Sunday, April 30, 2017

The Su-35 vs. the J-11D

China and Russia have had a complicated arms trading relationship. One thing that has angered Russia in the past is China reverse engineering, basically copying, their combat aircrafts. One of the newest Chinese copy aircrafts is the J-11D. Even though the J11D is a copy of the Su-35, the Su-35 and the J11D have many differences. Even though the J11 is a good copy, it currently does not hold up to the Su-27.

In 1996, Russia sold China a contract to make 200 Su-27s, another Russian aircraft. By 2003, China rejected Russian Su-27s in favor of their domestic variants. These domestic variants continued to be copies of Russian aircrafts. This, of course, angered the Russians and they called it a violation of their original contract. Legal issues aside, the creation of the J11 leads to the question of if it is actually better than the original Su-27.

Two of the latest models of each respective aircraft are the Su-35 and the J-11D.  The Su-35 is a huge improvement for the Russian military; it has an improved airframe as well as better motors.  The J-11D is good, and it shows that the Chinese are beginning to focus on more than just reverse engineering Russian aircrafts. However, compared to the Su-35 and other Russian aircrafts, they just are not as sophisticated. The J-11D does not maneuver as well as the Su-35 and has weaker avionics. While the Chinese may be catching up, they are not there yet.

Reverse engineering has long been a part of China’s weapon manufacturing industry. Therefore it should come as no surprise that coming out of that practice is difficult. As Chinese companies begin to become more innovative, their technology will improve. But for now, China has a long way to go before it can compete with more established air powers.

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Honor: The Other Thucydides Trap?

             Much has been written about the Thucydides trap, where the fear of a rising power leads a declining power on the path to war. However, fear was only one of three reasons Thucydides gave for nations to go to war, along with interest and honor. An abundant body of scholarship exists on how nations pursue their rational self-interest. However, less attention has been paid to the matter of honor. The concept of honor in international relations may seem archaic. However, it has proven sufficient to move states to war in the past. For example, it was not fear of Argentine power or vital interest stemming from a few dozen sheep farmers which motivated Britain to defend the Falkland Islands. Thus, it is worthy to consider the importance of national honor at a time when we have a president seemingly intent berating and insulting every nation on the planet. 

Of course, most nations will seek measures short of war when faced with the might of the US military. However, this is not to say they cannot inflict an incredible amount of pain on the United States. Mexico, for example, could cease cooperation with border security in the United States, thus allowing drugs, crime, and the occasional good person to flood into the USA unimpeded. Mexico could also dramatically increase its military spending, as historically it has underspent on defense, viewing the US as a guarantor of its sovereignty. However, should Mexico come to view the USA as hostile, which it may well do after the 2018 election, it has the ability to make life quite difficult for the United States. While it won’t have the ability to defeat the United States anytime soon, it won’t have to for a military buildup to harm US interests. By forcing sizeable US troop deployments to defend the Southwestern border from a potential attack, Mexico would harm the ability of the United States to project force elsewhere in the world. Thus, it would be advisable for the President to treat Mexico and other allied nations with respect to avoid a needless confrontation. Unfortunately, he probably won’t. 

Making America Greater in Arms Exports

We are all familiar with President Trump's campaign promise to 'Make America Great Again.' President Trump ensured his followers of his intentions to minimize illegal immigration, inject the economy with jobs, revitalize domestic production, and putting the needs of the United States above all. But President Trump also promised to increase the size of the United States military, tacking on a proposed $52bn to the defense budget. Certainly we can assume that $52bn will span the procurement and production of new technologies, weapons, crafts, and human capital. Given the correlation between each of Trump's promises, could this mean we might see a rise in American arms exports?

Consider the following: the United States absolutely dominates the arms trade market. We sell weaponry to over one hundred countries. We have the best weapons. Not fake news.

Well, I'd venture to say if you couple President Trump's 'America First' strategy and the military budget increase, and maybe his flip-flop rhetoric on NATO and American intervention, some nations might be worried about their future. A decrease in global American military presence might cause some nations to begin bulk purchase of arms. In the middle east, for example, nations like Qatar, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia have more than tripled their arms imports. Scholarship credits the rise in arms imports to a fear of regional, and also global, instability.

Ultimately if the United States begins to produce more arms and simultaneously retreats from the global theater, it is likely we will see an increase in arms imports. Especially if select nations wish to maintain their ties to the U.S., importing our weapons is a wonderful way to ensure President Trump doesn't tweet about you. I can't see the U.S. ever abandoning NATO or its other military commitments - SecDef Mattis is too smart and probably too respected by Trump to allow unnecessary derailments. But in regards to NATO, can't say its a bad thing to ask Germany and France to pay their 2.0%... Poland does. 

Friday, April 28, 2017

Why Drones Work

During the Obama administration, President Obama embraced the covert forces that were really covert during the Bush administration - drones. Drones quickly became a policy unto themselves, and the Obama administration came up with an almost algorithm of who should be killed and who should be captured - with drones playing a huge role in this.

Many believe that drones will cause a huge backlash in the Middle East. The idea is that those who watch their friends and families murdered by drones will be more likely to join terrorist organizations that resist Western occupation. However, drones are actually proving to be the most humane form of warfare ever. If we look back in history to the inventions of certain weapons, there are similar backlashes. At first people thought the bow and arrow was too cruel, quickly followed by the cannon, and then the musket. It is a pattern repeated throughout history.

The biggest argument for drones is that they reduce civilian casualties by allowing its "controller" to carefully stalk their target, which in most cases included large amounts of intelligence to study the activities and whereabouts of their target. There have been messy civilian deaths in previous conflicts that have reflected badly on governments. Drones eliminate this possibility.

Asides from civilian deaths, drones cost far less than putting boots on the ground. Stemming from that, there is no risk to US forces when drones are used in lieu of them. They are a critical component of a counterterrorism strategy, where terrorists cannot simply be allowed to operate in safe havens throughout the Middle East. Drones offer a low-risk way of targeting these areas while minimizing comparative damage.

Whether people agree with it or not, drone warfare is here to stay. If there are amendments to be done, it needs to be on drone policy. Drone policy needs to become cleaner and stronger, so other countries have a harder time trying to justify that drones are the cause for all their civilian backlash. However, the US must not become too trigger happy, as drone warfare does have the capability of dragging the US into more conflicts than it would like.

Phew, Canada is joining the Arms Treaty

Thank. God. Canada has finally decided to forgo their aggressive nature and pass the United Nations' Arms Trade Treaty through their legislature. This could not come at a better time, especially with their rampant global arms trade abuses. It is definitely about time, considering that the United States was a pioneer of this treaty and has long since ratified the treaty.


The United States still has yet to ratify the treaty. Our Congress, in its infinite wisdom, has decided that there are other things more pressing than pursuing international peace. This is somewhat understandable, though, because the United States got stuck with a treaty that does not at all line up with its own desires.

I seriously need to stop with the sarcasm.

The United States was actually a primary negotiator of the treaty and made some pretty hefty demands that made their way into the treaty as a final agreement. The treaty is littered American economic interest on almost every page. The wording operates so that the treaty does not infringe upon the legitimate national security and foreign policy interests of the United States. The partisanship is baffling. Additionally, notable absences including Russia and China spell failure for the treaty, as these two nations are two of the top arms exporters in the world (behind the United States, of course). The language of the treaty essentially allows for arms trades to operate beyond the scope of the treaty so long as the trade is in the interest of self-defense. For instance, if American arms traders could justify that selling to the Syrian government would be for their self-defense, the trade would be legal within the treaty.

The other issue is that the treaty was so watered down when it finally got to the United Nations that it was effectively neutered of any potential meaningful policy change. Aside from the abstention of multiple key players in the international arms market, the treaty does little to incentivize changing the character of the international arms trade. The language does not go far enough, and the crosshairs of the treaty are aimed at the wrong targets.

Notable loopholes exist within the treaty. For example, shotguns marketed for hunting are not included in the reporting requirements for the treaty, but those same shotguns are used by police and military, who are the purported targets of the treaty. The treaty is not comprehensive enough to actually make a dent in the ethical violations in the arms treaty.

So, while Canada joining the treaty is just wonderful (hopefully all those Canadian atrocities finally come to an end), their (like everyone else's) adoption of the treaty is almost meaningless. The international arms trade is usually unafraid to operate outside of the law, so this vague and lame piece of international law will likely do nothing to deter those actors.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Drones Versus Missiles

Earlier this year in March a Patriot Advanced Capability (PAC-3) was used by a United States ally to shoot down a civilian drone that can be found at retailers like Amazon for under two hundred dollars. Today it is being reported by Israeli news organizations that the Israeli military engaged destroyed a drone. The Israeli military said that the missile system was engaged in destroying a target, but at this point in time has not clarified what the target was. IF it was indeed a drone it again demonstrates the cost inefficiency to shoot down drones.  for the price of a PAC-3 missile in the financial year 2015, the United States procured108 PAC-3 missiles for a cost of five hundred, sixty-two million and six hundred thousand dollars, that is excluding costs of research and development, and puts the cost of a single missile if purchased in 2015 at four million, nine hundred, thirty-one  thousand, four hundred, eighty-one dollars and some change.The price per unit rises significantly the year before in 2014 to a little over seven and a half million dollars, excluding research and development costs according to Office of Under Secretary of Defense CFO, released in a document in February of 2015 labeled Program Acquisition by Cost. SO using a PAC-3 missile to shoot down a commercial drone that can cost under 200 dollars, might be a little cost inefficient. The use of these weapons does show that there is a need for other options for ground forces to effective engage and destroy drones in a safe and cost-effective manner. Solutions already deployed in limited numbers but could see an expanded use would be systems like the Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM), which could easily target and destroy multiple drones for a fraction of the cost of a PAC-3 missile system. Needless to say, there is a need to make sure the most cost efficient means of destroying drones is being used, or at least a system that costs less than four million dollars.

Before we lose our edge

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The United States is facing growing cyber and electronic warfare threats, and the Department of Defense needs to develop a new optionality strategy in order to regain its technical advantage over military adversaries. The Center for a New American Security (CNAS) spent two years evaluating the decline in U.S. military technical superiority and released its findings and recommendations in "Future Foundry: A New Strategic Approach to Military-Technical Advantage. The report echoes concerns raised by senior officials in recent years that the U.S. has not kept pace with adversaries in adopting and adapting new technologies to empower warfighters in increasingly contested electronic domains.
The United States 2015 military budget was $601 billion. The vast majority of the $601 billion will be funneled towards the military's base budget, which includes funding for the procurement of military equipment and the daily operations costs of US bases. Of the $496 billion base budget, the vast majority of funding goes towards the cost of operating and maintaining the military and the cost of paying and caring for military personnel. A further $90.4 billion is set aside for the procurement of new weapons systems during the 2015 fiscal year.  
There are a number of reasons why the US may be losing its military-technical advantage edge. First, the same tech that made America and the West militarily dominant have proliferated to potential foes. In particular, precision-guided missiles are widely and cheaply available. Second, rather than investing in the next generation of high-tech weapons to stay far ahead of military competitors, the Pentagon has been focused more on the very different demands of counter-insurgency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. Third, the US military has an extremely rigid culture. It is risk averse and set in its ways. Getting career airmen and sailors to give up their toys isn’t the only cultural challenge. America’s military establishment has shown little appetite for axing much cherished “legacy programmes” to pay for the game-changing new stuff, such as stealthy, long-range strike drones able to survive in the most contested airspace. For example, the Pentagon has committed to buy 2,500 semi-stealthy F-35 fighter jets even though their limited combat radius reduces their usefulness in many war-fighting scenarios. Meanwhile the navy persists with 11 fabulously expensive but increasingly vulnerable carriers when underwater vehicles both manned and unmanned may be better equipped to tackle enemies with advanced area denial capabilities.
Adversaries of the United States are spending significantly less on their military however they are somehow catching up. The reason; technology. China and Russia have focused a lot on the research and development of military tech that will put them at the forefront of military rankings. China has been busy developing asymmetric capabilities specifically designed to counter America’s power in the West Pacific. For over two decades it’s been investing double-digit defense budgets in an arsenal of highly accurate, submarines, sophisticated integrated air defense systems (IADS) and advanced cyber capabilities. All with the aim of making it too dangerous for American carriers to operate close enough to fly their tactical aircraft or cruise missiles. The Chinese call it “winning a local war in high-tech conditions”. The Russians also have an ability to think out of the box—for good and bad. For example, the Shkval rocket-torpedo forms a bubble around itself, reducing friction to travel at an amazing 230 mph under water – more than four times as fast as any Western torpedo. The same work produced a unique underwater assault rifle for Special Forces; US development in similar "supercavitating" projectiles lags behind.

These days the scientific and technological developments that will help sharpen America’s military edge, such as artificial intelligence for unmanned systems, are as likely to come from the consumer tech companies in Silicon Valley as the traditional defense industry. Just how these two very different cultures will mesh creatively remains to be seen, however, the relationship seems promising. "In addition to making sure we're defeating today's enemies and deterring today's attacks, I also need to make sure our department has the best tech in the future," said former U.S. Secretary of Defense Ash Carter

Lastly, the DoD must view military-technical challenges as a strategic issue requiring fundamental change. The CNAS report states "Defining military-technical superiority in terms of acquisition reform, process, procedures, and organizational structure -- even though those are critical elements for success -- undersells the importance of the challenge and may fail to drive action at the highest decision-making levels."

Step Up

Tensions on and around the Korean Peninsula have continued to rise between the U.S. and North Korea in recent weeks, with the continued ballistic missile testing by the North Koreans and the subsequent deployments of the USS Carl Vinson battle group to the Sea of Japan and the USS Michigan ballistic missile submarine docking in South Korea. One would think that China would be the first to condemn the increased U.S. military presence in its backyard or that they would perhaps speak out against the alleged “left of launch” cyber attacks that have been disrupting North Korean missile tests, but no, the Chinese government has been noticeably quiet during this crisis. This is not to say they have been entirely silent, there was a Chinese Special Envoy sent to South Korea to discuss how to handle the increased tensions between the North and South, they urged North Korea to halt its ballistic missile testing program, and have just recently asked the U.S. to try and deescalate the crisis.

China does not seem to be taking the actions or speaking out to the degree that one would expect with an impending war on the Peninsula. There could be several factors contributing to this relative quiet. First, China seems to be realizing that it can no longer control North Korea, but the international community will hold China responsible for North Korea’s actions and they know that. The inaction may stem from simply not knowing how to proceed. If China were to outright denounce North Korea it would likely result in the North Koreans giving the world the proverbial finger and attacking South Korea or Japan. At this point though, inaction may prove to be more dangerous. If China wishes to truly take a place alongside the U.S. on the world stage, it cannot continue to endorse the stability-threatening behavior of North Korea. It’s entirely likely that there are multiple factions within the Chinese government supporting different approaches to the North Korean situation. This would explain why they seem outwardly indecisive or hesitant. In the coming weeks we should pay special attention to any statement issued or action taken by the Chinese government as this may be the indicator for how they would like to proceed in handling the crisis. 

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Tactics Over Technology

Today China launched it's first ever domestically built aircraft carrier. The as-yet unnamed Type- 001A moved from drydock to the water after a brief ceremony. However, the Type-001A still has to undergo extensive outfitting and testing before it is ready to begin active duty. Indeed, the carrier is not predicted to be ready for another two years. While the Type-001A is vastly superior to China's only other aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, which was originally constructed as a Soviet Kuznetsov-class carrier and purchased from Ukraine in 1998, experts have been quick to point out that the Type-001A is still inferior to the oldest American carriers still in service. This is indeed true, the Chinese navy cannot hope to gain ground on the production of American carriers particularly as the U.S. Navy's USS Gerald R. Ford, representing the first in a new class of supercarriers, is set to be fully commissioned later this year. However, focusing on the technological disparities between the carrier fleets, while easy to illustrate and understand, misstates the real differences between the powers.

The U.S. Navy has spent the last 60+ years building its ships, strategic doctrine, and training around the concept of the carrier group. Most major conflicts that the United States has been involved in since World War II have had the carrier group at center stage. China, by contrast, has not participated in any major military conflicts since the Korean War and it's navy is largely untested. For China to truly challenge the American dominance of the seas they will have to make up over half a century's experience in a relatively short amount of time. Without it, their new aircraft carrier will not be projecting power over long distances but will represent exactly what critics of the carrier age envision, a 1,000 foot floating target.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

North Korea Just Keeps Going...

     Just today, North Korea launched a live-fire artillery exercise in honor of the 85th anniversary of the founding of its army. This is yet another demonstration of North Korea's willingness to act upon threats as the isolated nation only recently launched an unsuccessful missile test last weekend. As if this wasn't dramatic enough, all of this is occurring simultaneously as, and perhaps because of, the USS Carl Vinson is finally making the journey to the Korean Peninsula. 

     What is sort that we really have no idea just how unstable the young Kim Jong Un is and on which of his threats against the U.S. he might actually act. I can't imagine him to be so vastly ignorant of his position in the world that he would launch an attack on the U.S., but then again, I am falling victim to mirror-imaging. President Trump has assumed a hard-line stance on North Korea's threatening behavior; Vice-President Pence agrees all options are on the table. So...what should we actually do? 

     At this point, I think its necessary for President Trump to maintain an active, strong dialogue on North Korean with his Chinese counterpart. It would be blatantly ignorant to make foreign policy moves in the Korean Peninsula without consulting North Korea's big brother. Sure, China doesn't really care for the Kim regime; that much is clear. However, China also doesn't really care for increases in U.S. military presence in the region or the deployment of anti-missile defense systems in South Korea. 

     Regardless, I would tread carefully if I was a decision-maker in this situation. The world knows how quickly North Korea could be decimated or incapacitated if it were to launch a legitimate nuclear attack. Yet, any successful nuclear attack has serious consequences regardless of how powerful the opponent might be. An attack on any of the major surrounding metropolitan cities in the area would be devastating to the respective nations and to the global economy. If North Korea happens to engineer its missile that can apparently reach Los Angeles, well, we'd lose Amy Schumer and to that I say go for it, but nonetheless the initial result would be catastrophic - especially if we return fire.

Myths About the Global Arm Trade

As Carol Cohn succinctly puts it in her piece Sex and Death in the Rational World of Defense Intellectuals:  "Defense intellectuals are men who use the concept of deterrence to explain why it is safe to have weapons of a kind and number it is not safe to use". Although her analysis focuses on nuclear weapons, the same can be applied to the global arms trade and the myths that are regularly spouted by those who benefit from it. Although there is always some form of opposition to wars, there are even more who are able to rationalize war because they believe the arms industry is necessary in some form (or the arms trade directly benefits them, read: military-industrial complex). As a result, the arms trade has become one powerful component of a geopolitical infrastructure that helps drive global conflict.  A few of these myths are outlined below:

  1. "Higher Defense Spending Means Increased Security"
No where has the military increased security threats so significantly than in the Middle East in the last 15 years. An ill conceived invasion of Iraq and the longest war the US has ever fought, is still continuing in Afghanistan. This was all to fight a "War on Terror", which is really a "War on War" and increases the possibility of slipping into a state of perpetual war. A study done by RAND in 2008 looked at the life cycles of 648 terrorist groups from 1968 to 2006. 46% of terrorist groups ceased to exist because they were incorporated into political structures, while only 7% of terrorist groups were effectively destroyed by military campaigns. As a country that spends 14 times more on the Pentagon than the State Department, and already has a grossly distorted defense budget, the US has made a moral decision that militarization is more important than the well being of the population, and has accepted a situation that is spiraling out of control. To defense companies, it doesn't matter whether a war is being won or lost. They are still making money all the same. 

   2. "National Security Requires Secrecy" 

While it is certainly true that many elements of national security must remain top secret to protect the interests of countries, we live in an age of excessive secrecy that is born out of the Cold War. The defense industry is linked to national security concerns which acts as a cloak in many arms transactions. Tony Blair, one of the most prolific arms salesmen of all time, provides a great example of this. When challenged by the Serious Fraud Office Enquiry about serious corruption in BAE systems involving huge amounts of bribes paid to Saudi officials, Blair simply stopped the enquiry because of endangering Britain's security. A few years earlier, he "convinced" South African president Thabo Mbeki to sign a $10bn deal with BAE systems. This is also the same time Mbeki confessed South Africa did not have enough public funds to treat the disproportionate AIDS epidemic. A study done a few years later showed that $10bn could have provided every South African school with a stocked library and employed a teacher for 20 years. Or put a roof over the head of 2m South Africans, 200,000 less than the ultimate goal of putting a roof over everyone's head. Or, it could have provided anti-retroviral treatment to every afflicted South African for 12 years. But the scarce public funds went to weapons South Africa didn't need. The irony is almost painful. 

    3.  "Corruption is only in Developing Countries and Marginal to the Defense Industry as a      Whole"

Aside from being an inherently ignorant statement in itself, a further look into the arms trade show that developed countries are the ones that stimulate corruption for their own profits. It is not a coincidence that in 2015, 83% of Britain's arms exports went to Saudi Arabia (valued at $800m, who then received $800m worth of oil from the kingdom). A majority of these arms ended up being used on the Saudi population, but even more went to killing civilians in Yemen, to which Britain has continued to turn a blind eye. Many forget that the arms trade itself is hard wired for corruption and buying friends. The highly technical nature of the system means very few people are able to critically evaluate deals, and are more prone to bribery. The revolving door phenomenon is prolific throughout the West (read: Dick Cheney and Halliburton), meaning the same individuals circulate between the government and private sectors to align the interests of the two. 

We have seen Eisenhower devote 1/5 of his farewell address to warning us about the dangers of the military-industrial complex. With President Trump slowly formulating his foreign policy doctrine, we see a new willingness to pump high tech weaponry into global hot spots and fuel lucrative but destabilizing arms races. The situation is dire, and at this point, it seems the only people who are invested in the state are those like Lockheed Martin.