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Are the Army's M1 Abrams Tanks Still Top of the Line?

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 03:00

Charlie Gao

Tanks,

The Abrams still rules the roost, but its competitors are nearly as good - and might be better, depending on how "tank effectiveness" is measured.

Here's What You Need To Remember: By the time the M1 Abrams entered service, it was facing the latest generation of Soviet tanks: the T-64B, T-72A, and T-80. These were much tougher nuts to crack than the basic T-72 and T-64; they featured composite armor of their own.

In the 1970s, the situation for NATO tank forces in Europe was grim. The program to develop the next generation battle tank for both Germany and the United States, the MBT-70, was about to crumble and fail, and the next generation of Soviet tanks was about to reach the front lines.

The tank forces of the U.S. and its allies were reliant on the aging M60 tank or roughly comparable analogues. Declassified CIA documents from the period shared a pessimistic estimate of the balance of forces: the Soviet tanks were more numerous and technically superior.

Following the failure of the MBT-70, Congress forced the Army to begin a new tank program under strict cost and time limitations. A developmental concept paper (DCP) for this new tank was created in 1972 and approved in 1973. The DCP called for competitive evaluations, trialing of turbine versus diesel engines and concurrent operational and engineering trials.

The armor and armament of the new tank, now dubbed the XM1, aimed to incorporate the latest developments in armor technology. The Army specified that the British-developed Chobham armor be incorporated into the design.

The next-generation British 110mm tank gun and German 120mm tank gun were also considered for incorporation on the XM1. However, the German gun was found to have some difficulties in development when the XM1 program was about to finish. As a result, the XM1 had provision to mount the 120mm in its trunnion design but mounted the 105mm M68A1 that armed the M60 Patton.

The XM1 entered serial production as the M1 Abrams in February 1981. It was equipped with a turbine engine, Chobham composite armor, and the M68A1 105mm gun. By all accounts, it was an excellent tank in mobility and protection. But was it undergunned with the 105mm versus its potential adversaries in the East?

The M68A1 on the M1 Abrams could fire a variety of armor-piercing fin-stabilized discarding sabot (APFSDS) rounds. The best anti-tank round when the M1 entered service was the M774 APFSDS round, but the earlier M735 round was more common in stockpiles, though the number of M774s increased rapidly in the 1980s. It was nominally replaced by the M833 in 1983, but the advanced rounds only filtered down to units by 1985. The M735 round is made of tungsten; the M774 and M833 are made of depleted uranium.

Russian sources peg the penetration of the M735, M774, and M833 at ~250mm, ~375mm, and ~500mm RHAe, respectively. American sources are slightly more optimistic, with the M774 estimated to penetrate in excess of 400mm RHAe and the M833 in excess of 500mm. This would allow the M774 possibly defeat the T-62, basic T-72, and T-64A from the frontal aspect. The M833 is more comfortable, possessing significant overmatch versus the basic T-72 and T-64A.

But the most common round, the M735, does not fare well. The CIA estimated that the M735 had a 20% probability of kill versus the basic T-72 frontally, compared to the 50-70% probability of kill of the M774.

But by the time the M1 Abrams entered service, it was facing the latest generation of Soviet tanks: the T-64B, T-72A, and T-80. These were much tougher nuts to crack than the basic T-72 and T-64; they featured composite armor of their own.

M833 was estimated to be able to penetrate some of these tanks, but it was far from certain (the CIA document estimated that the T-80 would still be at an advantage versus the XM1 armed with M833). The T-72B, which entered service in 1984 only made matters worse for the basic M1 Abrams, boasting even heavier armor than the T-72A.

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Thankfully, the Army already was looking ahead. In March 1981 when the first basic M1s were rolling off the production line, the Army procured its first prototype M1E1s. The M1E1 featured a simplified version of the German 120mm gun, now designated M256. It also had improved armor; nuclear, biological, and chemical protection system; and an improved powertrain versus the basic Abrams.

The M1E1 was accepted into service as the M1A1 in 1984, and the first serial M1A1s rolled off the production line in December 1985. The basic M1 Abrams ended its production run earlier that year.

With the new 120mm gun, the Abrams finally had a gun that could comfortably penetrate most of its adversaries when armed with the new M829 APFSDS round, estimated to penetrate around 540-550mm RHAe. This was replaced by the M829A1 round in 1988 which was rated at 700mm RHAe, showing that the 120mm caliber had significant room for improvement.

The M829A1 was proven in combat during the Operation Desert Storm, defeating Iraqi T-55s and T-72Ms with ease. Despite its increased penetration and combat success against Iraqi tanks, the M829A1 was estimated to be unable to defeat its Soviet contemporaries, the T-80U and T-72B Obr. 1989, which were fitted with Kontakt-5 second-generation heavy explosive reactive armor (ERA), which could decrease the penetration capability of APFSDS rounds.

As a result, the Army developed the M829A2 and M829A3 rounds, which featured increased-length penetrators and special tips to defeat the heavy ERA threat. The M829A3 round is the current wide-issue for M1A1 and M1A2 Abrams crews and likely can defeat the armor of most tanks in the world today, including early T-72B3s and T-90As which still use Kontakt-5 ERA.

But in 2018, the next generation of tanks is rolling out. The new T-90M and T-80BVM all use improved Relikt ERA which is even more effective against APFSDS projectiles. The T-14 Armata’s armor and active protection system package are supposedly even more effective than Relikt.

The American answer to this is the new M829A4. The new projectile is said to be able to defeat this new generation of heavy ERA, but the exact mechanism is uncertain. It is known that the M829A4 has an ammunition datalink on the base of the projectile allowing the sensors and gunner to program the round in a certain way, making it a “smart” round of sorts.

While the M1 Abrams was outgunned when it first entered production, since the M1A1 entered service in 1985 it has become one of the most lethal tanks in the world with its 120mm gun. It remains to be seen whether this will continue into the future, or whether American tanks may have to be upgunned again to meet future threats.

Information about the Abrams’s development taken from M1 Abrams Main Battle Tank 1982-1992 by Steve Zaloga and Peter Sarson and M1 Abrams in action by Jim Mesko.

Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This first appeared in October 2018.

Image: Flickr

Aircraft Carriers Fear Two Things More Than Anything Else (Not Russia or China)

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 02:44

Sebastien Roblin

Aircraft Carriers,

In the 1960s, the Navy also suffered a series of deadly accidents aboard its carriers.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Forrestal fire did lead to major reforms of the Navy’s firefighting procedures, including better training in damage control for the crew at large. In the next two years, new firefighting devices that could flood the entire carrier deck with flame-retardant foam were installed.

Two deadly collisions involving U.S. Navy destroyers in June and August 2017 may have cost the lives of up to sixteen sailors, leading the Navy to declare a day-long operational pause to reflect upon its safety culture. That such similar accidents took place in such close proximity reflects stresses and failings common to the maritime fighting branch.

In the 1960s, the Navy also suffered a series of deadly accidents aboard its carriers. In their wake came major reforms addressing the inherent dangers of operating ships packed full of explosive munitions, fuel and jet planes. This three-part series will examine why each of the accidents occurred, how the crew responded and the lessons that were drawn from the tragedies.

(Throw Those) Bombs Away!

The USS Forrestal was the United States’ first supercarrier, and the largest ever built when it was commissioned in 1955. Capable of launching larger, more powerful F-4 Phantom fighters on its thousand-foot-long flight deck using steam catapults, the Forrestal was deployed to Yankee Station in the Gulf of Tonkin in July 1967 to contribute its Carrier Air Wing 17 to the intense bombing campaign over Vietnam.

Just nine months earlier, the smaller USS Oriskany experienced a devastating fire that killed forty-four sailors and pilots, all caused by a mishandled flare which triggered rockets stored in an ammunition locker. Misfiring rockets would also prove the bane of the Forrestal, but faulty bombs were more deeply implicated in the tragedy.

The Navy was flying hundreds of missions every day over Vietnam, with its A-4 Skyhawk attack jets typically carrying one thousand-pound bomb under each wing. In just four days of combat operations, the Forrestal’s air wing flew 150 missions, many targeting the Thanh Hoa railroad bridge in North Vietnam. That operational tempo depleted the munitions stocks at an extraordinary rate, so old M65 bombs were dispatched to fill the gap.

Everyone who laid eyes on the antiquated M65A1 bombs knew they were trouble when they were taken aboard on July 28. The Korean War–vintage munitions had been improperly stowed in humid conditions for more than a decade, and were leaking liquid paraffin from the seams and coated in rust and grime due to their age. Ordnance technicians were afraid to handle them. The short, stubby bombs were armed with unstable Composition B in a thin metal casing, while newer Mark 83 bombs used the more stable Composition H6 in a thick casing. A Mark 83 bomb could endure eight to ten minutes in a raging fire before cooking off, as demonstrated in Navy instructional videos, giving firefighting crews enough time to respond.

To their credit, several officers did their best to prevent the weapons from being used. The ordnance chief at Subic Bay in the Philippines insisted that the weapons should have been destroyed, not employed, and only released them after making strenuous objections. Upon being loaded on the Forrestal, the carrier’s ordnance chiefs expressed their concern to Capt. John Beling. Beling agreed, and requested different munitions from the ammunition ship Diamond Head, but was informed that none were available. Feeling he had no choice, Beling made sure the bombs were stored on the flight deck rather in the ship’s magazine as a safety precaution.

Rockets On Deck

Initially, however, it was not the bombs that sparked trouble.

At 10:50 a.m. on July 29, the day after receiving the old bombs, a Mark 32 Zuni rocket mounted on a parked F-4B Phantom suddenly ignited in its LAU-10 launcher and shot off across the flight deck. The unguided rocket was a staple weapon for ground-attack missions over Vietnam. Normally, the weapon was only primed to launch shortly before takeoff with a “pigtail” plug connecting the rocket’s circuits with the fighter. However, the Forrestal was being requested to fly so many combat sorties that plugs were inserted early to save time, an exception to procedure that had been approved because earlier missions had been delayed by faulty plugs. Most likely, a power surge while switching to the Phantom’s electrical system had triggered the weapon’s actuator.

The five-inch rocket slammed into the side of the bomb-laden Skyhawk of Lt. Cmdr. Fred White, commander of attack squadron VA-46, as he was queued up for takeoff. The blast ruptured his plane’s four-hundred-gallon external fuel tank and caused two wing-mounted M65 bombs to fall onto the flight deck. JP-5 jet fuel from the tank sprayed across the deck and immediately ignited.

The Forrestal’s damage-control team swiftly responded to the accident. However, the nearest fire pump was already wreathed in flames, and the second closest failed to generate water pressure. The crew could only rely on a single hose spooled further up deck to begin spraying the flaming bombs with water, even as the fire spread to engulf the next Skyhawk beside White, manned by John McCain, the future senator from Arizona. Seeing flames licking around his jet, McCain climbed down the nose of his plane and jumped off the refueling probe, though his flight suit caught fire upon landing.

As the bombs began to glow cherry red from the heat, the damage control team’s Chief Petty Officer Gerald Farrier attempted to cool them off with a Purple-K dry-chemical fire extinguisher. A mere minute and a half after the rocket detonation, Farrier realized that that the casings on one of the bombs had split open and the munition was about to go off. He shouted at his crew to pull back. They had just begun to do so when the bomb erupted, killing the chief and all but three of his crew, who were left severely burned. White also perished in the explosion, while McCain was blasted across the flight deck.

The explosion spattered shrapnel and burning jet fuel across the rear of the carrier, causing two more Skyhawks loaded with thousands of pounds of fuel and unstable M65 bombs to be engulfed in flames. Unlike the fire on the Oriskany, this resulted in a dreadful chain reaction of explosions, which rippled across the Forrestal. Bomb blasts gouged out great chunks of the deck, allowing up to forty thousand gallons of burning jet fuel to pour into the hangar deck and personnel quarters, trapping crew members as far as three stories below.

You can see the video records of these horrifying events in the Navy training film Trial by Fire, starting with the Zuni rocket unleashed at 3:17. At the five-minute mark, the bomb detonates. When damage control crews rush back into resume combatting the fire, they are met by two secondary explosions just thirty seconds later. Flames rush forth, sweeping them from the deck.

Flying shrapnel shredded many of the first responders, while jet fuel seared the skin off others, leaving survivors with horrifying injuries. But despite the apocalyptic inferno, the Forrestal’s crew charged into the flames to save the ship. Sailors began frantically jettisoning bombs into the water before they could go off—then, entire warplanes were pitched over before the flames could consume them. One sailor drove a forklift through fire to toss a huge RA-5C Vigilante reconnaissance jet into the ocean. The nearby destroyer Rupertus sailed to within six meters of the flaming carrier and sprayed it with fire hoses for three hours, while rescuing personnel that had jumped into the sea.

More than a dozen bombs cooked off on the Forrestal’s flight deck, nine of them within the first five minutes—including all of the M65s with their sensitive Composition B. Unfortunately, the initial blasts had effectively wiped out the two trained damage-control teams; their untrained replacements understandably made mistakes. Some sprayed seawater into the blaze, washing away more effective flame-retardant foam and causing burning jet fuel to spill through holes into the lower decks.

However, the conflagration finally came under control at 12:15 in the afternoon, though the flames would continually flare back to life, and were not fully extinguished until 4 a.m. the following morning. Meanwhile, the ship’s thirty-eight medical corpsmen were overwhelmed by the 161 personnel wounded in the catastrophe, only relieved with the arrival of the hospital ship Repose.

In all, more than 134 sailors and airmen perished in the explosions and spreading fires. The following day, McCain, interviewed by the New York Times, stated, “It’s a difficult thing to say. But now that I’ve seen what the bombs and the napalm did to the people on our ship, I’m not so sure that I want to drop any more of that stuff on North Vietnam.”

In addition to the human cost, eleven Skyhawks—nearly a full squadron—were either consumed by or pitched over the side, as well as seven of the high-performance Phantom fighters and three huge RA-5Cs. Needless to say, the Forrestal was in no shape to continue combat operations after its near-death experience, and sailed first for the Philippines for emergency repairs, then to Florida to drop off its crew, before anchoring at Norfolk for a six-month repair operation that would cost $217 million (equivalent to $1.6 billion in 2017 dollars).

Lesson Learned?

Unlike the Oriskany fire, the Navy did not hold any individuals legally culpable, though Captain Beling was reassigned to administrative duties. It seems clear, however, that the decision to cut corners and employ unstable bombs and prematurely armed rockets in order to meet the high operational tempo expected by the Pentagon led to dozens of deaths.

The Forrestal fire did lead to major reforms of the Navy’s firefighting procedures, including better training in damage control for the crew at large. In the next two years, new firefighting devices that could flood the entire carrier deck with flame-retardant foam were installed. A Farrier Firefighting School was opened at Norfolk, named after the chief who sacrificed his life attempting to douse the first bomb.

Unfortunately, just six months later, history would repeat itself, and yet another prematurely fired Zuni rocket would trigger a deadly blaze on the USS Enterprise.

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.

Image: Flickr.

Mini-Submarines: Imperial Japan's Masterplan to Help win World War II?

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 02:33

Sebastien Roblin

World War II, Asia

The Sydney attacks had little material effect considering the resources invested in them.

Here's What You Need to Remember: However, despite the efforts of Allied censors, the Sydney raids did impart a sense of vulnerability to Australians. Civilians moved away from coastal zones, a coastal convoy system was implemented, and additional resources were devoted to shoring up demonstrably spotty defenses.

Australia was situated considerably closer to the action in the Pacific than the United States during World War II. Japanese aircraft bombed the northern city of Darwin, while ground forces advanced dangerously close in New Guinea. However, the Imperial Japanese Navy’s plans to capture nearby Port Moresby were frustrated at the Battle of the Coral Sea.

The Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN)’s next strike would target the U. S. naval base at Midway Island in June 1942. However, 8th Submarine Squadron was tapped to launch two diversionary raids using Type A Ko-hyoteki midget submarines to infiltrate harbor defenses.

Japan’s devastating Pearl Harbor attack included five Ko-Hyoteki—but not one of them succeeded in its mission. Carried atop large cruiser-submarine motherships, the two-person minisubs measured twenty-four meters long and carried two 17”-diameter torpedoes. Their lead-acid batteries afforded them only twelve hours of propulsion at slow speed. Though not intended to be suicide weapons, the Ko-hyoteki crew’s odds of escape and recovery remained extremely low.

Two cruiser-submarines sallied to ambush British ships besieging French-held Madagascar. Meanwhile, submarines I-22, I-24, I-27, and I-28 transited to Truk to load Ko-hyoteki for a southern raid, embarking a revised model with wider hulls, improved gyro-compasses, bow-mounted net-cutters on to slice through harbor nets, and accessways to allow manning while submerged.

Meanwhile, I-21 and I-29 scouted out potential targets in Fiji, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Australia using E14Y two-seat float-planes stowed in their submersible hangars. Reports of battleships in Sydney harbor led to the city’s selection as a target.

However, the plan rapidly went south, literally and metaphorically. On May 11, I-22 was torpedoed heading for Truk by the American submarine USS Tautog. Then the mini-submarine on I-24 suffered a battery explosion, forcing the sub to double back and pick up the spare Ko-hyoteki.

The surviving cruiser-submarines finally assembled thirty-five miles away from Sydney harbor on May 29 and launched a second scout-plane mission—this time only spotting the cruisers USS Chicago and HMAS Canberra and Adelaide in the harbor, rather than the expected battleships. The floatplane then crash-landed in heavy waters.

On May 31, the mothership-submarines approached points six to eight miles from Sydney Harbor and launched mini-subs M-14, M-21, and M-24. Sydney’s harbor defenses included small patrol boats, anti-submarine nets and “indicator-loops” of electromagnetic sensors. However, there were two 400-meter gaps on the edge of the loops—and only two of the eight loops were operational due to a lack of personnel.

As M-14 attempted to slip through the western gap, however, she collided with rocks and became entangled in the submarine net. A watchman spotted the floundering sub and informed the patrol boat Yarroma. She and another converted launch located M-14 at 10 PM and lobbed two depth charges towards the trapped submarine—but their pressure-sensitive fuses failed to detonate in the shallow water. Abruptly, M-14 exploded at 10:30 as her crew detonated her 300-pound scuttling charge.

M-24 brushed with disaster when she scraped the hull of a schooner, but then slipped into the harbor behind a ferry passing through an opening in the anti-submarine nets. At 10:30, she was illuminated by the Chicago’s searchlight—but the cruiser’s 5” guns couldn’t depress low enough to strike her, though quad. 50-caliber anti-aircraft machine guns did rake the submarine. Dodging two Australian corvettes, M-24 dove out of sight…and circled around.

At 11 PM, M-21 was also caught in a patrol boat’s searchlight. The armed steamer Yandra rammed the midget submarine and blasted the nearby waters with six depth charges, but M-21 finally escaped by diving to the seabed.

Harbor commander Rear Admiral Muirhead-Gould had been partying with the Chicago’s captain when submarine reports began trickling in at 10 PM. Though he raised the alarm, he then drunkenly snapped at the anti-submarine crews, implying they were jumping at ghosts.

But at 12:30, M-24 finally lined up a shot at the Chicago’s stern and launched both Type 97 Special torpedoes—but misjudged the angle. One plowed into Garden Island without detonating. The other narrowly skimmed under Dutch submarine K-IX and struck the dock beside the depot ship Kuttabul. The blast from the 772-pound warhead snapped the converted ferry in two, killing twenty-one sailors.

This finally triggered a more vigorous sub-hunt. At 3 AM, the loops detected M-21 sneaking back into the harbor. After a prolonged depth-charge bombardment by three hounding patrol boats, M-21’ crew committed suicide.

Only M-24 escaped—but though the motherships waited three days for the Ko-hyoteki to return, she never did.

To complete their mission, at midnight on June 8, I-24 surfaced off Sydney and blasted the city’s eastern suburbs with ten 140-millimeter shells. Two hours later, I-21 emerged seventy miles northeast off Newcastle and lobbed thirty-four shells at that city’s steelworks. The inaccurate bombardment resulted in only one injury, most of the shells failing to explode.

Australian coastal guns at Fort Scratchley spat back four 6” shells as the Japanese submarines hastily ducked back underwater. Later in June, the subs sank three freighters off Australian waters—a relatively meager catch.

The Sydney attacks had little material effect considering the resources invested in them. Indeed, all of the Japanese submarines involved in the action, as well as both Allied heavy cruisers in the harbor, were sunk in combat over the next two years.

Nor was the raid a successful diversion. U. S. naval cryptographers decoded the plans for the Midway attack, and ambushing U.S. carriers dealt an irrecoverable blow to IJN by sinking four carriers between June 4-7.

However, despite the efforts of Allied censors, the Sydney raids did impart a sense of vulnerability to Australians. Civilians moved away from coastal zones, a coastal convoy system was implemented, and additional resources were devoted to shoring up demonstrably spotty defenses.

M-14 and M-21 were dredged up and rebuilt into a single submarine for display. The crew’s remains were buried with full military honors and returned to Japan in 1943.

Sixty-four years later, M-24’s bullet-pocked wreck was finally discovered submerged twenty miles in a site now registered as a war grave.

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 first appeared in November 2018.

Image: Reuters.

No Joke: The U.S.-China Fight Over Taiwan Could Destroy the World

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 02:00

Sebastien Roblin

China, Asia

In 1955, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army embarked on a bloody amphibious landing to capture a fortified Nationalist island, only about twice the size of a typical golf course.

Here's What You Need to Know: Whether Eisenhower’s nuclear brinkmanship was what led to the ending of hostilities, however, is much debated. Hostilities would reignite three years later in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, where the U.S. provision of Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and heavy artillery helped secure a favorable outcome for the Nationalists.

In 1955, the Chinese People’s Liberation Army embarked on a bloody amphibious landing to capture a fortified Nationalist island, only about twice the size of a typical golf course. Not only did the battle exhibit China’s growing naval capabilities, it was a pivotal moment in a chain of events that led Eisenhower to threaten a nuclear attack on China—and led Congress to pledge itself to the defense of Taiwan.

In 1949, Mao’s People’s Liberation Army succeeded in sweeping the Nationalist Kuomintang (KMT) government out of mainland China. However, the Nationalist navy allowed the KMT to maintain its hold on large islands such as Hainan and Formosa, as well as smaller islands only miles away from major mainland cities such as Kinmen and Matsu. These soon were heavily fortified with Nationalist troops and guns, and engaged in protracted artillery duels with PLA guns on the mainland.

In 1950, the PLA launched a series of amphibious operations, most notably resulting in the capture of Hainan island in the South China Sea. However, a landing in Kinmen was bloodily repulsed by Nationalist tanks in the Battle of Guningtou, barring the way for a final assault on Taiwan itself. Then events intervened, as the outbreak of the Korean War caused President Truman to deploy the U.S. Seventh Fleet to defend Taiwan. However, the naval blockade cut both ways—Truman did not allow Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek to launch attacks on mainland China.

This policy changed with the presidency of Eisenhower in 1953, who withdrew the Seventh Fleet, allowing the Nationalists to build up troops on the forward islands and launch more guerilla raids on the mainland. However, the PLA was able to counter-escalate with new World War II surplus heavy artillery, warships and aircraft it had acquired from Russia. The series of artillery duels, naval battles and aerial bombardments that followed became known as the First Taiwan Strait Crisis.

On November 14, four PLA Navy torpedo boats laid a nighttime ambush for the KMT destroyer Tai-ping (formerly the USS Decker) which had been detected by shore-based radar. An ill-advised light onboard the destroyer gave the PLAN boats a target, and the 1,400-ton ship was struck by a torpedo and sank before it could be towed to safety. Later, Il-10 Sturmovik bombers of the PLA Naval Air Force hit Dachen Harbor, sinking the Landing Ship (Tank) Zhongquan. These episodes highlighted that the Nationalists could no longer rest assured of control of the sea, making maritime lines of supply to the more forward island garrisons progressively less secure.

While the PLA unleashed heavy artillery bombardments on the well-defended Kinmen Island east of the city of Xiamen, it more immediately planned on securing the Dachen Archipelago close to Taizhou in Zhejiang Province. However, the Yijiangshan Islands, a little further than ten miles off the Chinese coast, stood in the way. The two islands measured only two-thirds of a square mile together, but were garrisoned by over one thousand Nationalist troops from the Second and Fourth Assault Groups and the Fourth Assault Squadron, with over one hundred machine gun positions, as well as sixty guns in the Fourth Artillery Brigade. The garrison’s commander, Wang Shen-ming, had been awarded additional honors by Chiang Kai-shek before being dispatched to the post, to signal the importance placed on the island outpost.

On December 16, 1955, PLA Gen. Zhang Aiping persuaded Beijing that he could launch a successful amphibious landing on the island on January 18. However, the planning process did not go smoothly: Zhang had to overcome last minute jitters from Beijing on the seventeenth questioning his force’s readiness for the operation. Furthermore, Zhang’s staff rejected a night assault landing, proposed by Soviet naval advisor S. F. Antonov, causing the latter to storm out the headquarters. Zhang instead planned the assault “Chinese-style”—which meant deploying overwhelming firepower and numbers in a daytime attack.

At 8:00 a.m. on December 18, fifty-four Il-10 attack planes and Tu-2 twin-engine bombers, escorted by eighteen La-11 fighters, struck the headquarters and artillery positions of the KMT garrison. These were just the first wave of a six-hour aerial bombardment that involved 184 aircraft, unleashing over 254,000 pounds of bombs.

Meanwhile, four battalions of heavy artillery and coastal guns at nearby Toumenshan rained over forty-one thousand shells on the tiny island, totaling more than a million pounds of ordnance.

The amphibious assault finally commenced after 2:00 p.m., embarking three thousand troops of the 178th Infantry Regiment, and one battalion of the 180th. The fleet numbered 140 landing ships and transports, escorted by four frigates, two gunboats and six rocket artillery ships. These latter vessels began pounding the island with direct fire, joined by troops of the 180th regiment, who tied their infantry guns onto the decks of small boats to contribute to the barrage. By this time, most of the Nationalist guns on Yijiangshan Island had been silenced, though artillery still sank one PLAN landing ship, damaged twenty-one others and wounded or killed more than one hundred sailors.

Troops of the 180th Regiment hit the southern beach at 2:30 p.m., shortly followed by a battalion of the 178th to the north—the landing zones totaling no more than one thousand meters across. Withering machine-gun fire from two intact machine-gun nests inflicted hundreds of casualties on the invaders, until low-flying bombers and naval gunfire suppressed the defenders. Shortly after 3:00 p.m., the assault troops broke through to capture the strongpoint at Hill 93, by which time they had been joined by two more battalions from the 178th.

As the defenses were overwhelmed, Nationalist troops fell back into a network of underground facilities. PLA troops began clearing the fortified bunkers, caves and tunnels with flamethrowers and recoilless guns, suffocating and burning many of the defenders. Nationalist troops on Dachen island received a final message from garrison commander Wang Shen-ming in redoubt in Hill 121, reporting that PLA troops were only fifty yards away. Shortly afterward, he committed suicide by hand grenade.

By 5:30 p.m., Yijiangshan island was declared secure. Zhang Aiping quickly moved his HQ over to the island, and scrambled to organize his troops into defensive positions to repel an anticipated Nationalist counterattack from the Dachen Islands that never materialized. Some accounts claim that his force may have suffered friendly-fire casualties from PLAAF bombers during this time.

The invasion had cost the PLA 1,529 casualties in all, including 416 dead. In return, the PLA claimed the Nationalist garrison had suffered 567 dead and had the remaining 519 taken prisoner, while the Republic of China maintains the true total is 712 soldiers dead, twelve nurses, and around 130 captured, of which only around a dozen would return in the 1990s. The last stand of the garrison is commemorated today with a number of memorials in Taiwan.

The seizure of Yijiangshan was immediately followed on January 19 by the commencement of a PLA campaign on the Dachen Archipelago, again spearheaded by intense aerial and artillery bombardments. One air raid succeeded in knocking out the main island’s water reservoir and encrypted radio communications system, and the United States advised the Republic of China that the islands were militarily untenable. On February 5, over 132 ships of the United States Seventh Fleet, covered by four hundred combat aircraft, evacuated 14,500 civilians and fourteen thousand Nationalist troops and guerillas from the archipelago, bringing an end to the Republic of China’s presence in Zhejiang Province.

Before that, just eleven days after the fall of Yijiangshan, the U.S. Congress passed the Formosa Resolution, pledging to defend the Republic of China from further attack. Then, in March, the United States warned that it was considering using nuclear weapons to defend the Nationalist government. Just a month later, Mao’s government signaled it was ready to negotiate, and bombardment of Nationalist islands ceased in May.

Whether Eisenhower’s nuclear brinkmanship was what led to the ending of hostilities, however, is much debated. Hostilities would reignite three years later in the Second Taiwan Strait Crisis, where the U.S. provision of Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and heavy artillery helped secure a favorable outcome for the Nationalists.

Gen. Zhang Aiping, the invasion force’s commander, would go on to serve in high posts in the Chinese military, including a stint Minister of Defense in 1983–88. However, he would encounter political troubles along the way: his leg was broken during the Cultural Revolution when he fell into disfavor with Mao. Later, in 1989, he signed a letter opposing the military crackdown on the protesters in Tiananmen Square.

The United States remains legally committed to the defense of Taiwan, even though it no longer recognizes it as the government of China. Despite a recent spike in tensions, China-Taiwan relations are still massively improved, exchanging university students and business investments rather than artillery shells and aerial bombs. However, the capabilities of the PLA have drastically increased in the interval as well.

In the event of military conflict, most believe China would use the modern equivalent of the tactics used at Yijiangshan: a massive bombardment by long-range missile batteries and airpower well before any PLA troops hit the shore. We should all hope that scenario remains strictly theoretical.

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 2017.

Image: Reuters.

6th Generation Fighters: The Stealth Fighter That Will Kill Anything?

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 01:33

Sebastien Roblin

6th Generation Fighter,

At the earliest, sixth-generation fighters may crop up in the 2030s or 2040s—by which time concepts in air warfare will likely have evolved yet again.

Here's What You Need to Know: Sixth-generation fighter programs remain strictly conceptual today, especially given the enormous expenses and effort devoted to working out the kinks in the Fifth-Generation. Many of the component technologies such as lasers, cooperative engagement, and unmanned piloting, are already in well under development, but integrating them into a single airframe will still prove a significant challenge.

The American development and deployment of Fifth-Generation stealth aircraft like the F-35 Lightning is one of the central stories of today’s security zeitgeist. But behind the scenes, several countries are already looking ahead to the design of a Sixth-Generation jet.

The relentless pace of research is arguably driven less by combat experience—of which there is little—and more by a sober assessment that development of a successor will take multiple decades and is better started sooner rather than later.

The Sixth-Generation fighter developers can be divided into two categories: the United States, which has developed and deployed two stealth fighter types, and countries that have skipped or given up on their attempt to build Fifth Generations jets. These latter countries have concluded that doing so is so time-consuming and expensive that it makes more sense to focus on tomorrow's technology than try to catch up with today's.

The latter include France, Germany and the United Kingdom, which are in the preliminary stages of developing sixth-generation FCAS and Tempest fighters; Russia, which has given up on developing its Su-57 stealth fighter for at least a decade, but is talking up a conceptual sixth-generation MiG-41 interceptor; and Japan, which is contemplating a domestic sixth-generation F-3 stealth jet, but may settle for a foreign-inspired fifth generation design.

Currently, the United States has two projects: the Air Force's ‘Penetrating Counter-Air'—a long long-range stealth fighter to escort stealth bombers—and the Navy's FA-XX. So far, Boeing, Lockheed-Martin, and Northrop-Grumman have unveiled sixth-generation concepts.

Furthermore, a third set of countries, notably including India and China, are still refining the technology for the manufacture of fourth and fifth-generation aircraft.

Stealth and Beyond-Visual Range Missiles Are Here to Stay

The various Sixth-Generation concepts mostly feature many of the same technologies. Two critical characteristics of Fifth-Generation fighters will remain centrally important to the Sixth: stealthy airframes and long-range missiles. As cost-effective ground-based air defense systems like the S-400 can now threaten vast swathes of airspace, stealth aircraft need to be capable of penetrating ‘anti-access/area-denial’ bubbles and eliminate air defense from a safe distance. Additionally, stealth jets also steeply out-perform non-stealth aircraft in aerial war games.

Thus, low radar cross-sections and radar-absorbent materials will be a necessary, but not sufficient, feature of sixth-generation fighters. Some theorists argue that stealthy airframes may eventually be rendered obsolete by advanced sensor technology—and stealthy airframes can’t be upgraded as easily as avionics and weapons. Therefore, jamming, electronic warfare, and infrared obscuring defenses will also rise in importance.

Beyond-visual-range missiles will remain a key technology. Extent missiles like the AIM-120D can already hit targets over one hundred miles away, but realistically must be fired much closer to have a good chance of a kill against an agile, fighter-sized target. However, new ramjet-powered high-speed air-to-air missiles like the British Meteor and Chinese PL-15 point to why future air warriors may mostly fight at great distances from their adversaries.

Awesome ‘X-Ray-Vision’ Pilot Helmets

The F-35 has pioneered sophisticated Helmet Mounted Displays that can see ‘through’ the airframe for superior situational awareness, display key instrument data, and target missiles via a Helmet Mounted Sight (although that last technology is decades old). Though these helmets currently have significant teething issues, they will likely become a standard feature in future fighters, possibly supplanting cockpit instrument panels. Voice-activated command interfaces may also ease the hefty task-load expected of fighter pilots.

Larger Airframes, More Efficient Engines

As airbases and carriers become more vulnerable to missile attacks, warplanes will need to be able to fly longer distances, and carry more weapons while doing so—which is difficult when a stealth jet must rely solely on internal fuel tanks and weapons loads. The natural solution is a larger plane. As air forces expect Within-Visual-Range aerial dogfights to be rare and possibly mutually suicidal, they are showing a greater willingness to tradeoff maneuverability to emphasize high sustainable speeds and a greater payload.

These design imperatives may gel well with the development of advanced adaptive g variable-cycle engines that can alter their configurations mid-flight to perform better at high speeds (like a turbojet) or more fuel-efficiently at low speeds (like a high-bypass turbofan).

Optionally-Manned

For several decades air power theorists have forecast a transition to crewless combat jets which won't have to bear the added weight and risk to life and limb necessitated by a human pilot. However, while drone technology has proliferated by leaps and bounds in that time, navies and air forces have been slow to explore pilotless fighters, both because of the expenses and risks, but also likely for cultural reasons. For example, U.S. Navy pilots successfully lobbied to re-purpose a planned carrier-based stealth attack drone into a tanker to refuel manned aircraft.

Sixth Generation concepts are therefore advancing the idea of an optionally-manned aircraft that can fly with or without a pilot onboard. This has the shortcoming of requiring additional design effort to produce an airplane that will still have the downsides and expensive training requirements of a manned airplane. However, optional-manning may help ease the transition to an unmanned fighter force, and on the short term give military leaders the possibility of deploying aircraft on high-risk missions without risking pilots’ lives.

Sensor Fusion with Friendlies on the Ground, Sea, Air and Space

One of the F-35's key innovations is its ability to soak up sensor data and share it via datalinks to friendly forces, creating a composite ‘picture.' This could allow a stealth aircraft to ride point and ferret out adversaries, while friendly forces maneuver into advantageous positions and sling missiles from further back without even turning on their radars.

Because this tactic promises to be such a force multiplier, fused sensors and cooperative engagement will become a standard feature of sixth-generation jets—and the fusion will likely be deepened by integrating satellite and even drones deployed alongside jet fighters.

Cyber Warfare and Cyber Security

Sensor fusion and optional-manning, however, imply that sixth generation jets will rely heavily on datalinks and networks which could be disrupted by jamming or even invaded through hacking. Ground-based logistics networks, such as the F-35’s ALIS, promise significant improvements in efficiency, but also expose even landed aircraft to potential cyberattack.

Thus, sixth-generation avionic systems not only must be designed for resilience versus electronic and cyber warfare—but may be capable of launching such attacks on adversaries. For example, the Air Force has successfully tested the ability to invade networks and insert data packets (such as viruses), a capability of the Navy’s fighter-borne Next Generation Jammer.

Artificial Intelligence

One problem is that all of these sensor, communication and weapons systems have become so complex that they threaten to exceed the task-processing ability of the human brain—remember, the pilot also has to fly the plane! While some Fourth-generation jets incorporated a back-seat Weapon Systems Officer to help out, Fifth-Generation stealth fighters have all been single-seaters.

Thus, air forces are turning to AI to handle more mundane tasks of fighter management and determine which data should be presented to the pilot. Furthermore, AI and machine learning may be used to coordinate drones.

Drones—and Drone Swarms

In October 2016, two FA-18 Super Hornet deployed 103 Perdix drones in a test over China Lake (you can watch the video here). Animated by an AI hivemind, the drones swarmed down like a cloud of locusts over a designated target point. Kamikaze drones have already been used in action, and it is easy to see how relatively small and cheap drones could become a particularly terrifying weapon.

Theorists of future warfare posit that inexpensive and expendable networked drones may prove far more difficult to defend against than a small number of costly and well-protected weapons platforms and missiles. However, sixth-generation fighters will likely also work with larger, faster and fancier drones to serve as sensor-bearing scouts, weapons platforms, and decoys.

Directed Energy Weapons

Swarms of drones, missiles, and even obsolete jet fighters can threaten to over-saturate an advanced stealth jet’s offensive and defensive capabilities. One commonly cited countermeasure may be Directed Energy Weapons (DEWs) such as lasers or microwaves, which can be fired quickly, precisely and with a nigh-limitless magazine capacity given sufficient electricity.

The U.S. Air Force envisions three categories of airborne DEWs: lower-powered lasers for disrupting or damaging enemy sensors and seekers, a mid-level tier capable of burning incoming air-to-air missiles out of the skies, and high-power class capable of destroying aircraft and ground targets. The air warfare branch plans to test an anti-missile laser turret in the early 2020s which may eventually be installed on bombers and F-35s.

Sixth-generation fighter programs remain strictly conceptual today, especially given the enormous expenses and effort devoted to working out the kinks in the Fifth-Generation. Many of the component technologies such as lasers, cooperative engagement, and unmanned piloting, are already in well under development, but integrating them into a single airframe will still prove a significant challenge.

At the earliest, sixth-generation fighters may crop up in the 2030s or 2040s—by which time concepts in air warfare will likely have evolved yet again.

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 July 2018.

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

What Exactly Is Inflation? (And How Bad Could It Impact You)

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 01:00

James A. Dorn

Inflation,

Inflation is best described as a persistent rise in the general level of prices.

Everyone is talking about inflation, but what is it? Why does it matter? What causes it? And what can the Federal Reserve do about it? This primer will address those questions with the goal of improving the public’s understanding of inflation and the role of the central bank.

What Is Inflation?

Inflation is best described as a persistent rise in the general level of prices. It is not enough for only the price of used cars to increase over time, or even all prices across the entire economy to increase just once. The rise must be both persistent and general.

The difficulty in discerning an increase in the relative price of a good from an increase in the general price level has been a common source of confusion. For example, during the pandemic and lockdown, the supply of computer chips used in cars declined, which delayed the production of new cars. With nowhere else to turn, consumers flocked to used cars, which led to much higher prices. Market demand and supply conditions are changing all the time: some prices rise and some fall, but an increase in the price of a lone good, or even several, is not enough to suggest inflation is at work.

Why Does Inflation Matter?

Inflation decreases the purchasing power of money. Each dollar is worth less because goods and services are, in general, more expensive. Even a low rate of inflation, if persistent, can have a significant impact on the long-run purchasing power of money. For example, inflation of 2 percent per year, if sustained, doubles the price level every 35 years. So a dollar would lose half of its purchasing power.

Debtors and creditors both suffer during prolonged inflation due to a loss of purchasing power. However, debtors are relatively better off, assuming that contracts and interest rates aren’t adjusted for inflation. For example, if someone took out a fixed rate, 30-year mortgage at 2 percent and inflation turned out to be 3 percent over the life of the mortgage, the debtor (borrower) would end up paying a real interest rate of negative 1 percent. That’s a good deal for the debtor, but not for the creditor (lender).

If inflation is high and variable, it can distort market prices, including the price of credit (i.e., the interest rate). Resources will be misallocated; uncertainty about the future value of money will make rational investment decisions more difficult. The stagflation of the 1970s and early 1980s, when the United States suffered from both high inflation and unemployment, provides evidence that easy money and inflation are not conducive to economic growth and prosperity.

What Causes Inflation?

Inflation has most often been caused by excessive increases in the money supply, but it’s not as simple as it sounds. The relationship between the quantity of money and the general level of prices is not 1-for-1 and the timing of changes is often subject to long and variable lags. And to complicate matters further, today’s Federal Reserve doesn’t pay much attention to the money supply. Most of the attention is given to interest rates—in particular, how the Fed’s large-scale asset purchases, also known as quantitative easing (QE), and forward guidance will affect longer-run interest rates. But that wasn’t always the case.

Clark Warburton, writing in 1947, warned about “upside-down monetary policy,” by which he meant a focus on regulating interest rates rather than controlling the quantity of money as the primary purpose of the Fed. According to Warburton:

Interest-rate regulation came into vogue as the chief instrument, and later as the objective, of monetary policy. The latter was a fatal error—for it turned the quantity-of-money interest-rate relationship upside down. Central banks tried to use variations in the interest rate both as a technique and as a guide for the provision of a suitable quantity of money in the economy, whereas they should have used provision of a suitable quantity of money as a technique for achieving price-level stability and freedom of the rate of interest.

Likewise, Milton Friedman emphasized that “inflation is always and everywhere a monetary phenomenon” caused by an excess supply of money relative to the demand for real cash balances. He understood that a decline in the supply of particular goods and services can temporarily increase the price level, as measured by the consumer price index (CPI). However, if there is no change in the quantity of money, or the quantity of money grows at a slower rate than real income (output), then the general level of prices cannot persistently increase.

For a given level of output in the economy and a given turnover rate of money (velocity), increases in the money supply eventually show up in increases in the price level. History has shown that rapid increases in the money supply, which outpace growth in real output, lead people to expect higher prices. Individuals and businesses will then reduce their cash balances, the velocity of money will increase, and inflation will accelerate.

In fact, governments themselves often initiate inflationary episodes when they try to finance excess spending by having the central bank monetize the debt. In other words, fiscal policymakers use the central bank to provide funding via expansionary monetary policy rather than raise taxes or sell debt to the public. That route to inflation is called “fiscal dominance.”

Today, the Federal Reserve is buying up a large share of newly issued government debt to finance bulging deficits, but inflation is still not far above the Fed’s long-run target of 2 percent. How is that possible?

The primary reason is that the Fed’s post-2008 operating system allows the central bank to pay interest on reserves (IOR). If that rate is higher than the risk-adjusted return banks could get elsewhere, and if banks are required to hold reserves as part of their capital buffer, then they will have an incentive to park reserves at the Fed rather than lend them out. Consequently, when the Fed buys assets in the open market, and creates reserves in the process, the normal multiplier effect on the money supply will be diluted, along with the impact on prices and nominal income.

The breakdown of the usual multiplier also occurs when interest rates hit the so-called zero lower bound (i.e., when nominal rates approach zero), as has been the case both in 2009 and recently.

What Can the Federal Reserve Do About Inflation?

The Federal Reserve Act (Section 2A) mandates that the Fed maintain long-run price stability and foster maximum employment. Here’s the exact wording:

The Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Open Market Committee shall maintain long run growth of the monetary and credit aggregates commensurate with the economy's long run potential to increase production, so as to promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.

In 2012, the Fed adopted an inflation target of 2 percent, but inflation has been consistently below that target since its adoption. To make up for the shortfalls, the Fed implemented “flexible average inflation targeting” (FAIT) in August 2020. The idea is to let inflation exceed 2 percent for some time until the average returns to 2 percent—though, the exact starting and ending points are unclear. However, there is a risk. If the Fed lets inflation run too hot for too long, confidence in the dollar as a stable-valued currency will erode and the Fed’s credibility will suffer.

It should be noted that under the Fed’s current operating system, known as the “floor system,” QE never has to be reversed to keep inflation under control. It suffices, as the economy recovers, to raise IOR sufficiently to maintain banks' willingness to hoard reserves.

Another route the Fed could take is that, instead of attempting to fine-tune inflation, policymakers could focus on stabilizing the growth of total spending—that is, nominal gross domestic product (NGDP) or nominal income—and allow market forces to determine the split between the growth of real output and inflation. Flexibility in the price level, which moves inversely with changes in real output, would be limited by the constraint on the growth of NGDP over time. That constraint could be institutionalized by adopting an appropriate monetary rule. Such a rule would reduce the uncertainty that exists under the present discretionary government fiat money regime.

Conclusion

The acceleration of 12-month CPI inflation from 5 percent in May to 5.4 percent in June should be a wake-up call for the Fed. Chairman Powell sees current inflationary pressures as transitory. But with more rapid monetary growth and velocity rising, policymakers need to take the possibility of inflation seriously—especially in light of massive government deficits that may be monetized.

The Fed has promised to keep interest rates near zero and to maintain its massive balance sheet, which now exceeds $8 trillion, until the economy reaches its full potential, but it has also proclaimed that it wants inflation to increase to make up for undershooting. That approach could backfire if inflationary expectations rise and the Fed policymakers don’t step on the monetary brakes soon enough. A better understanding of the basics of inflation is a first step in producing better policy and safeguarding the property rights individuals have in a stable-valued currency.

[Cross-posted from Alt-M.org]

This article is being republished from the Cato Institute.

Image: Reuters.

Syria Showed that Russia’s T-90 Tanks Can Be Killed

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 00:33

Sebastien Roblin

Russian Tanks, Middle East

When Moscow intervened in Syria in 2015 on behalf the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad, it also transferred around thirty T-90As to the Syrian Arab Army.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Of course, a small number of T-90s was not going to have a great impact on a sprawling civil war that had been raging for years. However, Janovský still see lessons to be drawn from the situation. “The regime was also lucky that rebels never got any modern ATGM that has top attack mode—which would reliable kill T-90.” Examples such of top-attack weapons include the Javelin missile, and the TOW-2B.

The interconnected conflicts raging across the Middle East today have amounted to a dreadful human catastrophe with spiraling global consequence. One of their lesser effects has been to deflate the reputations of Western main battle tanks mistakenly thought to be night-invulnerable in the popular imagination.

Iraqi M1 Abrams tanks not only failed to prevent he capture of Mosul in 2014, but they were captured and turned against their owners. In Yemen, numerous Saudi M1s were knocked out by Houthi rebels. Turkey, which had lost a number of M60 Pattons and upgrade M60T Sabra tanks to Kurdish and ISIS fighters eventually deployed its fearsome German-built Leopard 2A4 tanks. ISIS destroyed eight to ten in a matter of days.

While these tanks could have benefited from specific defensive upgrades in some cases, the real lesson to be drawn was less about technical deficiencies and more about crew training, competent morale, and sound tactical employment matter more even than “invulnerable” armor. After all, even the most heavily armored main battle tanks are significantly less well protected from hits to the side, rear or top armor—and rebels with years of combat experience have learned how to ambush imprudently deployed main battle tanks, particularly using long-range anti-tank missiles from miles away.

One exception to the general tarnishing of reputations has been Russia’s T-90A tank, 550 of which serve as Russia’s top main battle tank until the T-14 Armatas fully enters service. The T-90 was conceived in the 1990s as a modernized mash-up the hull of the earlier mass-production optimized T-72, and the turret from the higher-quality (but operationally unsuccessful) T-80. Retaining a low profile and a three-man crew, (the tank’s 2A46M auto-loading cannon takes the place of a human loader), the fifty-ton T-90A is significantly lighter than the seventy-ton-ish M1A2 and Leopard 2.

When Moscow intervened in Syria in 2015 on behalf the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad, it also transferred around thirty T-90As to the Syrian Arab Army, as well as upgraded T-62Ms and T-72s. The Syrian military could desperately use this armored infusion, as it had lost over two thousand armored vehicles in the preceding years—especially after Syrian rebels began receiving American TOW-2A missiles in 2014. The T-90s were spread out between the 4th Armored Division, the Desert Hawks Brigade (composed of retired SAA veterans led by pro-Assad warlords) and Tiger Force, an elite battalion-sized SAA unit specialized in offensive operations.

In February 2016, Syrian rebels filmed a video of a TOW missile streaking towards a T-90 tank in northeast Aleppo. In a blinding flash, the missile detonates. However, as the smoke cleared it became evident that the tank’s Kontakt-5 explosive-reactive armor had discharged the TOW missile’s shaped-charge warhead prior to impact, minimizing the damage. (This fact was perhaps not appreciated by the tank’s gunner, who in the full version of the video clambered out of an already open hatch and fled on foot.) Nonetheless, the video went viral.
While the T-90A is still outgunned by Western main battle tanks, it does sport number of defensive systems particularly effective verses anti-tank missiles that (all but a few) Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks lack—and anti-tank missiles have destroyed far more armored vehicles in recent decades than tank main guns have.

If you look head on at a T-90A you may notice the creepy “eyes” on the turret—a reliable method of distinguishing it from similar-looking modernized T-72s. These are actually infrared dazzlers designed to jam laser-targeting systems on missiles, and glow a terrifying red color when active. The dazzlers are just a component of the T-90’s Shtora-1 active protection system, which can also discharge smoke grenades that release an infrared-obscuring aerosol cloud. Shtora is integrated with a 360-degree laser-warning receiver which automatically triggers the countermeasures if the tank is painted by an enemy laser—and can even point the tank’s gun towards the origin of the attack. The T-90A’s second line of defense comes in the form of plates of Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor, which was designed to detonate prior to a missile impact in order to disrupt the molten jet of its shaped-charge warhead and feed additional metal in its path.

So did the T-90’s reactive armor and Shtora active protection system prove a sure-fire countermeasure verses long-range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs)?

In a word, no—but you would only know that if you followed the many less well publicized videos depicting the destruction or capture of T-90s by rebel and government forces.
Jakub Janovský has dedicated himself to documenting and preserving recorded armor losses in the Syrian Civil War for several years, and recently released a vast archive of over 143 gigabytes of combat footage from the conflict ranging from atrocities perpetrated by various groups to hundreds of ATGM attacks.

According to Janovský, of the thirty transferred to the Syrian Arab Army, he is aware of five or six T-90As being knocked out in in 2016 and 2017, mostly by wire-guided TOW-2A missiles. (Some of the knocked out tanks, to clarify, may be recoverable with heavy repairs.) Another four may have been hit, but their status after the attack as not possible to determine. Of course, there may be additional losses that were not documented, and there are cases where the type of tank involved could not be visually confirmed.

Furthermore, HTS rebels captured two T-90s and used them in action, while a third was captured by ISIS November 2017. On June 2016, Sham Front rebels knocked out a T-90 with a TOW-2. Drone footage taken afterwards shows smoke rising from the turret hatch, and reveals the T-90’s tell-tale Shtora dazzlers. Another video recorded on June 14, 2016, at Aleppo shows a T-90 pulling a sharp turn and racing for cover behind a building—possibly aware of an incoming TOW missile. However, the T-90 is struck in its side or rear armor. The tank explodes, scattering debris high into the air, but stills continues to roll behind cover.

Another T-90A was either hit by a Russian-built Konkurs (similar to the TOW) or the more powerful laser-guided AT-14 Kornet missile near Khanassar, Syria, wounding the gunner. The crew eventually abandoned the vehicle as a fire spread from the machine gun mount into the vehicle, where it began to cook off the 125-millimeter shells on the carousel-style autoloader. The placement of ammunition in middle of the tank alongside the crew, rather than a separate stowage compartment as in the M1, has long been a vulnerability of Russian tank designs.
Rebels, meanwhile, maintained two T-90s in an abandoned brick factory in Idlib province. In April 2017, of the rebel T-90As, reinforced with sandbags on its armor, apparently went on a rampage assisting rebel forces in recapturing the town of Maarden, according to Russian media. Later, one of the T-90As was recaptured by the government, and the other was knocked out—reportedly, by a T-72 tank using a kinetic sabot round in the side armor.
In October, ISIS captured a 4th Armored Division T-90A near al-Mayadeen in eastern Syria when it ventured alone into a sand storm. Then on November 16, 2017, ISIS ambushed a Tiger Force armored column and apparently blasted a T-90A’s turret clean off its hull and left to rot upside down in the desert. The crew was reportedly killed. However, pro-Assad media claims this was the T-90 captured earlier by ISIS, found to be inoperable, and then destroyed for propaganda purposes.

This not to say the T-90’s defensive systems never worked. In one remarkable incident recorded on July 28, 2016, a T-90 tank near the Mallah farms of Aleppo was struck by a TOW missile, but emerged apparently unscathed from the dust cloud thanks to its reactive armor. As the vehicle frantically scuttled away, the TOW crew smacked it with a second missile—which it apparently survived despite sustaining damage.

Janovský says he is not aware of T-90s being lost to shorter-range weapons, “since the regime rarely used T-90s in close combat, especially after two were captured.” The T-90 has in fact been “relatively successful” in Janovský’s opinion, despite losses due to “overconfidence and poor coordination with infantry, which has been a long term problem of the SAA.”
According to Janovský, the T-90’s most useful feature has actually proven to be its superior optics and fire control computer compared to earlier Russian tanks. “T-90s performed well when they had an opportunity to shoot at rebels from long distance or at night, when modern optics and fire-control computer proved to be a major advantage.” Indeed, the T-90A model began receiving French-built Catherine FC thermal imagers in the mid-2000s.

Of course a small number of T-90s was not going to have a great impact on a sprawling civil war that had been raging for years. However, Janovský still see lessons to be drawn from the situation. “The regime was also lucky that rebels never got any modern ATGM that has top attack mode—which would reliable kill T-90.” Examples such of top-attack weapons include the Javelin missile, and the TOW-2B.

“In my opinion, the major issue with T-90 (and most other modern tanks) is a complete lack of hard-kill Active Protection System [one that shoots missiles down], ideally with 360 degrees coverage, but 270 degrees should be minimum. This not only means that it is vulnerable to being disabled by cheap rocket propelled grenades in urban combat but also from Anti-Tank Guided Missiles fired from unexpected angle. When you consider the range of current ATGMs [typically two to five miles], it will be fairly regular occurrence that you get a side shot opportunity against attacking enemy tank from positions across from the of attacked location.”

Indeed, Russia is reportedly planning to upgrade its T-90As—which are currently less advanced than the T-90MS’s in service with the Indian Army—to a T-90M variant with new hard-kill active protection systems, upgraded reactive armor, and a more powerful 2A82 main gun. Ultimately, the losses in Syria show that any tank—whether T-90, M-1 or Leopard 2—is vulnerable on a battlefield in which long-range ATGMs have proliferated. Active protection systems and missile warning systems are vital to mitigate that danger—but so are careful tactical employment, competently trained crews, and improved cooperation with infantry to minimize exposure to long-range attacks, ward off ambushers, and provide extra eyes on possible threats.

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 first appeared earlier in 2018.

Image: Wikipedia.

How the Air Force's 30-Year-Old B-2 Stealth Bomber Looks on the Inside

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 00:12

Kris Osborn

U.S. Military, United States

Despite flying more than 40-hour missions, pilots have no bed and no refrigerator, just two seats in a small cockpit and a small area behind them about the same width as the seat.

Here's What You Need To Remember: So how much longer will the B-2 fly? It is slated to fly alongside the emerging new B-21 Raider stealth bomber as it starts arriving in the mid 2020s, and ultimately retire. However, given its current trajectory and combat effectiveness, it seems entirely reasonable to speculate 2040? Perhaps 2050? We’ll see, the Air Force does not discuss this much.

(Washington, D.C.) Slicing through the sky with bat-like wings, eluding enemy radar with stealth technology, quietly destroying enemy air defenses from 50,000 ft and using computers to merge sensor data with targeting information -- the Air Force’s B-2 bomber … has been in the air attacking targets for “30-Years.”

“You pull up the weapons suite screen, align the right weapon with the target and provide input into the DEP - Digital Entry Panel. Then, you enter text into the computer,” Lt. Col. Nicola Polidar, Commander of Detachment 5 of the 29th Training Systems Squadron, told Warrior in an interview.

As this happens….the air attack begins.

The B-2 took its first flight July 17, 1989 -- so now is the “30-Year Anniversary.” 

B-2 pilots have operated the sleek, curved air-defense-defying platform for sensitive, highly-dangerous missions many times in recent decades. After blasting onto the scene in the early 90s, the B-2s combat debut came in the late 90s when the aircraft destroyed Serbian targets over Kosovo. Three decades ago, the Air Force and Northrop Grumman thought to massively advance the paradigm for stealth attack, and create a first-of-its kind leap ahead bomber. It was conceived of as a Cold War weapon, engineered to knock out Soviet advanced air defenses. The intent was to build upon and surpass the F-117 Night Hawk’s stealth technology used in the Gulf War.

The B-2s stealth configuration, buried engine, low heat signature and “radar absorbent” coating, is meant to not only avoid being hit by enemy weapons, but complete missions without enemies ever knowing it is there. Its core mission: launch secret, quiet, undetected attacks over heavily defended enemy territory to create a safer “air corridor” for less stealthy planes to operate within extremely lethal,otherwise uninhabitable airspace.

Weapons selection, navigational data and intelligence analysis are all controlled by a human pilot, operating a digital display, computer screen and fire control system in the sky.

“We have eight displays and we are able to pull up different information depending upon which buttons we push. We can see weapons, communications, flight characteristics, current atmospheric conditions, engines, electrical systems and hydraulics,” Polidar said.

The aircraft, which entered service in the 1980s, has flown missions over Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan. Given its ability to fly as many as 6,000 nautical miles without needing to refuel, the B-2 flew from Missouri all the way to an island off the coast of India called Diego Garcia - before launching bombing missions over Afghanistan.

While the original engineering may have come from the 1980s, many upgrades, adaptations and technological improvements have sought to keep the bomber current, relevant and ahead of evolving threats.

“We’ve been through at least 10-plus major modifications, some hardware and some software. The biggest difference in flying the B-2 today is the amount of information flow coming through the cockpit,” Col Jeffery Schreiner, 509th BW Commander and B-2 Pilot, told Warrior in an interview. Schreiner has been involved with the B-2 bomber for more than 15 years.

Managing this massively increased information flow has inspired new B-2 sensors, targeting displays, communications networks and - perhaps of greatest significance - new computer automation and processor upgrades.

“Pilots manage all the different data sources to make good, tactically relevant decisions and maintain situational awareness. Now you can make specific changes and rework sorties in flight,” Schreiner said.

The upgrades involve the re-hosting of the flight management control processors, the brains of the airplane, onto much more capable integrated processing units. This results in the laying-in of some new fiber optic cable as opposed to the mix bus cable previously being used – because original B-2 computers from the 80s could be overloaded with data in a modern war environment, Air Force officials explained.

Schreiner’s strategic view of B-2 modernization plan aligns with what leading service thinkers envision regarding future threats and needed technical adjustments, particularly regarding this need for information and networking. One prominent Air Force strategist, Retired Lt. Gen. David Deptula, Dean of the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies, describes this phenomenon in terms of the need for an emerging “combat cloud.” Improved networking technology, coupled with new processing power, enables new sensors and next-generation targeting to destroy newer threats and also maintain operations in the event that one connection is damaged in war.

“The challenge is this whole notion of sharing, and treating ships, vehicles and aircraft as information nodes. This builds robustness and redundancy of the ability to share information,” Deptula told Warrior.

Extending Deptula’s reasoning, it seems apparent that the Air Force modernization approach with the B-2 has, in some ways, managed to anticipate future warfare environments.

One such example of this is the now-in-development B-2 Defensive Management System, a new sensor enabling B-2 crews to identify some dangerous enemy locations and therefore better avert advanced air defences.

An Air Force 2018 acquisition report examines some of the technical adjustments which enable these advanced sensors, stating that the DMS “upgrades the threat warning systems on board by replacing aging antennas, electronics, display system and an autorouter.”

The autorouter introduces what could easily be referred to as a transformative technology for several key reasons; the report describes the autoloader as something “which automates the re-planning of aircraft missions in flight.” This brings several key implications; increased automation lessens what’s often referred to as the “cognitive burden” for pilots. This frees up pilots to focus on pressing combat variables because computer automation is performing certain key procedural functions.

Secondly, by allowing for “re-planning of aircraft missions in flight,” the autorouter brings a sizeable intelligence advantage. Instead of relying upon pre-determined target information, on-board intelligence can help pilots adjust attack missions as targets change and/or relocate.. while in flight. Much of these improvements can be attributed to an ongoing effort to implement a new computer processor into the B-2, a system reported by Air Force developers to be 1,000 times faster than the existing system.

Given their 30-year life span, many may wonder how the B-2s have been maintained and remained combat ready through the decades. B-2 maintainer 2nd Lt. Bruce Vaughn from 131st Maintenance describes it as sustaining the welding, fuselage, tubing and sheet metal. Most of all, he said, it has been crucial to maintain the low-observable components and radar absorbent material. “It involves a lot of painting and materials management. You often apply it like spray paint,” Vaughn said.

Vaughn’s description of the challenges and work required to maintain stealth coating, interestingly, is supported by a 2017 essay from the Robotics Institute of Carnegie Mellon University, called “Defect-Detection Technologies for Low-Observability Aircraft Skin Coatings.” The paper makes a point to emphasize the importance, and the difficulty, of maintaining stealth materials on an aircraft.

“Due to mechanical trauma, water or other chemical trauma, natural or sunlight- or temperature-accelerated chemical breakdown, etc., an aircraft's low observability coating peels off the substrate, flakes, blisters, cracks, or otherwise undergoes changes in texture or color or both,” the report states.

The essay also explores ways that both ultraviolet and infrared lights can be used to detect wear and tear or anomalies in the stealth coating. Computer algorithms, the paper explains, can also function as an integral part of the process.​

Alongside the coating, there are a handful of additional key variables necessary to preserving stealth. The B-2 not only curved but also entirely horizontal, without vertical structures. This creates a scenario wherein a return electromagnetic ping, or radar signal, cannot obtain an actual rendering of the plane. The exterior is both smooth and curved, without visible seams binding portions of the fuselage. Weapons are carried internally, antennas and sensors are often built into parts of the fuselage itself so as to minimize detectable shapes on the aircraft. By not having protruding objects, shapes or certain vertical configurations such as fins, the bomber succeeds in blinding enemy radar, which is unable to generate enough returning electromagnetic “pings” to determine that an aircraft is there. An indispensable premise of B-2 sustainment is that the aircraft be prepared to succeed in the most “high-threat” or “contested” combat environments likely to exist.

The intent is to not only elude higher-frequency engagement radar, which allows air defenses to actually shoot an airplane, but also elude lower-frequency surveillance radar, which can simply detect an aircraft in the vicinity. Also, stealth aircraft such as the B-2 are built with an internal, or buried, engine to decrease the heat signature emerging from the exhaust. One goal of stealth aircraft thermal management is to try to make the aircraft itself somewhat aligned with the temperature of the surrounding air so as not to create a heat differential for enemy sensors to detect.

The priority, maintainers explain, is to ensure the weapons, electronics, computing and stealth properties are all continuously upgraded. Today’s B-2 could almost be described, in some ways, as an entirely different airplane with the same basic exterior - than it was upon first flight in 1989.

The Air Force currently operates 20 B-2 bombers, with the majority of them based at Whiteman AFB in Missouri. The B-2 can reach altitudes of 50,000 feet and carry 40,000 pounds of payload, including both conventional and nuclear weapons.

One emerging nuclear weapon, now being tested and integrated onto the B-2 is the advanced B-61 Mod 12, an upgraded variant of several different nuclear bombs with integrates their functionality into one weapon. This not only decreases payload but of course multiplies attack options for pilots. For instance, a B-2 could quickly adjust from a point detonate variant of the B-61 Mod 12, to one designed with penetration capabilities, Air Force officials said. Alongside its nuclear arsenal, the B-2 will carry a wide range of conventional weapons to include precision-guided 2,000-pound Joint Direct Attack Munitions, or JDAMs, 5,000-pound JDAMs, Joint Standoff Weapons, Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missiles and GBU 28 5,000-pound bunker buster weapons, among others. The B-2 can also carry a 30,000-pound conventional bomb known as the Massive Ordnance Penetrator, a weapon described as a more explosive version of the Air Force GBU-28 bunker buster.

The platform is also preparing to integrate a long-range conventional air-to-ground standoff weapon called the JASSM-ER, for Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile, Extended Range.

Despite flying more than 40-hour missions, pilots have no bed and no refrigerator, just two seats in a small cockpit and a small area behind them about the same width as the seat. Pilot’s food, Polidar said, needs to be non-perishable items.

“Sometimes we can bring a little blow-up mattress, put in on the floor and take a nap,” she said.

So how much longer will the B-2 fly? It is slated to fly alongside the emerging new B-21 Raider stealth bomber as it starts arriving in the mid 2020s, and ultimately retire. However, given its current trajectory and combat effectiveness, it seems entirely reasonable to speculate 2040? Perhaps 2050? We’ll see, the Air Force does not discuss this much.

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 a Masters Degree in Comparative Literature from Columbia University.

This piece first appeared in 2019 and is being reprinted due to reader interest.

5 Best Planes to Ever Fly from Aircraft Carriers

The National Interest - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 00:00

Sebastien Roblin

Aircraft Carriers,

Designing an airplane that can fly at high speeds lugging heavy weapons loads, and yet still takeoff and land on a short flight deck a few hundred meters long has always posed a formidable engineering challenge.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Despite its flaws, the Phantom proved you could combine speed, heavy payload, advanced sensors, and (eventually) decent agility in one large airplane, a principle which informs modern fourth-generation jets such as currently-serving FA-18E/F Super Hornet.

Designing an airplane that can fly at high speeds lugging heavy weapons loads, and yet still takeoff and land on a short flight deck a few hundred meters long has always posed a formidable engineering challenge. Sea-based fighters typically feature folding wings for easier stowage, ruggedized landing gear and arrester equipment, and greater robustness to endure the wear and tear from sea-based operations. These all literally weigh against the exquisite engineering exhibited by land-based fighters.

Yet since World War II, exceptional carrier-based fighters have repeatedly more than held their own against land-based adversaries.

To quality for this list, the carrier-based-fighter in question must not only have been effective, but also had significant operational impact. This excludes excellent carrier-based jets such as the Super Hornet or Rafale-M which haven’t seen intensive combat employment.

The airplane must also be a ‘fighter’ designed for air-to-air capability airplanes. This leaves out excellent aircraft like the SBD Dauntless dive bomber, A-1 Skyraider and A-4 Skyhawk which were attack planes foremost, even though they had their occasional air-to-air successes.

Mitsubishi A6M Zero

The A6M Zero was an elegant fighter designed for the Imperial Japanese Navy by engineer Jiro Horikoshi. Weighing less than 4,000 pounds. The Zero’s 840-horespower radial engine allowed it to traverse a remarkable 1,600 miles on internal fuel, outclimb and outrun many contemporary land-based fighters with a top speed of 346 miles per hour, and still turn on a dime.

When Japan unleashed its surprise attack on Pearl Harbor and territories across Asia and the Western Pacific, Zeroes flown by veteran Japanese pilots proved a terror of Allied fighters like the Hawker Hurricane and F4F Wildcat which the Zero outclassed in both speed and maneuverability. Allied pilots spent the first year of the Pacific War developing tactics to cope with the Zero’s capabilities.

However, unlike other successful carrier-based fighters, the Zero failed to evolve at the same pace as its adversaries. Its remarkable performance had been achieved by cutting away almost all armor protection—a design compromise that became increasingly fatal as faster, better-armored Allied fighters entered service with heavier armaments.

Vought F4U Corsair

In 1943, the Grumman F6F Hellcat brought an end to the Zero’s dominance, shooting down hundreds of Japanese aircraft in air battles such as the Great Marianas Turkey Shoot.

However, the Hellcat itself was outlived by the even higher-performing F4U Corsair. The Corsair is notable for its unique gull-winged design, but difficulties landing the “Hogs” caused the Navy to delay its introduction into service—so the Marines snatched them up up by instead. The Corsair quickly proved so succesful that both the U.S. and Royal Navies adopted it into service.

The Corsair’s powerful Double Wasp engine made it fast and deadly, scoring an 11:1 kill ratio versus Japanese fighter pilots, who nicknamed it the “Whistling Death.” It played a vital role in intercepting Kamikaze attacks and providing ground support for Marines in Iwo Jima and Okinawa using napalm cannisters and high-velocity rockets.

Remarkably, the Corsair’s career was only getting started. By the 1950s, Corsairs were back in action over Korea and French-occupied Vietnam, principally used in ground attack roles. However, radar-equipped Corsair night fighters shot down North Korean night intruders. Corsair pilot Guy Bordelon was only the Navy ace of the Korean War, and one Corsair even shot down a MiG-15 jet.

The Corsair’s combat career concluded violently in July 1969, when El Salvador invaded Honduras over a lost soccer game. Both sides operated Corsairs, and a Honduran F4U pilot shot down two Salvadoran Corsairs and a P-51 before the four-day war’s conclusion.

Grumman F9F Panther

The Panther was the first jet successfully integrated into U.S. Navy carrier air wings for long-term service. The slick jet, painted an inky navy blue and packing four twenty-millimeter cannons and flew on hundreds of raids during the Korean War, a dangerous role immortalized in the film The Bridges at Toko-Ri. It quite likely scored the first jet-on-jet aerial kill in history by downing a MiG-15 on November 9, 1950.

Though both powered by similar turbojets based on the Rolls Royce Nene, the straight-wing F9F could only attain 620 miles per hour, compared to the 670 mph of the swept-wing MiG-15. However, that didn’t prevent a lone F9F pilot from downing four Soviet MiG-15s in an whirling air battle over the Sea of Japan in 1952. Like the best naval fighters, the F9F also evolved gracefully over time, developing into a higher-performing swept-wing model called the “Cougar.”

The Harrier (In its Many Incarnations)

There have been many variants of the Harrier built by various manufacturers, but their basic appeal was always the same: their vector-thrust turbofans allowed them to takeoff and land vertically like a helicopter from the deck of a small amphibious carrier or a remote forward bases lacking traditional runways.

This capability came at a price, however. Despite boasting air-to-air capability, Harriers were firmly subsonic jets that would be at a grave disadvantage dueling contemporary supersonic fighter jets. Furthermore, the trickiness of its VTOL engines has caused Harriers to suffer extremely high accident rates.

Yet the Harrier makes the list because its capabilities decisively affected the outcome of Falkland Island War. In addition to twenty-eight carrier-based BAe Sea Harriers, the U.K. hastily converted container ships to carry fourteen land-based Royal Air Force Hawker Harriers. Together these escorted Royal Navy ships and pounded Argentine ground targets.

Argentina flung scores of strike jets at the British fleet, which lay at the extreme of their operational range. Though they might have been equally matched versus the Harrier, the Argentine pilots followed orders to only press the attack on British ships—arguably a mistake. Harrier managed to shoot down roughly twenty Argentine fighters using all-aspect AIM-L Sidewinder missiles. The Argentine pilots endured heavy losses to still sink several ships. But without the deterrence provided by the Harriers, the damage would likely have been far greater.

McDonnell Douglas manufactured AV-8 Harriers also performed well in combat over Afghanistan and Iraq and remains in service with the U.S. Marines and the navies of Spain and Italy. They will be replaced by F-35B jump jets, which despite significant teething and cost issues, promise a tremendous improvement thanks to supersonic flight capability, stealth characteristics, and advanced avionics.

McDonnell-Douglas F-4 Phantom

The F-4 Phantom was a beastly warplane powered by two huge J79 turbojets that could propel it past twice the speed of sound. A rare example of a design successfully used by all three branches of the U.S. military, the two-seat Phantom could detect adversaries and engage them with long-range missiles using its nose-mounted radar, and also carry a heavier bombload than a World War II B-17 bomber.

The Phantom often gets a bad rap for difficulties it faced combatting MiGs over Vietnam related to its lower maneuverability and the ineffectiveness of its early air-to-air missiles. The Navy responded to these problems by instituting the “Top Gun” school which schooled aviators in air combat maneuver theory. Navy Phantom pilots claimed forty MiGs shot down for only seven Phantoms lost in air-to-air combat. Later F-4J and F-4S models operated by the Navy incorporated wing-slats which greatly improved maneuverability and landing performance, though at a slight cost of speed.

Despite its flaws, the Phantom proved you could combine speed, heavy payload, advanced sensors, and (eventually) decent agility in one large airplane, a principle which informs modern fourth-generation jets such as currently-serving FA-18E/F Super Hornet.

And what of the awesome F-14 Tomcat, you ask?

The Grumman F-14 Tomcat of Top Gun fame was indeed a superb air superiority fighter. However, the Tomcat’s saw most of its action as a land-based fighter in the service of the Iranian Air Force.

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 April 2019. It is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Flickr.

How A Chinese Submarine Crew Died a Savage Death: No More Air

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 23:33

Sebastien Roblin

Submarine, Asia

On April 25, 2003 the crew of a Chinese fishing boat noticed a strange sight—a periscope drifting listlessly above the surface of the water.

Here's What You Need to Remember: Only high standards of maintenance, manufacturing and crew training can avert lethal peacetime disasters—standards which are difficult for many nations to afford, but which the PLA Navy likely aspires to it as it continues to expand and professionalize its forces at an extraordinary rate.

On April 25, 2003 the crew of a Chinese fishing boat noticed a strange sight—a periscope drifting listlessly above the surface of the water. The fishermen notified the People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) which promptly dispatched two vessels to investigate.

At first the PLAN believed the contact to be an intruding submarine from South Korea or Japan. But when Chinese personnel finally recovered the apparent derelict they realized it was one of their own diesel-electric submarines, the Ming-class 361.

When they boarded on April 26, they found all seventy personnel slumped dead at their stations.

Military commissioner and former president Jiang Zemin acknowledged the tragic incident on May 2, 2003, in a statement honoring the sacrifice of Chinese sailors lives and vaguely characterizing the cause as “mechanical failure.”

A month later, an inquiry by his commission resulted in the dismissal of both the commander and commissar of the North Sea Fleet, and the demotion or dismissal of six or eight more officers for “improper command and control.” Jiang and President Hu Jintao later reportedly visited the recovered submarine and met with the families of the deceased.

The Chinese government is not disposed to transparency regarding its military accidents. For example, it does not release the results of its investigations into jet fighter crashes and it never publicly acknowledged earlier submarine accidents. At the time, some commentators expressed surprise that Beijing acknowledged the incident at all, and speculated it was obliquely related to contemporaneous criticism of Beijing’s attempts to downplay the SARS epidemic.

The Type 035 Ming-class submarine was an outdated second-generation design evolved from the lineage of the Soviet Romeo-class, in turn a Soviet development of the German Type XXI “Electric U-Boat” from World War II. The first two Type 035s were built in 1975 but remained easy to detect compared to contemporary American or Russian designs. Though China operated numerous diesel submarines, due to concerns over seaworthiness, they rarely ventured far beyond coastal waters in that era.

Nonetheless, Chinese shipyards continued to build updated Ming-class boats well into the 1990s. Submarine 361 was one of the later Type 035G Ming III models, which introduced the capability to engage opposing submerged submarines with guided torpedoes. Entering service in 1995, she and three sister ships numbered 359 through 362 formed the North Sea Fleet’s 12th Submarine Brigade based in Liaoning province. You can see them together in this photo.

361 had been deployed on a naval exercise in the Bohai Sea, the Yellow Sea gulf east of Beijing and Tianjing. Unusually, a senior naval officer, Commodore Cheng Fuming was aboard. In its last ship’s log on April 16, the submarine was practicing silent running while off the Changshang island, heading back to a base in Weihai, Shandong Province.

Because it was maintaining radio silence, the PLAN didn’t realize anything was amiss until ten days later. The method by which 361 was recovered after its presence was reported remains unclear. Several accounts imply the ship was submerged, but the fact that it was promptly towed back to port implies that it had surfaced.

The lack of clear official explanation has led to various theories over the years. The typical complement of a Type 035 submarine is fifty-five to fifty-seven personnel, but 361 had seventy on board. Officially these were trainers, but conditions would have been quite cramped. The presence of the additional personnel and the high-ranking Commodore Cheng leads to the general conclusion that 361 was not on a routine mission.

Indeed, some commentators speculated that the additional crew were observing tests of an experimental Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system which would have offered greater stealth and underwater endurance. As it happens, another Type 035G submarine, 308, was used to test an AIP drive, and Stirling AIP drives would soon equip the prolific Type 041 Yuan-class submarines which prowl the seas today.

Another theory is that leaks allowed seawater to mix with battery acid, forming deadly chlorine gas that poisoned the crew. The Hong Kong Sing Tao Daily claimed the submarine had embarked on a “dangerous” antisubmarine training, and that “human error” led it to nose-down uncontrollably, causing it to get stuck on the seafloor.

However, the most widely accepted explanation today was first published by the Hong Kong Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing newspaper: the crew was suffocated by the sub’s diesel engine.

A conventional diesel electric submarine uses an air-breathing diesel engine to charge up its batteries for underwater propulsion. This is usually done while surfaced—but a submarine attempting to remain undetected can also cruise submerged just below the surface and use a snorkel to sip air. The snorkel is designed to automatically seal up if the water level gets too high.

According to Wen Wei Po361 was running its diesel while snorkeling when high water caused the air intake valve to close—or the valve failed to open properly due to a malfunction. However, its diesel engine did not shut down as it should have in response. You can find what appears to be a translated version of the article here.

Apparently, the motor consumed most of the submarine’s air supply in just two minutes. The crew might have felt light headed and short of breath during the first minute, and would have begun losing consciousness in the second. The negative air pressure also made it impossible to open the hatches. A 2013 article by Reuters repeats this theory as well as mentioning the possibility that was exhaust was improperly vented back into the hull to fatal effect.

Any of these explanations would reflect serious failings in both crew training and mechanical performance.

The recent tragic loss of the Argentine submarine San Juan, the fire raging amongst moored Russian Kilo-class submarines at Vladivostok (a drill, Moscow claims), and the fortunately nonfatal but highly expensive flooding of the Indian nuclear-powered submarine Arihant highlight that despite being arguably the most fearsome weapon system on the planet, submarines remain dangerous to operate even when not engaged in a war. Even brief breakdowns in crew discipline or mechanical reliability can rapidly turn the stealthy underwater marauders into watery coffins.

Only high standards of maintenance, manufacturing and crew training can avert lethal peacetime disasters—standards which are difficult for many nations to afford, but which the PLA Navy likely aspires to it as it continues to expand and professionalize its forces at an extraordinary rate.

Sébastien Roblin writes on the technical, historical and political aspects of international security and conflict for publications including the The National InterestNBC NewsForbes.com and War is Boring. He holds a Master’s degree from Georgetown University and served with the Peace Corps in China. You can follow his articles on Twitter.

This article first appeared in 2018. It is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters.

The F-35I? America's Most Lethal Stealth Fighter With an Israeli Twist

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 23:09

Sebastien Roblin

F-35,

Israel took America's fierce fighter and made it even better.

Here's What You Need to Remember: It has become a common practice to create custom variants of fourth-generation jet fighters such as the Su-30, F-15 and F-16 for export clients, made to order with local avionics, weapons and upgrades that suit a particular air force’s doctrine and strategic priorities. Today, Israel operates heavily upgraded F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”) and two-seater F-16I Sufa fighters.

On May 22, Israeli Air Force commander Amikam Norkin announced that its F-35I stealth fighters had flown on two combat missions on “different fronts,” showing as proof a photograph of an F-35 overflying Beirut. While details on those missions have not been released—apparently, they were not deployed in a massive Israeli air attack on Iranian forces in Syria that took place on May 9—this nonetheless apparently confirmed the first combat operations undertaken by any variant of the controversial stealth jet, which is currently entering service with the militaries of ten countries after undergoing over two decades of development.

In fact, Israel’s F-35I Adir—or “Mighty Ones”—will be the only F-35 variant to enter service heavily tailored to a foreign country’s specifications. There had been plans for a Canadian CF-35, with a different refueling probe and drogue-parachute to allow landing on short Arctic air strips, but Ottawa dropped out of the F-35 program.

It has become a common practice to create custom variants of fourth-generation jet fighters such as the Su-30, F-15 and F-16 for export clients, made to order with local avionics, weapons and upgrades that suit a particular air force’s doctrine and strategic priorities. Today, Israel operates heavily upgraded F-15I Ra’am (“Thunder”) and two-seater F-16I Sufa fighters. Furthermore, Israel in particular hasn’t hesitated to modify aircraft it has already received fit its needs: for example, in 1981 it rigged its then-new F-15A Eagle air superiority fighters to drop bombs, and used these first-ever strike Eagles to destroy the Iraqi Osirak nuclear reactor.

However, the Lockheed-Martin has mostly refused to allow major country-specific modifications to the F-35, despite the hundreds of millions of dollars foreign F-35 operators contributed to the aircraft’s development. There is, of course, an efficiency-based rationale, given the additional costs and delays of creating country-specific variants, and the fact that Lockheed is struggling to both produce F-35s fast and cheaply enough and build enough spare parts for the hundreds already in service.

Israel, however, managed to carve out an exception. Though not an investor in the F-35’s development, Tel Aviv was nonetheless quick to sign on to the program with an initial order of fifty. It also negotiated a favorable deal in which billions of dollars worth of F-35 wings and sophisticated helmet sets would be manufactured in Israel, paid for with U.S. military aid. Furthermore, depot-level maintenance will occur in a facility operated by Israeli Aeronautics Industries rather than at a Lockheed facility abroad.

The first nine F-35s entered operational service in December 6, 2017, with the 140 “Golden Eagles” Squadron, based at Nevatim Airbase near Be’er Sheva. Six more should arrive in 2018. Israel will eventually activate a second squadron at Nevatim, and retains the option for an additional twenty-five F-35s to form a third squadron, likely based elsewhere. However, recent reports suggest a third squadron may postponed for a decade in favor of buying additional F-15Is, which trade the F-35’s stealth for greater range and payload. Israel has paid a high price of between $110 to $125 million per F-35 for its initial order, but in the future unit cost will supposedly decline to around $85 million.

The first nineteen stealth jets received by Israel will actually be standard F-35A land-based fighters, while the following thirty-one will be true F-35Is modified to integrate Israeli-built hardware. However, most media sources have taken to labeling all of them as F-35Is, and it does appear even the initial batch will be retrofitted with an open-architecture Israeli Command, Control, Communications and Computing (C4) system.

The Lightning’s sophisticated flight computer and ground-based logistics system has become a matter of contention with many F-35 operators. Foreign air forces would like to have greater access to the F-35’s computer source codes to upgrade and modify them as they see fit without needing to involve external parties—but Lockheed doesn’t want to hand over full access for both commercial and security-based reasons.

Israeli F-35Is uniquely will have an overriding Israeli-built C4 program that runs “on top” of Lockheed’s operating system. One of F-35’s key capabilities come from its superior ability to soak up data with its sensors and share it with friendly forces. Compatibility with datalinks used by friendly Israeli air and ground forces is thus an important aspect from Israel’s perspective as it tracks the position of hostile surface-to-surface rocket launchers and surface-to-air missiles systems.

The new system will also allow the IDF to install Israeli-built datalinks and defensive avionics systems such as radar-jamming pods. An official told Aviation Week the IAF expects the advantages of the F-35’s low radar cross section will be “good for five to ten years” before adversaries develop countermeasures. There already exist methods for detecting stealth fighters, including long-range infrared sensors, electromagnetic sensors, and low bandwidth radars (though all have significant limitations), and more exotic technologies such as quantum radar are also under development.

Thus, the IDF particularly values the flexibility to install “plug-and-play” defensive countermeasures such as jamming pods as they become relevant and available. It so happens the Israeli firms Elbit and Israeli Aerospace Industries are major developers of such systems. However, due to the F-35’s highly “fused” avionics, such plug-and-play support needs to be built both into F-35 software and apparently even the airframe. The add-ons will be installed in special apertures in the lower fuselage and leading edge of the wings—presumably, features only in the later production F-35Is that arrive in 2020.

Israel is also developing two different sets of external fuel tanks to extend the F-35’s range. The first will be non-stealthy 425-gallon underwing tanks developed by a subsidiary of Elbit—these could be dropped when approaching enemy airspace (the pylons holding the drop tanks would reportedly detach as well so as not to compromise stealth), or used for missions in which stealth isn’t necessary. Further down the line, IAI wants to co-develop with Lockheed bolt-on conformal fuel tanks which “hug” the F-35 airframe so as not to compromise stealth and aerodynamics.

The F-35I will also be certified to carry major Israeli-developed weapons systems in its internal weapons bay, notably including the Python-5 short-range heat-seeking air-to-air missile, and the Spice family of glide bombs, which combine electro-optical, satellite and man-in-the-loop guidance options for greater targeting versatility and have a range of up to sixty miles.

However, country-specific F-35 weapons capabilities are not unique to Israel. British Royal Air Force and Navy F-35s will be compatible with the Meteor and ASM-132 air-to-air missile, while Norway and Australia’s Lightning IIs will be able to carry the Norwegian Naval Strike Missile, reflecting the importance of the sea-control mission for these nations. The United States even would like its NATO partners to purchase F-35s specially modified to deploy B-61 nuclear bombs.

The Adir and Israeli Strategy

Norkin’s announcement of F-35 operations was as much a part of Israeli strategy as the actual deployment of the fighters. Tel Aviv wants potential adversaries (chiefly, Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah) to know that its fighters have already proven capable of infiltrating the airspace of neighboring countries, and that its stealth jets could at any moment launch an attack that may go undetected until the first bomb strikes a target.

The F-35 has been criticized for its mediocre flight performance compared to earlier fourth-generation jets, meaning that it would be at a disadvantage in a short-range ai dogfight against enemy fighters. Supporters argue that the F-35 would leverage its stealth, sensors and long-range missiles to avoid getting that close to more agile opponent in the first place, and that the platform is really optimized more for striking targets in defended enemy airspace.

The strike emphasis, however, is just fine with the Israeli Air Force, as since 1948 it has historically mostly trounced its opponents in air-to-air combat, but suffered heavy losses to ground-based air defenses in the 1973 Yom Kippur War. Since then, Israel jets have continued to face, and mostly defeat, hostile SAMs in scores of raids launched into Lebanon and Syria, though in February 2018 it suffered its first combat loss of a fighter in decades when Syrian S-200 missiles downed an Israeli F-16. Since 2017, there have been rumors of the F-35s involvement in these raids, though most of these rumors were likely inaccurate due to the risk of losing an airframe over hostile territory at this stage.

Prime Minister Benjamin Nethanyahu, in power since 2009, clearly favors using military force to suppress Iran’s nuclear research program, having opposed and undermined negotiated settlements. While Tel Aviv basically wants the United States to carry out such an attack, the F-35 makes an Israeli attack on Iran more practical.

However, Israeli aircraft would have to fly through Turkey, or either Jordan and Syria and then Iraq to reach Iranian aerospace over six hundred miles away—and remember, key targets will likely be much further from the border. This also happens test the range limit of most combat-loaded fourth-generation fighters, meaning they would need conspicuous aerial tankers to make the raid viable. Furthermore, Israeli warplanes would have to disable or destroy Iranian air defenses, which would require additional time and aircraft.

Israeli jets violated Turkish airspace in 2007 in order to destroy a nuclear reactor in northern Syria. However a sustained air campaign traversing foreign airspace would be more difficult to execute than a one-time raid. However, the F-35 has a greater combat radius than most fourth-generation jets, due to its inability to carry extra fuel tanks without compromising stealth. Furthermore, it could more easily penetrate Iran’s air defenses, and evade detection by neutral countries, than fourth-generation jets, lowering the necessary size of a strike package.

Over time, Israel will likely acquire additional F-35s, as it intends for the type to replace its fleet of over 320 F-16s, starting with the now very old F-16A Netz aircraft first acquired in 1980s. Reportedly, Israel is even interested in possibly acquiring F-35B jump jets down the line. One usually thinks of F-35Bs as serving from smaller aircraft carriers or island bases, but Israel sees role for jump jets by dispersing them to remote improvised airstrips to avoid enemy air-base attacks. This still seems a somewhat extravagant solution to the threat, given that the F-35B is more expensive and has inferior performance to the F-35A for most other purposes. This may explain why an F-35B purchase is allegedly more popular with Israeli politicians than the Israeli Air Force.

Israel has also been a proponent of a two-seat variant of the F-35, which would be convenient for training purposes, and also allow a back-seat Weapon System Officer to manage the F-35s precision-guided weapons while the pilot focuses on flying.

At any rate, the activities of Israel’s Adirs are likely to continue to remain conspicuously in the news, if less so on hostile radars.

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 first appeared in 2018.)

Image: Reuters.

Fastest Ever: Will the Air Force Get an SR-72 Mach 3 Spy Plane?

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 23:01

Sebastien Roblin

SR-72 Darkstar,

As the military looks for hypersonic weapon systems, Lockheed is talking up a possible new Blackbird. But will they get the funding to build them?

Here's What You Need to Remember: No manned aircraft in operational service has matched the remarkable long-distance Mach 3 cruises of the Blackbird. Until recently, SR-71s simply outran missiles fired at them on photo-reconnaissance missions over North Korea and the Middle East. Now the latest surface-to-air missiles render Mach 3 speeds inadequate to assure survival, but a hypersonic aircraft might again outpace the threats arrayed against it.

Hypersonic weapons—those capable of flying over five times the speed of sound—are the hot new buzz word of defense industrial complexes across the globe. China, Russia and the United States have all vigorously and relatively openly pursued a diverse array of hypersonic weapons programs, adding fuel to the fire of a growing arms race.

While long-range ballistic missiles could already attain hypersonic speeds, they travel in predictable arcs and can be detected well in advance, giving military and political leaders time to react. Furthermore, an increasing number of air defense systems may be at least partially capable of intercepting ballistic missiles.

However, back in 2013 Lockheed executive Robert Weiss caused a stir when he told Aviation Week the aerospace titan was well into developing a hypersonic aircraft—and invoked the legendary SR-71 Blackbird spy plane by dubbing it the SR-72.

No manned aircraft in operational service has matched the remarkable long-distance Mach 3 cruises of the Blackbird. Until recently, SR-71s simply outran missiles fired at them on photo-reconnaissance missions over North Korea and the Middle East. Now the latest surface-to-air missiles render Mach 3 speeds inadequate to assure survival, but a hypersonic aircraft might again outpace the threats arrayed against it.

The SR-72 depicted in Lockheed’s concept art was described as capable of cruising at six times the speed of sound. The challenge, however, lay not so much in designing an aircraft that could attain hypersonic speeds as ensuring that it could also take off and land at slower speeds. The rocket-powered X-15 testbed, which in 1967 recorded the fastest flight by a manned, powered aircraft ever at Mach 6.7, had to be carried aloft and released mid-air by a B-52 bomber!

Weiss told journalist Guy Norris “…all I can say is the technology is mature and we, along with DARPA and the services, are working hard to get that capability into the hands of our warfighters as soon as possible... I can’t give you any timelines or any specifics on the capabilities. It is all very sensitive... We can acknowledge the general capability that’s out there, but any program specifics are off limits.”

Reportedly, Lockheed and the firm Aerojet Rocketdyne made a breakthrough by developing a Combined Cycle engine involving both a turbine for speeds below Mach 3 with a scramjet engaged for hypersonic cruising. A scramjet generates thrust by sucking in air while traveling at supersonic speeds—meaning that a separate engine has to push the airplane to those speeds before the scramjet can engage. The Combined Cycle engine makes the dual-engine approach viable by having the turban and scramjet share the same inlets and exhaust nozzles.

Weiss made clear he hoped Lockheed would receive funding to build an optionally-manned sixty-foot long (jet-fighter-sized) single-engine test-bed aircraft that would cost “only” $1 billion. This would then lead to the development of an operational twin-engine one-hundred-foot-plus SR-72.

In the six years following Weiss’ comments, Lockheed officials continued drawing atypical levels of attention to a supposedly secret program too sensitive to reveal to the public, teasing statements that kinda-sort-of implied they had already built an SR-72 testbed.

For instance, at a science convention in 2018, Lockheed vice president Jack O’Banion stated “Without the digital transformation [of three-dimension design technology], the aircraft you see there could not have been made. In fact, five years ago, it could not have been made.” However, Executive Vice President Orlando Carvalho subsequently said to Flight Global “I can tell you unequivocally that it [the SR-72] has not been built”, claiming O’Banions quotes had been taken “out of context.”

Lockheed’s hyping of a hypersonic aircraft which may-or-may-not already exist seems explicitly intended to build support for additional funding. This may be because it’s pursuing the project with the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (DARPA), which focuses on innovative development of cutting-edge technologies often well ahead of capabilities in operational service, rather than fulfilling an Air Force requirement.

While the U.S. Air Force is interested in deploying hypersonic aircraft in the long term, it already knows what it wants in the near future: lots of F-35 stealth fighters (also built by Lockheed) and forthcoming B-21 Raiders flying-wing stealth bombers. As the air warfare branch already can’t procure all the aircraft it wants, carving out funding for a highly-expensive avant-garde concept won’t be easy.

Hypersonic Bomber

The Blackbird’s unique “SR” designation stood for “Strategic Reconnaissance,” reflecting that its job was to penetrate defended airspace on short notice and snap up photos of what was going on below before anyone could move or cover it up. However, the appellation SR-72 is arguably misleading for a number of reasons.

A hypersonic SR-72 would almost certainly be an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV)—in other words, a drone normally receiving a “Q” designation. To what extent it would rely on man-in-the-loop (which might be susceptible to disruption) or pre-programmed control versus its own autonomous algorithms, remains an interesting question.

Furthermore, while an SR-72 would have an Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) role, it would also surely be intended to strike targets with little advancing warning—in other words, it would be a bomber. Traveling around 4,000 miles per hour, a hypersonic bomber could theoretically depart from a base in the continental U.S. to hit targets across the Pacific or Atlantic in just 90 minutes. Unlike the various hypersonic missiles under development, it could then return to base and load up for further sorties.

Weiss stated from the beginning the SR-72 “had strike-capability in mind.” The SR-72 project, in fact, is reportedly an outgrowth of the rocket-powered Falcon HTV-3 hypersonic test-bed, which was associated with America’s Prompt Global Strike program.

However, the cost-efficiency of a hypersonic bomber/spy plane is debatable. It would surely lack stealth characteristics, as the heat generated by travel at such high speeds would make them highly visible to sensors and burn away radar-absorbent materials. Thus adversaries would probably see it coming, even if they had relatively little time to react.

While it might exceed the capabilities of contemporary air defense missiles, the SR-72’s existence would surely further spur the development of surface-to-air missiles capable of engaging hypersonic targets. An SR-72 bomber would also require expensive development of munitions designed for launch at such high speeds.

The Blackbird was retired and not replaced because its ISR capabilities had become niche due to improving spy satellites and because of slow but stealthy long-endurance drones like the RQ-170. Sure, Blackbirds could rapidly penetrate defended airspace, but a stealth drone could do that more slowly but also more discretely, and sustainably orbit an area of interest, delivering real-time video feeds for hours. In fact, the Pentagon’s decision to contract Grumman to build ultra-stealthy long-endurance RQ-180 drones may be perceived as coming at the SR-72’s expense.

The SR-72’s promoters argue that “speed is the new stealth,” reflecting a growing belief in some quarters that improved networked sensors will eventually diminish the survivability of stealth aircraft, making speed once again more prominent as means of defense. Given the Pentagon’s blossoming interest in all kinds of hypersonic weapons, it’s possible Lockheed’s Schrodinger's cat of a hypersonic UAV may attract additional funding. However, that may place it at odds with the stealth-oriented paradigm the Air Force is currently committed to.

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 first appeared earlier in 2019.

Image: Reuters

War of Words: India Claims It Can See Through Chinese Stealth

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 23:00

Sebastien Roblin

J-20,

In January 2011, the maiden flight of a large, dagger-like grey jet announced that China had developed its first stealth aircraft—the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon.”

Here's What You Need to Remember: As long as the PLAAF has only a few dozen J-20s in service, it may make sense to reserve them for hit-and-run tactics and special deep strikes. But as the article in the Diplomat points out, there’s ample evidence the J-20 may be intended to grow into a capable all-rounder that can hold its own in a dogfight.

In January 2011, the maiden flight of a large, dagger-like grey jet announced that China had developed its first stealth aircraft—the Chengdu J-20 “Mighty Dragon.” Six years later, after several substantial revisions, J-20s entered operational service with the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force.

(This first appeared several years ago.)

As radar-guided missiles from fighters and ground-based launchers threaten aircraft from dozens, or even hundreds of miles away, stealth capabilities are increasingly perceived as necessary for keeping fighter pilots alive on the modern battlefield.

But just how good is the J-20? And what is its intended role? After all, America’s first stealth fighter, the F-117 Nighthawk, was not even really a fighter and lacked any air-to-air capability whatsoever.

The PLA has, true to custom, kept its cards close to the chest, and has not shared performance specifications to the public. Thus, there are broad estimates of the J-20’s top speed (around Mach 2), and considerable-seeming range (1,200 to 2,000 miles), but those remain just that—estimates. For years, analysts even over-estimated the aircraft’s length by two meters. It’s broad but relatively shallow weapons bay can accommodate four to six long-range missiles or bombs, though not munitions with especially heavy warheads.

International observers generally concluded the large twin-engine jet possessed high speed and long operational range, but that the Mighty Dragon lacked the maneuverability necessary to prevail in close engagements with enemy fighters. Relatively modest aerobatic displays in the Zhuhai 2016 and 2018 airshows (you can see some of the latter here) reinforced the narrative in certain quarters that the J-20 isn’t optimized for gut-wrenching air combat maneuvers.

Given the above premises, observers mostly speculate the J-20 would either serve as long-range supersonic strike plane, or a hit-and-run interceptor used to slip past fighter screens and take out vulnerable supporting tanker and AWACS planes.

However, Rick Joe of The Diplomat argues these theories of the J-20’s supposedly specialized role might be a case of group-think, ignoring both design features and statements by Chinese sources suggesting the J-20 was intended as a multi-role fighter with “competitive” dogfighting capability.

For example, a brochure distributed at Zhuhai 2018 explicitly stated the J-20 was capable of “seizing & maintain air superiority, medium & long range interception, escort and deep strike.” In other words, a multi-role fighter.

 “A commonly insinuated premise is that the Chinese aerospace industry was not capable of producing a fifth generation air superiority fighter, and would have to “settle” for a less technically challenging interceptor or striker instead,” Joe argues.

He points out that the lengthy J-20 is still shorter than the Russian Su-35 Flanker-E, one of the most maneuverable jet fighters ever designed. He further cites a 2001 study by Song Wecong, mentor of the J-20 designer Yang Wei, which you can read translated here. Wecong wrote that stealth aircraft “must have the capability to supercruise and perform unconventional maneuvers such as post-stall maneuvers.”

Song concluded the ideal stealth fighter would incorporate canards (a second, small set of wings close to the nose of the plane), leading-edge root extensions (or “strakes,” a thin surface extending where the wing emerges from the fuselages), and S-shaped belly intakes, in order to balance stealth, speed and maneuverability. These are all design characteristics evident in the J-20.

While details on the J-20’s radar remains elusive (presumably a low-probability of intercept AESA radar), it also mounts arrays of electro-optical and infrared sensors with 360-degree coverage, reportedly designed to fuse sensor data to form a common “picture” and even share it with friendly forces via a datalink—technology seemingly modeled on the advanced sensors found on the American F-35. Such sensors could be particularly useful for detecting radar-eluding stealth aircraft.

J-20 pilots also are equipped with helmet-mounted sights that allow them to target high-off-boresight PL-10E heat-seeking missiles within a 90-degree angle of the plane’s nose simply by looking at the target. The short-range missiles are stored in small side-bays but can be cunningly rotated outside prior to launch, as depicted here.

These by no means unprecedented capabilities nonetheless suggest that the J-20 may be designed to hold its own in a close-range encounter, not just sling long-range hypersonic PL-15 missiles from its fuselage bay from dozens of miles away. Particularly when engaging agile fighters, short-range missiles (which might still threaten targets over a dozen miles away) have a much higher probability of a kill—by some estimates, up to 80 percent.

Chinese designers have also expressed interest in incorporating vector-thrust engines in the J-20. These have moving exhaust nozzles to assist in pulling off tight maneuvers. The PLAAF recently acquired Su-35 fighters from Russia with vector-thrust engines, and also reportedly tested domestic vector-thrust turbofans on a J-10B two-seat fighter.

Despite the awesome maneuvers enabled by vector-thrust engines, they are far from being automatically included in modern fighters. This is because they significantly add to weight, cost, and difficulty in minimizing radar cross section (RCS). Moreover, when vector-thrust engines are over-used in combat, they can bleed off energy rapidly, leaving the aircraft sluggish and vulnerable to enemy fighters (as occurred in one exercise in Nevada pitting U.S. F-15s against Indian Air Force Flankers). For this reason, few Western fighters incorporate vector-thrust technology, the F-22 being a notable exception. China’s interest in thrust-vectoring again suggests it sees relevance in agility.

The J-20’s short-range capabilities naturally lead to the question—what exactly happens when two stealth fighters clash? If their stealth qualities are robust, both aircraft may only be able to detect each other within 50 miles or less—at which point air combat maneuvers could prove important. As U.S. stealth aircraft are one of the chief military threats to China, it seems reasonable to assume the J-20 would be designed to have a fighting chance against them.

While the J-20 would likely remain outclassed by the F-22, it could potentially prove a dangerous adversary to the F-35, which is not as optimized for within-visual-range engagements. However, both the F-22 and F-35 are believed to have a significantly lower all-around RCS than the J-20, though the Chinese fighter still appears to be significantly stealthier than the Russian Su-57.

A 2011 analysis by Australian aviation expert Carlo Kopp concluded that J-20 probably had strong stealth from a frontal aspect, but a larger radar cross section (RCS) when scanned from the side or rear—a limitation also found in the Russian Su-57 stealth fighter.

But as the extent and type of the radar-absorbent materials used affect RCS, visual analysis alone cannot determine how stealthy an aircraft is. This has not dissuaded the U.S. Marine Corps from a building a full-scale mock-up of a J-20 in Georgia for study and training purposes. The Indian Air Force has boasted its Su-30 Flankers have tracked J-20s on radar, but as stealth fighters often employ emitters called “Luneburg Lens” to enlarge their RCS on routine flights, and thus conceal their true capabilities, it’s difficult to infer much from this either.

Another issue confusing analysis of the J-20 is that it doesn’t yet have the high-thrust WS-15 turbofans the PLAAF envisioned for them, and are making do with Russian AL-31F engines instead. Even China’s fourth-generation jets have been frustrated by deficient jet engines. The WS-15 generates 23 percent more thrust than the AL-31FN, and would enable the J-20 to super-cruise, or sustain supersonic speeds without resorting to fuel-gulping afterburners. Thus, certain more aggressive projections of J-20 performance, such as a top speed of Mach 2.5, may be premised on engines that have yet to be fully developed.

As long as the PLAAF has only a few dozen J-20s in service, it may make sense to reserve them for hit-and-run tactics and special deep strikes. But as the article in the Diplomat points out, there’s ample evidence the J-20 may be intended to grow into a capable all-rounder that can hold its own in a dogfight.

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 is being republished due to reader interest.

Image: Wikipedia.

Know Before They Go: How Military Spouses Can Prepare for Deployments

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:49

Victoria Kelly

military,

It’s not just the service member who has to prepare for deployment.

It’s not just the service member who has to prepare for deployment. In fact, a spouse staying at home often needs to do just as much, or more preparation. Start early and don’t wait until the last minute (emotions will run high, and you’ll want to have all the practical stuff out of the way). Here is a list of important things to consider before your spouse’s deployment:

Make sure you have all your paperwork in order. This includes: Asking your spouse to create a power of attorney; making a will for both you and your spouse; reviewing your homeowners’ insurance and life insurance; making sure you have flood insurance (I have personally needed this, as have people I know who didn’t live near an ocean); making sure your passport is up to date if you plan on visiting your spouse overseas; collecting birth certificates, car titles, house deeds, marriage licenses, etc. Put all your most important paperwork in one folder or box.

Become a joint account holder on your accounts. You can typically do most transactions with a power of attorney, but if your name is on the account it saves you time and effort. This doesn’t just mean bank accounts. Add your name to the cable, internet, insurance, rent, credit cards, etc. so you can pay these. Make sure the bills are going to your email address, not your spouse’s, so you don’t pay them late, or set up automatic payments.

Know your spouse’s social security number (and write it down somewhere secure).

Know every password (and pin number).

If you don’t already, know where to take the car if it breaks, as it inevitably will.

Talk about care packages. How often will you send them? What kind of things are you allowed to send? What kind of things does your spouse want to receive? This might include subscribing to a favorite magazine and including it in the package once a month. Come up with some ideas ahead of time. Make sure you know your spouse’s mailing address. Also, send this address to friends and family and ask them to commit to sending at least one care package during the deployment; it will mean a lot.

Buy a lot of phone cards.

Make sure they will work on your spouse’s ship or base, because some only accept certain kinds. Sign up for a Skype account too.

Have a copy of your spouse’s orders.

Get your house in order.

Commit an afternoon together to changing all of the batteries in the smoke detector, all hard-to-reach lightbulbs and fixing minor things that are broken. It will make your life so much easier not to worry about that stuff later on.

Make a budget.

Your budget will change during deployment. Make sure you have a household budget for what you will spend at home, and make sure your spouse has a budget for what they can spend on port calls, time off, and expenses on the ship. Discuss how much you want to save during deployment also.

Know who to call.
Do you have a landlord? Does anyone do your yard maintenance? Who is your electrician? Who is your plumber? Who fixes your HVAC? Do you have your spouse’s family’s phone numbers in case of an emergency? Does your neighbor have a copy of your key in case you get locked out of the house?

Know where you’re going in the case of a natural disaster.

I can’t even count the number of times I had to evacuate during tornado and hurricanes warnings. West-coasters will need an earthquake or wildfire plan. Make a list of things you will take with you so you can grab them quickly. Have documents all in one place. Make sure you have pet leashes and tags. Know which hotels accept pets (all Starwood hotels, for example, do).

Have the tough conversations.

It’s not easy, but make sure you discuss worst-case scenarios. What kind of funeral does your spouse want? What is the life insurance policy? Is there a trust for your children? What does your spouse envision for your and your children’s future? Many people going on deployment write a note for their spouses and children to be opened if they don’t make it home.

Have a backup childcare plan.

If you have no family nearby, make sure you have a plan for who will watch your children if there is an emergency and you have to go to hospital, get stuck at work, go into labor if you’re pregnant, or get stuck on a flooded street (it’s happened to me). Talk to your neighbors, babysitters and fellow spouses to compile a list of who you will call for what situations.

Know how to send a Red Cross message.
If there’s a family emergency, the Red Cross can contact your spouse on deployment even when there is no internet access. Put this number if your phone: 1-877-272-7337.

Read more from Sandboxx News:

This article was originally published 8/23/2020

This article first appeared at Sandboxx News.

Image: Flickr.

Like Concealed Carry Revolvers? There Is Nothing Like the Model 66

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:47

Richard Douglas

Revolvers,

The model 66 was legendary when it first hit the market in the 1950s.

Here's What You Need to Remember: If you’re in the market for a revolver that is functional and can be used for concealed carry, I cannot recommend the Model 66 enough. It certainly isn’t a Glock, an S&W M&P 20, or other such more modern tech-savvy weapons, but it is one of the most advanced revolvers out there.

The model 66 was legendary when it first hit the market in the 1950s, becoming a staple of U.S. law enforcement for over thirty-five years. The Model 66-8, S&W’s fresh new take on this classic has already become popular due to the original Model 66 having been discontinued in the early 2000s.

Today, we’re going to delve into the big picture of this gun and see if it lives up to the legacy its predecessor left. Let’s go!

Accuracy 

The Model 66 had an emphasis on improving the sight quality, with slimmer sights and a red ramp sight that helps improve visibility and target acquisition. In five-shot groupings it measured at the worst 3.25 inch groupings, and at its best 1.25 inch groupings.

At twenty-five yards, the Model 66 can even equal the Sig Sauer P226 Legion and other such magazine-fed, red dot sight-assisted, or modified sidearms, making it viable even in these times. In my experience, the drastic sight improvements have really given this pistol new life in comparison to models from the 1960s–1970s when it was a police-issued weapon.

Reliability 

As with most revolvers, reliability is one of the Model 66’s selling points. A lack of moving parts means less can break on this firearm, but that doesn’t equate to invincibility. When firing magnum rounds specifically for a duration of time, the barrel of a revolver can begin to break down, including the barrel melting.

Overall, reliability is on par with most wheel guns. If you steer clear of Magnum ammo, you’re far less likely to encounter any problems and will find it an extremely reliable revolver that is ideal for concealed carry.

Handling 

In my experience, the Model 66 is exceptionally smooth-functioning for a double-action revolver and doesn’t feel like a rough wheel gun in hand. The only negative I can place on it handling-wise is the size and blockiness of the Model 66, as those with smaller hands or a lack of familiarity with revolvers will likely struggle to fire this gun effectively. Practice and just getting used to the feel of the 66 can certainly deal with this, but I would not recommend this for those unfamiliar with such weapons.

To me the 66 is moderately easy to handle, but I wouldn’t put it in the same comfort tier as a Glock 19, S&W M&P 20, or other such magazine-fed pistols. In all fairness however, I am not exactly a consistent user of revolvers and this may be due to my lack of experience with them.

Trigger 

At four pounds and 11 ounces, the Model 66’s trigger pull is a perfect balance and like many K-frame revolvers pull easily in-hand. An excessively light trigger for a revolver actually doesn’t feel right from my experience, and the 66 excels at smooth firing because of its exceptional trigger.

Overall this is one of the best triggers I’ve ever felt, and definitely has lightened and smoothed out the trigger pull in comparison to the original models. It would even be an easy trigger for those inexperienced with revolvers to become familiar with and shoot accurately.

Magazine and Reloading 

True to the revolver name, the Model 66 is a six-shooter and only holds six rounds; arguably its most significant downfall. The cylinder action isn’t loose, therefore being quite durable and rugged for those who might not be as gentle with their guns as others.

Reloading is as speedy as could be for a revolver, especially if you’re utilizing a speed-loader. However, it still will be nowhere near as quick as a magazine-fed pistol, clocking it at its fastest near nine seconds. In a fight against a Glock or Sig, this would likely not end well for the Model 66 user not only because of capacity but reload time as well.

Length and Weight 

Coming in at 4.25 inches, the Model 66 is almost hand-made to be a perfect concealed carry revolver. It isn’t so short that accuracy is an issue at mid-range, yet it doesn’t profile when carried to the point you look like you’re hiding something. This makes the gun also very easy to handle, as it’s not too compact nor an excessively long western-style six-shooter.

Surprisingly, the Model 66 is only two pounds in weight, almost a full pound lighter than original models, and being on par with most other modern handguns. For me, this is the ideal weight for this revolver, as it makes recoil controllable while also not making you feel like a rock in your pocket. It is no doubt the lightest revolver I’ve fired, which made it a pleasure to shoot!

Recoil Management 

For me, the recoil of the Model 66 is not bad at all even when firing .357 Magnum. However, the structure and frame of the pistol itself may ‘amplify’ the recoil to those who haven’t used revolvers before but have used magazine-fed pistols. Overall reacquiring your target after firing is great with this revolver, as the recoil doesn’t throw the weapon to either side and keeps you relatively centered when aiming.

Compared to other higher-end revolvers like Ruger, I personally find this to have the best overall recoil. It’s just light enough to make it very manageable especially with great experience and this makes it excellent for a concealed carry revolver where every shot counts.

Price 

Running at between $500–$650 dollars, I think this weapon is a steal considering most high-quality revolvers are well over $900. It’s extremely durable, shoots well, and is one of the best revolvers for concealed carry on the market. If there was one wheel gun I had to choose to be on my hip in modern times, this would likely be it. Which brings us to my verdict...

My Verdict?

If you’re in the market for a revolver that is functional and can be used for concealed carry, I cannot recommend the Model 66 enough. It certainly isn’t a Glock, an S&W M&P 20, or other such more modern tech-savvy weapons, but it is one of the most advanced revolvers out there.

When it comes to reliability in revolvers, this gem is the definition of it. It is an absolute must-have for anyone that loves wheel guns, whether as a collector or carrier!

Richard Douglas is a firearms expert and educator. His work has appeared in large publications like The Armory Life, Daily Caller, American Shooting Journal, and more. In his free time, he reviews optics on his Scopes Field blog.

Image: Creative Commons.

Receiving Child Tax Credit Stimulus Checks? You Might Owe the IRS.

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:35

Ethen Kim Lieser

Child Tax Credit,

Tax experts are already warning that those smiles could quickly turn into frowns when tax season rolls around next year.

There were undoubtedly plenty of happy families on July 15 when the Internal Revenue Service began issuing payments from the expanded child tax credits that were approved under President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan.

But tax experts are already warning that those smiles could quickly turn into frowns when tax season rolls around next year.

This is due to the fact that in some instances, these currently credit-eligible parents must repay the money—a $250 or a $300 payment per child each month through the end of 2021—if their financial situations change this year.

Do keep in mind that the federal government is directed under Biden’s stimulus legislation to issue advance payments of the credit in periodic installments. And since these payments are largely based on the IRS’ estimates on available data—such as income, marital status, and number and age of qualifying dependent children—there could potentially be outdated or inaccurate data that trigger an overpayment of the credits.

In an effort to avoid such a precarious situation, some parents already have decided to opt out of the monthly checks. Be aware that those taking this route could potentially be eligible to collect a one-time lump sum during the 2022 tax season.

There are, however, now some protections in place for the nation’s lower-income parents. Lawmakers were able to pass legislation that states that households making $50,000 or less and joint filers with incomes of $60,000 or less won’t be responsible to repay excess credit payments.

How to Opt Out

For those parents who want to opt out of the payments but haven’t done so, the process is very straightforward. Just make sure to head over to the newly launched Child Tax Credit Update Portal, which will allow “families to verify their eligibility for the payments and if they choose to, unenroll, or opt out from receiving the monthly payments so they can receive a lump sum when they file their tax return next year,” the IRS notes, adding that more features will be included in the Update Portal to make the processing of the credits as smooth as possible.

Babies Born This Year

Another question often brought up by parents is whether babies born this year will make them eligible for the child tax credits. According to the IRS, it appears that they would indeed be eligible for the funds—but do know that there is an extra step involved to claim those credits.

On the aforementioned Update Portal, parents are able to report any changes, such as number of dependents, including those newborns, throughout the year. For those who have yet to file their federal tax returns, they should make sure to utilize the Non-filer Sign-up Tool, which will give the IRS the necessary personal and financial information to properly issue the funds.

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.

Image: Reuters

Tokyo 2020: How Japan’s Moment of Glory Has Become a Millstone for The Economy

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:22

Taku Tamaki

Japan Olympics, Japan

"Japan is back?" Maybe not.

“Japan is back!” declared Shinzo Abe, the then Japanese prime minister, after he made a surprise appearance dressed as Super Mario at the closing ceremony of the 2016 Rio Olympics. Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be a moment of national glory, a chance to put the Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011 firmly in the past, and to showcase Japan’s technological pre-eminence in spearheading an environmentally sustainable Olympics.

Yet the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games is beginning – a year later than planned – without spectators. As athletes converge on Tokyo, the city is back in emergency restrictions for the fourth time.

The government remains determined to make the games a COVID-secure success. But with Japanese multinationals shying away, infections surging, and costs three or four times higher than the original estimates, it is barely even clear if this spectacle can go the distance.

Great economic hopes

Tokyo 2020 was supposed to be a great economic stimulus, replicating the achievements of Tokyo 1964. It was thanks to hosting that Olympics that Japan invested in infrastructure such as the famous Shinkansen bullet train.

In Tokyo, they built an expressway linking the international airport in Haneda to the centre, and widened some of the city’s major arteries, while an important new highway between Osaka and Nagoya was also opened. These infrastructure improvements helped to bring about the Japanese economic miracle over the next couple of decades.

But this time around, there were signs of trouble long before the pandemic. The main Olympic stadium, which was designed by the late British architect Zaha Hadid, had to be re-designed from scratch as its complex roof structure became too expensive. Instead, the organisers built a stadium at roughly half the cost.

As costs spiralled, the organisers looked at moving some events out of Tokyo to existing venues elsewhere. Not only would this reduce costs, it would help spread the benefits of economic development – in an echo of UK-style “levelling up”.

Just like Britain, Japan suffers from widening inequalities between the capital and the rest of the country. For example, house prices rose 15% in Tokyo between 2002 and 2018 while falling between 5% and 15% everywhere else. Over the same period, the disparity in wages grew from about 20% to more like 35%.

The Japanese regions were sceptical of the whole idea that the Olympics would help level up. Local business people knew that construction projects would still be concentrated around Tokyo, with limited benefits to their regions. There was also talk that demand in Tokyo would cause a supply shock, leaving manufacturers in the regions clamouring for materials.

That particular concern might have been overblown in the end, and some moves did see investment. For example, cycling has been moved to Izu some 125 miles west of the capital, and the city’s velodrome has been upgraded.

Other moves failed, however. Miyagi prefecture in north-east Japan, 250 miles from Tokyo, was considered for rowing and canoe sprinting. This was seen as a way to accelerate the slow pace of reconstruction following the March 2011 earthquake and the meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant.

But again financial reality intervened. Disputes over cost-sharing and other logistical issues emerged, and it was decided to hold rowing in Tokyo Bay as originally intended. Another venue in Miyagi is hosting football, while baseball and softball are taking place in Fukushima itself.

Despite such efforts to save money, the government’s estimate for the cost of the Olympics had risen from the initial US$7.3 billion to US$12.6 billion (£5.3 billion to £9.2 billion) by late 2019. Then came the pandemic. Thanks to the postponement, the official estimates are a $22 billion cost, and some are saying it will be nearer US$30 billion. Meanwhile, the huge stimulus from international tourists that the Japanese authorities would have been expecting from the Olympics is no longer happening.

What now?

Even before it began, domestic support for the Olympics was weak, as the wider economic benefits were unclear, especially outside Tokyo. With COVID infections currently accelerating in Japan, and Tokyo particularly badly hit – 4,943 new national cases on July 21, including 1,832 in the capital – the public mood has shifted further against the games. According to a recent survey, 55% of Japanese think the games should not go ahead, and 68% think that infections can’t be controlled by the organisers.

As expected, some athletes arriving into Japan have tested positive, including participants from Uganda and the US, along with British athletes “pinged” on a flight en route to Tokyo as close contacts to people with infections.

The possibility of the games turning into a super-spreader event seems to have prompted Toyota to pull its TV adverts. The leaders of Panasonic, NTT, Fujitsu, NEC and Keidanren, the employers’ association, are skipping the opening ceremony. Increasingly, the idea that there needs to be a trade-off between health and the economy seems to be losing traction.

The Japanese government is still determined to go ahead with the games, despite being warned of accelerating community transmission by its scientific advisers. The fourth Tokyo state of emergency began a few days ago, curbing people’s movements until August 22. Bars and restaurants are having to curtail late-night services as part of the restrictions, inflicting further pain on a sector that has already been hit hardest by COVID. Tokyo’s nightlife is being blamed for the spike, never mind that the government has been unwilling to impose tougher restrictions, claiming it is prevented by the constitution.

In this situation, running a COVID-secure Olympics looks increasingly like a major challenge. With the system of isolation bubbles at the athletes’ village already failing, it brings to mind events on the stricken cruise ship Diamond Princess, where COVID spread like wildfire after it left Yokohama in February 2020.

Just like the UK is trying to plough on with its own plan for opening up the economy as cases surge, it’s only a matter of time before both nations find out whether the supposed trade-off between health and the economy is workable – or is actually a false dichotomy.

 is a Lecturer in International Relations, Loughborough University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Image: Reuters

Believe It or Not, Adolf Hitler Built a Stealth Aircraft

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:04

Sebastien Roblin

History, Europe

The Horten brothers were given the go-ahead to pursue the concept in August 1943.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The Ho 229 might have been a formidable adversary over the skies of World War II, but in truth the plane was far from ready for mass production by the war’s end. While it seems a stretch to claim that the Ho 229 was intended to be a stealth aircraft, there’s little doubt that it pioneered design features that continue to see use in low-observable aircraft today.

Northrop Grumman revealed this year it is developing a second flying wing stealth bomber, the B-21 Raider, to succeed its B-2 Spirit. However, it was a pair of German brothers in the service of Nazi Germany that developed the first jet-powered flying wing—which has been dubbed, debatably, “Hitler’s stealth fighter.”

But maximizing speed and range, not stealth, was the primary motivation behind the bat-shaped jet plane.

Walter Horten was an ace fighter pilot in the German Luftwaffe, having scored seven kills flying as wingman of the legendary Adolf Galland during the Battle of Britain. His brother Reimar was an airplane designer lacking a formal aeronautical education. In their youth, the pair had designed a series of innovative tail-less manned gliders.

In 1943, Luftwaffe chief Herman Goering laid out the so-called 3x1000 specification for a plane that could fly one thousand kilometers an hour carrying one thousand kilograms of bombs with fuel enough to travel one thousand kilometers and back—while still retaining a third of the fuel supply for use in combat. Such an airplane could strike targets in Britain while outrunning any fighters sent to intercept it.

Clearly, the new turbojet engines Germany had developed would be required for an airplane to attain such high speeds. But jet engines burned through their fuel very quickly, making raids on more distant targets impossible. The Horten brothers’ idea was to use a flying wing design—a tail-less plane so aerodynamically clean it generated almost no drag at all. Such an airframe would require less engine power to attain higher speeds, and therefore consume less fuel.

Flying wing designs were not an entirely new idea and had been used before in both gliders and powered aircraft. During World War II, Northrop developed its own high-performing XB-35 flying wing bomber for the U.S. military, though it failed to enter mass production. Despite the aerodynamic advantages, the lack of a tail tended to make fly wing aircraft prone to uncontrolled yaws and stalls.

The Horten brothers were given the go-ahead to pursue the concept in August 1943. They first built an unpowered glider known as the H.IX V1. The V1 had long, thin swept wings made of plywood in order to save weight. These “bell-shaped” wings compensated for yawing problem. Lacking a rudder or ailerons, the H.IX relied upon “elevons” (combinations of ailerons and elevators) and two sets of spoilers for control. The elevons could be moved differentially to induce roll, or together in the same direction to change pitch, while the spoilers were used to induce yaw.

Following successful tests of the V1 glider at Oranienberg on March 1944, the subsequent V2 prototype was mounted with two Jumo 004B turbojet engines nestled to either side of a cockpit pod made of welded steel tubing. It also featured a primitive ejection seat and a drogue chute deployed while landing, while redesigned tricycle landing gear was installed to enable the plane to carry heavier loads.

The first test flight occurred on February 2, 1945. The manta-shaped jet exhibited smooth handling and good stall resistance. The prototype even reportedly beat an Me 262 jet fighter, equipped with the same Jumo 004 engines, in a mock dogfight.

But the testing process was cut short on February 18 when one of the V2’s jet engines caught fire and stopped mid-flight. Test pilot Erwin Ziller performed a number of turns and dives in an effort to restart the engine, before apparently passing out from the fumes and spiraling his plane into the ground, mortally wounding him.

Regardless, Goering had already approved the production of forty flying wings, to be undertaken by the Gotha company, which mostly produced trainers and military gliders during World War II. The production planes were designated Ho 229s or Go 229s.

Because of the Ho 229’s great speed—it was believed the production version would be able to attain 975 kilometer per hours—it was repurposed to serve as a fighter with a planned armament of two heavy Mark 103 thirty-millimeter cannons. Construction of four new prototypes—numbered V3 throuh V6— was initiated, two of which would have been two-seat night fighters.

However, the Ho 229 never made it off the ground. When American troops of VIII Corps rolled into the factory at Friedrichroda, Germany in April 1945, they found just the cockpit sections of the prototypes in various stages of development. A single pair of corresponding wings was found 75 miles away. The most complete of the four, the V3 prototype, was shipped back to the United States for study along with the wings, and can today be seen under restoration at the Udvar-Hazy Center of the United States Air and Space Museum in Chantilly, Virginia.

The Hortens were reassigned to draft specifications for a flying wing jet bomber with range enough to deliver an atom bomb to the east coast of the United States. Their resulting schematics for the Horten H.XVIII “Amerika Bomber” flying wing were never realized, except arguably in the film Captain America.

Was the Ho 229 a stealth fighter?

One word you haven’t seen in this history so far is “stealth”—and that’s because there isn’t any documentation from the 1940s supporting the notion that the flying wing was intended to be a stealth aircraft. And yet, the Hortens had stumbled upon the fact that a flying wing design lends itself to the sort of reduced radar cross-section ideal for a stealth plane.

Reimer Horten moved to Argentina after the war, and in 1950 wrote an article for the Revista Nacional de Aeronautica arguing that wooden aircraft would absorb radar waves. Thirty years later, as the theory behind stealth aircraft became more widely known, Reimer wrote that he had intentionally sought to make the Horten flying wing into a stealth plane, claiming that he had even constructed the airframe using a special radar absorbent mixture of carbon, sawdust and wood glue without notifying his superiors. Two tests were undertaken to determine the presence of the carbon dust, one of which supported his claim and the other that didn’t. In general, historians are skeptical that stealth was a design goal from the outset.

In 2008, Northrop Grumman teamed up with the National Geographic channel to reconstruct a mockup of the Ho 229, which they tested for radar reflection, and then pitted against a simulation of the British Chain Home radar network. Their findings were less than overwhelming—the flying wings would have been detected at a distance 80 percent that of a standard German Bf. 109 fighter.

The Northrop testers stressed that combined with the Ho 229’s much greater speed, this modest improvement would have given defending fighters too little time to react effectively.

But of course, the flying wing’s main feature was always supposed to be its speed, which could have exceeded the maximum speed of the best Allied fighters of the time by as much as 33 percent. Detection time would not have mattered greatly if it could outrun everything sent to intercept it. Furthermore, stealth would have had little usefulness in the fighter role the Ho 229 would actually have assumed, as the Allied daylight fighters ranging over Germany did not benefit from radars of their own.

The Ho 229 might have been a formidable adversary over the skies of World War II, but in truth the plane was far from ready for mass production by the war’s end. While it seems a stretch to claim that the Ho 229 was intended to be a stealth aircraft, there’s little doubt that it pioneered design features that continue to see use in low-observable aircraft today.

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 first appeared in 2016 and is being republished due to reader's interest

Image: Wikipedia.

Why The Army Didn't Want to Say Goodbye to the M1 Rifle

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 22:03

Paul Huard

Guns,

The M-1 carbine was in the right place at the right time.

Here's What You Need to Remember: The M-1 carbine was an alternative to the venerable M1911 pistol that was a proven man-stopper but demanded a fairly high skill level on the part of the shooter.

A grim-faced U.S. Army major led a group of armed men away from a tropical village he decided not to attack. Wearing jungle boots and olive-drab battle dress, Edwin Brooks grasped a lightweight, reliable, .30-caliber weapon in his right hand as he walked.

It was an M-1 carbine.

The scene could have been anywhere in the South Pacific during World War II or somewhere near the Pusan Perimeter during the Korean War. But Brooks also wore a green beret with a Special Forces flash and he was leaving the then-South Vietnamese village of Ban Me Thuot in 1964, leading the indigenous forces he commanded back to base in an effort to defuse a rebellion.

It’s all on the cover of the January 1965 National Geographic magazine in a photo by writer and photographer Howard Sochurek. Not a single M-16 is anywhere to be seen. The Pentagon had shipped thousands of the new M-16s to U.S. troops including the Special Forces, but in 1964 many Green Berets still preferred the M-1 carbine, the weapon of their fathers’ wars.

What’s more, Brooks’ Viet Cong enemy was almost certainly wielding the more modern Kalashnikov assault rifle. As for the Montagnard tribesman Brooks trained and led, they also were carrying some of the 800,000 M-1 carbines the U.S. sent to South Vietnam during the war.

For more than three decades, the M-1 carbine did more than anyone ever expected it to do. Long overshadowed by the iconic and heavy-hitting M-1 Garand, the M-1 carbine began its existence in 1940 when the Secretary of War issued orders for the development of a lightweight and reliable “intermediate rifle.”

“It was a compromise,” Doug Wicklund, senior curator at the NRA National Firearms Museum in Virginia, told War is Boring. “They called it the ‘war baby,’ the younger sibling of the Garand, and it was for soldiers who were not on the front line, something that they would have a better chance of hitting the enemy and defending themselves with.”

The M-1 carbine was an alternative to the venerable M1911 pistol that was a proven man-stopper but demanded a fairly high skill level on the part of the shooter.

The success of the German Blitzkrieg in 1939 had convinced the Army that rapidly deployed maneuver forces such as airborne soldiers or armored columns could punch through front lines and endanger support troops. In theory, the M-1 carbine never was supposed to replace the Garand as a battle rifle—it was supposed to arm cooks and clerks.

But by 1943, up to 40 percent of some infantry divisions were carrying the carbine as their primary weapon, according to The M-1 Carbine, Leroy Thompson’s brief but thorough history of the weapon’s development and use.

In 1944, the Army modified the weapon to shoot both in semi-automatic and full-auto modes—and called it the M-2. It was one of the nation’s first assault rifles, spitting out bullets at a rate of 900 per minute.

During the same year, the Marines on Okinawa used a version of the M-1 fitted with the first U.S. night-vision gear—the so-called “Sniperscope,” visible in the banner photo at top.

“It was an easier gun to carry than the Garand,” Wicklund said. “It was shorter, it was lighter, it was reliable, it was easier to shoot and easier to clean and it had a 15-round magazine. It was easy to tape two magazines together and get 30 rounds to fire. Stopping power was not there with the carbine, but you could fire it more times.”

Once the United States entered into World War II, the Army issued contracts ramping up production of the M-1 carbine. Eventually, more than six million of the weapons in both semi-automatic and select fire models poured out of factories—two million more than the number of Garands produced during the war.

Winchester was one leading producer, but as American companies turned to war production Inland Manufacturing—a General Motors division and producer of a majority of the weapons—National Postal Meter, IBM and even Underwood Typewriter Co. cranked out hundreds of thousands of the carbines.

During World War II and the Korean War, it was completely possible for the Army to issue a company clerk an Underwood typewriter and an Underwood M-1 carbine.

When German troops received the history-changing MP 44 Sturmgewehr, the Wehrmacht put increased firepower in the hands of small units that could direct fully automatic fire at U.S. troops with an assault rifle. The M-1 Garand, hard-hitting as it was, carried only eight rounds to the MP 44’s 30 rounds contained in a detachable box magazine.

Inland Division produced 570,000 M-2 select-fire carbines as a solution. The weapon has a selector switch on the left side of the receiver and it can hold a 30-round box magazine.

It wasn’t a Sturmgewehr, but it was available. “The U.S. military has always used what it has already,” Wicklund said. “We had it in inventory. They were everywhere.”

It was also the ideal platform for a technological development that presaged how the United States would own the night during future wars.

Late in World War II, the Electronic Laboratories Co. developed active infrared night vision in the form of the Sniperscope, a 20-pound package of telescopic sight, infrared flood light, image tube, cables and power pack.

The scope had a range of around 70 yards and fit both the M-1 and M-2 carbine.

The system not only saw action in the Pacific Theater during World War II but troops used it widely during the Korean War. In nighttime battles, Marines packing carbines with the Sniperscope would fire tracers down on the positions of North Korean and Chinese troops, so machine-gunners could target the enemy with heavier fire.

Once again, the M-1 carbine was in the right place at the right time. One of the reasons the Marines selected it as the weapon of choice for the Sniperscope was the weapon’s modest weight and bulk. The lightweight carbine kept the weight penalty on an already heavy weapon system to a minimum, a boon for the G.I. who had to slog the battlefield with it.

Image: Wikimedia

Russian Tanks Got a Taste of U.S. TOW Missiles in Syria

The National Interest - Fri, 23/07/2021 - 21:56

Sebastien Roblin

Russia, Middle East

In February 2016, Syrian rebels filmed a video of a TOW missile streaking towards a T-90 tank in northeast Aleppo.

Here's What You Need to Remember: When Moscow intervened in Syria in 2015 on behalf the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad, it also transferred around thirty T-90As to the Syrian Arab Army, as well as upgraded T-62Ms and T-72s. The Syrian military could desperately use this armored infusion, as it had lost over two thousand armored vehicles in the preceding years—especially after Syrian rebels began receiving American TOW-2A missiles in 2014.

The interconnected conflicts raging across the Middle East today have amounted to a dreadful human catastrophe with spiraling global consequence. One of their lesser effects has been to deflate the reputations of Western main battle tanks mistakenly thought to be night-invulnerable in the popular imagination.

Iraqi M1 Abrams tanks not only failed to prevent he capture of Mosul in 2014, but they were captured and turned against their owners. In Yemen, numerous Saudi M1s were knocked out by Houthi rebels. Turkey, which had lost a number of M60 Pattons and upgrade M60T Sabra tanks to Kurdish and ISIS fighters eventually deployed its fearsome German-built Leopard 2A4 tanks. ISIS destroyed eight to ten in a matter of days.

While these tanks could have benefited from specific defensive upgrades in some cases, the real lesson to be drawn was less about technical deficiencies and more about crew training, competent morale, and sound tactical employment matter more even than “invulnerable” armor. After all, even the most heavily armored main battle tanks are significantly less well protected from hits to the side, rear or top armor—and rebels with years of combat experience have learned how to ambush imprudently deployed main battle tanks, particularly using long-range anti-tank missiles from miles away.

One exception to the general tarnishing of reputations has been Russia’s T-90A tank, 550 of which serve as Russia’s top main battle tank until the T-14 Armatas fully enters service. The T-90 was conceived in the 1990s as a modernized mash-up the hull of the earlier mass-production optimized T-72, and the turret from the higher-quality (but operationally unsuccessful) T-80. Retaining a low profile and a three-man crew, (the tank’s 2A46M auto-loading cannon takes the place of a human loader), the fifty-ton T-90A is significantly lighter than the seventy-ton-ish M1A2 and Leopard 2.

When Moscow intervened in Syria in 2015 on behalf the beleaguered regime of Bashar al-Assad, it also transferred around thirty T-90As to the Syrian Arab Army, as well as upgraded T-62Ms and T-72s. The Syrian military could desperately use this armored infusion, as it had lost over two thousand armored vehicles in the preceding years—especially after Syrian rebels began receiving American TOW-2A missiles in 2014. The T-90s were spread out between the 4th Armored Division, the Desert Hawks Brigade (composed of retired SAA veterans led by pro-Assad warlords) and Tiger Force, an elite battalion-sized SAA unit specialized in offensive operations.

In February 2016, Syrian rebels filmed a video of a TOW missile streaking towards a T-90 tank in northeast Aleppo. In a blinding flash, the missile detonates. However, as the smoke cleared it became evident that the tank’s Kontakt-5 explosive-reactive armor had discharged the TOW missile’s shaped-charge warhead prior to impact, minimizing the damage. (This fact was perhaps not appreciated by the tank’s gunner, who in the full version of the video clambered out of an already open hatch and fled on foot.) Nonetheless, the video went viral.

While the T-90A is still outgunned by Western main battle tanks, it does sport number of defensive systems particularly effective verses anti-tank missiles that (all but a few) Abrams and Leopard 2 tanks lack—and anti-tank missiles have destroyed far more armored vehicles in recent decades than tank main guns have.

If you look head on at a T-90A you may notice the creepy “eyes” on the turret—a reliable method of distinguishing it from similar-looking modernized T-72s. These are actually infrared dazzlers designed to jam laser-targeting systems on missiles, and glow a terrifying red color when active. The dazzlers are just a component of the T-90’s Shtora-1 active protection system, which can also discharge smoke grenades that release an infrared-obscuring aerosol cloud. Shtora is integrated with a 360-degree laser-warning receiver which automatically triggers the countermeasures if the tank is painted by an enemy laser—and can even point the tank’s gun towards the origin of the attack. The T-90A’s second line of defense comes in the form of plates of Kontakt-5 explosive reactive armor, which was designed to detonate prior to a missile impact in order to disrupt the molten jet of its shaped-charge warhead and feed additional metal in its path.

So did the T-90’s reactive armor and Shtora active protection system prove a sure-fire countermeasure verses long-range anti-tank guided missiles (ATGMs)?

In a word, no—but you would only know that if you followed the many less well publicized videos depicting the destruction or capture of T-90s by rebel and government forces.
Jakub Janovský has dedicated himself to documenting and preserving recorded armor losses in the Syrian Civil War for several years, and recently released a vast archive of over 143 gigabytes of combat footage from the conflict ranging from atrocities perpetrated by various groups to hundreds of ATGM attacks.

According to Janovský, of the thirty transferred to the Syrian Arab Army, he is aware of five or six T-90As being knocked out in in 2016 and 2017, mostly by wire-guided TOW-2A missiles. (Some of the knocked out tanks, to clarify, may be recoverable with heavy repairs.) Another four may have been hit, but their status after the attack as not possible to determine. Of course, there may be additional losses that were not documented, and there are cases where the type of tank involved could not be visually confirmed.

Furthermore, HTS rebels captured two T-90s and used them in action, while a third was captured by ISIS November 2017. On June 2016, Sham Front rebels knocked out a T-90 with a TOW-2. Drone footage taken afterwards shows smoke rising from the turret hatch, and reveals the T-90’s tell-tale Shtora dazzlers. Another video recorded on June 14, 2016, at Aleppo shows a T-90 pulling a sharp turn and racing for cover behind a building—possibly aware of an incoming TOW missile. However, the T-90 is struck in its side or rear armor. The tank explodes, scattering debris high into the air, but stills continues to roll behind cover.

Another T-90A was either hit by a Russian-built Konkurs (similar to the TOW) or the more powerful laser-guided AT-14 Kornet missile near Khanassar, Syria, wounding the gunner. The crew eventually abandoned the vehicle as a fire spread from the machine gun mount into the vehicle, where it began to cook off the 125-millimeter shells on the carousel-style autoloader. The placement of ammunition in middle of the tank alongside the crew, rather than a separate stowage compartment as in the M1, has long been a vulnerability of Russian tank designs.
Rebels, meanwhile, maintained two T-90s in an abandoned brick factory in Idlib province. In April 2017, of the rebel T-90As, reinforced with sandbags on its armor, apparently went on a rampage assisting rebel forces in recapturing the town of Maarden, according to Russian media. Later, one of the T-90As was recaptured by the government, and the other was knocked out—reportedly, by a T-72 tank using a kinetic sabot round in the side armor.
In October, ISIS captured a 4th Armored Division T-90A near al-Mayadeen in eastern Syria when it ventured alone into a sand storm. Then on November 16, 2017, ISIS ambushed a Tiger Force armored column and apparently blasted a T-90A’s turret clean off its hull and left to rot upside down in the desert. The crew was reportedly killed. However, pro-Assad media claims this was the T-90 captured earlier by ISIS, found to be inoperable, and then destroyed for propaganda purposes.

This not to say the T-90’s defensive systems never worked. In one remarkable incident recorded on July 28, 2016, a T-90 tank near the Mallah farms of Aleppo was struck by a TOW missile, but emerged apparently unscathed from the dust cloud thanks to its reactive armor. As the vehicle frantically scuttled away, the TOW crew smacked it with a second missile—which it apparently survived despite sustaining damage.

Janovský says he is not aware of T-90s being lost to shorter-range weapons, “since the regime rarely used T-90s in close combat, especially after two were captured.” The T-90 has in fact been “relatively successful” in Janovský’s opinion, despite losses due to “overconfidence and poor coordination with infantry, which has been a long term problem of the SAA.”
According to Janovský, the T-90’s most useful feature has actually proven to be its superior optics and fire control computer compared to earlier Russian tanks. “T-90s performed well when they had an opportunity to shoot at rebels from long distance or at night, when modern optics and fire-control computer proved to be a major advantage.” Indeed, the T-90A model began receiving French-built Catherine FC thermal imagers in the mid-2000s.

Of course a small number of T-90s was not going to have a great impact on a sprawling civil war that had been raging for years. However, Janovský still see lessons to be drawn from the situation. “The regime was also lucky that rebels never got any modern ATGM that has top attack mode—which would reliable kill T-90.” Examples such of top-attack weapons include the Javelin missile, and the TOW-2B.

“In my opinion, the major issue with T-90 (and most other modern tanks) is a complete lack of hard-kill Active Protection System [one that shoots missiles down], ideally with 360 degrees coverage, but 270 degrees should be minimum. This not only means that it is vulnerable to being disabled by cheap rocket propelled grenades in urban combat but also from Anti-Tank Guided Missiles fired from unexpected angle. When you consider the range of current ATGMs [typically two to five miles], it will be fairly regular occurrence that you get a side shot opportunity against attacking enemy tank from positions across from the of attacked location.”

Indeed, Russia is reportedly planning to upgrade its T-90As—which are currently less advanced than the T-90MS’s in service with the Indian Army—to a T-90M variant with new hard-kill active protection systems, upgraded reactive armor, and a more powerful 2A82 main gun. Ultimately, the losses in Syria show that any tank—whether T-90, M-1 or Leopard 2—is vulnerable on a battlefield in which long-range ATGMs have proliferated. Active protection systems and missile warning systems are vital to mitigate that danger—but so are careful tactical employment, competently trained crews, and improved cooperation with infantry to minimize exposure to long-range attacks, ward off ambushers, and provide extra eyes on possible threats.

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 piece was originally featured in 2018 and is being republished due to reader interest. 

Image: Wikipedia.

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