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Together, we must tackle growing hunger, urges Guterres  

UN News Centre - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 17:19
Inefficient global food production is at the root of a huge rise in hunger as well as one-third of all emissions and 80 per cent of biodiversity loss, UN Secretary-General António Guterres has warned, in a call to all countries to transform food systems to speed up sustainable development. 

Afghanistan: Record number of women and children killed or wounded

UN News Centre - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 16:31
More women and children were killed and wounded in Afghanistan in the first half of 2021 than in the first six months of any year since records began in 2009, a United Nations report revealed on Monday.

Energy Independence Doesn’t Mean What It Used To

Foreign Policy - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 16:00
And here’s why that’s a national security issue.

Biden’s Surrender to Merkel on Nord Stream 2

Foreign Policy - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 11:05
His support for the pipeline abandoned a bipartisan consensus, got nothing in return, and made the world less secure.

Kadhimi Visits the White House

Foreign Policy - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 10:29
The impending announcement should give Iraqi Prime Minister Mustafa al-Kadhimi some breathing room ahead of October elections.

India Resists the Taliban Bandwagon

Foreign Policy - Mon, 26/07/2021 - 02:30
As Blinken heads to New Delhi, he could find some surprising common ground on Afghanistan.

U.S. Officials Make Last-Minute Push to Get Afghan Spies Out Before Withdrawal

Foreign Policy - Sun, 25/07/2021 - 21:03
Intelligence assets who worked for the CIA now face deadly reprisals.

No pathway to reach the Paris Agreement’s 1.5˚C goal without the G20: UN chief

UN News Centre - Sun, 25/07/2021 - 17:13
“The world urgently needs a clear and unambiguous commitment to the 1.5 degree goal of the Paris Agreement from all G20 nations”, António Guterres said on Sunday after the Group failed to agree on the wording of key climate change commitments during their recent Ministerial Meeting on Environment, Climate and Energy.

In Laos, a Dubious Dam Threatens Luang Prabang

Foreign Policy - Sun, 25/07/2021 - 12:00
A hydroelectric project could force UNESCO to delist the spectacular World Heritage Site.

‘Lack of global solidarity’, slow vaccination rates put Indonesia in COVID glare

UN News Centre - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 18:30
A “lack of global solidarity” including the hoarding of vaccines by richer nations as well as slow vaccination rate has contributed to Indonesia becoming the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak in Asia, according to the UN’s top official in the country.

Farmers the ‘lifeblood of our food systems’, deputy UN chief highlights, ahead of key summit

UN News Centre - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 17:25
Farmers, especially women and indigenous people, work tirelessly to put food on our tables. UN Deputy Secretary General Amina Mohammed met on Saturday women producers at a farmers’ market in Circo Massimo, Rome, ahead of the Food Systems Pre-Summit taking place next week.

Postmodern America Didn’t Deserve Jimmy Carter

Foreign Policy - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 13:43
A new biography paints a portrait of a president who made vast progress on policy—and failed at smoke-and-mirrors PR.

Comrades of the Ring

Foreign Policy - Sat, 24/07/2021 - 13:00
How Soviet artists evaded censors to create their own visions of Tolkien.

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

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

Charlie Gao


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).


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 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.


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]

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.