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Diplomacy & Crisis News

Does Crime Pay? Why Criminals are Targeting Stimulus Payments

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 11:33

Eli Fuhrman

Stimulus Payment Crime,

This is not the first example of a crime involving stimulus payments. Attempts at fraud involving stimulus payments have been a concern since the government first began sending them out.

Here's What You Need to Remember: A particularly gruesome example of violent crime involving stimulus payments comes out of Indianapolis, where a disagreement over a stimulus payment ended in a quadruple murder.

An elderly woman’s stimulus payment was part of a recent theft attempt. A couple in Ohio is facing charges of theft from a person in a protected class after they duped a woman into signing over a number of assets to them. Investigators say that Karen Laborde and Peter Laborde III managed to trick the woman into signing a quitclaim deed, used to transfer ownership of a property before they then placed her into a nursing home.

They also stole a number of other assets worth over $47,500 from her, including her social security and stimulus payment.

This is not the first example of a crime involving stimulus payments. Attempts at fraud involving stimulus payments have been a concern since the government first began sending them out. One Oklahoma woman, for example, reported that shortly after receiving her first $1,200 stimulus payment she was notified by her bank about more than one attempt to cash fraudulent checks against her account.

More organized attempts at fraud involving stimulus payments have also taken place, with one Chicago man accused of working with his brother, a postal worker, to steal stimulus payments from the mail and then resell them.

Those people accused of engaging in fraud related to stimulus payments could face very severe penalties, including fines of up to $1,000,000 as well as jail time.

Violent crimes involving stimulus payments have also occurred. An Indiana postal worker was killed by a man on her regular delivery route who was reportedly angry over having his mail withheld which resulted in a delay in his receiving his stimulus payment, while a man in Illinois was killed following an attempted home invasion and burglary that was targeting his stimulus payment.

Other examples of violent crime involving stimulus payments include a shooting in Detroit that followed an argument over a stimulus payment, as well as one man who set both his house and an ex-girlfriend’s car on fire after reportedly being angry that his $600 stimulus payment was being diverted for child support.

A particularly gruesome example of violent crime involving stimulus payments comes out of Indianapolis, where a disagreement over a stimulus payment ended in a quadruple murder.

Eli Fuhrman is a contributing writer for The National Interest. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

Great Way to Start a War: Does Iran Have Anti-Satellite Missiles?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 11:00

Caleb Larson

Anti-Satellite, Middle East

Striking a target just across a national border is relatively easy. What is much harder, however, is striking an adversary’s satellites. Could Iran do it?

Here's What You Need to Remember: Converting a missile from ground attack to space attack is not necessarily difficult. And space is a ripe target. Satellites are virtually defenseless from strikes by kill vehicles.

After the targeted killing of Iranian General Qassem Soleimani, Iran flexed a bit of its ballistic missile muscle in retaliation, striking several bases in Iraq that housed U.S. troops. Striking a target just across a national border is relatively easy. What is much harder, however, is striking an adversary’s satellites. Could Iran do it?

Bombs Away

A report from CSIS stated that Iran’s “missile forces [are] a potent tool for Iranian power projection and a credible threat to U.S. and partner military forces in the region.”

While referencing Iran’s conventional ballistic missile capabilities, the report fails to mention that Iran’s missile arsenal is fully adequate for reaching satellites of varying orbits.

Converting a missile from ground attack to space attack is not necessarily difficult. And space is a ripe target. Satellites are virtually defenseless from strikes by kill vehicles.

The United States, and virtually the entire world is dependent on satellites for peaceful reasons like communications, for navigating by GPS—and for violent reasons, like guiding precision-guided munition, or snapping photos from nuclear test sites.

One expert on the danger posed by anti-satellite capabilities wrote, “the military applications of ASAT missiles appear fairly obvious. China would seek to use the ASAT missiles to knock out U.S. satellites in order to degrade its C5ISR [Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capabilities, rendering distributed U.S. military and allied assets unable to communicate or share information.”

If enough satellites were knocked out in a conflict scenario, troops would have to dust of the ole map and compass.

Still, striking a satellite is no walk in the park—and more complicated that just launching a missile into space. Satellites are small, and some travel along their orbits quite fast. Striking satellites has been compared to hitting a bullet with another bullet.

No Mental Limitations

Challenges aside, could Iran knock out the United State’s satellites? A Defense Intelligence Agency report acknowledged Iran’s desire to shape the space battlefield. "Iran recognizes the strategic value of space and counterspace capabilities and will attempt to deny an adversary use of space during a conflict.”

Iran does also have some capabilities, due to the aforementioned ballistic missile arsenal it maintains: “Because of the inherent overlap in technology between ICBMs and SLVs, Iran’s development of larger, more capable SLV boosters remains a concern for a future ICBM capability. Also, these advancements could be applied to developing a basic ground-based ASAT missile, should Iran choose to do so in the future.”

Desire aside, Iran has some practical limitations to deal with: “Tehran states it has developed sophisticated capabilities, including SLVs and communications and remote sensing satellites, but its SLVs are only able to launch microsatellites into LEO [Low Earth Orbit} and have proven unreliable.”

Deny > Control

Iran’s capabilities in space are most effective in denying the space sphere to adversaries, rather than actually controlling it themselves. In 2011, Iran was able to capture an American drone by jamming the drone’s GPS signal and spoofing another GPS signal. This is much easier to do than taking out a satellite.

It is unlikely that Iran would be able to strike satellites from their orbit, though the desire and ballistic missile base is there. There are just cheaper and easier alternatives like GPS jamming and spoofing. If you do lose your GPS signal soon—it probably wasn’t Iran.

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

Image: Reuters.

Ask Congress: Do Americans Deserve a Fourth Stimulus Payment?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 10:33

Ethen Kim Lieser

Stimulus Payments,

Polling data shows that 65 percent of Americans support recurring stimulus payments. “This includes support from 54 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents. Economists support the idea too,” they said.

Here's What You Need to Remember: “Our country is still deeply struggling. The recovery hasn’t reached many Americans. . . . It took nine months for Congress to send a second stimulus check, and just moments to spend it. Moving forward Congress needs to make recurring checks automatic if certain triggers are met. No more waiting around for our government to send the help we need.”  

Over the past year, Congress has green-lighted the delivery of three coronavirus stimulus cash payments—a $1,200 check in April 2020, $600 in December, and the current $1,400 payments under President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan.

That’s already $3,200 in the pockets of most Americans—and with that in mind, can U.S. taxpayers really expect to collect another cash windfall?

Currently, there has been no hint of another round of payments from the White House. In fact, during a recent press briefing, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki appeared to be noncommittal regarding future stimulus checks.

“We’ll see what members of Congress propose, but those are not free,” she told reporters.

More recently, seven Democrats within the House Ways and Means Committee—led by Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Calif.)—sent a letter to Biden that urged him to include recurring direct payments in his highly ambitious $1.8 trillion American Families Plan.

“The pandemic has served as a stark reminder that families and workers need certainty in a crisis,” the lawmakers wrote. “They deserve to know they can put food on the table and keep a roof over their heads.”  

In March, Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and other Democratic senators contended in another letter that “a single direct payment will not last long for most families.”

They also pointed to polling data that showed that 65 percent of Americans support recurring stimulus payments. “This includes support from 54 percent of Republicans and 60 percent of independents. Economists support the idea too,” they said.

It appears that recent polls and surveys are backing such claims that millions of Americans are still scraping by. TransUnion’s research has revealed that roughly four in ten Americans are still continuing to experience income loss compared to before the start of the pandemic, while a report put together by the Economic Security Project has suggested that additional rounds of stimulus have the potential to lift twelve million U.S. residents out of poverty.

In addition, ordinary citizens fed up with their precarious financial situations are taking action to demand more rounds of stimulus checks.  

In one such example, more than 2.2 million people already have signed a Change.org petition that is calling for $2,000 recurring monthly stimulus payments.  

“I’m calling on Congress to support families with a $2,000 payment for adults and a $1,000 payment for kids immediately, and continuing regular checks for the duration of the crisis,” the petition stated.  

“Our country is still deeply struggling. The recovery hasn’t reached many Americans. . . . It took nine months for Congress to send a second stimulus check, and just moments to spend it. Moving forward Congress needs to make recurring checks automatic if certain triggers are met. No more waiting around for our government to send the help we need,” it added.  

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters

Like Biden’s Tax Hikes? This Corporation Coalition Hates Them

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 10:00

Rachel Bucchino

Joe Biden,

“Tax increases on America’s job creators would stall the economic recovery rather than fuel it and counteract the economic benefits of smart infrastructure spending,” the coalition organizers told The Hill.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Biden administration hopes to make progress on a bill by Memorial Day and has indicated that the president wants the legislation on his desk before Congress takes recess in August.

More than two dozen business groups from a variety of industries have joined together in efforts to reject President Joe Biden’s plans to boost taxes on corporations, arguing the measure would eradicate jobs and slow the country’s pace toward economic recovery. 

The coalition, dubbed America’s Job Creators for a Strong Recovery, was headed by the National Association of Wholesale Distributors.

“Tax increases on America’s job creators would stall the economic recovery rather than fuel it and counteract the economic benefits of smart infrastructure spending,” the coalition organizers told The Hill.

The groups involved include the American Hotel and Lodging Association, the International Franchise Association and the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America.

The alliance comes as Biden has called for a slew of tax increases on wealthy individuals and corporations to help fund his multi-trillion-dollar infrastructure and jobs bill that’s sitting in a partisan deadlock, as both sides of the aisle fail to reach an agreement over what’s included in the bill and how it’ll be paid for.

The president, however, thinks the bill should be funded by a raised corporate tax rate to 28 percent, up from 21 percent, as well as by imposing a global minimum of 15 percent on companies’ profits overseas and by increasing the income tax rate to 39.6 percent.

The coalition has already begun paid messaging research nationally and in Arizona, sources told The Hill.

The group also plans to pivot their messaging away from taxing the rich and big corporations to help construct roads and bridges, since that method often rallies support from Democrats and party voters. 

Instead, the group told The Hill that overall support for Biden’s infrastructure bill tends to diminish if voters think that the measure requires public spending, meaning higher prices for goods and services, as well as potential tax hikes.

“The record tax hikes that Democrats are seeking to ram through could not come at a worse time for America’s job creators who are just beginning to recover from a crippling pandemic,” Eric Hoplin, president and CEO of the National Association of Wholesaler Distributors, told the publication.

A group of Senate Republicans plan to present a nearly $1 trillion infrastructure deal to the White House on Thursday as negotiations between Democrats and the GOP have hit a brick wall. 

Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over the partisan impasse, with progressive members calling for the budget reconciliation process to pass the massive infrastructure bill. That would mean Democrats could move forward on an infrastructure package with a simple majority, which wouldn’t require a single Republican vote due to the party’s majority in the Senate.

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of senators have announced efforts to pursue a smaller, more targeted infrastructure bill that offers fresh ways to pay for the package. 

The Biden administration hopes to make progress on a bill by Memorial Day and has indicated that the president wants the legislation on his desk before Congress takes recess in August.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

Nuclear or Not? Why the U.S. Navy Doesn’t Want AIP Submarines

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 09:33

Sebastien Roblin

Submarines,

Most other navies have retained at least some diesel submarines because of their much lower cost and complexity.

Here's What You Need to Know: It is no surprise that navies that operate largely around coastal waters are turning to cheap AIP submarines, as their disadvantages are not as relevant when friendly ports are close at hand. The trade-off in range and endurance is more problematic for the U.S. Navy, which operates across the breadth of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans.

Nuclear-powered submarines have traditionally held a decisive edge in endurance, stealth, and speed over cheaper diesel submarines. However, new Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology has significantly narrowed the performance gap on a new generation of submarines that cost a fraction of the price of a nuclear-powered boat.

A conventional submarine’s diesel engine generates electricity which can be used to drive the propeller and power its systems. The problem is that such a combustion engine is inherently quite noisy and runs on air—a commodity in limited supply on an underwater vehicle. Thus, diesel-powered submarines must surface frequently to recharge their batteries.

The first nuclear-powered submarines were brought into service in the 1950s. Nuclear reactors are quieter, don’t consume air, and produce greater power output, allowing nuclear submarines to remain submerged for months instead of days while traveling at higher speeds underwater.  

These advantages led the U.S. Navy to phase out its diesel boats in favor of an all-nuclear-powered submarine fleet.  However, most other navies have retained at least some diesel submarines because of their much lower cost and complexity.

In the 1990s, submarines powered by Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology entered operational use. Though the concept dated back to the 19th century and had been tested in a few prototype vessels, it was left to Sweden to deploy the first operational AIP-powered submarine, the Gotland-class, which proved to be stealthy and relatively long enduring. The 60-meter long Gotlands are powered by a Stirling-cycle engine, a heat engine consuming a combination of liquid oxygen and diesel fuel.

Since then, AIP powered-submarines have proliferated across the world using three different types of engines, with nearly 60 operational today in fifteen countries. Around fifty more are on order or being constructed.

China has 15 Stirling-powered Yuan-class Type 039A submarines with 20 more planned, as well as a single large Type 032 missile submarine that can fire ballistic missiles. Japan for her part has eight medium-sized Soryu class submarines that also use Stirling engines, with 15 more planned for or under construction. The Swedes, for their part, have developed four different classes of Stirling-powered submarines.

Germany has also built dozens of AIP-powered submarines, most notably the small Type 212 and 214, and has exported them across the globe. The German boats all use electro-catalytic fuel cells, a generally more efficient and quiet technology than the Stirling, though also more complex and expensive. Other countries intending to build fuel-cell-powered submarines include Spain (the S-80), India (the Kalvari-class), and Russia (the Lada-class).

Finally, France has designed several subs using a closed-cycle steam turbine called MESMA. Three upgraded Agosta-90b class subs with MESMA engines serve in the Pakistani Navy.

Nuclear vs. AIP: Who Wins?:

Broadly speaking, how do AIP vessels compare in performance to nuclear submarines? Let’s consider the costs and benefits in terms of stealth, endurance, speed, and cost.

Stealth:

Nuclear-powered submarines have become very quiet—at least an order of magnitude quieter than a diesel submarine with its engine running.  In fact, nuclear-powered submarines may be unable to detect each other using passive sonar, as evidenced by the 2009 collision of British and French nuclear ballistic missile submarines, both oblivious to the presence of the other.

However, there’s reason to believe that AIP submarines can, if properly designed, swim underwater even more quietly. The hydraulics in a nuclear reactor produce noise as they pump coolant liquid, while an AIP’s submarine’s engines are virtually silent. Diesel-powered submarines can also approach this level of quietness while running on battery power, but can only do so for a few hours whereas an AIP submarine can keep it up for days.

Diesel and AIP-powered submarines have on more than one occasion managed to slip through anti-submarine defenses and sink American aircraft carriers in war games. Of course, such feats have also been performed by nuclear submarines.

Endurance:

Nuclear submarines can operate underwater for three or four months at a time and cross oceans with ease. While some conventional submarines can handle the distance, none have comparable underwater endurance.

AIP submarines have narrowed the gap, however.  While old diesel submarines needed to surface in a matter of hours or a few days at best to recharge batteries, new AIP-powered vessels only need to surface every two to four weeks depending on type. (Some sources make the unconfirmed claim that the German Type 214 can even last more than 2 months.) Of course, surfaced submarines, or even those employing a snorkel, are comparatively easy to detect and attack.

Nuclear submarines still have a clear advantage in endurance over AIP boats, particularly on long-distance patrols.  However, for countries like Japan, Germany, and China that mostly operate close to friendly shores, extreme endurance may be a lower priority.

Speed:

Speed remains an undisputed strength of nuclear-powered submarines. U.S. attack submarine may be able to sustain speeds of more than 35 miles per hour while submerged. By comparison, the German Type 214’s maximum submerged speed of 23 miles per hour is typical of AIP submarines.

Obviously, high maximum speed grants advantages in both strategic mobility and tactical agility.  However, it should be kept in mind that even nuclear submarines rarely operate at maximum speed because of the additional noise produced.

On the other hand, an AIP submarine is likely to move at especially slow speeds when cruising sustainably using AIP compared to diesel or nuclear submarines.  For example, a Gotland class submarine is reduced to just 6 miles per hour if it wishes to remain submerged at maximum endurance—which is simply too slow for long-distance transits or traveling with surface ships.  Current AIP technology doesn’t produce enough power for higher speeds, and thus most AIP submarines also come with noisy diesel engines as a backup.

Cost:

Who would have guessed nuclear reactors are incredibly expensive?  The contemporary U.S. Virginia class attack submarine costs $2.6 billion dollars, and the earlier Los Angeles class before it around $2 billion in inflation-adjusted dollars.  Mid-life nuclear refueling costs add millions more.

By comparison, AIP-powered submarines have generally cost between $200 and $600 million, meaning a country could easily buy three or four medium-sized AIP submarines instead of one nuclear attack submarine. Bear in mind, however, that the AIP submarines are mostly small or medium-sized vessels with crews of around 30 and 60 respectively, while nuclear submarines are often larger with crews of 100 or more.  They may also have heavier armament, such as Vertical Launch Systems, when compared to most AIP-powered vessels.

Nevertheless, a torpedo or missile from a small submarine can hit just as hard as one fired from a large one, and having three times the number of submarine operating in a given stretch of ocean could increase the likelihood chancing upon an important target, and make it easier to overwhelm anti-submarine defenses.

While AIP vessels may not be able to do everything a nuclear submarine can, having a larger fleet of submarines would be very useful in hunting opposing ships and submarines for control of the seas. Nor would it be impossible to deploy larger AIP-powered submarines; China has already deployed one, and France is marketing a cheaper AIP-powered version of the Barracuda-class nuclear attack submarine.

It is no surprise that navies that operate largely around coastal waters are turning to cheap AIP submarines, as their disadvantages are not as relevant when friendly ports are close at hand. The trade-off in range and endurance is more problematic for the U.S. Navy, which operates across the breadth of the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans. This may explain why the U.S. Navy has shown little inclination to return to non-nuclear submarines. However, AIP submarines operating from forward bases would represent a very cost-effective and stealthy means to expand the Navy’s sea-control mission.

Sébastien Roblin holds a Master’s Degree in Conflict Resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

This article first appeared in 2016.

Image: Flickr.

J-15 Fighters Will Soon Be Flying from Chinese Aircraft Carriers

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 09:33

Kris Osborn

China's Military, Asia

The Chinese Navy is taking aggressive steps to massively rev up its fleet of carrier-based attack jets with a new generation of pilots specifically trained to operate ship-based aircraft. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: A potentially lesser recognized element of this is that China of course plans to add 5th-gen carrier-launched aircraft such as a new maritime variant of its J-31. Therefore, having a trained and ready group of pilots prepared to operate carrier or amphib-operated aircraft could enable pilots to quickly transition from platforms such as a J-15 to newly arriving 5th-Gen assets. 

The Chinese Navy is taking aggressive steps to massively rev up its fleet of carrier-based attack jets with a new generation of pilots specifically trained to operate ship-based aircraft. 

A story in the Chinese Government-backed Global Times newspaper says the PLA Navy made history by qualifying the first group of new fighter-jet pilots specifically recruited to fly carrier-launched aircraft. 

The report makes the interesting point that traditional pilots, while of course quite experienced with fighter jet operations and flight, might have more trouble transitioning into roles flying carrier-operated planes. 

“Although switched pilots may have accumulated flight experience in previous service, such experience is not necessarily helpful as muscle memory may hinder them from adapting to shipboard aircraft, Li said. Pilots usually throttle down the engine when landing, but for carrier-based aircraft pilots, they need to keep that or even throttle up,” the report says. 

The training and flight preparations, using Chinese J-15s, are taking place on China’s first aircraft carrier, the Liaoning. 

What this means is that the PLA Navy is moving as quickly as it can to arm its growing fleet of carriers with pilots, fighter jets, and trained crews. This makes sense and is a point that could easily be overlooked given the amount of attention now being paid to the pace of China’s expanding carrier fleet. China’s second carrier, its first indigenously built platform, is already operational, and work on a third and fourth carrier is already underway. 

China is adding new carriers, along with amphibious and destroyers, at a staggering speed, generating concern at the Pentagon regarding the scope and size of its growing Navy as well as its industrial capacity. Furthermore, its newer carriers look quite similar to modern U.S. carriers, as is often the case with emerging Chinese platforms which seem to pop up several years after new U.S. systems arrive, and they often look very similar. This is not only true of carriers but also destroyers and amphibs. Elements of the new Chinese fleet of somewhat stealthy Type 055 destroyers, for example, resemble the U.S. Zumwalt class, and its new fleet of amphibs clearly mirror the U.S. America class. 

The Chinese Navy is already substantially larger than the U.S. Navy in terms of sheer size, and has no apparent plans to slow down the pace at which it adds new ships. New stealthy destroyers and Type 075 amphibs, for example, are arriving quickly to further fortify China’s visible plan to lead the world as a global maritime power. In fact, China is well known to be pursuing a plan to add 40 new destroyers within five years.

After all, there is little point in massively expanding a fleet of aircraft carriers without the requisite number of pilots needed to operate them. Also, a potentially lesser recognized element of this is that China of course plans to add 5th-gen carrier-launched aircraft such as a new maritime variant of its J-31. Therefore, having a trained and ready group of pilots prepared to operate carrier or amphib-operated aircraft could enable pilots to quickly transition from platforms such as a J-15 to newly arriving 5th-Gen assets. 

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

China’s Anti-Satellite Capabilities: All Hype or a Recipe for American Defeat?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 09:15

Caleb Larson

Anti-Satellite,

Satellites are used for GPS locating, for data transmission—for guiding precision munitions, and for photo-reconnaissance, so if they got taken out, what's the plan B?

Here's What You Need to Remember: One of China’s more notable anti-satellite test occurred in 2007. A Chinese satellite was struck and destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle, resulting in a large cloud of debris being thrown into space—more than 3,000 pieces.

China has conducted several anti-satellite strikes. This capability has been compared to hitting a bullet with a bullet—but should the world be worried?

Space Race

The United States, and the whole world really, is dependent on space. Satellites are used for GPS locating, for data transmission—for guiding precision munitions, and for photo-reconnaissance.

As one expert wrote, “the military applications of ASAT missiles appear fairly obvious. China would seek to use the ASAT missiles to knock out U.S. satellites in order to degrade its C5ISR [Command, Control, Computers, Communications, Cyber, Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance] capabilities, rendering distributed U.S. military and allied assets unable to communicate or share information.”

If enough satellites were taken out in the event of war, troops would have to dust off a compass and map.

The Infamous Test

One of China’s more notable anti-satellite test occurred in 2007. A Chinese satellite was struck and destroyed by a kinetic kill vehicle, resulting in a large cloud of debris being thrown into space—more than 3,000 pieces.

This was a huge technological feat for China. The interceptor that was launched was traveling at nearly 18,000 miles per hour—blindingly fast. The target itself was a mere six feet or so across.

Unlike other anti-satellite tests which hit targets from above, essentially pushing them down towards the earth where pieces burn up upon reentry, this Chinese test was conducted form the side, spewing debris across a swath of space. Many of those pieces will stay in orbit for decades, if not centuries, orbiting the earth and posing a threat to whatever may lie in their path.

According to a United States Department of Defense report, the vehicle that carried the kill vehicle was possibly a modified DF-21 ballistic missile, which is capable of carrying nuclear warheads.

Post-2007

China has conducted several other anti-satellite tests after their infamous 2007 strike, some of which had the potential to be extremely dangerous.

In 2006, Chinese a Chinese laser (or multiple lasers) lit up a number of American satellites. The satellites sustained no damage, indicating that the laser was not operating at full strength, or that the lasers were for determining range rather than for destruction. It remains unclear what purpose these lasers served.

In 2008, China completed its first manned spacewalk. One of the ambulating astronauts released a microsatellite—weighing 40 kilograms, or nearly 90 pounds—into space. Four hours after release, the satellite came about 27 miles from hitting the International Space Station, according to calculations by the U.S. Strategic Command.

While that doesn’t sound so dangerous, the satellite was traveling about 17,000 miles per hour. Needless to say, the space station would have been pulverized and anyone onboard would have likely died. Worryingly, shortly after launch Chinese state media reported that the micro-satellite had drifted out of its intended orbit.

Weaponization

Anti-satellite weapons are dangerous, yes. But, they are no silver bullet. In the event of a conflict where space would become weaponized, striking satellites could knock out services like GPS or communications networks—for a time. Satellites are getting easier and cheaper to launch. They are replaceable.

What is more dangerous about anti-satellite strikes is the debris field that is created after a hit. Small pieces of metal flying through earth’s orbit at 18,000 miles an hour would be very difficult to track, and even harder to predict. The chance of a strike causing damage to whoever shot it can’t be ruled out—and may actually help to prevent anti-satellite strikes from being used.

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

Image: Flickr

Look Out China, America Is Building its Own ‘Carrier Killer’ Missiles

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 08:00

James Holmes

U.S. Navy, Asia

How the navy deploys new weaponry as it enters service is nearly as important as fielding the weapons themselves.

Here's What You Need to Remember: That carrier-killer imagery resonates with Western audiences comes as little surprise. It implies that Chinese rocketeers can send the pride of the U.S. Navy to the bottom from a distance, and sink U.S. efforts to succor Asian allies in the process.

Ah, yes, the “carrier-killer.” China is forever touting the array of guided missiles its weaponeers have devised to pummel U.S. Navy nuclear-powered aircraft carriers (CVNs). Most prominent among them are its DF-21D and DF-26 antiship ballistic missiles (ASBMs), which the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has made a mainstay of China’s anti-access/area-denial (A2/AD) defenses.

Beijing has made believers of important audiences, including the scribes who toil away at the Pentagon producing estimates of Chinese martial might. Indeed, the most recent annual report on Chinese military power states matter-of-factly that the PLA can now use DF-21Ds to “attack ships, including aircraft carriers,” more than nine hundred statute miles from China’s shorelines.

Scary. But the U.S. Navy has carrier-killers of its own. Or, more accurately, it has shipkillers of its own: what can disable or sink a flattop can make short work of lesser warships. And antiship weaponry is multiplying in numbers, range, and lethality as the navy reawakens from its post-Cold War holiday from history. Whose carrier-killer trumps whose will hinge in large part on where a sea fight takes place.

That carrier-killer imagery resonates with Western audiences comes as little surprise. It implies that Chinese rocketeers can send the pride of the U.S. Navy to the bottom from a distance, and sink U.S. efforts to succor Asian allies in the process. Worse, it implies that PLA commanders could pull off such a world-historical feat without deigning to send ships to sea or warplanes into the central blue. Close the firing key on the ASBM launcher, and presto!, it happens.

Well, maybe. Why obsess over technical minutiae like firing range? For one thing, the nine-hundred-mile range cited for the DF-21D far exceeds the reach of carrier-based aircraft. A carrier task force, consequently, could take a heckuva beating just arriving on Asian battlegrounds. And the range mismatch could get worse. Unveiled at the PLA’s military parade through Beijing last fall, the DF-26 will reportedly sport a maximum firing range of 1,800-2,500 miles.

If the technology pans out, PLA ballistic missiles could menace U.S. and allied warships plying the seas anywhere within Asia’s second island chain. The upper figure for DF-26 range, moreover, would extend ASBMs’ reach substantially beyond the island chain.

From an Atlantic perspective, striking a ship east of Guam from coastal China is like smiting a ship cruising east of Greenland from a missile battery in downtown Washington, DC. Reaching Guam would become a hazardous prospect for task forces steaming westward from Hawaii or the American west coast, while shipping based at Guam, Japan, or other Western Pacific outposts would live under the constant shadow of missile attack.

Now, it’s worth noting that the PLA has never tested the DF-21D over water, five-plus years after initially deploying it. Still less has the DF-26 undergone testing under battle conditions. That’s cause to pause and reflect. As the immortal Murphy might counsel, technology not perfected in peacetime tends to disappoint its user in wartime.

Still, an ASBM will be a useful piece of kit if Chinese engineers have made it work. The U.S. military boasts no counterpart to China’s family of ASBMs. Nor is it likely to. The United States is bound by treaty not to develop mid-range ballistic missiles comparable to the DF-21D or DF-26. Even if Washington canceled its treaty commitments today, it would take years if not decades for weapons engineers to design, test, and field a shipkilling ballistic missile from a cold start.

Still, the U.S. Navy isn’t without options in naval war. Far from it. How would American mariners would dispatch an enemy flattop in combat? The answer is the default answer we give in my department in Newport: it depends.

It would depend, that is, on where the encounter took place. A fleet duel involving carriers would take a far different trajectory on the open sea—remote from fire support from Fortress China, the PLA’s unsinkable aircraft carrier—than if it unfolded within range of ASBMs, cruise missiles, or aircraft emplaced along seacoasts or offshore islands.

The former would be a fleet-on-fleet affair: whatever firepower each force totes to the scene of action decides the outcome, seamanship, tactical acumen, and élan being equal. The latter would let PLA commanders hurl land-based weaponry into the fray. But at the same time, the U.S. Navy would probably fight alongside allied navies—from the likes of Japan, South Korea or Australia—in near-shore combat. And, like China, the allies could harness Asia’s congested offshore geography, using land-based armaments to augment their fleets’ innate combat punch.

In short, the two tactical arenas differ starkly from each other. The latter is messier and more prone to chance, uncertainty, and the fog of war—not to mention the derring-do of an enterprising foe.

Submarine warfare would constitute a common denominator in U.S. maritime strategy for oceanic and near-shore combat. Nuclear-powered attack submarines (SSNs) such as U.S. Virginia- or Los Angeles-class boats can raid surface shipping on the high seas. Or they can slip underneath A2/AD defenses to assault enemy vessels, including flattops, in their coastal redoubts.

In short, SSNs are workhorses in U.S. naval operations. That’s why it’s a grave mistake for Congress to let the size of the SSN fleet dwindle from fifty-three today to forty-one in 2029. That’s a 23 percent drop in the number of hulls at a time when China is bulking up its fleet of nuclear- and conventionally propelled subs—to as many as 78 by 2020—and Russia is rejuvenating its silent-running sub force.

American submarines, then, are carrier-killers regardless of the tactical setting. Now, there’s a bit of a futurist feel to talk about battling Chinese carrier groups. At present the PLA Navy has just one flattop, a refitted Soviet vessel dubbed Liaoning. That vessel is and will probably remain a training carrier, grooming aviators and ship crews for the operational carriers—most likely improved versions of Liaoning—that are reportedly undergoing construction.

Let’s suppose Chinese shipyards complete the PLA’s second carrier—China’s first indigenously built carrier—at the same clip that Newport News Shipbuilding completed USS Forrestal, the nation’s first supercarrier and a conventionally propelled vessel with roughly the same dimensions and complexity as Liaoning. It took just over three years to build Forrestal, from the time shipbuilders laid her keel until she was placed in commission.

Let’s further suppose that the PLA Navy has made great strides in learning how to operate carrier task forces at sea. If so, the navy will integrate the new flattop seamlessly and speedily into operations, making it a battleworthy addition to China’s oceangoing fleet. Our hypothetical high-seas clash thus could take place circa 2020.

In 2020, as today, the carrier air wing will remain the surface U.S. Navy’s chief carrier-killer. U.S. CVNs can carry about 85 tactical aircraft. While estimates of the size of a future Chinese flattop’s air wing vary, let’s take a high-end estimate of 50 fixed-wing planes and helicopters. That means, conservatively speaking, that the U.S. CVN’s complement will be 70 percent larger than its PLA Navy opponent’s.

And in all likelihood, the American complement will be superior to the Chinese on a warbird-for-warbird basis. It appears future PLA Navy flattops will, like Liaoning, be outfitted with ski jumps on their bows to vault aircraft into the sky. That limits the weight—and thus the load of fuel and weapons—that a Chinese aircraft can haul while still getting off the flight deck.

U.S. CVNs, meanwhile, slingshot heavy-laden fighter/attack jets off their flight decks using steam or electromagnetic catapults. More armaments translates into a heavier-hitting naval air force, more fuel into greater range and time on station.

For example, F-18E/F Super Hornet fighter/attack jets can operate against targets around 400 nautical miles distant, not counting the additional distance their weapons travel after firing. That’s roughly comparable to the combat radius advertised for Chinese J-15 carrier planes—but again, a U.S. air wing will outnumber its Chinese counterpart while packing more punch per airframe. Advantage: U.S. Navy.

By 2020, moreover, promising antiship weaponry may have matured and joined the U.S. arsenal. At present the surface navy’s main antiship armament is the elderly Harpoon cruise missile, a “bird” of 1970s vintage with a range exceeding 60 miles. That pales in comparison with the latest PLA Navy birds—most notably the YJ-18, which boasts a range of 290 nautical miles.

Weaponeers are working at helter-skelter speed to remedy the U.S. Navy’s range shortfall. Boeing, the Harpoon’s manufacturer, is doubling the bird’s range. The Pentagon’s Strategic Capabilities Office recently repurposed the SM-6 surface-to-air missile for antiship missions, doubling or tripling the surface fleet’s striking range against carrier or surface-action groups. And on it goes. Last year the navy tested an antiship variant of the Tomahawk cruise missile, reinventing a very—very—long-range capability that existed in the late Cold War. A new long-range antiship missile is undergoing development.

How the navy deploys new weaponry as it enters service is nearly as important as fielding the weapons themselves. Under a concept dubbed “distributed lethality,” naval officialdom wants to disperse firepower throughout the fleet while retaining the capacity to concentrate firepower on target. What that means in practical terms is arming more ships with antiship missiles, supplemented by gee-whiz technologies like electromagnetic railguns and shipboard lasers should they fulfill their promise.

The U.S. Navy, then, will deploy no single carrier-killer weapon. It will deploy many. Coupled with submarine warfare and naval aviation, newfangled surface-warfare implements will stand the U.S. Navy in good stead for blue-water engagements by 2020. Trouble is, an open-ocean engagement is the least likely scenario pitting America’s against China’s navy. What would they fight over in, say, the central Pacific? And what would prompt the PLA Navy to venture beyond range of shore fire support—surrendering its difference-maker in sea combat?

No. It’s far more likely any fleet action will take place within reach of PLA anti-access weaponry. The waters shoreward of the island chains are the waters Beijing cares about most. They’re also waters where the United States, the keeper of freedom of the sea and guarantor of Asian allies’ security, is steadfast about remaining the predominant sea power. Conflict is possible in offshore seas and skies should Beijing and Washington deadlock over some quarrel.

And waging it could prove troublesome in the extreme. Talk about distributed lethality! As U.S. forces close in on the Asian mainland, they must traverse an increasingly dense thicket of A2/AD defenses. Carrier-killer ASBMs could cut loose throughout the Western Pacific on day one of a naval war, peppering vessels already in the theater or lumbering westward from U.S. bases. Offshore sentinels—principally missile-armed small craft and diesel attack subs—could disgorge barrages of antiship cruise missiles.

As if that offshore picket line isn’t enough, there’s shore-based antiship weaponry, including not just ASBMs but cruise-missile batteries and missile-armed warplanes stationed along the Chinese seaboard. A nuclear-propelled carrier is a big ship but a small airfield—and it would face off against a host of land-based airfields and missile platforms. All in all, A2/AD poses a wicked tactical and operational problem for U.S. skippers.

The oceangoing PLA Navy fleet could fare far better in a Western Pacific trial of arms than in the open Pacific, the Indian Ocean, or some other faraway expanse. In short, the PLA Navy is a modern-day fortress fleet. Such a fleet shelters safely within range of shore-based defenses—supplementing its own firepower to make the difference in action against a stronger antagonist.

Fortress fleets often meet a grim fate in combat on the open sea, denuded of that protective umbrella. Closer to home—within reach of shore fire support—they can acquit themselves well. China is counting on it.

A quick history lesson in parting. The fortress-fleet concept had humble origins. Sea-power pundit Alfred Thayer Mahan coined it—I think—to describe Russian Navy commanders’ habit of staying within reach of a fort’s gunnery to fend off superior opponents. The fleet was ostensibly the fort’s forward defender against naval assault, but an outgunned fleet could use the fort’s artillery as a protective screen.

Mahan had the guns of Port Arthur, the maritime gateway to the Bohai Sea and thence to China’s capital city, in mind when writing about fortress fleets. The Russian squadron based at Port Arthur stayed mainly under the guns while confronting Admiral Heihachiro Tōgō’s Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) Combined Fleet during the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905.

The Port Arthur squadron was more or less safe so long as it remained within range of Port Arthur’s guns, but it accomplished little. Tōgō & Co. made short work of the fleet when Russian commanders offered battle on the high seas in August 1904. The debacle repeated itself in May 1905, when the Combined Fleet and the Russian Baltic Fleet met in action at Tsushima Strait.

Russian fleets, then, were simply outclassed by their IJN antagonists on a mano-a-mano basis. But imagine what may have transpired had the gunners at Port Arthur been able to rain accurate fire on Japanese ships not just a few but scores or hundreds of miles distant. That would have extended Mahan’s fortress-fleet logic throughout the combat theater. With long-distance backup from the fort, Russian seafarers may have emerged the victors rather than suffering successive cataclysmic defeats. The weak would have won.

That’s a rough analogy to today. Fortress China is festooned with airfields and mobile antiship weaponry able to strike hundreds of miles out to sea. Yes, the U.S. Navy remains stronger than the PLA Navy in open-sea battle. A fleet-on-fleet engagement isolated from shore-based reinforcements would probably go America’s way. But that hypothetical result may not make much difference since the two navies are more likely to join battle in confined Asian waters than on the open ocean.

The U.S. Navy, it seems, is optimized for the blue-water conflagration that’s least likely to occur. Question marks surround who would prevail in the scenarios that are most menacing and most likely to occur. Carrier-killing munitions may make the fortress fleet a going concern at last, long after the age of Mahan. And that suits Beijing fine.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College and coauthor of Red Star over the Pacific. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Should Joe Biden Reduce the Navy’s Aircraft Carrier Fleet?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 07:33

Ethen Kim Lieser

Navy Aircraft Carrier,

In order to meet a proposed $704 billion to $708 billion topline figures for President Joe Biden’s first Department of Defense budget, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is currently seeking to cut costs by reducing the carrier force.

Here's What You Need to Remember: “You can see by the strain of the deployments over the course of the last year that they are in high demand by all the combatant commanders, and sustaining that capability going forward in my view is critically important. I’m in support of the law which calls for the number of carriers in the United States.”

The Pentagon is open to the possibility of reducing the aircraft carrier force as part of the fiscal year 2022 budget submission to Congress.

According to the U.S. Naval Institute (USNI), in order to meet a proposed $704 billion to $708 billion topline figures for President Joe Biden’s first Department of Defense budget, the Office of the Secretary of Defense is currently seeking to cut costs by reducing the carrier force.

One money-saving move could include revisiting a 2019 Trump administration proposal to take the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman out of inventory rather than conduct a mid-life refit and refueling, one legislative source told USNI. Another source has said that the entire shipbuilding budget was under scrutiny.

Earlier this week, House Armed Services seapower and projection forces ranking member Rep. Rob Wittman asked Adm. Phil Davidson, the commander of the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command, if retiring the aircraft carrier would indeed be the right move.

“There is no capability that we have that can substitute for an aircraft carrier in my view,” the four-star admiral responded.

“You can see by the strain of the deployments over the course of the last year that they are in high demand by all the combatant commanders, and sustaining that capability going forward in my view is critically important. I’m in support of the law which calls for the number of carriers in the United States.”

In response, Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told USNI that the Department of Defense would not comment on the budget before it is rolled out, which could be finalized by early May.

In a statement, Wittman’s spokesman added: “These hypothetical concerns are prompted by the prior administration putting a range on aircraft carriers under which we could only reduce assets. Should we face a declining defense budget, that range will require the new administration to make some difficult decisions on force structure, and Congressman Wittman wants to ensure those decisions are made as wisely as possible should the need arise.”

Rep. Elaine Luria, a former Navy nuclear-qualified surface warfare officer, contended that the Pentagon shouldn’t consider reducing the carrier force and that defense spending should be further boosted.

“As we look to expand the U.S. Navy’s presence in response to malign Chinese activity and illegal maritime claims, the last thing we should consider is cuts to our carrier fleet,” she said in a statement.

“Now is not the time to cut defense spending. Our defense budget should grow at 3 to 5 percent above inflation to counter an increasingly threatening China. One cannot place a value on the unparalleled power projection and deterrence provided by our fleet of nuclear-powered aircraft carriers and their embarked air wings. I urge the Biden administration to immediately drop this from consideration.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Only Two? Why Didn't America Build More 100 Ton T28 Heavy Tanks?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 07:00

Michael Peck

Tanks, The Americas

It turns out that the United States did build a monster tank during World War II. The ninety-five-ton T28 would have been the heaviest tank in American history.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The T28 was different than other U.S. vehicles because it was designed for a specific and specialized task. The U.S. Army had Shermans and tank destroyers aplenty. What it lacked was a weapon to breach German fortifications.

When it comes to tanks, America can only hope that size isn’t everything.

During World War II, Germany had its armored giants, such as the seventy-ton King Tiger, the 188-ton Maus or the never-built P.1000, a thousand-ton behemoth that waddled across the line between ambition and insanity. For their part, the Soviets fielded regiments of fifty-six-ton JS-2 heavy tanks.

Against those, the America’s thirty-ton M-4 Sherman seemed downright puny. For various reasons, such as ease of production and transportation overseas, the United States chose not to build heavy tanks during the Second World War. Even today’s M-1 Abrams weighs in at sixty to seventy tons, far less than the Maus.

Yet it turns out that the United States did build a monster tank during World War II. The ninety-five-ton T28 would have been the heaviest tank in American history.

Technically speaking—and we’ll be speaking of this later—the T28 was not a tank.

It was actually a self-propelled gun (also known as an assault gun). Instead of mounting the gun in a revolving turret as in a regular tank, the gun was stuck into the front hull, which meant it could only fire to the front.

That would have made the T28 an unusual weapon in the American arsenal. In World War II, the U.S. armored fleet consisted of turreted tanks as well as turreted tank destroyers (essentially tanks with less armor and a more powerful gun). Even the M-3 Grant, that misshapen stopgap fighting vehicle, had a turreted thirty-seven-millimeter cannon to supplement the seventy-five-millimeter gun fixed in the hull.

However, the Germans and Soviets used plenty of assault guns. The advantage of a German Sturmgeschutz III or Jagdpanther, or a Soviet Su-85 or Su-100, was that they were cheaper to produce than tanks (the turret is an expensive component) while still featuring thick armor and a powerful gun. Removing the turret also made them a smaller and less visible target. The downside was that a fixed gun firing forward meant that to engage targets to the side or rear, the whole vehicle had to pivot in that direction, rather than just swiveling the turret. In a freewheeling mobile battle against other tanks, that inflexibility could prove fatal.

But used as ambushers where their low profile made them hard to spot, or to provide fire support for infantry, they were very effective. To Allied foot soldiers who had to face them, whether they were called tanks or self-propelled guns made no difference.

The T28 was different than other U.S. vehicles because it was designed for a specific and specialized task. The U.S. Army had Shermans and tank destroyers aplenty. What it lacked was a weapon to breach German fortifications. What particularly worried American planners was the Siegfried Line, the long chain of pillboxes and bunkers that guarded Germany’s western border. A 1943 Ordnance Department study concluded that a heavily armed and armored vehicle would be needed to breach those defenses.

“The original concept proposed mounting the new 105mm gun T5EI in a tank with the equivalent of 8-inch frontal armor using the electric drive system developed for the heavy tank T1E1 and the medium tank T23,” according to tank historian R. P. Hunnicutt in his book Firepower: A History of the American Heavy Tank. “The high velocity T5E1 gun had excellent penetration performance against concrete and when installed in a heavily armored chassis was expected to be extremely effective in reducing heavy fortifications.”

The Army finally settled on a ninety-five-ton design with twelve inches of frontal armor. Compare that to the Sherman, which weighed about thirty tons and was protected by around two inches of frontal armor. Even the feared King Tiger, which the Germans used in combat, only had about six inches of frontal armor.

The T28 was almost thirty-seven feet long from the rear to the tip of the gun, and about ten feet high. It carried a crew of four and the 105-millimeter gun. But for close-range defense against infantry, the T28 only had a .50-caliber machine gun mounted on the roof, which required the vehicle commander to expose himself to fire it.

Not surprisingly, the weight of this vehicle created concerns. Though double the weight of the M26 Pershing, the T28 used the same engine, which explains its top speed of eight miles per hour. Even that figure could only be achieved by reducing the T28’s ground pressure through two sets of tracks on each side of the vehicle (when traveling on a road, one set of tracks could be removed for greater speed).

Finding someone to build a vehicle of this size was another challenge. The Pacific Car and Foundry Company stepped forward, and completed the first T28 in December 1945. By then, the war had ended, and the initial order for five test vehicles had been cut to two, with the second delivered in January 1946.

Slashing the program was probably a good idea, because the Army didn’t know what to make of this giant. The vehicle was initially designated the T28 tank. Then as only bureaucrats can do, in February 1945 “a memorandum from the Chief of Ordnance requested that the T28 be redesignated as the 105mm gun motor carriage T95 because the cannon was not turret mounted and because of its limited secondary armament.”

In other words, without a turret and some additional machine guns, the vehicle didn’t deserve to be called a tank. “The heavily armed and armored T95 did not quite fit any of the usual categories for U. S. Army fighting vehicles,” Hunnicutt writes. “For example, tanks were expected to carry their armament in fully rotating turrets and self-propelled guns usually were lightly armored to achieve maximum mobility.”

Then in June 1946 came another adventure in military nomenclature. The T95 went back to being the T28, but this time designated as a superheavy tank.

The T28 never saw combat. How would it have fared if it had? Its 105-millimeter cannon would have been sufficient to take out German pillboxes—and tanks as well. But more important for the U.S. Army in 1945, the T28’s foot-thick frontal armor would have rendered it proof against dreaded German antitank guns like the eighty-eight-millimeter.

On the other hand, like any tank, it would have been vulnerable to mines. Armed with a single exposed machine gun for close-range protection, it also would have been vulnerable to infantry armed with rocket launchers and explosive charges. In that respect, it resembled the German Elefant tank destroyer: lacking any machine guns at all, Elefants were swarmed and destroyed by Soviet infantry at Kursk. Thus the T-28 would require close infantry support.

But ultimately, the United States would have discovered what the Germans did: a handful of massive tanks don’t really make a huge difference on a global-sized battlefield.

A surviving T-28 is scheduled to go on display at the armor museum at Fort Benning, Georgia, in 2020.

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

Image: YouTube

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

Why a Fourth Stimulus Payment Isn’t Coming

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 06:33

Stephen Silver

New Stimulus Payment,

The calls for another check have always been something of an uphill battle.

Here's What You Need to Remember: That doesn’t mean there weren’t be any more help from the government. The payments from the expanded child tax credit will begin rolling out in July. Also, the Biden Administration is pursuing a pair of large spending packages, including the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan.

Nearly since the passage of the American Rescue Plan, which made possible a third major round of stimulus checks, there have been calls for a fourth round. A group of Senators wrote a letter in March calling for that, and some House members joined with another letter, earlier this month.

However, the calls for another check have always been something of an uphill battle. The checks in 2020 went out during the heights of the coronavirus emergency, while the American Rescue Plan was meant to serve as a new president’s attempt to aid the emergence from that pandemic.

Now, a new analysis says that the rising economic fortunes in the U.S. are making the fourth round of stimulus checks less likely.

Motley Fool argued Tuesday that another round of stimulus is “growing increasingly less likely by the day,” due to much better economic news of late.

“Coronavirus vaccines are widely available, and a large chunk of the U.S. population has already gotten a jab,” the Fool piece said. “Meanwhile, the economy is heading in a positive direction itself. In fact, according to CNN Business' Back-to-Normal Index, which was developed in partnership with Moody's Analytics last year, the U.S. economy is actually mostly recovered -- it's 90% of the way back to where it was before the pandemic began. By contrast, the index had reached a low of 57% in April of 2020.”

Those numbers are expected to improve even more by the fall when students in most of the country are likely to return to in-person school.

That doesn’t mean there weren’t be any more help from the government. The payments from the expanded child tax credit will begin rolling out in July. Also, the Biden Administration is pursuing a pair of large spending packages, including the American Jobs Plan and American Families Plan. The latter plan would extend that child tax credit to 2025. However, the Biden Administration has not proposed direct stimulus checks as part of either of those spending plans, and it doesn’t appear the votes are there in Congress to pass them.

“Of course, it's easy to argue that a fourth stimulus check could help fuel the economy's recovery even more, all the while allowing consumers to retain their buying power in the face of recent inflation,” the Fool article concludes. “But given that President Biden is already facing his share of criticism for the $1.9 trillion price tag attached to his most recent relief bill, he'll likely adopt a more conservative approach to dishing out aid going forward. As such, it may be time to finally put the idea of a fourth stimulus check to rest.”

Stephen Silver, a technology writer for The National Interest, is a journalist, essayist and film critic, who is also a contributor to The Philadelphia Inquirer, Philly Voice, Philadelphia Weekly, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, Living Life Fearless, Backstage magazine, Broad Street Review and Splice Today. The co-founder of the Philadelphia Film Critics Circle, Stephen lives in suburban Philadelphia with his wife and two sons. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenSilver. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

China’s FC-31 Carrier Jet Looks Awfully Familiar, If You Can Spot It (It's Stealthy)

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 06:00

Caleb Larson

FC-31,

It bears a strong resemblance to the F-35. 

Here's What You Need to Remember: Curiously, the FC-31’s landing gear has a double nose wheel, indicating a possible future on one of China’s aircraft carriers. While dual nose wheels are not exclusively reserved for aircraft carrier jets, they do provide an advantage, as landing on flattops—especially with weapons attached and/or a heavy fuel load—is taxing on an airframe.

In 2012, investigators traced a breach in an F-35 database with a high degree of certainty to China. The breach seemed to focus on the F-35 design, electronic systems, and performance data specifically.

China’s aviation industry has been reliant on foreign designs for their airframe and engines especially. The J-11 fighter is essentially a copy of Russia’s Sukhoi Su-27 fighter. Though initial copies of the airframe were license-built using Russian-supplied kits, later models were likely unlicensed copies.

The J-15, China’a only carrier-based fighter, also draws heavily on the Su-33 and from the J-11. Both designs have suffered in the past from underpowered and unreliable engines, opting to use Russian designs instead when possible.

The FC-31 is just a prototype for now, but may be the successor to the J-15—and it also relies on design elements from other countries, namely the United States’ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

Destined for Carriers?

In 2012, images popped up online that showed one of China’s newer fighters, the FC-31. It looks somewhat similar to another aircraft—the United States’ F-35 Joint Strike Fighter.

The FC-31 is a stealth fighter. Unlike its more famous cousin, the Chendu J-20, the FC-31 prototype does not have canards, small control surfaces near the cockpit that increase lift and aid maneuverability. These surfaces are inconsistent with stealth designs, thus the FC-31 may in fact be stealthier than the J-20.

The FC-31 also lacks thrust-vectoring nozzles like the F-22 Raptor. Airplanes with thrust-vectoring nozzles are able to direct the direction of their exhaust, increasing maneuverability.

Curiously, the FC-31’s landing gear has a double nose wheel, indicating a possible future on one of China’s aircraft carriers. While dual nose wheels are not exclusively reserved for aircraft carrier jets, they do provide an advantage, as landing on flattops—especially with weapons attached and/or a heavy fuel load—is taxing on an airframe. Dual wheels increase an airframe’s robustness and longevity.

Carrier Fleet Expands

As China’s ambitions in the South China Sea have expanded, so has their carrier fleet. There are currently two aircraft carriers in the People’s Liberation Army Navy, the Liaoning, and a similar Type 002 aircraft carrier that is expected to be commissioned this year.

While the Liaoning and the Type 002 both have a ski-jump bow to assist jets taking off, the next two aircraft carriers Beijing is planning will not. Both the Type 003 and the Type 004 will be larger and more modern than their predecessors and have catapult-assisted take-off mechanisms—they Type 004 is even rumored to incorporate an advanced form of nuclear propulsion.

In order to fill these aircraft carriers, China could either build more of the J-15s, which have reliability issues and are non-stealthy, or ramp up production of the FC-31. The stealthy choice would be logical, as China’s other stealth fighter, the J-20, does not have an obvious carrier role.

Stealth on the Flattop

Regardless of which airframe China decides to use to stock its aircraft carriers, the FC-31 appears to be a capable airframe. If previous Chinese engine troubles can be rectified, then the FC-31 seems positioned to excel as a dual-engine stealth fighter. Still, one can’t help but ask, when will China’s fighter designs be completely domestic, rather than based on stolen, copied tech?

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Problem Solved: Laser Interceptors Can Keep Aircraft Carriers Safe in a War

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 05:33

Kris Osborn

U.S. Navy, Americas

The concept is to stop an attack before it hits by using active defenses—a technological feat that is a huge priority for the Pentagon.

Here's What You Need to Remember: All of this pertains to the growing Navy recognition, which has much precedent throughout history, that carriers will need to operate effectively in extremely high-risk combat environments where they will most likely be confronted with many incoming attacks.

“Avoiding enemy attack” is important in any war, including at sea where large surface ships such as aircraft carriers find themselves under enemy fire.

The concept is to stop an attack before it hits by using active defenses—a technological feat that is a huge priority for the Pentagon. This is why ships, especially U.S. Navy aircraft carriers, are engineered with extensive, layered networks of integrated defenses.

These defenses are integrated and far too many to cite, as they include long-range radar, satellite communications networking and air-surface-drone data-sharing connectivity. These warships also come with electronic warfare systems to jam the guidance systems steering approaching weapons and also long, medium and short-range interceptors to eliminate threats. Finally, a carrier’s escorts even have deck-mounted guns to fight off close-in threats.

An interesting U.S. Naval Institute report from aboard the USS Ford in the Atlantic Ocean says the ship is now amid an “at-sea” phase of its Combat Systems Ship Qualification Trials, a key point in a series of developments intended to get the ship ready for war. As part of the work, maintenance crews are putting wires together, managing the ship’s technical systems and assessing its weapons elevators, the USNI report from the ship explains.

The focus of these kinds of activities has, especially in recent years, shifted more intensely to the improvement of layered ship defenses.

These kinds of defenses, fast-becoming armed with new technologies such as laser-interceptors, longer-range, more precise-missiles and multi-frequency jamming systems are growing in complexity and effectiveness, with the primary aim of avoiding and stopping increasingly sophisticated attacks. Case in point, the Navy is not only preparing a new SM-3IIA longer-range, larger and more precise interceptor for carrier strike groups but has also upgraded the SM-6 with a “dual-mode” seeker enabling it to send a forward ping from the missile itself and change course in flight to adjust to moving targets. The Evolved Sea Sparrow Missile Block II is yet another upgraded weapon which can operate in “sea-skimming” and parallel the surface of the water to take out lower-flying incoming threats. Laser defenses are no longer “on-the-horizon” but are already here arming surface ships.

Also, as part of this equation, surface ship defenses are by no means purely “kinetic” as they say, meaning new networking technologies are linking information operations with electronic warfare to discern threats, identify frequencies and, in some cases, launch attacks against enemy communications and guidance systems. These kinds of approaches may prove of particularly great value should an attack happen in a heavily trafficked area where fragmentation from an explosion could damage civilian vessels.

All of this pertains to the growing Navy recognition, which has much precedent throughout history, that carriers will need to operate effectively in extremely high-risk combat environments where they will most likely be confronted with many incoming attacks. Therefore, it is not surprising that layered ship defense systems are fast improving to incorporate a wider sphere of weapons, newer applications and an entire generation of new technologies.

Kris Osborn is the defense editor for the National Interest. Osborn previously served at the Pentagon as a Highly Qualified Expert with the Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army—Acquisition, Logistics & Technology. Osborn has also worked as an anchor and on-air military specialist at national TV networks. He has appeared as a guest military expert on Fox News, MSNBC, The Military Channel, and The History Channel. He also has a Master’s Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Will Debt Collectors Take Your Child Tax Credit? Biden Has an Answer

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 05:00

Ethen Kim Lieser

Child Tax Credits,

Families are eligible to bag as much as $3,600 per year for a child under the age of six and up to $3,000 for children between ages six and seventeen—meaning that these parents can collect a $250 or $300 payment each month through the end of the year.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Know that the same holds true for the current round of $1,400 stimulus checks—as Congress frustrated many Americans when it failed to exempt the cash from garnishment. Washington lawmakers did, though, approve garnishment protection measures for the $600 stimulus payments that were approved last December.

With summer just around the corner, millions of eligible parents are getting set to receive the newest ‘stimulus’ checks under the American Rescue Plan that will come in the form of the expanded child tax credit

Take note that President Joe Biden’s massive $1.9 trillion legislation green-lighted the expansion of child tax credits that generally allowed families to claim a credit of up to $2,000 for children under the age of seventeen.

Now they are eligible to bag as much as $3,600 per year for a child under the age of six and up to $3,000 for children between ages six and seventeen—meaning that these parents can collect a $250 or $300 payment each month through the end of the year. In addition, eighteen-year-olds and full-time college students who are twenty-four and under can give parents a one-time $500 payment.

“For working families with children, this tax cut sends a clear message: help is here,” Biden said in a statement.

Despite this timely cash windfall for many financially struggling parents, there is indeed always that question of whether these funds can be garnished by the Internal Revenue Service or private debt collectors.

Apparently, according to the tax agency, Americans can rest easy knowing that the payments will be protected from both federal and state debts, such as back taxes. However, be aware that they can be garnished for unpaid private debts, such as overdue medical bills and credit card debts.

Keep in mind that a garnishment is a court order that allows for money to be removed from an individual’s bank account—and banks generally must comply with a court’s demands.

As for the child tax credit itself, know that an overpayment of these funds could potentially make the recipient responsible for paying back a portion of these benefits during tax season next year.

Because the disbursement of the money is based off the IRS’ estimates on available data—such as income, marital status, and number and age of qualifying dependent children—any outdated or inaccurate data could trigger an overpayment of the credit.

Be aware that tax refunds for 2020 unemployment benefits will be processed a bit differently. For this, the federal government does have the legal means to use tax refunds to settle overdue debts, such as federal and state taxes, child support, and student loans. And like the child tax credits, the money could potentially be garnished by third-party creditors.

Know that the same holds true for the current round of $1,400 stimulus checks—as Congress frustrated many Americans when it failed to exempt the cash from garnishment. Washington lawmakers did, though, approve garnishment protection measures for the $600 stimulus payments that were approved last December.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

A Warship Unlike Any Other: Why the Nimitz-class Aircraft Carrier Rules

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 04:33

Peter Suciu

Nimitz-class,

The lead ship of the class, USS Nimitz (CVN-68), nicknamed "Old Salt" and commissioned in May 1975, was named after Admiral Chester Nimitz, who led the U.S. Navy through the Second World War.

Here's What You Need to Remember: While the Nimitz-class is now being be replaced by the Gerald R. Ford-class, Old Salt and her nine sister carriers will remain in service for years to come and remain unrivaled across the waters of the world.

More than a dozen nations operate or have operated aircraft carriers, yet no nation has operated as many carriers like the United States.

Currently, the U.S. Navy operates ten Nimitz-class aircraft carriers, and no other navy on the planet has anything remotely close to these massive warships, the largest of their kind until the commissioning of USS Gerald R. Ford in 2017. With more than 6,000 personnel serving onboard including 3,200 sailors and 2,480 airmen, a length of 317 meters (1,092 feet) and a displacement of 102,000 tons these vessels are essentially floating cities – complete with their own private airport.

The lead ship of the class, USS Nimitz (CVN-68), nicknamed "Old Salt" and commissioned in May 1975, was named after Admiral Chester Nimitz, who led the U.S. Navy through the Second World War. She was first deployed to the Indian Ocean during the Iran Hostage Crisis and has since logged untold miles, providing security at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games and later served in the Persian Gulf after Operation Desert Storm. Most recently USS Nimitz was deployed against ISIS in Iraq and Syria, where her F/A-18s took part in the Battle of Afar in 2017. Old-Salt has been on deployment in the Persian Gulf since 2018.

Nine additional Nimitz-class carriers have been built, with the last of the class, USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77) being commissioned in January 2009.

The nuclear-powered carriers have two reactors and four shafts for propulsion, which allow the warships to reach a top speed of 30+ knots (34.5mph). Each of the Nimitz-class has an expected 50-year service life with one mid-life refueling, but in October 2020, the U.S. Navy announced that it was considering an extension to the service lives of the lead vessel, which had its refueling and overhaul completed from 1998 to 2001.

All ten of the Nimitz-class aircraft carriers were constructed between 1968 and 2006 at Newport News Shipbuilding Company (now Northrop Grumman Ship Systems) at Newport News, Virginia at the largest drydock in the western hemisphere at a unit cost of approximately $8.5 billion (constant year FY 12 dollars). Since the USS Theodore Roosevelt (CVN-72), the fourth carrier of the class to be built, all have been manufactured in modular construction That has allowed whole sections to be welded together with plumbing and electrical equipment already fitted, improving efficiency.

Projection of Power

Each carrier is equipped with approximately 60 aircraft including a variety of fixed-wing and rotary-wing aircraft of up to 90 of various types. Typical aircraft on a Nimitz-class carrier now includes a dozen F/A-18E/F Hornets, three dozen F/A-18 Hornets, four E-2C Hawkeyes, and four EA-6B Prowlers fixed-wing and helicopters, including four SH-60F and two HH-60H Seahawks.

The flight deck, which measures 1,092 feet by 252 feet, is also equipped with four lifts, four steam-driven catapults, and four arrester wires. The Nimitz-class aircraft carriers are capable of launching one air every 20 seconds. The air wings can also be customized according to the nature of the operation – and a notable example of this occurred in 1994 when 50 U.S. Army helicopters replaced the usual air wing on the USS Dwight D Eisenhower (CVN 69) when she was deployed during humanitarian operations near Haiti.

In addition to the air wing, the most recently built Nimitz-class carriers are now armed with three Raytheon GMLS mk29 eight-cell launchers for NATO Sea Sparrow surface-to-air missiles, which provide semi-radar terminal guidance. Additionally, there are four Raytheon/General Dynamics 20mm Phalanx six-barreled Mk15 close-in weapons systems that have a 3,000rpm rate of fire.

While the Nimitz-class is now being be replaced by the Gerald R. Ford-class, Old Salt and her nine sister carriers will remain in service for years to come and remain unrivaled across the waters of the world.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.com. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Stimulating: Republicans to Offer Biden a $1 Trillion Infrastructure Plan

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 04:27

Rachel Bucchino

Infrastructure Bill,

Hopes of striking a deal have dimmed in recent weeks, after the Biden administration reduced its infrastructure offer to $1.7 trillion from the $2.3 trillion originally proposed.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over the partisan impasse, with progressive members calling for the budget reconciliation process to pass the massive infrastructure bill. That would mean Democrats could move forward on an infrastructure package with a simple majority, which wouldn’t require a single Republican vote due to the party’s majority in the Senate. 

A group of Senate Republicans is expected to put forward their latest infrastructure pitch to the White House on Thursday amid a multi-month partisan stalemate over crafting a bipartisan bill.

“This is going to be a very good offer,” Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) told reporters Tuesday. He said that the GOP counterproposal could cost nearly $1 trillion, spread over eight years.

But hopes of striking a deal have dimmed in recent weeks, after the Biden administration reduced its infrastructure offer to $1.7 trillion from the $2.3 trillion originally proposed. The cut cost still failed to rally bipartisan support, as Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), the lead GOP negotiator in infrastructure talks, said the bill’s price tag was “well above the range of what can pass Congress with bipartisan support.”

Capito presented a $568 billion infrastructure proposal last month, a measure that left Democrats disinterested.

“The issue is, are Republicans going to be serious about getting over the bar of being serious,” Senate Finance Chair Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said after the plan was unveiled. “Because this was not a real proposal.”

When asked whether the almost $1 trillion infrastructure would be the GOP’s last, Capito said, “I think that we’ve got good momentum, but we’ll see what [the White House’s] reaction is.”

Democratic lawmakers have sounded the alarm over the partisan impasse, with progressive members calling for the budget reconciliation process to pass the massive infrastructure bill. That would mean Democrats could move forward on an infrastructure package with a simple majority, which wouldn’t require a single Republican vote due to the party’s majority in the Senate. 

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) has already noted that the upper chamber will move forward with the bill in July, even if Democrats don’t have GOP support.

Both sides of the aisle largely disagree about a slew of issues regarding infrastructure, including what infrastructure is and how the legislation should be paid for. 

Democrats say that infrastructure expands to policies like care for the elderly and disabled Americans, while Republicans argue that infrastructure only covers traditional and physical measures.

President Joe Biden has also proposed funding the legislation through tax hikes on wealthy individuals and corporations, while GOP lawmakers have rejected any effort to impose tax increases, especially on corporations. 

In the meantime, a bipartisan group of senators has joined in a separate effort to draft another infrastructure bill and new ways to pay for it. The plan is being negotiated by several lawmakers, including Republican Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Susan Collins (Maine), and Rob Portman (Ohio), as well as Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.).

“We’re not very far from the Biden proposal on areas where we both think it’s appropriate for an infrastructure bill,” Romney told The Washington Post this week.

Rachel Bucchino is a reporter at the National Interest. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, U.S. News & World Report and The Hill. This article first appeared earlier this week.

Image: Reuters.

Could an Iranian Aircraft Carrier Soon Patrol the Persian Gulf?

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 04:19

Peter Suciu

Iran, Middle East

The closest that the Islamic Republic of Iran has come to building an aircraft carrier is to "simulate" an American carrier as a weapons test platform.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Exactly what the purpose of this aircraft carrying vessel is has yet to be seen. One factor could be a matter of internal jurisdiction within the Islamic Republic. While the Iranian Navy patrols the waters of the Gulf of Oman and beyond, the IRGC-N's role has largely been to patrol the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Warships capable of carrying aircraft are used by navies around the world, but to date, the Iranian Navy isn't one of those countries that operate a carrier. The closest that the Islamic Republic of Iran has come to building an aircraft carrier is to "simulate" an American carrier as a weapons test platform. The "Elite" Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy (IRGC-N) had transformed an old target barge into a large-scale mock-up of that loosely resembled the U.S. Navy's Nimitz-class aircraft carriers.

It was used in the February 2015 "Great Prophet IX" exercises and again this past summer in similar exercises. Embarrassingly for the IRGC-N the faux carrier proved difficult to sink – that is until it floundered in waters in the channels near the Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas.

Now, Tehran could be inching closer to developing a true carrier.

The Associated Press reported this month that the IRGC-N reportedly launched a heavy warship that was capable of carrying helicopters, drones and missile launchers. From the photographs that have been released online, it appears to be a large cargo vessel rather a true warship.

The vessel, which was named after the "martyred" Guard Naval Commander Abdollah Roudaki, was photographed carrying truck-launched surface-to-surface missiles and anti-aircraft missiles. It lacks anything resembling a flight deck and instead has a flat section mid-hull that has been designated as a landing pad for a helicopter. It looks less like a carrier than the First World War era warships that were converted into carriers.

According to IRGC-N claims, the Abdollah Roudaki is 150 meters or about 492 feet in length, and displaces some 400 tons – significantly smaller than the 332 meters (1,092 feet) length of an actual Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, and still roughly half the length of the America-class amphibious assault ships.

The vessel can reportedly carry out combat, logistical and intelligence-gathering missions and Tehran has said the warship can establish stable security in maritime transportation lines and provide assistance to the commercial and fishing fleets of the Islamic Republic.

"Today we are witnessing a combat and logistic support ship join the IRGC's Navy that can both defend itself, defend our interests at sea, and play a role in securing our country's maritime lines near and far," Maj.-Gen. Hossein Salami said during a ceremony earlier this month – as reported by ParsToday. "Some may have thought that the basis of our performance is close-range warfare, but we declare that both close-range combat in far-off areas and long-range combat are on our agenda."

Exactly what the purpose of this aircraft carrying vessel is has yet to be seen. One factor could be a matter of internal jurisdiction within the Islamic Republic. While the Iranian Navy patrols the waters of the Gulf of Oman and beyond, the IRGC-N's role has largely been to patrol the waters of the Persian Gulf.

Rear Adm. Alireza Tangsiri, commander of the IRGC's Navy, also suggested his force was ready for deep-water patrolling beyond the Persian Gulf. "Presence and assignments in the Indian Ocean is our right."

The Abdollah Roudaki could certainly provide the IRGC-N with true blue-water naval capabilities, but driving truck-launched surface-to-surface missile and anti-aircraft missile platforms onto the deck hardly seem to make for a capable warship.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on Amazon.comThis article first appeared last month and is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

Explained: Why Gas Prices Go Higher in the Summer

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 04:10

Stephen Silver

U.S. Economy, Americas

Not everyone understands how gasoline prices work. For one thing, they’re not determined by the president or any other part of the government.

Everyone, or at least everyone who has a car, pays attention to the price of gasoline. The cost of gasoline is one of those things in the news that affects the day-to-day life of most people and often leads them to reach conclusions over which politicians are to blame for higher prices at the pump.

But it seems that not everyone understands how gasoline prices work. For one thing, they’re not determined by the president or any other part of the government.

The price of gasoline, like those of most goods, is driven by supply and demand and is often tied to the global price of oil. If anything happens to the supply, whether there’s an oil embargo or war in the Middle East or a pipeline shuts down, it causes prices to rise. If there’s a massive amount of new supply, then it causes the price to go down.

On the demand side, when demand crashes, such as during the early days of the pandemic in the spring of 2020, it causes the price of gasoline to go down. When demand goes back up, then it causes prices to rise, which is what’s happened in recent months, when average gas prices in the United States exceeded $3 for the first time since 2014.

GasBuddy recently looked at what causes gas prices to rise in the summer.

For one thing, demand rises in the summer, with more people driving in order to travel. That’s expected to be the case this year more so than other years given that many Americans have been avoiding travel for more than a year and eager to take trips they missed out on during the pandemic.

There’s also something called “Summer blend gasoline.”

“During the summer, there are government regulations that mandate we use cleaner-burning fuel to help lower emissions from all the cars burning gasoline,” according to the GasBuddy website. “In the warmer months, gasoline has a greater chance of evaporating from your car’s fuel system. This can produce additional smog and increased emissions. Refiners reduce the chance of gas evaporation in your car during the summer by producing gasoline blends that have lower Reid vapor pressure (RVP), or lower volatility.”

And there are also specific factors related to the pandemic and the emergence from it.

“Covid-19 disrupted the careful balance of supply-and-demand for countless industries from rental cars to semiconductors. It has also affected gas prices,” according to the GasBuddy website. “This year, because we’re recovering from a major economic slowdown brought on by Covid-19, we’re seeing a larger gas price rise ahead of summer as the economy starts to build momentum.”

“The summer prior to Covid-19, we saw national average gas price reach $2.92 per gallon at its HIGHEST point,” the website noted. “We’re already beyond that price now and it’s not even Memorial Day yet.”

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

Image: Reuters

Dead Serious: Over 1 Million Stimulus Payments were Sent to Deceased Americans

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 04:00

Trevor Filseth

Stimulus Payment,

While Biden has made his ambitious spending plans explicit on several occasions, and has praised the economic impact of previous stimulus checks, he has demurred from committing to another one.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Even so, one million out of roughly 160 million is a fairly low failure rate. Even the one million number might not tell the full story. An equally large number of checks – roughly 1.1 million in number, totaling $1.4 billion overall – were sent to the deceased in March 2020.

In recent weeks, as payments from the third stimulus measure have been cashed and spent, support has increased for a fourth stimulus check. Several members of the House and Senate, mostly Democrats on the party’s progressive wing, have pushed President Biden to lend his support to a fourth round of checks; the president has received three letters to this effect since taking office in January.

However, while Biden has made his ambitious spending plans explicit on several occasions, and has praised the economic impact of previous stimulus checks, he has demurred from committing to another one. On the topic of a fourth round of checks, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki was noncommittal during a press conference, noting the measures’ high cost before suggesting, “We’ll see what members of Congress propose.” In saying this, the White House has effectively passed the initiative on a stimulus package to Democrats in Congress, without rejecting it altogether.

As some members of Congress prepare their proposals, an interesting statistic should be brought up. The Boston Herald reported on Monday that one and a quarter million checks from the original stimulus bill – the CARES Act, signed in March 2020 – had not yet been cashed, after more than a year.

Even so, one million out of roughly 160 million is a fairly low failure rate. Even the one million number might not tell the full story. An equally large number of checks – roughly 1.1 million in number, totaling $1.4 billion overall – were sent to the deceased in March 2020.

While many of them were ultimately cashed by heirs, this fact could account for some of the missing checks. On the flip side, though, the IRS’s number does not include the many Americans who, feeling they were financially secure enough without the check, opted to donate the payment to charity.

As the debate over stimulus policy continues in Congress – with Democrats promoting the efficacy of stimulus programs, while Republicans criticize their high costs and potentially adverse effect on the labor market – states around the country are preparing for an end to federal unemployment benefits.

Some states have ended the benefits before their August expiration date, believing that they disincentivize work amid a critical labor shortage. Other states, such as Massachusetts, have kept the benefits for the time being, but have enacted stricter controls on their distribution, requiring recipients to regularly apply for jobs in order to keep them.

Trevor Filseth is a news reporter and writer for the National Interest. This article first appeared earlier this year.

Image: Reuters.

Adrift: These 5 Aircraft Carriers Were True Hunks of Junk

The National Interest - ven, 28/05/2021 - 03:33

Kyle Mizokami

Aircraft Carriers,

Not everyone does aircraft carriers correctly, and there have been several clunkers with the CV designation.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Shinano was doomed by design and wartime realities. As an aircraft carrier capable of self-defense only she was all but worthless, and the lack of crews and aircraft would have hamstrung her use. As a ship designed to support aircraft carriers she was a white elephant, for there were few carriers left to support. Had she ventured beyond Japan she would have been little more than a target for American carrier-based aviation.

Aircraft carriers are, with the possible exception of submarines, the most complicated naval vessels afloat. Not only do carriers have the traditional concerns of warships to deal with, they must also safely manage a fleet of aircraft which are often complicated in their own right. Despite these complications, carriers are among the most useful and lethal of warships. Even now, 100 years after the first purpose-built carrier HMS Hermes was laid down, major naval powers are still building these ships.

Not everyone does aircraft carriers correctly, and there have been several clunkers with the CV designation. Most of these ships are from the early years of naval aviation, before roles and missions were clearly assigned and the technology to build them was in its adolescent years. Others were poorly designed by latecomers to the aircraft carrier game, and some were perfectly useful ships made bad by insufficient training, maintenance or aircraft.

Hyuga and Ise:

During the First World War, Japan launched two new battleships of the Ise-class. Ise and her sister ship Hyuga were 640 feet long and displaced 29,990 tons. The two ships were each armed with twelve 14-inch guns mounted in six turrets of two guns each, twenty 5.5-inch guns and four 3-inch guns. The battleships each had twelve inches of steel armor at the main belt, tapering to three inches at the ends, deck armor of up to 2.5 inches, and eight inches of armor protecting the main guns.

The Battle of Midway proved a disaster for Imperial Japan, with the loss of four top of the line aircraft carriers to determined American aerial attacks. The decision was made to convert the two battleships into battleship carriers. Both Japan and the United States had converted large warships into aircraft carriers, but this had typically occurred during the construction process, far before the ships were complete.

Japanese officials took the two aging battleships and rushed to add as much aviation capabilities as possible. The conversion deleted the two stern main gun turrets, leaving the ships with just four turrets of two guns each, and in their place was installed a short flight deck. Each ship was designed to carry up to twenty-four airplanes. The ships’ anti-aircraft armament was heavily reinforced, particularly with anti-aircraft rockets. The conversions were completed by fall 1943.

The resulting “battle carriers” were half carrier and half battleship, and all disappointment. By 1943 it was clear that battleships and aircraft carriers had very different roles. Assigned to a carrier force, both Hyuga and Ise could contribute a marginal number of planes. Assigned to a battleship force, they had not enough guns to make a serious contribution. The two ships’ minimal air wings never reached full potential: by the time the conversions were complete, Japanese naval aviation was in a death spiral, lacking enough trained pilots, airplanes and fuel to fight effectively. Both ships were sunk towards the end of the water, raised afterward for scrap in rebuilding Japan—arguably their most important and successful use.

Shinano:

Many early conversions of battleships and battlecruisers to aircraft carriers were successful, such as the American Lexington-class. The conversion of Shinano from one of the largest battleships ever to something like, but not exactly an aircraft carrier, was not.

Shinano began her existence as the third ship in the famous Yamato-class battleships. Shinano was laid down at Yokosuka Naval Yard in May 1940, but construction slowed down in 1941 and into 1942. After the Battle of Midway, the Imperial Japanese Navy changed course and began modifying Shinano to act as an aircraft carrier. Navy officials argued about her ultimate design: one faction demanded Shinano be outfitted as a real aircraft carrier. Had she been so, she would have been the largest carrier in the world, with an overall length of 872 feet—fifty feet longer than the U.S. Navy’s Essex-class fleet carriers.

Another faction wanted Shinano built out as a support ship for other carriers, carrying spare parts, fuel, ammunition and spare airplanes for Japan’s carrier fleet. Shinano would not participate in combat and indeed would have no facilities for storing aircraft of her own. Ultimately, a compromise was hammered out in which the ship would act as a support ship for the rest of the carrier fleet but also carry forty-seven fighters for her own protection.

Shinano was doomed by design and wartime realities. As an aircraft carrier capable of self-defense only she was all but worthless, and the lack of crews and aircraft would have hamstrung her use. As a ship designed to support aircraft carriers she was a white elephant, for there were few carriers left to support. Had she ventured beyond Japan she would have been little more than a target for American carrier-based aviation.

Shinano never had a chance to demonstrate her utter lack of use in combat. Five hours after leaving Yokosuka Naval Base for sea trials, she was torpedoed by the submarine USS Archerfish. She rolled over and sank at 1017 hours, November 29, 1944.

Admiral Kuznetsov:

The first and only true aircraft carrier completed by the Soviet Union during the Cold War, Kuznetsov was a follow-on to the Kiev-class carriers. Construction on the ship began in 1981 at the Nikolayev Shipyard, now in modern-day Ukraine. Kuznetsov was commissioned in 1990, in the dying days of the Soviet Union, and was inherited by Russia. The carrier was neglected in the early 90s due to a lack of funds and underwent a long refit from 1996 to 1998. Between 1991 and 2015, she completed only six patrols at sea.

Kuznetsov is old and needs to be retired, but as Russia’s only carrier that likely won’t happen any time soon. Until recently the ship’s propulsion system was unreliable, and in 2009 an electrical system problem led to a fire that killed one sailor. The ship’s hangar was too small, and it badly needed new arresting gear and electronics upgrades.

Russia’s only carrier went into drydock in Spring 2018 for an extended refit. The three year refit was planned to fix most of these issues, but funding for the project was cut in half and many upgrades were put on indefinite hold. In October 2018, Russia’s PD50 drydock sank while Kuznetsov was floating out, damaging the carrier in the process. Russia still insists the refit will be completed on schedule in 2020.

Chakri Naruebet:

Although now an increasingly crowded field, for decades the only aircraft carrier native to East Asia (excluding the 7th Fleet) belonged to Thailand. HTMS Chakri Naruebet is a light carrier in the traditional sense, a flexible platform for missions spanning from sea control to disaster relief. Once a fairly powerful naval weapon, budget cuts and a lack of spare parts have reduced it to a shadow of its former self.

Chakri Naruebet was named after the Thai royal dynasty. Built by Spain’s Bazan Shipyards, the design was based on the Spanish Navy’s carrier Principe de Asturias. The Thai carrier was commissioned in 1997, measuring 597 feet long and displacing 11,400 tons. She was originally equipped with nine Harrier vertical takeoff and landing fighters, but the planes have run out of spare parts and no longer fly. Chakri Naruebet’s remaining air “wing” consists of four SH-60 Seahawk helicopters.

Chakri Naruebet was literally built with quarters fit for a king—the Thai king actually—leading to it being nicknamed “The World’s Largest Royal Yacht.” Budget cuts mean the Thai Navy rarely takes her out to sea.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the Diplomat, Foreign Policy, War is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009 he co-founded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami. This article is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikipedia.

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