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The F-35 Just Made History: Full-Scale Production Begins

Fri, 15/03/2024 - 00:30

Summary: The F-35 Lightning II, a stealth fighter jet, received Pentagon approval for full-scale production on March 12, marking a significant milestone for the program. Under Secretary of Defense William LaPlante praised the decision, which signals the program's stability and readiness to fulfill nearly 3,500 orders across its three versions. Despite this achievement, the program faces challenges with delivering the aircraft. Technical issues and manpower shortages have halted deliveries, despite Lockheed Martin producing at normal rates. The awaited TR-3 software update, crucial for new munitions and enhanced capabilities, further complicates deliveries. The Department of Defense may accept aircraft with older software to ensure timely fulfillment, underscoring the jet's critical role in national security.

F-35 Lightning II Hits Production Milestone: What Lies Ahead for the Stealth Fighter?

The F-35 Lightning II stealth fighter jet achieved another major milestone after the Pentagon approved full-scale production on March 12. 

“This is a major achievement for the F-35 program,” Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment William LaPlante said in a press release.

Lockheed Martin, the manufacturer, is now cleared hot to meet the vast demand for the aircraft from the U.S. military and from dozens of foreign partners. In total, there are almost 3,500 orders for the three iterations of the F-35, with several additional countries waiting to enter the program and submit their own orders. 

“This decision — backed by my colleagues in the department — highlights to the services, F-35 cooperative program partners, and Foreign Military Sales customers that the F-35 is stable and agile, and that all statutory and regulatory requirements have been appropriately addressed,” LaPlante added.

The F-35 Lightning II is the most advanced fighter jet in the skies today. A multi-role, fifth-generation stealth aircraft, the F-35 Lightning II comes in three versions (A, B, C) and can operate from the ground, from aircraft carriers, and in expeditionary conditions. 

Full-scale production approval is an important milestone, but it is of limited practical value. There are some serious issues with the production of the F-35 that largely negate the effect of the Pentagon’s announcement. 

What’s Up with F-35 Deliveries? 

Deliveries of F-35s have largely been halted. In its February fast facts on the F-35 program, Lockheed Martin indicated “990+” deliveries. More than a month later, in the March fast facts, the manufacturing company displays the exact same number of deliveries. To make matters more complicated, Lockheed Martin announced a few months ago that it reached the 1,000-aircraft milestone in production. 

Lockheed Martin has been producing aircraft at normal rates (approximately 158 aircraft a year) but isn’t delivering them, because technical issues and manpower shortages are delaying necessary software updates for the manufactured aircraft. 

Specifically, Lockheed Martin has been trying to roll out the TR-3 update, which includes upgrades to the F-35’s onboard digital infrastructure, data storage and processing capabilities, and user interface. In addition, the TR-3 will allow the fifth-generation stealth fighter to carry new air-to-air and air-to-ground munitions, as well as pack better sensors and cyber warfare countermeasures. 

If that wasn’t enough to complicate the situation, the F-35 Program is waiting for yet another major upgrade (Block 4) that cannot go through until the TR-3 software is ready. Block 4 is an important milestone in the F-35 program, and it will ensure that the stealth fighter is ready to fight and prevail in a contested near-peer operational environment. 

Although Lockheed Martin expects the issues with the TR-3 software to be resolved this year – within the summer according to some estimates – the Department of Defense is considering accepting deliveries of the aircraft with the older TR-2 software. 

Smooth and timely deliveries of the F-35 are a national security issue, as the fifth-generation fighter jet can make the difference in a potential conflict with a near-peer adversary. 

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

Image Credit: Shutterstock. 

Nimitz-Class Aircraft Carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower is Unstoppable

Fri, 15/03/2024 - 00:14

Key Point: The United States Navy's USS Dwight D. Eisenhower (CVN-69) is actually the second oldest nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in service in the world today and is currently scheduled to be replaced around 2029 when the new Gerald R. Ford-class supercarrier USS Enterprise (CVN-80) enters service. That is already later than the originally planned 2028 retirement for the CVN-69.

However, last year the U.S. Navy extended the service life of the second oldest Nimitz-class vessel as the Ford-class vessels are running late. The USS Nimitz (CVN-68) is currently on track to be retired in 2026 – and the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower could even remain in service into the early 2030s.

Mark Cancian, a retired Marine colonel now a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C., told Stars & Stripes on Thursday that keeping the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower beyond the original timeline for its retirement gives the Navy flexibility.

"It would help avoid that gap between when you plan on retiring the Eisenhower and when the Kennedy and other Ford-class carriers are ready to deploy," he explained, adding, "There is tension if you retire carriers on time and there are delays with replacements. You could end up with 10 carriers instead of 11 or 12. To be fair to the Navy, the president is always going to call on them to go anywhere in the world."

That point was made clear last October when President Joe Biden ordered the Eisenhower to the Middle East to support the USS Gerald R. Ford (CVN-78) following the Hamas terrorist attacks on Israel. Since last fall, CVN-69 has been in the Red Sea – joined by the guided-missile cruiser USS Philippine Sea and guided-missile destroyers USS Gravely and USS Mason to stop Houthi missile attacks on shipping. The carrier strike group remains in the U.S. Naval Forces Central Command/U.S. 5th Fleet area of operations to support maritime security and stability in the Middle East region.

Aircraft Carrier Late Arrivals

Extending the older carriers may be necessary as the U.S. Navy's future carriers may be late in arriving. The USS Gerald R. Ford had been originally scheduled for delivery in 2015, only to be pushed back to May 2017. Her first full overseas deployment was only last year – and she is next expected to head to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard for a $182.2 million electrical upgrade.

Moreover, two other Nimitz-class carriers, the USS George Washington (CVN-73) and USS John C. Stennis (CVN-74) are currently "out-of-service" at Naval Station Norfolk, Norfolk, Virginia – with the former completing her four-year Refueling and Complex Overhaul (RCOH) that began in August 2017. The latter vessel is next up for the scheduled RCOH, which will be completed sometime by the end of the decade.

Be Like Aircraft Carrier Ike

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower – "Ike" to its crew – is the second of the ten Nimitz-class carriers in service with the Navy today. Named to honor the 34th president of the U.S. and General of the Army, the ship has remained in service for more than four decades.

Congress authorized CVN-69 in 1970, which it later commissioned seven years later. Following more than a year of fleet training, Ike was deployed to the Mediterranean. The mighty shift underwent a major overhaul to be fitted with newer technology in the mid-1980s and was later released back into the waters by 1987.

Over its lengthy service history, the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower has been deployed to a litany of combat operations. The ship’s first deployment was dubbed Operation Eagle Claw during the 1980 Iran hostage crisis. One of the carrier's most notable deployments took place during Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990. CVN-69 made history when she became the second nuclear-powered carrier ever to transit the Suez Canal.

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org. 

Alaska-Class: The U.S. Navy's Last Battlecruisers Were Powerhouses

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 23:09

Summary: Before Alaska's statehood, the U.S. Navy embarked on an ambitious project to construct a new class of battlecruisers, the Alaska-class, in honor of the territory. Initially planned as a six-ship fleet, only two, the USS Alaska and USS Guam, were completed. These vessels emerged in response to the evolving naval threats of the 1930s, aiming to counter the German "pocket battleships" and rumored Japanese large cruisers. The Alaska-class, notably larger than existing cruisers, marked a departure from the limitations set by the Washington Naval Treaty, showcasing a significant leap in naval armament and design. Built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation, these ships were equipped with formidable weaponry, including nine 12-inch guns and a plethora of secondary armaments, making them far more powerful than their predecessors.

Changing Tides: How the Alaska-Class Battlecruisers Shaped Naval Warfare

Before Alaska officially became a state, the U.S. Navy designed a new fleet of battlecruisers that it named in the territory's honor. 

Six ships were initially planned for the class, but only two were built. The lead ship of the class, the USS Alaska, was laid down in 1941, followed by the USS Guam. These ships were designated as battlecruisers when they were introduced into service, since they were much larger than the Navy’s existing cruisers at the time.

The origins of the Alaska class can be traced back to the early 1930s. The Navy prioritized the construction of vessels capable of going up against Nazi Germany’s Deutschland-class cruisers, known as “pocket battleships.” Imperial Japan at the time was also rumored to be developing a new large cruiser class. Due to the guidelines outlined in the interwar periods under the Washington Naval Treaty, prior ship classes designed by the U.S., Britain, Japan, France, and Italy had been limited to 10,000 tons of displacement. But larger ships were returning to the seas.

Both Alaska and Guam were built by the New York Shipbuilding Corporation. Construction of the third ship in the class, Hawaii, was canceled in 1947 when she was roughly 84% complete. The remaining three ships that were planned – the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and Samoa, were eventually canceled. 

The Alaska and Guam never fulfilled their planned roles. After Imperial Japan attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941, the U.S. Navy shifted its focus to the development of aircraft carriers.

Introducing USS Alaska

The Alaska measured roughly 808 feet long, with a beam length of 91 feet. The hefty battlecruiser displaced 29,779 long tons, and more than 34,000 tons at full load. 

Since the Alaska was much larger than her predecessors, she was able to sport a more formidable armament. The battlecruiser was armed with a main battery of nine 12-inch L/50 Mark 8 guns in three triple gun turrets. A secondary battery consisting of twelve 5-inch L/38 dual-purpose guns in six twin turrets was also incorporated. As detailed by National World War II Museum curator James Linn, “Standard American heavy cruiser design, like the 673 feet-long, 14,500-ton Baltimore-class, were armed with (9) 8” guns, (12) 5” guns, and (24) 20mm guns. By comparison, the Alaska’s were 808 feet-long and weighed 29,771 tons. They were armed with (9) 12” guns, (12) 5” guns, (56) 40mm guns, and (34) 20mm guns.”

Alaska-Class: Service History

Following her commissioning, the USS Alaska sailed toward Hampton Roads before beginning her shakedown cruise in the Chesapeake Bay. She then returned to the Philadelphia Navy Yard to be fitted with the new Mk 57 fire control directors for her 5-inch guns. Alaska would sail for Hawaii in 1945 where the ship would be assigned to Task Group 12.2 based out of Pearl Harbor. Alaska, alongside her sister ship Guam, was tasked with providing anti-aircraft defense for the Navy’s carriers.

The Alaska first saw combat in the Second World War in March 1945 when she participated in airstrikes over Okinawa. Japan launched a massive Kamikaze attack during this battle. 

Subsequent events have been outlined by Naval Encyclopedia: “When USS Franklin was badly damaged by bomb hits and a kamikaze, USS Alaska and USS Guam, now in the same unit, as well as two other cruisers and destroyers were detached, forming 58.2.9 in order to escort the crippled Franklin to Ulithi. They were attacked and USS Alaska claimed another D4Y. It happened that gunfire from one of her 5-inch guns accidentally caused flash burns on several men nearby which became her only casualties of war. She became fighter director due to her better air search radar, vectoring fighters in interception along the way, and downed a Kawasaki Ki-45 Toryu.”

In the later days of the war, the Alaska was assigned to Cruiser Task Force 95. Overall, the battlecruiser was awarded three battle stars for her performance during the war. By the end of the 1950s, the Navy considered converting Alaska and Guam into guided missile cruisers. However, the costly nature of such a conversion was nixed by the service. The Alaska was officially stricken from the Naval Vessel Registrar in 1960 and was broken up for scrap.

About the Author: Maya Carlin

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.

Email the author or contact us: Editor@nationalinterest.org

Putin's Ukraine Nuclear War Threats Must Be Taken Seriously

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 22:54

Summary: The escalating nuclear threat from Russia, accentuated by its full-scale invasion of Ukraine, puts a spotlight on President Vladimir Putin's unpredictable demeanor and alarming rhetoric on nuclear weaponry. With election season underway in Russia, Putin's assured re-election is being promoted through a media blitz, despite the nation's corrupt political landscape rendering it almost unnecessary. Putin's boast about Russia's superior nuclear triad, capable of launching nuclear weapons from ground, air, and sea, underscores a formidable deterrence strategy. These assertions are not taken lightly, as the Kremlin has issued credible nuclear threats against Ukraine and the West since the conflict's inception on February 24, 2022.

Global Alert: The Realities of Russia's Nuclear Strategy Under Putin's Regime

The large-scale invasion of Ukraine showed that Russian President Vladimir Putin is unhinged and unpredictable. So when he starts talking about nuclear weapons, Putin’s words might not be completely empty. 

Putin's Nuclear Threats

It is election season in Russia, and Putin is going on a media spree to bolster his image – though in the country’s corrupt political system, it’s rather unnecessary. His re-election for another six years is certain. 

During one of his media appearances, Putin spoke about the Russian nuclear triad. 

“Our triad, the nuclear triad, it is more modern than any other triad. Only we and the Americans actually have such triads. And we have advanced much more here,” the Russian leader said in an interview on Russian state television. 

When referring to the “triad,” Putin was talking about the capability of some nuclear powers to launch nuclear weapons from the ground, air, and sea. The ability to launch nukes from these three domains creates the best possible deterrence, as it ensures a second strike in the event of a surprise attack. 

For example, if Russia attacked the United States with intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) carrying nuclear warheads, the U.S. military would be able to respond with a nuclear strike from its submarines, which patrol around the world nonstop with nukes at the ready. During the Cold War, when tensions with the Soviet Union were sky-high, the U.S. Air Force had strategic bombers armed with nuclear weapons flying 24/7, ready to strike back in the event of a surprise Soviet attack. 

If it works properly, a nuclear triad is unbeatable and lets the other side know that a surprise first strike would not go unpunished. 

The Kremlin has repeatedly threatened Ukraine and the West with nuclear warfare since Russia invaded on February 24, 2022. These are credible threats. The U.S. intelligence community even prepared assessments for a possible Russian tactical nuclear strike somewhere in Ukraine. 

But how many nuclear weapons does Russia have?

The Russian Nuclear Weapons Arsenal 

The Russian military possesses the largest nuclear arsenal in the world. While estimates vary, the Kremlin probably has around 5,600 nuclear warheads of all sizes and destructive power. 

The Strategic Rocket Forces, a separate branch of the Russian military, is responsible for maintaining and operating Moscow’s ground-launched nuclear weapons. Western estimates suggest that Russia has over 300 ICBMs that can be matched with about 1,200 nuclear warheads.

When it comes to the maritime component of the Russian nuclear triad, the Russian Navy has 11 ballistic missile submarines (Delta, Kilo, and Borei class subs) that can each carry about 16 ballistic missiles equipped with nuclear warheads.

Finally, the air leg of the Russian nuclear triad includes Tu-160 Blackjack and Tu-95MS Bear long-range strategic bombers that can carry air-launched cruise missiles equipped with nuclear warheads. The Russian Aerospace Forces are also working on a new bomber, the PAK DA, which is expected to have some sort of stealth capabilities. 

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

Image Credit: Shutterstock. 

Podcast: The U.S.-Israel Rift Over Gaza (w/ Greg Priddy)

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 22:41

As the U.S. announces plans to build a humanitarian aid port in Gaza, a confrontation now brews between the Biden administration and the Netanyahu government over Palestinian refugees. Can President Biden forestall an Israeli military offensive into the border city of Rafah? In this episode, Jacob Heilbrunn speaks with Greg Priddy, a Senior Fellow for the Middle East at the Center for the National Interest. Priddy previously served as Director for Global Oil at Eurasia Group.

The U.S.-Israel Rift Over Gaza (w/ Greg Priddy)

His recent piece “Joe Biden’s Gaza Port Initiative Can’t Hide U.S.-Israel Discord” appears in The National Interest.

Image Credit: Joe Biden/Creative Commons. 

Russia's 'New' Tu-160M2 Blackjack Bomber Can Hit Mach 2

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 22:37

Summary: Russia is upgrading its Tu-160 Blackjack bomber, known as the Tu-160M2, with a production relaunch in Kazan. This strategic bomber, the world’s largest, heaviest, and fastest, will see improvements in armament, electronic warfare systems, and onboard equipment. Despite its impressive capabilities, including Mach 2 speed and powerful Kuznetsov NK-32 engines, the original Tu-160 faced maintenance issues. The Tu-160M's impact on Russia’s military efforts, particularly in Ukraine, remains uncertain, given the country's history of delayed military deliveries. This modernization effort highlights Russia's intent to enhance its strategic aerial capabilities amidst ongoing geopolitical tensions.

Tu-160M2 Upgrade: Russia's Answer to Modern Warfare Demands

Russia is working to upgrade its Tu-160 Blackjack bomber, the largest and heaviest aircraft in the world capable of Mach 2 flight. 

The upgraded Tu-160, known as the Tu-160M2, will be built at a relaunched production line in Kazan.

But will the updates address the maintenance problems that plagued the original? And will the aircraft make a meaningful contribution to Russia’s hampered war effort in Ukraine?

Introducing the Tu-160

Known to NATO as the “White Swan,” the Tu-160 Blackjack is a supersonic, variable-sweep wing nuclear-capable heavy strategic bomber and airborne missile platform

Designed by the Tupolev Design Bureau, the Tu-160 was introduced in 1987, shortly before the fall of the Soviet Union. Only the experimental American XB-70 Valkyrie was a longer or faster bomber. 

Nearly four decades after its design, the Tu-160 is still the largest and heaviest combat aircraft in use anywhere in the world. It is the fastest bomber in service and the largest and heaviest variable-sweep wing airplane ever flown.

To propel such a heavy airframe, the Tu-160 relies on four Kuznetsov NK-32 afterburning turbofan engines, which happen to be the most powerful engines ever fitted to a combat aircraft.

About 30% of the Tu-160’s airframe is built from titanium, a lightweight and uncommonly strong alloy, yet the jet weighs about 110 tons when empty. The swing-wing hinge alone weighs about six tons.

Four crew members are needed to pilot the Tu-160 – a pilot, co-pilot, bombardier, and defensive systems operator. Each crew member sits in a K-36LM ejection seat, which is found in several Soviet/Russian aircraft.

The Tu-160 was one of the last weapons systems delivered to the Soviet Union. When the USSR fell, Kyiv inherited half of the Soviet’s fleet of Tu-160s, which happened to be stationed in Ukraine. Russia negotiated to purchase back a portion of the lost bombers, while the remaining airframes were scrapped.

The Ukrainian jets represented a significant portion of the total Tu-160s, as the jet was never produced in mass numbers. Until modernization efforts were undertaken, only nine test airframes and 27 serially produced airframes had ever flown.  

Tu-160M: Upgrading the White Swan

Last year, the Kremlin announced that the Tu-160M had entered trials with the Russian Defense Ministry.

“The first upgraded protype of the Tu-160M strategic missile-carrying bomber developed by the Tupolev Public Company has entered the program of state joint trials,” the United Aircraft Corporation, a state-owned company, said.

The newest version of the Tu-160 is being offered with notable upgrades to the armament, electronic warfare systems, and onboard radio-electronic equipment. The first Tu-160M with upgraded equipment began a factory test in December 2021, shortly before Russian President Vladimir Putin directed his forces to invade Ukraine.

The new production push could result in upward of 50 new Tu-160M aircraft being delivered to the Russian air force.

However, Russian weapons manufacturers don’t have the most reliable track record of delivering products smoothly or efficiently.

So don’t expect Russia to be in command of 50 new Tu-160Ms anytime soon.

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.

Image Credit: Russian Military. 

Block V Virginia-Class: The Best U.S. Navy Submarine Ever

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 19:38

Summary: The U.S. Navy's need for an advanced attack submarine fleet is critical in countering A2/AD strategies employed by adversaries like China and Russia. The Virginia-class Block V submarines, costing $4.3 billion each, offer a more affordable yet equally advanced alternative to the Seawolf-class. Despite their importance in penetrating enemy defenses and projecting power, the Navy has scaled back on ordering these submarines due to industrial and budgetary constraints. This decision comes at a time when the Navy continues to invest in Ford-class aircraft carriers, despite their vulnerability to A2/AD systems. The Block V Virginia-class submarines, with capabilities for long-range missile strikes and special operations support, are essential for maintaining U.S. maritime dominance, especially in shallow waters like the South China Sea.

Block V Virginia-Class: The Silent Force Against Rising A2/AD Threats

The U.S. Navy requires a large fleet of advanced attack submarines if it is to project power. This is because rivals such as China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea –  and even non-state threats like the Yemen-based Houthi rebels – are building anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) defensive systems. These are designed to prevent traditional U.S. power projection platforms such as the aircraft carrier from approaching contested territories, thereby negating the U.S. military’s ability to deter these rivals. 

With only a handful of the expensive and complex Seawolf-class attack submarines on hand, the Navy has come to rely on the newer Virginia-class Block V submarines. 

These systems, costing $4.3 billion per unit to build, are considered more affordable than the Seawolf and just as advanced. 

The Navy had been building an average of two Virginia-class subs per year. But, much to the shock of many defense experts, the Navy canceled one of the Virginia-class submarines from its requests for Fiscal Year 2025, citing a “struggling industrial base and stifled procurement funding stemming under Congressional spending caps.” 

Not to worry, though, the Navy continues blowing its budget on the $13 billion Ford-class aircraft carrier, which is likely to be kept out of any fight with China out of fear of what Beijing’s A2/AD capabilities could do to it. 

The Navy has been explicit about its need to expand the attack submarine fleet, but it has consistently failed to accomplish this worthy goal. Considering steady advances in China’s A2/AD systems, and the aforementioned “struggling industrial base” here in America, the Navy needs to start moving much faster toward the goal. Otherwise its ability to project power will be seriously diminished. 

What is the Block V Virginia-Class Submarine?

The Virginia-class Block V submarine allows the Navy to project power deep inside an enemy’s A2/AD bubbles. It is likely the best U.S. Navy attack submarine ever built to date. 

These submarines can carry out devastating missile strikes at long range. Because they possess what many experts refer to as acoustic dominance, they can evade detection far better than any other submersible platform. 

Meanwhile, the Block V Virginia class’ fly-by-wire control system allows the ships to operate more safely in shallower waters. The South China Sea and Taiwan Strait are considered far shallower than other locations U.S. submarines operate, making the fly-by-wire system key to ensuring safe operations while the submarines maneuver in those contested regions. 

This class of submarine can carry up to 37 torpedo-sized weapons. The Block V has an expanded vertical launch system that can accommodate 28 projectiles, namely the Tomahawk cruise missile. The new Tomahawks being outfitted to the Block V possess an anti-ship missile capability, as well as their traditional land-attack mode. 

Lastly, the submarine has a reconfigurable torpedo room that can substitute as a preparation area for large U.S. Special Forces teams. These commandos can store themselves and their equipment in this part of the submarine. Once the submarine reaches its destination, the operators can stealthily maneuver themselves off the vessel and move toward their targets. 

These Subs Were Meant to Fight—and Defeat—China 

Virginia-class Block Vs are designed for more efficient combat operations in littoral waters. In other words, these subs can get close to the enemy and blitz the bejesus out of them in ways that aircraft carriers and their attendant air wings will be unable to do if A2/AD systems are present and effective. The Virginia class was meant to wage war on China. Yet the Navy continues to shortchange itself by refusing to build sufficient numbers of these systems. 

Inevitably, the Navy will realize how essential this submarine is to win the next war. Sadly, it doesn’t seem like anyone in Washington cares or understands what’s happening to the U.S. Navy.

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 Says T-90 Tank Is the Best on Earth: Ukraine Disagrees

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 19:02

Summary: The Russian military recently bolstered its armored forces with a new delivery of T-90M "Proryv" main battle tanks (MBTs) from Rostec, the state aerospace and defense conglomerate. This latest shipment aims to replenish units that have suffered losses in Ukraine, though the exact number of tanks in the batch remains undisclosed. Highlighting the continuous evolution of military technology, these modernized tanks come equipped with a suite of enhancements designed to increase crew survivability and combat effectiveness.

Russian state aerospace and defense conglomerate Rostec has reportedly delivered a new batch of T-90M “Proryv” main battle tanks (MBTs) to the Russian military. The shipment of the modernized tanks was meant to replace recent losses in Ukraine, but it is unclear how many MBTs were actually in the latest “batch.”

More importantly, Rostec announced that the newly supplied tanks feature a range of enhancements aimed at improving crew survivability and operational effectiveness in combat scenarios.

Improved Russian Design

The T-90M Proryv is the latest modernization variant of the Russian MBT that first entered into service in 1994.

Dylan Malyasov recently wrote in the Defence Blog that the T-90M Proryv tanks boast all-around protection and a modern, highly automated fire control system designed for 24/7 operation. Other upgrades to the Russian-made MBTs include an advanced turret, as well as enhancements to the powertrain, transmission system, and suspension, resulting in improved armor protection.

As previously reported by Harrison Kass for The National Interest, one area where the T-90M is superior to its predecessor is its armor. Whereas the T-90 relied upon Kontakt-5 armor, the M-variant will be encased within Relikt built-in Explosive Reactive Armor (ERA). ERA can protect against tandem warheads—and reduces the chance of penetration from armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds. Additional protective features include rubber side skirts, cage armor, and spall lining. To further protect the crew, the T-90M uses an NBC system, which uses tank interior sealing and overpressure generation to protect against mass destruction weapons.

The Proryv variant is armed with a 125mm 2A46M-4 smoothbore gun that is capable of firing standard ammunition as well as anti-tank guided missiles Refleks NATO Code AT-11 Sniper-B rounds. Secondary armament includes a remotely operated weapon station armed with an NSVT 12.7mm heavy machine gun and a 7.62mm PTKM coaxial machine gun. The T-90M’s configuration is similar to the previous models, with a driver compartment at the front, a turret at the center of the hull, and a power plant located at the rear. It is propelled by a 1000mm 12-cylinder engine, allowing it to reach speeds of 60 kilometers per hour on roads and 50 km off-road.

However, the T-90M has still been noted for inheriting many of the technical deficiencies typical of earlier Soviet-era tank designs, including those found in the T-72/80/90 family—notably the autoloader in the turret.

Yet, it was just last month that Russian president Vladimir Putin poured significant praise on the T-90 Proryv during a trip to Uralvagonzavod, while he also called for more advanced fighting vehicles.

“T-90 is the best tank in the world without any exaggeration. Our tankmen and the adversary recognize it as the best in the world,” Putin added while acknowledging that any military hardware can get outdated with time. “We have to think about new generations of hardware. The designers know what to make and are working already.”

In addition to the new batch of T-90Ms that Rostec has produced, it was further reported this week that India has already produced nearly 1,000 of the Russian-designed tanks under license.

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

The B-21 Raider Question: How Many Bombers?

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 18:52

Summary: The U.S. Air Force's B-21 Raider represents the next leap forward in strategic bomber technology, having taken its maiden flight in November of last year. As it moves through development towards becoming the backbone of the Air Force's long-range strike capabilities, questions about the total number of units to be produced remain open. The initial plan for a minimum of 100 bombers aims to modernize and replace aging fleets, with a focus on countering emerging threats from near-peer adversaries like China.

The B-21 Raider's Uncertain Future: Balancing Cost and Capability

The U.S. Air Force's B-21 Raider took its maiden flight last November. While progress is being made on developing the future backbone of the Air Force's bomber fleet, there is still no solid consensus on how many of the long-range strategic bombers will be produced. A formal decision is unlikely to be made anytime soon.

"The decision point, with lead time accounted for, to go past 100 is not until the mid to late '30s," Lt. Gen. Richard G. Moore Jr. told lawmakers on the House Armed Services Committee on March 12.

"So the commitment right now is to 100 aircraft. That takes us for procurement into the late '30s," Moore added. "The decision whether or not to go past that may very well not be based on China, because it will be made at a time when we don't foresee the security environment and we don't need to."

As reported by Air & Space Forces magazine, the Air Force planned to acquire a minimum of 100 B-21 Raiders to replace its aging B-1B Lancers and B-2 Spirits. The Raider is set to operate alongside the even older B-52 Stratofortress until the late 2040s, and perhaps even beyond. However, officials at Air Force Global Strike Command have argued that the service needs more of the future stealth bombers to effectively counter near-peer adversaries, notably China.

In addition to the single B-21 currently being used for flight testing, at least five other prototype Raiders are in various stages of production. Those six will be dedicated to test activities, but after the developmental and operational testing has been completed, they will be modified into operational bombers.

B-21 Raider: From Six to 100 (or More)

It is unclear whether the Air Force will reach the minimum of 100 bombers requested by 2039. That will require annual production of six or seven bombers. The service hasn't disclosed how many aircraft are being produced throughout the Low-Rate Initial Production phase, which the bombers entered in January

Aerospace firm Northrop Grumman was awarded the contract to produce the next-generation bomber in 2015, and the company quickly assembled a nationwide team to design, test, and build the B-21. The Raider – named for the 80 men who took part in the World War II Doolittle Raid on Tokyo in the spring of 1942 – was developed using the aerospace firm's digital engineering practices and advanced manufacturing techniques in tandem.

The testing aircraft are being built on the same lines, using the same tools and processes, that will build the eventual full-production aircraft. That approach was adopted to enable production engineers and technicians to capture lessons learned and apply them directly to follow-on aircraft, driving home a focus on repeatability, producibility, and quality.

Some 8,000 employees of Northrop Grumman and various other defense contractors of all sizes, spread across 40 states, have been secretly building the Air Force's new stealth bomber. Great efforts have been taken to prevent China and other potential adversaries from gaining access to its technology.

In addition to building a bomber with state-of-the-art technology and capabilities, Air Force officials have further emphasized the focus on containing costs while simultaneously allowing for maximum flexibility. The B-21 has been noted for being designed with an open systems architecture that would enable rapid integration of future capabilities to keep pace with the highly contested threat environment.

Yet, in addition to the Raider being the most advanced aircraft built to date, it could also be among the most expensive planes to ever fly, with each costing around $700 million. That could affect how many are built.

The Raider may also not be alone in the skies, as China could officially unveil its Xi'an H-20 to the public in the coming months.

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

Russia's Sukhoi S-70 Okhotnik-B Drone Could Dominate—If It Ever Reaches the Battlefield

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 18:43

Summary: Russia's development of the Sukhoi S-70, also known as Hunter-B, signals a significant leap towards integrating advanced stealth and combat capabilities into its drone arsenal. Designed in collaboration between Sukhoi and MiG, the S-70 promises to be a formidable presence on the battlefield, potentially altering the dynamics of aerial combat with its stealth features, impressive speed, and long-range capabilities. Despite these advancements, the drone's deployment faces challenges, notably due to international sanctions that have impacted Russia's ability to procure crucial components, raising questions about the feasibility and timing of the S-70 reaching operational status. 

The S-70 Hunter-B: Russia's Answer to Next-Generation Drone Warfare

Drone warfare has taken center stage in Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Both sides in the conflict use a wide range of domestic and imported unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to pursue their war efforts. 

Moscow relies on homegrown drones supplemented by Iran-designed counterparts, while Kyiv uses its own UAVs alongside weapons imported from the West. 

The Kremlin has long claimed that when it arrives, Russia’s Sukhoi S-70 drone will dominate on the battlefield. Often referred to as Hunter-B, when this stealth-heavy unmanned combat aerial vehicle does enter service, NATO will surely have to take note.

The History of the S-70

According to Russian state-run media sources, the Ohotnik S-70 drone has been under development for roughly fifteen years. 

In 2011, manufacturer Sukhoi was selected by Russia’s Defense Ministry to design and create a new unmanned reconnaissance and attack drone for its armed forces. Currently, the upcoming UAV is being created by Sukhoi and MiG collaboratively at the Novosibirsk Aircraft Production Association. The manufacturers debuted the S-70 in 2017, showcasing the weapon’s flying wing configuration. Within a few years, the drone successfully carried out its maiden flight and flew above the Chkalov State Flight Test Center in Akhtubinsk at an altitude of 600 meters.

In 2019, a Su-57 prototype was spotted flying alongside an S-70. According to Russian officials, the Su-57 is being used to test the S-70’s avionics systems. Russia’s Ministry of Defense published footage depicting the Hunter-B drone flying next to a Su-57 to test the jet’s radar and its ability to use long-range air-launched weapons.

Specs and Capabilities

The Hunter-B drone weighs approximately 20 tons and is powered by the same AL-31 turbojet engine that is used by the Sukhoi Su-27 fighter jet. With this engine, the UAV can reach speeds greater than 620 miles per hour, with a range of nearly 3,730 miles. Some Russian outlets suggest that the S-70 could deploy the Kh-59 Mk2 standoff cruise missile, which is estimated to be capable of reaching targets at least 150 miles away. Part of the Kh-59 series of heavy tactical missiles, this variant can carry a 500-pound warhead. 

The new drone is expected to fly alongside the Su-57 stealth fighter in a wingman role, similar to plans for the U.S. Air Force’s upcoming Next Generation Air Dominance program. Andrey Yelchaninov, first deputy chairman of the board of Moscow’s Russian-Military Industrial Commission, described the plan

“These planes and drones can interact not only with each other but also in various types of combat formations.” He added that “within a very short timeframe, there will be a possibility to control several Okhotnik drones from the Su-57 cockpit.”

Will the S-70 Be Deployed Anytime Soon?

Russian defense contractor Rostec examined the artificial intelligence datalink that enables the loyal wingman connection between the S-70 and the Su-57: 

“AI-based technology enables noise-immune coding through the use of parallel channels. This is the ‘wrap’ of the technology. Its structure includes multiple interleaving of symbols, time synchronization during transfer, simultaneous transmission of data in all directions [air-to-ground or air-to-air], and increasing the range of transmitted data.”

Since Russia first invaded Ukraine more than two years ago, the international community has imposed heavy sanctions on the Kremlin, crippling its defense output capabilities. In fact, Russia has so greatly struggled to acquire computer chips and other components necessary to sustain its military equipment that it has resorted to repurposing microchips from dishwashers and refrigerators. 

Moscow’s ability to produce the S-70 drones on schedule hinges on how it confronts its manufacturing limitations. Russia could resort to alternate means of acquiring the materials needed to get the Hunter-B drone to the frontlines. For example, Russian officials have depended on their Iranian counterparts to fulfill Moscow’s drone needs over the last two years. Tehran could contribute to Moscow’s production efforts regarding the S-70 drone as well. 

Russia has a tendency to exaggerate its military equipment’s capabilities, so the relative sophistication of the S-70 may be overblown. Considering Moscow’s lack of progress in the Russia-Ukraine war, the imminent deployment of the Hunter-B drone seems unlikely.

About the Author: Maya Carlin 

Maya Carlin, National Security Writer with The National Interest, is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin.

Russia's PAK DA Stealth Bomber Already Looks Like a Failure

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 18:32

Summary: Russia, with its storied aerospace history, is developing the Tupolev PAK-DA, aspiring to match the U.S. in stealth bomber capabilities. However, challenges such as technological complexities and resource allocation, especially amid the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, cast doubt on the feasibility and timeline of Russia's ambitions. As the aerospace landscape continues to evolve, the race for stealth superiority remains a testament to the strategic importance of advancing military technology.

Russia's Race for Stealth: The PAK-DA's Bid to Match the B-2 Spirit

The B-2 Spirit bomber was a strategic game-changer. It was introduced as the first aircraft that could avoid radar detection and deliver nuclear ordnance. In the decades since the B-2 debuted, the Russians have yearned to mitigate a clear American advantage by launching a peer aircraft of their own. 

Russia is now in the process of building their answer to the B-2: the Tupolev PAK-DA

Tupolev is reportedly nearing completion of a PAK-DA prototype, with plans for six more bombers in place. If these plans come to reality, Russia would join the Americans as the only nations on Earth with stealth bombers. (China is currently rushing to develop their Xi’an H-20 stealth bomber.)

Behind the Times on Stealth Bombers 

Russia has an accomplished history of aerospace design. But with respect to stealth technology, Moscow lags far behind its chief rival. The United States has led on stealth technology ever since it unveiled the F-117 Nighthawk and B-2 Spirit three decades ago. 

Now the U.S. flies a fleet of fifth-generation fighters, the F-22 and F-35, that feature stealth technology. The B-21 Raider, a replacement for the now-outdated B-2 Spirit, has begun test flights and is expected to join the U.S. Air Force within the next few years. 

The Americans have about a generation’s-worth of a head start on the Russians with respect to producing stealth bombers.

Both Russia and China are rushing to catch the Americans. China’s H-20 remains in the prototype phase, and Beijing probably has a long way to go before releasing something akin to the B-2 or B-21. Russia is reportedly closer than the Chinese with the PAK-DA, but the program is shrouded in secrecy. Little is known about the bomber. If Western intelligence agencies have an informed understanding of the PAK-DA, and of where the program is at, they haven’t disseminated that information to the general public. 

What we do know is that the PAK-DA has been crafted in the flying wing style that we recognize from the B-2 and B-21

The PAK-DA will likely fly at subsonic speeds, like the B-2. And like the B-2, the PAK-DA is expected to have a low radar cross-section, meaning the jet will rely on stealth, not speed, to avoid detection. This is easier said than done, and the Russians do not have a great track record of releasing impressive stealth aircraft. The Russians’ only stealth fighter, the Su-57, is understood to have the worst stealth performance of all the stealth fighters. But who knows, maybe the Russians have quietly improved their stealth capabilities. The flying wing design, streamlined and sleek, is inherently stealth-friendly. 

Will the PAK-DA ever fly?

The Russians hope the PAK-DA enters mass production by 2027. Knowing the Russians’ history of slow weapons program rollouts, that timeline feels overly optimistic

The war in Ukraine no doubt consumes resources and industrial capabilities that might otherwise be used to develop a new stealth aircraft. But right now, Russian priorities run toward simply keeping their war effort afloat, rather than developing the technology of the future.

Russia will probably have to focus not on ambitious stealth bomber projects, but on more practical aims, such as resupplying armored personnel carriers and tanks to frontline forces who are entering year three of an attritional war.  

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.

What the U.S. Gets Wrong About India

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 16:23

In the last week of February, top UAE diplomat Dr. Anwar Gargash spoke to a packed room in New Delhi, arguing for Indian representation at the United Nations Security Council. One week before, the Prime Minister of Greece attended the Raisina Dialogue in New Delhi as its chief guest. On the sidelines of the gathering, Indian and Greek government officials explored ways to accelerate the IMEC corridor that was announced at the G20 summit last year. While this corridor was inaugurated with the United States, the U.S. approach to multilateral initiatives with India has been different. For instance, earlier in the year, President Joe Biden missed the Indian Republic Day celebrations.

What set this celebration apart was its chief guest. Despite the fact that it was not even his first Indian Republic Day celebration, the chief guest, French president Emmanuel Macron, made a mark on the bilateral relationship between India and France and left a few lessons for the U.S.-India partnership.

Each year, the Indian government invites chief guests to commemorate the anniversary. For the 2024 celebration, it had initially invited President Biden and planned a Quad-like gathering with the leaders of Australia and Japan. However, President Biden excused himself from the event, citing “scheduling demands.” Therein collapsed the idea of showcasing the unity among the Quad nations.

Interestingly, there was widespread speculation that Biden’s last-minute (less than a month) withdrawal could not be explained by boilerplate excuses. A few analysts, such as Bruno Macaes, even used the American president’s withdrawal as a supposed sign of isolation of India on the world stage after its alleged involvement in the killing of a Sikh separatist in Canada and an alleged attempt on the life of another on American soil.

Macron accepted the state invitation without much hesitation. He responded publicly on the social media platform X, “Thank you for your invitation, my dear friend @NarendraModi. India, on your Republic Day, I’ll be here to celebrate with you!”

For New Delhi, this was another instance of Paris having its back as Washington stonewalls.

The lesson to draw here is the difference in foreign policy and diplomatic approaches between Paris, Abu Dhabi, Athens, Tel Aviv, and Washington. Excluding the United States, all four have remained non-interventionist—excusing themselves from the domestic tribulations of New Delhi—with a focus on finding synergies for expanded cooperation to capitalize on shared interests.

On the other hand, Washington continues to stick to its often hypocritical values-evangelism and, as a result, an increasingly interventionist approach.  In this paradigm of values versus interests, values would gain salience when interests rest on a solid foundation. In the case of the four nations and India, defense, trade, increasing connectivity, securing sea lanes, and the shared vision for a multipolar world lay the foundation for stable ties.

While Washington and New Delhi share some of those values and interests, the divergence in understanding of the values and interests continues to render the partnership difficult. Of note, there are three avenues where these nations get it right and Washington wrong. 

Firstly, as a postcolonial society, India is particularly resistant to any intervention by a Western power that challenges its hallowed self-determination and autonomy. The four nations understand New Delhi’s instincts and do not lose sight of India’s larger relevance to their larger geopolitical goals. Washington, on the other hand, simply does not understand or endorse India’s strategic autonomy. 

Secondly and more broadly, Washington fails to accurately understand India’s deep cultural, religious, and civilizational history and its renewed relevance today. Experts in both New Delhi and Washington covering the respective regions often view Indian affairs through the lens of liberal internationalist ideology—which seeks to shape the world according to its ideals. This stands in contrast to realism, wherein people, nations, and states are left to act in their own best interests and values. 

For example, the Indian prime minister inaugurated the Ram Temple in Ayodhya with much fanfare in India and the Indian diasporic community after a struggle of over 500 years to recover the ancient Hindu site destroyed by the Mughal invader Babur in the sixteenth century. Modi even gifted a replica of the Ram Temple to Macron. To many Indians, the Ram Temple is their Notre Dame Cathedral—not only a religious site but also a cultural monument closely tied to their civilizational identity. As reductionist as it would be to call Notre Dame in Paris solely a cathedral for Catholics, so would it be to categorize the Ram Temple as merely a Hindu temple.

Yet, most English language media and other institutions remained silent in response to overtly Christian state events in secular democracies, such as the White House National Prayer Breakfast or Royal Coronation in the UK, while decrying the inauguration of the Ram Temple as a symbol of religious supremacy. In doing so, they ignored its significance and misrepresented or ignored the facts. For example, the Indian government is also arranging the construction of what will be one of India’s largest mosques in the same city.

Similarly, the UAE government has supported the Indian diaspora and New Delhi’s cultural ambitions. It gifted twenty-seven acres of land for the construction of the first stone Hindu temple in Abu Dhabi. The Indian prime minister inaugurated the temple in late February with much fanfare.

Lastly, the divergence in understanding of the world order presents itself as an irreconcilable difference. India’s vision for the world as multipolar with the need for increased representation for different regions of the world and a democratized global financial system are antithetical to Washington’s unipolar vision of the world driven largely by its military and financial hegemony.

External Affairs Minister, S. Jaishankar, best articulated this vision recently by noting that, “It’s important today to make a distinction between being non-West and anti-West. I would certainly characterize India as a country which is non-West, but which has an extremely strong relationship with Western countries, getting better by the day.” 

India, like China, Brazil, and South Africa, has championed new systems and vehicles as alternatives to the existing ones, such as the SWIFT payment system, credit rating, and multilateral lending. Through groupings such as BRICS and development banks such as AIIB and NDB, India is not counting on the West to save the day. This autonomy frustrates Washington, which sees itself as setting the course of the post-world war order. However, as some reports suggest, France is capitalizing on India’s proverbial feet in both the West and the Global South. A recent report suggested India was behind the vetoing of Algeria’s application to the expanded BRICS grouping at the request of the French. Even Ukraine, a country that is not a strategic partner of India, leveraged India’s relationship with Russia as an olive branch to raise concerns surrounding the Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant. Washington, however, has not capitalized on India’s position in the Global South but instead has given it a hard time for participation in such alternative groupings.

On balance, the UAE, Greece, Israel, and France accept India for what it is, while the United States decries and prescribes what it should be. Will prescriptive policy work well with a nation-state that simultaneously represents a civilization several thousands of years old, a post-colonial society, the world’s fifth-largest economy (soon to be third), the world’s largest population, and nuclear power? We will soon find out.

Akhil Ramesh is the Director of the India Program and Economic Statecraft Initiative at the Pacific Forum.

Samir Kalra is the Managing Director for Policy and Programs at the Hindu American Foundation.

Editorial credit: Saikat Paul / Shutterstock.com

All of Joe Biden’s Men

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 16:17

Alexander Ward. The Internationalists: The Fight to Restore American Foreign Policy after Trump (New York, Portfolio/Penguin). 368 pp., $32.00.

As Americans contemplate prolonging the Biden presidency, now is a good time to scrutinize its foreign policy record. Politico reporter Alexander Ward’s new book has made their job easier. The Internationalists, an account of the Biden administration’s first two years, takes us behind the scenes of national security decisionmaking. The story does not reveal much to admire.

The internationalists in question are the people you’d expect: National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin. They and their subordinates form the self-styled “A-Team,” the group of aides tasked with righting the ship after Trump supposedly drove it off course. They’re self-assured and credentialed, a new iteration of “the best and the brightest” lauded by the Democratic elite.

Missing from their ranks is their boss. In contrast to the robust foreign policy involvement of past presidents, Biden plays a minor role. The forty-sixth president depicted in this book can be most charitably likened to an affable elder statesman detached from the decisionmaking process around him. Ward includes plenty of vignettes from Biden’s pre-2021 life but relatively few from his time as commander-in-chief. We get a good idea of what Biden’s top officials were thinking during various crises but a poor idea of the president’s thoughts. Ward’s book substantiates what many Americans already know: the octogenarian Biden is not calling the shots. Like Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris is on the sidelines—the book has almost nothing to say about her.

As any good reporter should, Ward keeps his audience rapt. His prose lacks fluff and reads well. Another giveaway that a journalist wrote this book is the musings of anonymous administration officials sprinkled throughout the text. Although it would be nice to know these people’s identities, it’s better to have their off-the-record comments than none at all. The engaging style of The Internationalists is all to the good.

The book takes a decent enough stab at impartiality. A former Vox reporter, Ward doesn’t parrot the Biden administration’s line like others in the left-leaning press. He’s critical when he thinks it erred. Though certainly no conservative, Ward isn’t wholly unfair to Republicans. For instance, he recognizes that Senator Ted Cruz, who assailed the Biden administration’s decision to waive sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline in an effort to placate Germany, had opposed the pipeline during Trump’s presidency.

Ward, nonetheless, can’t check all his views at the door. A comical example comes in his portrayal of Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley. Milley was “controversial,” Ward submits because he walked with Trump during the Lafayette Square photo-op in 2020. “He cared deeply about keeping the military away from politics but often failed to do that,” Ward elaborates while mentioning Milley’s uniformed appearances in the streets during the riots that year. An unwitting reader might think that Milley was some right-wing hack. Far from it: Milley gushed about the Pentagon’s DEI programming and reportedly undermined civilian control of the military by going around Trump’s back to tell his Chinese counterpart there would be no American nuclear strike.

Ward’s blinders are also hard at work in the book’s first chapter, which covers the lead-up to Biden’s presidency. In it, he deploys all the explanations for Trump’s 2016 victory that have become articles of faith on the Left. Yet Ward can’t make them without undermining them. “Factory workers, mainly in white-majority counties, feared that foreigners were taking their hard-earned jobs,” writes Ward. But in the very next sentence, he notes that America had lost almost five million manufacturing jobs since 1997. Were these prejudiced fears harbored by Trump supporters or rather fact-based observations?

Ward is more even-handed in subsequent chapters. Russia, Ukraine, Israel, and, of course, Afghanistan figure prominently. What ties them together is the Biden administration’s efforts to work with allies and partners in defense of the liberal democratic order. Ward persuasively shows that these efforts were well-intentioned. As for whether they were successful, he leaves that determination to readers. The results, not least the abominable Afghanistan withdrawal and the outbreak of war in Europe, speak for themselves.

Of Team Biden’s many mandarins, John Kerry comes across as the most insufferable. Tapped as the president’s special climate envoy, Kerry set about trying to conclude a deal with China to curb carbon emissions despite the skepticism of every other official in touch with reality. Only he and his prodigious talents could get the job done, the failed 2004 presidential candidate told himself. “[I]f anyone believed he could pull off the difficult balancing act, it was John Kerry,” Ward notes in what very well may be a mocking tone. To the surprise of no one, Kerry’s talks with Beijing have led nowhere.

Rivaling Kerry in the naïveté department is Secretary of State Antony Blinken. Blinken has long been soft on America’s enemies. While a Harvard undergraduate, Ward informs us, Blinken wrote in the Crimson that instead of toppling the left-wing Sandinistas of Nicaragua, Washington should give them aid on the condition that the Marxist revolutionaries “liberalize their rule and schedule elections for the near future.” Let the record show that the viciously anti-American President Daniel Ortega, whose Sandinistas Blinken advocated supporting, has presided over Nicaragua’s decline and slide toward authoritarianism over the past seventeen years.

If only his Crimson article were just a youthful indiscretion. Blinken shed none of his poor judgment during his government service. As soon as he became secretary of state, he eagerly pushed to have the U.S.-Russia New START arms control treaty extended. This was pursued despite receiving no concessions from Moscow for doing so. Blinken would rather have a bad deal than no deal.

National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan is the primus inter pares of this story. A foreign policy wunderkind in Democratic circles, Sullivan was tasked with “reimagining national security” under Biden. The 2016 election shook Sullivan to his core, and he concluded that Washington insiders had lost touch with the rest of the country. As national security adviser, he made a concerted attempt to implement foreign policy for the sake of ordinary Americans. Sullivan deserves some credit here—other officials often seem ignorant of the people they serve.

There’s a reason why the book’s opening and closing anecdotes are about Sullivan. He drives much of the action. He favored a hawkish stance toward China and Russia and closer ties with American allies. We get the sense that he made many of the decisions for which the Biden administration has come to be known. If Ward’s book were adapted into a screenplay, Sullivan would be the lead role.

Sullivan and his peers were at their worst during the Afghanistan withdrawal. Ward’s portrait of them is damning. While the White House and the Department of State readied for a September 11, 2021, withdrawal date, Pentagon officials who rightly predicted that the country would soon fall to the Taliban were ignored. “We at the State Department have a much higher risk tolerance than you guys,” Deputy Secretary of State for Management and Resources Brian McKeon told Milley and Austin.

Although the decision to leave Afghanistan was a defensible position, the administration’s execution of the withdrawal remains indefensible. Sullivan, Blinken, and the rest did not do nearly enough to prepare for a safe, orderly evacuation. Their incompetence led to the fiasco that unfolded at Hamid Karzai International Airport—now burned into our collective memory. General Frank McKenzie, commander of United States Central Command, had to beg the Taliban not to enter Kabul while Americans were leaving. “If you don’t interfere with the evacuation, we won’t strike,” McKenzie told the Taliban’s co-founder. The most powerful country the world has ever seen was reduced to pleading at the feet of terrorist savages.

The killing of thirteen American servicemembers in a suicide bombing was the lowest point, a searing indictment of the whole withdrawal. What was supposed to be a triumphant homecoming ended in calamity. One expects accountability for those who fail so spectacularly. Not so in the Biden administration. Sullivan and Blinken inexplicably kept their jobs to keep up their failures.

The two of them moved from denouement in Afghanistan to the war in Ukraine, the subject of the last third of the book. They fared little better. After the bungled withdrawal, the administration was in no position to convince Vladimir Putin not to invade Ukraine. Their threats of hell to pay fell on deaf ears in Moscow. The United States then threw its support behind the Ukrainians following Putin’s invasion. Two years on, it’s too soon to tell how the war will end. Although the Biden administration has helped prevent Ukraine from being swallowed whole by Moscow, the conflict is locked in a costly stalemate.

Ward acknowledges he could have expounded more on other issues. Those interested in China, North Korea, cyber warfare, the southern border, and even climate change will encounter little about those topics. But there’s much worth reading about critical moments of the last few years. However, voters inclined to give the internationalists another four years may think twice after reading Ward’s book.

Daniel J. Samet is an America in the World Consortium Pre-Doctoral Fellow at Johns Hopkins SAIS and a Doctoral Candidate at the University of Texas at Austin.

Editorial Credit: Matt Smith Photographer / Shutterstock.com

An East African Port Deal the World Should Applaud

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 16:13

Many countries’ skepticism of a recently announced deal that gives Ethiopia naval basing rights in exchange for recognizing Somaliland’s independence is misguided. While the pact has stirred consternation, especially in Somalia (which claims Somaliland as part of its territory), it has the potential to benefit the entire Horn of Africa region, Egypt, and the security of the Red Sea.

With about 130 million people, Ethiopia is the world’s most populous landlocked nation. Throughout its 2000-year history, it has struggled for access to the Red Sea—at times holding ports, at other times contending with the Ottoman Empire and European powers for control of the coast. After World War II, the Italian colony of Eritrea, with its two ports, was reincorporated into Ethiopia. However, the nation again lost direct sea access when Eritrea split and became independent in 1993. Since then, Ethiopia has depended on the tiny country of Djibouti as its single port with one road and railroad to move imports and exports. Besides Eritrea and Djibouti, Ethiopia also borders four other coastal polities: Sudan (currently engulfed in a civil conflict), Kenya (whose ports are too distant), Somalia, and Somaliland.

Somaliland is an Oklahoma-sized autonomous region of about 7 million people with over 500 miles of coast on the Red Sea. A former British colony, it gained independence in June 1960. It voluntarily joined with the former Italian Somaliland when that territory became independent in 1960, and the two formed the Somali Republic. The union was a disaster, as Somalia came under the rule of the brutal General Siad Barre, who tried to destroy the independence-minded Somalilanders, including inflicting thousands of deaths by bombing Hargeisa, its largest city.

In 1991, during the chaos that followed the Somali Civil War, Somaliland split from the federation. A decade later, Somalilanders voted in a referendum and overwhelmingly approved a constitution reaffirming Somaliland’s independence. Since then, Somaliland has built an imperfect but tenacious democracy, a comparatively free society, and an open, free-market economy, while most citizens have remained adamant about protecting their independence. And they have done it on their own, with minimal international assistance.

Conversely, next door, Somalia has been an international burden for decades, absorbing billions of dollars of assistance—including $500 million in security assistance from the United States—but achieving minimal progress with economic viability, democracy, governance, or even controlling its territory. It has hosted thousands of international troops under multiple peacekeeping missions to help it defeat al-Shabaab, an Al Qaeda-linked extremist movement, with limited success. It has also failed to hold a single “one person-one vote” election, opting instead to select its leaders through non-transparent, corrupt conclaves of elites and elders.

However, what Somalia has that Somaliland doesn’t have is international recognition, which accrued after the 1991 disintegration of the joint Somali Republic. This results in the bizarre situation of a “de facto” Somaliland that functions more effectively as a nation than does the “de jure” Somalia.

The reasons Somaliland hasn’t gained international recognition are varied. The African Union (AU) and Somalia are major stumbling blocks. The AU fears that granting Somaliland legitimacy may fracture other member states with separatist movements, despite its 2005 fact-finding mission determining that Somaliland’s recognition quest was “historically unique and self-justified.” Meanwhile, a solid nationalist trend that includes irredentist claims on Somali-inhabited areas of East Africa prevails within elements of Somalia, making it impossible for Mogadishu to accept the reality of Somaliland’s independence.

Even though Mogadishu has virtually no practical control over Somaliland, the United States defers to Mogadishu’s sovereignty claims by maintaining a nonsensical “One Somalia” policy. This, despite parts of the U.S. Government—such as the Pentagon—being eager to engage closely with Somaliland. Even more absurdly, the United States’s Ambassador to Somalia is, in effect, the Ambassador to Mogadishu airport—unable to circulate in the country or even the city. Meanwhile, many countries maintain consulates in Hargeisa and do regular business with Somaliland.

A Potentially Monumental MoU

The announcement of the Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal drew strong criticism from the AU and Somalia. At the same time, Egypt, the United States, the European Union, and the Arab League voiced support for Somalia’s “sovereignty.” In a bit of over-the-top drama, Somalia even threatened war with Ethiopia. Egypt, meanwhile, opposes Ethiopian initiatives because of its dispute with Ethiopia over the massive Blue Nile dam project.

While the proposed port deal between Ethiopia and Somaliland is still at the aspirational Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) stage with many details to be defined, the general framework will benefit both. Ethiopia will lease a twelve-mile strip of Somaliland’s coast for fifty years while Somaliland will gain formal diplomatic recognition from Ethiopia and a stake in Ethiopia’s national air carrier. Somaliland has a modern port at Berbera, recently upgraded through a major investment by the UAE’s DP World, but the location for Ethiopia’s concession is still uncertain. In addition to a port for Ethiopian imports and exports, Ethiopia will establish a base—for a navy that hasn’t floated a ship since 1991. While Ethiopian recognition of Somaliland is significant, it will also likely open the door to other countries to follow suit since several have stated discretely that while they could not be the first to offer recognition, they could be second.

If the project is realized, it would have far-reaching benefits. The return of a professional Ethiopian navy to the Red Sea would improve stability in a critically important waterway menaced by piracy and other disruptions. Even Egypt, bitterly opposed to the deal, would benefit economically if more shipping transits the Suez Canal. Adding another port and an efficient transit corridor would be a significant economic boost to the region and offer additional ways to bring relief supplies into countries that frequently suffer from humanitarian disasters.

The deal could also release some pressure building in East Africa ever since Abiy declared that sea access was an existential issue last year. Many believed his remarks were a prelude to war with Eritrea, a catastrophic scenario. Given that Ethiopia could secure strictly commercial maritime access through other means, Abiy appears to believe that a naval base is indispensable to his cherished ambition of being the leader who restored Ethiopia’s status as an unassailable great African power. If the MoU with Somaliland fails, Abiy will likely continue his quest in a far more destabilizing way.

Possibilities of Choppy Water

There are complications, to be sure. Despite its great potential and high economic growth, Ethiopia faces a difficult financial situation thanks in part to the recent devastating war in Tigray and ongoing insecurity in other regions. Addis Ababa must be creative in funding an expensive project like building a base and navy.

Furthermore, Mogadishu may stop cooperating with Ethiopia on countering al-Shabaab in response to what it views as Ethiopia’s violations of its sovereignty (notwithstanding al-Shabaab’s long control of chunks of Somalia about which Somalia’s governing elites have often demonstrated a curious lack of focus). It may also try to stir clan trouble in areas of Ethiopia inhabited by ethnic Somalis or try to inflame an ongoing clan insurgency in Somaliland’s east.

Nonetheless, provoking clan trouble elsewhere risks exacerbating Somalia’s profound and often violent rivalries. The countries that provide the most funding for Somalia’s armed forces and government would also disapprove of such a campaign. There would be more evidence that Mogadishu is not sufficiently serious about fighting al-Shabaab to merit strong international support.

Similarly, there is little reason to believe that the Somaliland-Ethiopia deal will empower al-Shabaab. The terror group rose to prominence as an anti-Ethiopian insurgency and has always fused irredentist and nationalist sentiment with radical Salafism. It is propagandizing about the deal and vowing to resist Ethiopia. Yet thousands of troops, including many Ethiopians, have been inside Somalia for well over a decade. It is unlikely that an agreement implemented far to the north of where most Somalians live would boost al-Shabaab recruitment more than that reality.

Regional powers opposed to Ethiopia, such as Egypt and, increasingly, Eritrea, may seize the opportunity to work with Somalia to undermine Ethiopia. However, while Eritrea may not cherish the prospect of an eventual Ethiopian navy operating in the neighborhood, the port deal would resolve Ethiopia’s landlocked status and, therefore, remove a perennial source of friction in the Ethiopia-Eritrea relationship. Egypt is strongly motivated to oppose Ethiopia but still has the same problem that has stymied its efforts to stop Ethiopia’s Blue Nile dam, namely its incapacity to do much about it.

Finally, a recently signed economic and military agreement between Somalia and Turkey has stirred hopes among Somalian partisans that Turkiye will confront Ethiopia on Somalia’s behalf. However, there is little to fear that the agreement portends such a destabilizing development. In addition to Somalia’s president acknowledging that the deal is unrelated to Ethiopia, Ankara has no reason to involve itself in the dispute, not least because of its strong military and economic ties with Ethiopia.

The Horn of Africa is an increasingly strategic region, yet the United States’s ability to defend its interests there continues to wane. Washington is partly hampered by incorporating the fiction that Somaliland is functionally part of Somalia into its policies. It is time for a pragmatic American approach that correctly calculates U.S. interests, starting with working to ease the tensions around the proposed Ethiopia-Somaliland port deal. If cooler heads prevail, the port deal’s economic and security benefits will be well worth applause.

Tibor Nagy was the previous Assistant Secretary of State for Africa and is currently Professor Emeritus at Texas Tech University. 

Joshua Meservey is a senior fellow at Hudson Institute who focuses on great power competition in Africa, African geopolitics, and counterterrorism.

Image: Free Wind 2014 / Shutterstock.com

Russia's Kirov-Class Battlecruisers Might Be Retired For Good

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 15:47

Summary: The Russian Navy is considering decommissioning the Pyotr Velikiy, its only nuclear-powered guided-missile battlecruiser from the Kirov-class, due to high maintenance costs and the need for extensive repairs and modernization. These ships, known for being the largest and heaviest surface combatants after aircraft carriers, were developed during the Cold War to counter U.S. submarine and carrier group capabilities. Armed with SS-N-19 Shipwreck (P-700 Granit) missiles, capable of sharing target information mid-flight, and a host of other advanced weapons including the S-300 air-defense system, Kashtan air-defense missile/gun system, and the 130mm AK-130 gun, the Kirov-class represented formidable maritime power. 

Russia's Naval Dilemma: The Potential Decommissioning of the Kirov-Class Battlecruiser

The Russian Navy might decommission its sole nuclear-powered guided-missile battlecruiser, the Pyotr Velikiy. According to Tass, this Kirov-class ship costs too much to maintain. The vessel’s poor condition, coupled with the repairs and modernization needed to keep it relevant, mean its demise may be approaching. 

The Kirov class was designated by the Soviets as Project 1144 Orlan (Sea Eagle). It includes the largest and heaviest surface combatant warships to sail the seas. Second in size only to larger aircraft carriers, these ships have remained an important component of Russia’s naval fleet.

Kirov ships were conceptualized during the Cold War to counter the capabilities of the U.S. Navy’s submarine fleet. Specifically, the USSR desired a battleship class capable of carrying a large payload of SS-N-14 anti-submarine missiles and later P-700 Granit anti-ship missiles. The Granit long-range anti-ship missile system (designated by NATO as SS-N-19 Shipwreck) was the primary armament of the Kirov class. 

With their multi-variant target engagement program, Granit missiles could share information while in flight. However, these weapons could not be controlled after being launched. The lead missile would always assume a high-level flight trajectory, followed by subsequent missiles at a lower level.

Kirov-Class Battlecruisers Packed a Punch

The Shipwreck missile was designed in the 1970s to replace the Soviets’ shorter-range P-70 Ametist and P-120 Malakhit missiles. Soviet officials strongly desired the missile, seeing it as a better counter to the U.S. Navy’s rapidly advancing carrier battle groups. The Shipwreck was constructed by Chelomei/NPO Mashinostroyenia. By the early 1980s, the weapon was deployed aboard the Kirov cruiser. Granit launchers were also incorporated onto the Soviet’s aircraft carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, giving it added primary attack capability.

The -300F air-defense missile complex is also equipped on Russia’s lone remaining Kirov-class ship. As detailed by Naval Technology, “The Osa-MA air defense missile system is supplied by the Znamya Truda Plant based at Saratov. The ship has two double launchers and 40 missiles. The system can operate autonomously or it can be integrated into the ship’s combat systems and download target data from the ship’s sensors. Osa-MA has a range of 1.2 to 10km at an altitude between 25m and 5,000m.”

The addition of the Kashtan air-defense missile/gun system gives the Kirov-class ship an added edge, defending against an array of precision weapons including aircraft, anti-radar missiles and air bombs, and even small naval ships. This system is able to engage up to six targets at the same time, with a gun range of 1.5 km for altitudes up to 4,000 meters. 

Russia’s Ametist Design Bureau, Izumrud JSC, and Tula Engineering Plant supply the Kirov ships’ 130mm AK-130 multipurpose twin-barrel gun. Notably, the gun can be operated remotely under autonomous control, or manually. 

Sputnik provides more detail surrounding the S-300 on the Kirov-class ship, claiming its radar can track multiple aerial targets at altitudes of 30km and ranges out to 300 km. 

“Pyotr Veliky is armed with 48 S-300F Fort and 46 S-300FM Fort-M (SA-N-20 Gargoyle) medium-range surface-to-air missiles (with effective range of up to 200 kilometers), 128 3K95 Kinzhal (SA-N-9 Gauntlet) short-range SAMs, and six CADS-N-1 Kashtan gun/missile systems,” Sputnik reports.

Initially, the Kirov was also equipped with the RPK-3 Metel (designated by NATO as SSN-N-14 Silex) and the RPK-2 Vyuga (designated by NATO as SSN-N-15 Starfish). 

The majority of these weapons systems are positioned forward, while the ship’s stern is designed to house a below-deck helicopter hangar and other machinery.

About the Author: Maya Carlin

Maya Carlin is an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel. You can follow her on Twitter: @MayaCarlin

M2020: North Korea's Claims to Have One of World's Most Powerful Tanks

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 15:30

Summary: During recent military exercises, North Korea showcased a new tank, which was observed by leader Kim Jong-un, Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam, and Chief of the General Staff Ri Yong-gil. Dubbed the "M2020," the new tank, first revealed in a 2020 military parade, appears ready for deployment. Although specific details are scarce, it resembles the Russian T-14 Armata and Iranian Zulfiqar MBTs but shares design features with the older Soviet T-62. Equipped with composite armor and a 125mm main gun, the North Korean state media lauded the tank's combat capabilities, with Kim Jong-un proclaiming it as one of the world's most powerful tanks.

Show of Strength: North Korea's Latest Tank, the M2020, Joins Military Exercises

Much has been made about South Korea’s K2 Black Panther main battle tank (MBT) in recent years, but on Thursday, North Korean state media first reported that the Hermit Kingdom also rolled out one of its new tanks during military exercises this week. The vehicle was present at an event attended by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Defense Minister Kang Sun-nam, and Chief of the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army Ri Yong-gil.

Kim joined troops training on the tank during the training drills—and it was the third time he had observed his forces engaged in training since the start of the ongoing eleven-day South Korean-U.S. joint exercises, which he views as rehearsals for an invasion.

The North Korean military held demonstrations involving the tanks, after which Kim was spotted sitting in the driver’s seat of one of the six tanks. The vehicles also took part in live fire exercises and a training match—which the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) described as a competition.

“The competition took place in a team-to-team mode. The competition was aimed at rigorously checking the practical skills of tank crewmen and practicing ways to conduct combat operations based on various tactical missions. The competition involved distinguished tank crews from major tank formations,” KCNA reported.

The 105th Tank Division was declared the winner of the mock battle—not entirely surprising as it was the unit that occupied the South Korean capital Seoul during the Korean War.

North Korea’s “New” Tank: What Do We Know

Media reports have not identified the North Korean military’s tank by model number or other designation, but according to The Associated Press, it is the same model that was first unveiled during a military parade in 2020. Its presence during Wednesday’s drill may indicate that it’s ready to be deployed, South Korean experts suggested.

Known only by the unofficial moniker “M2020,” there are reports that nine prototypes may have been built—which tracks as six were spotted in the photos released by state media. While it has an appearance that is similar to the Russian T-14 Armata and Iranian Zulfiqar MBTs, it is believed to share some design features with the much older Soviet-designed T-62—which also is to be expected, as Pyongyang has a history of modifying the T-62.

The tank’s hull features armor plates on the sides, with slat armor on the rear of the hull protecting the engine while it is reported to be equipped with composite armor and armed with a Soviet 2A46 125mm main gun.

North Korean state media reported that Kim expressed satisfaction with the new tank and described it as having “shown outstanding combat capacity, powerful strike ability and high maneuverability.” Kim further suggested it was one “of the most powerful tanks in the world” and that was a “strong reason to be proud” of it.

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

The U.S. Navy's Aircraft Carriers Would Be Useless in a China War

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 14:01

Summary: The US Navy faces a significant strategic challenge due to the rise of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems, particularly from countries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. These systems threaten to render US aircraft carriers and their air wings, including advanced F-35B and F-35C warplanes, obsolete by preventing them from getting close enough to enemy territories to be effective. This issue, highlighted nearly a decade ago, points to a broader problem within the Navy and the US military's procurement strategy, which has continued to invest in legacy systems like aircraft carriers and F-35s without adequately addressing the evolving nature of warfare. 

Beyond the Aircraft Carrier: Reimagining US Naval Strategy Against A2/AD Threats

The US Navy has long prized the power projection capabilities that its wildly expensive, massive aircraft carriers have allowed for.

Yet, the advent of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) systems has led the US Navy to a dangerous place.

Namely, its aircraft carriers, the Navy’s primary weapon at sea, will be rendered useless before even the first shots in any war with an A2/AD-wielding power (such as China, Russia, Iran, or North Korea) were ever fired. 

And it isn’t just the aircraft carriers that would be made obsolete overnight by sophisticated A2/AD systems, of the kind that China possesses. It is the air wings of advanced warplanes, such as the F-35B and F-35C variants and other warplanes, that depend on the aircraft carrier to nestle in close to a rival’s territory, allowing for the warplanes to do their jobs. 

Should the carriers be kept beyond the range of the warplanes that comprise their carrier air wings, then the entire concept of the aircraft as a warfighting platform is gone.

This is not a new problem. 

The Navy Ignores the Aircraft Carrier Crisis at Its Own Peril

Going back to 2015—almost a decade ago—experts have been cautioning about the rising threat that China’s A2/AD systems pose to US aircraft carriers.

Dr. Jerry Hendrix of the Center for New American Security (CNAS) wrote a treatise in 2015 tracing the moment when the US Navy, in his estimation, “suddenly drifted off-course.” In Hendrix’s view, that sudden drift started around the 1990s, shortly after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the bloodless American victory in the Cold War. 

According to Hendrix:

"The end of the Cold War—followed by the decision to cancel the replacement aircraft for the A-6 intruder, the A-12 Avenger II—began a precipitous retreat from the range and the deep strike mission that had long characterized the carrier air wing. The rapid successive retirements of the A-6 Intruder, F-14 Tomcat, and the S-3 Viking that followed, and the decision to replace these aircraft with variants of the F/A-18 Hornet—originally designed as a replacement for the short-ranged fighters and light attack aircraft—shrank the average range of the carrier air wing from over 800 [nautical miles] in 1996 to less than 500 nm by 2006. This occurred just when competitor nations, led by China, began to field A2/AD systems with ranges of 1,000 nm or more."

The rot, therefore, has set in deep. 

And the war planners in Beijing saw it (as did their autocratic allies). Today, the Americans project a fantasy of dominance upon the world. But all the major weapons systems that the United States can—and will—deploy at the onset of a great power war are tailored for a bygone age

For decades, American defense contractors and their shameless allies on the Hill (as well as in the Pentagon) have gotten away with bloody murder: overcharging the taxpayer for legacy systems that don’t even come close to meeting America’s strategic needs. 

These systems have been developed without taking into account the growing capabilities and intentions of US rivals, such as China. After decades of investing in these technologies, the United States finds itself at a serious disadvantage. For all the money, time, and resources spent building up these systems, they are worthless if they cannot even get within range of their potential targets, thanks to the advent of A2/AD defenses. 

Long-Range Warfare is the Future, Not the F-35

Warfare today among great powers will be fought at greater distances than ever before. American offensive systems, though, are all predicated on being able to get close to distant targets. The F-35, like the F/A-18 Hornet will be unable to achieve its mission of striking at enemy targets because of A2/AD.

Rather than blow its finite budget on things like the F-35 and more aircraft carriers, then, the US Navy must lead the way in developing long-range strike weapons that can annihilate A2/AD networks. 

Way back in 2015, analysts were urging the Navy (and other branches) to invest in “the areas of unmanned systems, stealth, directed energy, and hypersonics.” Hendrix urged his readers in 2015 to support “experimentation, such as seen with the X-47B [unmanned spaceplane]” in order to burst the A2/AD defensive bubble. 

After all, once A2/AD was overcome, the traditional Navy power projection platforms, notably the aircraft carrier, can become relevant again. Rather than take Hendrix's prescient calls more seriously, though, the Navy spent most of its budget on building the Ford-class aircraft carrier

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 T-14 Armata Tank Nightmare Has Just Begun

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 13:49

Summary: The ambitious T-14 Armata program, once hailed as the future of Russian armored warfare, faces significant setbacks and unmet expectations. Initially planned for a massive rollout of 2,300 units from 2015 to 2020, the reality has fallen short, prompting speculation that the program might be abandoned. The Armata's troubles began early, notably with a malfunction during its 2015 debut, mirroring the misfortune of Tesla's Cybertruck. Its subsequent withdrawal from frontline service in Ukraine due to underwhelming performance further eroded confidence in the tank's capabilities.

T-14 Armata: Russia's Tank of the Future Faces Uncertain Fate

The Russians were counting on the T-14 Armata as the tank of the future. Initial procurement plans called for 2,300 T-14s to be delivered between 2015 and 2020.

But it’s 2024 and nothing like 2,300 T-14s have been delivered to the Russian Army.

Indeed, the Armata program may never materialize as envisioned, with Sergio Miller arguing that the “story is over.”

Is the T-14 Armata Story Over?

The T-14 started off on the wrong foot, much like Tesla’s Cybertruck, breaking during its unveiling at the 2015 Victory Day parade, with thousands of witnesses. According to Miller, the breakdown was an “augury,” and that now, almost one decade later, “it can be stated with confidence the Armata story is over.”

So, where did the T-14 program go wrong?

Technically, the Armata is still Putin’s tank of the future. But the program has been consistently hampered, for a long time now. Making matters worse, last September, the Armata was pulled from frontline service in Ukraine, indicating that the new tank’s performance was suboptimal.

“Armored forces from Russia’s southern military district (SMD) were given T-14 “Armata” main battle tanks (MBTs) for combat operations, according to the state news agency Tass, which noted that this was Moscow’s first official confirmation of their use in Ukraine,” Newsweek reported.

According to one military source, the Armata was used in combat operations and several units participated in battle to gauge the tank’s performance. Shortly thereafter, the tanks were pulled from the frontline. The inference of course is that the Armata performed poorly.

Now, the T-14’s withdrawal from Ukraine does not mean conclusively that the program is being canceled. But the fact that Russia was not comfortable using their “tank of the future” in a land-based war of attrition speaks volumes to the (lack of) confidence Putin has in the Armata. (Granted, Russia is suggesting that the tank is too valuable to use in war).

The T-14 was supposed to offer a boost for the beleaguered Russians; the tank was highly anticipated and expected to help the cause. The tank’s 125mm cannon and supposed high survivability features were long awaited. The Russians are undoubtedly keen to improve the survivability of their soldiers.

Russian casualties have been remarkably high. To date, Moscow is believed to have lost 424,060 troops. In the past week alone, Russia lost 7,200 troops, 278 artillery systems, and over 200 armored personnel vehicles. Russia has also lost nearly one hundred tanks in the past week. So, an infusion of fresh tanks is becoming increasingly necessary.

T-14: The Source of the Problem

Miller believes that the Armata’s primary problem lies with the engine, in large part because the tank was designed around an engine rather than the other way around. What happened is that Uralvagonzavod (UVZ) decided to use the A-85-3 engine as the basis for the Armata. However, the A-85-3 was complex and extremely difficult to maintain, causing practical problems. The Russians could have perhaps solved the problem with a swap – the A-85-3 for the proven and more durable V-92S2F engine. Yet, the 92S2F was too big for the T-14, which was built strictly to accommodate the smaller A-85-3.

“The only realistic engineering solution now is to start again,” Miller said.

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.

Image Credit: Creative Commons. 

The U.S. Navy Needs to Stop Building Aircraft Carriers

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 13:35

Summary: The US Navy faces a strategic crisis due to the rise of anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) capabilities by adversaries like China, Russia, Iran, and North Korea. These developments challenge traditional naval power projection, particularly the effectiveness of aircraft carriers in such contested environments. To adapt, the Navy needs to embrace a new force posture focusing on stealth, submersibles, directed energy weapons, drones, and hypersonic weapons. Despite this, investment continues in aircraft carriers, overlooking the strategic advantage of submarines, especially in potential conflicts over Taiwan or the South China Sea. The Navy's current acquisition strategy, favoring expensive carriers over versatile and stealthy submarines like the Virginia-class, is criticized for not aligning with modern warfare needs. This approach risks the Navy's ability to counter A2/AD strategies effectively and calls for a shift in priorities towards more relevant and cost-effective platforms and technologies.

Submarines vs. Aircraft Carriers: Adapting US Naval Strategy for Modern Threats

The US Navy is in a real crisis and they might not even realize it. Having spent decades obsessed with the aircraft carrier, the Navy appears to not have internalized the fact that America’s foes were developing capabilities to stunt the Navy’s power projection capabilities into the backyards of their rivals. 

This has been especially true with China, which probably leads the world in what we know as “anti-access/area-denial” (A2/AD) capabilities. Russia, Iran, and North Korea are likely right behind China with their A2/AD systems, too. 

What this means is that the Navy has no choice but to fundamentally rethink its entire force posture and the way that it fights. No longer able to move its assets within physical range of potential targets, the Navy needs to learn to leverage stealth, submersibles, directed energy weapons (DEW), drones, and hypersonic weapons together into one seamless strike package; a sort of pin to pierce the bubble that A2/AD systems create around the regions they are deployed to. 

And once the bubble is burst by these long-range systems, more conventional styles of power projection can be brought to bear against the enemy.

But the Navy has put the cart before the horse. 

America’s naval service continues investing in its preferred weapons system, the aircraft carrier. These expensive monstrosities are not as relevant or useful in the modern age of A2/AD as they were before the rise of A2/AD. For the Navy to retain power projection, then, it must look to other platforms. 

The Navy must invest in the submarines. In fact, if and when a war with China erupts over Taiwan or the South China Sea (or both), it will be America’s submarines that become the primary method of power projection.

Subs Over Aircraft Carriers

Inherently stealthy and hard-to-track (though not impossible to track), submarines will be able to harass any Chinese invasion fleet heading toward Taiwan. If China opted for a blockade of Taiwan rather than a bloody invasion, US submarines would be key in disrupting that invasion as well. Specifically, US attack submarines, such as the costly Seawolf-class or the newer and more affordable, Virginia-class submarines. 

There is already a crisis in the US submarine fleet in that the Pentagon has allowed for its submarine force to wither and atrophy—so much so that Navy shipyards are having extreme difficulty in meeting any increase in demand for more submarine builds.

Not to worry, though, the Navy has ameliorated the crisis at its shipyards by canceling the construction of planned Virginia-class submarines. Instead, the Navy is committed to building another of its new Ford-class carriers. The Ford-class aircraft carrier, by the way, costs about $13 billion to build and the first model took almost a decade to complete (those pesky shipyard issues were a real problem for the U.S.S. Gerald R. Ford as well). 

The Block V Virginia-Class Sub

The Virginia-class attack submarine costs $4.3 billion per unit. The Virginia-class Block V (which was originally slated to be built for FY2025) is a marvel. This model has an insane array of features that makes it the perfect counterweight to holding Chinese and Russian forces hostage. It holds 28 Tomahawk cruise missiles (along with several other deployable weapons). The Block V variant has achieved what experts refer to as, “acoustic superiority.” 

This is a key feature, considering that the primary method for tracking submarines underwater is using sonar. With the Virginia-class Block V’s acoustic superiority, though, the submarine’s stealth is enhanced. That, coupled with the larger deployable weapons capability, would grant the Navy unparalleled power projection in a domain covered by an A2/AD bubble.

The Navy was building two Virginia-class subs per year. But for Fiscal Year 2025, the Navy shocked everyone and canceled their usual order. They want only one submarine built. 

Apparently, the Navy would prefer to blow through our hard-earned tax dollars to build $13 billion vanity projects, like the Ford-class, rather than build more affordable and relevant systems. The Navy, like so much of America’s elephantine military bureaucracy, is tailoring its strategy for winning the next war around its weapons rather than tailoring its weapons to meet its strategy. 

China, unlike their American rivals, does not suffer from this problem.

Heck, instead of building one additional Ford-class carrier over the next eight years for $13 billion, the Navy should cancel that project and instead build three new Virginia-class submarines for almost the same amount of money! 

Whatever money was left over should then be channeled into one of the Navy’s anti-A2/AD programs, such as the hypersonic weapons or DEW or drone programs. 

Let us hope the Navy can reverse course quickly on its acquisition plan. Because, at this rate, it’s going to lose its opening set of engagements with any Chinese A2/AD force.

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.

Iowa-Class Battleship USS Iowa Is Getting Some Serious Upgrades

Thu, 14/03/2024 - 13:19

Summary: The USS Iowa (BB-61), a historic centerpiece of the Pacific Battleship Center in Los Angeles since 2012, epitomizes the largest and fastest class of battleships ever produced by the U.S. Navy. Known for its significant role in World War II and the Korean War, this majestic warship, now a museum, continues to attract visitors with its storied past. Despite needing extensive deck repairs and facing financial challenges that have stalled relocation plans within the Port of Los Angeles, efforts are underway to maintain the USS Iowa for future generations, underscoring its enduring legacy as a symbol of American naval prowess.

USS Iowa: Preserving a Legendary Battleship as a Southern California Museum Marvel

The Battleship USS Iowa has been repeatedly ranked one of the top five museums in Southern California – and it serves to preserve the long-retired USS Iowa (BB-61), the lead vessel of the largest, fastest class of battleships ever produced for the United States Navy. The warship is the centerpiece of the Pacific Battleship Center, which has been open to the public in Los Angeles since 2012.

As with other retired warships, the former BB-61 is in need of much TLC, with major deck repair now in progress, yet, plans to relocate the ship to a more conducive location in the Port of Los Angeles are now on hold, as it would cost millions of dollars more than initially anticipated. For now, the USS Iowa will remain where it is, and hopefully continue to be maintained for future generations.

USS Iowa: A Historic Warship

The largest and most powerful battleships built for the U.S. Navy, the Iowa-class were also the final battleships that entered service with the Navy. Unlike slower battleships of the era, this class was also designed to travel with a carrier force, and even be able to transit the Panama Canal, enabling the mighty warships to respond to threats around the world.

Planning for the new class began even before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Seeing war clouds on the horizon, the U.S. Navy called for a "fast battleship" that could take on the increasing power projected by the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Laid down on June 6, 1940, she was completed on February 22, 1943 and just two days later was put to sea for a shakedown in the Chesapeake Bay and later along the Atlantic coast. By the summer of that year, she had been deployed to patrol the waters off the coast of Newfoundland after it was reported that the German battleship Tirpitz was operating in Norwegian waters.

In November 1943, USS Iowa carried President Franklin D. Roosevelt, along with Secretary of State Cordell Hull, Chief of Staff Admiral William D. Leahy, Chief of Staff of the Army General George C. Marshall, Chief of Naval Operations Ernest King, Commanding General of the U.S. Army Air Forces Henry "Hap" Arnold, Harry Hopkins, and other military leaders to Mers El Kébir, Algeria. It was the first leg of the journey for the leaders heading to the Tehran Conference, and the warship then conducted a similar presidential escort on the return journey in December.

Notably, the battleship was outfitted with a bathtub specifically for President Roosevelt, who was unable to use the warship's shower facilities.

She spent the rest of the Second World War in the Pacific, where USS Iowa took part in the Marshal and Mariana Islands Campaigns, the Okinawa Campaign, and in the summer of 1945 even took part in strikes on the Japanese home islands. Iowa joined her sister ship, USS Missouri (BB-63) during the September 2 surrender ceremony in Tokyo Bay, and BB-61 then remained in the bay as part of the occupying force.

Decommissioned in 1949, she returned to service just two years later and took part in the Korean War, serving as the flagship of the Seventh Fleet from April to October 1952. Iowa took part in shelling enemy positions on multiple occasions, including sorties north of the 38th parallel. Those actions established her eligibility for the United Nations Service Medal and the Korean Service Medal with one bronze star.

She was decommissioned a second time in 1958.

In the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan called for a 600-ship U.S. Navy, the USS Iowa and her three battleships were reactivated and upgraded with new combat systems that replaced many of the ships' smaller five-inch guns with launchers for Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 32 Tomahawk cruise missiles and four Phalanx close-in weapon systems (CIWS). Initially equipped with 40mm anti-aircraft guns, during the Cold War those were replaced with missiles, electronic-warfare suites, and Phalanx anti-missile Gatling gun systems.

The warship was also used as the test bed for the Navy's RQ-2 Pioneer Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) in the 1980s, the first of its kind to use a drone as an aerial spotter for a battleship's guns.

On July 4, 1986, President Ronald Reagan and First Lady Nancy Reagan boarded the USS Iowa for the International Naval Review in New York's Hudson River.

While Iowa didn't take part in combat operations following her reactivation, On April 19, 1989, a fire in her second sixteen-inch gun turret killed 47 crewmen. She was decommissioned a final time in October 1990.

Since 2012 she has been preserved as a museum ship – and is now being transitioned into what will be the future National Museum of the Surface Navy, as part of an effort to raise awareness of how the United States was – and still is – a maritime nation.

However, her greatest foe remains time and the elements – and she is not alone in that fight. Across the country, her sister ship USS New Jersey (BB-62) is also undergoing a major restoration effort.

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: Editor@nationalinterest.org.

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