Thursday, March 31, 2022

Do We Need PMF's?

     Private military firms have been around for as long as history can date back. The idea of mercenaries were pretty much the only means of fighting back in the medieval and renaissance eras. The lack of a robust state infrastructure forced empires like Rome and Carthage to find a means of protection and security, paying soldiers solely to fight whether they are members of that specific empire or not. Coming out of the renaissance age, more structured states started to develop and the need for mercenaries rapidly declined. Even so, there are companies of this sort in today's society providing more means than just military executions. 

    The main motivating factor for these individuals involved in PMF's is profit, rather than political or social gain. When means of a conventional, state authorized army are unable to successfully protect or defend that state, other means such as PMF's come in as an added device at disposal. In today's modern society, there are different varieties for PMF services and different companies across the world. 

    A provider PMF is the most commonly known service, the direct military capability. A state or non state actor can hire a firm, give them the objective, and that company will carry out the task whether that be taking over land or killing a certain number of people. Next is the consultant PMF's, these companies are still very involved but not solely focused on the execution of other people. The main focus is the training and advice of local military forces hired by governments not located in the same area. The third option is support. This focuses on logistics and capabilities to carry out a task by other military means. These types of firms obtain the largest market amongst the three and can supply traditional armed forces with things such as food, ammo, and communication means from all over the world. So, are any of these means really necessary in today's world?

    The world's political climate today has shown that nothing goes without notice of the public eye. Looking at past occurrences such as the vietnam war demonstrates how difficult it may be for office holders to send their troops into a war. These PMF's come into play as a backdoor option, no congress approval or nationwide backing is necessary to hire a private firm to achieve military objectives. Because of state and international laws, it is increasingly difficult for a conventional army to achieve an objective without many legal obstacles. PMF's are radically more capable of quickly and successfully achieving an objective than host militaries. 

    The cost of employing and paying an entire host military becomes much more expensive in the long run than it does when paying a PMF upfront. Each soldier must go through extensive, costly training before even being deployed into a war, then afterwards is compensated with health benefits, retirement funds, and other long term pensions. PMF's are already trained with experience and paid upfront with no required long term pensions after the job is done

    While soldiers are stationed all over the world, necessary means such as food, water, shelter, and avid communication is required to keep those bases functioning and properly running. Support PMF's such as MPRI solely focuses on providing all of these capabilities. The U.S Army uses these firms even today while soldiers are stationed internationally, and without them the bases would run out of resources and unable to function. 

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Private Military Firms: A Necessary Good or An Unavoidable Evil?


    The concept of a nation utilizing private military firms (PMFs) is nothing new. Mercenaries doing the job of a nation’s soldiers date to the years of Ancient Rome and Carthage. My initial impression of PMFs is that they are corrupt businesses that do the work the military does not want to dirty its own hands with for a massive price. The ever-expanding defense budget can lead to the conclusion that they have enough money and personnel to carry out all their responsibilities without the need for contractors. This, of course, is not the reality of how the Pentagon and the defense industry works. 
    A US government report from March 2010 sheds light on the upsides of using private security contractors. This report was written during a post-9/11 surge in the reliance on PMFs. Criticism was frequent that PMFs in Iraq and Afghanistan were damaging the US’s image and our finances because companies like Blackwater make billions off such missions. Eager to dispel such criticisms, the government claimed that the State Department alone saves roughly $900 million a year using PMFs to protect US diplomats in Iraq rather than hiring US government employees. This data comes from the non-partisan Government accountability office. 
    The massive savings when using PMFs are that there are no government benefits like pensions, vacation time, or overtime guaranteed.  Frequently PMFs employ foreign nationals to carry out their missions at the request of the US government. Of the nearly 2000 contractors charged with guarding the US embassy in Bagdad in 2008, 89 percent were foreign nationals. If the State Department decided to hire the embassy’s security directly, the cost would increase significantly due to the desire not to employ third-country nationals or mercenaries. The Blackwater provided guards cost as much as $1,222 per day despite this. 
    One of the significant downsides of hiring PMFs is the lack of oversight by the Pentagon or Congress. Anytime taxpayer money is spent, in a perfect, the people would have a right to know that those making the decisions are accountable to their elected representatives. This demand is not met with PMFs by a long shot, but these companies are so embedded in the US military that reversing course now is not going to happen.  The savings of using PMFs will always outweigh the lack of oversight. 


Monday, March 28, 2022

The Wagner Group and Ukraine

    The Wagner Group is a Russian private military company that is sometimes referred to as a “proxy organization” of the government. The mercenaries have been involved in activities described as “working to suppress pro-democracy protests, spreading disinformation, mining for gold and diamonds, and engaging in paramilitary activity.” They have played an important role in spreading Russian influence across the globe. 

    The group was active in Ukraine during Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. They have also played a role in Syria fighting in support of the Assad regime, Libya, and Sudan. Additionally, they have been present in regions throughout Africa. Earlier this year, the mercenaries arrived in Mali to combat violent extremists after French forces withdrew. 

    As private military companies are illegal in Russia, the government has denied ties to the group, despite obvious connections. Yevgeny Prigozhin, also known as “Putin’s Chef”, is said to financially support the Wagner Group. Dmitry Utkin, the founder of the Wagner Group, was a former lieutenant colonel in the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency. Members of the group also train at camps shared by Russian Special Forces and have been documented on Russian transport aircraft. 

    It is no surprise that the Wagner Group is playing a role in the current war in Ukraine. The UK government announced sanctions on the group and said the mercenaries are being used to assassinate Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelensky. 

    Before the invasion, they were deployed to enhance separatist forces. European and US officials said the mercenaries would be used in false flag operations, acting as Ukrainian forces attacking civilians. 

    Reports have now surfaced that the Wagner Group has increased its presence in Ukraine. In February, there were an estimated 300 members which has now increased to around 1,000. These additional mercenaries have been relocating from Libya and Syria, as well as their artillery, air defenses, and radar. Russian military aircraft have reportedly been used to support the move. Some leaders from the group are also expected to arrive in Donetsk and Luhansk. The new influx in personnel are said to support the fight against Ukraine’s forces in the Donbas region. 

    It seems Wagner Group mercenaries are now taking on a larger role in the conflict. Although the total numbers of mercenaries in Ukraine remains low, the slow increase threatens the strong resistance of Ukrainian forces. 

Saturday, March 26, 2022

Lethal Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War

 Lethal Autonomous Weapons and the Future of War 

    Many countries around the world are rapidly developing their artificial intelligence (AI) capabilities. There are many applications for AI technology, but the most enticing use seems to be for defense. But what role will AI technology really play in future conflicts? 

    AI can be useful in identifying enemy weapons systems, pin-pointing high-value targets using facial recognition, translating texts for intelligence collection, and various other information operations. These actions are valuable as they reduce workload and improve productivity. However, many fear what the future of this technology will look like on the battlefield as many global superpowers may have a more sinister use in mind. 

The future of AI might look like what people call “killer robots” or lethal autonomous weapons systems (LAWS). These weapons could have the ability to eliminate targets without human decision-making. Some believe the benefits to this outweigh potential downfalls. Obvious reasons in support of the use of LAWS would be the lower human and political costs. Removing soldiers from the battlefield seems too enticing to resist. 

Others have argued the risks are not worth the rewards. LAWS can upset international law and security. Removing human decision-making can also remove accountability. What happens if the technology makes a mistake? Additionally, if not controlled, LAWS could end up in the wrong hands (if there are even right hands for this  technology). What if terrorist organizations develop their own LAWS?

But LAWS may be entering the battlefield sooner rather than later. The US, Russia, China, Turkey and several others have already began experimenting with and testing AI technology and LAWS. As Russia has already demonstrated its use of controversial weapons during the war in Ukraine, such as the cluster bomb, some fear LAWS are just the next step. A National Security Council Report from 2021 stated the Turkish Kargu-2 drone was used in Libya to autonomously hunt down and destroy targets, a reminder that the future is closer than we think. 

The need to control AI technology on the battlefield is becoming more urgent. Recent attempts toward regulation have been made, such as AI guidelines issued by the Department of Defense and the EU’s AI Act, but it may already be too late. A world that previously seemed beyond our reach, only present in otherworldly sci-fi novels and movies, may soon resemble the modern battlefield.  

Friday, March 25, 2022

Making hay with TB-2s

One of the most surprising developments in the Russian-Ukraine war is the effective ways Ukraine has been able to use Turkish made TB-2 drones. These TB-2 drones have been described as the Toyota Corolla of UAVs. According to the metaphor, it may not be able to everything the fancy sports car can do, but it can do 80% of that, which for a price tag of just under $2 million is pretty good. 

Many experts are shocked at the impact these drones are making. They are medium altitude, slow flying aircraft which should make them easy to shoot down for the advanced air defense systems in the Russian arsenal. The terrain is open and provides good radar coverage, so the drones shouldn't be difficult for the Russians to detect. One possible reason the drones aren't getting shot down could be the cost of the surface-to-air missile (SAM) required to shoot them down outweighs the benefit. Another reason could be the Ukrainian army has found opportune moments to use them, striking Russian convoys perhaps when defenses are lower than normal. We cannot be sure of the exact reasons at this time, but it is something to watch as the war continues. Some experts are predicting that effective use of the TB-2 will decline as Russia establishes stronger air defense capabilities, but until then they will be vital tools in slowing or blocking the Russian advance. 

In addition, the Ukrainians have found another interesting way to use the TB-2s. They are sharing the videos of successful TB-2 strikes, which has several effects in the information warfare domain. The use of these drones serves as proof that the Russians have not established air dominance. This fact and the video proof their army striking valuable Russian targets keeps Ukrainian morale high. These videos are often widely shared on websites like Twitter, providing short clips which make the Ukrainian look effective. All of these factors combine for an international effect: this keeps many citizens of NATO countries hopeful for Ukrainian success which keeps public support for providing aid to Ukraine high. This aid is crucial for Ukraine to continue resisting Russian advances and conduct counter offensives of their own. 

As mentioned above, we cannot be sure how much longer the Ukrainians will be able to make effective use of their TB-2s, but as the old saying goes "make hay while you can make hay." Right now, the Ukrainians are certainly "making hay" with their TB-2s. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

Why Ukraine gave up inherited nuclear weapons?


The ongoing Russian war against Ukraine rekindled the debate about Ukraine’s nuclear arsenals it inherited post-Soviet Union collapse. Pundits and policy experts debated whether Ukraine’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons is bad, and holding onto them could have protected it from Russian aggression. Ukraine’s decision to give up its nuclear weapons is driven by a combination of several factors that are superficially discussed in the debates. 

Newly formed Ukraine state inherited 176 intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), 1240 strategic nuclear weapons, around 3000 tactical nuclear weapons and several dozen nuclear-capable strategic bombers loaded with missiles. The fleet of nuclear weapons and delivery capabilities that existed in the territorial boundaries of Ukraine made it the world's third-largest nuclear arsenal country. Contrary to majority perception, Ukraine never had operational control over the nuclear arsenal exited in its territory. They are controlled by Moscow and protected by the Soviet rocket forces. Also, Ukraine’s intention of obtaining operational control over nuclear weapons was threatened by Russia with military action. Gradually, over the course of several years, Ukraine transferred all nuclear weapons in the country to Russia for dismantling. All the ICBMs, launch sites, and silos were destroyed with the support of millions of dollars received through the US’s Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program. The United States had a deep concern about nuclear weapons security in newly emerged Independent Soviet Countries. It persuaded newly formed countries to give up nuclear weapons in return for economic assistance to rebuild the country. Belarus, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan received security assurances (no use of military or economic coercion) from the Russian Federation, the US and the UK under the Budapest Memorandum signed in 1994 for returning their nuclear weapons.

    Going by the arguments of many, Ukraine holding onto nuclear weapons would outweigh the benefits it would receive by giving it up in 1991 for the following reasons. Ukraine's inherited nuclear infrastructure, talent pool and weapons require constant maintenance, and it costs millions of dollars which it can not afford. Russian Federation emerged as inheritor of the Soviet Union showed a willingness to use coercion to recover nuclear weapons from newly emerged states. Further, Ukraine, Belarus and Kazakhstan strongly needed western nations' economic and political support to build the country and attain international recognization. The decisions taken by the Ukraine government in 1991 were based on the political, economic, and social situations of that time. No one has foreseen the war with Russia or the geopolitical dynamics that led to the current state of affairs in 1991 to alter their decision. Instead of scrutinising the merits of the past decisions, the international community should persuade Russia and Ukraine to find a diplomatic resolution to end the war. Also, should step up efforts to strengthen the global nuclear non-proliferation architecture. 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Debate About Drones and Presidential Power

    In the past twenty years, technological advances in robotics have entirely changed the way battles are fought. Drones, in particular, have been utilized by the US military in the fight against terrorism in the Middle East since 9/11. The use of drones has many perceived benefits, including avoiding US casualties, lower costs, tactical effectiveness, and fewer complications related to using a country’s airspace. Due to these benefits, Presidents of both parties and with different foreign policy goals have used drones to carry out significant military operations.
    Despite the positive points related to drones, frequent criticisms are leveled at the US military’s use of them. In May 2021, the Biden administration reluctantly released redacted documents regarding the rules for using lethal force against terror suspects abroad set during the Trump presidency. The documents clarify that the Trump administration had weakened the loose policy guidelines set by his predecessor President Obama. The new rules set aside any meaningful oversight by Congress or the judiciary of the use of lethal force, including through drones. 
    President Joe Biden’s first year in office may point to a change in drone policy compared to his three predecessors. Biden did not authorize a single drone strike in his first six months. This ceasefire was ended in July 2021 with a series of strikes in Somalia against al-Shabab. A month later, the drone strike in Afghanistan caused ten civilian casualties, seven of them children. The outcome of this strike prompted severe criticism, particularly from congressional democrats, who called for systematic reforms centered on human rights and international law.
    Despite the unfortunate consequences of the administration’s drone strike last summer, there is a debate occurring on drone policies. The use of drones has been minimized, officials say as the review takes place. The future of drone warfare is uncertain since there is a clear split in the President’s party on how best to proceed. The tactic of the Obama administration was to rely heavily on drones, which during his term killed 3,797 people, including 324 civilians. On the other hand, many others believe that there should be greater oversight on executive authority in these decisions and respect for human rights. However, the one certain thing is that the debate about drones will go on for many years to come. 

Wednesday, March 09, 2022

The Future of Robotics

     The rising technological advancements of robotic military use and artificial intelligence has peaked interest in popular hollywood movies, but what does the future of robotics really hold for the world? Robots are currently used in all aspects of the military, including ground vehicles, air drones, undersea attack drones, and much more remote operated technology. The majority of these robotics uses are for reconnaissance and smaller missioned bombings. 

    Every new advancement to the world has positives and negatives, but it seems the positives are heavily outweighing when it comes to the use of drones in military missions. This includes a decrease of casualties amongst soldiers because of the decline in on-foot missions. These robots are ultimately less expensive to make than it is to train and deploy soldiers as well as the positive of the robot not actually having a family back home waiting for them. These robots have the capability to loiter, reduce size of weapons, create a smaller cross-section, and have the ability to fly around for 20+ hours--whereas manned aircrafts require periods of rest. 

    Legal implications of robots have been applied in efforts to control correct and responsible operation. These include understanding what directing a robot to kill automatically implies, and whether they should continue to only be operated through human instruction. The law of robotics states; don't hurt humans, do what you're told, and don't hurt yourself. The intention is to prevent a "robot rebellion", or letting the advancements of technology and AI get out of human control. Combining autonomy with the power to kill becomes very dangerous and requires strict regulations on how to move forward with this military method. 

    Army developers continue to explain these robotics are working just as well if not better than expected in combat because of its ability to integrate a wide range of weapons and advance computer systems capable of processing information incredibly fast. The military is quickly becoming a multi-domain, working with manned-unmanned artificial intelligence robotics that are able to use algorithms to connect unique human cognition in efforts to more quickly receive and process data. 

    Companies are quickly developing more impressive technology to contribute to military robotics. One in particular known as REDOWL (Robotic Enhanced Detection Outpost with Lasers) has the ability to use lasers and sound detection to shoot down snipers or enemy targets with an instant detection system. In previous tests, this robot has proved 94% accurate and still undergoing improvements today. The future of robotics and AI is here and only increasing, but how far humans will let it go is still up for debate. 

Friday, March 04, 2022

Ukraine and Nukes

    The unprovoked and brutal Russian invasion of Ukraine has got people talking about nuclear weapons more than ever since the end of the Cold War. This subject is once again a hot topic due to President Putin’s order that Russia’s nuclear arsenal on “special combat readiness” after his invasion of Ukraine wasn’t going to plan. Every person living on planet earth should hope and pray that Putin is just bluffing, trying to satisfy his daily need to remind everyone how big and strong he is.  The short- and long-term consequences of Putin’s unhinged and dangerous actions are still unknown. But it is clear that nuclear weapons and their absence are an important aspect of this conflict.

    At the end of the Cold War, Ukraine had the world’s third-largest nuclear weapons arsenal, totaling 1,900 warheads. Only the US and Russia had a greater number. Of course, today, Ukraine’s nuclear arsenal is non-existent due to an agreement signed in 1994. Russia agreed in the Budapest Memorandum to never attack the sovereignty of Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan in exchange for giving up their nuclear weapons. The US and other western countries favored this deal since there was concern that the weapons could end up in the hands of terrorists if not appropriately protected. President Clinton and other leaders probably never imagined that there would one day be a war criminal sitting in the Kremlin in the 21st century. 

    There is a strong argument that if Ukraine had maintained its nuclear arsenal, Putin might have thought twice about the invasion of Crimea in 2014 and the assault that has occurred over the past week. The decades of the Cold War of course passed without direct conflict between the nuclear-armed US and nuclear-armed Russia. It is easy to sit back in 2022 and second guess the decision made in 1994 to give up Ukraine’s nuclear weapons. In 1994, the West was full of hope that Russia would become a flourishing democracy, even taking the step of allowing them to join the G7. When he was with Bill Clinton, Boris Yeltsin looked like he was with his political soul mate. Now 30 years later, it seems na├»ve and unimaginable to happen today. The overriding point is that this situation is completely Vladimir Putin’s doing since he could have abided by the Budapest Memorandum and been a constructive member of the global community. Unfortunately for the world, particularly Ukraine, Putin has taken a different path.  

Wednesday, March 02, 2022

Chinese Stealth Takes to the Seas

 The PLAN has a new stealth aircraft on the way. The J-31 (sometimes called the FC-31) is the second stealth fighter to be produced by a Chinese company. It is produced by the Shenyang Aircraft Company (SAC). It is a twin-engine, medium sized fighter with stealth, high maneuverability, and highly integrated logistics. This aircraft will be the second carrier-borne stealth aircraft in the world. 

A number of characteristics have confirmed that it is meant as a carrier-borne aircraft. The main giveaway is catapult launch bar, signaling it will be used on the new Type 003 aircraft carrier the Chinese are in the process of completing. It remains to be seen if this aircraft will be able to operate on the other two PLAN aircraft carriers, the Liaoning and the Shandong, due to their STOBAR system. If it is capable of being used on those two carriers, it would enhance their capabilities and longevity. The other significant marker that it is meant for carrier operations are the folded wing tips. These are so the aircraft takes less room on the carrier allowing it to hold more aircraft. 

According to SAC, it is meant to compete with the American F-35 on the international market. While many countries want to buy F-35s from the US, it comes with a high price tag and political restrictions that limit the number of buyers. The J-31 is intended to fill this gap by offering an aircraft with stealth capabilities, a lower price tag, and fewer political restrictions. The J-31 does not have all of the capabilities an F-35 does, but the combination of its affordability and lack of restrictions means it is likely to find willing buyers. 

It has not been fielded yet, but it should be watched carefully by all who are interested in Chinese military advancements. This aircraft offers the Chinese opportunities to impact the battlefield and international markets.

Are Nukes Made to be Used?

     The development of nuclear weapons in the Cold War era had much different laws and implications than it does now. The want to obtain nuclear weapons and be able to tell the world you're a nuclear state isn't only for the ability to drop a nuke on another country. Many can argue today the theory of deterrence is much more important when analyzing nuclear power rather than setting off nukes themselves. Deterrence theory is the idea that the threat of ones nuclear strength is enough to keep another country from initiating any nuclear force. The main reason all of these countries are so adamant on obtaining nuclear arsenal is to be able to hold that position on the world stage. A possession of the worlds deadliest weapon guarantees a movement up the list of countries to take notice of. 

    The creation of mutually assured destruction (MAD) was enforced by all participating nuclear countries. This recognizes that if one country was to set off a nuclear bomb, the receiving country can retaliate with just as much damage, in the end destroying the world over and over again. This idea proves that no enemy is willing to risk the loss of their cities over any political strain or ideological differences. 

    Another huge implication of why nobody wants to detonate a nuclear weapon is the environmental and health impact it leaves on the world short-term and long-term. A nuclear explosion can result in cooling of the atmosphere, shorter growing seasons, and death of all areas of the earth affected by radiation or fallout. Ionizing radiation can instantly impact the area of nuclear deployment. Delayed effects include radioactive fallout inflicting damage for many years to come. Anyone in contact with the radiation or fallout is susceptible to long term health consequences such as cancer and genetic damage. 

    The lack of desire to actually detonate any nuclear weapons has even developed into "nuclear-free zones" across certain parts of the world. The UN established this practice to keep certain areas a safe space from the threat of the deadly weapon. Many countries across the world's number one desire is peace across the world and nuclear weapons go the opposite of what these countries want spread in the world.