Saturday, April 30, 2022

China's Arms Trade Prospects

    Traditionally, China relied heavily on Russia for military imports. However, since 2015 China has significantly increased its advanced weapons capabilities and is now the fourth largest arms exporter behind the U.S., Russia, and France. Although China is growing its military defense considerably, China still relies on imports from some countries. According to SIPRI, in addition to Russia, the next largest sources of weapons imports come from France and Ukraine. In fact, from 2016-2020 China was Ukraine's largest recipient of Ukrainian exports at 36%. In 2020 China was ranked as the sixth largest importer of weapons. 

    With China's rise in military independence has caused it to accelerate much quicker than Russia. This is likely due to China's increased defense budget. In 2020, China spent roughly $252 billion dollars on military capabilities whereas Russia only spent $67 billion. Nonetheless, China has learned from Russia and started arming its neighbors in several Asian countries. Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Myanmar have been China's primary export recipients for decades. However, China has recently started to also export to many countries in Africa. China has increased the number of countries it exports from 40 countries between 2010-2014 to 53 countries from 2015-2019. 

    Russia's invasion of Ukraine might actually help China's numbers as well. As many countries continue to cease importing from Russia, China's arms sales might see an increase. Russia might not be able to produce military equipment as fast as it used to due to current sanctions against Moscow. The difficulties Russia has been facing in production is likely to result in countries purchasing weapons from other countries, such as China. Aside from the invasion of Ukraine, China is likely to continue to import less and export more in the coming years. 

Friday, April 29, 2022

The Illegal Arms Trade and Associated Problems

    There is a large market for arms around the world. While the legal market makes up a very significant portion of the arms trade the illegal arms trade market is very active as well. The illegal arms trade market is estimated to generate between 130 million dollars to 255 million dollars annually. Most of these sales come from smaller weapons like guns opposed to large weapons like fighter jets or tanks. In many instances arms trafficking is associated with other illegal activities like drug trafficking. While many people believe arms trafficking is carried out only by organized crime groups this is untrue as many governments have been implicated in undercover illicit trading. 


One newer problem with the illegal arms trade is that it has gone digital, making it harder for law enforcement to find and prosecute those involved. Many dealers of illegal arms have begun to use the dark web for trading in an effort to evade authorities. One of the biggest problems with the arms trade utilizing the dark web is that it makes it significantly more likely to anonymously arms criminals and terrorist organizations. Many weapons being sold on the dark web originate from the United States. Although the U.S. is the home of many dark web weapons it is European countries that generate the most revenue on dark web weapons sales. Many sales made on the dark web are not massive deals like the ones seen in the conventional arms trade. They are not sufficient to fully arm a terrorist group or country. Despite this, they are still dangerous, it is not only guns being sold on the dark web but also explosives and information on how to build bombs.


            Another problem associated with illicit arms sales is the affect they can have in developing areas. Increasing the number of weapons in a region can also lead to higher levels of conflict and violence. This can be very problematic for a developing region or country. As conflict increases investment goes down and development aid is often disrupted. It is also difficult for countries experiencing conflict to work towards and meet their development goals. In this way the illegal arms trade can slow development. 


            As the digital world gets bigger and bigger it will be interesting to see how the illegal arms trade develops moving forward.

US Arms Sales: Trump vs Biden

    The United States is the leader in global arms exports, responsible for 39% of deliveries from 2017-2021. This raises many questions about who exactly is receiving US weapons and how they are being used. The US certainly does not have a squeaky clean record when it comes to arms deals and has sold weapons to various violent regimes. Enormous arms sales were regularly at the center of attention during the Trump administration due to questionable recipients, but not much has seemed to change with the Biden administration. 

    During his presidency, Trump was very aggressive about promoting arms sales, emphasizing their impacts on US jobs, and consistently advocating to expand global US exports. This includes exports to countries like Saudi Arabia that have extensive records of human rights abuses. Under Trump’s leadership, US arms exports increased 23% between 2015-2019 compared to exports during the Obama Administration in 2010-2014. On several occasions, Trump vetoed attempts to block the sale of weapons to the Middle East, including billions of dollars in drones and F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

    In 2018, the Trump administration developed a revised Conventional Arms Transfer (CAT) policy. The revisions highlighted the economic justifications regarding arms sales and pushed aside important human rights considerations. Additionally, in 2019, Trump “un-signed” the Arms Trade Treaty (ATT). The ATT has over 100 signatories and is intended to regulate arms transfers to prevent human rights violations. 

    Unfortunately, it seems the Biden administration has failed to live up to its pre-election claims to avoid reckless sales and consider human rights when determining US weapons importers. The administration continues to supply Saudi Arabia with maintenance and spare parts integral in exacerbating the war in Yemen. Additionally, in March 2022, the administration proposed a sale of F-15 combat aircraft to Egypt. Earlier in his presidency, Biden also announced several controversial arms sales with Israel and the Philippines. 

    Despite several claims to place human rights at the center of its foreign policy, the Biden administration has continued to make arms sales with several repressive regimes. The administration still has not updated its arms transfer policy and has yet to rejoin the ATT, forcing many to question if human rights will ever be the main concern of future arms sales. 

Thursday, April 28, 2022

Russian Arms Trade in Trouble?

The war in Ukraine has shown the world the effectiveness of the Russian war machine and it has been found wanting. There are many things contributing to this lackluster performance including poor strategy and rumors of low morale. On top of these are the failures of the Russian arms industry to manufacture highly effective weapons.

A Reuters article in March cited US intelligence claiming that up to 60% of Russian precision guided munitions are failing. These failures could range from failure to launch to failure to explode on impact. Even if the failure rate is half what the article claimed, that is still an unacceptably high failure rate. Failure of Russian arms to perform in battle will likely have negative effects on Russia's ability to successfully market their weapons on the international stage in the future. 

There are other problems facing the Russian arms industry as well. Another one that relates to the invasion of Ukraine is the burden of sanctions. With many developed countries choosing to place sanctions on the Russian economy, it will be hard for Russia to access many of high-tech goods needed to build modern weapons. A prime example of this is Taiwan choosing to place sanctions on Russia cutting it off from the world largest supplier of high end computing chips. It is extremely unlikely Russia will be able to replace these goods with domestic production placing Russian arms production in great peril.

These two previous problems combine to feed into a third problem, rising competition. China has already begun to rival Russian arms production with products of similar quality and lower price. With doubts about the effectiveness of Russian arms and production troubles likely on the horizon, this trend can be expected to continue, if not increase. Russia's biggest arms customer, India, announced in April it would begin to invest heavily in domestic arms production. This cuts two ways for Russia, the first being it will likely lose a significant portion of its international arms sales. Second, if India is able to create an effective domestic defense industrial base, this will be another large competitor on the international market further harming Russian sales. 

The Russian arms industry is reliant on strong exports to maintain itself and continue innovating. The trends detailed above may put too much stress on the system and could cause huge downstream issues for Russia. Only time will tell, but the Russian arms industry could become another victim of the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

India trapped between a rock and a hard spot

 India stuck between a rock and a hard place

            India has long since balanced the relationship between Russia and the United States. India has partnered with Russian military companies to develop joint defense projects, like the T-90 tank and the SU-57, which fell apart. However, both countries successfully produced the BrahMos in a joint venture. India is still working closely with the United States as the US offers deals to boost India’s military to counter China’s aggression. 

            With the current Russian invasion of Ukraine, India has found itself in a difficult position. As stronger sanctions are targeting Russia’s ability to create military equipment, a high-tech export ban will cause a significant issue for India, which heavily depends on Russian military equipment. The Indian Army is the most dependent, with 90% of its equipment originating from Russia, mainly in the form of tanks. The Indian navy is also tricky as it has leased a nuclear submarine and an aircraft carrier from Russia. 

            What are India’s options? India is currently electing to boost their internal military manufacturing. A Defense Ministry official says that India cannot sustain itself as the second-largest military, fourth largest air force, and seventh largest navy on imports. Boosting internal military manufacturing seems like the most logical step to increase the military capability to counter China while also continuing good relations with Russia and the United States. It is estimated that 2.1 trillion rupees or $27.8 billion will be placed in domestic defense manufacturers in the next five years.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Ukraine Urban Warfare advantage

 Urban Warfare blog 


As the Russian invasion of Ukraine continues, it is essential to understand urban combat. As the first phase of Russia’s invasion concludes and the second begins, I will be looking at why the Ukrainians were successfully able to defend Kyiv and other major cities. To understand urban combat, readers must realize that the defender has the advantage in open terrain combat. Defenders create a 3:1 advantage over attackers. In a well-prepared defended city, defenders can increase their advantage to roughly 10:1 over attackers. 

            Rural warfare like World War I and II and soon to be seen in the second phase of the Russian invasion, allows tanks and artillery to fire on enemy positions and extract heavy losses on both sides. Defenders must create defenses such as trenches making the battlefield look eerily similar to 1918. However, in an urban setting, defenders have vastly more cover and attacking positions options. Buildings, basements, rubble, trash, etc., allow the defender to attack from multiple angles and escape before the enemy can accurately direct fire. Urban areas also make it challenging for attackers to gather intelligence, direct artillery or air support, and maneuver heavy machines like tanks through tight roads. The limited maneuverability of the attacker allows hit and run ambush tactics that can extract heavy losses on the attacker. 

With the urban defender’s advantage, Ukraine was able to repel the Russian advance into their main cities during the first phase of the war. Now that Russia has retreated and started concentrating its forces in the Donbas region, the Ukrainian advantage is decreasing. They will be without multilayered defendable structures while facing heavy artillery and overwhelming amounts of Russian mechanized troops.  

For more information see the Mini-Manual for Urban Defender - John Spencer 

Monday, April 18, 2022

Does the United States spend too much on defense?

            Often in the United States one may hear people complaining about how much the United States spends on the defense budget every year. The amount is high with roughly ten percent of the United States annual budget being spend on defense spending. It is common for people to think defense spending means the money is being spent on upgrading technology that may never be used like ballistic missile submarines, which will hopefully remain in this category, or a space face that the general public believes in unnecessary. But is the national budget really being spent frivolously like the public seems to believe or is the United States just paying the price of security. 


            One of the many arguments that the United States is overspending on the defense budget is that the United States defense budget is the highest in the world. In 2021 the United States defense budget was 705 billion dollars. China came in second behind the United States at around 250 million in 2021. A five hundred million dollar difference between the first and second highest spenders is a significant difference. Despite this one has to keep in mind that other countries are likely not being entirely transparent about their defense spending. Most scholars estimate that China is spending significantly more than they are willing to admit though they are still estimated to be spending less than the United States.


            It also is important for the United States security that they continue to spend enough to ensure they have access to the best and newest technology. While some of this technology may seem unnecessary, like never used ballistic missile submarines, there are several reasons to continue spending on things like this. Should the United States ever need this technology it is there and ready to go, no time is wasted in developing and implementing new things during an emergency. It is also possible that some things that seem unnecessary now may not be in the long run. A space force for example may seem silly now as people think of it like Star Wars or Guardians of the Galaxy but having a force that can protect United States satellites in space will likely be an integral part of security in the not-so-distant future. 


            It is also easy to forget all the other things the United States defense budget is paying for. There are over two million people employed in the United States military and all of those people get a salary. On top of a salary the defense budget also provides healthcare for all two million of those people. Aside from paying personnel the defense budget goes towards the upkeep and maintenance of facilities and arms. Public opinion on the defense budget is often skewed with the public not having a full understanding of what the United States is paying for and why these things are so important. 

What can the nontransparent Chinese defense budget tell us

Its hard to know exactly what the PLA spends its money on. Though the CCP releases its annual defense budget, it does no release the specifics of that budget. In 2021, they planned to spend $252 billion on defense. Compared with the US budget of $752.9 billion it may seem small, but that is still second highest amount of defense spending in the world. 

To bring the conversation into relative terms, the US spends around 3.7% of its annual GDP on defense and security. China spends around 1.7% of its annual GDP on these. Lucie Beraud-Sudreau, director of the military and arms production program at the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), says that 1.7% has been "relatively consistent" for the past 26 years. She says based on a 2019 white paper and other Chinese language sources she has studied, China spends about 31% of the military budget on personnel and 41% on equipment and research and development. It is hard to know these numbers exactly due to the lack of transparency in their military budget. We do not know how much of the personnel budget goes to military or their police/security forces. The science and technology spending is even murkier because of the mixing of dual use technologies and public-private venture expenditures. 

What is the purpose of China spending all of this money? According to National Party Congress spokesman Zhang Yesui, it is to safeguard national sovereignty, securing development needs, fulfilling international responsibilities, and meeting the needs of military reforms. These can be roughly translated to some of the top issues for the CCP today including Taiwan and the South China Sea disputes, securing oil for China's manufacturing and energy needs, growing China's presence on international stage as a responsible actor and great power, and the People's Liberation Army's (PLA) desire to adapt to "informationized warfare." 

In regard to these interests, the PLA continues to move away from the traditional "Big-army" mentality and is putting more emphasis on naval operations. The PLA Navy (PLAN) continues to grow in ship count and tonnage. Its transition from a brown water navy to a blue water navy is a key step to securing China's interests. This means improving it's power projection capabilities and maritime joint operations. The PLA Air Force (PLAAF) is also improving capabilities with an aim to transition from territorial air defense to more aggressive operations.

While the defense budget may not tell us everything China is spending money on, we can use its general size, proportions, and the comments around it to give us a better sense of what long term plans may include. It will be crucial for US policymakers and military leaders to keep a close on this budget in years to come.

Friday, April 15, 2022

Is U.S Defense Budgeting Too Much or Too Little?

 Many peoples opinions on the defense budget of the U.S are heavily politically influenced, basing their views on a few short statements from the news or a tweet online, heavily oversimplifying a majorly complex system of money management. 

Every branch of security for the U.S is extracted a certain amount of money, and the defense budget covers the Department of Defense, the intelligence community, and the Department of Energy's nuclear-weapons-related activities. As technologies and strategies are changing all over the world, the U.S is working to keep up with the changes without marking an unreasonable increase on these resources. 

Picking and choosing which facts to exploit can come in your favor, as there are many facts and evidence to pull out of this complex budget system that can support whether spending is of too much or too little. An example of the defense spending decline is the fact that the spending was around 8% of GDP in the 1970's, and during the Trump industry it is just above 3% of GDP. That point of view clearly confirms a drop in defense spending, until you realize the differences in GDP from the 1970's to now. 

Those in criticism of the spending can broaden those terms and take note that the budget constitutes more than 1/3 of all global military spending. Or that the second highest defense spending country, China, spends two times less than the U.S

When comparing to the nation's economy and growing GDP each year, this spending becomes a modest portion of the governments dividends. While seen as modest, it is still important to look into the specifics of what is being spent on and find out if some things are being funded unnecessarily. An influx of one area that was needed post 9/11 in 2001 could have shifted to a completely different area in 2022. While the budget has made small percentage changes, there is a need for shifts in which area needs what. The increase of want for newer technology, robots, and AI, could shift the budget drastically to the technology side of spending instead of frontline personnel. 

Increased Defense Budget Spending

     In the US, military spending is the second-largest budget item after social security after social security. Overall military spending has continued to increase and the budget for FY22 is no exception. In fact, the defense budget for FY2022 granted $715 billion to the DoD (Department of Defense) for regular military efforts, as well as some newer initiatives. On that list of new initiatives are: Nuclear Modernization at $27.7 billion, Missile Defense at $20.4 billion, and Long Range Fires at $6.6 billion. Additional funding will be distributed to each of the branches for readiness development. The breakdown for each of those is as follows:

  • Air Force- $36.5 billion

  • Navy and USMC- $48.5 billion

  • Army- $27.8 billion 

  • Spec Ops (Special Operations)- $9.4 billion

    Service members are also receiving a 2.7% pay raise and an increase in their housing allowance this fiscal year. Normally, the budget for Overseas Contingency Operations (OCO) is not included in the DoD funds. However, as of 2022 the funds for (OCO) are included in the DoD budget. In 2022 the federal budget allocated $752.9 trillion to the Department of Defense, which is a 1.6% increase from the total amount allocated 2021. The DoD also used $300 million for military assistance at Ukraine's border and $150 million for border security in the Baltic countries for defense against Russia.

    U.S. military spending is greater than those of the next 10 largest government expenditures combined and it is likely that the defense budget will continue to grow little by little in the coming years. That is expected to rise significantly in the coming years due to the increase in the housing costs, medical costs, retirement, and maintenance of equipment such as planes. With the defense budget increasing that means funds for research, healthcare, construction, education, and other critical budget areas will decrease. US defense spending will also increase the national debt which as of this year, the US has surpassed $30 trillion dollars in debt. This may not seem like a big deal given that between FY2021 and FY2022, there has only been less than a 2% increase. 

However, we cannot predict what events may happen in the future. For example, the COVID 19 pandemic caused an increase in federal military spending for National Guard assistance nationwide. The war in Ukraine is also causing us to spend more from our defense budget which could either end after the war is over, or continue to rise should tensions escalate further. The addition of the Space Force is also an additional service to account for now, even though it resides under the Air Force budget. Overall, the defense budget doesn't look like it will be decreasing anytime soon.

Thursday, April 14, 2022

Why is transparency in reporting the defense budget and spending important?

The defense budget is an indicator to assess a country's potential military capabilities against others. The defense budget gives much information about the economic status, security intentions, threats, security situation in regions, R&D capacity, and several others of a country for both domestic and international audiences. Knowing close estimates of a country's defense budget and spending will help other countries to estimate the existing and future military capabilities, military-industrial complex capacity, and military projects. Also, help the government effectively budget, prioritize and distribute funds among military arms to strengthen the country's capabilities.


Considering the defense budget and spending importance to domestic and international audiences, transparency in reporting them is essential. The transparent publication of the defense budget helps to frame robust defense policies, procure armaments, avoid corruption, and invest in domestic research & development capabilities required for national security. Typically, countries' reported defense budgets and spending deviate primarily due to secrecy, off-the-books expenditure, corruption, and lack of government oversight. The spectrum ranges from developed democratic countries being more transparent to third world dictatorship countries being the worst performers.


            For example, look at the US and China's top two world's biggest defense spenders and military powers. The US is a developed nation with a democratic system that provides a more transparent defense budget and spending report than China. Transparency helps the government allocate funds effectively to military domains, scrutinize the spending, accountability to citizens, frame robust defense policies, display military strength to the world, and strengthen its trust with citizens. Contrary to the US, China is a developing country with an authoritarian system with limited accountability to its citizens. The SIPRI and CSIS China Power Project identified a significant difference in China's reported defense budget to its actual spending over the last several years. Also, it can report inflated military capabilities to domestic and international audiences with vague defense budgets and spending. It is natural for countries to overrun their defense budgets due to geopolitical and security uncertainties. But in the case of China, the difference runs into tens of billions of dollars, with spending being way higher. The excess expenditure over the reported budgets making very difficult for countries to assess the Chinese actual military capacity, capabilities, the extent of ongoing developments, and R&D works. It creates a sense of insecurity for neighbouring countries and global power. It forces them to inflate their military budgets to outmatch potential Chinese capacity and capabilities, eventually contributing to the potential arms race. Thus, along with effective governance and domestic benefits, transparency in reporting defense budgets and spending is important for countries to avoid unnecessary security dilemmas and potential arms build-up.

Space Force: A Arms race escalator in the Outer Space?

The United States created the “Space Force” as a new independent branch of its armed forces in 2019. Following the US, France launched its Space Command in 2019, the UK in 2021, and Australia in 2022. Other countries are likely to follow a similar path in the coming years. Out of all the four nations, Australia is the nascent space power, and it launched its civilian space agency in 2018 only. The US, UK, France, and Australia respectively announced the intention of establishing Space Command is to protect their assets and interests in outer space from growing threats from adversaries, especially China and Russia.


Outer space has been militarized since the beginning of the space-age in human history. The Outer Space Treaty signed in 1967 restricted the export of terrestrial arms races into Outer Space. However, Spacefaring nations, especially the US and Soviet Union/Russia, started using space assets and services for military activities, implying a skewed interpretation of international Outer space treaties. The US, Russia, China, and India developed terrestrial-based Anti-Satellite (ASAT) weapons to shoot down satellites in the lower earth orbits. Also, the demonstration of ASAT weapons by the four nations created thousands of debris in the earth’s orbits threatening the existence of thousands of satellites. Further, the US, China, and Russia also deployed dual-use capabilities in the orbits that can be used to destroy or deny the adversary of space capabilities for adversary militaries in terrestrial conflicts. 


Outer space is not an isolated space, and it isn't used for military purposes alone. It is a shared space for all humanity without physical boundaries like the high seas. Any large-scale impacts on one’s satellites in earth’s orbits will have profound implications for lives on the planet as space-based services and assets have become critical to the function of the modern world with time. Currently, one cannot imagine daily lives and the world without space-based services. With numerous private and public launching hundreds of satellites with variables sizes, capacities, and capabilities every year, our planets near outer space have become too crowded. Experts estimate outer space becomes unsustainable and inaccessible if the current trend of satellite launches continues and the existing space debris compounded over the years isn’t cleared.

Outer Space has been a contested space for strategic military advantages, civilian services, and economic benefits among major global powers for several years. In recent years, the US has been critical of China and Russia’s exponential rise in space activities and passive-aggressive activities around its and other space assets. The US military urged the government to increase its offensive & defensive capabilities in outer space to protect its interests and assets. On top of the existing space debris, space accessibility, and sustainability issues, the US and its allies, official designation of Outer space as a warfighting domain increased the risk of a potential arms race in outer space. It’s a matter of time before space-faring nations develop and deploy offensive capabilities and modern weapons that aren’t restricted under the existing international space laws to protect and dominate the environment. The half-century-old international space treaties outperformed beyond expectations in restricting the weaponization of outer space, but they are evidently no longer effective in limiting the modern arms race. For the benefit of all humankind, the global community should pressure the space-faring nations to frame new international space treaties and laws to regulate activities in outer space and avoid an arms race. 

2020 Defense budget break down

What is the Defense Budget? 

    The United States defense budget, $690 billion in 2020, can be broken into five main categories: operation and maintenance, military personnel, Procurement, research and development, and military construction and family housing. The categories listed are the most significant percentages of the defense budget. 
Operation and Maintenance: 
o In 2020, the DoD spent roughly $283 billion on operation and maintenance. 
o Description: Operation and maintenance is the upkeep and deployment of the United States military force and equipment. Maintenance can also include environmental upkeep and restoration conservation, and pollution prevention. 
Military personnel 
o In 2020, the DoD spent roughly $159 billion on military personnel 
o Military personnel section of the budget pays active-duty soldiers, healthcare plans, pensions, and many other US military benefits that soldiers receive. 
o In 2020, the DoD spent roughly $138 billion on Procurement 
o Procurement, simply put, the military purchases around $138 billion worth of new equipment. 
Research and Development 
o In 2020, the DoD spent roughly $97 billion on Research and Development 
o Research and Development costs are spent on researching new technology and weapon systems for the military. Some may think that 97 billion is low compared to the amount of research, but most research and technology breakthroughs happen in the private market and are then procured by the military. 
Military Construction and Family housing 
o In 2020, the DoD spent roughly $7 billion on construction 
o Construction is simple like Procurement; the US military spends $7 billion on base construction and housing for military personnel’s families. 
    Understanding the military budget is essential to understanding what the Department of Defense is spending money on. The defense budget is highly politicized most of the time, but the spending makes sense. Factoring in the size and amount of benefits military members receive, the military personnel spending is significant. Also, with the size of the military and the constant need for military readiness, the military must spend large amounts of money on maintenance and training. 

Monday, April 11, 2022

A New Space Race?

    Over the past decade the United States has shown much interest in establishing itself as a major power outside of this world through the creation of space force. A space force in the United States will likely not become its own branch such as the army or air force, instead it is likely each branch will have its own section dedicated to cislunar security. There are a few reasons the United States is interested in increasing its influence in space. One of these reasons is for security. As the United States relies on its satellites for many things like communications and intelligence establishing a force that can ensure the protection of these satellites will be important moving forward. This is because the United States is not the only country looking to establish itself outside of our atmosphere. 


            In the first space race the United States faced off against Russia in an effort to achieve superior space flight capabilities. While most people deem the United States to be the winner of the original space race there is no guarantee they will again come out victorious. Times are not the same as they were, and the circumstances have changed. The United States is no longer fighting against Russia for cislunar superiority but China. China currently upholds that its interest in space is purely scientific and not related to security or superiority. Despite this there have been multiple instances of dishonesty from China in the past and many believe the United States needs to be prepared should Chinese interests prove to be false yet again.


Like the players, the goals of this race are different as well. The United States and China are not competing to simply place a man on the moon. The competition is now to establish a superior presence in space. The United States is supposedly working towards this goal by planning and preparing for spy satellites to send into orbit and a lunar surveillance system. China has chosen to go a different route by publicly announcing plans to work towards a permanent base on the moon. A base on the moon would be particularly beneficial to whomever should establish it first. It would allow that country some control over the moon and the space around it, and it would aid in efforts to secure and control vital satellites. 


It should be noted that both the United States and China are likely at least a few decades away from establishing any kind of effective presence in space. Despite this, it is still important for each country to think about how it moves forward. While the situation as it stands now is not as competitive as the space race between the United States and Russian there is still potential for it to become that way. There is a thin line between protection and provocation that each country must toe in its efforts to advance. The United States will have to work to carefully navigate the challenges that come with a Chinese effort to establish cislunar presence. 

Sunday, April 10, 2022

A reality check of ‘Hype’rsonic Weapons

 A reality check of ‘Hype’rsonic Weapons


Hypersonic weapons' development and deployment have garnered much international attention in the last few years. Worldwide, media outlets describe hypersonic weapons as unstoppable weapons with existing ballistic missile defense systems. Also, they are projecting them as a new class of weapons with a severe potential to destabilize status quo security dynamics between great powers in the international system. The media outlet's claims are grounded on some of the estimates of militaries and global security experts. 


            The development of hypersonic weapons is an evolution in the development of missile capabilities. Hypersonic weapons are missiles that travel four times and above the speed of sound (Mach 4 = >). Indeed, hypersonic weapons are a new class of weapons, but they are not new or revolutionary. The Inter-Continental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs) travel close to Mach 20-24 during their terminal phase (descent) before hitting the target. Also, we have had supersonic cruise missiles (Example: BrahMos) for years that travel between 1<Mach<3. 


Many countries worldwide are working on developing and deploying hypersonic weapons with dedicated operations capabilities in air, land, and sea war domains. So far, Russia is leading the so-called hypersonic arms race, following China and the US. Russia deployed hypersonic weapons (Avangard, Tsirkon, Kinzhal) in air, land, and sea domains. China has one operational hypersonic weapon (DF-17) and tested many. The US is working intensely to catch up with Russia and China, and its weapons are in the testing phase.  


The picture was taken from Cameron L. Tracy and David Wright's work "Modeling the Performance of Hypersonic Boost-Glide Missiles.


Hypersonic weapons are insanely fast and travel in a depressed trajectory, unlike ballistic missiles. However, hypersonic weapons can be tracked through their heat signature using space-based infrared systems, contrary to popular belief. According to Federation of American Scientists simulation data, hypersonic weapons don't offer a significant advantage compared to ballistic missiles over Intercontinental distances as many claims to be. As Tracy and Wright's work suggests, ballistic missiles fired with a depressed trajectory have better delivery time than hypersonic weapons. Hypersonic weapons' advantage is that maneuverability during their terminal or descent phase determines nearly impossible to specify the target. These weapons are deadly in the short and medium ranges due to their low trajectory, making it challenging to track till the last few minutes and short travel time. Few countreis are working towards addressing the hypersonic missile threats by developing new defense systems and counter weapons. Without question, hypersonic weapons capabilities have the potential to destabilize the international security dynamics to a certain extent for some time, but the hype built around them exceeds their capabilities in reality.

Tuesday, April 05, 2022

Infighting in the US military

Infighting in the US Military

 Interservice rivalry 

The United State Defense Department comprises the Army, Navy, Airforce, Marines, Coast guard, and Space force. Each of the groups must divide the defense budget between themselves each year. Each year leaders of each branch will argue over who gets a budget increase. 

In the past, the defense budget was divided up into the five main divisions of the military. Either through new equipment acquisition or research and development of new technology. When The Trump administration created the Space force, a new hand reached into the cookie jar.  

The Space Force has created recent controversy in the Defense Department in terms of the budget and the specific roles the Space Force will focus on. Some of the parts revolve around protecting US military assets in space, control over missiles, and control over intelligence satellites, communications, and GPS technology currently in space. The problem begins to arise when the Space Force takes responsibilities away from other branches. The Air Force and other DOD agencies control missiles, satellites, and additional space-related objectives that would shift to the Space Force resulting in budget cuts. A similar example would be the Coast Guard competing with the Navy or the Marines competing with the Army. Each of these separate branches is competing for overlapping capabilities. 


Implications of the interservice rivalry can be positive or negative. Competition can push each branch toward healthy competition to produce and maintain cutting-edge equipment with as little overspending as possible. Keeping specific roles for each department will allow them to focus on their aspects and become less likely to spread. Negatively the rivalry between services can bleed over to fundamental mistrust and lack of cohesion, hurting the overall effectiveness of the military force.

Monday, April 04, 2022

Private Military Contractors Actions Need Global Community Scrutiny

The use of Private Military Contractors (PMCs) in conflict zones worldwide increased significantly in the past two decades. Some estimates suggest that the global market for mercenaries and PMCs is around $100 billion and is set to rise in the future. Most private military companies are from the US, UK, and Russia. The use of private military companies attracted global attention during the Iraq war and Russia's use of little green man during the Crimea annexation in 2014. In recent years, their services sort extensively by many African nations. Some of the well-known private military companies are Wagner group (Russia), Academy (Previously Blackwater, USA), Define Internacional (Peru), Aegis Defense Services (UK), etc.,


            Countries are increasingly seeking private military companies' services to reach their military objectives in conflicts zones in the Middle East, Africa, and Afghanistan. Using private military companies gives leverage for countries to avoid the democratic institutions' scrutiny of states' actions, the international backlash against operations in other sovereign nations, deny states involvement, and cut down the military expenses in the long run. Some African countries with low-skilled and equipped militaries are hiring private military companies to fight insurgency and, in some cases, overthrow the governments. Private Military Companies' services are not limited to fighting; they support intelligence gathering, training security forces, providing logistical support to militaries in conflict zones, aiding security for UN development work, and others.


            PMCs and Mercenaries are mostly former elite military personnel with years or decades of battlefield experience. The difference is that mercenaries are individuals open for hiring by any entity seeking their services, and PMCs work for a registered company that acts as intermediaries between PMCs and the entities seeking their services. Mercenaries were deemed illegal under the 1989 "International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing, and Training of Mercenaries." But Private Military Companies are legal and operate under the state laws where they are registered. 


Most Private Military Companies' are operating in a legal grey area. In the last two decades, there have been several instances where PMCs were involved in killing innocent civilians in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Africa. There were no explicit laws framed in private military companies registered countries to address the battlefield crimes conducted by PMCs in foreign countries. So far, the US, UK, and Russia, with most PMCs, were not interested in addressing the issue. The lack of repercussions for PMCs' extrajudicial killings would set a dangerous precedent for the future. With PMCs' increasing role in conflict zones worldwide, it is high time for the international community, especially PMCs registered countries, to support the UN code of conduct and operating framework for private military companies. Without a globally agreed framework for PMCs, the global community falls short of addressing scenarios such as what will happen when countries designate PMCs and companies as terrorist organizations; who is accountable for PMCs' war crimes; who will pay reparations to PMCs victims; the role of PMCs registered countries, etc.,