Friday, May 14, 2021

Artificial Intelligence – A Military Necessity

On National Knowledge Day in Russia in 2017, Russian President Vladimir Putin ominously predicted to a group of students in the Yaroslavl region that whoever leads in artificial intelligence (AI) will rule the world. While this statement may seem hyperbolic, he is not wrong. The world’s defense systems have evolved far from only frontline military warfare, and the U.S. must incorporate more modern technologies such as AI into its military operations in order to stay ahead in this arena. 


AI can serve as an effective instrument for land, air, sea, and space war fighting domains. There are many areas where AI is applicable in military operations and many reasons to incorporate more AI into the battlefield. One of the most convincing reasons to do so is to preserve human life and make easy, but dangerous tasks less of a risk. 


One important area where the U.S military could use AI is in transportation and logistics – for instance, self-driving vehicles or robots. AI could prove to be a very effective tool for transporting military supplies such as ammunition and armaments. Doing so could lower transportation costs and decrease the risk of loss of human life in conflict areas, where transporting supplies is quite dangerous for military personnel. 


Another area where the current system lacks is in Cybersecurity. Our defense has evolved from frontline military operations to securing cyber networks. The 2016 election hacking by Russia and the SolarWinds attack are two of the most offensive cyber actions taken against the U.S. and verify conclusively that our networks are penetrable and susceptible to attacks. However, the use of AI could help to circumvent this issue. According to Market Research, “systems equipped with AI can autonomously protect networks, computers, programs and data from unauthorized access.” Additionally, AI has the capability to decipher and document patterns and techniques that cyber actors use for attacks and can help develop counter-attack tools to combat these malign actors.


There are many other areas where AI could be beneficial in military operations such as delivering battlefield aid and healthcare, implanting AI into advanced weaponry, recognition and analysis of targets, combat simulations, and training of military personnel. The U.S. is currently leading in AI, but it must do better to incorporate AI into military operations and set aside a sufficient amount of the defense budget for AI development – 3.4% of the DOD budget is necessary, according to Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Michael S. Groen, Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center. In order to successfully incorporate these technologies into military operations, the DOD should partner with innovative tech companies that are leading in modern technologies in order to stay ahead of the game. 


Written by Sarah Wood

Ukraine Needs U.S. Military Aid Now More Than Ever

In March 2021, the Biden Administration sent a $125 million military aid package to Ukraine, which included “patrol boats, counter artillery radar systems, tactical and medical equipment, satellite analysis capability, and combat evacuation procedures,” according to the Pentagon. And that is only the first military aid package from the Biden Administration; under the Trump Administration there were hefty aid packages sent to Ukraine as well. The U.S. has contributed a lot of military aid to Ukraine over the years since Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. But the U.S., according to Ian Brzezinski, an Atlantic Council expert focused on Europe, can and should do more. Since 2014, the ongoing conflict in the Donbas region has taken the lives of over 13,200 people, and the recent amassing of 100,000 Russian troops on Russia’s Western border with Ukraine and in Crimea does not point to any sort of de-escalation. The U.S. must do more to strengthen Ukraine’s military in order to deter Russian aggression.


Ukraine wants and needs better air defense and anti-missile systems. A common strategy coming from the Russian front is to strike command and control structures and critical logistical systems with ground-to-ground missile attacks. That is why it is imperative for Ukraine to have more adequate anti-missile systems and better defense to intercept attacks from the separatist-controlled territories. While Ukraine is unlikely to ever equal Russia in terms of its capacity for direct combat – it would be a fool’s errand to even attempt to do this – it can and should better develop its defense capabilities.


It would be beneficial for both the U.S. and Ukraine to come together to develop a joint weapons systems program or defense program, according to Oleksandr Danyluk, Chairman of the Ukrainian Center for Defense Reforms think tank. Danyluk gives two reasons that illustrate why Ukraine is worthy of greater military aid from the U.S.: first, Ukraine’s decision to remove all of its nuclear arsenal (the third largest in the world at the time) in exchange for assurances of sovereignty from Russia in 1994 was a huge breakthrough for Ukraine-U.S. relations; and second, Ukraine is expending its own people and blood in order to protect U.S. allies in Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland and ultimately, Western values in Eastern Europe. The third reason to help is that Ukraine has been in an on-going conflict for 7 years with Russia and the death toll is rising. The only solution to deter Russian aggression in Ukraine is for the U.S. to help Ukraine strengthen its military and defense systems. 


Written by Sarah Wood 

Israel’s Iron Dome Defense System

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has heated in recent days, and news outlets are filled with stories of rocket strikes and death tolls, but one of the most important facets of the conflict is Israel’s Iron Dome. The Iron Dome is Israel’s ground-to-air defense system, designed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israel Aerospace Industries. The Iron Dome has the capabilities to intercept incoming ground-to-ground artillery attacks directed at Israeli-populated communities from more than 40 miles away. There is a weakness in this system, however. In the past (during the 2014 Gaza conflict), Hamas fired rockets which did not reach very far beyond the borders of the Gaza Strip; the rockets did not have the ability to reach Tel Aviv. During the 2014 conflict, the Hamas group only fired around a dozen rockets a day, and the Iron Dome intercepted most of the incoming artillery. However, the most recent escalation has proven that Hamas has upped its missile capabilities and can fire more missiles in a shorter period of time.


On May 11th, Hamas successfully fired around 100 missiles in just moments, and many of those attacks were directed at Tel Aviv, according to the Jerusalem Post. While the Iron Dome is still effective and has intercepted many of the incoming artillery attacks, some missiles are getting through. Israeli intelligence officials were aware that Hamas intended to update its missile capabilities to have a longer range and a larger barrage of simultaneous attacks than previously; however, that has now proven to be a present reality. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) must take into account this recent show of force from Hamas when strategizing about how to proceed or how to come to an agreement about a possible ceasefire. While there are plans to increase the Iron Dome’s capabilities in terms of both distance and simultaneous interception, it is unlikely that these plans will come to fruition any time soon. The IDF would be wise to rely more on either ground offensives or ceasefires and less on the defense capabilities of the Iron Dome – in both the current conflict and future conflicts. According to the Jerusalem Post, “If Hamas can pierce the missile shield with 100 rockets in a few minutes twice in one day, how much more damage can Hezbollah and Iran do with the longer, larger and more accurate missiles it possesses?” 


Written by Sarah Wood

No, The Answer is Not a U.S. Cyber Force.

There are many issues in incorporating adequate cyber defense systems into the current warfighting domains, however, an independent U.S. Cyber Force for which many defense professionals argue is not the answer. A U.S. Cyber Force separate from other warfighting domains would be disadvantageous, add to an already bureaucratic system, and the argument for such a force is based on fundamental misunderstanding of cyberspace. Cyber is used as, and should be viewed as, a compliment to already existing warfighting domains and should not be viewed as a transformational force in its own right that is deserving of its own domain. The solution, instead, should be to train leaders in each Service in order to have cyber capabilities which are tailored and effective for each unique branch of the military.



The first argument against the creation of a U.S. Cyber Force is that it would add to an already-overly-bureaucratic system. While the current land, sea, air, and space warfighting domains have similar goals, they may have different strategies for how to implement them and will naturally have organizational and cultural differences that often hinder coordination. Creating a separate, independent cyber force would certainly just add to the current lack of coordination between existing entities and would just add more levels of bureaucracy to an already bloated system.


What’s the Advantage?

Cyber operations are typically beholden to three types of actions: offensive, defensive, and espionage. None of these types of actions call for a separate U.S. Cyber Force, and in none of them do we see any clear advantage of a centralized entity. Offensive actions only in cyberspace offer no real advantage (unless cyber is being used as an instrument for other warfighting domains) because it is not similar to typical military offensives. In other domains, the purpose of an offensive is to damage the target. This is quite difficult in cyberspace according to Martin Libicki. “The primary purpose of fighting is to disarm the other side. Think about that analogy in cyberspace and it falls apart. It is very difficult to disarm another nations ability to use hackers in cyberspace and you almost certainly cannot do it with hackers themselves” (Libicki, 2009). The biggest problem with a centralized force if we look at defensive actions is access. It would be unwise to put a system’s vulnerabilities directly in the hands of a mass organization such as a U.S. Cyber Force. In terms of espionage, the entire point is to secretly gain access or surveil targets. The creation of a U.S. Cyber Force would be counterproductive to the goal of espionage and just telegraph to enemies what we do not want them to know – that the U.S. is spying on targets. Additionally, cyber cannot function independent of the traditional land, sea, air, and space Services. It can only be used militarily as an additive to existing domains.


An Alternative Solution

Given these issues, an alternative solution should be cyber divisions in each respective warfighting domain and training top officers to conduct, or at least have a grasp of cyber operations. Internal training and education are both imperative.


Written by Sarah Wood

Thursday, May 13, 2021

The Need for Sanction Reform to Curtail North Korea's Arms Trade

        The ability to trade weapons of war with other countries provides the seller state with a variety of benefits. In an attempt to curtail the enjoyment of these benefits, the US has imposed a number of sanctions against North Korea. Despite its status as the one of the most heavily sanctioned countries in the world, North Korea has been able to engage in international arms trade. Beginning in the 1980s, North Korean arms trade thrived by exporting “…inexpensive, technically unsophisticated, but reliable weapons…” to states in the Middle East and Africa. The majority of these exports went to Libya and Iran. This trade occurred despite the United States listing the state as a terrorist organization and banning trade with them or states who do business with them through the 1979 Export Control Act.

Perhaps the most devastating example of North Korea’s circumvention of international arms trade sanctions lies in their late 1900s relationship with Zimbabwe. In 1980, Robert Mugabe overthrew the British-supported Smith regime of Rhodesia and subsequently visited then ruler Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. As a result of that visit, Mugabe secured equipment required to arm over 3500 loyalist soldiers. Kim agreed to provide Mugabe’s loyalist forces with “… tanks, armored vehicles, and light weapons.” Furthermore, Kim promised Mugabe a collection of North Korean troops intended to help train Mugabe’s ZANU-PF (Zimbabwe African Nation Union Patriotic Front) forces. The North Korean forces were used to train and equip a ZANU-PF group known as the Fifth Brigade. This brigade was sent in to Matabeleland in western Zimbabwe where they played a role in the death of over 20,000 people. Most of those killed were ethnically Ndebele, leading opponents of Mugabe to refer to the act as genocide. 

The massive loss of life in Zimbabwe as a direct result of North Korean arms trade and military training highlights a problem with international sanctions. Sanctions are only effective if the nation being sanctioned suffers a deterring loss as a result of the sanctions. US sanctions against North Korea had been in place since the 1950s, the tightening of sanctions as a result of the American Export Act had little effect in terms of deterrence. 

Today, North Korea is arguably more economically isolated than it was during the 80s, in which it traded with Zimbabwe. That is due in part to the collaboration of international partners. Regardless of the international collaboration to prevent the North Korean arms trade, Pyongyang manages to continue selling through a complex criminal network and use of proxies. While sanctions continue to be the preferred method of curtailing errant North Korean behavior, additional efforts need to be made. One possible solution is the extension of sanctions to all nations known to purchase arms from these North Korean proxies. This needs to be coupled with an increase of resources devoted to the discovery and detection of these same proxies. Without such efforts, sanctions against North Korea will continue to be fruitless. 







Problems and Solutions for investing in the Defense industry


Some disadvantages in defense investing may include percentage of completion accounting, changes in politics and also security, delays, mistrust or mismanagement and problems with equipment possibly between defense companies or other partners and canceling defense programs.

Percentage of completion accounting. This is meant to calculate and keep track of the flow of sales in a long term contract. This can affect a company’s profits whenever there’s not enough reserves in place.

For example, in 2008 there were delays in building the LHD-8 Makin island. Because cost estimates change due to the delays and unexpected problems, Northrop Grumman had to take in additional charges in order to follow percentage completion accounting

Unforeseen Changes in Security or Politics. In 1999 the Subcommittee on Defense of the House appropriations committee pushed for the removal of procurement funding for the Lockheed Martin F22 fighter aircraft program from the 2000 defense budget which was a big surprise for investors.

Delays and mistrust maybe between defense companies. This could be a big problem because when this happens, there is a possibility of companies wanting to end partnership with each other.

Earlier this month Boeing posted their net loss from the first 3 months of 2021 along with setbacks with their 737 Max jetliners. Boeing’s current CEO Dave Calhoun also mentioned suing GDC TECHNICS and accusing it of missing deadlines for work Air Force 1 related and causing millions in damages to Boeing company. The termination of contract between these 2 companies has cause GDC to lay off employees. On April 19th, 2021, GDC retaliates by countersuing Boeing and blaming the company for mismanagement that caused delays and also a breach in contract.

Other problems may also include, defense programs being cut and inability to manage work force.

Solutions/ Recommendations to avoiding these risks

Below are possible recommendations to solving these problems.

1.      Unexpected security and political events -To avoid this risk contractors can avoid being surprised by keeping up on currently political and security issues internationally and nationally and understanding about how the DOD or Congress might be thinking on these important defense issues.

2.      Defense programs being cancelled could be when programs may be having some technical issues or possibly going over the planned budget. To avoid this risk, Investors should watch out for these types of risk by keeping up with how well these defense programs are doing and contractors should especially watch out for over budgeted defense programs and also look into the reasons behind why those programs exist in the first place also comparing to other programs that may have succeeded or failed in the past.

3.      Percentage completion accounting-   Since this is one of the most common issue for defense companies to have, contractors should be aware of this issue being a possibility and try not to overreact to positive earnings surprises. Investors should also stay in contact with management and pay attention to cash flow.

4.      Inability to Manage Work Force: Sometimes companies put in a certain percentage growth rate for earnings revenue, management hired in those companies will hire employees they feel will make the growth rate percentage. And there would be certain risks with the type of people hired at these companies. A solution to this is investors must be aware of this type of risk by knowing the amount of people hired to achieve growth and also their skills.



Advantages of investing in the Defense Industry

In the United States exist some of biggest defense companies and the top 5 in United States currently would be Boeing, Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, and General Dynamics. These defense companies are known for the following: Boeing is famously known as an aerospace company, Raytheon Company researches and develops technology and weapons for the defense industry, Lockheed Martin is also an aerospace and security company, Northrop Grumman focuses on spacecraft and aircraft, and General Dynamics is a defense and also an aerospace company. These are the current market value in billions for these companies. Boeing currently stands at $130.27 billion, Raytheon Company at $126.72 billion, Lockheed Martin at $ 107.85 billion, Northrop Grumman at $59.51 billion and General Dynamics at $53.80 billion.

Some of advantages of investing in defense companies may include things like the products having a long life cycle, funding troops at home or overseas and also operations for protecting the country and also funding for research and development. More funding means more impressive cutting edge tech for department of defense especially in geopolitics and high barriers to protect profits, government contracts et cetera. Another important advantage of investing in the defense sector is that defense stocks tend to not get too affected during a recession. 

During the pandemic COVID could have had an effect on defense spending since there was technically a recession caused by the pandemic so it is very easy for people to believe there may be defense budget cuts, but history has shown that recessions do not get too affected by economic crisis.


Deterrence, Brute Force and Coercion

In Deterrence in Retreat: How the Cold War’s Core Principle Fell Out of Fashion, the author T. Negeen Pegahi discusses how the U.S. in the past has used brute force and or coercion to prevent certain countries from building nuclear weapons by placing economic sanctions. An example of this country would be Iran. The country’s nuclear history goes all the way back to the 70s, when Iran began its first nuclear program. The United States has placed multiple sanctions against Iran in the past, the first time being the hostage crisis in 1979 prior to the Iranian Revolution when radical students invaded and seized the United States embassy in Tehran. In relation to nuclear weapons, in 2007 the United States including other members of the United States Security Council placed sanctions on Iran in order to stop its uranium enrichment activities by freezing their assets and banning arm sales.

In the past U.S. has used brute force and coercion to its advantages when it comes to influencing against certain choices. The term Deterrence is defined by Pegahi as “discouraging an action or event through instilling doubt or fear of consequences” and the U.S. has used this many times when it comes to foreign policy and this is where brute force and coercion comes in. According to Pegahi, outside of using deterrence to achieve its goals which has its strengths and weakness, the United States has other ways to reaching its objectives such as brute force and coercion. Brute force focuses on capabilities, it is “trying to build up one’s own and/or degrade those of others in order to make others less able to harm U.S. interests'' and an example of brute force according to Pegahi would be the US placing economic sanctions on Iran if the goal was to reduce their ability to build more nuclear weapons. Hence, limiting Iran’s access to certain resources if they know these materials would help them achieve objectives that the United States does not support.

As for coercion, it focuses more on choices. It is “trying to influence others’ decision making in order to make them less likely to try to harm U.S interests in the first place”. In Coercion there are two components to this term, Deterrence through convincing maintain a particular behavior or decision and compellence through convincing to change said behavior or decision. An example of compellence would be as mentioned earlier, the U.S. threatening Tehran with sanctions in the past in order to make Iranian leaders do whatever Washington said.

But according to Pegahi, the deterrence method has declined over the years and some of the reasons may include the U.S. no longer wanting to keep the status quo and relaxing that though these deterrence methods may be successful, they cannot fulfill some of the U.S. objectives. The other reasons why the deterrence is on a decline specifically coercion is because the state or country threatening coercion should resist acting on a threat when the person being threatened decides to comply, but the U.S. has failed to do this multiple times over the years and example of this would include former US President Donald Trump “revoking the Iran nuclear deal despite Tehran complying the terms given to them”. Failure to hold the end of bargains causes distrust and this makes it harder for the US to convince other states in the future.

Having multiple sanctions against them despite compliance would be a big reason why Iran would want global watchdog, the IAEA to reduce monitoring their nuclear program. In 2015 former US President Donald Trump said the 2015 JCPOA deal was too generous and pulled out of the deal in 2018 and ever since then Iran has since reduced its commitments to the agreements. According to the current supreme leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei has stated that  “Iran is not after nuclear weapons, but its nuclear enrichment will not be limited to 20% either” and the country has since made efforts to enrich their uranium which will go against the JCPOA agreement.

 By Shalom Simon-Okube


Saturday, May 08, 2021

Egypt & an Increasing Arsenal: Arms Trade Concerns

    The Biden administration, after promoting a presidency which would be focused on human rights and having zero tolerance for writing blank checks to dictators, is now in a bind over an arms deal with Egypt. It was announced in February of this year, that the U.S. had approved a sale of rolling airframe missiles to the Egyptian military, in a deal worth an estimated $197 million. This announcement comes after news of the Egyptian government is reported to have detained family members of an Egyptian-American human rights activist. According to the state department, the deal was set in order to enhance military capabilities of the Egyptian navy, a non-NATO ally country who still remains "an important strategic partner in the Middle East". It is a confusing move from the Biden administration, but there are factors that might explain the insistence on an arms deal with Egypt. 

    In recent months, Egypt has sought arms support from other countries, including France and Russia. At the beginning of May of this year, the Egyptian government announced it had approved a deal acquiring 30 new Rafale aircraft from France, which brings the total Rafale Egyptain fleet to 54 units. While the aircraft will not be transferred for another 3 years, the Egyptian fleet will become the second largest Rafale fleet in the world. What was more concerning to U.S. officials was another recent purchase from the Egyptian government: 5 new advanced Russian combat aircraft. The newly purchased Sukhoi Su-35 aircraft, was said to be purchased to enable Egyptian aircraft to match the capabilities of both Israeli and U.S. aircraft. In February, Secretary of State Antony Blinken had cautioned Egypt on the purchase, as sanctions had already been threatened and Egypt had already purchased Russian aircraft back in 2019. In the November 2019 deal, Egypt purchased the 40 Russian Ka-52 attack helicopters, noted the Egyptian government would not submit to the U.S.'s warnings and preferred to complete arms deals with Russia without pushback. 

    The U.S. attempts to walk the line of maintaining relations with world partners through the arms trade but also ensures American values are upheld and partners cooperate. Should there be issues, arms deals could be suspended or sanctions could be issued. Either way the U.S. has ways to signal it disagrees with a state's behavior. That is just what Secretary Blinken had tried to do when pushing back against Egypt's decision to buy from Russia, but the warnings are not enough. As sanctions did not scare off the Russian deal, perhaps the recent US/Egypt RAM missile deal is a way for the U.S. to counter Russian influence and strengthen a partnership with Egypt. The deal is still questionable however given the blatant human rights violations taking place within the Egyptian government, and the arms deal still taking place. Given Egypt's eagerness to expand military capabilities, any future arms deals with the state are worth examining.

U.S. Army & Navy: Can the Budget Be Shared?

    There is always difficulty in U.S. military budgeting, especially when the branches are used to a primarily 3 way split between the Army, Navy and Air Force. The budgeting especially becomes an issue when a branch is in need of significant upgrades and changes that can supported through fiscal increases. The U.S. Navy is looking to expand its budget, but will likely receive pushback from a rival, the U.S. Army. Currently, the U.S. Army is attempting to make strides in modernization, although there is the possibility their budget will be scaled back for the coming fiscal year following Biden's official announcement. 

    The U.S. military branches can butt heads at times, but the arguments for Naval budgetary improvements are convincing enough that inter-service rivalries should not influence smart decision making. The size of the Navy’s arsenal has shrunk since the cold war, as in 1996 the number of ships in naval piers were at 375 compared to the estimated 271 ships in 2015. Given the increase in China's naval forces, there is more reason than ever to increase ship building and re-vitalize the Navy's arsenal and fleet. As the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts were fought and led primarily in ground-centric combat by the U.S. Army, experts argue the next major conflicts with be sea-based and likely involve the rising Navy rival, China.

    The shortcomings of Army developments such as the Future Combat System program, an 8 year long wasteful program that cost an estimated $18 million in taxpayer dollars, are reason enough for military critics to justify focusing the budget towards Navy improvements. Should the Army's wasted funds have been put towards a naval effort, over a dozen new hulls could have been constructed and shipbuilding improvements could be well underway. Critics have pointed out that the Navy still sees issues in using their vessels properly however, one example being the Zumwalt-class destroyer which is being underproduced and struggling to pair suitable ammunition with its guns. 

    No military branch is without its flaws, and budget increases may not necessarily solve all these problems. Analysis suggests however that the Navy is deserving of at least a little more fiscal attention. Ultimately, this will all depend on what the Biden administration approves for the coming year. 

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Mikhail Kalashnikov and His Legacy of Death

Nuclear weapons are seen by many as the deadliest weapon ever made, producing around 200,000 casualties during the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki (1). However, this is not the deadliest military invention made. At least not if the total number of casualties is used as a guide. Mikhail Kalashnikov is the deadliest inventor to ever exist. AK-47s and their variants have been used to kill millions of people and around 250,000 people die from wounds inflicted by these weapons every year (2). It is estimated that around 100 million have been produced and it continues to be produced in over 20 countries, China is the country that produces the most. It is predominantly used in more than 50 militaries in the world (3). That being said, the inventor passed away without ever seeing any type of monetary compensation. This is to be expected as it was a Soviet that designed the weapon. It is known that depending on the country of origin, this rifle could be purchased for as little as $10. But, how much does it cost to acquire an AK-47 now that Russia no longer produces them and manufacturing has shifted to other countries? 

The question becomes irrelevant as it is not countries and formal militaries that represent the issue. Those are the main buyers of these newly produced weapons. It is the sale of the AK-47 in zones of conflict through the black market. The chart below (4) depicts how accessibility to these rifles is still possible, and depending on where you attempt to get it, the price fluctuates. However, an AK-47 can be bought for as little as $600 on the black market. 

However, it is fascinating that Mikhail Kalashnikov expressed that he never had an interest in receiving compensation for his invention and that this was something done purely out of duty to his country. He also expressed before his death is that he regretted creating the rifle as so many people died at the hands of people carrying it (6). Without foreseeing the magnitude of the impact the Ak-47 would have in international conflicts, Mikhail Kalashnikov created perhaps a best seller when it comes to the arms trade.








Grey Arms

Buying a weapon is a complicated process.  The company that sells weapons is under strict regulations from its host country who is under scrutiny from the international community that is made up of actors who in turn each stump for the economic success of their own country and anyone that can help them advance in their own careers.  Before a firearm or weapon ever leaves the factory, a legal agreement on the exact purchase of the weapon is bound to its serial number-- sometimes the weapon is designed specifically for the use of military or law enforcement agencies, sometimes it is designed as a weapon for sport, but there are instances where the weapon is given no designation at all.  These special weapons are created for the discretionary use of the host government to be used however the government sees fit and without the trace of that weapon being linked directly to that government.  This is the grey market of the arms trade.

The US does this all the time. If there is a group of freedom fighters that needs weapons to fight a geopolitical foe but lacks the funds to buy arms, the US will supply them if it feels it is in the national best interest.  The Mujahedeen in Afghanistan were a good example of this: fighting the soviets in the mountains, their old weapons meant little against heavily armored attack helicopters that obliterated the ranks of our desert allies.  It didn't matter how much we trained, or what small arms we supplied, the soviet helicopters would fly strafing runs that slaughtered scores of the resistance, forcing them to hide in caves. Fed up with this, the CIA supplied Stinger missiles to the Mujahedeen.  Easy to use, these shoulder-mounted missiles changed the face of the war, directly leading to the abandonment of Afghanistan by the soviets. The soviets defeated, the US turned its blindest eye to Afghanistan. And lost all of its unused missiles.

The grey trade of arms occurs when a state circumvents international safeguards to pursue a political agenda with untraceable weapons that are handed over to governments and individuals without a strict End User Certificate detailing who and what the weapon is intended for. These weapons, already unregulated, end up on the black market, being sold dozens of times and changing hands from fighter to fighter as conflicts change.

There is no easy answer to whether or not grey arms are a good or a bad thing.  On the one hand, they often end up in the hands of bad actors who use them for crime or terror.  On the other hand, they are a convenient and powerful way that the US can support causes quietly without having to commit troops.  This is happening today and will continue to happen until we can decide on a more convenient and powerful way of helping out our proxies as they face off against our foes.

Wednesday, May 05, 2021


 The 2020 global COVID-19 pandemic severely disrupted trade and industry. The United States’ defense industrial base was unable to escape that disruption. Due to their global nature of their supply chains, defense contractors such as Lockheed Martin felt the impact of COVID-19 before many Americans. In early March of 2020, Lockheed Martin was forced to temporarily halt production of F-35 jets in Japan and Italy.  Weeks later, President Trump declared a state of emergency and shutdowns began occurring domestically.

            Initially, defense contractors responded in the same way as other US industries with furloughs and temporary shutdowns. However, the private nature of US defense manufacturers has allowed them to diversify beyond weapons manufacturing. This diversification meant that many firms were able to pivot and, if not capitalize on the pandemic, at least weather the storm. As just one example, Lockheed Martin began manufacturing personal protective equipment including face shields and medical gowns, as well as began consulting on manufacturing strategies for vaccines. 

            The pandemic also provided these industries with an opportunity to better prepare for future disruptions. An estimated $10 billion was spent industry wide to “…reconfigure production lines and build infrastructure for remote working,” an investment that is likely to be offset by decreased production costs resulting from the reform. Ultimately, major contractors such as Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, and BAE suffered minor delays in production but felt as though those disruptions were minimal.

            Between the $4.6 billion provided to the defense industry by the DoD and other federal relief efforts since March of 2020, the defense industry has nearly recovered entirely. The pandemic forced firms industrywide to analyze weaknesses in their global supply chains and production lines. Ultimately, it appears as though the industry’s response to the challenges of COVID-19 has left them better prepared to maintain productivity during future disruptions

Operation Gideon: An Argument for PMF Licensing Reform

     In 2018, former US Special Forces medic and marksman Jordan Goudreau founded SilverCorp USA, a Florida-based private security firm. In February of the following year, SilverCorp provided security for Richard Branson’s anti-Maduro protest event in Colombia. This contract put Goudreau in contact with exiled Venezuelans strongly in opposition to Maduro’s regime. Over the next two years, Goudreau and SilverCorp would find themselves increasingly involved in an international disaster that has been compared to the 1961 Bay of Pigs Invasion. The failure of Goudreau’s operation adds to the list of international crises involving US PMFs and further emphasizes the need for stricter licensing requirements and more rigorous federal oversight of these security contractors.

After providing security for the Richard Branson event, Goudreau held a series of meeting with exiled General Cliver Alcala and Venezuelan political strategist JJ Rendon. These meetings were intended to explore ways to depose Maduro and facilitate opposition leader Juan Guaido’s takeover of the Venezuelan government. General Alcala was already training exiled Venezuelans in remote camps in Colombia. Goudreau and SilverCorp was going to secure funding and assist in training needed to carry out the coup attempt referred to as Operation Gideon.

SilverCorp attempted to supply the camps with weapons, but the shipment was confiscated by Colombian officials. Furthermore, on March 28th, 2020, Venezuelan official Diosdado Cabello announced that Maduro’s regime was aware of the camps in Colombia and had intelligence on the Americans involved. Despite the lack of equipment and blown cover, Operation Gideon commenced. On May 3rd, 2020, Operation Gideon operators, including two Americans, were detained as they attempted to enter Venezuela by sea.

The failure of this operation jeopardized US foreign relations and resulted in the imprisonment of American citizens. Despite Gaudreau’s claim that Guaido approved of his actions, SilverCorp ultimately was not properly licensed to carry out this activity. Similar to the Blackwater security contractor massacre of civilians in Iraq, Operation Gideon created a foreign relations problem for the United States. Had SilverCorp been properly licensed by both the United States and Venezuelan officials, the disaster could have been avoided. The United States needs to reform its PMF licensing procedures to facilitate more direct federal oversight of private security contracts, especially when they involve international operations. Private contractors provide cost-saving and political benefits to states. However, under current regulation those benefits are off-set by the risks of foreign relations disasters such as those caused by Operation Gideon.

Ukraine Acquires Neptune Missile System

Earlier this month, Ukraine acquired its first ever RK-360MC Neptune cruise missile system. Ukraine’s southern coastline has had poor defense since Russian interference began in 2014, but this new weapon proves to be a strong initiative from Ukraine on that front. Despite little funding, the project was completed in only a few years. Luch Design Bureau, a Ukrainian engineering company focused on the defense industry, designed the cruise missile system to fill in the gaps on Ukraine’s coastline, where military defense is weak. According to the Kyiv Post, Luch designed the system “as a response to Russia’s growing maritime threat to Ukraine’s barely defended southern coastline after 2014”. 


Luch managed to create the missile system in a relatively short period of time, and inexpensively. During live fire tests in Odessa Oblast, the missiles proved to be effective, but it is unclear whether or not Ukraine’s defense will serve as a deterrent for Russia in the Black Sea. Some reports state that nearly 80 percent of Ukraine’s SSC-3 Styx coastal defense missiles were seized by Russian armed forces in 2014 in Crimea. This has left Ukraine’s coasts bare, and left room for Russian naval presence in the Black and Azov Seas.


The Neptune is impressive, and according to its designers has the capability to sink any Black Sea Fleet Russian vessels, not including Russia’s flagship missile cruiser “Moskva”. The features of Ukraine’s new system include “anti-jamming resistance technology and advanced navigation units” and, most impressive, a new Ukrainian-developed, active target-seeking device that would have cost hundreds of millions of dollars to buy from abroad. The new device was created by Radionix, a Kyiv-based defense development company.


In the future, developers hope to expand the project to include anti-ship missiles and surface-to-air weapons. The roadblocks that Ukraine faces, however, are transportation and quantity. There are currently no vessels capable of carrying more than one or two cruise missiles at a time and Ukraine needs around 60 cruise missiles in order to deter a Russian coastal offensive. Coastal defense will likely be a top priority for Ukraine in the future, and while it is not yet equipped to handle a Russian offensive, the development of the Neptune system is an important step toward that goal. 


Written by Sarah Wood 

Concerns Over China's Defense Spending

 The United States currently leads the world in terms of defense spending. In 2019, the United States’ military expenditures totaled around $649 billion. The next largest spender is China, whose 2019 military expenditures approximated $261 billion. It may appear as though the United States significantly outspends China, but when factors such as personnel costs and purchasing power parity (PPP) are taken into account, the gap between the US and China appears to shrink.

In 2018, Army Chief of Staff Mark Milley argued in front of the Senate Defense Appropriations Committee that the Chinese defense spending is more concerning than the difference in USD would lead us to believe. One of the pillars of his argument was that the United States’ military personnel are the best paid in the world. The average annual salary of US military personnel is around $62,000. This amount would cover the salaries of two or more PRC soldiers. This difference, coupled with fact that much of the military equipment and technology the PRC purchases comes from government-owned or heavily subsidized manufacturers, means that the Chinese defense budget needs to be recalculated to reflect its true value. One 2019 estimate placed Chinese defense spending equivalent to $455 billion after taking into account PPP.  

With the true value of Chinese defense spending inching closer to that of the United States’ each year, the United States needs to begin preparing for a time when a change in spending habits is necessary to maintain its position as top global defense spender. Currently, China’s People’s Liberation Army’s Navy (PLAN) is projected to have over 425 battle force ships by 2030. While it can be argued that the United States has a better trained, more experienced naval fleet, greater numbers provide China with an advantage that cannot be ignored. A change in US defense spending will be required to match Chinese naval growth. It is wiser to make those changes now, before conflict forces the US to find out just how much superior training and experience offsets sheer numbers.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

Next Generation Air Dominance Program & COVID-19

The Air Force Next Generation Air Dominance Program (NGAD) is said to examine five major technologies that are likely to appear on next generation aircraft, with the goal of enhancements in survivability, lethality, and persistence. It has not been said what four of these technologies are, but one is propulsion. Over the past few years, the Air Force has heavily invested in variable cycle engines. It is hypothesized that other forms of technology include new forms of stealth; advanced weapons, including directed energy; and thermal management. It has also been said that NGAD is likely to carry an AI co-pilot. The NGAD program has been kept extremely secret, however, 15 September 2020, Will Roper announced that the Air Force had flown a full-scale flight demonstrator as part of the Next-Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program. This came as a shock to many because the NGAD program was still very young and funding only began two years ago at the time. At AFAs September virtual Air, Space and Cyber conference Roper said that the NGAD program, which is meant to complement or succeed the F-22 and F-35, “has come so far that the full-scale flight demonstrator has already flown in the physical world. It’s broken a lot of records in the doing.” He released no other details about NGAD due to security reasons.


However, the final draft of the fiscal 2021 defense policy bill cuts $70 million from the NGAD program and some are worried NGAD will become an “unintended casualty” of the COVID-19 pandemic. The bill also calls for the Pentagon’s cost-assessment office to review NGAD and the Air Force’s Digital Century Series. Roper argued that the rapid development of NGAD, coupled with extended use of digital engineering, open architecture systems, and agile software development for weapons systems are needed to quickly bring to bear new capabilities needed for a new era. After much skepticism and doubt of the reliability behind NGAD, Roper said, “We’ve got to hope that things get back to normal so we can get back in SCIFs as quickly as we can and just do the best we can at an unclassified level to explain why this technology that revolutionized the automotive industry, why it is revolutionizing military programs and the handful of instances where it has found root.” Many feel that the COVID-19 pandemic will affect the timeline of the NGAD program, but that it will in no way stop production and development.

Securing the US Defense Supply Chain

 The Issue

Many resources required by the United States’ defense industry are sourced from China, which some argue creates a level of dependency and vulnerability for the US military on a rival market. The consequences of the coronavirus pandemic has modeled the problems that occur when the global supply chain falters and domestic production is not enough to compensate. Since early 2020, the US technology industry has increasingly found itself without the necessary tools to continue producing mobile phones, computerized vehicles, and other information and communication technologies (ICTs) that rely on semiconductors due to emergency travel restrictions between the US and China. As this shortage threatens the procurement strategy of the US military, the attention of the US government has snapped to evaluating and strengthening the nation’s supply chains.

Current Approach

The US had begun attempting to strengthen its supply chain through China under the Trump administration, which sought to codify suspicion of Chinese industry and encourage investment within the United States through prohibitive orders on Chinese ICTs that might have negative implications for the US defense industry. The Biden administration has continued this interest in increasing supply chain resiliency and has sought to evaluate dependencies across the government to develop a comprehensive response that will allow the US to diversify trade away from China where possible, while recognizing that a full decoupling is untenable. The United States lacks the scale of rare earth element resources, mining, and processing that China possesses.

However, it is certainly not impossible for the US to increase its exploitation of resources located within its borders and produce more of the basic components it needs domestically. The Department of Defense (DOD) has funded multiple projects to build US-based processing facilities, for example in early 2021, where a $30.4 million contract was awarded to an Australian mining company to operate in Texas. Concerns about foreign ICTs also persist in the aftermath of the 2020 supply chain hack of US defense agencies through SolarWinds. The US Department of Commerce served several subpoenas on Chinese ICTs in March of 2021 in an effort to investigate the transaction activity of foreign businesses. Overall, the dependence of critical technology sectors in the US economy on Chinese industries is recognized as a high-priority national security issue for the United States.

Thinking Forward

Addressing the dependency of US defense industries on China is not an impossible task, but it is one that requires measured, long-term expectations. The degree to which the US economy can be feasibly extricated from China has limitations in a globalized economy when China possesses a disproportionate wealth of rare earth minerals and the expertise to process them. While the United States is not devoid of resources or skill, the timeline to build the infrastructure necessary to extract and process them also requires the expansion of a specialized workforce to organize and perform the work. In the short-term, granting contracts to industries in allied nations like Australia and increasing funding incentives to domestic industries will still struggle because of these limitations. Cooperation with China will remain crucial to certain areas of defense procurement even as the US attempts to diversify its sources over the next several years.

Debt isn't the problem

 We discovered through experience that the more complex a system, the more difficult it is to force that system to collapse. We found this when we attacked the economies of Germany and Japan in the second world war, and I rediscover it every time I try to get the weeds out of my yard-- there is just too much going on to have what I can call a decisive victory with the tools I have available.

Our economy is much the same way.  The alarmist debt clock demonstrates this well. The numbers our country faces are enormous, and pose a huge investment in many parts of our daily lives.  Pundits often look to the debt as some kind of 'gotcha' with policy, telling us that as the number grows so too does our impending doom. But the clock also shows a hugely complex system, one that should have fallen apart by now if it were truly in danger of such an epic collapse.

Our economy, and by extension our debt, is one of the greatest assets we have for our national defense.  Our ability to raise capitol quickly and apply our expertise grants us advantages in traditional and non-traditional means of conflict that many of our adversaries cannot hope to match. 

I fall into the camp that believes too much debt is a bad thing. That being said, my personal budget us much more simple, and therefore much more easily disrupted and destroyed, than the national resources.  I think we could manage our funds better, but when it comes to national defense, I don't think our military spending is nearly the cause for concern that others would point it out to be.

Playing nice with others

Fun fact: artificial intelligence wargaming is a thing, but military personnel are actively wargaming to prepare for see how AI will be used, and the best for how it can be used, in the future.  One interesting that has been discovered is that the use of AI sometimes has the effect of reverting a mind trained in analysis to its baser prejudices, a recent example being that an Air Force analyst will trust a program less if he or she learns it was prepared by a Navy programmer.

Why is it that our armed forces have such a challenge in respecting other branches? Is it as simple as football rivalries that extend into the professional sphere? Do organizations ingrain within their ranks their superiority so much that working across branches causes a sour taste in the mouths of all involved?  Even members of the intelligence community point out that former military officers now involved in covert action have run into bureaucratic roadblocks to missions being completed by members of the military who would not allow access to crucial resources, such as air support, for no reason other than an 'us vs them' mentality amongst allies.

How do we move to get away from this trap?  How can we move actual prejudice to truly professional rivalry?

Future Warfare & Modernization: India

     When considering future warfare, first thoughts may rush to the strides made by the U.S. in Artificial Intelligence (AI), drone warfare and autonomous weapons. For the states that can afford such developments, investing in the future with next generation military technology enables them to keep up with the rest of the world. One such state that is pushing for innovation and future warfare, is India. 

    In an effort to modernize their arsenal, India’s defense public sector in coalition with the private sector are investing in a new project between Bharat Electronics Limited (BEL) and Hyderabad’s Grene Robotics. The project between the electronics company and AI/robotics firm is an advanced, man-portable land to air missile, brought onto an Autonomous Man-portable Air Defense Data Link System (AMDL). Essentially, the technology is a way for a man-portable air defense system (MANPAD), sometimes thought of as shoulder launched weapons, to be launched with guided assistance from AI technology. The technology would be built using a state of the art data link system which would improve real-time targeting and reduce risk of friendly fire. The MANPADS incorporated into the new AI assisted system would address operational issues and limitations that have faced India’s armed forces. The augmented reality and virtual reality components of the weapons’ sensor-sight systems would enable the Command Centre to give real-time instructions to troops on the ground. 

    This new technological development affords India a helpful new tool for their arsenal, although it is unclear when it will be ready for use. Regardless, India is pushing to invest more in the technology and internal production in general. It was announced this year that India was seeking to invest much more in domestic products to enhance their military capabilities. The goal is to rely less upon imports and more on domestic research and development, and bridge the gap between any technological gaps which could be replaced with locally made products. To enable further investment in home-grown technology, India’s Ministry of Defense has afforded more opportunities for private enterprise in India by increasing the foreign direct investment percentage from 49% to 74%. The focus on domestic tech improvements is interesting, as India is known to be a major arms importer, with foreign arms purchases going up after a border incident with China. The shift in focusing on domestic investment likely signals a desire for self-reliance. With the assistance of BEL and Hyderabad’s Grene Robotics, their new tech investments may give India the assurance it needs in its quest for military modernization.