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U.S. Air Force to Use Virtual Reality to Simulate F-22, F-35 and F-15 Training

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 18:33

Peter Suciu

Security, Americas

A new $38 million center will allow Air Force pilots to practice advanced tactics that can replicate combat against near-peer nations and other adversaries. It will provide training for a range of aircraft including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and F-15E Strike Eagle.

The United States Air Force has taken a serious interest in utilizing virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) as tools to aid in the training of pilots and other Airmen. In August the Air Force announced the inauguration of its new Virtual Test and Training Center (VTTC) at Nellis Air Force Base (AFB), which will house the future of joint-aerial combat training.

The $38 million center will allow Air Force pilots to practice advanced tactics that can replicate combat against near-peer nations and other adversaries. It will provide training for a range of aircraft including the F-16 Fighting Falcon, F-22 Raptor, F-35 Lightning II and F-15E Strike Eagle.

The Coronavirus Effect 

While the Air Force has been adopting VR/AR technology, it hasn't fully embraced the concept, but because of the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic Air Force leaders could get the extra push to go all in.

“Despite some previous investment by the USAF and other federal agencies into virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), there has been limited practical uptake of these technologies,” explained William Davies, associate aerospace and defense analyst at analytics company GlobalData, via an email to The National Interest.

“However, the [coronavirus] pandemic has accelerated spending on the technology, as well as the amount of training that takes place using it,” Davies added. “An increase in U.S. defense spending on VR and AR, and contracts will help maintain training schedules and push pilot training.” 

Shifting the Focus 

The VTTC at Nellis AFB is just one new VR-based program being adopted by the Air Force. In July the Virtual Reality Procedures Trainer (VRPT) was introduced and could potentially transform the way B-52 Stratofortress student-pilots train for combat. The main advantages of the VRPT are in its potential to reduce human bias in instruction, provide better access to training for student pilots, and give students immediate feedback that lessens the chance they develop poor habits in the early phases of training.

“Along with technology developments in AR and VR, military forces are shifting their focus to flexible training solutions in the area of advanced distributed simulation, wherein live training is combined with constructive and virtual simulation by networking.” Noted GlobalData's Davies. “While these contracts will help promote aircraft familiarization, they will not have the capabilities to replace manual instruction completely, and the Air Force faces a balancing act in training for both maintenance and combat.” 

Increasing Pilot Production

The entire federal government has had to pivot to address the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic—and this has included the military. Keeping pilots healthy has been a priority for the Air Force, but social distancing efforts have slowed pilot production. The service had a shortfall of ten percent or roughly twenty-one hundred of the twenty-one thousand pilots needed to execute the National Defense Strategy, and all of these new initiatives have been aimed at addressing that challenge.

“Air Force officials have reported that social distancing measures have slowed the production of new pilots and that increased uptake of VR technology could address this slowdown,” said Davies. “Air Force leaders recently announced that they saw future virtual pilot training as a way to facilitate training in a way which is both cheaper and faster, and specifically cited the Covid-19 pandemic as enhancing their potential to innovate and utilize new technologies.”

Technologies such as VR and AR can help potentially increase production but also have the added benefit of bringing the costs down for traditional military flight training, which costs about $40,000 per hour. VR/AR can further be far less risky.

The technology isn't just for pilots, and VR has been used to transform the way C-130J Super Hercules aircraft maintainers learn and perfect their craft at the Dyess AFB, Texas, which this year developed the largest VR room in the Air Mobility Command.

It is possible that VR could be as much a part of the Air Force as traditional training.

“(A) five-year contract with Mass Virtual signals that the Air Force considers the uses of VR technology to go beyond the pandemic and are looking to integrate the technology into training long-term,” noted Davies. “This is a positive move as USAF can strongly benefit from using virtual training for military training purposes.”

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Image: Wikimedia Commons / Senior Airman Clay Lancaster

Why Kim Jong-Un Fears America’s Navy

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 18:00

James Holmes

Security, Asia

The Navy could blockade North Korea or help win a war if necessary.

Key point: America has the world's most powerful military, and that includes its Navy. What could these warships do in a fight with North Korea?

How can the U.S. Navy destroy North Korea should Washington give the word? It can’t. Or at least it stands little chance of doing so by its lonesome barring improbable circumstances. What the navy can do is contribute to a joint or multinational campaign that destroys the Northern regime or its armed forces. But even that would involve perils, hardships and steep costs.

It bears noting at the outset that destroy is a loaded term, connoting wholesale slaughter of a foe. It need not be so. For martial sage Carl von Clausewitz, destroying an opposing force means incapacitating it as a fighting force. “The fighting forces must be destroyed,” insists Clausewitz; “that is, they must be put in such a condition that they can no longer carry on the fight.” Disabling a hostile regime so it cannot resist our demands would likewise qualify.

Recommended: Stealth vs. North Korea’s Air Defenses: Who Wins?

Recommended: America’s Battleships Went to War Against North Korea

Recommended: 5 Places World War III Could Start in 2018

So it’s possible to overcome an antagonist with minimal loss of life and treasure to both contenders. Indeed, it’s highly desirable, as China’s strategist Sun Tzu counsels. The “best policy,” advises Master Sun, “is to take a state intact,” and to do so without bankrupting your own treasury and wasting the flower of your military youth. Such forbearance is hard to pull off amid the clangor of combat, but it constitutes an ideal to strive toward. In 1940, for example, German legions destroyed the French Army as a fighting force along the Meuse while inflicting minimal destruction by physical measures. It can be done.

Onward. Let’s proceed down the scale of violence, beginning with strategic nuclear strikes and ending with interdiction of shipping and air traffic bound to or from the North. First, start with the trivial case, namely submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) disgorged from Ohio-class fleet ballistic-missile subs (SSBNs) or, someday, their Columbia-class successors. Full-scale atomic bombardment would end the North Korean military and government beyond question.

Trivial may seem like an odd word choice to describe firepower of end-of-times magnitude. Nevertheless, it’s a fitting choice as a matter of logic. We can discount this course of action altogether. Any president would order SLBMs unleashed to retaliate against an enemy first strike, but no sane president would order them used to execute a first strike. Such a rash course would vitiate nuclear deterrence, which has underwritten national security for seven decades.

After all, the keystone of strategic deterrence is an invulnerable second-strike force. That refers to an arsenal of nuclear weapons certain to survive an enemy first strike, thence to rain down fire and fury on the offender afterward. SSBNs represent the quintessential retaliatory force. Fleet boats rotate out on patrol all the time. Having ridden out the attack, U.S. SSBN skippers would fire their missiles—setting ablaze an inferno sure to consume the attacker. Any nonsuicidal foe would desist from aggression rather than roll the iron dice.

Using SLBMs or other strategic nuclear weapons for first strikes would gut the logic of deterrence—and set a grim precedent in future controversies involving major opponents like China or Russia. Therefore, no president would or should take that step. QED.

Second, there are tactical nuclear weapons, in the form of bombs dropped from aircraft and nuclear-tipped cruise missiles unleashed by surface ships or attack subs. With their lesser yields, tactical nukes could accomplish much the same as SLBMs if delivered in sufficient volume, and without such frightful risk of escalation.

But tactical strikes aren’t a near-term option for technical reasons. President George H. W. Bush ordered tactical nukes withdrawn from seagoing forces in 1991 (eliciting cheers from those of us who handled them). Now, the Trump administration may reverse Bush’s decision. Officialdom is putting the finishing touches on a new Nuclear Posture Review that may espouse new sea-launched tactical nukes. Leaked copies of the review indicate that a nuclear-tipped cruise missile may indeed be in the offing.

Still, decreeing that a weapon system should exist doesn’t bring that system into being overnight. Lawmakers have to debate and approve it—always a fractious process when it comes to doomsday weaponry. Contracts have to be negotiated with munitions makers. Hardware and software have to be developed. The system has to be built, tested under realistic conditions, refined afterward in keeping with the test results, and manufactured and deployed to the fleet.

That takes time. Back in 2009, for example, the U.S. Navy prevailed on industry to develop a new long-range antiship missile (LRASM). The new “bird” is a modified version of a working missile, yet only this year is it ready to be fitted aboard U.S. Air Force B-1 bombers (give ‘em the gun!). Only next year—ten years after the initial request—will it be deployed aboard navy warplanes. And that’s a sprightly pace by Pentagon standards. By the LRASM standard we might see nuclear-tipped cruise missiles in the fleet circa 2027–28 if the administration gets congressional assent and funding this election year. Kim Jong-un is not sweating at the prospect of tactical atomic strikes from the sea.

If not nuclear weapons, then what? Let’s ask the English sea-power scribe Julian Corbett. Corbett partitions naval warfare into three basic phases: disputing maritime command if you’re the weaker antagonist, winning command if you’re stronger and exploiting command after the battle is won. We can set aside the first two phases. America and its allies will command Northeast Asian waters against North Korea’s feeble navy and air force unless they botch things dreadfully. That leaves putting the sea to work as an offshore safe haven.

In Corbett’s scheme, thirdly, conventional shore bombardment constitutes an option. Carrier strike groups tote an array of bombs and cruise missiles suitable for peppering North Korean targets. Yet it’s doubtful in the extreme that conventional fire would compel Pyongyang to abandon its fledgling nuclear stockpile, let alone terminate the regime or its armed forces altogether. Denizens of the hive of scum and villainy learned a lesson from Desert Storm and the ensuing campaign to disarm Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Namely, dig. If you want to develop unconventional armaments, that is, dig in—hardening weapons laboratories and deployment sites against American air and missile power.

With its rough, rocky, mountainous terrain, North Korea enjoys ample places to tunnel—and to all appearances Kim’s army has done so. A mountain fastness will prove resilient even against precision firepower. Air and sea power alone couldn’t defeat North Korea and its Chinese patron during the Korean War. Nor is it likely that U.S. Navy carrier groups carry enough ordnance to subdue North Korea today. And even if they do, it would take preternatural operational and tactical dexterity to put ordnance on the right targets at the right times to defeat the North.

But fourth, navy task forces could do what dominant marine powers have always done. They could cordon off the Korean Peninsula from seaward while preventing an unlimited counterstroke against the American homeland. U.S. Navy air, surface, and subsurface forces would interdict all sea and air traffic around the peninsula, while Aegis cruisers and destroyers equipped for ballistic-missile defense would bring down any strike aimed at Guam, Hawaii or North America. Safeguarding South Korea and Japan, home to forward-deployed U.S. forces, would be a corollary to this defensive effort. Doing so would create favorable conditions for U.S. Army and Marine Corps forces to stage a ground offensive.

Corbett depicts Korea as the ideal theater for such an amphibious campaign, flanked as it is by water on three sides. Such a strategy could work if allies consent and if the United States values its cause enough to spend lavishly in lives, military hardware and national treasure for a substantial period of time. Newport’s own strategist, Admiral J. C. Wylie, warns that destroying things on the ground from aloft does not confer control of that ground—and control represents the paramount purpose of military strategy. Rather, says Wylie, the “man on the scene with a gun”—or in this case, enough soldiers on the scene with guns to outmatch the North Korean Army—represents the arbiter of victory. The soldier determines who wins and loses.

Wylie and Corbett, accordingly, would profess extreme skepticism that the U.S. Navy could incapacitate North Korea short of a concerted ground, air, and naval offensive—preferably in consort with Asian partners. And in fact, Corbett’s logic starts breaking down north of the narrow waist midway up the Korean Peninsula, roughly coinciding with the inter-Korean border. The peninsula widens as you proceed northward from the narrow waist—and geography demands that attacking warbirds operate across greater and greater ranges while exposed to ground fire and hostile aircraft.

And, of course, North Korea shares a long, distended frontier with China and Russia. That’s a frontier that must be sealed to isolate the battleground, yet can’t be sealed by naval aviation. The border can only be sealed by Beijing and Moscow—dubious partners at best in the Korean standoff. That grants Pyongyang an opportunity for mischief-making. In short, it will be hard to crush North Korea’s armed forces, even if Washington orders a joint offensive.

And lastly, to swerve back to purely saltwater campaigns, there’s the least violent option: a full-bore naval blockade of the peninsula. Enforced with vigor and sufficient assets, a blockade would deprive North Korea of imported fuel, foodstuffs, and other commodities the beleaguered country must have to survive and fight. It would also balk Pyongyang’s efforts to export weapons, the makings of weapons, and bomb-making expertise to earn hard currency.

Corbett observes that a navy can apply pressure on a foe’s “national life” from day one of a conflict. Over time, he writes, it could exhaust that foe gradually—laying him low. But again, naval forces can only perform their blocking function at sea. They have little way to obstruct overland transit across North Korea’s northern border unless Washington wants to risk tangling with Chinese or Russian forces, and escalating a local conflagration to great-power war. Few relish that prospect. It’s a safe bet, then, that any blockade would leak to one degree or another.

For such reasons Corbett and Wylie caution that purely naval action seldom wins wars; Wylie verges on saying they never win wars. Only groundpounders can. To quote T. R. Fehrenbach’s classic history of the Korean War:

You may fly over a nation forever, you may bomb it, atomize it, pulverize it and wipe it clean of life. But if you desire to defend it, if you desire to protect it, if you desire to keep it for civilization, you must do this on the ground the way the Roman legions did: by putting your young men in the mud.

As it was in the 1950s, so it is now. Sea power furnishes the Trump administration military options in its confrontation with North Korea, but none of them promises easy, quick, or painless results. Thankfully, this is not lost on high-ranking defense officials. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis, to name one, is reportedly a fan of Fehrenbach’s treatise. Indeed, General Mattis recently quoted him while holding forth on how a second Korean War would unfold. That’s good. It betokens strategic sobriety and humility—virtues any commander should cultivate.

The greats of strategy are smiling.

James Holmes is the inaugural holder of the J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and contributing coeditor of Strategy in the Second Nuclear Age. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

This first appeared in January 2019.

Image: Reuters

Could the 2020 Election Be Decided in Congress?

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 17:48

Donald Brand

Politics, Americas

The Electoral College must cast its ballots on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December – this year, Dec. 14. If disputed state vote totals are not resolved by six days prior to that date, Congress can step in, under the 1887 Electoral Account Act. This could have happened in 2000, and it is an imaginable outcome in 2020.

If the the 2020 U.S. presidential election is contested, both campaigns are preparing to take the matter to court. But the Founding Fathers meant for Congress to be the backup plan if the Electoral College did not produce a winner.

Generally, the framers sought to avoid congressional involvement in presidential elections. They wanted an independent executive who could resist ill-considered legislation and would not care about currying favor with members of Congress, as James Ceaser explained in his definitive 1980 text, “Presidential Selection.”

That’s why they created the Electoral College, assigning to state legislatures the responsibility for choosing “electors” who then determine the president.

But the framers could foresee circumstances – namely, a fragmented race between little-known politicians – where no presidential candidate would secure an Electoral College majority. Reluctantly, they assigned the House of Representatives to step in if that happened – presumably because as the institution closest to the people, it could bestow some democratic legitimacy on a “contingent election.”

Tied or Contested Election

The founders proved prescient: The elections of 1800 and 1824 did not produce winners in the Electoral College and were decided by the House. Thomas Jefferson was chosen in 1800 and John Quincy Adams in 1824.

Over time, the development of a two-party system with national nominating conventions – which allows parties to broker coalitions and unite behind a single presidential candidate – has basically ensured that the Electoral College produces a winner. Though the Electoral College has changed significantly since the 18th century, it has mostly kept Congress out of presidential selection.

As a professor who has taught courses on presidential elections for two decades, however, I can see scenarios in which Congress gets involved in the 2020 election.

A tie in the Electoral College remains a possibility, however remote. There are 538 electors, so a minimum majority to win is 270. The website 270toWin lists 64 hypothetical scenarios in which both Joe Biden and Donald Trump could get 269 electors. That would throw the election to the House.

Though the House has a Democratic majority, such an outcome would almost certainly benefit Trump.

Here’s why: In a concession to small states concerned their voices would be marginalized if the House was called upon to choose the president, the founders gave only one vote to each state. House delegations from each state meet to decide how to cast their single vote.

That voting procedure gives equal representation to California – population 40 million – and Wyoming, population 600,000.

Currently, this arrangement favors the Republicans. The GOP dominates the delegations from 26 states – exactly the number required to reach a majority under the rules of House presidential selection. But it’s not the current House that would decide a contested 2020 election. It is the newly elected House that would choose the president. So the outcome depends on congressional races.

One more caveat: Split decisions are considered abstentions, so states that cannot reach an agreement would be counted out.

Congressional Commission

Another way Congress could become involved in the 2020 election is if there are disputes about the vote totals in various states. Given the spike in mail-in voting during the pandemic, threats of foreign interference and controversies over voter suppression, uncertainty after Nov. 3 seems likely.

Perhaps the most relevant precedent for that scenario is the 1876 election between Democrat Samuel Tilden and Republican Rutherford B. Hayes. That election saw disputed returns in four states – Florida, South Carolina, Louisiana and Oregon – with a total of 20 electoral votes.

Excluding those 20 disputed electors, Tilden had 184 pledged electors of the 185 needed for victory in the Electoral College; Hayes had 165. Tilden was clearly the front-runner – but Hayes would win if all the contested votes went for him.

Because of a post-Civil War rule allowing Congress – read, Northern Republicans worried about Black voter suppression – to dispute the vote count in Southern states and bypass local courts, Congress established a commission to resolve the disputed 1876 returns.

As Michael Holt writes in his examination of the 1876 election, the 15-member commission had five House representatives, five senators and five Supreme Court justices. Fourteen of the commissioners had identifiable partisan leanings: seven Democrats and seven Republicans. The 15th member was a justice known for his impartiality.

Hope of a nonpartisan outcome was dashed when the one impartial commissioner resigned and was replaced by a Republican judge. The commission voted along party lines to give all 20 disputed electors to Hayes.

To prevent the Democratic-dominated Senate from derailing Hayes’ single-vote triumph over Tilden by refusing to confirm its decision, Republicans were forced to make a deal: Abandon Reconstruction, their policy of Black political and economic inclusion in the post-Civil War South. This paved the way for Jim Crow segregation.

Bush v. Gore

The 2000 election offers the only modern precedent for contested vote returns.

George W. Bush and Al Gore argued for a month over Bush’s slim, 327-vote advantage in Florida’s second machine recount. After a lawsuit in state courts, this political and legal battle was decided by the Supreme Court in December 2000, in Bush v. Gore.

But Bush v. Gore was never intended to set a precedent. In it, the justices explicitly stated “our consideration is limited to the present circumstances.” Indeed, the court could have concluded that the issues presented were political, not legal, and declined to hear the case.

In that case, the House would have decided the 2000 election. The Electoral College must cast its ballots on the first Monday after the second Wednesday in December – this year, Dec. 14. If disputed state vote totals are not resolved by six days prior to that date, Congress can step in, under the 1887 Electoral Account Act. This could have happened in 2000, and it is an imaginable outcome in 2020.

The best bet for American democracy, history shows, is a clear and decisive victory in the Electoral College, as the framers intended.

Donald Brand, Professor, College of the Holy Cross

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

Image: Reuters.

Is Joe Biden’s Polling Lead Full Of Hot Air?

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 17:45

Karlyn Bowman

Politics, Americas

The simple answer is that we don’t know.

This week, we’ve seen a handful of new polls on the presidential contest. Zogby gave Biden a two-point lead, and Investor’s Business Daily put him ahead by three. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll has Biden up by 14 points, and the CNN/SSRS poll has it at +16 for Biden. The Economist/YouGov poll has Biden up by eight. Who is right?

The simple answer is that we don’t know. Let’s look at some of the factors that might produce these different results. President Trump announced that he has tested positive for COVID-19 on Friday, October 2 at 1 a.m. The online Zogby Strategies/EMI Research Solutions interviewing of 1,006 likely voters began that Friday night, October 2. The CNN/SSRS poll was a telephone poll (landline and cell), conducted October 1–4, after the debate, but partly before the president’s COVID-19 diagnosis announcement. The results are based on 1,001 likely voters. The NBC News/Wall Street Journal reported results from 800 registered voters and was conducted by phone September 30–October 1. The Economist/YouGov poll interviewed 1,500 registered voters October 4–6. So, the different modes of interviewing (online vs. telephone) could contribute to the differing results, as could the times the polls were conducted or the types of samples the pollsters used (e.g. likely voters or registered voters). Some of these polls asked the vote intention question first, getting people’s instant reaction to the question; others had it after a series of questions about other aspects of the election.

One of the challenges the pollsters have in every election is to decide who will turn out. To account for this, pollsters weight their sample responses to their best projections of the real electorate. Census data provides benchmarks on basic demographic variables such as age and levels of education, and pollsters use the latest Census data which they adapt for actual voters. What the Census can’t tell us, however, is the partisan composition of the electorate. Will many more Democrats vote than usual? Or more Republicans than in the past? In the National Election Pool’s exit poll from the presidential election in 2016, 36 percent self-identified as Democrats, 33 percent as Republicans, and 31 percent as independents. In 2018, those responses were 37 percent Democrat, 33 percent Republican, and 30 percent independent. Using the 2016 benchmark, one could assume that the electorate has not changed its partisan stripes over four years. While the 2018 numbers are more recent, in off-year elections, the party out of power usually has an edge. This summer, Gallup found that Democrats had gained substantial ground. Republicans had a two-point advantage in January; Democrats had an 11-point lead in June. Gallup was surveying adults and not people who were registered to vote, but it does suggest that the ground may be shifting. 

Pollsters also work to correct problems they have had in the past. In some key Midwestern industrial states in 2016, more people with a college degree took pollsters’ surveys than those with no college, and adjustments were not made in some cases to match the state’s actual college-non-college population, throwing off the results. Pew Research Center research analyst Nick Hatley and director of survey research Courtney Kennedy have a thorough discussion of this issue here.

Each of the polls mentioned above was conducted a month before an election in which every day seems to bring some momentous new development. Voters seem very firm in their choices, and today’s hazy snapshots will clear up on Election Day.

This article first appeared at the American Enterprise Institute.

Image: Reuters.

At the Bottom of the Sea: Meet the U.S. Navy's Worst Defeats

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 17:33

James Holmes

History, World

All militaries suffer defeats. The question whether they learn and get better.

Key Point: America has won many wars. However, it does not emerge victories from every conflict.

It’s crucial to remember and learn from defeat. People and the institutions they comprise commonly tout past triumphs while soft pedaling setbacks. That’s natural, isn’t it? Winning is the hallmark of a successful team, losing a hateful thing. And yet debacles oftentimes have their uses. They supply a better reality check than victories. Defeat clears the mind, putting the institution on “death ground”—in other words, compelling it to either adapt or die. Nimble institutions prosper.

Winning, on the other hand, can dull the mind—reaffirming habits and methods that may prove ill-suited when the world changes around us. As philosophers say, past success and the timber of humanity predispose individuals and groups to keep doing what worked last time. Or as the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Problem is, we have a habit of discovering it is broke at the worst possible time—when fixing things gets dicey.

Despite its record of victory, the America’s navy is far from exempt from the universal proclivity to celebrate success. Failure? Fuggedaboutit. Now, we shouldn’t wallow in long-ago defeats: strategist Bernard Brodie cautions that major fleet duels are “few and far between even as centuries are reckoned.” When sample size = small, it’s best not to read too much into the results of any individual encounter. Change a variable or two and you may get an entirely different outcome.

Nevertheless, it’s important to remain mindful of the low points—if only to ward off hubris while reminding seafarers that institutions must keep up with changing times or find themselves irrelevant. In that spirit, what follows is my list of America’s Five Worst Naval Defeats. These being the dog days of summer, with the Narragansett Bay bathed in hazy sunshine, I’m casual about what constitutes defeat. Strategic, operational, tactical: all losses are fair game.

Now, losing a war is worse than losing a tactical action. The former ranks higher, but both varieties of ignominy make the list. The tactical defeats presented here, however, meet Carl von Clausewitz’s standard for “operations that have direct political repercussions”—namely outsized, negative, self-defeating repercussions. Such thrashings brought disrepute on the navy or the flag, damaged America’s diplomatic standing vis-à-vis other nations, or biased the political scene toward future conflict.

Or all of the above. One defeat that’s conspicuously absent from this list is Pearl Harbor. The battle line was moored around Ford Island on December 7, not underway. Stationary fleets accomplish little in combat. Pearl Harbor qualifies as a naval victory for Japan. Indeed, it was a masterwork. From the American standpoint, though, it was less a naval defeat than a failure to mount a joint offshore defense of military installations on Oahu. Plenty of blame to share.

December 7 will live in infamy, to be sure. But it constituted an across-the-board collapse for the U.S. Navy … and Army, and Army Air Forces. These forces were all entrusted with holding Oahu. That puts Pearl Harbor in an altogether different category. With that proviso, onward.

Bainbridge at Algiers:

Minor tactical failures can beget major humiliations for the individual, the service, and the flag. Take for instance the strange case of Captain William Bainbridge. In 1800 the skipper of the frigate George Washington neglected a time-honored axiom of naval warfare, namely that a ship’s a fool to fight a fort. Fortresses have lots of space, and thus heavier guns, greater striking range, and bigger ammunition magazines. Seldom do ships match up well.

Ordered to carry tribute to the dey of Algiers, George Washington stood in under the guns of the fort. Outgunned, Bainbridge was ordered to carry gifts, an ambassador, slaves, harem women, and a menagerie of animals to the Ottoman Porte in Constantinople—and to do all of this while flying the flag of Algiers. Otherwise, the dey’s emissaries let it be known, the frigate would be smashed to splinters, its crew enslaved.

The upside to this outrage: President Thomas Jefferson resolved to act against the Barbary States by naval force rather than pay tribute for temporary maritime freedom. Lesson: minor tactical miscues can spawn major diplomatic headaches. Mariners, then, must think of themselves as naval diplomats as well as sea warriors—and try to foresee the strategic and political import of their actions, missteps, and foibles.

Ironbottom Sound:

The Battle of Savo Island (August 9, 1942) was—as Samuel Eliot Morison puts it—“probably the worst defeat ever inflicted on the United States Navy in a fair fight.” In brief, U.S. Marine expeditionary forces had landed safely on Guadalcanal and Tulagi, in the Solomon Islands, in order to evict Japanese forces that were constructing an airfield from which warbirds could cut the sea and air lanes connecting North America with Australia.

Unlike the U.S. Navy of 1942, the Imperial Japanese Navy (IJN) excelled at nighttime fighting. Admiral Gunichi Mikawa brought a surface task group down the “Slot” from Rabaul, at the far end of the Solomons chain, on the night of August 8 to attack the American ships unloading on Guadalcanal. U.S. commanders had dispersed their cruisers and destroyers into four detachments in an effort to guard the entryways into the Sound that lay between Guadalcanal, Savo, and Florida islands.

Though perhaps strong in the aggregate, fragmenting a force along a picket line leaves it weak at any given point along the line. Accordingly, Mikawa’s concentrated squadron rampaged through the Allied fleet that night, leaving the wreckage of four heavy cruisers (of six present) strewn across the seafloor, not to mention two destroyers damaged and 1,077 sailors dead. Hence the nickname Ironbottom Sound.

Morison observes that Savo Island had a silver lining. Fate intervened. The transports remained unscathed after Mikawa failed to press his attack, for fear of suffering a daytime air attack from U.S. carriers. The IJN fleet hightailed it for home after pummeling the Allied combatants. The U.S. Navy learned to take its opponent seriously, especially at night; reformed its communications and air-surveillance methods to supply early warning of future assaults; and refined its firefighting equipment and techniques to keep battle damage in check.

Still, losing that many ships and lives—and placing the U.S. Marines’ mission in jeopardy—constituted a painful way to learn to respect a serious enemy while remaining cognizant of the surroundings.

Confederate Raiding in Civil War:

Yes, the Union Navy imposed a stifling blockade on the Confederacy, and yes, wresting control of rivers from the Confederates helped slice-and-dice the breakaway republic. As Alfred Thayer Mahan notes, Southerners “admitted their enemies to their hearts” by allowing the Union to wrest away control of internal waterways like the Mississippi. “Never,” adds Mahan, “did sea power play a greater or a more decisive part” than in the struggle for North America.

That doesn’t mean the Confederacy was impotent at sea. Raiders fitted out in Great Britain and armed in the Azores wrought enormous damage to the Union merchant and whaling fleets. Raiders like CSS Alabama, Florida, and Shenandoah burned or captured and ransomed 225 merchantmen and whalers during the war, along with another 27 dispatched by privateers. Their exploits diverted Union men-of-war from blockade duty, drove up insurance rates, and prompted shippers to move most American-flagged vessels into foreign registry to escape the Southern predators.

In short, Florida, Alabama, and their sisters did lasting damage to U.S. commercial shipping—and thus to one of Mahan’s three “pillars” of sea power. The havoc they sowed vindicates Mahan’s observation that guerre de course constitutes “a most important secondary operation” in sea warfare. Raiding enemy shipping may not decide the outcomes of wars, but it contributes at the margins. And as the Civil War shows, the weak can impose frightful costs on the strong—even in a losing cause.

The damage to the U.S. marine industry, one of the lineaments of American sea power, entitles Civil War guerre de course to a place in the United States’ annals of naval defeat.

War of Independence:

If Savo Island was America’s worst pasting in a fair fight, the Revolutionary War was its worst loss in an unfair fight. That it was unfair is excusable. After all, the Continental armed forces were invented under fire—stressful circumstances for raising, training, and equipping any institution. The struggle for independence demonstrates that a combatant needs a navy of its own to beat an enemy that possesses a great fleet. It also demonstrates that it’s easier to improvise an army than a navy.

Sure, Continental seamen had their moments. John Paul Jones remains a folk hero to the U.S. Navy, interred beneath the Naval Academy chapel. Jones, furthermore, is celebrated in such oddball locales as the battleship Mikasa museum in Yokosuka, whose curators style him the equal of Lord Horatio Nelson and Admiral Heihachirō Tōgō, Japan’s greatest naval hero. But individual derring-do shouldn’t obscure the fact that the American colonies had to borrow a fleet, that of France, to prevail in the endgame at Yorktown—and thus achieve their independence.

That’s why no less an authority than George Washington testified to the importance of decisive naval superiority when fighting an amphibian power like Great Britain. Deft alliance diplomacy made the difference for Washington & Co. Still, the lesson of the War of Independence must be that a power that wants to pursue an independent foreign policy must maintain a navy commensurate with its national purposes. You can’t always count on a loaner fleet—or an alliance of strange bedfellows—to make up the deficit. Self-sufficiency is prudent.

War of 1812—Oceanic Theater:

Which leads to America’s worst naval defeat, an unfair fight that should’ve been fairer than it was. Flouting the wisdom of Washington and the entreaties of navy-minded Founders like John Adams, Congress declined to fund a U.S. Navy adequate to its purposes—notably shielding American coasts from seaborne attack, fending off enemy blockades, and amassing diplomatic capital for U.S. policymakers and diplomats. Lawmakers chose the false economy of low naval expenditures over the insurance policy furnished by a vibrant fleet—and were taken to task by posterity for it.

A shameful tactical defeat—of frigate USS Chesapeake at the hands of HMS Leopard, in 1807—helped bring about the War of 1812. Captain James Barron surrendered to Leopard after firing a single shot when apprehended off Norfolk, Virginia—and the ensuing popular outcry helped precipitate an American embargo on British trade. So much for the battle cry of a subsequent skipper of Chesapeake, James Lawrence: don’t give up the ship! Indeed, the Chesapeake-Leopard affair could merit its own entry on this list.

As Mahan and Theodore Roosevelt contended in their histories of the conflict, the early republic erred grievously by failing to construct a battle fleet of, say, twenty 74-gun capital ships able to command America’s near seas. Though inferior in numbers to the Royal Navy in overall numbers, such a fleet could have cut ties between the British Isles and the Caribbean—imperiling British interests there, and thus perhaps deterring war altogether. Globally inferior—locally superior.

At a minimum, moreover, a muscular U.S. Navy could have precluded the sort of smothering British blockade that shut down American seagoing and coastwise trade by 1814. Forget the single-ship victories on the high seas during the war’s early going, and forget the navy’s exploits on the Great Lakes. For eminent Americans the War of 1812 constituted a woeful strategic defeat on the open sea. It was an example of what not to do in the realm of maritime strategy.

And that earns it top—or bottom, depending on how you look at it—billing on this list. The worst of the worst.

James Holmes is Professor of Strategy at the Naval War College. The views voiced here are his alone.

This first appeared in 2018 and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

Review: ARAK-21 XRS Complete Rifle.

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 17:00

Richard Douglas


The idea of the ARAK-21 XRS sounds gimmicky. Combining two very different gun design philosophies into a single system seems like a surefire way of making a bad gun. Nevertheless, the result is impressive.

The AR-15 and the AK-47 are the two most iconic rifles of the last fifty years. Both represent two systems of thought with gun design philosophy. The ARAK-21 XRS seeks to combine the benefits of both weapon systems into one gun. The original ARAK was an upper receiver, bolt system, and barrel that allowed a shooter to fire the AK-47’s iconic 7.62x39 millimeter ammunition with any standard AR-15 lower receiver. Faxon has released a lower to go with its nifty upper. Let’s break down the specifics of this complete weapon system.


The ARAK-21 XRS demonstrates remarkable accuracy. When firing 5.56 ammunition, the ARAK-21 shoots better than the average AR-15. Depending on the ammunition, the ARAK shot around one-inch groups at 100 yards. The ARAK-21 performed well with 7.62 x 39 millimeter, though not as impressively as with the 5.56-millimeter ammunition. Using 7.62 ammunition, I hit five-shot groups at 100 yards with 1.68-inch groups with commercial ammunition and 2.73-inches with military surplus ammunition. The ARAK-21 can also shoot .300 AAC Blackout rounds, and hit a 1.5-inch 5 shot group at 100 yards. And if you want to increase the accuracy further, I’d recommend attaching an LPVO optic. The ARAK definitely takes and improves on the accuracy of the AR-15.


During my testing with the XRS complete rifle, I encountered no jams or weapon malfunctions with any ammunition or magazines. Some other reviewers encountered jams when switching ammunition types. These issues were resolved by using the adjustable gas block. You’ll want to see which gas configuration works best with each type of ammunition. The ARAK-21 is sturdily constructed, with a 6061-T6 aluminum upper receiver and a bolt made out of hardened 4140 steel. After a few months of testing with several hundred rounds put through it, I observed lots of carbon build-up in the bore. Fortunately, I could clean the carbon. The ARAK-21’s demonstrated solid reliability.


The ARAK-21 boasts a wide variety of features that offer lots of options for customization. The ARAK-21 comes with a quad rail forend, allowing attachments on all sides. The side and bottom rails are easily removable, and I found the naked forend more comfortable to grip. A Picatinny rail runs the full length of the top of the gun. Because the recoil system is different from a traditional AR-15, you can use almost any stock you want with this gun. The ARAK-21 comes with a dual ejector, allowing you to eject your spent shell casings to the left or right. This feature is a godsend for lefty shooters who often have to contend with casings being ejected to the right. The ARAK’s safety is also ambidextrous. The ARAK also comes with an adjustable gas block with four positions. Each position is good for different kinds of ammunition. If you’re used to an AR-15, you may find that the sight sits a little higher on the gun than you’re used to. This means you’ll have to rest your cheek on the buttstock a little differently from what you’re used to. The many features of the ARAK-21 make it great to handle for every kind of shooter.


The trigger is a mil-spec trigger. It’s not match-grade, but not terrible either. Faxon recommends HiperFire triggers for an improved trigger pull that will still reliably ignite military surplus 7.62 ammunition. Getting super light triggers designed for an AR-15 can cause problems with cheaper 7.62 ammunition.

Magazine & Reloading 

The ARAK-21 can be converted to fire 5.56 x 223 Rem., .300 AAC Blackout, and 7.62 x 39 millimeter. You’re not going to find a weapon able to shoot bullets more suited to self-defense and combat scenarios than this one. The gun can be switched in three minutes from 7.62 millimeters to 5.56 or .300 Blackout. It takes less than two to switch from .300 Blackout to 5.56 or vice versa. It also accepts a wide variety of magazines, including Generation 1 and 3 Magpul PMAG’s, Thermold 20 round magazine, Troy Battlemags, and US GI magazines. While some prefer the mobility of pistols for home defense, many prefer the larger ammunition capacity and drop-your-target rounds of a rifle. If you want to specialize in the ammunition you shoot, this is the gun for you.

Length & Weight 

The gun comes with both 16- and 20-inch barrels and weighs in at a light 5.5 pounds. The gun was light and easy to hold, even one-handed.

Recoil Management 

The muzzle brake did a great job at reducing recoil and barrel rise when shooting. The recoil was much less than a typical AK, and felt more like a .22 LR when shooting 5.56. 

Ammo Recommendations 

I recommend using commercial .223 Remington and M855 surplus ammunition. I also used Wolf military surplus for my 7.62x39-millimeter rounds.


The gun comes at $1,899. This is not a cheap gun, but it allows you to shoot rounds that normally require you to own separate weapons. Combine that with the wide variety of features (adjustable gas block, ambidextrous ejector and safety, rails, accuracy), and this is a great value for a gun.

ARAK-21 XRS Complete Rifle Review: Is It Worth It?  

The idea of the ARAK-21 XRS sounds gimmicky. Combining two very different gun design philosophies into a single system seems like a surefire way of making a bad gun. Nevertheless, the result is impressive. The ARAK is modular, ambidextrous, accurate, and boasts an adjustable gas block. It shoots automatic, suppressed, un-suppressed, supersonic, and subsonic ammunition. If you want to change barrels quickly and shoot lots of ammunition types, this is a great weapon system. Here are some of the features that made this such a special gun:



-Adjustable gas block makes shooting diff ammunition safe and easy 

If you’re looking for the ultimate combination of power, accuracy, and fun, check out the ARAK-21 XRS Complete Rifle. 

Richard Douglas is a long time shooter, outdoor enthusiast and technologist. He is the founder and editor of Scopes Field. Columnist at The National Interest, Cheaper Than Dirt, Daily Caller and other publications.

Image: Creative Commons.

A Trump Reelection Would Mean America First on Trade Is Here to Stay

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 16:56

Christian Whiton


It may well turn out that Trump will be on hand to continue a trade-reform process that looks chaotic on the surface, but which amounts to significant, measured evolution in practice.   

A conventional analysis of the U.S. presidential race would predict challenger Joe Biden will defeat incumbent Donald Trump. Most polls have Joe Biden far ahead, and a much-cited recent survey showed him fourteen points ahead of Trump. However, the same poll in 2016 showed Hillary Clinton with the same lead.

Furthermore, Trump is once again connecting energetically with the disaffected voters who gave him an electoral college victory four years ago. In contrast, Biden has run a mostly virtual campaign, relying primarily on the media to challenge Trump.

The possibility of an upset second victory for Trump raises the question of what his administration would do with trade policy following his first-term replacement of NAFTA with the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), imposition of tariffs on steel and aluminum, negotiation of a trade deal with Beijing that left in place higher tariffs on more than half of Chinese imports, and completion of modest deals with Japan and South Korea.

It is usually a safe bet that second presidential terms are lackluster when it comes to bold new initiatives. Often, administrations focus on consolidating and touting the accomplishments of the first term.

With Trump, it may be different. A Trump reelection would demonstrate further to Congress that the public supports his tougher approach to trade.

The most immediate second-term development would likely be the continued expansion of export controls targeting China. What started as a U.S. effort to ban the use of Huawei equipment in U.S. telecom networks has grown to a global effort to prevent the sale of topline semiconductors and other components to Huawei, its subsidiaries, and Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation. This White House-led effort would continue with worldwide measures to deny China advanced inputs for telecom, semiconductor, and artificial intelligence applications. The Phase One trade deal with China will likely last only as long as Beijing needs to buy significant quantities of U.S. agriculture.

A trade agreement with the United Kingdom could land early in a second Trump term. American and British negotiators have already completed some thirty chapters of an agreement.

Pacts with India and Vietnam would also be likely in a second Trump term, despite the recent opening of a “Section 301” investigation of Vietnam for currency manipulation and illegal timber harvesting. The same tough approach preceded Trump’s deal with China.

A Taiwan deal is also a possibility. Signing these pacts would be seen as encircling China economically. Washington would seek to limit agreements to easier-to-accomplish topics like the intellectual property and digital trade elements of USMCA. 

Despite pro forma talking points to the contrary, Washington likely would not press Japan seriously for a second, more comprehensive trade deal than the one the administration secured in 2019. That is actually good news for overall relations between Tokyo and Washington and an alliance that remains the world’s most important in deterring China.  

East Asia may also benefit from the likelihood that Trump will focus his ire on Europe. Trump remains irritated at the European Union’s 10 percent tariff on U.S. cars since the reciprocal American tariff is 2.5 percent. Like other presidents before him, he is also disappointed by French agricultural protectionism, which hurts American farmers.  

Trump was close to imposing 25 percent tariffs on German cars in 2019 but decided to wait until after the election. He may either impose these early in a second term or try again to use the threat of them to get Germany to apply pressure on Paris and Brussels to reform. While some voices in the administration would counsel caution, few expect Robert Lighthizer, the seventy-three-year-old U.S. trade representative, to stay more than a year into a second term. Higher tariffs on Europe are more likely than not. 

Trump’s approach contrasts with that proposed by his opponent. Biden supported NAFTA, China’s entry into the World Trade Organization, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His advisors have suggested he would rejoin the latter with some modest adjustments. Biden also opposed the tariffs on China that brought Beijing to the negotiating table. The safe bet is that he would likely ease those levies in exchange for a climate change deal from Chinese leader Xi Jinping—which Xi would sign and then ignore. Biden’s likely trade representative, Jennifer Hillman, favors ending U.S. steps that have disabled the World Trade Organization’s dispute-resolution mechanism, which many analysts believe ruled against the United States too often. She is a standard Clinton-Obama era globalist. Biden’s vow “to work more closely with allies” is a euphemism for acceding to European wishes in Geneva.  

While some might welcome Biden’s efforts to turn back the clock to before the disputes and trade wars of recent years, implementing his plans could further convince average Americans that the international trading system works against them, leading to even greater disruption in the future. It may well turn out that Trump will be on hand to continue a trade-reform process that looks chaotic on the surface, but which amounts to significant, measured evolution in practice.   

Christian Whiton was a senior advisor in the Trump and George W. Bush administrations. He is a senior fellow at the Center for the National Interest. 

Image: Reuters

No, Iran Can't Start World War III

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 16:40

James Holmes

Security, Middle East

The whole idea is a stupid one.

Key point: Iran does not have a capacity to inflict major damage, let alone conquer the Middle East. Therefore, fighting Iran does not make much sense.

When pondering some strategic quandary you can get oriented by postulating what the greats in the field would say about it. What they said or wrote about roughly similar circumstances furnishes clues to what they might say about today’s strategic conundrums. This is the beginning of wisdom. The classics seldom furnish ready-made solutions. They almost always furnish a platform for launching into original thought.

Yes, you have to be humble when extrapolating from someone else’s words. Time, technology, and human society march on, and it’s hard to say for sure what some figure from the past would make of material and social trends since then. And yes, avoid treating their writings as gospel. To be great is not to be infallible. Sometimes sages get things wrong—even in their own time.

Still, situations rhyme between ages while principles endure. Ideas from the strategic canon retain their power to help posterity make sense of today’s controversies. Case in point: Iran is much in the headlines of late. What would the legendary geopolitics scholar, Yale professor Nicholas Spykman, say about the sputtering confrontation between the United States and Iran?

He would have plenty to say about the feud, first and foremost that Washington should continue trying to blunt Iranian ambitions. Not for him the passive approach. He was no proponent of “offshore balancing,” the conceit that America should stay mostly aloof from foreign entanglements, sending armadas and armies across the broad main only if inhabitants of the Far East or Western Europe proved unable to withstand a domineering power—an imperial Japan, a Nazi Germany, or a Soviet Union—on their own.

Spykman faulted administrations from both political parties for remaining diplomatically and militarily quiescent during the interwar years. They had allowed dangers to fester, and through neglect had compelled the United States to fight a second world war scant decades after the first. He found this unacceptable. Spykman harbored little desire to go abroad in search of monsters to slay. He wanted to go abroad to confine monsters to their lairs.

Or, better yet, he believed proactive U.S. involvement would keep predators from gestating in the first place. Acting early and forcefully would prevent would-be hegemons from conquering the “rimlands” of Western Europe and East Asia. They would find it hard to lash out at the Americas across the Atlantic or Pacific without the resources from those rich regions. No brute would need slaying if the United States made common cause with opponents of aggression ahead of time.

In other words, Spykman was an onshore balancer. But does his forward strategy apply to the Persian Gulf region today? For it to do so the Islamic Republic must be a Middle Eastern counterpart to Germany, Japan, or the Soviet Union—a powerhouse driven to unite the Gulf region or South Asian rimland under its yoke, harvest the resources it acquired to build up martial might, and hence constitute a menace to the New World.

Yet Iran falls woefully short of hegemonic status. Iranians certainly long for the glory days when the Persian Empire bestrode the Middle East and South Asia and, for a time, even threatened to bring Europe under the Great Kings’ suzerainty. Contemporary Iran is no Persia. It lacks the economic and military resources for enterprises of such sweep. And without that overbearing power, it stands little chance of overawing others into bandwagoning with Tehran and doing the mullahs’ bidding.

In other words, the prospects for an imperial Iran appear dim. Survey the region through Iranian eyes. To the west, you will espy the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries. None of these Sunni Arab states could stand up to Iran in a one-on-one scrap. Collectively, though, they field serious military power funded by oil wealth that—unlike Iran’s—is unencumbered by economic sanctions. The GCC promises to remain a formidable contender so long as its members stand together.

Even if all sanctions disappeared today, it would take the Islamic Republic decades to rejuvenate the economy, amassing national wealth and transmuting it into military prowess and diplomatic clout sufficient to coerce this standing Arab coalition. Tehran’s capacity to steamroller the Gulf region or intimidate the GCC states into submission seems doubtful.

To Iran’s northeast lies Central Asia, while to its southeast lie Pakistan and India. Afghanistan and its neighbors are strategically inert at best. If Tehran covets an alliance with them, let’s cheer it on. Such allies would be dead weight rather than an asset to Iranian strategy. Pakistan fronts on the Arabian Sea, along the approaches to the Strait of Hormuz, and boasts a nuclear arsenal. Geography and the military factor make it a more viable partner for Iran. Still, that’s pretty weak adhesive to cement an alliance between Shia Iran and Sunni Pakistan.

Most importantly, India is the resident hegemon of South Asia and overshadows Iran by diplomatic, economic, and military measures. The idea that New Delhi would submit to Tehran’s will or join it at the head of an anti-Western alliance verges on whimsy.

In short, it’s tough to posit any realistic scenario whereby the Islamic Republic overruns its near abroad or attracts a serious alliance—staging a Middle Eastern equivalent to the German or Japanese conquests that spurred Nicholas Spykman to enunciate his forward strategy. And even if Tehran did manage such an improbable feat, would success empower it to reach out and smite the New World? Color me skeptical.

Look at the map again. Gazing out from American seacoasts, the Indian Ocean region is a faraway and inaccessible theater by contrast with Western Europe and East Asia—rimlands from which a hostile power would enjoy direct and uncluttered routes to American rimlands. Iranian forces would have to travel much farther than forces based in Europe or the Far East. Furthermore, maritime geography would force them to transit nautical chokepoints to exit or reenter the Indian Ocean—and it’s a straightforward matter for some foe to contest passage through straits and kindred narrow waterways.

The verdict? Iran clearly boasts enormous capacity for mischief-making, it clearly relishes tweaking the Great Satan, and it has options. For example, Tehran will probably develop a modest nuclear arsenal over time. Doomsday weaponry would give U.S. rimlands strategy in South Asia a twist that Spykman—who perished before the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki—could never have foreseen.

Alliance making and breaking represent another option. Tehran can court fellow opponents of American dominance, chiefly China and Russia, and bog down U.S. forces at a time when Washington prefers to apply itself to great-power competition in the Indo-Pacific and Atlantic rather than some Middle Eastern bywater. It can try to divide the West against itself, as it has sought to do for many years. And on and on.

All the same, the ghost of Spykman can rest easy with regard to the southerly rimlands. Iran is a troublemaker for sure. But it is neither 1914 nor 1939 in the Gulf region.

Now, it’s possible this relatively upbeat strategic diagnosis and prognosis would leave Spykman feeling conflicted. If he accented the imperative to manage events in intermediate zones joining the sea to the heartland, he also acknowledged that a distant maritime power must command the sea in order to execute a balancing strategy in Eurasia. Maritime command is a necessary enabler. Lose command, you lose access; lose access, you lose your ability to project armed might; lose your military say-so, your rimlands strategy fails.

History amply demonstrates the importance of access. Spykman observes that Great Britain basked in an empire on which the sun never set precisely because its Royal Navy ruled the “girdle of marginal seas,” semi-enclosed bodies of water that lap against the Eurasian periphery. These seas gave Britannia conduits for projecting influence and control onto remote shores. Expanses such as the Mediterranean Sea, the South China Sea, and, yes, the Persian Gulf are inlets into the Eurasian landmass. From their confines, a dominant navy can radiate military and thus political power deep inland.

Today they are American conduits, and central to any Spykmanesque balancing strategy. But if coastal states could bar the U.S. Navy—today’s answer to the world-straddling Royal Navy of yore—from the marginal seas, they could vitiate Spykman’s maritime geostrategic vision. Or even if local defenders failed to deny access altogether, they could make it costly and treacherous for American task forces to venture into near-shore waters. U.S. officials would think twice before paying a heavy price in lives, ships, and planes. They might blanch unless the need was truly dire.

Even partial success at access denial, then, would work to Iranian strategic advantage. If Washington did balk at dispatching naval forces to the Gulf region or its approaches, Tehran would have deflected U.S. efforts to project power; discredited U.S. alliance commitments to neighbors Iranian magnates wanted to cow; and in the process won the freedom to pursue power and influence by such means as clerical leaders saw fit to deploy. Turns out mischief-making advances larger purposes.

What sort of strategy would Spykman prescribe to cope with a troublesome but less than overbearing Iran? He might counsel Washington to continue taking an active part in managing events in South Asia and the Gulf region, in keeping with his onshore leanings. He would urge America to keep its alliances in the region strong, helping allies help U.S. naval forces gain access to the rimlands in times of strife. But at the same time he would exhort officialdom to keep its priorities in order. Iran poses no direct or immediate threat to the Western Hemisphere, but there are aspiring hegemons out there that warrant renewing his resource-intensive rimlands strategy. They must take precedence.

Strategy is the art and science of setting and enforcing priorities. The Pentagon has rightly designated great-power competition as its top priority. It would make little sense to commit heavy resources to offset a secondary worry such as Iran—especially if the opportunity costs were losing out in the Western Pacific, the Mediterranean, or elsewhere around the Eurasian periphery. Let’s keep things in perspective.

Sound about right, Professor Spykman?

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College and author of “Visualize Chinese Sea Power,” in the current issue of the Naval Institute Proceedings. The views voiced here are his alone. This first appeared earlier and is being reposted due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters

The Only Way the U.S. Navy Can Get to 500 'Ships'

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 16:00

Peter Suciu


Washington will have to go unmanned.

The U.S. Navy’s Battle Force 2045 plan calls for a 500-ship fleet, and this ambitious expansion is meant to out-match fast-growing rival forces—notably those from China’s People’s Liberation Army Navy, which recently earned the distinction of being the largest naval force in the world.

The U.S. Navy has already begun to ramp up efforts to introduce and deploy large numbers of interwoven, armed surface drones.

This could boost the global maritime unmanned vehicle market.

“The U.S. government is hoping that implementing a modern and distributed force structure to the U.S. Navy will allow it to operate effectively both in open seas and littoral waters,” said Captain Nurettin Sevi, Turkish Navy (Retired), aerospace and defense analyst at analytics firm GlobalData.

“However, the more immediate benefit of the plans to contract 140 unmanned surface and 240 underwater vehicles will be for the defense companies who are already vying for contracts,” added Sevi.

Big Investments 

The U.S. Navy’s has announced plans that call for a significant increase in spending on robotics platforms in the coming years. The service’s future defense programs could include about $12 billion for unmanned aircraft, surface vessels and underwater systems in fiscal years 2021 through 2025.

“The U.S. Navy has been making several investments, including awarding a $35 million contract to L3 Technologies for the development of a prototype medium unmanned surface vehicle (MUSV), which could grow to $281 million if options for eight follow-on craft are exercised; and a $42 million contract awarded to Huntington Ingalls (HII), Lockheed Martin, Bollinger Shipyards, Marinette Marine, Gibbs & Cox and Austal USA for Large Unmanned Surface Vessel (LUSV) studies,” said Sevi.

“Moreover, the Navy aims to procure extra-large unmanned underwater vehicles (XLUUV) at a rate of two per year from FY2023, in addition to the XLUUV being built by Boeing,” he added. “With the implementation of this plan, leading companies are likely to increase their investments and it is expected to enhance cooperation between companies in artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced material technology, which are critical in the construction of unmanned systems.”

Tight Budgets and Other Challenges 

While the Navy has set a goal of 2045 to reach the sizable increase in the fleet, it will come at significant costs. It is unclear whether Congress will simply open the coffers to pay for it, and additionally operations, maintenance and personnel costs could squeeze modernization accounts in the coming years.

Yet, in the long term this could be a true investment in the future, as unmanned vessels are expected to be less expensive to procure, operate and maintain than manned platforms. That alone could make them far more attractive as the sea service invests in new capabilities.

“In order to enable unmanned and manned platforms to operate together, significant changes and modifications will need to be made in the existing task organizations, operational doctrines and operator training,” said Sevi. “Unmanned vehicles are being used for intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR), as well as mine countermeasure operations. Once they have matured and are proven autonomous systems, they will be used along with the manned platform in other operations—primarily underwater threats.”

The Navy may need to make some internal adjustments as it transitions to vessels that operate with fewer or in many cases no sailors on board those warships. And this could truly change the way the U.S. Navy operates.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

Israel Set To Receive First 'Stealth' Missile Boat

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 15:33

Peter Suciu

Israel, Middle East

This next generation of missile boats have been seen as crucial to defending Israel’s offshore strategic natural gas industry from the threat of terrorist groups, such as the Lebanese-based Hezbollah.

While one of the State of Israel’s smaller military branches, the Israeli Navy is actually active in multiple theaters including the Mediterranean Sea, the Gulf of Eilat and the Red Sea. It is also believed that the Israeli Navy is responsible for maintaining the nation’s offshore nuclear second strike capability.

Currently, the Israeli Navy—which was founded in 1948 and has some 10,000 active duty personnel—consists of three Sa’ar 5-class corvettes, eight missile boats, five submarines and some forty five patrol boats as well as two support ships. Beginning this year the Israeli Navy will see a significant upgrade when it receives the first of the German-made Sa’ar 6 missile corvettes from the “Project Magen.”

Four of the warships were ordered in May 2015, and in March of this year a photo released online showed the first of the vessels—named INS Magen—undergoing sea trials. The Sa’ar 6 corvette class vessels are now being built by the German TKMS for Israel, and the warships are based on the design of the German-made MEKO 100 patrol corvette. The ships will have an overall length of 90 meters, a maximum beam of 13.2 meters and a height of 21.5 meters. Displacement of the Sa’ar 6 will be approximately 2,000 tons.

According to Naval Recognition, INS Magen was built utilizing stealth technology construction techniques that could make the vessel harder to detect by one or more radar, visual, sonar or infrared methods.

Delivery of the vessels, which cost a reported $480 million with the German government covering about one quarter of the cost, were scheduled to arrive earlier this year but were delayed to the ongoing novel coronavirus pandemic.

Defending Israel’s Waters 

This next generation of missile boats have been seen as crucial to defending Israel’s offshore strategic natural gas industry from the threat of terrorist groups, such as the Lebanese-based Hezbollah. The vessels will be at the forefront of INS efforts to protect the more than 200-mile exclusive economic zone (EEZ), which has become a significant national asset for the Jewish state.

Additionally, Israel has seen a rising threat from the navy capability of Hamas, which has been training commando teams to operate a “frogmen team” to strike against Israel targets along the Gaza coast.

The corvettes will certainly be a significant deterrence and are armed with an Oto Melara 76 mm main gun, two Typhoon Weapon Stations, 16 vertical launch cells for Barak-8 surface-to-air missiles,40 cells for the C-Dome point defense system, 16 anti-ship missiles, the EL/M-2248 MF-STAR AESA radar, and two 324 mm torpedo launchers. The warships will also have hangar space and a platform able to accommodate a medium-class SH-60-type helicopter.

When the first of the vessels, INS Magen—Hebrew for “Shield”—arrives later this year, it could certainly live up to its name and help protect the Israel coast and its crucial gas reserves from threats.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

LG’s 48-Inch CX OLED HDTV Is Amazing but Should You Go Bigger?

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 15:00

Ethen Kim Lieser


Going bigger is fine, but these OLED screens are good enough that you do not need to worry about crowding around even a smaller TV.

In today’s high-end HDTV universe, the runaway choice for MVP is likely LG’s much-vaunted forty-eight-inch CX Series OLED.

This particular model from the Korean tech giant—which can be yours for $1,500 at Best Buy—is jam-packed with all of the eyebrow-raising power and next-generation perks that you need to create the best picture and viewing experience on the planet.

But at a measly forty-eight inches—considering today’s ubiquitous mammoth-panel standards—is it too small for your movie-watching and gaming needs?

From the perspective of pricing, going up to fifty-five inches would indeed be a smart move, as it would only cost $100 more. But if you desire a sixty-five-inch panel, that will set you back $2,300, while the seventy-seven-inch monster is retailing for $3,700.

Whatever size you settle on, know that all of these dimensions will provide a top-of-the-line, blemish-free panel. Here’s a quick rundown of what you’ll get: sleek and slim design, fantastic picture quality, accurate colors, deepest blacks, and inimitable uniformity and contrast ratios. And like the little brothers B9 and C9 Series, this CX model also proves that its wide-angle viewing is second to none. 

Powered by the α9 Gen 3 AI Processor 4K, the CX also features the much-coveted HDMI 2.1 features—including eARC—and comes with full-fledged support for Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, and Apple AirPlay 2. The ultra-handy remote control also lets you speak to those voice assistants. The set also features Cinema HDR, which does a marvelous job of supporting a wide range of formats for scene-by-scene picture adjustment—including the must-haves Dolby Vision, HDR10, and HLG. 

And for all the diehard gamers out there waiting patiently for the arrival next month of the next-generation consoles from PlayStation and Xbox, know that the CX flawlessly supports the Nvidia G-Sync standard and AMD FreeSync, which help to eliminate any screen tearing and stuttering. The end result is noticeably smoother gameplay—no matter how graphics-intensive the games are.

As many avid gamers are known to crowd around screens, perhaps staying with the forty-eight inches isn’t such a terrible idea. Obviously, you will be saving some cash and space, but as an OLED panel, you will be on the receiving end of immaculate picture quality driven by millions of next-generation self-emissive pixels—no matter if you’re off to the side or sitting a bit closer to the TV than you should be. 

However, the one caveat is to be aware that like all OLED TVs, the CX is susceptible to suffer from image retention or burn-in—although this pesky issue has become less common with further advances in OLED technology

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: LG.


Weak: Why Did Imperial Japan's Nakajima Ki-43 Fighter Fair So Poorly?

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 14:33

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

The plane looked impressive, but it had too many flaws.

Key point: The Ki-43 scared many Allied pilots. However, it eventually became outclassed and suffered from low armor around its vulnerable oxygen tanks.

At the start of World War II, Japanese airpower ruled the skies over China and the Pacific. Japan’s modern, highly maneuverable fighters, flown by well-trained and combat-tested pilots, outperformed anything the Chinese, British, or Americans could get airborne to oppose them.

When the Mitsubishi A6M Type 0 naval fighter first appeared over China in 1941, Allied aviators were astonished. Not only was the Zero more agile than anything they had ever seen, but its speed and heavy armament guaranteed almost certain victory in a dogfight. Quickly this new airplane earned a terrifying reputation for flying circles around the Hawker Hurricane or Curtiss P-40 Tomahawk.

Few Westerners realized at the time that most of these so-called Zeros were actually Nakajima-designed Japanese Army Air Force (JAAF) aircraft. Known as the “Army Zero” and later code-named “Oscar,” the Ki-43 Hayabusa (Peregrine Falcon) became the JAAF’s most important fighter of World War II.

The Hayabusa served throughout the Pacific War, undergoing several design upgrades to improve performance, protection, and firepower. Some 5,919 were built, more than any other Japanese aircraft except the Zero. Almost all the JAAF’s top aces scored kills with this nimble little fighter, a capable workhorse in skilled hands right up to war’s end.

A Reliance on Speed and Agility

In 1937, a Nakajima design team headed by Hideo Itokawa began work on a successor to its Ki-27 fighter, known as the Type 97. The Japanese Army required a lightweight, maneuverable air superiority fighter that would clear the skies of enemy aircraft so ground forces could operate unimpeded. The Ki-27 met this requirement but was already getting long in the tooth compared to Anglo-American aircraft then in development.

Itokawa’s engineers set out to design a fast, modern interceptor possessing superb maneuverability. The low-wing, single seat Ki-43 would feature all metal construction, a streamlined canopy, retractable landing gear, and a 950-horsepower Sakae radial engine propelling it to over 300 miles per hour. To meet JAAF weight specifications, Nakajima designers chose to omit armor protection and self-sealing fuel tanks. Pilots would rely on the machine’s speed and agility to close with an enemy, finishing the job with two Type 89 7.7mm machine guns.

Yet, when the Ki-43 prototype first flew in January 1939, it performed poorly. Test pilots complained the Nakajima design was unresponsive, sluggish, and not much faster than the Ki-27 it was intended to replace. Clearly, Itokawa’s design needed work.

It took Nakajima 18 months and 13 separate modifications to deliver an acceptable aircraft. Engineers trimmed every ounce of extra weight from the Ki-43, as well as increasing wing area and redesigning the canopy. They also installed a set of paddle-shaped “butterfly flaps” under the wing roots to boost maneuverability.

The newly modified interceptor performed wonderfully. It could reach an altitude of 38,500 feet with a 3,900 feet per minute rate of climb. Maximum speed was 308 miles per hour at 13,000 feet. Its butterfly flaps enabled the Hayabusa to turn inside any aircraft then flying, even the Zero.

The Nakajima Ki-43-I Sees Production

Nakajima’s Ki-43-I, as the modified design became known, measured 28 feet, 11 inches long, with a wingspan of 37 feet, six inches. It weighed 3,483 pounds empty and 4,515 pounds combat loaded. Armament was initially two 7.7mm machine guns in the front cowling, later replaced by one or two heavier Ho-103 12.7mm aircraft cannon as those weapons entered service.

Full-scale production of the Peregrine Falcon began in April 1941. The JAAF accepted it as the Army Type One interceptor, and Ki-43-equipped squadrons entered service in October. Before long the Hayabusa was battling P-40s of the legendary Flying Tigers and British-flown Brewster Buffalo fighters over Burma.

As war spread across Asia and the Pacific, Allied fliers learned to fear Japan’s angry little falcon. Tangling with a Ki-43 usually resulted in fiery death, so air tacticians such as General Claire L. Chennault of the Flying Tigers taught their pilots to avoid dogfighting with one at any cost.

It took time, however, for Chennault’s lessons to take hold. For the first year of the war Hayabusa aces such as Warrant Officer Iwataro Hazawa (15 kills) and Lieutenant Guichi Sumino (27 victories) racked up impressive scores against their Hawker-, Brewster-, and Curtiss-equipped adversaries.

On December 22, 1941, a flight of 18 Ki-43s encountered 13 Australian Brewster Buffalo fighters over Malaysia. Sergeant Yoshito Yasuda described his role in this air battle: “Luckily, Capt. [Katsumi] Anma found a fleeing Buffalo and attacked it from above and behind. My turn came when Anma’s guns jammed. I sent a burst into the Buffalo’s engine and saw it belch white smoke.” Hayabusa pilots claimed 11 kills that day for the loss of one Japanese plane; Australian records indicate three Brewsters were actually destroyed while two more made it home too badly damaged to repair.

Performance Issues of the Ki-43-I

Despite these early successes, JAAF aviators found fault with the Peregrine Falcon’s performance, firepower, and durability. In service the Ki-43 developed a fatal tendency to shed its wings during a steep dive. This was a direct consequence of Nakajima’s earlier weight saving modifications, and headquarters suspended all flight operations until strengthened wing spars could be installed.

Pilots also disliked the slow-firing Ho-103 cannon. A Japanese copy of the U.S. Browning M2 .50-caliber machine gun, early models often jammed in combat. The Ho-103’s unreliability forced most pilots to keep one 7.7mm machine gun installed as a backup.

Nakajima designers watched with concern as modern Allied fighters like the Lockheed P-38 Lightning and Vought F4U Corsair took to the skies starting in late 1942. They began work to upgrade the Hayabusa, adding a more powerful 1,150-horsepower engine, self-sealing fuel tanks, and armor protection for the pilot. A reflector gunsight was also installed, and the Ho-103’s reliability problems were fixed. Subsequent modifications included bomb/drop tank racks, radio equipment, and clipped wings intended to improve the roll rate.

The Ki-43-II Against Allied Bombers

The updated Ki-43-II was faster, stronger, and no less maneuverable than older models. Remaining uncorrected, however, was the Peregrine Falcon’s alarming vulnerability to enemy gunfire. Allied fliers soon discovered that one burst of .50-caliber machine-gun bullets into the Ki-43’s unprotected oxygen tank would usually cause a catastrophic explosion.

The Hayabusa’s two-gun battery was one-third as potent as the six heavy weapons carried by most American fighters. Even firing explosive shells, the Ho-103 cannon proved woefully inadequate against tough-skinned Allied warplanes. When Consolidated B-24 Liberator bombers began operating in Chinese airspace in late 1942, JAAF fliers had no choice but to attack them with their poorly armed Falcons.

It took great courage to intercept the formidable B-24s, and even greater luck to bring one down. Captain Yasuhiko Kuroe told his pilots to fly head-on into the American formations and concentrate on a single bomber. “Attack boldly,” Kuroe counseled. “Go into the wall of fire and take their bullets, be relentless.” Kuroe’s tactic worked, but often at great loss to the fragile Ki-43s.

The tables were turning for those brave aviators forced to fly this increasingly obsolescent fighter. Twelve-kill JAAF ace Captain Yohei Hinoki observed: “By the time the Hayabusa had become a good attack aircraft things were changing. It was now to be used for defense … so again its firepower was insufficient. The Hayabusa was coming to the end of its time.”

Japanese Army Air Force pilots continued to operate the aging Ki-43 simply because that was all they had. While JAAF-flown Hayabusas fought desperately against superior Allied fighters, development of more advanced aircraft like the Ki-84 Hayate remained a low priority. Perhaps the government believed its own propaganda; in 1942 only good war news reached the Japanese people.

Countering the Ki-43

Those fighting over China and the Pacific knew better. American aviators were learning how to cope with the Nakajima fighter, now code-named “Oscar.” Using team tactics, well-trained U.S. Navy and Army Air Corps fighter aces began scoring heavily against the diminishing number of skilled Hayabusa pilots.

On August 2, 1943, Captain James A. Watkins and 15 pilots of the USAAF’s 9th Fighter Squadron pounced on a large formation of Ki-43s over the Huon Gulf in New Guinea. Flying the powerful P-38 Lightning, Watkins quickly destroyed two Ki-43s before diving on a third Oscar that was running away at wave-top level. Trying to outturn Watkins’s plane, the Ki-43 accidentally dipped a wing into the water and cartwheeled into a thousand pieces. This splasher was Watkins’s 11th career kill, seven of which were Hayabusas.

U.S. Navy aviators also encountered the Peregrine Falcon in combat. Lieutenant Ralph Rosen, piloting a Grumman F6F Hellcat from the aircraft carrier USS Bunker Hill, recounted how he shot down one Ki-43 on October 12, 1944: “An Oscar passed almost in front of me in a steep dive, apparently going for some F6Fs below. The Jap pilot apparently did not see our section, and I managed to get on the Oscar’s tail. After a short burst, the wing root exploded and then the whole plane caught on fire and went down.” This victory was one of three Hayabusas Rosen would claim over Formosa that day.

The Late Ki-43-III

By mid-1944, the Ki-43 was hopelessly outclassed as a fighter interceptor. This did not stop Nakajima from fitting it with an uprated 1,230-horsepower engine and twin 20mm cannons in a desperate attempt to again improve performance. The Ki-43-III was a case of too little, too late—for now there was a fearsome new threat making its presence known over Japan.

When Boeing B-29 Superfortress bombers began flying combat operations, most surviving Ki-43s were withdrawn to the home islands. There they served in an air defense capacity, occasionally downing an American bomber despite the Hayabusa’s deficiencies in speed, protection, and armament. Often, fliers chose to ram their targets, a tactic usually fatal to both the Falcon and the B-29.

Other Hayabusas rammed Allied warships in their final role as kamikaze planes during the war’s last months. Those remaining soldiered on to the bitter end. After VJ-Day, captured Ki-43s continued to fly for several years in Chinese, North Korean, and Indonesian service. One Indochina-based French air squadron even briefly operated a few leftover Hayabusas against Viet Minh rebels.

Its sleek lines and impressive handling characteristics endeared the Ki-43 Hayabusa to its pilots but masked many serious flaws. An obsolete design, this workhorse could not compete against the increasingly more capable opponents it faced in combat. In the end, Japan’s angry little Falcon and the daring men who flew it were simply overwhelmed by superior Allied production, training, and technology.

Originally Published December 18, 2018.

This article originally appeared on the Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia

The Pentagon Has Plans to Defend Against Hypersonic Missiles

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 14:00

Kris Osborn

Security, Americas

The need to stop hypersonic weapons attacks is growing in significance and urgency, according to many senior Congressional and U.S. military leaders. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, said China was in fact ahead of the United States regarding hypersonic weapons development.

The Pentagon is taking rapid new steps to defend against advanced hypersonic missile attacks in space through its ongoing efforts to engineer new Overhead Persistent Infrared early warning missile detection satellites.

“The satellites will be able to provide missile tracking data for hypersonic glide vehicles and the next generation of advanced missile threats,” Derek Tournear, the director of the Space Development Agency, said according to a Pentagon report.

Two companies were awarded OPIR development deals, L3Harris and SpaceX. The Pentagon reports says each company is expected to build four overhead persistent infrared imaging, or OPIR, satellites for the tracking layer of the NDSA. The satellites are slated to be ready by the end of fiscal year 2022.

“The transport satellites are the backbone of the National Defense Space Architecture,” Tournear said. “They take data from multiple tracking systems, fuse those, and are able to calculate a fire control solution, and then the transport satellites will be able to send those data down directly to a weapons platform via a tactical data link, or some other means.”

More sensitive and better networked missile-warning satellites are increasingly important to the Pentagon for obvious reasons, given that both Russia and China have been weaponizing space for quite some time. Both countries are known to have hypersonic weapons and ASAT, or anti-satellite systems. Russia is reported to be developing satellite-launched weapons. 

Speaking recently at an event at The Heritage Foundation, Justin T. Johnson, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Space Policy, said Russian and Chinese weapons could threaten “missile warning systems, precision, navigation and timing technologies and weather forecasting.”

The challenge of tracking high-speed hypersonic weapons is also bringing new dynamics to space warfare, given that they can travel at more than five-times the speed of sound. This threat naturally requires what industry and Pentagon weapons developers explain as a need to develop a “continuous track” following the entire trajectory of an incoming hypersonic weapon. 

The need to stop hypersonic weapons attacks is growing in significance and urgency, according to many senior Congressional and U.S. military leaders. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Sen. Jim Inhofe, said China was in fact ahead of the United States regarding hypersonic weapons development.

“Last October, China paraded a hypersonic weapon, showing off a technology we don’t even have yet,” Inhofe said earlier this year on the Senate floor, when talking about the need for a very strong 2021 military budget.

Part of the effort to better network satellites hinges upon the rapid addition of new satellite constellations to include Medium and Low-Earth Orbit systems, faster, lower-flying systems able to build in redundancy, closely track ground threats and share information more seamlessly. 

This phenomenon explains part of why the Missile Defense Agency is working quickly to refine and integrate space-based sensing and command and control, as higher speed approaching missiles will need closer and more continuous tracking.

“We call it 'tracking' because it's missile tracking—so it provides detection, tracking and fire control formation for hypersonic glide vehicles, ballistic missiles ... any of those kinds of threats,” Tournear said.

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

Image: Reuters


5 Things Japan Could Have Done To Win World War II

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 13:33

James Holmes


Imperial Japan stood next to no chance of winning a fight to the finish against the United States. Or did they? 

Here's What You Need To Remember: By 1945, American boats dismembered the island empire by severing the shipping lanes connecting its parts. Japanese submarines were the equals of their U.S. Navy counterparts. IJN commanders should have looked at the nautical chart, grasped the fact that U.S. naval forces must operate across thousands of miles of ocean simply to reach the Western Pacific, and directed sub skippers to make the transpacific sea lanes no-go zones for American shipping.

Let's face it. Imperial Japan stood next to no chance of winning a fight to the finish against the United States. Resolve and resources explain why. So long as Americans kept their dander up, demanding that their leaders press on to complete victory, Washington had a mandate to convert the republic's immense industrial potential into a virtually unstoppable armada of ships, aircraft, and armaments. Such a physical mismatch was simply too much for island state Japan -- with an economy about one-tenth the size of America's -- to surmount.

Quantity has a quality all its own. No amount of willpower or martial virtuosity can overcome too lopsided a disparity in numbers. Tokyo stared that plight in the face following Pearl Harbor.So Japan could never have crushed U.S. maritime forces in the Pacific and imposed terms on Washington. That doesn't mean it couldn't have won World War II. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? But the weak sometimes win. As strategic sage Carl von Clausewitz recounts, history furnishes numerous instances when the weak got their way. Indeed, Clausewitz notes that it sometimes makes sense for the lesser contender to start a fight. If its leadership sees force as the only resort, and if the trendlines look unfavorable -- in other words, if right now is as good as it gets -- then why not act?

Editor's Note: Please see our other "Five Ways" articles including: Five Ways D-Day Could Have Been  a Disaster and Five Ways a Nuclear War Could Still Happen

There are three basic ways to win wars according to the great Carl. One, you can trounce the enemy's armed forces and dictate whatever terms you please. Short of that, two, you can levy a heavier price from the enemy than he's willing to pay to achieve his goals. The value a belligerent assigns his political objectives determines how many resources he's prepared to expend on those objectives' behalf, and for how long. Taking measures that compel an opponent to expend more lives, armaments, or treasure is one way to raise the price. Dragging out the affair so that he pays heavy costs over time is another. And three, you can dishearten him, persuading him he's unlikely to fulfill his war aims.

A disconsolate adversary, or one who balks at the costs of war, is a pliant adversary. He cuts the best deal he can to exit the imbroglio.

If a military triumph lay beyond Tokyo's reach, the second two methods remained available in the Pacific. Japanese commanders could have husbanded resources, narrowing the force mismatch between the warring sides. They could have made the conflict more costly, painful, and prolonged for America, undercutting its resolve. Or, alternatively, they could have avoided rousing American fury to wage total war in the first place. By foregoing a strike at Hawaii, they could have enfeebled the opponent's resolve or, perhaps, sidelined the opponent entirely.

Bottom line, no likely masterstroke -- no single stratagem or killing blow -- would have defeated the United States. Rather, Japanese commanders should have thought and acted less tactically and more strategically. In so doing they would have improved Japan's chances.

Which brings us to Five Ways Japan Could Have Won. Now, the items catalogued below are far from mutually exclusive. The Japanese leadership would have boosted its prospects had it embraced them all. And granted, enacting some of these measures would have demanded preternaturally farseeing leadership. Foresight was a virtue of which Japan's vacillating emperor and squabbling military rulers were woefully short. Whether it was plausible for them to act wisely is open to debate. With these caveats out of the way, onward!

-       Wage one war at a time. Conserving enemies is a must even for the strongest combatants. It's imperative for small states with big ambitions to avoid making war against everyone in sight. Imposing discipline on the war was particularly hard for Japan, whose political system -- patterned on Imperial Germany's, alas -- was stovepiped between the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy (IJA and IJN), with no meaningful civilian political oversight. Absent a strong emperor, the army and navy were free to indulge their interservice one-upsmanship, jostling for influence and prestige. The IJA cast its gaze on continental Asia, where a land campaign in Manchuria, then China proper, beckoned. The IJN pushed for a maritime campaign aimed at resources in Southeast Asia. By yielding to these contrary impulses between 1931 and 1941, Japan in effect surrounded itself with enemies of its own accord -- invading Manchuria and China before lashing out at the imperial powers in Southeast Asia and, ultimately, striking at Pearl Harbor. Any tactician worth his salt will tell you a 360-degree threat axis -- threats all around -- makes for perilous times. Tokyo should have set priorities. It might have accomplished some of its goals had it taken things in sequence.

-       Listen to Yamamoto. Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto reputedly cautioned his superiors that Japan must win a quick, decisive victory lest it awaken the American "sleeping giant" with fateful consequences for Japan. The IJN, prophesied Yamamoto, could run wild for six months -- maybe a year -- before the United States mustered its full power for combat. During that interval, Japan needed to stun American society into a compromise peace -- in effect a partition of the Pacific -- while firming up the island defense perimeter enclosing the Asia-Pacific territories won by Japanese arms. What if its efforts fell short? U.S. industry would be turning out armaments in massive quantities, while new vessels laid down under the Two-Ocean Navy Act of 1940 -- in effect a second, bulked-up U.S. Navy -- would start arriving in the theater. The balance would shift irretrievably. In short, Yamamoto warned military leaders against "script-writing," or assuming the enemy would do precisely what they foresaw. The admiral knew a thing or two about the United States, and understood the American propensity to defy preconceptions.

-       Don't listen to Yamamoto. If Admiral Yamamoto rendered wise counsel on the strategic level, it was suspect on the operational level. His solution to the problem of latent U.S. material superiority was to strike at what navalists saw as the hub of enemy power -- the adversary's battle fleet. For decades IJN planners had envisioned waging "interceptive operations" to slow down and weaken the U.S. Pacific Fleet as it steamed westward, presumably to the relief of the Philippine Islands. Once aircraft and submarines deployed to outlying islands whittled the Pacific Fleet down to size, the IJN battle fleet would force a decisive battle. Yamamoto, however, convinced IJN commanders to jettison interceptive operations in favor of a sudden blow at Pearl Harbor. But in reality, the battle line stationed in Hawaii wasn't the core of American naval strength. The nascent Two-Ocean Navy Act fleet was. The best that Yamamoto's scheme could accomplish, consequently, was to delay an American counteroffensive into 1943. Tokyo may have been better off sticking with the interwar plan, which would have driven up U.S. costs, protracted the endeavor, and potentially sapped U.S. perseverance.

-       Concentrate rather than disperse resources. Just as Japanese officials seemed incapable of restricting themselves to one war at a time, they seemed incapable of limiting the number of active operations and combat theaters. Look no further than Japanese actions in 1942. IJN task forces struck into the Indian Ocean, inflicting a Pearl Harbor on the British Eastern Fleet off Ceylon. They saw the need to shore up the northern flank at the Battle of Midway by assaulting the remote Aleutian Islands. And they extended the empire's outer defense perimeter -- and assumed vast new waterspace to defend -- by opening a secondary theater in the Solomon Islands, in a vain effort to interrupt sea routes connecting North America with Australia. It's incumbent on the weaker combatant to ask itself whether the gains from secondary enterprises are exceptional, and what it risks in the most important theaters, before undertaking new adventures. Japan, which had fewer resources to spare, raised the costs to itself -- more than the United States -- through its strategic indiscipline.

-       Wage unrestricted submarine warfare. Inexplicably, the IJN neglected to do what the U.S. Pacific Fleet set in motion while Battleship Row was still afire: unleash its submarine force to sink any ship, naval or merchant, that flew an enemy flag. By 1945, American boats dismembered the island empire by severing the shipping lanes connecting its parts. Japanese submarines were the equals of their U.S. Navy counterparts. IJN commanders should have looked at the nautical chart, grasped the fact that U.S. naval forces must operate across thousands of miles of ocean simply to reach the Western Pacific, and directed sub skippers to make the transpacific sea lanes no-go zones for American shipping. It's hard to imagine a more straightforward, cost-effective scheme whereby Japan's navy could exact a heavy toll from its opponent. Neglecting undersea warfare was an operational transgression of the first order.

James Holmes is J. C. Wylie Chair of Maritime Strategy at the Naval War College. The views expressed here are his own. This first appeared last year.

Image: Wikipedia.

FFG(X): The U.S. Navy's New Guided-Missile Frigate Program, Explained

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 13:00

Peter Suciu


The Constellation will be the first warship in the Navy’s new program to build a class of 20 guided-missiles frigates, where were funded by United States Congress in fiscal year 2020 (FY2020) at a cost of $1.28 billion. The new frigates will be able to operate independently or as part of a strike group.

On Tuesday, from the museum ship USS Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Secretary of the Navy Kenneth J. Braithwaite announced that the lead vessel in the new class of guided missile frigates—FFG(X)—would be named for the nineteenth century sloop-of-war.

The name was selected to honor the first U.S. Navy ships authorized by Congress in 1794. The original six heavy frigates, which helped establish the Continental Navy as an agile, lethal and ready to fight force for the nineteenth century, were named United States, Constellation, Constitution, Chesapeake, Congress, and President. FFG-62 will be the fifth U.S. Navy vessel named Constellation.

“As the first in her class, these ships will now be known as the Constellation Class frigates, linking them directly to the original six frigates of our Navy, carrying on the traditions of our great service which have been passed down from generation to generation of sailors,” said Braithwaite from the second vessel—the nineteenth-century sloop-of-war—to bear the name. “While providing an unmatched capability and survivability for the twenty-first Century, Constellation Class Frigates will honor our Navy’s historic beginnings as we continue to operate around the world in today’s era of Great Power Competition.” 

The FFG(X) Program 

The Constellation will be the first warship in the Navy’s new program to build a class of twenty guided-missiles frigates, where were funded by United States Congress in fiscal year 2020 (FY2020) at a cost of $1.28 billion. The new frigates will be able to operate independently or as part of a strike group.

Each warship can deliver an Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar (EASR), Mk 41 Vertical Launching System, and Baseline 10 (BL 10) Aegis Combat System capabilities. The vessel’s lethality, survivability, and improved capability will further provide Fleet Commanders multiple options while supporting the U.S. National Defense Strategy across the full range of military operations.

It is a multi-mission small surface combatant that was designed to conduct anti-air warfare (AAW), anti-surface warfare (ASuW), anti-submarine warfare (ASW), and electromagnetic warfare (EMW) operations.

The future warships will be built at Marinette Marine Corporation in Marinette, Wisconsin with the first ship scheduled for delivery in 2026. It should reach initial operational capability by 2030, while the fleet should grow by two hulls or more a year after that.

The Multiple Constellations  

A total of four U.S. Navy warships have been named Constellation. In addition to the original heavy 38-gun frigate, which was named to represent the “new constellation of stars” on the United States flag, and the nineteenth century sloop-of-war; USS Constellation (CC-2) was a battlecruiser that was laid down in 1920 but cancelled in 1923, while USS Constellation (CV-64) was a Kitty Hawk-class aircraft carrier that served from 1961 until 2003. In addition to supporting operations during the Vietnam War, the first Persian Gulf War and both Operations Enduring Freedom and Iraqi Freedom, the carrier suffered several catastrophic fires.

The choice of names for the new class of frigates is notable in that previous classes of U.S. Navy frigates, along with destroyers, have generally been named for naval leaders and heroes, USNI News reported, citing a Congressional Research Service report on ship naming conventions.

Other names considered included Agility, which was favored by former Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Modly, who suggested the name would evoke a “uniquely American brand of agility—agility that wins, and agility that will shape our maritime presence and ability to fight wherever we are called upon to do so.” The names Dauntless, Endeavor, and Intrepid were also on the short list according to a memo obtained by USNI shortly before Modly resigned as acting secretary.

However, as the Navy secretary has total discretion on names, the new class of guided missile cruisers will be the Constellation-class. 

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He is the author of several books on military headgear including A Gallery of Military Headdress, which is available on

America’s Delta Force Didn't Become Elite By Accident

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 12:33

Sebastien Roblin


What would you do to join the best? There’s writing endless resumes—and then there’s running forty miles at night on an uneven forest trail while lugging a fifty-pound rucksack

Here's What You Need To Remember: The unit’s brutal selection and training process is revealed to have a purpose beyond physical fitness fetishism—it’s to help identify the kinds of individuals with the physical prowess and motivation to repeatedly undertake dangerous missions which may indeed at times prove to be impossible.

Just how much torture is a person willing to undergo to get a prestigious job? Given that an average of 250 resumes are submitted for every job position in the United States, one would assume quite a lot.

But there’s writing endless resumes—and then there’s running forty miles at night on an uneven forest trail while lugging a fifty-pound rucksack—with more weight added upon achieving each waypoint.

And to even get into the application pool for that particular job, you first have to master the art of willingly jumping out of a perfectly functional airplane.

This refers, of course, to the admission process for the U.S. Army’s top commando unit.

Eric Haney described the experience of one of the long-distance hiking in his book Inside Delta Force:

“I had covered just slightly over thirty miles by now, but still had more than twenty to go. It was getting more and more difficult to do speed computations in my head. My hands were tingling from the rucksack straps cutting into my shoulders, pinching the nerves and arteries, and restricting the blood flow to my arms.

I was bent forward against the weight of the rucksack. It felt like I was dragging a train behind me, and my feet hurt all the way up to my knees. I don’t mean they were just sore, I mean they felt like I had been strapped to the rack and someone had beaten the balls of my feet with a bat. I tried to calculate the foot-pounds of energy my feet had absorbed so far today, but I had to give up the effort. I only knew that the accumulated tonnage of all those thousands of steps was immense. And it was only going to get worse.”

Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta—or “Delta Force”—remains cloaked equally in official secrecy and popular legend. 

Technically an elite counter-terrorism Special Missions Unit, Delta Force has been involved in virtually every major U.S. military action since the 1980s—whether attempting to rescue political prisoners from a fortified prison in Grenada, nabbing Panamanian strongman Manuel Noriega, hunting Scud missiles behind Iraqi lines, battling Somali warlords, assassinating ISIS leaders, and even assisting Mexican marines in a deadly gun battle that saw the capture of drug kingpin “El Chapo.” 

And one can only speculate about all the missions that remain classified.

The unit’s existence remains ritually unacknowledged by the U.S. government, despite its organization and aliases (a common one is “Combat Application Group” (CAG)) being reasonably well-documented in books by former members and its exploits celebrated in movies like Black Hawk Down and television series like The Unit.

Delta Force was founded by Colonel Charles Beckwith, who had served in the 1960s as an exchange officer with the British Special Air Service while it was engaged in a grinding but successful counterinsurgency campaign against Communist guerillas in Malaysia.

Beckwith was one tough cookie. During his stint commanding SAS troops in the jungle, he nearly died from a bacterial infection. Then, while commanding Green Berets in Vietnam he was struck by a .50 caliber slug—and survived after being triaged as a lost cause.

These experiences left their impression on the Georgia native, who went on to devise the rigorous “Q-Course” used to train the Green Beret special operations forces of today.

Beckwith was convinced the Army needed an even more elite direct action unit with the mental and physical fortitude to operate independently at length in the field. Furthermore, he emphasized that unit should only be composed of experienced officers and non-commissioned officers (NCOs) who had already proven their skills in the field.

Today, Beckwith’s vision still informs Delta Force’s selective training regimen. To even qualify for the Delta Operator Training Course (OTC), Delta recruits must possess years of experience, with qualification for parachute operations, a “Secret” security clearance, and a clean disciplinary record.

Reportedly, these requirements mean that three-quarters of Delta Force recruits are sourced from the Army’s two other primary Special Operations units: the 75th Ranger Regiment—which often engages in larger-scale operations behind enemy lines—and the Green Berets, who specialize in embedding with, training and leading local forces in foreign countries.

The Operator Training Course itself places heavy emphasis on perfecting marksmanship—especially in hostage-rescue contexts. Several facilities are maintained solely to practice hostage rescue scenarios in realistic environments ranging from large civilian buildings, to airliners and warships.

Delta trainees also receive instruction in demolitions, lock-picking and even bomb-making techniques. They are trained by CIA operatives in espionage techniques from shadowing persons of interest to transmitting intelligence via dead drops and even aggressive “tactical driving”—yes, the kind you thought was only a fantasy reserved for action movies.

Only a fraction of those selected to undertake the OTC manage to complete it.

Obviously, it takes a rare individual to muster the physical endurance, mental adaptability and sheer ambition to first qualify and then complete the six-month Operator Training Course.

But there’s also a sobering sub-text to the extreme training regimen: Delta Force has historically often been called upon to perform missions with a high risk of failure.

Operation Eagle Claw, the only Delta mission led by Beckwith, was an attempt to rescue hostages at the U.S. embassy in Iran in 1979. It ended in flames before even encountering enemy forces when one of the helicopters involved crashed into the tanker it was refueling from, killing eight.

In October 1993, Delta snipers Randy Shughart and Gary Gordon Delta hopped off an orbiting helicopter, having insisted they need to insert on the ground to save crashed Army helicopter pilot Michael Durant from a besieging mob in the streets of Mogadishu, Somalia. Both were killed minutes later, along with three other Delta operators who perished in a day-long battle that left roughly a thousand dead.

During the early years of the hunt for Bin Laden, Delta operators saw action in Afghanistan—at one point coming to the rescue of Afghan President Hamid Karzai after he was nearly killed by an errant laser-guided bomb—and more discreetly in Pakistan and India’s Kashmir province. They also participated in numerous raids during the invasion of Iraq and the lengthy counterinsurgency conflict that followed. Near the end of the U.S. mission in Iraq in 2009, the Washington Post reported roughly half of all Delta operatives in Iraq had received Purple Hearts for being injured in combat.

In this light, the unit’s brutal selection and training process is revealed to have a purpose beyond physical fitness fetishism—it’s to help identify the kinds of individuals with the physical prowess and motivation to repeatedly undertake dangerous missions which may indeed at times prove to be impossible.

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 earlier this year.

Image: U.S. Army Flickr.

F-22, B-2 and More: Four of Deadliest Planes on the Planet

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 12:00

Caleb Larson

Security, World

What would be in your list?

While many experts may have different perspectives, here is a short compilation of what I would argue are the top military planes on the planet today: 

One of Russia’s most capable fighters is the Su-33 carrier-capable fighter. Derived from the legendary Su-27 fighter of Soviet vintage, the Su-33 fighter jet is larger and can fly farther. In a nod to the platform’s intended carrier role, the Su-33 jet’s wings fold upwards for storage aboard Russia’s sole aircraft carrier.

The twin-engine Su-33 jet features a number of improvements over its Su-27 parent that address the stresses of aircraft carrier landings and result in a more robust platform. At the front of the plane, the Su-33 jet has canard winglets mated to leading-edge root extensions, granting the airframe a degree of maneuverability not often seen for carrier-based fighters. Altogether, the airframe's large wing area and numerous control surfaces result in a fighter capable of both low landing speeds and high maneuverability.

Despite the Su-33 jet’s remarkable characteristics on paper, the platform is severely limited by Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, which is noted for its unreliability and lack of proper repair equipment. China has a knock-off Su-33 jet in service, which they dub the J-15, though their copy is noted for being extremely unreliable. Despite the promise the platform held, the airframe has been decidedly unsuccessful on the export market, and its days may be close to over.

Need for Speed

Currently, the one fighter that easily takes the cake is the U.S. Air Force F-22 Raptor stealth fighter. The F-22 jet was originally designed to take on the best of the Soviet Union’s fighters in air-to-air combat, as in this role is easily the world’s deadliest air superiority fighter. And, not only is the F-22 fighter jet fast, with a maximum speed of just over Mach 2.2 (albeit with afterburners when at altitude), but it is also highly maneuverable.

In one noteworthy episode, an F-22 jet is said to have intercepted an Iranian F-4 Phantom near Iran. In this interception, the F-22 jet was actually able to speak up on the Iranian plane and visually inspect what the F-4 Phantom’s weapon loadout was—without the pilot even registering that the F-22 jet was in the area, a clear demonstration of just how tough the F-22 jet is to spot.

Bombs Away

On the bomber side of the flight, another American plane is a clear winner. The Northrop Grumman designed B-2 Spirit bomber benefits from a highly stealthy, flying-wing design. In addition to an internally-carried weapons load and stealthily serrated bomb bay doors, the B-2 Spirit bomber also features serpentine engine air intakes that hide the bomber's engine blades from radar detection.

Besides being very hard to detect, like the F-22, a B-2 bomber has never been lost in combat the strategic B-2 bomber is equipped to carry nuclear weapons, making it quite possibly the deadliest airplane ever built though perhaps not for long.

B-21 Raider

The yet-to-be-seen B-21 Raider is the spiritual successor to the B-2 bomber, and from what precious little information about the airframe can be learned, is outwardly similar as well. It too is a flying wing design, though more concrete facts about the airframe are difficult to independently verify.

Upgrades would likely include an improved, smaller radar cross-section, perhaps faster maximum speed, as well as a higher payload capacity. A reduced exhaust heat signature could also be in the works.

Caleb Larson is a defense writer for the National Interest. He holds a Master of Public Policy and covers U.S. and Russian security, European defense issues, and German politics and culture.

Image: Wikimedia

In 1998, A Fisherman Came Face To Face With A Lonely North Korean Submarine

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 11:33

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Asia

On June 25, a South Korean salvage team recovered the boat from one hundred feet underwater and an elite team bored into the hull. They found a horrid tableau inside.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The incident underscored South Korea’s inability to consistently detect and interdict North Korean mini-submarines, leading some commenters to joke that the nation relied on fishermen and taxi drivers (as occurred in the Gangneung incident) to patrol her waters. To be fair, however, small submarines like the Yugo-class boats are extremely difficult to detect in the shallow waters off the Korean coast, a threat underscored by the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010.

At 4:30 p.m. on June 22, 1998, Capt. Kim In-yong noticed a curious site from the helm of his fishing boat as it sailed eleven miles east of the South Korean city of Sokcho: a small submarine, roughly sixty feet in length, caught in a driftnet used for mackerel fishing. Several crew members were visible on the submarine’s deck, trying to free their vessel. Upon noticing the fishing boat, they gave friendly waves of reassurance.

Captain Kim was suspicious. The entangled submarine was located twenty miles south of the demilitarized zone separating North and South Korea. Likely, he recalled an incident two years earlier when a North Korean spy submarine ground ashore further south near the city of Gangneung. Rather than surrendering, the heavily armed crew first turned on itself and then tried to fight its way back to the border, resulting in the death of thirty-seven Koreans from both nations. Perhaps he was aware that while Republic of Korea Navy operated three Dolgorae-class mini-submarines at the time, North Korea had roughly fifty small submarines of several classes. So the South Korean fisherman informed the Sokcho Fishery Bureau.

The submarine, meanwhile, freed itself from the nets and began sailing north, with Captain Kim following it at a distance. However, before long the submarine rolled on its belly, stalled and helpless in the water.

By 5:20 p.m. the Republic of Korea dispatched antisubmarine helicopters, and the submarine’s location was confirmed nearly an hour later. The vessel was a Yugo-class mini-submarine, imported from Yugoslavia to North Korea during the Cold War. The boats in the class vary from sixteen to twenty-two meters long and seventy to 110 tons in weight, and can’t go much faster than ten knots (11.5 miles per hour), or four knots underwater. Though some carried two torpedo tubes, they were primarily used to deploy operatives on spying missions, with the five-man vessels able to accommodate up to seven additional passengers. Later inspection of the Yugo-class boat revealed it had a single rotating shaft driving its two propellers, which had skewed blades for noise reduction, and that the hull was made of plastic to lower visibility to Magnetic Anomaly Detectors.

ROK Navy surface ships surrounded the vessel and attempted to communicate with the stranded boat, first via signaling charges and low-frequency radio, then loudspeakers and even hammers tapped on the boat’s hull—without response. Unwilling to risk opening the submarine while at sea, the South Korean sailors ultimately hitched the mini-sub to a corvette at 7:30 that evening and began towing it for port of Donghae.

The timing was inauspicious. South and North Korea were about to hold their first major talks in years at Panmunjom. Recently elected South Korean president Kim Dae-jung was promoting his “Sunshine Policy,” attempting to promote reconciliation and openness between two nations that had been officially at war since 1950. On January 23, North Korea declared that a submarine had suffered a “training accident.” According to Pyongyang, the submarine’s last communication reported “trouble in nautical observation instruments, oil pressure systems, and submerging and surfacing machines.” South Korean officials told the New York Times they didn’t believe the Yugo-class boat had actually been involved in a spy mission.

There was of course something a bit comical about the South Korean Navy coming to the unwanted rescue of a submarine that was spying in its waters. However, as frequently happens in tales of North Korean espionage, the absurd becomes horrific.

South Korea had readied a special team to open the ship and negotiate with the North Korean crew, including defector and former submariner Lee Kwang-soo, one of only two North Korean survivors of the Gangneung incident. However, while still being towed on July 24, the submarine sank abruptly to the bottom of the ocean. South Korean officials were uncertain: had the boat succumbed to mechanical difficulties, or had it been scuttled by the crew?

On June 25, a South Korean salvage team recovered the boat from one hundred feet underwater and an elite team bored into the hull. They found a horrid tableau inside.

The submarine’s interior had taken on only two and a half feet of water—but the five submariners had been gunned down, with bullet wounds visible across their bodies. Four elite North Korean Special Forces also lay dead, each shot in the head. North Korean military culture stresses that its soldiers should kill themselves rather than accept capture. It seemed likely that the more fanatical Special Forces had murdered the crew—perhaps after they had refused an order to commit suicide—then killed themselves. The nine dead men aboard the submarine were buried in South Korea’s Cemetery for North Korean and Chinese Soldiers, as Pyongyang has mostly refused to accept back the remains of its own spies and soldiers.

The more than two hundred items recovered from the submarine were also revealing. The crew had been packing AK-47s, machine guns, grenades, pistols, a rocket-propelled grenade and three sets of “American-made infiltration gear.” The presence of an empty South Korean pear juice container also suggested that the Special Forces personnel had made it ashore, as did a 1995 issue of Life magazine. If there was any doubt of the boat’s espionage activities, the ship’s log indicated the submarine had landed agents into South Korea on multiple occasions in the past.

The incident underscored South Korea’s inability to consistently detect and interdict North Korean mini-submarines, leading some commenters to joke that the nation relied on fishermen and taxi drivers (as occurred in the Gangneung incident) to patrol her waters. To be fair, however, small submarines like the Yugo-class boats are extremely difficult to detect in the shallow waters off the Korean coast, a threat underscored by the sinking of the South Korean corvette Cheonan in 2010. Shallow, rocky waters also led to a collision between much larger Russian and American submarines in 1992, due to their inability to detect each other over background noise.

Despite the death of its crew, Pyongyang did not make a big fuss as it was eager to receive South Korean economic aid to assist its recovery from a devastating famine. Seoul did it best to overlook the spying in an effort to make the Sunshine Policy work.

However, North Korea never ceased its espionage activities, nor did it change its death-over-surrender policy. In July that year, South Korea recovered the body of an armed North Korean agent with an underwater propulsion unit. And in December, another North Korean mini-submarine opened fire when challenged by South Korean ships, resulting in the Battle of Yeosu, the subject of the next piece in this series.

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 March 2017 and is being republished due to reader's interest.

Media: Reuters

Designed For World War I, The M2 Browning Machine Is Still a Killer

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 11:00

Charlie Gao


As the United States has stepped up its military commitments around the globe and embarked on a program of modernizing its weapons, the M2 has also had to change.

Here's What You Need To Remember:

The M2 Browning .50 caliber machine gun is one of the most famous American weapons. Serving since the 1920s, the gun has been a favorite of soldiers in practically every conflict since. It remained the same throughout most of the Cold War, retaining the iron sights, simple pintle mounts, and tripods that were designed for it many decades prior.

But as the United States has stepped up its military commitments around the globe and embarked on a program of modernizing its weapons, the M2 has also had to change. Since 2003 a myriad of improvements have come out for the M2 machine gun to improve its usability, accuracy, and reliability. But even with these upgrades, will they be enough to keep the M2 in service?

The biggest upgrade to the M2 was the transition to the M2A1 model in the 2000s. The standard model for most purposes was the M2HB, an air cooled version with a heavy barrel. Changing the barrel on the M2HB was an involved process that required adjusting the “headspace” (the distance between the bolt face and the cartridge) and the timing of the machine gun for every new barrel.

During sustained fire, this was never ideal, as the process would always take a significant amount of time, but changing barrels is a necessity during sustained fire to avoid overheating. The adjustable headspace and timing were necessary at the time, as parts could not be built to the consistent enough tolerances to have a fixed headspace.

However, a few decades later, quick change barrels were becoming the norm. The German MG34 and MG42 that the M2HB faced in World War II both used quick change barrels that could be swapped extremely rapidly. During the Cold War, the Soviets used .50 caliber machine guns (in their own 12.7 x 108 millimeter caliber). The Soviet NSV was lighter than the M2HB, and featured a quick change barrel.

Despite innovation elsewhere, M2HB’s design was not revised to incorporate these new features. The same design, tripods and mounts continued serving up until the 2000s. At that point, the U.S. military held a competition to develop a quick change barrel kit for existing M2s. General Dynamics won the competition for the kit, and it was adopted as the M2A1.

While the primary change was the addition of a quick change barrel kit, the M2A1 also added a four-pronged flash hider to the barrel, reducing the flash of firing, which especially improves the ability to shoot at night with the weapon, as it makes it less prone to washing out NVGs. The barrel extension is also made of a harder steel.

The Army has replaced all of its M2HBs with M2A1s, and the Marines are looking to do the same. A similar setup is being offered as a whole new machine gun as the M2HB QCB by FN Herstal. Some countries have adopted it under that name.

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Another upgrade that’s common recently is the attachment of optical sights to the M2. While Carlos Hathcock famously made an optic mount for a M2HB during his service in Vietnam, optic mounts were not standardized until much later. In comparison, the Soviet NSV came with a standard optic rail, which was commonly used with a 4x to 6x sight.

But nowadays there is a lot of interest for optic mounts for the M2. The Korean company DI Optical is one of the leaders in this space, producing red dots for the M2HB that have seen use with foreign militaries. Trijicon, who makes the ACOG which has seen wide use also makes a machine gun red dot.

The tripod has also seen improvements. The old M3 tripod of World War II vintage is on the way out in the U.S. Army, being replaced by the new M205 lightweight tripod. The new tripod is sixteen pounds lighter, and has increased traverse and depression range relative to the old tripod.

Charlie Gao studied Political and Computer Science at Grinnell College and is a frequent commentator on defense and national security issues. This article was originally posted last year.

Image: Wikipedia.

Soon, Only AI Will Able to Detect AI "Deepfake" Videos

Sat, 10/10/2020 - 10:33

John Sohrawardi, Matthew Wright

Politics, Americas

Deepfakes are here to stay. Managing disinformation and protecting the public will be more challenging than ever as artificial intelligence gets more powerful.

An investigative journalist receives a video from an anonymous whistleblower. It shows a candidate for president admitting to illegal activity. But is this video real? If so, it would be huge news – the scoop of a lifetime – and could completely turn around the upcoming elections. But the journalist runs the video through a specialized tool, which tells her that the video isn’t what it seems. In fact, it’s a “deepfake,” a video made using artificial intelligence with deep learning.

Journalists all over the world could soon be using a tool like this. In a few years, a tool like this could even be used by everyone to root out fake content in their social media feeds.

As researchers who have been studying deepfake detection and developing a tool for journalists, we see a future for these tools. They won’t solve all our problems, though, and they will be just one part of the arsenal in the broader fight against disinformation.

The Problem with Deepfakes

Most people know that you can’t believe everything you see. Over the last couple of decades, savvy news consumers have gotten used to seeing images manipulated with photo-editing software. Videos, though, are another story. Hollywood directors can spend millions of dollars on special effects to make up a realistic scene. But using deepfakes, amateurs with a few thousand dollars of computer equipment and a few weeks to spend could make something almost as true to life.

Deepfakes make it possible to put people into movie scenes they were never in – think Tom Cruise playing Iron Man – which makes for entertaining videos. Unfortunately, it also makes it possible to create pornography without the consent of the people depicted. So far, those people, nearly all women, are the biggest victims when deepfake technology is misused.

Deepfakes can also be used to create videos of political leaders saying things they never said. The Belgian Socialist Party released a low-quality nondeepfake but still phony video of President Trump insulting Belgium, which got enough of a reaction to show the potential risks of higher-quality deepfakes.

Perhaps scariest of all, they can be used to create doubt about the content of real videos, by suggesting that they could be deepfakes.

Given these risks, it would be extremely valuable to be able to detect deepfakes and label them clearly. This would ensure that fake videos do not fool the public, and that real videos can be received as authentic.

Spotting Fakes

Deepfake detection as a field of research was begun a little over three years ago. Early work focused on detecting visible problems in the videos, such as deepfakes that didn’t blink. With time, however, the fakes have gotten better at mimicking real videos and become harder to spot for both people and detection tools.

There are two major categories of deepfake detection research. The first involves looking at the behavior of people in the videos. Suppose you have a lot of video of someone famous, such as President Obama. Artificial intelligence can use this video to learn his patterns, from his hand gestures to his pauses in speech. It can then watch a deepfake of him and notice where it does not match those patterns. This approach has the advantage of possibly working even if the video quality itself is essentially perfect.

Other researchers, including our team, have been focused on differences that all deepfakes have compared to real videos. Deepfake videos are often created by merging individually generated frames to form videos. Taking that into account, our team’s methods extract the essential data from the faces in individual frames of a video and then track them through sets of concurrent frames. This allows us to detect inconsistencies in the flow of the information from one frame to another. We use a similar approach for our fake audio detection system as well.

These subtle details are hard for people to see, but show how deepfakes are not quite perfect yet. Detectors like these can work for any person, not just a few world leaders. In the end, it may be that both types of deepfake detectors will be needed.

Recent detection systems perform very well on videos specifically gathered for evaluating the tools. Unfortunately, even the best models do poorly on videos found online. Improving these tools to be more robust and useful is the key next step.

Who Should Use Deepfake Detectors?

Ideally, a deepfake verification tool should be available to everyone. However, this technology is in the early stages of development. Researchers need to improve the tools and protect them against hackers before releasing them broadly.

At the same time, though, the tools to make deepfakes are available to anybody who wants to fool the public. Sitting on the sidelines is not an option. For our team, the right balance was to work with journalists, because they are the first line of defense against the spread of misinformation.

Before publishing stories, journalists need to verify the information. They already have tried-and-true methods, like checking with sources and getting more than one person to verify key facts. So by putting the tool into their hands, we give them more information, and we know that they will not rely on the technology alone, given that it can make mistakes.

Can the Detectors Win the Arms Race?

It is encouraging to see teams from Facebook and Microsoft investing in technology to understand and detect deepfakes. This field needs more research to keep up with the speed of advances in deepfake technology.

Journalists and the social media platforms also need to figure out how best to warn people about deepfakes when they are detected. Research has shown that people remember the lie, but not the fact that it was a lie. Will the same be true for fake videos? Simply putting “Deepfake” in the title might not be enough to counter some kinds of disinformation.

Deepfakes are here to stay. Managing disinformation and protecting the public will be more challenging than ever as artificial intelligence gets more powerful. We are part of a growing research community that is taking on this threat, in which detection is just the first step.

John Sohrawardi, Doctoral Student in Computing and Informational Sciences, Rochester Institute of Technology and Matthew Wright, Professor of Computing Security, Rochester Institute of Technology

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

Image: Reuters.