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Updated: 3 weeks 5 days ago

Is Russia Developing an Unmanned Armata T-14 Tank?

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 02:45

Peter Suciu


One issue with any remote control vehicle is ensuring that distant operators are provided with “situational awareness” but in this case, the T-14 may have that covered.

Does the Russian military have a personnel shortage? Is it an issue of trust, or does Russia simply desire to keep its soldiers out of harm’s way in a future conflict? Perhaps Russian Federation president Vladimir Putin doesn’t believe there is any danger from autonomous weapons, because this week there is news that the Russian military is exploring remote-controlled operations for its Su-57 fifth-generation multi-role fighter jet, but now comes news that an unmanned version of the Armata T-14 Main Battle Tank is also in the works.

“The appearance of heavy unmanned combat vehicles is a matter of the near future,” the T-14’s manufacturer UralVagonZavod announced this week during the ongoing Army-2020 forum outside of Moscow as reported by DefenseWorld. “Within the framework of R&D commissioned by the Ministry of Defense, the company’s specialists are working to create robotic combat vehicles of the front edge. During the work, the T-14 Armata tank was also tested in unmanned mode," the company announced during the ongoing Army-2020 forum in Moscow.”

This isn’t a new development for the tank, however. Among the T-14’s innovative characteristics is its unmanned turret, which includes a remotely controlled 125-millimeter 2A82-1M smoothbore main gun with fully automated loading. The driver, gunner and tank commander are housed in a crew compartment that is located in an armored capsule at the front portion of the hull, isolated from the automatic loader as well as the ammunition storage in the center of the tank.

UralVagonZavod’s Deputy General Director Vyacheslav Khalitov has previously said that the company had carried out theoretical and experimental work to create a robotic tank on the Armata-heavy military tracked vehicle platform. 

The forty-eight-ton modern T-14 tank is widely reported to be able to reach speeds of ninety-kilometers per hour, which makes it potentially more mobile than the American-built M1 Abrams. 

The Russian fifth-generation MBT is based on the Armata Universal Combat Platform (UCP), and according to Russian state-media is also the first tank in the world to incorporate so-called “network-centric warfare” technologies. In normal speak this means that the T-14 can be conduct reconnaissance missions, operate as a target designation and fire adjustment vehicle for self-propelled guns, surface-to-air missile systems and even T-90 tanks.  

One issue with any remote control vehicle is ensuring that distant operators are provided with “situational awareness” but in this case, the T-14 may have that covered. It features wide-angle cameras fitted around the exterior. These provide a 360-degree all-round vision and situational awareness for the crew, with the commander’s sight, mounted on the top of the turret, also offering an entire field of view while the gunner’s sight is fitted with a direct-vision periscope and laser designator. The cameras can be zoomed as necessary, while heat sensing and infrared viewing capabilities are available under all weather conditions, day or night. 

If it is true that an unmanned version is in fact in the works, then it is possible it is an attempt to help entice foreign customers. Last month, the head of Russia’s Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Dmitry Shugayev, told the Serbian Glas javnosti newspaper that Russia has started promoting the latest T-14 tanks for export. An unmanned version would be a far better selling point than Russia having to admit that one of the advanced Armata tanks was destroyed in Syria earlier this year!  

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: Reuters

Why America Once Sent Four Aircraft Carriers Near Israel (And for Good Reason)

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 02:30

Edward Chang


The 1982 mission was the largest ever American naval deployment to the Mediterranean.

Key Point: It may be the Middle East, not Europe or the Asia-Pacific, where America and its allies will be faced with its most complex military challenge.

As tensions escalated in the Middle East over the civil war in Syria, in April 2018 the United States deployed one of the largest naval forces to the region since the 2003 invasion of Iraq.

The carrier strike group, centered on Nimitz-class nuclear-powered supercarrier USS Harry S. Truman, seven surface combatants and two submarines departed stateside for the region on April 11. They were scheduled to join a guided-missile cruiser, three guided-missile destroyers and a nuclear-powered attack submarine already in the Mediterranean to form a 15-ship-strong naval task force.

In addition, the USS Essex expeditionary strike group was slated to deploy to the area. Along with its escorts, the Essex would embark a squadron of Lockheed F-35B Lightning IIs, representing the long-awaited operational debut of the Joint Strike Fighter.

While it may be the largest U.S. naval deployment to the region since the start of the Iraq war, much of the sea power involved in that conflict deployed to the Persian Gulf. Even in the 1991 Gulf War, which involved a larger force, the carriers operated from the Gulf and the Red Sea. In actuality, the largest American naval deployment to the Mediterranean occurred 36 years ago during a war that didn’t directly involve the United States.

On June 6, 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon in response to an increasing number of provocations by the Palestinians. In some of the fiercest fighting of the modern era, the Israelis made quick of its adversaries, one of which was the military of Syria under the rule of Hafez Al Assad, father of current Syrian leader Bashar Al Assad. By June 14, Israel was laying siege to Beirut.

As Tel Aviv continued to place maximum pressure on the Lebanese capital, concerns arose in Washington and around the world of the possibility of the eruption of a larger regional war, mainly one drawing a deeper Syrian involvement. In response, the Reagan administration bolstered its presence in the region.

The nuclear-powered Nimitz-class supercarrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and her battle group, which was on-station in the Mediterranean when the war began, in early June had been joined by USS John F. Kennedy, which had entered the Mediterranean via the Suez Canal from the Indian Ocean. On June 24, Eisenhower assisted in the evacuation of American citizens in Lebanon caught up in the conflict.

The next day, two more carrier battle groups, centered on USS Forrestaland USS Independence joined Kennedy and Eisenhower from the United States. The result was a 50-ship task force, with four carriers and their air wings at the core, along with a plethora of other surface combatants. This powerful juggernaut was to conduct a NATO exercise codenamed “Daily Double,” but were also ordered to prepare for additional evacuations and, possibly, rescue attempts of other Americans still in Lebanon.

Though the siege of Beirut would last until August, the situation had stabilized to Washington’s satisfaction within several days. Exercise Daily Double concluded, and Forrestal and Independence relieved Kennedyand Eisenhower of duty, sending the latter two home.

This “dream team” lasted for only days, but it represented one of the greatest assemblies of air and naval power in the post-Vietnam War era. It was certainly the most powerful concentration of carrier-based air power ever in the Mediterranean. By comparison, two carrier battle groups were deployed to the Mediterranean for the Iraq invasion in 2003.

By 1982, the carrier and its embarked air wing had improved by leaps and bounds from just a decade earlier. Apart from Forrestal, which still carried the McDonnell Douglas F-4S Phantom II, all three carriers were equipped with the Grumman F-14A Tomcat as its primary fleet-defense fighter.

By then in its second decade of service, the Tomcat had already proven to be one of the world’s deadliest dogfighters. Armed with one of the most powerful radars of its time and the long-range AIM-54 Phoenix missile, alongside shorter-range missiles and a gun, the Tomcat would prove time and again in the Middle East it was one of the region’s “top guns.” Just a year prior, two F-14s had downed two Libyan fighters over the Gulf of Sidra, an area not too far from the shores of Lebanon.

Though the air wing of the early ‘80s lacked the more sophisticated precision-strike capabilities of today, they did not lack in range or bomb-toting capability. The primary attack platform of the day was the Grumman A-6E Intruder, which had been recently upgraded with the Target Recognition Attack Multi-Sensor system, which afforded it all-weather, day-and-night attack capability.

The Intruder had a combat radius of nearly 1,000 nautical miles and could carry up to 18,000 pounds of guided and unguided ordnance. By comparison, the Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet can carry 17,750 pounds of ordnance, it has a combat radius of just 390 nautical miles.

The early-‘80s air wing also had a light attack option in the Ling-Temco-Vought A-7E Corsair II, which could carry unguided and limited amounts of guided munitions. It would be gradually replaced by the new McDonnell Douglas F/A-18 Hornet during the decade, but while lacking the sophistication of the newer platform, the Corsair still had superior range, to say nothing of the Intruder.

This lack of range in both the legacy Hornet and the newer Super Hornet has been cited by analysts as problematic for the contemporary carrier air wing as it faces increasingly more capable great-power opposition in the militaries of countries such as China and Russia.

The “big three” of the ‘80s air wing were supported by the E-2C Hawkeye Airborne Early Warning plane, the EA-6B Prowler for electronic warfare, the S-3A Viking for anti-submarine warfare and the SH-3H Sea King helicopter for ASW and search-and-rescue.

Tactics, however, had yet to catch up with technology. Well into the 1980s, the U.S. Navy still employed approaches to strike warfare rooted in those used in Vietnam. Some lessons are learned only during a shooting war. The debacle the following year over Lebanon in which two Navy A-6Es were lost, one pilot killed, and another captured during an attack on Syrian targets precipitated improvements in tactics and training.

These lessons were incorporated into a new training syllabus at Strike Warfare Center, located at Naval Air Station Fallon, Nevada, where air wings train extensively to prepare for deployments.

The deployment of four carrier battle groups to the region was strategically significant in 1982, as the Middle East had yet to become the focal point of U.S. foreign policy and military activity it is today. As tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union ratcheted up one last time during the Cold War, America’s focus was on defeating the Warsaw Pact in Central Europe and deterring the Soviets in the Pacific. Simultaneously, change was in the winds.

Regional conflicts, such as the Yom Kippur War of 1973, showed the United States and the USSR could come to blows in regions other than Europe or Northeast Asia. Furthermore, conflicts in key regions of the world, such as the Middle East, could still have global implications, for example, by threatening the world’s oil supply. Even today, the Syrian Civil War has created a refugee crisis that Europe has experienced great difficulty addressing.

Exercise Daily Double reflected this new reality. The maneuvers were part of a larger Reagan administration strategy to convince NATO of the importance of the Persian Gulf region to the defense of Europe against Moscow.

Finally, the Mediterranean, in many ways the cradle of Western civilization, has experienced armed conflict on a near-daily basis for centuries. From the 1970s to the end of the Cold War, the United States slowly but surely placed greater emphasis on preparing for these smaller, yet globally consequential conflicts that are far more likely to occur than any full-blown confrontation between the great powers. As a result, the United States began preparing to fight adversaries other than the Soviet Union, preparations that paid off in subsequent clashes with Libya, Iran, Iraq, Serbia, Afghanistan and, now, Syria.

As the United States mulls the possibility of greater intervention in a Syrian war directly involving the great power of Russia, the regional power of Iran, and an endless list of other state and non-state actors, a scenario is developing where it will have to figure out a means of waging war against all types of adversaries at once. It may be the Middle East, not Europe or the Asia-Pacific, where America and its allies will be faced with its most complex military challenge.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

Image: U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Michael R. Gendron / Flickr

The T-35 Was Among Russia's Largest Tanks (And a Complete Disaster)

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 02:00

Sebastien Roblin

Security, Europe

There is nothing one over-sized and over-gunned tank can do that several, much cheaper armored vehicles can’t do better. 

Key Point: The T-35 amounted to an impressive icon of Soviet might—just not a successful war machine.

Recently, a Russian military museum in Sverdlovsk unveiled a moving replica T-35 tank, recreating one of the largest tanks ever to see combat, though only very briefly. Indeed, a few dozen T-35s charged straight into the largest tank battle in history—and none came back. Overtaxed transmission and faulty clutches proved a greater nemesis than armor-piercing shells.

Soviet Land Ironclad

In his 1903 short story, science fiction writer H.G. Wells imagined that the wars of the future would be won by towering ‘Land Ironclads’—a term referencing nineteenth-century armored warships. Just thirteen years, the United Kingdom deployed the first Mark I tanks to battle, each bristling with multiple cannons and machineguns operated by a crew of eight.

By the end of World War I, however, it grew apparent that lighter, faster single-turret tanks with small crews were more practical. Still, armies continued to conceive of hulking multi-turret ‘land battleships’ such as the French Char 2C and German Neubaufahrzheug.

In 1930, the Red Army sketched plans for heavy ‘breakthrough tanks’ intended to penetrate fortified defensive lines, using their multiple gun turrets to blast foes from all sides. However, the Soviet Union lacked necessary design expertise, so it brought in German scientist Edward Grotte to brings its engineers up to speed. It is possible Soviet engineers were also inspired by the Vickers A1E1 Independent, a hulking British tank prototype with five turrets.

Though Grotte’s TG-5 tank design proved unworkable, two T-35 prototypes were eventually built in 1932, the second simplified to make it more affordable. The first T-35A finally entered production at the Kharkov Locomotive Factory in Ukraine on August 1933.

In a fascinating interview shortly before his death, T-35 driver Smolyakov Ivan Erastovich, (“the best tractor driver in his village”) recalled his first encounter with the vehicle:

Five turrets, barrels sticking out in different directions. You needed a special ladder to climb up it. And it was, well, so huge that word cannot express it. Scary even. And the crew—a whole soccer team of ten!

The behemoth’s nearly ten-meter long hull mounted three cannon and two machinegun turrets, stacked two stories high. The main turret peaked 3.4 meters high and mounted a 76mm KT-28 low-velocity gun with ninety-six rounds of ammunition, as well as a DT machinegun in a ball mount and a ‘clothes-line’ style radio antenna. A machinegunner, a tank commander/gunner, and radio operator/loader were crammed inside. Later T-35s sometimes mounted one or two more machineguns on the turret: one on an anti-aircraft mount, the other facing the rear.

The two secondary cannon turrets mounted 45mm high-velocity cannons with better armor penetration (and over 220 shells each), and another DT machine gun each. These two-man turrets were situated diagonally from each other, one facing to the front and right of the vehicle, the other situated behind the main turret covering the arc to the rear and left.

Finally, there were two one-man machinegun turrets covering front-left and rear-right arcs. A driver was also seated in the main hull in a position that afforded him very little visibility.

The crew of ten (or twelve, if you counted dismounted engineering personnel) communicated through six intercoms—but practically speaking the tank commander had limited visibility and little ability to coordinate such a large crew. Remember, he also had to aim and fire the main gun! Worse, the turrets were physically isolated from each other, though there were corridors connecting the secondary gun turrets on each side. Several of the exit hatches were located adjacent to gun turrets, meaning certain crew had no way of getting out if that turret was stuck in the wrong position.

One expects a ‘heavy tank’ to be heavily armored—but the T-35s long hull made it prohibitively weighty to install thick armor plates. Thus, the T-35 had only mediocre armor protection of 30mm in the front, and 20mm of riveted and welded steel armor on the side, rear and turrets.

On May Day, 1934 the Red Army proudly paraded the land battleships through Moscow and the tank rapidly became a star of Soviet propaganda—appearing on posters even two years after the type had left service. But the Soviets quickly realized the T-35 had big problems.

Erastovich recalled:

Honestly, the T-35 was not a sweetheart. A very heavy tank, and complicated… It was difficult to control. It was necessary to be physically strong to drive it. There was a rule—after every 50 kilometer’s march, it was necessary to inspect it. Often something had broken. The transmission was disaster. We did not do any long road marches, we tried to preserve them.

Between 1934 and 1939, only fifty-nine production T-35s were built. The Red Army did not aim for larger scale production, as at 525,000 rubles each, a single T-35 could have paid to produce nine BT-5 light tanks. Instead, the Soviets combat tested two more multi-turret prototypes, the SMK and T-100, in Finland, before settling on the single-turret KV-1 heavy tank.

Still, virtually every aspect of the T-35’s design—from radios, to guns, to armor—was tweaked with each new factory batch. The Soviets learned from combat experience with lighter tanks in Spain and Mongolia that even light anti-tank guns would be able to pierce the T-35’s armor, so later models had the narrower frontal armor beefed up to 50–70mm. 10mm armored side skirts were also added to the lower hull. Around 1938, a final production run featured a new conical turret with 30mm of sloped armor.

However, heavier armor increased the weight from forty-nine to fifty-four tons—worsening the vehicle’s true Achilles’ heel: mobility. The T-35’s 500-horsepower M-17M petrol engine could theoretically boost the tank to eighteen miles-per-hour on road—but that dropped to only eight or fewer miles while going cross-country, and most of the Soviet Union still relied on dirt roads. The vehicle’s transmission, clutch and gearbox could barely tolerate the strain, and T-35s regularly broke down attempting to travel short distances.

The Soviets also designed two prototype self-propelled guns from the T-35 chassis. The Su-14-1 mounted a 152mm BR-2 gun above the hull, while the Su-14-2 had an even larger 203mm howitzer. Unlike most Soviet self-propelled guns of the era, these were designed to shoot at distant targets indirectly (ie, beyond visual range). The Soviets considered converting its T-35s to Su-14s in 1940, but instead elected to dispatch them to frontline units in Ukraine. The two Su-14s may have fired shells at advancing German troops during the defense of Moscow, but did not see further development.

The Land Battleships Roll to their Doom

Nazi Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941—and inflicted staggering losses on disorganized Soviet ground and air forces. However, Gen. Mikhail Kirponos deployed over 3,400 tanks in six Soviet mechanized corps during a counterattack aimed at the towns of Brody and Dubno. The resulting Battle of Brody was likely the largest tank battle in history.

At the time, forty-eight T-35 tanks were assigned to 67th and 68th Heavy Tank Regiments, part of the 34th Tank Division of the 8th Mechanized Corps in the area around Kharkov. (The remainder were awaiting repairs in workshops or deployed to military schools.) The T-35s began a chaotic week-long road march starting towards the frontline, while German warplanes subjected them to near constant bombardment.

Driver Erastovich’s account is typical of what befell the T-35s:

We were still 50 kilometers from Brody on the evening of June 27 when we received a new order - to turn to the south, to Zlochev, and from there to Tarnopol ... We had no idea what was going on, and we were not the only ones. Some many people were going this way in that on the road, everything was a mess.

Not far from Tarnopol, our friction clutch burned out. There was nothing to do, and we abandoned the tank. The machine guns were removed, as expected, as were the optics. So our giant did not reach the Germans.

Of the forty-eight T-35s, records show twenty-six suffered mechanical breakdowns on the road and were abandoned. Broken fan belts, friction clutches, malfunctioning reduction gears and gearbox failures were common culprits. At least eight more were ditched because routine repairs could not be performed. The T-35’s excessive weight contributed to four more losses: two literally fell through bridges, one taking its entire crew with it. Another two T-35As got bogged down in a swamp and had to be abandoned.

Not only did the Red Army lack adequate tank tractors, but the T-35 usually required two; in the chaotic circumstances of unfolding military catastrophe, the super-expensive tanks simply had to be left behind.

Around June 30, German and Soviet records confirm a handful of functioning T-35s finally encountered German force. Four T-35s joined by five other tanks drove elements of the 16th Panzer Division out of the town of Verba, Ukraine, knocking out two Panzer IIIG tanks. But as they continued their advance, two T-35s appear to have been destroyed by air attacks, and the remaining two by numerous shell penetrations.

Turret gunner Vasiliy Sazanov provided a first-hand account of the Verba engagement:

Our last fight was stupid. First we fired across the river from the main turret on a hamlet called Sitna and then attacked with the remaining infantry. Participating were fifty infantry, three others T-35s and four BTs and T-26s [and a KV-1]. The infantry, of course, fell behind as the German bullets zipped overhead…

We advanced on the farm, when to our left German guns opened fire. I rotated the turret there -but couldn’t see anything! Suddenly the turret went BOOM! Bullets spattered against our armor like peas. Peering through my periscope, I could not see anything... And again: "Boom! Boom !! German shells struck us every five seconds, both the hull and turret. I saw a flash, and fired ten shells…

We never reached the hamlet, as our tracks were knocked out. Should we abandon the tank? It seemed useless. We began shooting in all directions at everything we could see—which was almost nothing. I tried to aim for the muzzles flashes, while our infantry retreated…The engine broke down, the gun jammed, the main turret couldn’t turn.

Then German soldiers closed in on us. I realized that it was time to beat it. I climbed out of the turret and jumped down the ground. Fortunately, they didn’t open fire. I dragged my loader to the road junction. The driver followed us. We began to crawl away, then our tank erupted in flames…

Three to five more T-35s were apparently destroyed by enemy fire in other scattered engagements. German troops smugly delivered a captured T-35 to their tank museum at Kummersdorf, while others were used for anti-tank practice shooting. The fate of each individual T-35 has been meticulously photo-documented in the book Fallen Giants by Frances Pulham, who also offers interesting commentary in this podcast.

After Brody, only a small number of T-35s remained in Soviet service, largely in a training capacity (one remains today in the Kubinka tank museum.) There are reports of a T-35 knocked out defending Kharkov, and there are disputed claims that two fought in defense of Moscow as well.

However, the land battleship’s last major engagement may have occurred under stranger circumstances. As Soviet troops closed on Berlin in April 1945, the Wehrmacht formed the adhoc Kampfgruppe Ritter to defend the capital’s suburbs. They raided the tank museum at Kummersdorf for everything they could use.

According to a German unit history, one Lt. Teriete of Panzerjaeger Battalion 653, attached to KG Ritter, recalled that “we never had any Jagdtigers. We only a received a 5-turret tank. The crew abandoned the vehicle during the final battle for the Zossen training area near Berlin.” This T-35 was later recaptured by Soviet forces on April 22. Thus the iconic land battleship was present for both the first and very last act of the terrible war on the Eastern Front.

The multi-turret land battleship proved to be a blind alley in tank development—there was nothing one oversized and over-gunned tank could do that several, much cheaper armored vehicles couldn’t do better. Still, the T-35 amounted to an impressive icon of Soviet might—just not a successful war machine.

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

This article first appeared in 2018 and is reprinted here due to reader interest.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Big Bang: These 5 Russian Nuclear Weapons Tests Changed The World

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 01:30

Steve Weintz

History, Europe

The Bomb represents the ultimate expression of might.

Here's What You Need To Remember: If the Tsar Bomba explosion was a stunt, the other biggest Soviet tests weren't. 1962 was the last year of atmospheric nuclear tests for the Soviet Union and the United States, and both sides rushed to prove weapon designs.

The Bomb represents the ultimate expression of might, so the biggest bombs express that power to its extremes. The United States and the Soviet Union built bigger and bigger bombs to deter each other. Eventually, Washington stopped testing such large weapons due to improved accuracy of their delivery methods. Only 3 percent of the superpowers' stockpiles consisted of nuclear weapons with yields greater than four megatons, but those weapons more than any others symbolize the terror of nuclear war.

The Soviet Union's swift strides towards nuclear arms alarmed American officials in the 1950’s. "First Lightning" (called "Joe-1" in the West)—the first Soviet nuclear test—announced Moscow's new military power less than three months after lifting the Berlin Blockade in May 1949. The twenty-two-kiloton shot copied the U.S. Trinity test as closely as possible to achieve early success; the rushed development actually stalled the Soviet program for over a year, with the second test occurring in September 1951.

This phase of the Cold War went hot on the Korean Peninsula and President Truman gave the go-ahead for the "Super," as it was called. Edward Teller—a brilliant, vain and pugnacious physicist who fled Hungary for the United States to join the Manhattan Project—was smitten by the idea of thermonuclear fusion and argued forcefully for U.S. research into bigger bombs. Pursuit of the "Super" alarmed Soviet leaders and scientists. As they explored the possibility, however, the Soviets had an advantage over the Americans: lithium.

The first-ever hydrogen bomb blast, Ivy Mike, required American weaponeers to create an vast new industrial capacity for manufacturing liquid hydrogen in its "heavy" form of liquid deuterium. The Ivy Mike device was liquid-fueled and a handful of emergency-capability (EC) liquid-fuel bombs were later built; several B-36 bombers were modified to top off the liquid hydrogen in flight en route to their targets.

But the Soviets dispensed with liquid fuel for dry powdered lithium deuteride, a chemical compound of lithium metal and hydrogen gas. Lithium comes in two "flavors" or isotopes: Lithium-6 and Lithium-7. Lithium-7 was thought by both sides to be inert and unsuitable as bomb fuel. The Soviet Union had plentiful sources of Lithium-7, but the United States did not. As a result, Soviet weaponeers worked on dry-fuel bombs from the start. The fourth Soviet nuclear test in 1953 registered an impressive 400 kilotons from the "Sloika" design.

America’s disastrous Castle Bravo H-bomb test in 1954 revealed Lithium-6's fusion potential and provided the Soviet Union with needed information; a mere eighteen months elapsed between the Castle Bravo test and the Soviet test of November 1955: an air drop of a fully weaponized hydrogen bomb. At 1.6 megatons, the yield of RDS-37 was impressive—but it would be dwarfed by the monsters to come.

In 1958 the Soviet Union matched the America’s voluntary moratorium on nuclear testing; in September 1961, after raising the Berlin Wall, Nikita Khrushchev ordered testing resumed. On October 23, a 12.5-megaton airdrop pounded the high Arctic island of Novaya Zemlya. The resulting blast was nearly as large as Castle Yankee—America's second biggest test—but only the Soviet Union’s fifth-biggest.

The biggest bomb ever built or tested—the RDS-220 ("Big Ivan" or "Tsar Bomba")—rattled the planet one week later on October 30, 1961. The result of a crash program directed by Andrei Sahkarov, the Tsar Bomba was a conservative design accomplished with astonishing speed: in only four months. The 100-megaton (possibly 150-megaton) design was an impractical weapon—only a single modified Bear bomber could carry it, slowly—but a billy-hell of a propaganda show.

Even though Sakharov had the third-stage fission tampers replaced with inert lead due to concerns about fallout, the Tsar Bomba still yielded fifty-six megatons, enough to blow a hole in the atmosphere and cause damage hundreds of miles away. Had the third stage tampers been uranium this one bomb would have raised global fallout levels by 25 percent. Every person born before October 1961 has bits of the Tsar Bomba (and other bombs) in their bodies to this day.

If the Tsar Bomba explosion was a stunt, the other biggest Soviet tests weren't. 1962 was the last year of atmospheric nuclear tests for the Soviet Union and the United States, and both sides rushed to prove weapon designs. The fourth, third and second largest Soviet nuclear tests all seem related to ICBM-warhead development: Test 147 on August 5, 1962 yielded over twenty-one megatons; Test 173 nineteen megatons; and Test 219 a whopping 24.2 megatons—nearly half the Tsar Bomba's yield.

This city-busting warhead wound up on R-36 ICBMs (NATO designation SS-18 "Satan"), huge missiles capable of obliterating deeply buried targets or entire metro areas. Although photos and data from Test 219 are not publicly available, Alex Wellerstein's NUKEMAP drives home the power of such a bomb. Dropped on downtown Los Angeles, the air blast would level the Coliseum (four miles away) and burn down all of Beverly Hills (nine miles away).

Steve Weintz, a frequent contributor to many publications such as WarIsBoring, is a writer, filmmaker, artist and animator. This first appeared two years ago.

Image: Wikipedia.

200,000 and Counting: North Korea Has the Largest 'Special Forces' on Earth

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 01:00

Kyle Mizokami

Security, Asia

Should the South be worried?

Key Point: North Korean special forces have evolved from a nuisance force designed to stage attacks in the enemy’s rear into something far more dangerous.

One of the most vital parts of North Korea’s war machine is one that relies the most on so-called “soldier power” skills. North Korea has likely the largest special-forces organization in the world, numbering two hundred thousand men—and women—trained in unconventional warfare. Pyongyang’s commandos are trained to operate throughout the Korean Peninsula, and possibly beyond, to present an asymmetric threat to its enemies.

For decades North Korea maintained an impressive all-arms force of everything from tanks to mechanized infantry, artillery, airborne forces and special forces. The country’s conventional forces, facing a long slide after the end of the Cold War, have faced equipment obsolescence and supply shortages—for example, North Korea has very few tanks based on the 1970s Soviet T-72, and most are still derivatives of the 1960s-era T-62. The rest of Pyongyang’s armored corps are in a similar predicament, making them decidedly inferior to U.S. and South Korean forces.

In response, North Korea has upped the importance of its special forces. The country maintains twenty-five special-forces and special-purpose brigades, and five special-forces battalions, designed to undertake missions from frontline DMZ assault to parachute and assassination missions. The Light Infantry Training Guidance Bureau, part of the Korean People’s Army, functions as a kind of analog to U.S. Special Operations Command, coordinating the special forces of the Army, Army Air Force and Korean People’s Navy.

Of North Korea’s two hundred thousand “commandos,” approximately 150,000 belong to light infantry units. Foot mobile, their frontline mission is to infiltrate or flank enemy lines to envelop or mount rear attacks on enemy forces. North Korea’s hilly terrain lends itself to such tactics, as does the network of tunnels that the country has dug that cross the DMZ in a number of places. Eleven of North Korea’s special forces brigades are light-infantry brigades, and there are smaller light-infantry units embedded within individual NK combat divisions.

A further three brigades are special purpose airborne infantry. The Thirty-Eighth, Forty-Eighth and Fifty-Eighth Airborne Brigades operate much like the Eighty-Second Airborne Division, conducting strategic operations including airborne drops to seize critical terrain and infrastructure. NKPA airborne forces would likely target enemy airfields, South Korean government buildings, and key roads and highways to prevent their sabotage. Each brigade is organized into six airborne infantry battalions with a total strength of 3,500. Unlike the Eighty-Second, however, NKPA airborne brigades are unlikely to operate at the battalion level or higher, and due to a lack of long-range transport cannot operate beyond the Korean Peninsula.

In addition, North Korea has an estimated eight “sniper brigades,” three for the People’s Army (Seventeenth, Sixtieth and Sixty-First Brigades), three for the Army Air Force (Eleventh, Sixteenth and Twenty-First Brigades), and two for the People’s Navy (Twenty-Ninth, 291st). Each consists of approximately 3,500 men, organized into seven to ten sniper “battalions.”  These units fulfill a broad variety of roles and are roughly analogous to U.S. Army Rangers, U.S. Special Forces and Navy SEALs. Unlike their American counterparts, it appears some these units are capable of fighting as conventional airborne, air assault, or naval infantry.

Sniper brigades are trained in strategic reconnaissance and so-called “direct action” missions including assassination missions, raids against high-level targets military and economic targets, sabotage, disruption of South Korea’s reserve system, covert delivery of weapons of mass disruption (including possibly radiological weapons), and organizing antigovernment guerrilla campaigns in South Korea. They will frequently be dressed in civilian, South Korean military, or U.S. military uniforms. One platoon of thirty to forty troops per Army sniper brigade consists solely of women, trained to conduct combat operations dressed as civilians.

Finally, the Reconnaissance Bureau maintains four separate reconnaissance battalions. Highly trained and organized, these five-hundred-man battalions are trained to lead an an army corps through the hazardous DMZ. They likely have intimate—and highly classified—knowledge of both friendly and enemy defenses in the demilitarized zone. A fifth battalion is reportedly organized for out-of-country operations.

Special forces are generally meant to operate behind enemy lines, and North Korea employs considerable, though often obsolete, means of getting them there. For ground forces, one obvious means of infiltrating South Korea is through the 160-mile-long and 2.5-mile-wide DMZ. Undiscovered cross-border tunnels are another means. By sea, Pyongyang has the ability to deliver an estimated five thousand troops in a single lift, using everything from commercial vessels to Nampo-class landing craft, its fleet of 130 Kongbang-class hovercraft and Sang-O coastal submarines and Yeono midget submarines.

By air, North Korea has a notional fleet of two hundred elderly An-2 Colt short-takeoff and -landing transports. Capable of flying low and slow to avoid radar, each An-2 can carry up to twelve commandos, landing on unimproved surfaces or parachuting them on their targets. The regime also has a fleet of about 250 transport helicopters, mostly Soviet-bloc in origin (and age) but also including illicitly acquired Hughes 500MD series helicopters similar to those flown by the Republic of Korea. Pyongyang also appears bent to acquire modern, long-distance transports such as this aircraft, manufactured in New Zealand. Aircraft such as the P-750 XSTOL would allow North Korean special forces to reach as far as Japan and Okinawa, both of which would serve as forward bases for U.S. forces in wartime.

In the event of war, North Korea would likely launch dozens of separate attacks throughout South Korea, from the DMZ to the southern port of Busan. Whether or not these forces can make their way through Seoul’s considerable air and sea defenses is another question. Valleys, passes and waterways that could be used by low-flying aircraft and watercraft are already covered with everything from air-defense guns to antitank guided missiles. Given proper warning, South Korean defenders would inflict heavy losses on North Korean commandos on the way to their objectives.

North Korean special forces have evolved from a nuisance force designed to stage attacks in the enemy’s rear into something far more dangerous. Their ability to distribute nuclear, chemical, biological, or radiological weapons could, if successful, kill thousands of civilians. They have even trained to attack and destroy a replica of the Blue House, the official resident of the South Korean president. Although many would undoubtedly die en route to their destination, once on the ground their training, toughness and political indoctrination make them formidable adversaries.

Kyle Mizokami is a defense and national-security writer based in San Francisco who has appeared in the DiplomatForeign PolicyWar is Boring and the Daily Beast. In 2009, he cofounded the defense and security blog Japan Security Watch. You can follow him on Twitter: @KyleMizokami.

This article first appeared in 2017 and is reprinted here due to reader interest.

Image: Reuters. 

The Heroic Story of America's Original 'Top Gun'

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 00:30

Warfare History Network

History, Asia

(Hint: It's not Tom Cruise)

Key Point: More than seven decades after Butch O’Hare’s exploits, many people—even those from Chicago—don’t know much, if anything, about the man for whom Chicago's airport is named.

Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare rocketed to fame in February 1942 by singlehandedly taking on eight Japanese torpedo bombers bent on destroying the aircraft carrier USS Lexington and shooting down several of them. For this deed, President Franklin D. Roosevelt decorated him with the Medal of Honor. Just 21 months later, he was dead, killed off the Gilbert Islands in the Central Pacific while engaged in night-fighting combat.

To honor his sacrifice, one of the world’s busiest airports, Chicago’s O’Hare International, was named after him. It’s a constant reminder of who Butch O’Hare was and the sacrifice he made.

Butch, however, was not the first in his family to create headlines. His father, Edward “E.J.” O’Hare, first the owner of a trucking company and later an attorney, was gunned down in 1939 on orders from infamous Chicago mobster Al Capone.

As president of Sportsman’s Park, a now vanished Cicero racetrack just outside Chicago’s western limits, E.J. was privy to many of Capone’s illegal activities because Capone and his associates were also entwined in the operation of the racetrack. From 1930 to the time of his death, E.J. was an active undercover participant in the Treasury Department’s investigation and conviction of Capone on charges of tax evasion. Capone eventually learned of E.J’s role, which cost him his life.

Although E.J. lived in Chicagoland for many years, St. Louis was home for Butch while growing up. With him were two sisters, Patsy and Marilyn, and mother Selma.

When he was 13, Butch was whisked across the Mississippi River to Alton, Illinois, and Western Military Academy, a private military school about 25 miles from St. Louis. Interestingly, among his best friends there was Paul Tibbets, who later became the U.S. Army Air Forces colonel who dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.

Holidays and summers Butch spent back home in Missouri, where he continued practicing hunting and shooting—skills that would one day serve him well. By the age of 15 he had had his first experience with flying, as E.J. arranged to get him into a plane and even spend some time handling the controls.

The five years he spent at Western Military Academy were, by all accounts, good ones. His grades were solid, he played some football, and he was an excellent swimmer. He also began to shed some of the shyness and lack of self-confidence that had worried his parents when they first chose to send him to the academy.

In September 1932, E.J. and Butch’s mother Selma divorced. By that time E.J. had become part of the horse racing business in Chicago. Much of his time had to be spent there, and Selma wasn’t well suited to that life.

Speculation has centered on exactly what caused E.J. to put his life at risk to help the Treasury Department go after Capone. E.J.’s connection to the Feds was through Frank Wilson, a Treasury Department official loaned in 1928 to the Criminal Investigation Division of the IRS for the purpose of investigating Capone. By 1930, E.J. was providing Wilson with information that led to Capone’s conviction. In fact, once Capone died in prison in 1947, Wilson stated openly, “On the inside of the gang I had one of the best undercover men I have ever known: Eddie O’Hare.”

Some have also speculated that E.J. worked with the government to avoid having his own less than squeaky clean income tax situation investigated. Another theory is that by helping put Capone in jail, E.J. would be removing from his own racetrack business a man known not only for illegal activities but also behavior as heinously violent as Chicago’s 1929 St. Valentine’s Day Massacre.

One other thing about E.J. should be stressed. He did not want his son to follow in his footsteps in the gaming business. Noting that by the time Butch was graduating from the Western Military Academy the boy had begun to show a keen interest in flying, E.J. did everything to leverage this passion in any way he could.

E.J. was no doubt pleased when, in 1932, Butch applied to the U.S. Naval Academy and passed his entrance tests on his second try. On June 3, 1937, he graduated, ranking 255th out of 323. Few knew that World War II was around the corner, and who could have guessed that 41 members of the Class of 1937 would lose their lives in that conflict?

In Butch’s first assignment, he spent two years aboard the battleship USS New Mexico (BB-40) before heading off for preliminary flight training. He was stunned when he was informed that his father had been shot to death while driving his car in Chicago on November 8, 1939, most likely by Capone’s gunmen.

By 1940, when he was assigned to the Naval Air Station at Pensacola, Florida, to train in Naval Aircraft Factory N3N-1 “Yellow Peril” planes and Stearman NS-1 biplane trainers, one thing was becoming abundantly clear: Butch O’Hare excelled at aerial gunnery.

When he was assigned to the fighting squadron VF-3, his commander was Lt. Cmdr. John (Jimmy) Thach, one of the Navy’s top airmen. Thach had come up with something called the “Bitching Team,” which consisted of a group of VF-3’s most highly skilled and experienced pilots.

One of these aces would take a newcomer into the air for a mock dogfight. Thach’s experience had taught him that the best approach was to gain altitude and then swoop down on an opponent’s tail, where he could home in for the kill. Few rookies mastered this skill quickly, but when Butch was so tested, by Thach himself no less, the rookie won the day. Thach was so impressed that he made Butch part of the Bitching Team.

Under Thach’s tutelage, Butch’s skills grew rapidly. Thach was greatly impressed by what Butch was able to get a plane to do. “He didn’t try to horse it around,” said Thach many years later in an oral history recording. “He learned a thing that a lot of youngsters don’t learn[:] that when you’re in a dogfight with somebody, it isn’t how hard you pull back on the stick to make a tight turn to get inside of him, it’s how smoothly you fly the plane.”

Thach attributed it to Butch’s acute and innate sense of timing and relative motion. Thach also admired Butch’s eagerness to read anything he could lay his hands on that might help him in aerial gunnery and his quick understanding of what he read. As Thach put it, “Butch just picked it up faster than anyone else I’ve seen.”

Apparently that wasn’t the only thing he did with remarkable celerity. On July 21, 1941,while at the hospital to visit a friend whose wife had just given birth, Butch met Rita Wooster, a nurse attending the new mother. When Rita’s shift ended, Butch drove her home. Upon arrival, he asked her to marry him. She pointed out that they’d only met that day, that she was several years younger, and that he wasn’t a Catholic as she was. None of it mattered, he replied, adding that he’d take instructions to convert. Six weeks later, they were married.

Three months after the nuptials, the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. On the morning of December 8, 1941, Butch and the rest of VF-3 were on their way to Hawaii to learn how and where they’d be deployed now that war had begun.

By mid-December they were onboard the aircraft carrier USS Saratoga (CV-3) headed west for Wake Island as part of Task Force 14. VF-3’s first loss occurred on December 22, when a plane piloted by Lieutenant Victor M. Gadrow had engine trouble that led to his crashing and sinking in rough seas.

A few days later, TF-14 was recalled to Pearl, so Butch and company saw no action at Wake Island. By December 31, the Saratoga was back at sea and heading west. That trip was cut short the evening of Sunday, January 11, 1942, when a Japanese torpedo struck the Saratoga. She was able to limp back to Pearl, but she was no longer part of the Butch O’Hare story. VF-3, with a full complement of 18 Grumman F4F Wildcats, was now attached to the “Lady Lex”—the aircraft carrier USS Lexington (CV-2).

On January 31, 1942, the Lexington was sent south as part of Task Force 11 under Vice Admiral Wilson Brown, Jr. VF-3 suffered its second fatality onboard the Lexington on February 8. Edward Frank Ambrose was crushed due to a malfunction in a block-and-tackle arrangement used to start the fighter planes’ engines.

February 13 saw the Lexington in the Solomon Islands in the Southwest Pacific, and Butch expected to be on combat air patrol shortly. But while some members of VF-3 were indeed sent airborne, including Thach, Butch’s orders were to stay in reserve. Thach downed a Japanese reconnaissance plane, as did Burt Stanley, another member of VF-3. Back onboard the Lexington, they described to their squadron comrades what VF-3’s first two kills had been like. According to Thach, Butch, having been kept in reserve so far, was pretty much fit to be tied.

O’Hare got his chance on February 20  when 17 medium bombers of Japan’s Fourth Air Group were sent in two groups (Chutai) to attack Task Force 11. These land-based torpedo bombers from the base at Rabaul, Papua New Guinea—nine in Chutai Two and eight in Chutai One—were Mitsubishi G4M1 attack planes, one of Japan’s most modern aircraft at the time. Characterized by a relatively fat fuselage and wide wings that came to an abrupt point, this was the plane that the U.S. Navy called a “Betty.”

At 3:42 pm on the day that Butch O’Hare made history, the radar systems of Task Force 11 detected the approaching Japanese Bettys. The nine-plane Chutai Two attacked first, and between 4:39 and 4:43 pm Wildcat pilots launched from the Lexington had eliminated five of the nine Bettys.

The pilot of one of the crippled torpedo bombers tried to crash his plane onto the flight deck of the Lexington, but 1.1-inch cannons and .50-caliber machine guns on the carrier helped make sure that didn’t happen.

Vice Admiral Brown said the concentrated fire nearly tore pilot and plane to pieces. “And as the plane swung by,” wrote Brown in his unpublished memoir, “only a few yards from where we stood, we saw that the pilot was dead, slumped at the controls, as he plunged into the sea.”

It was 4:46 when Butch was launched during the enemy’s aerial assault, and he couldn’t help but wonder if his carrier would still be afloat when he returned. Once aloft, he swiveled his head all around, amazed at the number of American planes dashing around him. He worried that the fight would be over before he could get a shot off.

So, along with another VF-3 Wildcat piloted by Duff Dufilho, he climbed to an altitude high above the ships and assumed combat air control position. At 4:49, right about the time the wounded Betty from Chutai Two tried but failed to crash onto the Lexington’s flight deck, the carrier’s radar detected Chutai One about 30 miles north-northeast and sent up a radio message warning of the threat.

Unfortunately, because all the other fighters had flown southwest to pursue what remained of Chutai Two, Butch and Dufilho were the only two fighters available to take on this new threat. So the two pilots positioned their F4F Wildcats between the Lexington and the incoming Bettys.

Butch test fired his four .50-caliber Browning machine guns, and all was fine, but Duff’s were jammed. O’Hare gestured to Dufilho to return to the carrier, but Duff refused, even though he knew he would only be a decoy in the upcoming fight.

With the eight Bettys less than 12 miles away from the Lexington and closing fast, Butch and Dufilho had an altitude advantage of about 1,000 feet. They also had with them the element of surprise, as the Japanese didn’t know they were there. But still, one armed fighter against eight enemy bombers?

Keep in mind, too, that in addition to carrying torpedoes, the Bettys—like American B-17s and B-24s—were bristling with firepower. There were a dozen 7.7mm Type 92 machine guns in each bomber, plus a 20mm Type 99 cannon in the tail.

It mattered not to Butch. “There wasn’t time to sit and wait for help,” he’s quoted as saying in Queen of the Flattops, a 1942 book by Chicago Tribune correspondent Stanley Johnston. “Those babies were coming on fast and had to be stopped.”

And stopped they were, thanks largely to four remarkable passes made by Butch. In each pass—termed by combat aviators a “high-side run”—he descended from above, fired bursts as short as possible to conserve ammunition, and then climbed back above the V formation of enemy bombers to begin another pass.

As crucial as piloting skills and sheer bravery were in this dogfight, being able to shoot accurately and efficiently trumped everything. Butch’s four guns each held about 450 rounds, which meant he had enough ammunition to fire for a grand total of about 34 seconds.

In his first pass he aimed for the trailing bomber on the right side of the V formation, firing into the right engine. Both the fuselage and a fuel tank were struck, and the surprised pilot fell out of formation to the right, streaming smoke. Next Butch aimed at the adjacent bomber on the right side of the V, this time igniting the plane and causing it, too, to fall out of formation to the right.

Pleasantly surprised that his first aerial combat had gone so well, he looked around for Duff but didn’t see him. It turns out that Dufilho had followed Butch into the battle in the hope of drawing some of the fire away from Butch. Like Butch, he survived the battle. He died the following August in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons.

Though these two Bettys were forced out of the attack formation, it turned out that they were not out of the fight. Both managed to recover sufficiently to later drop their bombs. This hardly mattered to Butch at the time, as he explained in a March 30, 1942, radio broadcast: “When one would start burning, I’d haul out and wait for it to get out of the way. Then I’d go in and get another one. I didn’t have time to watch [them fall]. When they drop out of formation, you don’t bother with ‘em anymore. You go after the next.”

Now it was time for Butch’s second pass, and this time he targeted the far left Betty in the attack formation. Again he aimed for the right engine, and again his aim was true. The third Betty dropped out of the formation and dumped its bombs harmlessly.

Still in his second pass, Butch now maneuvered into point-blank range and fired into the cockpit of one of the Bettys in the center of the V formation. This time his victim splashed into the sea. By now Butch and his airborne adversaries were so close to the Lexington that a whole new challenge presented itself: the 5-inch antiaircraft guns of Task Force 11.

Unfazed, Butch climbed above the Japanese bombers to make his third pass. Again he managed to splash one of the bombers, leaving exposed the lead bomber of the formation. Targeting its left wing, Butch fired so accurately that he shot the engine right out of the plane. Fatally damaged, it spun out of the formation and into the ocean.

Still not finished, Butch gained altitude again to make his fourth and final pass. But after firing 10 rounds he was done, all 1,800 bullets fired. So he climbed above the bursting antiaircraft fire and away from the fray. At this point there were still five of Chutai One’s original eight Bettys in the air.

By the time the battle was over, a total of six 250kg torpedoes were aimed at the Lexington. Not one hit its mark. In fact, of the 17 Japanese bombers that had left their base that day in Rabaul, only two made it back. Japan’s Combined Fleet headquarters was appalled at these losses, which wound up having hugely negative strategic implications for future combat.

As for Butch O’Hare, it was time to return to the Lexington. As he prepared to land, a nervous and obviously confused Lexington gunner opened fire on Butch’s Wildcat with a .50-caliber machine gun. Fortunately, he missed.

According to Thach’s oral recording, Butch later encountered the embarrassed young gunner and said, “Son, if you don’t stop shooting at me when I’ve got my wheels down, I’m going to have to report you to the gunnery officer.” Later, said Thach, Butch added, “I don’t mind him shooting at me when I don’t have my wheels down, but it might make me have to take a wave-off, and I don’t like to take wave-offs.”

Examination of Butch’s plane after it landed revealed that it had received minor damage from antiaircraft shell fragments, but only one enemy bullet had reached him, striking his right wing.

What he accomplished in just under four minutes above the Lexington would have been remarkable for even the most experienced and battle-hardened veteran. But this was O’Hare’s first combat experience!

And what did he make of it all? A reporter for the Washington Times-Herald captured this quote from Butch for a June 9, 1942, story: “It was just careful timing. You don’t have time to consider the odds against you. You are too busy weighing all the factors, time, speed, holding your fire till the right moment, shooting sparingly. You don’t feel you are throwing bullets to keep alive. You just want to keep shooting. You’ve got to keep moving. When you’re sitting (and you do have to sit to fire) you’ve got to get your shots off and then move again. The longer you sit, the better chance you’ve got to get hit.”

Butch participated in just one more combat mission, the March 10, 1942, raid on Lae-Salamaua in Papua New Guinea, before Task Force 11 and the Lexington headed back for Pearl Harbor. Butch would not return to combat for another 18 months, as the Washington brass decided that his recent heroics made him more valuable in PR and pilot training roles than in the role of a fighter pilot.

On April 15, 1942, amid rumors of a Medal of Honor being headed his way, Butch boarded a plane from Pearl Harbor to San Francisco, where he’d soon be reunited with wife Rita, mother Selma, and all the rest of the family. On the same day, many of his VF-3 comrades sailed aboard the Lexington on what proved to be her final cruise. Three weeks later, in the Battle of the Coral Sea, she became the first U.S. carrier lost in World War II.

Official confirmation for Butch’s Medal of Honor came on April 16. Three days later, Butch and Rita arrived in Washington to face the media ahead of the April 21 meeting with President Franklin D. Roosevelt during which the medal would be bestowed.

In Fateful Rendezvous: The Life of Butch O’Hare, Steve Ewing and John B. Lundstrom’s outstanding 1997 biography of O’Hare, the authors wrote, “As he was shuttled from one group of VIPs to another, Washington’s ‘take’ on Butch was that he was modest, somewhat embarrassed by all the flap, handsome, and very nice, and although not overly articulate, he nonetheless conveyed humor. His favorite comment was that he hoped his next aerial combat would not take place in front of an audience, such as the one on the Lexington, so that he would not again become ‘cannon fodder for the press.’”

On the morning of Tuesday, April 21, Butch and Rita were presented to President Roosevelt, Secretary of the Navy Frank Knox, assorted admirals and politicians, and members of the press. First Roosevelt informed Butch that he had been promoted to the rank of lieutenant commander.

Roosevelt then moved on to what he described as the more important part of the ceremony. Using all the rhetorical flourish for which he was famous, the president proceeded to read the Medal of Honor citation:

“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in aerial combat, at grave risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, as Section Leader and Pilot of Fighting Squadron Three, on 20 February 1942. Having lost the assistance of his teammates, Lieutenant O’Hare interposed his plane between his ship and an advancing enemy formation of nine attacking twin-engined heavy bombers.

“Without hesitation, alone and unaided, he repeatedly attacked this enemy formation at close range in the face of intense combined machine-gun and cannon fire. Despite this concentrated opposition, Lieutenant O’Hare, by his gallant and courageous action, his extremely skillful marksmanship in making the most of every shot of his limited ammunition, shot down five enemy bombers and severely damaged a sixth before they reached the bomb release point.

“As a result of his gallant action—one of the most daring, if not the most daring single action in the history of combat aviation—he undoubtedly saved his carrier from serious damage.”

In fact, Butch had faced not nine heavy bombers but eight; some fog-of-war type details were still being sorted out when the citation copy was composed. It is also unlikely that Butch actually “shot down five enemy bombers.” After all relevant records are examined, it appears he actually splashed three bombers during the dogfight and heavily damaged three others. The fact that he single-handedly saved the Lexington from serious damage is beyond dispute.

After Butch and Roosevelt shook hands, the president, sitting in his chair, took the Medal of Honor from its case and asked Rita to put it around her husband’s neck. He then asked the new lieutenant commander what sort of improvements he thought should be made to the Navy’s fighters. Without hesitation, O’Hare said that he would like to see a plane that could climb faster than the Japanese Zero. O’Hare would get his wish; the Grumman Aircraft Engineering Company of Bethpage, New York, was already hard at work on one: the F6F Hellcat that would first see combat in August 1943. A more powerful 2,000 horsepower engine was also later introduced into the Hellcat. It would be in an F6F Hellcat that Butch would fight his last battle.

A rousing reception in St. Louis came on Saturday, April 25, 1942, when a huge crowd turned out to cheer for its native son. Proud mom Selma and sisters Patsy and Marilyn were naturally part of the parade. By now they were beginning to realize just what Butch had accomplished. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch proclaimed in a banner headline, “60,000 GIVE O’HARE HERO’S WELCOME HERE.” He was, indeed, a national hero.

In the ensuing months, appearances before aviation cadets at Norfolk, Miami, Corpus Christi, and Jacksonville followed. It was usually a matter of making a patriotic speech and pushing war bonds. Still pretty much shy and retiring, “the uncomfortable hero” as Ewing and Lundstrom put it, Butch hated every minute of it, referring to it as “the dancing bear circuit.” But apparently he saw it as his duty and soldiered on. Besides, Washington wasn’t about to have it any other way. Few things had gone right for America in the war up to this point, so now that a genuine hero and a positive story had emerged it was an opportunity to be seized, and seized aggressively.

Finally, by June 1942, Butch was headed back to Pearl Harbor, where he would take command of VF-3. Training now became his primary responsibility, and though he worried that his relative lack of seasoning and experience might be a liability, he devoted himself to the task at hand. By all accounts he excelled at it, not only by succeeding in getting his young fliers ready for the important battles that lay ahead in the South and Central Pacific, but also by earning the respect, loyalty, and friendship of just about everyone he encountered.

On July 15, 1943, VF-3 was reconstituted as VF-6. Soon the pilots and their 36 F6F Hellcats found themselves attached to the light aircraft carrier USS Independence (CVL-22), from which they participated in attacks on Marcus and Wake Islands in August of that year.

On September 17, 1943, Butch was named commander of Carrier Air Group Six (CAG-6). He now oversaw the training and operational deployment of 100 pilots. But he never let his rise in rank go to his head. One of the fighter pilots under his command around this time described him as “a quiet, easy-going person with a delightful personality—aside from being a topnotch flyer.”

Andy Skon, a fighter pilot whose Hellcat would be along for the ride when Butch met his death, described Butch as “very much a flying CAG” who liked nothing better than to be aloft at the head of his air group.

As CAG-6, Butch now reported to the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CV-6), the “Big E” and flagship of Rear Admiral Arthur W. Radford’s Task Group 50.2 during the American assault on the Central Pacific’s Gilbert Islands.

For Butch and the other fighter pilots launched from the Enterprise, strikes were focused on Makin Island, and everything seemed to go well. But as the dust settled, Admiral Radford was coming to the conclusion that the Japanese were now realizing how outmatched they were in trying to attack the American naval forces by day. He was convinced that Japanese air commanders would order night torpedo strikes, and he was determined to create an effective deterrent.

The strategy they came up with, and Butch played a central role in devising it, was something of a three-legged stool: ship’s radar, radar on board a Grumman TBF Avenger torpedo bomber, and firepower from two F6F Hellcats. It all hinged on ship-mounted radar first detecting bogeys at considerable distances and then launching a TBF Avenger and guiding it to the bogeys by way of ship-to-plane radio communication.

The TBF Avenger also had radar, but it was far less powerful and was only useful to a distance of about six miles. So the idea was for the Avenger to piggyback on the robustness of the ship’s radar so that the Avenger could be positioned within striking distance of the bogeys. Two Hellcats would also be launched, and they would use radio communication to rendezvous with the TBF Avenger. Once the Avenger’s radar determined that the bogeys were within striking distance of the Hellcats, the Avenger would peel off, and the six .50-caliber machine guns of the Hellcats would neutralize the bogeys. It sounded simple, but was actually extremely dangerous.

By November 24, Radford ordered two three-plane night-fighting units—dubbed “Black Panthers” by Butch—into action at 3 am about 75 miles east of Makin. Needless to say, Butch was in one of the F6F Hellcats. While no encounter with the enemy ensued, it marked the first time in history that a night-fighter mission had been flown from an aircraft carrier.

Two nights later, on November 26, as reports came in to Radford that a night torpedo strike was imminent, he pondered if it was time to launch the Black Panthers for a second mission. From Radford’s memoirs: “On the bridge, as I decided what to do, Lieutenant Commander O’Hare approached me and requested that I send one of the Black Panther groups out.” Radford agreed.

At 5:45 pm, the “Pilots, man your planes” order rang out from the ship’s squawk box. A story in the Honolulu Advertiser said, “Stocky Butch was pulling on his helmet over his close-cropped black hair. He had widened a bit in girth in recent months, but the extra poundage had not lessened his ability to fly a Hellcat. One of the pilots shouted, ‘Go gettem, Butch.’ O’Hare’s reply was a grin. Then he dashed up a ladder to the flight deck.”

The idea was to intercept the Japanese night-strike group and then land either back on the Enterprise or at Tarawa atoll. Only one of the three-plane night-fighting units was to be launched. Butch and Andy Skon each piloted an F6F Hellcat. At the controls of the TBF Avenger was Lt. Cmdr. Phil Phillips, and joining him were gunner Alvin Kernan and Lieutenant Hazen Rand on radar.

O’Hare knew the mission was dicey and told Phillips that it was likely they wouldn’t make it back to the carrier, but would try for Tarawa instead. He told Phil, “We’ll be lucky if we even find the damned place.”

And so it was that at 6 pm on November 26, 1943, Butch’s Black Panther unit was airborne. The original plan to have all three planes united before attacking any Japanese aircraft was altered when the Command Information Center (CIC) sent Butch and Skon chasing after Japanese surveillance planes spotted on the Enterprise’s radar screen. Within an hour or so, having had no success in locating these planes, the two Hellcats went in search of the Avenger piloted by Phillips.

The rendezvous of the three planes was guided by radio communication from the Enterprise’s CIC, and by 7:25 the Avenger and the two Hellcats were finally united in the formation that had been originally planned: Avenger in the lead and Hellcats trailing left (Skon) and right (Butch). After the war, Kernan published his memoir titled Crossing the Line, in which he describes this final glimpse of Butch: “Canopy back, goggles up, yellow Mae West, khaki shirt, and helmet, Butch O’Hare sat aggressively forward, looking like the tough Navy ace he was, his face sharply illuminated by his canopy light for one last brief instant.”

To successfully complete the rendezvous of the Black Panthers, both Butch and Phillips had to turn on some combination of their planes’ running lights or recognition lights. Unfortunately, the lights didn’t go unnoticed by a Japanese Betty trailing the three American planes. It pounced.

“The long black cigar shape came in on the starboard side of the group across the rear of O’Hare … and began firing,” wrote Kernan, who had as good a view as anyone because he was facing backward in the turret of the lead plane. ‘Butch, this is Phil. There’s a Jap on your tail. Kernan, open fire.’

“I began shooting at the Betty. The air was filled with streams of fire, and a long burst nearly emptied my ammunition can. The Betty, as the tracers arced toward him, continued firing and then abruptly disappeared into the dark to port. I thought I saw O’Hare reappear for a moment, and then he was gone. Something whitish gray appeared in the distance, his parachute or the splash of the plane going in. Skon slid away. I thought that the Jap had shot O’Hare and then disappeared, but I also realized with a sinking feeling that there was a chance I might have hit O’Hare as well in the exchange of fire.”

At 7:34 pm, the Enterprise officially recorded that Butch was in the water. A desperate search that night by Phillips and Skon proved fruitless, as did a search the next morning by flying boats launched from Tarawa.

Deeply saddened at losing the skilled and universally popular Medal of Honor winner, Radford summed up the Black Panthers’ first night combat: “Believe our night fighters really saved the day. They mixed with the largest group, shot down two, and apparently caused great consternation. Had this [Japanese] group been able to coordinate their attacks with other groups, it would have been practically impossible to avoid all of them.”

No one will ever know for sure what happened to Butch that night, but Ewing and Lundstrom are convinced that he was not a victim of friendly fire. He was hit by machine-gun fire from the Betty, they believe. The authors also provide the following statistics to put Butch’s fate in context: “He was the first of seven carrier-based night-fighter pilots lost in combat, during which time the carrier night fighters flew 164 sorties, engaged the enemy on 95 occasions, and scored 103 victories.”

Among the tributes paid to Butch was the naming of the destroyer USS O’Hare (DD-889), launched in June 1945. But the biggest honor came in September 1949, when the Chicago-area Orchard Depot Airport was renamed O’Hare International Airport.

More than seven decades after Butch O’Hare’s exploits, many people—even those from Chicago—don’t know much, if anything, about the man for whom the airport is named. To help bridge this gap, in Terminal Two there is a display about the young pilot complete with photos, text, and an actual F4F Wildcat similar to the one flown by Butch. Used for training purposes over nearby Lake Michigan, it was restored after being recovered from the lake. Anyone passing through the airport who has an interest in history will want to stop at the display for a few moments and pay his or her respects to Edward Henry “Butch” O’Hare—an extraordinary man, pilot, and patriot.

This article by Patrick Reynolds originally appeared on Warfare History Network.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Russia's T-14 Armata Tank Is Powerful, But Israel's Merkava Dominates In One Area

Tue, 25/08/2020 - 00:00

TNI Staff


Situational awareness.

Here's What You Need To Remember: The Israelis’ massive situational awareness advantage given the capability of the Iron Vision system will give Tel Aviv’s seasoned tank crews a decisive advantage over the T-14 or any other Russian tank until Moscow develops an equivalent capability. In armored warfare, the crew that sees the enemy first almost always wins.

With its ongoing campaign in Syria proving to be a useful live-fire operational test and evaluation process for its latest weapons, it is perhaps not inconceivable that the Kremlin might eventually deploy the T-14 Armata main battle tank to that war-torn country.

The Russians are currently building 20 prototypes of the new tank and could build as many as 100 of the new vehicles for the Kremlin’s elite Taman Division. If the Kremlin did deploy some number of T-14s to Syria for operational evaluations under genuine combat conditions, there is a possibility the machines could face off against Israeli Merkava tanks if Tel Aviv chose to make a ground incursion into Syria.

The latest Israeli Merkava IVm Windbreaker is an excellent tank that is equipped with the Trophy active protection system (APS), Tzayad battlefield management system and advanced survivability features such as modular armor. Moreover, the Merkava IV will likely continue to improve—perhaps incorporating a revolutionary feature in the form of the Elbit Iron Vision helmet-mounted display system, which would allow crew members to “see” the world outside the tank via a series of external cameras without opening the vehicles’ hatches. The system, which provides unprecedented situational awareness, was tested in 2017 but it is not clear when it will be fielded—but it will be soon. Israel is the first to develop such technology, but Russia could eventually field similar hardware.

“The discussion among experts now revolves mainly around the question of whether the commander lacks the necessary overview when sitting in the tank or whether TV cameras and electro-optical aiming devices can actually provide the same information as the optical aiming devices and observation equipment on the current generation of battle tanks,” Captain Stefan Bühler, graduate engineer at the University of Applied Sciences, Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer at the NBC-KAMIR Competence Center for the Swiss Armed Forces and Commander of Tank Squadron 12/1,wrote. “A look into the sky provides the (technical) answer: the pilot of an F-35 can look through the aircraft with his head-up display – a computer generates a virtual 3D world from the video signals from the cameras mounted all around, which is then faded into his optics depending on the pilot’s direction of vision. With such technology, as offered by the Israeli company ELBIT Systems under the name ‘Iron Vision’ for use on armored vehicles, the commander of a T-14 could see even more than the commander of a battle tank with a manned turret.”

The T-14, by comparison to the Israeli machine, also features advanced protection systems—possibly more advanced in some regards than that of the Merkava—but also features an unmanned turret. The Russian vehicle also offers excellent mobility—and its faster and far more agile than the comparative huge Israeli machine, which weighs 65 tons and has 1500hp engine.

“The T-14 has the same power output as the Leopard 2 or the M1 Abrams, however, with a combat weight of 48 tons, it is 20% lighter, resulting in a specific output of 31.3 hp/T (22.9 kW/T). In comparison its western counterparts with 24 hp/T (17.6 kW/T), this new vehicle is extremely agile,” Bühler wrote. “The T-14’s tracks are narrower in the current version compared to the Leopard 2 or the M1 Abrams, however, due to the significantly lower combat weight, wide tracks are also not absolutely necessary: the specific ground pressure will be about the same compared to the western counterparts.”

Further, given its combination of active protection systems, reactive armor and passive laminated armor, the T-14 could possibly offer better protection for its crew than a comparable tank such as the Merkava, which is a more survivable machine than either the Leopard 2 or Abrams. Bühler argues that the Armata’s unmanned turret offers some survivability advantages over manned turret designs. “Based on all these considerations, it must be assumed that the T-14 Armata offers the crew a higher overall level of protection than its western counterparts, despite its significantly lower combat weight,” Bühler wrote.

In terms of sensors and situational awareness, the Israelis almost certainly retain a massive advantage over the Russian T-14. However, Bühler notes that sensors are a problem for all tanks. “Compared to older optical systems, video cameras and electro-optical scopes are neither more nor less vulnerable to enemy fire or splintering. Optics are, and will remain, the Achilles’ heel of a battle tank, including the T-14,” Bühler wrote.

The disadvantage of the Armata’s unmanned turret is situational awareness. The commander cannot pop his head out of the vehicle to maximize to see. That problem could be solved by technology such as Iron Vision, but it is not clear that the Russians have that technology. It is certain that Moscow does not have such technology installed on the current versions of the T-14, but it could eventually as Bühler notes. The Israelis’ massive situational awareness advantage given the capability of the Iron Vision system will give Tel Aviv’s seasoned tank crews a decisive advantage over the T-14 or any other Russian tank until Moscow develops an equivalent capability. In armored warfare, the crew that sees the enemy first almost always wins.

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons.

Russia Built This Tank for a Nuclear War With NATO

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 22:49

Robert Beckhusen

Security, Europe

It was a failure.

Key Point: The Object 279 was never more than a prototype.

In a war that never happened, formations of heavy and rather odd-looking Soviet tanks would have powered through atomic explosions in breakthrough attacks into West Germany.

Enter the Object 279 tank, a curious oddity from the late 1950s which was obsolete — despite its design principles deliberately reflecting the fear of a nuclear battlefield — by the time it was produced.

It was certainly not a success, as the Soviet Union only manufactured a handful of prototypes.

But the fact that it appeared at all is indicative of an obsession among a small number of Red Army military planners dating back to World War II. As the Nazis and Soviets battled for hegemony, both sides fielded increasingly heavier tanks — with bigger guns — which could absorb fire while destroying their heavily-armored enemies at long range.

Medium tanks, such as the legendary T-34, would ultimately pioneer the main battle tanks which armies deploy today. However, the Kremlin continued building thousands of heavy tanks into the 1960s until Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev effectively put a stop to it.

The Object 279 was part of this tradition.

The Object 279’s most visible features include the sharp, saucer-shaped chassis and four distinct, enormous tracks. The latter was to give the 60-ton tank more traction in difficult or soft terrain, always a problem for heavier tanks prone to bogging down. A 1,000-horsepower engine powered the beast.

The design’s obvious downside? One could only imagine the difficulty repairing the two inner tracks running underneath the chassis’ belly, let alone the complex transmission. Equally bizarre is the shape of the chassis to protect the vehicle and its four crew members from shock waves generated by an exploding nuclear bomb.

The Object 279 came with serious armor — 319 millimeters thick in the turret and 269 millimeters at the thickest point in the hull, significantly greater than the far more widespread T-72 which entered service in the 1970s.

An impressive, stabilized 130-millimeter rifled cannon and 14.5-millimeter machine gun rounded out the turret.

But the quad-tracked juggernaut’s technical specifications are somewhat moot, as the prototypes came at the worst possible time.

Back up. During World War II, the Soviets refined their heavy tank designs, culminating in the IS-2 — an intimidating and impressive vehicle which entered service in 1944. IS-2s most notably spearheaded the Red Army assault into Berlin, blasting German Tiger tanks and reducing fortified positions into rubble.

The success of the IS-2 was never replicated again in a Soviet heavy tank. A follow-up, the IS-3, was a nightmare to maintain and underwent near constant upgrades to resolve numerous design problems in the welding and wheel bearings.

“Even in 1946 a committee was formed to fix the problems of what had become the flagship Soviet tank, and to prevent Western intelligence agencies from finding out how bad the tank really was,” Stephen Sewell wrote in a 2002 edition of Armor magazine.

“Militarily the IS-3 offered little more than propaganda value, as it was an embarrassment and seldom offered to Soviet allies.”

When the IS-3 did find itself outside the USSR, it rarely saw combat. Protesters during the 1956 Hungarian uprising destroyed a few, and the Israelis annihilated dozens of them in Egyptian service in 1967.

The IS-4 hardly fared better, and another tank called the T-10 endured a torturous development period as capable medium tanks such as the T-55 and the soon-to-come T-64 competed for budget dollars.

In reality, classic heavy tanks stopped making sense by the mid-1950s. Speedy, maneuverable and reliable tanks — with new high-powered guns — would win the wars of the future. Devastating guided missiles capable of punching through heavy armor had also begun entering service.

Khrushchev, who loved missiles, had enough of the Soviet army’s penchant for heavy tanks.

“If tanks were going to remain, they must fire missiles and use a drum-canister inside the tank for storage. [Tank designer L.N.] Kartsev argued that this was a dumb idea, and that the USSR was more likely to need gun tanks than missiles,” Sewell wrote, referencing a 1960 conversation between the two men.

“While he and Khrushchev argued, it was apparent that Khrushchev was listening to him. But after seeing the old-fashioned T-10, Khrushchev was adamant: no more heavy tanks.”

The Object 279 died with them. But in an irony which its designers would have appreciated, today’s main battle tanks — what were once medium tanks — have grown a lot heavier.

This first appeared in WarIsBoring here.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Will Netflix Start Losing Subscribers Thanks to Coronavirus?

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 22:09

Stephen Silver

Technology, Americas

For months, no usual production took place for new movies or TV shows. The only handful of exceptions were shows that were filmed overseas or shows that are animated or otherwise produced in a method that’s not live action. Therefore, there’s going to be a dearth of live action TV shows on networks and cable channels as soon as this fall. Could such delays affect the subscriber count of the most popular streaming service, Netflix? One analyst believes so.

It hasn’t quite happened yet, but a content crunch is on the way, when it comes to movies and TV shows, as a result of coronavirus.

For months, no usual production took place for new movies or TV shows. The only handful of exceptions were shows that were filmed overseas or shows that are animated or otherwise produced in a method that’s not live action. Therefore, there’s going to be a dearth of live action TV shows on networks and cable channels as soon as this fall.

Could such delays affect the subscriber count of the most popular streaming service, Netflix? One analyst believes so.

Michael Pachter, media analyst with Wedbush Securities, as cited by Media Play News, said in a recent note that Netflix is likely to soon begin losing subscribers, if there’s not a return to normalcy soon.

“We suspect that this phenomenon has already begun and led to the company’s lackluster guidance for Q3 net sub additions,” Pachter wrote in an August 24 note, as cited by Media Play. “Once the pace of its delivery of new content begins to wane, we expect Netflix to see higher churn and much slower subscriber growth.”

There are reasons to believe, however, that Netflix is in good position to weather the coronavirus storm. The company has a massive amount of original content on its docket, and is in better position, if necessary, to spread its offerings over a longer period of time.

In addition, as pointed out in the note by Pachter, Netflix has the option of purchasing movies from Hollywood studios, who are both hungry for revenue and not able to release the movies in theaters, in order to add to their original content war chest.

Netflix has already done this with “The Trial of the Chicago 7,” a movie directed by “The West Wing” creator Aaron Sorki. That movie was set for theatrical release by Paramount, but Netflix acquired it and will release on it service in October. However, as Pachter also noted, Netflix’s competitors, such as Apple TV+ and HBO Max, have also been in the market for such acquisitions.

Netflix, at the end of the second quarter, said that it added twenty-two million subscribers in the first half of the year, although its earnings missed. The company said in its shareholder letter for the quarter that “our main business priority is to restart our productions safely and in a manner consistent with local health and safety standards to ensure that our members can enjoy a diverse range of high quality new content,” and that its strategy for doing so would differ from country to country and region to region. The company has reportedly resumed some productions overseas.

Meanwhile, Netflix has several high-profile movies, including Charlie Kaufman’s “I’m Thinking of Ending Things,” the entire “Back to the Future” trilogy, and the two most recent “Muppets” movies, becoming available in the month of September.

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

Image: Reuters

Joe Biden Says He Will Raise Taxes for Anyone Making More Than $400,000

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 21:45

Rachel Bucchino

Economics, Americas

But would those making below that number see their taxes remain steady?

Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden and his running mate Senator Kamala Harris (D-California) appeared in their first joint interview, with the former vice president saying everyone should pay “their fair share” and that he will raise taxes on Americans who make more than $400,000 if elected in November.

“I will raise taxes for anybody making over $400,000,” Biden said in an interview with ABC’s anchor David Muir that aired Sunday. “Let me tell you why I’m going to do it. It’s about time they start paying a fair share of the economic responsibility we have. The very wealthy should pay a fair share—corporations should pay a fair share.”

Biden also said businesses that bring in “close to a trillion dollars and pay no tax at all” will see a tax hike.

Tax proposals have growing importance for the upcoming election, as the coronavirus pandemic triggered an economic crisis, leaving more than thirty million Americans unemployed.

When Biden noted that he’d raise taxes on businesses, Muir questioned this policy, as most businesses have shuttered or struggled financially because of the impacts of the pandemic. 

“Is it smart to tax businesses while you’re trying to recover?” Muir asked.

“It’s smart to tax businesses that in fact are making excessive amounts of money and paying no taxes,” Biden responded.

Although Biden has towered in national polls over President Donald Trump, some polls have revealed greater favorability and confidence in Trump’s handling of the economy. The president has warned in the past that Biden’s tax policy would create the “biggest tax increase in history.”

In the interview, Biden emphasized that small businesses or individuals who make $400,000 per year or less won’t experience any new taxes.

“We have to provide them with the ability to reopen. We have to provide more help for them, not less help,” he said.

Biden’s tax policies would boost tax revenue by about $3.8 trillion over the next 10 years, according to an economic analysis conducted by the Tax Foundation. The Foundation noted, however, the spike in taxes would only bring in about $3.2 trillion in actuality “when accounting for macroeconomic feedback effects.”

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

Image: Reuters

Russia's Su-27 Stealth Fighter: Now Remote-Controlled?

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 21:44

Peter Suciu

Security, Eurasia

The fifth-generation multi-role fighter was designed by United Aircraft Corporation as an aerial platform to destroy all types of air, ground and naval targets. And it might come with an impressive new feature. 

The combat capabilities of Russia’s Su-57 fifth-generation fighter have been compared to the United States Air Force’s F-22 Raptor. The Russian aircraft’s speed and armament could allow it to respond quickly to potential threats—and if necessary back out just as quickly from fights it cannot win. But now the Su-57 could have another advantage: a remotely piloted mode that could enable the advanced fighter to be operated safely away from potentially hostile skies. 

“Indeed, we are considering the options of the remotely piloted mode on many platforms and, of course, such work is being carried out on the Su-57,” Yuri Slyusar, CEO of the United Aircraft Corporation (UAC) told the Zvezda TV Channel on Monday as reported by state media.  

The fifth-generation multi-role fighter was designed by UAC as an aerial platform to destroy all types of air, ground and naval targets. Much like the American-built F-22 Raptor or F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, the Su-57 fighter jet features stealth technology—in this case from the broad use of composite materials, while the aircraft is also capable of supersonic cruising speed and is equipped with an advanced onboard radio-electronic system that includes a powerful onboard computer. That computer has been described as a second pilot, but how it might be used remotely is still unclear. Another innovation is the armament that is placed inside the airframe’s fuselage. 

The Su-57 also features a radar system that is spread across its body. Russia’s aircraft is the only fighter in the world to feature this “Directed Infrared Countermeasure System” (DIRCM), which also includes a missile-spoofing turret that was designed to protect the fighter from infrared-guided missiles. However, analysts have questioned exactly how effective the system could be for a fighter as it has primarily only been used on transports and helicopters and never has been placed on the ventral side of an aircraft.

Since the Su-57 first took to the skies in January 2010, it has been shown to combine the functions of an attack plane and a fighter jet while the use of the composite materials and its innovative technologies along with aerodynamic configuration has ensured that it would have a low level of radar and infrared signature. In theory, this should make for quite the adversary in the skies—more so given that the plane’s armament could include hypersonic missiles.

However, in practice, the Su-57 has been plagued with problems during its development and by some accounts, the plane underperformed when it was deployed to Syria for field testing. In fact, last month Russian military chief of the general staff Valery Gerasimov only confirmed that the aircraft had even been deployed to Syria and said little about its performance, so that is hardly a rousing endorsement of the aircraft’s capabilities. 

The bigger problem is that Russia likely won’t receive the Su-57 in any significant numbers—at least not any time soon. Perhaps a total of four will be handed over to the Russian military this year. That is a far cry short of the seventy-six-plane order and at just four planes per year (if Russia can even maintain that many), it could take three to four years to form a single squadron. That begs the question as to why a remote control option would even be necessary—it certainly isn’t an issue of shortage of pilots as much as fewer than required aircraft at this point. 

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: Reuters

Explained: How To Talk to Anti-Vaxxers

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:54

Erica Weintraub Austin, Porismita Borah

Health, Americas

Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

An estimated 24,000 to 62,000 people died from the flu in the United States during the 2019-20 flu season. And that was a relatively mild flu season, which typically starts in October and peaks between December and February.

The latest computer model predicts 300,000 deaths from COVID-19 by Dec. 1.

With the advent of flu season, and COVID-19 cases rising, a public health disaster even worse than what we’re now experiencing could occur this fall and winter. Two very dangerous respiratory diseases could be circulating at once.

This will put the general population at risk as well as the millions of people who have pre-existing conditions. Hospitals and health care workers would likely be overwhelmed again.

We are scholars from the Edward R. Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research at Washington State University. As we see it, the only way out of the reopening and reclosing cycles is to convince people to get the flu vaccine in early fall – and then the COVID-19 vaccine when it’s available. Right now, up to 20 COVID-19 vaccine candidates are already in human trials. Chances seem good that at least one will be available for distribution in 2021.

But recent studies suggest that 35% might not want to get a COVID vaccine, and fewer than half received a flu vaccine for the 2019-2020 season.

Getting Coverage

To arrest the pandemic’s spread, perhaps 70% to 80% of the population must opt in and get the vaccine. They also need the flu shot to avoid co-infection which complicates diagnosis and treatment.

Achieving herd immunity is a steep climb. We conducted a national online survey, with 1,264 participants, between June 22 and July 18. We found that only 56% of adults said they were likely or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Westerners were most accepting (64%), followed by Midwesterners (58%), with Southerners (53%) and Northeasterners (50%) least likely.

Anti-vaxxers, promoting unlikely scenarios and outright falsehoods about vaccine risks, are not helping.

With all this in mind, we would like to share some myths and truths about how to increase rates of vaccinations.

Facts Don’t Convince People

People who support vaccination sometimes believe their own set of myths, which actually may stand in the way of getting people vaccinated. One such myth is that people respond to facts and that vaccine hesitancy can be overcome by facts.

That is not necessarily true. Actually, knowledge alone rarely convinces people to change behavior. Most decisions are informed – or misinformed – by emotions: confidence, threat, empathy and worry are four of them.

Another myth is that people can easily separate accurate information from the inaccurate. This is not always true, either. With so much misinformation and disinformation out there, people are often overconfident about their ability to discern good from bad. Our research during the H1N1 epidemic showed that overconfidence can lead to faulty conclusions that increase risk.

Also, it’s not always true that people are motivated to get accurate information to protect themselves and their loved ones. People are often too busy to parse information, especially on complicated subjects. They instead rely on shortcuts, often looking for consistency with their own attitudes, social media endorsements and accessibility.

And, to complicate matters, people will sometimes disregard additional fact checking that contradicts their political beliefs.

Assuming that people who get the flu vaccine will also get the COVID-19 vaccine is a mistake, too.

In our survey, 52% of respondents said they got a flu or other vaccine in the past year, but only 64% of those who got a vaccine in the past year said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine. On the other hand, 47% who did not get a recent vaccine said they were somewhat or extremely likely to get the COVID-19 vaccine.

Ways that Do Help

Here are five things you can do to encourage your family, friends and neighbors to vaccinate and to seek out reliable information:

  1. Help them discern trustworthy news outlets from the rest. Is the outlet clearly identified? Does it have a good reputation? Does it present verifiable evidence to back up claims? It is hard to know whether a site is advancing a political agenda but check the “about” or “sponsors” type of links in the menu on the homepage to gain a bit more information. People should be particularly suspicious if the source makes absolutist claims or evokes stereotypes. An anger-provoking headline on social media might be nothing more than manipulative clickbait, intended to sell a product or profit in some way from a reader’s attention.

  2. Make trustworthy news sources accessible and consistent by putting them on your social media feeds. Community service centers are a good one. Partner with opinion leaders people already trust. Our survey respondents viewed local news and local health departments more useful than other outlets, although favorite sources vary with their age and political orientation.

  3. Provide clear, consistent, relevant reasons to get the vaccines. Don’t forget the power of empathy. Our survey says only 49% thought a COVID-19 vaccine would help them, but 65% believed it would help protect other people. Avoid the temptation to use scare tactics and keep in mind that negatively framed messages sometimes backfire.

  4. Remember that skepticism about vaccines did not happen overnight or entirely without cause. Research shows that mistrust of news media compromises confidence in vaccination. Many are also skeptical of Big Pharma for promoting drugs of questionable quality. The government must too overcome mistrust based on past questionable tactics, including “vaccine squads” targeting African Americans and immigrants. Honesty about past mistakes or current side effects is important. Some information about vaccines, widely disseminated in the past, were later revealed to be wrong. Although the evidence for the efficacy of vaccines is overwhelming, any missteps on this subject breed mistrust. One recent example: Two major studies about COVID-19 treatments were ultimately retracted.

  5. Let them know that science is the answer, but it requires patience to get it right. Scientific progress is made gradually, with course corrections that are common until they build to consensus.

And emphasize the things we are certain of: The pandemic is not going away by itself. Not all news outlets are the same. Both flu and COVID-19 shots are necessary. And vaccines work. Collectively, by turning around those who believe otherwise, we can save lives.

Erica Weintraub Austin, Professor and Director, Edward R. Murrow Center for Media & Health Promotion Research, Washington State University and Porismita Borah, Associate Professor, Washington State University

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

Image: Reuters

Why Americans Shouldn't Get Excited About Biden's North Korea Policy

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:40

Daniel R. DePetris

Security, Asia

It loooks likely to be the same old story all over again.

Editor’s Note: As Election Day rapidly approaches, and with it, a potential change of presidential administration, the Center for the National Interest’s Korean Studies team decided to ask dozens of the world’s top experts a simple question: If Joe Biden wins come November, what do you expect his North Korea policy to look like? The below piece is an answer to that question. Please click here to see even more perspectives on this important topic.

U.S. policy on North Korea across multiple Democratic and Republican administrations has rested on three central pillars: (1) North Korea can under no circumstances be recognized or treated as a nuclear weapons state; (2) over time, economic pressure will eventually bring the Kim dynasty to the negotiating table; and (3) Pyongyang’s denuclearization is the sine qua non of success. From everything we know about Joe Biden and his nearly half-century long career in Washington, none of the basic parameters are likely to change.

Every president enters the Oval Office thinking he can close the North Korea nuclear file for good. President George W. Bush and his national security team frowned upon the Clinton administration’s diplomacy with Pyongyang and perceived it to be weak and unprincipled. Over time, Bush realized that isolating the North with economic and diplomatic sanctions was producing zero policy benefits for the United States and spent his second term as a deeply active participant in the Six Party Talks process. But eight years later, President Bush left office with Washington’s North Korea policy in worse shape than when he came in.

This trend continued with presidents Barack Obama and Donald Trump. During his opening months, Obama promised a new era of U.S. diplomatic engagement with long-time adversaries. Trump, a showman if there ever was one, sold himself as the master negotiator who would personally make great deals for the United States and solve problems no other U.S. president had the intelligence or talent to solve. In both cases, North Korea was at the top of the list, and in both cases, Obama and Trump wound up disappointed. Obama largely gave up on diplomacy with Pyongyang after the 2011 Leap Day Deal collapsed in less than a month. Trump, despite three in-person meetings with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and an unknown number of letters exchanged, largely lost interest in the endeavor as election season approached.

If Biden prevails in November, he will inherit a North Korea problem that is the product of three decades of failed U.S. policy. If comments during his long tenure in the Senate or his remarks during the 2020 Democratic presidential primary are any indication, Biden’s North Korea policy will be a highly traditionalist one. North Korea’s complete and verifiable denuclearization will remain the top U.S. policy objective on the Korean Peninsula. Economic sanctions on the North will likely increase as the Biden administration tries to poke and prod China and Russia into fully implementing the various U.N. Security Council Resolutions already on the books. Joint U.S.-South Korean military drills will return on schedule, which will heighten Pyongyang’s sense of vulnerability and perhaps enable Kim to meet the moment with some long-range missile tests of his own. The Biden State Department will devote a significant amount of time trying to impress upon Beijing the necessity of cracking down on ship-to-ship transfers, border smuggling, and whatever other sanctions violations the Chinese and North Koreans have perfected. None of it will be particularly effective. Any North Korea policy that depends on Beijing’s cooperation is a policy that is pre-set to deflate into irrelevance, particularly so when China and the U.S. are already at each other’s throats over a wide range of issues.

As for direct U.S.-North Korea diplomacy? Well, don’t expect any Biden-Kim summits anytime soon, if ever. Dialogue will be attached to a series of conditions the North Koreans will have to meet beforehand, including but not limited to showing some good faith to the international community that they are willing to abide by prior denuclearization commitments.

I can only hope that a potential Biden administration proves this assessment wrong. Otherwise, the U.S. might as well prepare for another four years of the same old story.

Daniel R. DePetris is a columnist at the Washington Examiner and a contributor to the National Interest.

Image: Reuters

If North Korea Collapsed, South Korea Would Have To Clean It Up

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:39

Priya Sethi

Security, Asia

ROK forces must also be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance and emergency relief.

Here's What You Need To Remember: U.S. forces will be crucial in enabling international humanitarian agencies to enter affected areas and in providing protection for aid operations. Located miles from the Military Demarcation Line, U.S. forces are able to mobilize immediately to stage and support humanitarian relief operations. They maintain the airlift and aerial reconnaissance capabilities to quickly assess affected areas and to provide immediate, large-scale delivery of supplies.

Speculation on the eventuality of a North Korean government collapse has fueled analysts and policy makers for years. From the famine and economic crisis in the 1990s to recent political purges within the Kim Jong-un government, the potential for collapse always seems to be around the corner. Regardless of how changes take place on the peninsula, North Korea’s entrenched security structures, humanitarian complexities and depleted infrastructure will induce significant instability challenges for regional actors. As calls to support unification and prepare for contingency of an unexpected collapse continue, it is an opportune time for U.S. forces, located on the Korean peninsula, to help the ROK (Republic of Korea) military prepare for stabilization and humanitarian relief efforts.

U.S. forces should leverage their operational experience from recent military campaigns and its unique relationship within the ROK-U.S. Alliance to provide capacity building and security assistance in stability operations, disarmament, demobilization, and reintegration and humanitarian assistance. Strengthening capacity and coordination now will propel ROK military planning from a demand-driven response to an informed, supply-led posture in confronting anticipated instability challenges.

Stability Academy

The ROK military has roughly 500,000 active-duty troops and can activate hundreds of thousands of reserve soldiers. This additional manpower forms Stabilization units that mobilize in support of the active duty troops and homeland defense. However, ROK Stabilization units consist mostly of reservists with limited combat and stability training with which to manage and mitigate against potential drivers of instability. To effectively plan and prepare for instability, U.S. forces should establish training opportunities in which both ROK reservists and active-duty military attend in either peacetime or in conflict conditions to exercise the skills and training needed.

An annual stability operations training for reservists would focus on further developing infantry and artillery skills to enhance their capability in managing combat threats while stabilizing an area. In addition, building expertise and specialty skills in critical stability tasks such as medical training, water and sanitation, and disaster relief would mitigate capability gaps and build a stronger cadre of forces dedicated to stabilization efforts. By using the personnel and facilities already available in South Korea, U.S. forces can utilize and expand integrated training camps, simulations and tabletop exercises for ROK units to develop and build response strategies and capabilities.

Another opportunity U.S. forces should consider is developing a rapid deployment academy for mobilized stabilization divisions preparing to engage in a collapse or conflict environment. U.S. forces could add on to the ROK units’ predeployment training to encourage a greater emphasis on stability operations and civil affairs, building off the U.S. operational experience from recent campaigns. This military-to-military engagement gives the U.S. forces on the peninsula a significant training opportunity to build the capacity of their ROK counterparts.

Security Assistance

A critical area of U.S. security assistance will likely be assisting ROK-led efforts in the disarmament, demobilization and reintegration (DDR) of NK forces. In a conflict scenario, NK generals and military elite will be the primary actors to establish control or encourage factional fighting, influencing the potential for insurgency or resistance. Co-opting NK military leaders and security forces not only thwarts a potential driver of insurgency, but also indicates to the rest of the population a willingness by elites to participate in demobilization. The ROK-U.S. Alliance should work to develop a standards-based methodology and doctrine for DDR activities to ensure a successfully coordinated program across military and civilian sectors. The U.S. can assist their ROK counterparts to develop tactics, techniques and procedures that meet established objectives and end-states in disarming or demobilizing North Korea’s military. U.S. forces can assist in building disarmament facilities and weapons caches to disarm the NK security forces, and work with ROK forces to secure political prisoners and elites in accordance with joint and combined doctrinal procedures. The United States can also support the ROK government in establishing incentives and amnesty programs for former combatants and the professional community of scientists, doctors and engineers to encourage participation in demobilization and reintegration.

In addition, U.S. forces can provide liaison teams and partnering units to support the ROK military conduct key stabilization tasks, such as engineering and short-term infrastructure repair. U.S. security assistance can provide expertise to ROK engineer units to prepare for route clearance and construction missions, and set the conditions for critical infrastructure repair, such as roads, bridges and power distribution centers. A major initial operation for the ROK government will involve restoring fuel and electricity services and distributing power generation systems to population centers. U.S. engineer units should partner with ROK units now to plan effectively and to build the capabilities to execute such initial repair efforts.

Humanitarian Relief

ROK forces must also be prepared to provide humanitarian assistance and emergency relief. The U.S. can assist by providing advisory support to build capacity in disaster relief delivery and crisis planning. The U.S. should encourage the ROK government and private sector to build greater stockpiles of portable water, medical supplies, food rations and temporary shelters that the military can reach upon for immediate distribution. In addition, the Korean Integrated Humanitarian Coordination Cell (KIHAC), established to coordinate humanitarian relief activities, should be better integrated with the ROK military and interagency to ensure a synchronized response. U.S. forces can utilize its Civil-Military Operational Cell (CMOC) security assessment and planning capabilities to influence KIHAC integration with government and nongovernmental organizations.

Additionally, U.S. forces will be crucial in enabling international humanitarian agencies to enter affected areas and in providing protection for aid operations. Located miles from the Military Demarcation Line, U.S. forces are able to mobilize immediately to stage and support humanitarian relief operations. They maintain the airlift and aerial reconnaissance capabilities to quickly assess affected areas and to provide immediate, large-scale delivery of supplies. Similar to the military’s plans and models for receiving and integrating troops and equipment, U.S. forces should use their logistics and sustainment hubs to facilitate and secure the delivery and transport of humanitarian aid to ROK military posts. Taking advantage of U.S. staging points and movement networks allows for a more effective and efficient supply distribution and forward movement of international aid agencies.

The Korean peninsula is a ripe environment for U.S. forces to support preparation for instability challenges. Its strategic position and enduring relationship with the South Korean military and government provides opportunities to advise, train and assist the ROK military. While speculation will continue on how collapse or unification scenarios may take place, the recommendations and planning considerations here can strengthen the capacity of the ROK military and offer solutions to more effectively employ U.S. forces against future needs.

Priya Sethi is a civilian defense consultant, currently working in Seoul, South Korea as a U.S. Army planner. This first appeared several years ago. 

Image: Reuters.

Will iPhones Be Made in Mexico?

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:23

Stephen Silver


The politics are tricky and it might not be Apple itself that makes them.

It’s occasionally been a point of contention, especially during the Trump era and its fitful trade war with China, that Apple continues to mostly make and assemble its products in China. It’s also often led to confusion—especially last November, when President Trump joined with Apple CEO Tim Cook to visit a plant in Texas, which the president implied was both an Apple manufacturing facility, and newly open as a result of his administration’s policy. Neither was true, as the plant was neither new, nor an Apple-owned facility, although Mac Pro computers are produced at the Flex-owned company, and Apple had opened an office complex in the Austin area.

Now, there are rumors that Apple products may be made in North America, although not in the United States, and once again, not by Apple itself.

Reuters reported on Monday that two Chinese companies that work on Apple products, Foxconn and Pegatron, are considering building factories in Mexico. And Foxconn, per the report, would use the new facility to make iPhones for Apple.

The report added that there had been “no sign of Apple’s direct involvement in the plan yet,” and such a move would not be “Apple” building iPhones in Mexico. A decision is expected later this year, and it’s not clear if the plan would be affected by an election loss by President Trump, and the likely changes in trade policies that would follow under a new administration.

These possible company plans are under consideration, per the report, because “the U.S.-China trade war and coronavirus pandemic prompt firms to reexamine global supply chains.” It’s part of a concept called “nearshoring,” in which manufacturing by U.S. companies still takes place outside of the country, but closer to home, rather than overseas.

Any changes would likely be years out. This year’s iPhone manufacturing timeline has been closely watched by analysts and other Apple observers, as fears have continued that Apple’s iPhone line could be delayed due to the coronavirus. Apple admitted, on its most recent earnings call, that this year’s iPhones will arrive a few weeks later than usual, which likely places their release somewhere in the month of October.

Foxconn already has five factories throughout Mexico, although it has never made iPhones in that country. Foxconn made a controversial deal a few years ago in which they agreed to build a factory in Wisconsin, in exchange for massive government subsidies. However, the plans have been repeatedly delayed, and the project is not expected to bring about the promised number of jobs for the Southeastern Wisconsin region.

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

Image: Reuters

As Many As 646,000 Die Globally Thanks to the Flu (And Then Came COVID-19)

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:18

Ethen Kim Lieser

Health, World

What happens if people also get the coronavirus?

These days, most Americans are inundated with up-to-the-minute data detailing the horrific effects of the novel coronavirus.

But what often gets ignored amid this ongoing pandemic is that the flu season is right around the corner—which can be a lethal virus in its own right.

More than eight months into the global pandemic, roughly 810,000 deaths have been reported due to the coronavirus, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University.

That indeed is a substantial figure, but what current data show is that the seasonal flu also has the potential to be extremely deadly.

In a 2017 collaborative study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and global health partners, between 291,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die from influenza-related respiratory illnesses each year.

These figures are considerably higher than the World Health Organization’s previous estimates of 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.

In the United States, on average, between nine and forty-five million Americans catch the flu each year, which leads to anywhere between 12,000 to 61,000 deaths. According to the CDC, between October 2019 and April 2020, there were an estimated thirty-nine to fifty-six million influenza infections and 24,000 to 62,000 fatalities.

“These findings remind us of the seriousness of flu and that flu prevention should really be a global priority,” Dr. Joe Bresee, associate director for global health in CDC’s Influenza Division, said in a news release.

The highest flu mortality rates are witnessed in the world’s poorest regions and among older adults. People aged seventy-five years and older and those living in sub-Saharan African countries experienced the highest number of fatalities, followed by individuals residing in Eastern Mediterranean and Southeast Asian countries.

Despite the WHO’s recommendation to utilize flu-vaccination programs to help protect people in high-risk populations, few developing countries have the resources or capacity to manufacture and distribute such vaccines.

“This work adds to a growing global understanding of the burden of influenza and populations at highest risk,” CDC researcher Danielle Iuliano said in a news release. “It builds the evidence base for influenza vaccination programs in other countries.”

In the United States, where flu-vaccination programs are widely available, fewer than half of adults and about 60% of children typically get the flu shot each year, according to CDC’s 2018-2019 data.

The shot’s effectiveness ranges from 20% to 60% each season—depending on the types of strains circulating. The available vaccines are aimed at preventing at least three different strains of the virus, and most cover four. Last year’s formulation was estimated to be about 45% effective in preventing the flu overall, with about a 55% effectiveness in children.

In preparation for a potentially dangerous one-two punch of flu cases and coronavirus infections, the four manufacturers of U.S. flu vaccines have already confirmed that they will ship roughly 200 million doses across the United States this year—which is 19% higher than last season.

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

Image: Reuters

Clash of the Titans: India and Pakistan Continue to Battle Over Kashmir

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:16

Ahsan Butt

Security, Asia

But if the two countries are interested, there are a few viable solutions to the decades-old conflict.

Last week, a senior Indian national security reporter dropped a bombshell that, at first glance, should have turned more heads. The story revealed “persistent” rumors in New Delhi of a secret diplomatic backchannel currently underway between India and Pakistan. The speculation is that these talks, purportedly involving senior officials holed up in Washington and London, have included discussions on everything from “the fate of Kashmir” to “the future of Afghanistan”. 

The report was instructive for several reasons, not least its author. Praveen Swami’s chumminess with the Indian security establishment has been scrutinized in the past, but in this instance, his cozy relationship with the military brass adds credibility to the claims. In all likelihood, this report is not coming from nowhere. If nothing else, it could be a senior leader in the BJP government or security apparatus publicly musing or floating the possibility to gauge the idea’s reception.  

Any news that portends warmer ties between India and Pakistan or progress on a Kashmir settlement should be welcomed. That said, the same pathologies that have doomed past efforts at rapprochement in South Asia still exist. Without excising those, peacebuilding in the region will always be a precarious enterprise, a Jenga-like structure vulnerable to the diplomatic equivalent of someone breathing too hard.

Hardliners in Pakistan and India 

Casual observers of South Asia may be surprised by just how often India and Pakistan embark on a process of normalizing ties. There has been at least one such attempt in each of the last four decades: between Zia-ul-Haq and Rajiv Gandhi (1980s), Nawaz Sharif and Atal Behari Vajpayee (1990s), Manmohan Singh with both Pervez Musharraf and briefly Asif Ali Zardari (2000s), and Nawaz Sharif and Narendra Modi (2010s). More than one of these efforts has involved detailed negotiations over Kashmir. 

The cynic might interject that such fleeting optimism only serves to intersperse insurgencies, terrorist attacks, and threats of nuclear war. True enough. But it bears repeating that, under the right circumstances, the leaderships of India and Pakistan are not impervious to the seductive scent of a landmark peace deal or treaty.  

Yet each of those attempts failed, and handily at that. The reasons were predictable: hardliners on both sides scuttling painstaking progress, unwilling to expend political capital and risk their domestic standing, reputations, and careers.   

In Pakistan, the main problem has been the security establishment. Tellingly, even hawkish Pakistani generals, from Zia to Musharraf to now (reportedly) Bajwa, have shown that they are not, in principle, against deal-making with India. Rather, what they object to is deals negotiated by civilians.

Over the past two decades, the army and intelligence services have upended, undercut, and undermined the efforts of elected politicians to thaw relations not once (1999), not twice (2008), but thrice (2016). Having arrogated to itself the role of national custodian, the security establishment does not trust politicians to represent Pakistan with India. Each time the hapless civilian leaders dare to do so, like clockwork, a major terrorist attack or act of war on Indian soil happens to take place.  

In India, the issue has not been one specific actor, but a wider ideology: nationalism, a powerful and pernicious force. Indian nationalists often protest that they hardly give the time of day to Pakistan and have bigger fish to fry.  

But their western neighbor remains a resonant symbol that evokes suspicion, mistrust, and contempt from the Indian body politic, security establishment, and society writ-large, with the notable exception of the south and, perhaps, the northeast. “Pakistan,” both as a word and as an idea, is used as a rhetorical cudgel across the political spectrum: right-wingers will tell their opponents to “go to Pakistan” while liberals will urge their opponents to not turn India into a “Hindu Pakistan.” Even amongst sophisticated Indian observers, the understanding of Pakistan and Pakistani society remains largely a caricature.

The Last Best Chance? 

The mid-2000s serve to highlight the severe costs that these two dynamics impose on South Asia. It was an opportune time for negotiation: the United States was deeply involved in the region and had leverage and credibility with both parties. The pair’s nuclear tests were almost a decade old, sufficient time for decisionmakers to adjust to new geostrategic realities. Each government wished to pursue an accommodationist course. The Mumbai terror attacks, which poisoned the idea of cooperating with Pakistan for a generous swathe of the Indian intelligentsia and policymaking community, had not yet occurred.

Sure enough, in 2006, Pakistan and India came tantalizingly close to demilitarizing the Siachen glacierthe highest, coldest, and most punishing battlefield in the world, occupied by Indian and Pakistani troops since the early 1980s. At the last minute, according to a book by India’s former Foreign Secretary, M. K. Narayanan (the Indian National Security Advisor) and Gen. J. J. Singh (the Army Chief) lobbied against the deal, dashing hopes of an agreement.  

Worse followed in 2007. Back-channel talks, having taken place over several years in locations such as Bangkok, Dubai, and London between emissaries from Manmohan Singh and Pervez Musharraf, were so advanced that the two had “come to semicolons” in a draft agreement on Kashmir. A visit by the Indian prime minister to Pakistan to announce the deal, and begin its implementation, was in the works. But Musharraf, a dictator who rose to power in a coup, began to lose his grip on the country and responded as all authoritarians are wont to do: desperation and force. By the end of the year, he was no longer Army Chief. By the next year, he was out of public life altogether.

The year 2006 showed that the ugly image of Pakistan in India’s collective strategic thinking can be self-defeating. The year 2007 showed that Pakistani military leaders will seldom enjoy the broad-based and institutionalized political support that freely and fairly elected governments are built on. When mired in sensitive diplomacy, such support can be worth its weight in gold.  

Kashmir Today 

A far cry from the mid-2000s, the noxious atmosphere in South Asia today is hardly facilitative of constructive dialog. Barely eighteen months ago, India and Pakistan flew fighter jets into each other’s airspace for the first time since 1971. Exactly a year ago, Modi’s BJP government executed a suffocating clampdown on Kashmir. Since then, Imran Khan has referred to Modi’s regime as “fascist” and likened Modi to Hitler, while Indian leaders and security officials have spoken of designs to annex Pakistani Kashmir.  

Under such conditions, an inclination to despair may seem natural. In truth, objective conditions show the advisability of talking on Kashmir.  

From Pakistan’s perspective, the conflict has exacted an enormous toll: blowback from the militarization and Islamization of its foreign policy in the form of a deadly insurgency that brought the state to its knees, pariah status in major global capitals for its sponsorship of terrorism, and economic ruin impelled by avaricious defense budgets.  

Meanwhile, India’s hardball strategy under Modi, both on Kashmir and the region more generally, has largely failed. Domestically, space for mainstream politics in the Valley has essentially vanished, recruitment of homegrown militants continues unabated, and the Kashmiri street remains bitterly angry. Regionally, New Delhi’s ties with Bangladesh, Nepal, and Sri Lanka have deteriorated. Most importantly, its aggressive behavior last August invited retaliation from China, boxing it into a crisis where India has few palatable options.  

International Relations research suggests that leaders of regional rivals tend to bury the past only when it serves some larger geopolitical purpose and helps solidify their domestic rule. The good news is that these are exactly the conditions that obtain in India and Pakistan today. The bad news is the two governments may not see it that way and certainly evince little indication that they are prepared to make tough concessions on territory, terrorism, and trade.  

If India and Pakistan are interested, however, then there are viable solutions to the Kashmir conflict. The near-settlement under Musharraf and Manmohan—which calls for (1) demilitarization and (2) self-governance for the entire historical state of Jammu and Kashmir, (3) free movement of people and goods across the border, and (4) joint management of Kashmir by Indians, Pakistanis, and Kashmiris—is a sound departure point.  

From Kosovo to the Cook Islands, from Gibraltar to Monaco, it is evident that sovereignty in international politics is layered and nuanced, not a simple binary of independent statehood or bust. Whether India and Pakistan can operate with sufficient boldness and deftness within that maneuverability is, of course, another question entirely.

The Payoff  

Though Kashmir grabs the headlines, it is in many ways a distraction from the fundamental social and political challenges facing Indian and Pakistani citizens both: abysmally low standards of living and climate change.  

Nationalist Indians gloat about their economy being the fifth largest in the world but in the UN Human Development Index, which accounts for health, education, and per capita wealth, India ranks in the bottom third of countries (129th to be exact). India lags tiny war-torn Latin American countries like Guatemala and El Salvador and only narrowly edges poor sub-Saharan African states like Namibia and the Congo.

Nationalist Pakistanis brag about being the only nuclear power in the Muslim world but their HDI ranking is even worse: 152nd, eclipsed by Zimbabwe, Cameroon, and Angola—not to mention every other country in the region, including Nepal (147), Myanmar (145), Bangladesh (135), India (129), and Sri Lanka (71).

Meanwhile, South Asia as a whole is poised to be the region most devastated by climate change. The World Bank has estimated that eight hundred million people could face “sharply diminished living conditions” by 2050. Those on social media will note the poignant irony in Lahoris and Delhiites tweeting the same complaints about the quality of the air they breathe, a telling synchronicity: joint problems require joint solutions.

The Most Dysfunctional Region in the World 

South Asia is, by far, the most geopolitically dysfunctional part of the globe. The abject juxtaposition of nuclear weapons and grinding poverty is emblematic of the priorities of its governments. The subcontinent has the least dense network of regional institutions anywhere. While East Asia has the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Europe has the EU and NATO, Africa has the African Union, and the Americas have Mercosur and NAFTA—or whatever Donald Trump is calling it these days—South Asia has nothing comparable.  

Even when other countries are mired in troubled relations, as in northeast Asia, they manage to compartmentalize. Notwithstanding their tensions, China is Japan’s biggest trading partner; Japan is China’s third-biggest. Even in regions deeply divided by religion, nationalism, and history, as in the Middle East, a number of Israel’s Arab neighbors have either signed peace treaties with it (Egypt, Jordan) or not-so-surreptitiously signaled benign neutrality (Saudi Arabia).  

Last year, Ethiopia’s leader won the Nobel Peace Prize for a peace deal with Eritrea in a conflict that is, or was, as long-lasting as that between India and Pakistan. Argentinians and Brazilians talk a good game, especially when it comes to football, but ultimately, they enjoy supremely warm ties: no country sends more tourists to Brazil than Argentina and vice versa, Brazil is the biggest source of tourism to Argentina.  

In almost every region the world over, the free movement of goods, families, tourists, students, pilgrims, musical bands, sports teams, ideas, films, and books is a banal, quotidian fact of life. The governments of India and Pakistan owe their citizens, and those of Kashmir, an explanation of why such a reality is uniquely alien to them.

Ahsan Butt is an Associate Professor at the Schar School of Policy and Government at George Mason University and a nonresident fellow at the Stimson Center. He is the author of Secession and Security: Explaining State Strategy Against Separatists. He tweets @ahsanib.

Image: Reuters

Back to the Future, Muppets and More: Best of What’s Coming to Netflix in September

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 20:08

Stephen Silver

Technology, Americas

You will want to keep your subscription for these.

The fall of 2020 is upon us, and while not as many Americans are stuck at home at this point as they were in the spring, those with kids at home might need a break. And for those that do- there’s plenty of new stuff coming to Netflix in the month of September.

  • The “Back to the Future” trilogy (September 1.) The “Back to the Future” movies are one of those things that gets traded frequently among streaming services, and all three movies, directed by Robert Zemeckis and starring Michael J. Fox and Christopher Lloyd, hit Netflix again at the start of September.
  • “Glory” (September 1.) Director Edward Zwick’s 1989 film, starring Denzel Washington and dealing with the first black regiment in the Civil War, hits Netflix at the start of the month after long being unavailable on streaming services.
  • “Grease” (September 1.) “Grease” is the word, as the famous 1978 musical that starred John Travolta and Olivia Newton-John comes to Netflix.
  • “The Muppets” and “Muppets Most Wanted” (September 1.) The Muppets may be a Disney property, but for some reason the two most recent big-screen Muppets movies are heading to Netflix in September, after they were previously on Disney+.
  • “Love, Guaranteed” (September 3.) The star of “She’s All That,” Rachael Lee Cook, resurfaces in this Netflix romantic comedy, co-starring Damon Wayans Jr., is about a lawyer representing a client who sues a dating website that had guaranteed love.
  • “I’m Thinking of Ending Things” (September 4.) Netflix has snagged the latest movie from writer/director Charlie Kaufman, who wrote “Being John Malkovich” and “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and directed “Synecdoche, New York” and “Anomalisa.” The new film, based on the novel by Iain Reid, is described as a psychological thriller, and it stars Jesse Plemons, Jessie Buckley, Toni Collette and David Thewlis.
  • “Cuties” (September 9.) This film was already the subject of a huge controversy over its poster, but the movie, directed by Maïmouna Doucouré, has drawn some positive advanced buzz. “Cuties” is a French film, which debuted at Sundance back in January, about a Senegalese Muslim girl who joins a twerking dance crew.
  • “Challenger: The Final Flight (September 16.) The latest high-profile space project looks back at the Challenger disaster from 1986, in the form of a docuseries.
  • "The Devil All the Time” (September 16.) Another psychological thriller, directed by Antonio Campos, stars Batman, Spider-man AND the Winter Soldier. That means Robert Pattinson, Tom Holland and Sebastian Stan, along with Riley Keough and Jason Clarke.
  • “Ratched” (September 18.) The latest Netflix series from the prolific Ryan Murphy looks at the backstory of the Nurse Ratched character from “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest,” starring Murphy perennial Sarah Paulson as the title character.

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

Image: Reuters

Smartwatch Category Surged in First Half of Year (Apple Watch Was the Winner)

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 19:58

Stephen Silver


Apple just keeps on winning.

The global market for smartwatches, despite the pandemic, posted 20% revenue growth in the first half of 2020, even as shipments remained flat. In addition, Apple now holds more than 50% of the global market share in the category. 

That’s according to new research released this week by Counterpoint Research, which found that the smartwatch category is growing, contrary to the smartphone category and other markets which have suffered during the coronavirus pandemic. 

Around forty-two million smartwatches were shipped in the first half of the year, around the world with the U.S. and Europe posting single-digit gains while other markets, including India, saw larger ones. 

Apple continued to dominate the smartwatch market both in volume and value. Apple captured a record half of the market in terms of revenue due to strong demand for the Apple Watch S5 models,” Sujeong Lim, a Counterpoint senior analyst, said in the announcement. 

Apple now holds 51.4% of the global market in terms of revenue, with Garmin second at 9.4%, Samsung third with 7.2%, and Imho fifth with 5.1%. Apple’s% in the first half of 2019 was just 43.2%, and at that point, Samsung was second and Garmin was third. 

Google’s wearOS is the second most popular smartphone operating system, behind Apple’s watchOS. Counterpoint also said that cellular-equipped smartwatches are becoming more popular, now accounting for about one in four of global smartwatches shipped. 

“Huawei benefitted from significant demand for its smartwatches, especially the Watch GT2 series in Asian markets. Garmin, the second-largest brand in terms of revenue globally, continued to make strides cornering the sports enthusiast and athlete market,” Neil Shah, Counterpoint’s vice president of research, said in the announcement. 

“The brand saw healthy demand (+31% YoY) for its Forerunner and Fenix line, making up one of the broadest portfolios of smartwatches in the market. Europe and North America remain the key markets for Garmin.”

Garmin was once best known in the United States for standalone car GPS devices, a category that largely disappeared with the advent of smartphones. And Chinese-made Huawei products, of course, are not allowed in the United States

Apple, which unveiled the latest watchOS software earlier this summer at its “virtual” World Wide Developers Conference, is expected to release the newest Apple Watch this fall, while the rumor mill has indicated that perhaps the company is eying the release of a cheaper “Apple Watch SE.” 

Samsung, meanwhile, unveiled its latest smartwatch, the Galaxy Watch 3, at its Unpacked event on August 5. That device, which can take ECG and blood pressure readings, will cost around $400. 

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

 Image: Reuters

Scientists “Stunned”: Planet Has Lost 28 Trillion Tons of Ice in Less Than 3 Decades

Mon, 24/08/2020 - 19:56

Ethen Kim Lieser

Environment, World

Can the planet recover from such rapid change?

A total of twenty-eight trillion tons of ice have disappeared from the surface of the Earth since 1994, according to U.K. scientists who analyzed satellite surveys of the planet’s poles, mountains and glaciers.

Scientists from Leeds and Edinburgh universities and University College London, whose findings were published in the journal Cryosphere Discussions, described the ice loss between 1994 and 2017 as “staggering.”

“There can be little doubt that the vast majority of Earth’s ice loss is a direct consequence of climate warming,” the team stated in the review paper.

There is now potential for the melting glaciers and ice sheets to cause sea levels to rise dramatically—perhaps even as high as three feet by the end of the century.

“To put that in context, every centimeter of sea-level rise means about a million people will be displaced from their low-lying homelands,” Andy Shepherd, director of Leeds University’s Center for Polar Observation and Modelling, told The Guardian.

The scientists also noted that the rapid rate of ice melt is seriously reducing the planet’s ability to reflect solar radiation back into space. With less white ice, the dark sea and exposed soil are absorbing more heat, which can further increase overall temperatures.

“In the past, researchers have studied individual areas—such as the Antarctic or Greenland—where ice is melting. But this is the first time anyone has looked at all the ice that is disappearing from the entire planet,” Shepherd said.

“What we have found has stunned us.”

Team member Tom Slater from Leeds University tried to put the massive ice loss into perspective.

“To put the losses we’ve already experienced into context, 28 trillion tons of ice would cover the entire surface of the U.K. with a sheet of frozen water that is 100 meters thick,” he told The Guardian. “It’s just mind-blowing.”

The team’s findings match up well with the recent worst-case-scenario predictions set forth by the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change—though they could be on the conservative side, according to a peer-reviewed study published in the journal Climate Atmospheric Science.

That paper offered an even grimmer forecast, in which by the year 2300, ice sheets covering West Antarctica and Greenland will have shed trillions of tons of mass. In this catastrophic scenario, sea levels could swell by more than sixteen feet, which would redraw the globe’s coastlines.

Combined, Greenland and West Antarctica hold enough ice to lift oceans by about forty-three feet. In contrast, the much more stable East Antarctica has enough ice to potentially have a 160-foot impact.

Today, about 770 million people, or about 10% of the global population, live on high-risk land that is less than sixteen feet above the high-tide line.

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

Image: Reuters