its speed and unlimited range, if there were other offensive systems working against and distracting the B-21, the Skyfall could deliver a hit once the Raider runs out of fuel. A more aggressive Skyfall move would be to detonate within a range that would knock out the B-21. A less aggressive, peacetime move would be to trail the B-21, challenging the Raider’s stealthiness. The Skyfall could function like a nuclear submarine in the sky. 

The Skyfall is not available yet, but given that the B-21 will be the U.S.’ strategic bomber well into the latter half of the 21st century, it is reasonable to include the Skyfall as a potential threat. However, while the NPM would surpass the B-21 in range and speed, its price tag – perhaps $200 million per unit excluding R&D – lands it well short of “ghoul” status. Still, it will be cheaper than the $700 million B-21, not to mention the aircraft’s two pilots. Nor will the Raider’s $65,000-per-hour cost of flight time apply to the more economical NPM. 

In any confrontation between the two, time would be on Skyfall’s side. It could take all the time in the world while moving at speeds greater than Mach 4, with no pilot or plane fatigue. 

The Power of MOBS

China’s F/MOBS (Fractional/ Multiple Orbital Bombardment System) also fits the bill. China has been actively pursuing an F/MOBS program, something the Soviets successfully tested as far back as 1969. 

The sheer volume and variety of threats posed by F/MOBS and HGV could challenge the defensive capabilities of even the most advanced stealth bombers like the B-21 – especially if an orbital bombardment system can effectively target airbases or known flight paths. 

Orbital or near-orbital assets can achieve extremely high velocities, significantly reducing reaction times for a lower-flying B-21, even at its likely maximum ceiling of around 55,000 feet. On this battlefield in the sky, MOBS would have the higher ground and superior numbers.

The B-21 represents an important component of the nuclear triad, but like any component, it has vulnerabilities. Defending a B-21 Raider against these threats depends on the advancement of early warning systems, electronic warfare capabilities, counter-hypersonic technologies, and propulsion of satellite-based weapons. 

For resiliency, the U.S. should counter on land with more effective and capable deterrents – for instance, it could increase the number of Sentinel ICBMs – while the Space Force should focus on the development of counterspace capabilities, and at sea, Washington should signal its support for the SLCM-N.

About the Author 

Alexis Littlefield, PhD, is Chief of Staff at the National Institute for Deterrence Studies and a Fellow of the Institute. He lived two decades in Taiwan and China.

Su-27 Fighter Down: The Russian Air Force's Ukraine Nightmare Won't End

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 15:29

Summary: On March 12, a Russian Su-27 fighter jet, crucial in the aerospace conflict dynamics, reportedly crashed near the Ukraine border in Valuyki, Belgorod. Circulating video footage shows smoke plumes, though details are unverified. Ukrainian figure Igor Suskho attributed the incident to the pro-Ukraine Russian Freedom Legion's activities, a claim not confirmed by Russia's Defense Ministry. The Su-27, a Soviet-era air superiority fighter designed to counter U.S. aircraft, remains integral to Russian air defense, despite controversies like China's unlicensed production. Its significance extends into the ongoing Russia-Ukraine war, with the aircraft engaging on both fronts.

Russian Su-27 Fighter Jet Reportedly Downed Near Ukraine Border: Unverified Claims Surface

The Russian Aerospace Forces reportedly lost another fighter jet on March 12 as a Sukhoi Su-27 crashed near the border with Ukraine. The supersonic fighter came down near the town of Valuyki, in the Belgorod region. Video footage quickly circulated online that showed plumes of smoke rising into the sky. The details have not been independently verified.

"Russian Su-27 fighter aircraft reportedly shot down over Belgorod, on the Russian side of the border with Ukraine, where the pro-Ukraine Russian Freedom Legion is currently active," wrote Ukrainian propagandist Igor Suskho on X. Suksho shared the video footage.

The Russian Ministry of Defense did not confirm the crash.

The Su-27 in the Crosshairs

The Sukhoi Su-27 (NATO reporting name Flanker) was developed in the Soviet Union in the early 1970s to be the Kremlin's answer to the F-15 Eagle and the F-14 Tomcat.

The Flanker first entered service in the mid-1980s as an air superiority fighter. Its primary role was to be a long-range interceptor against U.S. Air Force strategic bombers such as the B-1B Lancer, B-52G, and H Stratofortress, while also protecting the Soviet Union's coastlines from aircraft carriers. It was further tasked as a long-range fighter escort for Soviet heavy bombers including the Tupolev Tu-95, Tupolev Tu-22M, and Tupolev Tu-160.

After the Soviet Union dissolved, the Flanker remained the backbone of the Russian Air Force throughout the 1990s and early 2000s. Many of the aircraft underwent a mid-life upgrade and were redesignated as the Su-27SM. The fighters were equipped with new avionics, and they were complemented by a small batch of newly built aircraft that also featured improved avionics and mission equipment. Those aircraft were designated Su-27SM3.

In the 1990s, Moscow began to produce the Flanker for foreign sales. Among the export models was the baseline Su-27SK, developed for China, which also received the Su-27UBK.

After the People’s Liberation Army received around 80 of the Russian-built aircraft, Beijing began to produce a licensed version. China angered Russia when it built 95 single-seat models designated as the J-11, a reverse-engineered version of the Su-27.  

Use by Both Sides in the Russian-Ukraine War

The Su-27 has seen considerable service in the conflict in Ukraine.

In fact, the first Soviet unit to receive the Flanker was the 831st Fighter Regiment (now Brigade), which was based at Myrhorod, in the former Soviet Republic of Ukraine. The unit was considered to be among the best in the Soviet Union.

Around two dozen were still reported to be in Ukrainian service when Russia launched its unprovoked invasion in February 2022.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

Image Credit: Shutterstock. 

China's B-21 Raider: The Xi'an H-20 Stealth Bomber Is Coming Soon

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 15:17

Summary: China is on the brink of unveiling its highly anticipated Xi'an H-20 stealth bomber, a move that could significantly shift the strategic balance in the Pacific. First announced in 2016, the H-20 has remained shrouded in mystery, with sparse details emerging through state media and promotional videos hinting at its advanced flying wing design. Deputy Commander Wang Wei of the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) has assured that there are no insurmountable challenges left in the bomber's development. The H-20, dubbed "Storm" by analysts, is poised to enhance China's long-range striking capabilities, potentially reaching as far as the U.S. West Coast with a payload of 45 tons. Comparisons have been drawn between the H-20 and U.S. stealth bombers like the B-2 Spirit and the forthcoming B-21 Raider. As the world awaits its official reveal, the H-20 signifies China's growing prowess in modern aerial warfare and its quest for a qualitative edge in nuclear and conventional strike capabilities.

China's H-20 Stealth Bomber: A Storm Brewing in the Pacific

The United States Air Force pulled out all stops in December 2022 when it officially unveiled the Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider at an event at the aerospace firm's testing and development facility in Palmdale, California. Now it appears that Beijing may go to similar lengths when it introduces its Xi'an H-20 stealth bomber to the world.

Chinese state media outlet Global Times reported on Monday that the strategic aircraft could be unveiled to the public soon. The aircraft was first announced by the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) commander Ma Xiaotian in 2016, but since that time little official information has been released – apart from a video by the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China in 2018 and a PLAAF recruitment video in 2021.

"Both videos featured computer-generated scenes of an unknown large aircraft covered in a blanket, with the aircraft's outline suggesting it boasts a flying wing design, but with no further elaboration," the Global Times reported.

"It's coming soon, just wait!" Deputy Commander Wang Wei further told Chinese state-owned newspaper Hong Kong Commercial Daily in an interview on Monday.

Wang, who is also a member of the 14th National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), added, "There is no bottleneck, and all problems can be solved. Our scientific researchers are progressing well, they are fully capable."

The H-20 has been described as "a new generation of new aircraft," and could greatly enhance China's aerial warfare capabilities.

"A generation of equipment brings a generation of combat effectiveness," Wang stated.

The Gathering Stealth Bomber Storm

Even as details of the H-20 have remained sparse, the bomber has earned the moniker "Storm" by analysts, who have noted that China alongside the United States is one of the few nations possessing stealth strategic bombers. The H-20's introduction could potentially alter the strategic balance between the U.S. and China, particularly in the Pacific region, Newsweek reported.

As Brent Eastwood previously wrote for The National Interest, "A heavy-payload, deep-penetration bomber would help China alter the nuclear balance with the United States. There is no current arms control agreement with the United States, and Beijing is always looking for a qualitative nuclear edge over Washington."

He added, "The Xian H-20 could also bully China’s neighbors by reaching Japan, Guam, and the Philippines, not to mention pulling a surprise attack against Taiwan. It has an enviable range of around 5,281 miles if reports are accurate, and aerial refueling could make it to Hawaii – and even the West Coast of the United States. The H-20 could also have a weapons payload of 45 tons."

The Xian's flying wing profile has earned comparisons to the U.S. Air Force's B-2 Spirit bomber, as well as the upcoming B-21 Raider. However, few other details about the H-20 have been officially disclosed or made public. Last year, photos of the aircraft were reportedly published in the latest edition of Modern Weaponry, a magazine that is run by the state defense corporation China North Industries Group (Norinco). The four computer-generated images – if they can be believed – may have highlighted some of the bomber's capabilities.

What We Know on H-20 Bomber

Based on recent reports, the Xi'an H-20 likely has an internal weapons bay, two adjustable tail wings, an airborne radar at the front of the aircraft, and two stealth air intakes on each side. In addition, the entire bomber could also be seen covered in a dark gray radar-absorbent material.

It is also believed that the H-20 could be equipped with either conventional or nuclear missiles and that it would have a maximum take-off weight of at least 200 tonnes with a payload upwards of 45 tonnes. It has been further speculated that the aircraft could fly at subsonic speeds and could also be armed with up to four hypersonic stealth cruise missiles.

To date, few photos and even fewer details have ever been disclosed publicly. Yet, it is expected that the shape and size of the aircraft are similar to that seen in a promotional video that was posted to state media in January 2021.

Titled, "Dream of Youth," the recruiting video first appeared on YouTube on January 5, 2021, and it followed a pair of recruits – played by noted Chinese actors Jackson Yee and Wu Jing – as they join the PLAAF and become pilots. It ends with an unveiling of the aircraft that they'll be flying. In the closing moments of the video, a previously unseen bomber was revealed in a type of dramatic fashion normally reserved for automotive trade shows – as a white sheet covering the aircraft was removed, revealing a flying wing design with two intakes at the back of the airframe. Seen only in a reflection of one of the pilot's helmet visors it didn't provide a detailed look at the aircraft, but across social media, it was suggested the aircraft was in fact, the H-20.

That video was produced by the state firm Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC) to mark the 60th anniversary of the founding of the XAC. The early 2021 video followed a similar promotional "sizzle reel" that was released in May 2018, which also included a brief glimpse of a similar-looking aircraft partially exposed from under a sheet.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

Image Credit: H-20 Screenshot from YouTube. 

Russia Claims Major Hit: Patriot Air-Defense System Destroyed in Ukraine

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 13:37

Summary: Russia has claimed to have destroyed a high-value MIM-104 Patriot air-defense system in Ukraine, marking a significant loss for Kyiv's forces. This comes after the reported destruction of U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams tanks and a HIMARS launcher. The Russian Ministry of Defense alleges the hit was achieved with a hypersonic missile on a Ukrainian convoy, initially believed to be transporting an S-300 launcher but later suggested to be a German-supplied Patriot system. This incident highlights the challenges Ukraine faces in protecting its air defenses while being stretched thin across multiple fronts. The loss of the Patriot, a key asset in Ukraine's defense strategy against aerial threats, underscores the ongoing intense warfare and strategic implications for Ukrainian air defense capabilities.

Setback for Ukraine: Loss of Crucial Patriot Defense System to Russian Missile

Following the destruction of at least three U.S.-supplied M1 Abrams main battle tanks (MBT), and a HIMARS mobile launcher, it now appears that Kyiv's forces may have seen the loss of one of its high-valued MIM-104 Patriot air-defense systems.

The Russian Ministry of Defense released a video that initially claimed to have destroyed a Ukrainian S-300 launcher using an Iskander ballistic missile, but additional analysis has suggested that it may have been a German-supplied Patriot – one of just three full batteries operated by the Ukrainian Air Force. The Russian hypersonic surface-to-surface missile reportedly scored a direct hit on a Ukrainian convoy that was spotted by a Russian drone.

This is the first loss of a Patriot PAC-2 air-defense system – each believed to cost around $400 million – in the more than two-year-long war. The Patriot has been a crucial component of Ukraine's air defenses, believed to have been responsible for shooting dozens of Russian aircraft and possibly hundreds of drones and missiles, including the Iskander.

However, to successfully counter a missile, the air-defense system must be deployed, which wasn't the case on Saturday when was part of a convoy moving to a new location. The Ukrainian Air Forces may have stretched too thin to protect its cities, ground troops, and the convoy. As a result of the loss, it will now be even further stretched.

The MIM-104 Patriot in The Crosshairs

As noted by Army Recognition, the MIM-104 Patriot anti-aircraft defense system was developed for the United States military, It is an advanced surface-to-air missile system designed to detect, track, and intercept an enemy's aircraft, tactical ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles. The Patriot can integrate high-performance radar and sophisticated computer systems for precise guidance and control, allowing for the simultaneous engagement of multiple threats.

It was one of the most sophisticated weapons that Washington provided to Kyiv last year, as it is capable of countering Russia's ballistic missiles, and unlike other air-defense systems supplied by the West, the Patriot can also strike targets at a much farther distance. U.S. officials had said it could help secure the airspace and thus protect NATO nations in Eastern Europe.

The Patriot system was developed in the 1970s to counter Soviet missiles. It uses an advanced aerial interceptor missile and high-performance radar systems. The MIM-104 gained prestige during the Persian Gulf War of 1991 with the claimed engagement of over 40 Iraqi Scud missiles. Ukraine has said that employed the Patriot system to shoot down Russian ballistic missiles, including the air-launched Kinzhal.

Russia's Claims Trio Destroyed

The Kremlin further claimed to have destroyed three launchers in total.

"The Iskander tactical missile system presumably wiped out three launchers of the US-made Patriot system near Pokrovsk," a source in the Russian military told state media outlet Tass, while the report added that the same strike also "liquidated Western mercenaries" who operated the missile systems.

Moscow has alleged that NATO troops rather than Ukrainian Air Force personnel of operated the launchers.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

Image Credit: Shutterstock. 

The Royal Navy's Aircraft Carrier Nightmare Just Won't End

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 13:24

Summary: The UK's Royal Navy faces challenges with its Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which have encountered a series of setbacks including mechanical failures and operational limitations. Recently, HMS Queen Elizabeth experienced a minor fire while docked in Scotland, although damage was minimal and no one was hurt. Despite their combined cost of £7 billion, questions arise regarding their defense capabilities and operational independence, as the Royal Navy struggles with logistical support and an unclear mission for these carriers. Issues with HMS Prince of Wales, such as engine room leaks and mechanical breakdowns, underscore concerns about the reliability and effectiveness of these ships amid broader concerns about the UK's military readiness.

UK's Aircraft Carrier Woes: The Troubled Journey of HMS Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales

Much has been written about the Russian Navy's cursed aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov – but the UK's Royal Navy's flattops are proving to be nearly as problem-plagued. The $3.7 billion flagship HMS Queen Elizabeth­, which has already been sidelined due to an issue with her starboard propeller shaft, caught fire over the weekend while docked for repairs at Glen Mallan on Loch Long in Scotland.

The damage was reported to be minimal and there were no fatalities or injuries, while no ordnance was involved in the incident.

"A minor, isolated fire on HMS Queen Elizabeth was quickly brought under control and extinguished," a Royal Navy spokesperson told the UK Defence Journal.

Expensive Aircraft Carrier Mistakes for Royal Navy?

The Royal Navy's two Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers were approved in 2007 by then-Prime Minister Gordon Brown. HMS Prince of Wales was almost canceled and scrapped even before it set sail due to concerns over funding, yet, it was determined that axing it would be more expensive than completing it.

HMS Prince of Wales and HMS Queen Elizabeth cost a combined £7 billion, but it is widely accepted the Royal Navy remains unable to adequately defend or operate them independently. The UK's senior service has just one solid stores ship, RFA Fort Victoria, to support the carriers and she is due to be retired in 2028.

As a result, the mission of the Royal Navy's carriers isn't exactly clear – a point made by Tom Sharpe of the UK's Telegraph newspaper, who offered this commentary:

"Our carriers are a great capability but even when they are fully formed, in some faraway time when we have a full complement of UK jets and other aircraft to put on them, they will never rival a US Carrier Strike Group for the breadth of capability and firepower. This doesn't mean they aren’t capable but they aren't as capable as that."

Sharpe further suggested that the Royal Navy's carriers are nowhere near being fully formed and equipped, warning there are gaping holes in the ships' airborne early warning, air-to-air refueling, and solid stores support – which includes food, jet parts, ammunition and ordnance, as well as other goods.

Problems Continue

Though the fire on HMS Queen Elizabeth was minor – and shipboard fires aren't exactly uncommon – it served as a reminder of the problems with the Royal Navy's two carriers.

HMS Prince of Wales languished in a Scottish dockyard – the same one where HMS Queen Elizabeth is headed – after it broke down off the Isle of Wight in August 2022. Since her commissioning in 2019, HMS Prince of Wales has been laid up almost as much time as she's been at sea.

The carrier's problems have been serious and ongoing, putting into question her reliability. The issues began in early 2020, when the carrier suffered a leak in the engine room, followed by the collapse of an accommodation block.

The recent sidelining of the Royal Navy's flagship also comes as UK ministers have warned that the nation isn't sufficiently prepared to fight an all-out war amid stockpile shortages and an armed forces recruitment crisis. The Royal Navy once ruled the waves, now it can barely keep its carriers operational.

Perhaps that is why some in the British government may seek to cut the losses and sell off one of the carriers. The question is who would want to actually buy one?

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author:

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Columbia-Class: The Navy's $346 Billion Missile Submarines Have a Problem

The National Interest - Tue, 12/03/2024 - 13:13

Summary: The U.S. Navy's Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines, set to replace the Ohio-class, face delays due to supplier issues, pushing the delivery of the lead vessel, USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826), to Fiscal Year 2028. Challenges include delays in the construction of the bow module at Huntington Ingalls Industries in Virginia and steam turbines by Northrop Grumman. The program, crucial for the U.S. strategic deterrent mission, is one of the Pentagon's most expensive, with an estimated total lifecycle cost of $347 billion. These submarines, the largest ever built by the U.S., feature advanced technology and a life-of-ship reactor.

Behind Schedule: Challenges Rock the Columbia-Class Submarine Program

The United States Navy's future Columbia-class nuclear-powered ballistic missile submarines – which are set to replace the aging Ohio-class boats – could arrive later than expected according to reports that circulated late Monday. According to the Capitol Forum, the U.S. Navy is now forecasting at least a year-long delay to the acquisition program due to supplier problems.

USNI News further reported that the lead boat of the program is facing a delay due to supplier issues, and as a result, the future USS District of Columbia (SSBN-826) could be delivered in Fiscal year 2028 (FY28) instead of the previously planned FY27 delivery.

The largest hurdle is the lead boat's bow module, which is now under construction at Huntington Ingall Industry's Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia and is far behind schedule. Moreover, the entire program is further facing delays from the steam turbines that Northrop Grumman is building for the U.S. Navy.

HII has been late in delivering other sections of the boat, which has delayed the timeline for the construction of SSBN-826.

"We're seeing stress across the industrial base and again I think putting this in the context of the Secretary's 45-day review will add additional depth and context to the challenges that we’re seeing across the shipbuilding portfolio and we expect to have that done fairly soon," Under Secretary Erik Raven told USNI News following the U.S. Navy's Fiscal Year 2025 budget briefing on Monday.

Replacing the Ohio-class

Originally known as the Ohio Replacement Program (ORP) or SSBN(X), until 2016, it called for replacing the Ohio-class subs with the new Columbia -class SSBNs beginning in the early 2030s.

The program's goal is to build a dozen of the new nuclear-powered submarines, and those boats will continue to support the U.S. strategic deterrent mission.

However, the program now appears to be running behind schedule, and the U.S. Navy may be forced to keep the Ohio-class subs in service longer than expected. The original plan called for the first of the SSBNs to be retired beginning in 2027, with an additional boat leaving the service every year until 2040. The Navy has already determined it would be possible to extend the service life of at least five of its Ohio-class subs by two to three years each so that the force would remain at 12 vessels or more for all but three years between 2024 and 2053.

Expensive Program

Even before the delays were announced – which could raise the price tag – the Columbia -class SSBNs were on track to be one of the most expensive Pentagon programs. It was previously reported that the U.S. Navy would spend around $132 billion for the procurement of the dozen submarines, while the total lifecycle cost for the entire class is estimated at $347 billion.

That figure includes all projected costs to develop, buy, and operate the 12 submarines through 2042.

In its Fiscal Year 2019 (FY19) request, Navy officials asked for $3.7 billion for the Columbia-class program – a 97% increase over 2018, making it the second-most expensive program in the 2019 Pentagon budget request, next to the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, which is operated by the U.S. Air Force, U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps.

Last October, a Congressional Budget Office (CBO) warned that the program risks running at least 20% over, or about $20 billion, due to potential delays.

Large and In Charge

The new SSBNs will be the largest submarines ever built by the United States. Each of the planned dozen boats will be 560 feet in length and have a beam of 43 feet.

The Columbia-class will be equipped with sixteen SLBM tubes, as opposed to twenty-four SLBM tubes on Ohio-class SSBNs. That will also reduce construction, operations, and maintenance costs. In addition, the new boats will utilize the joint American-British developed Common Missile Compartment (CMC), which will also be installed on the Royal Navy's new Dreadnought-class submarines. It was designed to launch the Trident II D5 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). The joint effort has been reported to save each nation hundreds of millions of dollars.

The new submarines will be longer, heavier, and feature a complex electric drive propulsion system and associated technology.

Unlike the preceding Ohio-class, the new ballistic missile submarines are being constructed with a life-of-ship reactor, which will result in a shorter mid-life maintenance period, and each was designed to serve a 42-year service life.

Author Experience and Expertise: Peter Suciu

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer. He has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers, and websites with over 3,200 published pieces over a twenty-year career in journalism. He regularly writes about military hardware, firearms history, cybersecurity, politics, and international affairs. Peter is also a Contributing Writer for Forbes and Clearance Jobs. You can follow him on Twitter: @PeterSuciu. You can email the author: