Friday, March 24, 2023
The Evolution of War
Thursday, March 23, 2023
Future Infantry Capabilities
Conversations surrounding the nature of “future war” have existed ever since wars have been fought. While the battles of yesterday echo into the battles of today, advancements in technology have had significant impacts on the capabilities of military units.
Once, an infantryman would carry cloth on his body, a rifle, some extra ammunition, and maybe tertiary equipment into battle such as knives, canteens, light medical equipment, etc. Today, the average infantryman carries around 68 pounds worth of gear, and this number can increase to as much as 120 pounds. To aid in this load, and to even increase it, exoskeletons are being pioneered across the military. Additionally, today’s warfighters are much more self-sufficient, protected by armor, more literate, and intelligent, meaning they are expected to master more skills and can be relied upon to learn more, faster and better. This is why robotics are now showcasing their utility in organic infantry units. This is why small arial drones are now being utilized by individual operator’s real time on the ground. And this is why currently, infantrymen are learning how to utilize digital technology which aids in land navigation, reconnaissance, and enemy acquisition, which helps in estimating ranges to targets for better effects downrange.
The U.S. Army’s Pathfinder Program is one such example of exoskeleton tech being used to alleviate stress and strain over moving heavy loads. It can aid in military logistical operations, all the way to helping artillerymen, and of course, the ground combat soldier. A good example of a move towards increased reliance on robotics, or robotics augmenting units through a human controller, is Boston Dynamics Big Dog (2004) gen, the LS3 (2010) gen, and the famous Atlas robot, which is being designed to act as a fully functioning human replacement robot.
These advancements will have serious mobility impacts in future war. Along with smaller more specialized units, currently being implemented with the U.S. Marines, utilizing robots or exoskeleton tech will allow for versatile fast paced combat on the ground. Terrain will become less of a hinderance, and tactically, commanders will need to re-evaluate when and how enemy troops will maneuver. Additionally, the components powering such technology will most likely become more of a center point for state level strategy pushing countries to compete in the economic forum vigorously in areas like AI and semiconductors. Cyber warfare will also become more important. As technology improves on the ground, so will the adversaries means of thwarting a more highly technical based military, one that relies increasingly on software, rather than flesh and bone.
The Accuracy of "Ghost Fleet"
While "Ghost Fleet" is a work of fiction and should not be taken as a definitive guide to the future of warfare, it does offer insights into the potential implications of emerging technologies and geopolitical tensions. Many of the technologies and scenarios described in the book are based on real-world developments and trends. For example, the book explores the use of unmanned vehicles and cyberattacks in modern warfare, both of which are areas of active development in militaries around the world. It also incorporates real-world geopolitical tensions and potential flashpoints, such as the disputed territories in the South China Sea.
The authors touch on the economic consequences of a major conflict, such as the impact on global trade, the collapse of the financial system, and the potential for economic recovery and rebuilding after the conflict, and provides insight into military strategy by including the use of deception, the importance of intelligence gathering, and the challenges of coordinating military operations across multiple domains. The book is unusual in its willingness to explore the economic and social consequences of a major conflict. The authors consider not only the military aspects of a hypothetical war between the US and China, but also the impact on global trade, the financial system, and the rebuilding effort that would be necessary in the aftermath of such a conflict. The book also explores the human aspect of warfare, particularly the experiences of soldiers and families caught up in the conflict.
Tuesday, March 14, 2023
The Weaponization of Everything (Future War)
Looking forward to the topic of "Future War" there appears to be a lot of speculation involving the exact nature of what a future war would look like. Our understanding of an accurate portrayal of future events are always skewed and manipulated by media such as the news, sci-fi, and even current events which do not have the luxury of hindsight. In the book The Weaponization of Everything by Mark Galeotti, he tackles this "new" idea of how, in our post-modern society, in wartime and peacetime we can use every facet of life and human civilization as a potential weapons. An example of this are soldiers who are being deployed more as a multifaceted tool than as a singular unit used to wage war. Soldiers have become killers, humanitarian workers, state-builders and so forth; they have become the Swiss Army knife of the state government. This is just one example out of dozens Galeotti writes about. Keeping this in mind, Galeotti draws connections and uses history to back his claims (going as far back as St. Augustine's just war rhetoric). Ultimately, while I did not agree with Galeotti's inferences and conclusions, I laud his approach to "predicting" the future of warfare by using historical analysis to examine trends and establishing conclusions. Therefore, what patterns in history (ancient to contemporary) do you see as indicative of how future war will manifest?
"Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." ~George Santayana (1863-1952)
Monday, March 13, 2023
The Psychology of Using Robots in War
In my research about using robots in warfare, I came across an article detailing the psychology of using them. This relates to human nature and emotion which results in the formation of attachments - even in the case of inanimate objects. We get glimpses of this phenomenon through the media with movies such as Wall-E. There are real instances, however, that indicate that the connections we form with the machines that work with us and for us are real and strong. A famous example of this involves the "death" of the Mars Rover, Opportunity, referred to as "Oppy", in 2018. After multiple attempts to contact the rover, NASA "sang her to sleep" with "I'll Be Seeing You", a song about missing a loved one.
These connections extend into the battlefield. Soldiers have been known to assign names and genders to the robots they interact with, often naming them after human friends, family, and even spouses. Testimony has revealed that soldiers talk to these objects and protect them, often experiencing strong emotions of loss and anger when the robot is destroyed in war. In some cases, soldiers even held funerals for destroyed machines, posthumously awarding them medals and honors, making the effort to make badges and glue them on.
The psychology of human-robot connections is interesting as even those that love the robots and treat them as friends or pets are aware of the practicalities of sacrificing the machines if necessary. This does not, however, prevent them from forming bonds and experiencing loss. The strength of these relationships is much like human ones, enhanced by proximity and shared experiences such as combat. This means that soldiers do not feel as connected to drones or aerial weapons even if they are smarter or stronger; it is the ones on the ground that elicit these emotions.
The advantage to this phenomenon is that soldiers will protect these machines thereby reducing the chances of destruction and costs of repairs and/or replacement. The disadvantage is that with the rapidly evolving technology, it is possible that these machines become more life-like, thereby further strengthening the attachments felt by those that work alongside them. This means that in the event that the machines are destroyed, soldiers may feel emotions almost as strong as if a human were killed in battle, resulting in similar stress and trauma.
Friday, March 10, 2023
Crawl, Walk, Run, Robot.
Robots are fast advancing in military application. Leading research and development institutes like Boston Dynamics and DARPA have recently made considerable gains in robotic technology. Three types of robots fill a majority of the space of the robotics marketplace. Automatic robots, automated robots, and autonomous robots.
Automatic robots are robots that respond to external inputs and respond in a mechanical way. These types of robots require human input and only function with human oversight. These robots have no ability to discriminate and will follow any command its given by a human. These types of robots are already used by militaries. Think of EOD robots, drones, or compact load barring vehicles.
Automated robots carry out commands based on pre-programming and accomplish tasks in a sequential order. They do not need human input outside of the initiating command to complete tasks. They are limited in their ability to make decisions. Examples of pre-programmed robots are reconnaissance drones that can identify targets without human input.
Autonomous robots can be programmed to make independent decisions based on pre-programmed options. The freedom this entails is cause for much debate in militaries around the world. While they are still constrained by their programming they can exercise judgement calls, and any lethal capacity on a robot such as this calls into serious ethical questions and liability risks. An example of this type of robot is Boston Dynamics “Atlas” Robot. Currently able to traverse challenging terrain and perform acrobatic feats. Some believe this robot will make soldiers obsolete in the future.
See link to Boston Dynamics demo of the Atlas robot.
Thursday, March 09, 2023
Skunk Works, Project Carerra, and the Future of Aerial Warfare
Lockheed Martin’s Skunk Works is developing a new loyal wingman program to assist F-35s during missions. Project Carrera aims to explore the human reaction to being paired with-controlled drones. Lockheed Martin invested $100 million into the development of Project Carerra. Although the completion of the project is far down the road, the possible capabilities of human-machine collaboration are exciting.
The secret Speed Racer drone is relatively small and air launched. After being launched, it has small pop-out wings and fins that make it highly mobile. It seems to be the beginning of an entirely new way of thinking about, designing, and making high-performance military aircraft and weapons systems. The Speed Racer drone uses StarDrive technology which is a digital engineering toolset that improves the ability to operate in a fully integrated digital work environment. The drone wingman will have reconnaissance or electronic warfare capabilities to assist the F-35 fighter jets during offensive or defensive missions. AI wingmen can significantly improve military capabilities and cut costs. Low-cost drones or cruise missiles can substantially enhance the U.S. military’s capabilities in regard to war fighting.
AI and human teamwork can boost the survivability of piloted platforms and enable data collection, fusion, and distribution that informs their judgments and achieves tactical execution. The overall goal of Project Carerra is to assess the interaction between humans and uncrewed systems and comprehend how those behaviors develop over time. The United States Air Force has continuously sought unmanned aircraft to assist in operations, and the Speed Racer drone developed by Skunk Works checks all the boxes.
Wednesday, March 08, 2023
Drones are the Future of Proxy Warfare
Proxy conflicts involve great powers sponsoring belligerents within a conflict to succeed against belligerents sponsored by rival great powers. The purpose of doing this for great powers is to subvert the threat of a larger or nuclear war by avoiding direct contact between their militaries. Instead, they compete through conflicts whose belligerents hold allegiances to rivaling great powers and thus the perception of their respective power is represented by proxy through the performance of the sponsored actors.
Birthed by Nikola Tesla in 1898, remote controlled robots have transformed from their limitations as decoys to tools of surveillance, assassination, and attrition in the century since. Throughout the Global War on Terror, drones were essential for the United States to target terrorists in the Middle East who hid among the general population and could not easily be segregated through conventional means. Assassination of these individuals has created dilemmas for the legality of the drone operators, because at times they were not controlled by military service members. This gray area could set the precedent for drones in proxy conflicts to be operated by great powers on behalf of their sponsored actors.
In the ongoing war in Ukraine, the use of small drones have become standard practice to effectively outmaneuver and ambush soft targets within a confined battlefield. Drones in Ukraine have also become the proxy for the United States, Turkey, Russia, and Iran to compete without risking greater war. This is not the first time where Turkey and Russia have competed in proxy drone conflict, as similar incidents have occurred within Syria, Libya, and the Nagorno-Karabakh. As such, drones are steadily becoming the standard for proxy conflicts between great powers as their robotic arsenals develop and clash. Although, unless the question is answered of who can operate them without repercussion, the possibility for great powers to conduct war via drone may be inevitable.
Tuesday, March 07, 2023
The Future of Robot Dogs
In recent years, robotic dogs dubbed "Quad-Legged Unmanned Ground Vehicles or Q-UGVs have gained significant attention in various industries, including military applications. These machines, developed to resemble canines in their appearance and behavior, have shown immense potential in serving the military in multiple ways. For example, Tyndall Air Force Base's 325th Security Forces Squadron received its first set of autonomous robot dogs whose primary purpose is to use extra security around the base.
“Robot dogs” may shape the future of military operations through capabilities that the military has never seen before. First, the “robot dogs” weight is approximately 45.4 kg, with a top speed of 3 m/s, and can travel a distance of 12.6 km. Third, “robot dogs” can provide detection and surveillance capabilities and be equipped with various sensors and cameras, which allow them to move silently and gather information in hostile environments without endangering the lives of human soldiers. Fourth, “robot dogs” can also be utilized in search and rescue operations, they can cover rough terrain and locate people in areas inaccessible to humans and transmit information to the Security Forces Squadron. Lastly, with technological advancements, “robot dogs” may become capable of transporting small supplies and equipment to soldiers in the field, reducing the need for human transportation in potentially dangerous areas.
In the future, “robot dogs" may also be developed for combat purposes, with the ability to attack enemy targets and defend military installations. However, the ethical implications of using such machines for combat must be carefully considered and while the development of robot dogs for military applications is still in its early stages, their potential benefits cannot be ignored. With their ability to perform various tasks without endangering human lives, these machines may become an essential tool for modern military operations.
Monday, March 06, 2023
Boston Dynamics robotic revolution- Can it Bleed into Warfare?
Boston Dynamics, for the past few years, have been innovating robotics in ways that seem almost sci-fi. Their robot dog is advanced, and is most definitely a good boy, but their pride and joy is their Atlas robot. Through years of development and many YouTube videos, you can watch just how far Atlas has come. As recently as a month ago the Boston Dynamics team managed to have Atlas gripping and climbing, as if a normal human would. Before that, Atlas was doing obstacle courses that included jumping, back flips, and running. It is truly something to behold considering just not too long ago a humanoid robot was a work of fantasy and fiction.
The thought I would like to pose today is this: If Boston Dynamics continues to make leaps of advancement with Atlas, what then for the parkour robot with fluid movements? My best guess would be weaponization or a hefty government contract, that will enable the DOD to utilize these robots, operated by humans at a distance, for combat in future wars. If that were to occur, then the landscape of warfare changes dramatically and the advanced countries capable of fielding such robot soldiers, would reign supreme.
Thursday, March 02, 2023
The Nuclear Agenda: Hegemonic America for Peace?
No nuclear attack from one nation to another has taken place since the end of WWII. This is comforting if one is to create a trend line from mid-1900’s to now. But it seems, contemporarily, that the threat of a nuclear attack is ever increasing rather than decreasing. Nuclear proliferation has taken place and major global powers continue to advance or seek the advancement of their nuclear prowess and arsenal. Considering the quote, “suspension,” of Russia from New START, the Russian – Ukraine war, and now Chinese - American tensions rising, threat of nukes is at a possible boiling point. Where can peace be found at this time from an American perspective?
Hegemony is a beautiful thing if you happen to fall within the borders of that country which is hegemonic. For better or worse, the ability to unilaterally make global decisions and place pressure on foreign actors outside the parameters of war allows for consolidated global norms to form. Immediately after the end of WWII America was set to be a global industrial force which also had sole capacity for nuclear power. This gave them great leverage militarily and economically to build the world with partnered support in their image. However, near peer threats are becoming, to some in DC, existential threats which may push the world to a new war, one which would include a nuclear arsenal. Solutions abound, it seems the only serious solution is nuclear decommissioning and reduction. Obvious enough? Not so obvious when you begin to plan out how to make this a reality. To put it bluntly, to achieve nuclear disarmament and reduction of capacity and presence, you need to build better ties with allies and adversaries. This typically starts with economic and diplomatic relations.
As a near-peer, such as China, is perceived as more of a threat to America, America will continue to aggravate China with a litany of polices and actions. As the two have nuclear capacity, both will be persuaded by both domestic and international actors to use these capabilities as leverage or further agitation. Currently the U.S. criticizes China over transparency and China continues to argue against feelings of unjust containment and regional intrusion by the Americans. Shared beliefs in prosperity and partnering over economic and socio-cultural relations, along with pragmatic international realism to prepare for conflict, eventually led to U.S. – Soviet Cold War tensions evaporating into a general partnership to work together to avoid nuclear war. Rather than a continuation of antagonism towards China, or other foreign actors, the U.S. should seek shared interests and use their comparable advantage to shift countries into a partnership, one where America can still leverage hegemonic authority for global peace.
Wednesday, March 01, 2023
Iran and The Bomb
It was recently discovered that Iran is much closer to obtaining a nuclear device than what was initially thought. According to a senior Pentagon officer, Iran could construct a nuclear device in roughly 12 days if desired. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) identifies and promotes best practices and safety standards and implements programs to assist states in applying these standards. The IAEA monitors the percentage of uranium enrichment and discovered that it had detected that Iran had the capability of enriching uranium to close to 84%, which is very close to weapons-grade uranium. Iran has previously been at around 60% uranium enrichment for two years in breach of a 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. This increase has created serious concerns in the international arena.
In 2018, before the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) was abandoned by President Trump, it was believed that it would take Iran 12 months to produce one bomb's worth of fissile material. The estimated amount of enriched uranium in Iran's stockpile has surpassed the cap outlined in the 2015 agreement between Tehran and other world powers by more than 18 times. Iran’s advancements since the JCPOA has been rapid and worrisome to the United States and other regional actors like Israel. Nuclear experts believe that even if Iran were to acquire weapons-grade uranium, it would still be roughly two years away from developing a nuclear weapon.
The rapid increase in uranium enrichment has led the US to focus more on creating a new JCPOA or Iran deal. Having an agreement in place would at least prevent Iran from getting closer to a nuclear weapon and ensure regional stability and the safety of US allies. The odds of Iran re-entering the JCPOA are slim, and attention should turn to create a new deal. The downside of a new deal is it would not have as much control over Iran’s nuclear development. Lastly, Iran could choose not to pursue acquiring a nuclear device just yet, and use its position to its advantage. Being on the edge of developing the technology needed for a nuclear weapon has its benefits and can improve Iran’s standing in the international arena.
START Suspension and its Implications
What are the implications of the Russian Federation’s suspension of obligations under the new START treaty?
At least officially, arms control can be viewed on life support. The action is the latest in a series of moves that serves to weaken the arms control agenda, a trend started under Bush 43 with the withdrawal from the Anti-Ballistic Missiles Treaty (ABM) in 2002 and followed by Trump’s withdrawal from Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty (INF) in 2017. The move comes in response to complaints from the Biden administration that the Russian Federation was failing to meet its inspections obligations under the new START framework. In suspending participation in the treaty, the Russian Federation has officially ended weapons inspection, a cornerstone of arms control.
Yet the Russians have claimed that the move will not lead to violations in other areas of the treaty. Specifically, the cap of 1,550 strategic warheads will remain in place and Russia will continue to inform the US of changes in deployment of their strategic arsenal. In effect, Russia is objecting to the inspections of Russian facilities, but not to the overall substance as laid out in the treaty. It’s worth keeping in mind that Russia did not withdraw from the treaty, opting to suspend its activities instead; presumably with an eye towards a future where resumption of all obligations can be renegotiated.
In the short term, then, obligations will be met sans inspections. But for how long? In 2020 TASS reported the successful use of an ABM interceptor in a test. Russia had likewise been accused of violations of INF prior to the US (and Russian) pullouts from the treaty. New START sunsets in 2026, and with heightened tensions between the United States and the Russian Federation, violations to the treaty are a real and present threat. The development of hypersonic missiles by the Russian Federation poses the threat of a renewed arms race that incorporates missiles both by the Russian Federation and the United States of a new and more deadly class. Historically, the development of ever deadlier weapons led to arms control agreements between the US and the Soviet Union that served the world well. Maybe threat escalation will lead to threat reduction as then and so now. Yet in an increasingly multipolar landscape, where China is rapidly expanding its nuclear arsenal, any negotiation will be markedly more complex than was the case during the Cold War. And with the lethality of weapons ever increasing, the threat of thermonuclear nuclear war grows ever greater.
Tuesday, February 28, 2023
Requiem for a JCPOA
Reconfirming what most analysts have said in recent months, the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action is "on ice", according to Undersecretary of Defense for Policy Colin Kahl. Kahl was testifying before a House of Representatives committee in which he also assessed Iran's nuclear progress since the Trump administration unilaterally pulled the US out of the deal as "remarkable". President Biden has himself expressed privately the impossibility of returning to the deal given the recent crackdown on protestors in Iran, its support for Russia's arms industry, and Iran's belief that the next administration could simply renege on a renewed deal once again.
Kahl's comments also drew attention due to a recent UN nuclear watchdog report that found up to 83.7% U-235 purity at Iran's Fordow enrichment complex. Iran is allowed to enrich uranium up to 60% for fuel and medical purposes, but this reading would bring Iran much closer to the 90% required to develop a weapon. Iran maintains that the reading comes from an accidentally highly-enriched batch, but regardless, Kahl's assessment was that it shows that Iran could develop enough fissile material for one bomb in 12 days. This would likely be as low as Iran's "breakout time" has ever been, down from about 12 months when the JCPOA was signed in 2015. With no possibility of a deal in sight, that breakout time is unlikely to be raised.
Wednesday, February 22, 2023
Artificial Intelligence (AI) has changed not only airpower but air warfare. AI has slowly been intertwined with air power, an example of this is the increasing use of UAVs. Because of its ability to significantly improve the kill chain and create invaluable live flight data, AI algorithms have seen a massive spike in R&D in the last decade. DARPAs Air Combat Evolution (ACE) program began in 2019 when the agency started to work on human-machine collaboration in dogfighting.
The ACE program first tested out AI flights in 2020. The DOD has more than 600 projects incorporating AI into war-fighting programs. In 2018, the US government committed to spending $2 billion on AI investments in the next five years. In 2022 they spent $2.58 billion on AI research alone. AI-controlled fighter jets are not a cure-all to air warfare. Human decision-making is still needed to determine if the use of force that AI recommends is correct or reliable. The Air Force Test Pilot School is currently measuring how well pilots trust the AI agent and calibrating trust between humans and the AI.
The most recent accolade for AI in airpower is the successful AI-piloted F-16. DARPA announced that its AI algorithms can now control an actual F-16 in flight. The fighter aircraft that was first introduced in 1978 has now seemingly evolved into an autonomous plane. AI allows militaries to keep older aircrafts operational and not have to risk the lives of pilots flying them. This low-cost option for strategic defense allows more focus to be put on newer fighter jets or weapons systems. AI is being implemented into more than just flying. Project Kaiju will use AI and machine learning in future cognitive electronic warfare systems to assist aircrafts in breaching air defenses that rely solely on multispectral sensors, missiles, and other air-defense systems.
Tuesday, February 21, 2023
Balloons, Jets, and The Two Ring Circus: U.S. Airpower and Chinese Intelligence
Anyone watching the news should now be fully inundated with headliners that now show the short lived saga of the Chinese spy balloon. The Chinese spy balloon has caused expected interest and debate from tv personalities and political pundits, but what deeper meaning can be gleaned from the U.S. response and Chinas intent?
Upon first look it would seem any foreign spying in or on domestic sovereign territory should been seen as hostile, at least in the sense that foreign spying is done with less than friendly and cooperative intent. In this regard it seems quite pragmatic to shoot down a foreign spy balloon floating in U.S. airspace. Not so obvious, the implication which surrounds the event. Upon closer look one finds interesting avenues of questioning and not many answers, at least no answers easily available.
First, if the U.S. government wishes to make it public to the American people that a Chinese spy balloon is now present in the sky flying at high altitude, why would they not first contact the Chinese government through diplomatic channels? If this was done, what was said during these talks which would result in the U.S. condemning the balloon to a public shootdown and even photo-ops of the crash site recovery? Yes, national defense is important and shows of force let the world now how big and bad you are, but it seems to me that this use of obvious airpower is a diplomatic message on both ends.
Airpower is its own domain, being that the air is not connected to the sea or the land. But airpower is a human tool as an extension of doctrine which calls for unique theory and tactics. Diplomatic tactics can benefit from all forms of physical aggression, airpower is no different. Publicly shooting down a balloon rather than jamming its surveillance capabilities, which we did, and letting it fly off is a choice, the choice to do nothing. Tracking the balloon all the way home, or wherever the wind blows it, is also a choice. Shooting it down sends a powerful message of disagreement and discontent, and right now the U.S. and China are playing a game of slaps waiting for someone to grow cajones and throw the first punch.
China may have had unique objectives in their intelligence campaign to test U.S. responses. China may have wanted the balloon to be shot down, or at least be a proxy for testing U.S. reactions to invasions in their airspace. Why would China waste time on a balloon when they could easily use satellite imagery to take photos? What purpose does this balloon serve for China? Also, how common are balloons in our airspace? As time has elapsed from the initial provocation of this dastardly spy balloon, the news is chock full of balloons all over the world. The U.S. now seems Balloon-phobic, shooting down regular weather balloons and NORAD has adjusted to catch smaller slower moving objects in the sky due to the initial balloon fiasco.
If China wished to rustle the hornet’s nest to get a peak inside without getting stung, they seem to have succeeded. If China wished to display discontent with some cloak and dagger surveillance just obvious enough to get caught, only to make it clear how upset they are with U.S. containment, that too could have been a successful strategy. Or maybe Chinese balloons have been, and are, ever present and the U.S. wished to make a statement. The general public will not know, if ever, the full story of this flying bulbus object, but it seems clear to me it’s effect is having more of a public diplomatic effect than anything else. This pulls airpower into a weird domain of not just jets and bombs, but feelings and intelligence strategy.
Ukraine's Fight Against Russia's Airpower
In the preliminary of the Russian-Ukraine war, U.S. military experts urged western nations to assist and aid Ukraine’s air defense in response to the possibility of Russia annihilation of Ukraine’s airspace. With Ukraine’s stockpile of outdated, Russian-made anti-aircraft missiles and its stock of shoulder-fired stingers against Russia, with its advance technology and a fully mobilized aerospace force, there was an expectation within the public of Russia establishing complete air control over Ukraine. However, Russia failed to defeat the Ukrainian Air Force.
According to a New York Times report, “Military analysts had expected Russian forces to quickly destroy or paralyze Ukraine’s air defenses and military aircraft, yet neither has happened.” Defense Intelligence Agency anonymously reported that Russia failed to implement a successful attack against Ukraine air space through its issue of missile success being below 40% which ultimately forced Russia air forces to take a defensive stance. So how did Russia fail against Ukraine’s outdated airspace force and what led to Ukraine being in the offense? First, Russian failures were driven by an inability to quickly integrate intelligence with targeting processes. Second, Russia was unable to conduct unbiased battle damage assessments (BDAs) to inform war plans. Lastly, Russia was unable to deconflict air space control between the Russian Aerospace Forces and Russian Army’s ground-based air defenses.
Russia underestimated Ukraine’s anticipation of its air power and preparations to counter it. Ukrainian forces had trained extensively to disperse aircraft and air defense units out of major airfields something that Russian intelligence could not fully comprehend. Ukrainian troops started vacating several critical air defense assets and ammunition stockpiles and operated armored vehicles to deter Russian aircrafts. It was notable that Ukraine Air Force had adapted prior to Russia’s invasion and despite its inferiorities in its airspace, was more prepared than what western nations and Russia assumed, leading to a lesson for all nations to rethink strategic and tactical goals regarding airpower.
Lockheed Fly with AI, Changing the Way Fighters operate?
A unique Lockheed Martin fighter jet trainer called the VISTA X-62A has become the first tactical aircraft to be controlled by artificial intelligence, taking to the air for over 17 hours during a test flight from Edwards Air Force Base in California in December 2021.
This is important, in the bigger picture, for pilots within the Air Force and Navy. This development could potentially change the way air combat is conducted. The air landscape has already changed with the development of drone warfare and adding AI capable fighters is something straight out of science fiction.
What does this mean for the human capital of air warfare? There are pros and cons to having solely AI fighter jets.
The pros- Human pilots will be safer when it comes to air combat and loss of life is eliminated with fighter jets controlled by AI. Another pro would be the elimination of fatigue of pilots. An AI jet could stay in the air for much longer peroids of time and would only need refueling.
The cons- Human fighter pilots could effectively be grounded in favor of AI piloted fighter jets. Another con could be air warfare would lose the human decision-making that pilots have to deal with while in combat situations.
The leap in Artificial Intelligence over the past couple years is a frightening, yet very real part of our growing technology. The future of warfare may come down to AI warfare being the forefront of future conflicts.
Friday, February 17, 2023
A Fight Already Lost: U.S.’s Possible Failure to Defend Taiwan Against China
Wargaming conducted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies has produced a concluding result that the U.S. would be incapable of defending Taiwan from China. Simulations saw, “several U.S. aircraft carrier strike groups sunk, hundreds of U.S. combat aircraft destroyed, and thousands of U.S. military personnel lost in the war’s opening days.”
Currently, the U.S. Navy is dispersed across the globe to match the needs of a high global power. While Americas global presence gives it control and access to many ports and regions, a focused naval attack by a foreign powers center of gravity would be hard to respond to if U.S. combatant commanders do not prepare properly. Let there be no misconception, defending Taiwan from a Chinese incursion means deterring Chinese forces near their homeland. America would need to account for this, but it is not a guarantee at this time that the U.S. could defeat such a force so close to their homeland’s natural naval resources.
Consolidating naval vessels to repel an assault would prove time consuming and leave on site U.S. ships vulnerable to amassing Chinese naval combatants. Though, the U.S. has other options in its response, airpower. With the ability to maneuver aircraft carriers to allow for the bombing and rapid deployment of air power, the U.S. could defend forward against the Chinese Navy. Sit-in forces, like the Marines, could augment naval capacity and could deter Chinas response times.
Currently, U.S. commanders are in a difficult position to respond to China. Results from the Center for Strategic and International Studies shows not only a U.S. loss in the opening of combat but shows that the U.S. needs to persuade China to not come to the same conclusion lest they capitalize on such an assessment.
Wednesday, February 15, 2023
Future USS Richard M. McCool Jr. Successfully Installs EASR
On January 16, 2023, Future USS Richard M. McCool Jr. (Landing Platform Dock LPD-29) successfully installed a new SPY-6(V)2 Enterprise Air Surveillance Radar antenna also known as EASR. Future USS Richard M. McCool Jr is a "transitional ship" between the current San Antonio-class Flight I design, and future Flight II vessels, intended to be the test subject of the Spy-6(V)2 EASR.
The new installation of the Spy-6(V)2 provides the U.S. Navy with hardware and software variant commonality in aircraft carrier and amphibious assault ships. The radar contributes to a variety of incremental technology enhancements such as improved engagement capabilities, precise date and target information, and improved ship self-defense against ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, hostile aircraft, and surface ships simultaneously. Its main feature consists of greater detection range, increased sensitivity, and more accurate discrimination.
The U.S Naval Sea Systems Command and Program Executive Office (PEO) stated that USS Richard M. McCool Jr. is the first vessel class to install and activate S-band, rotating radar variant and with its successfully implementation will allow the process of future installations of EASR systems for LPD 17-class ships. “The progress made is a testament to the collaboration across multiple organizations in bringing this next-generation radar to the LPD program. The Navy and our industry partners look forward to systems activation and testing as LPD 29 continues the path to sea trials later this year,” “Ultimately, EASR will be made ready as an integral sensor in an integrated Ship Self-Defense System to support the ship’s employment,"stated Capt. Cedric J. McNeal, Amphibious Warfare Program Manager, PEO Ships.
PEO Ships is one of the Department of Defense acquisition organization mainly responsible for executing the development and procurement of all destroyers, amphibious ships, special mission and support ships, boats and craft.
Tuesday, February 14, 2023
Deaths Aboard Docked USN Ships Continue Worrying Trend
In early February, the US Navy confirmed that another sailor stationed on the USS George Washington (CVN 73) had died by suicide in January 2023. This comes nearly a year after three other sailors assigned to the nuclear carrier died by suicide in one week in April 2022. USS George Washington has been undergoing extensive repairs in Newport News since 2017.
Last month's death adds to a worrying trend of dockyard suicides; according to local news, it was the eighth death by suicide of naval personnel in the last ten months in the Hampton Roads region, which hosts some of the Navy's most significant repair and refit facilities. Anonymous sailors stationed there have reported a culture that discourages seeking help for stress caused by "nearly uninhabitable" living conditions aboard refitting vessels, where overnight construction next to living quarters can make sleep impossible. The Navy has since attempted to move sailors into shore housing, but many sailors remain skeptical that broader cultural issues will be solved.
These suicides and the systemic problems they imply bring to mind the investigations into the collision incidents involving the destroyers Fitzgerald and John S. McCain, which revealed high levels of crew burnout. While the George Washington is undergoing years of refit with no combat rather than the Fitzgerald's experience of repeated missions without badly needed repairs, both cases seem to display a need to think more seriously about human capital in the Navy, especially as other services potentially face long-term recruitment and retention challenges.
US Basing Access in the Philippines and Deepening Indo-Pacific Military Cooperation
The recent news that the US is coming back in force to the Philippines is a significant one. After the US lost access to basing rights in Subic Bay and at Clark Airforce Base in the early 1990s, US capabilities and the regional security interests of actors like the Philippines degraded, with the balance of power tipping towards China in the South China Sea. With expanded access for US forces, US’ power projection capabilities have enhanced in a region that is showing signs of increasing tension and war risk.
While it has not been made public as to which bases US forces will have increased access to, speculation puts some of those bases on the island of Luzon, which could close the outermost ring between China, Taiwan, and the Pacific Ocean. This is important because it serves to box China into the South China Sea, reducing potential access to the Pacific Ocean, from where US Pacific forces from Guam and Hawaii would reinforce the South China Sea theater, where there an outbreak of a shooting war between the US and China. Further, the bases are at a distance such that both land-based and sea-based missile apparatuses can fire from port and strike targets relevant to hostilities in and around Taiwan, while likewise serving as an in-theater staging point for a conflict there. Finally, it strengthens the US’ hand politically as the US seeks to strengthen regional alliances in a bid to contain rising Chinese influence in the region.
The move comes amidst a backdrop of deepening cooperation between the US and Japan as well as Japan and other nations like the UK, which shows a deepening web of alliances aimed at strengthening the Western position in the region. In fact, negotiations are in the early stages over a new deal in the works between Japan, the Philippines, and the US, which would further strengthen regional defense cooperation between US' allied actors. The moves in sum are meant to deter “Chinese aggression” against actors like the Philippines and Japan, which find their position increasingly precarious without US and others’ support. It remains to be seen whether the growing web of defensive alliances and increased US forces regional deployment will serve to deter war, or whether the moves instead point towards a brewing great power conflict, the likes of which the world has not seen since the end of WWII.
Coast Guard Losing Wartime Footing?
The Coast Guard is predominately a naval arm of the US Armed Forces. Their motto "Always Ready" is a bit of a teetering falsehood when it comes to combat capability and preparedness. In the coming years it will become imperative that the US should reinforce the USCG with more naval utilities and training, especially if a prolonged war with China becomes a reality. If China and the United States engaged in war it will undoubtedly a long, global war, be felt and seen on the home front and the current capabilities of the USCG are not enough to counter that bloodshed. The USCG has been known historically to fight alongside the Navy and was vital in WW2 in protecting supply lines and securing logistic chains. Since then the USCG has not had much of a war footing and that could be regrettable even if open war does not occur immediately.
In a recent article written in March 2022 Brent Sadler (Senior Research Fellow, Center for National Defense), claimed "Despite historical lessons and the acknowledged dangers of a potential war with China, the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard are not adequately practicing, nor are they fielding, the capabilities needed to fight together effectively. And, such a fight could rapidly evolve from a variety of escalatory paths—to include a gray zone (neither peace nor outright war) confrontation. Today’s Coast Guard is increasingly playing a role in great-power competition, and it, too, must be ready for such showdowns as well as war. A dedicated and well-resourced program is needed to ensure that these two military services are able to dominate gray zone operations and quickly transition to, and sustain, a wartime footing together."
This statement is especially vital if a hot war does break out from this "New Cold War" with China and potentially even Russia. Every US Armed Force should be capable of a war posture to ensure the US foot-hold as the unilateral super power and protect the US's preeminence.
Tuesday, February 07, 2023
Special Forces in the News for All the Wrong Reasons
In recent years, the special forces of the US and other nations have been in the news for reasons other than their missions. Germany shut down a special forces unit in 2020 due to its members' ties to far-right parties, while another member was arrested last year in connection with a monarchist coup plot.
In the US, while the discourse on far-right ideology in the armed forces has tended to focus on the military writ large, special forces units have seen a string of murders and drug use investigations. Last month, at least 13 special forces soldiers became the subject of a drug trafficking probe at Fort Bragg. Located in North Carolina, Bragg is the home base for the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) and routinely has the highest murder and suicide rates of any military base in the country.
Intra-unit violence and drug use are well-known problems for the military as a whole. However, with the reverence and freedom of action afforded to special forces since 2011-although Moyar argues these are increasingly restrained-it is fair to ask if special forces has a culture problem, and if so, whether their position in popular culture contributes to that problem. Special forces units are naturally more secretive, closed-off worlds, but when intra-unit murders are hardly investigated, as several reporters allege at Bragg, perhaps our current conception of special forces' position in society and the military should be more seriously considered.
Monday, February 06, 2023
Ukrainian Small Arms Advancements
Throughout the conflict within Ukraine, the arsenals have advanced quickly. In 2014, the majority of small arms consisted of Soviet-era Kalashnikov rifle variants utilizing the widely available 7.62x39mm and 5.45x39mm ammunition. Since then, the desire to gain advantages in the conflict has led to adoptions, adaptations, and developments of other small arm platforms amongst Ukrainian forces. Bullpup platforms are now being used to gain the similar effectiveness downrange of standard rifles in a smaller overall platform. The Fort-221 rifle is one such bullpup that is adopted from Israel, but has been adapted by Ukraine to use their standard 5.45x39mm ammunition. Another is the Malyuk, which has been completely designed and developed by Ukraine as a bullpup conversion of the Kalashnikov rifle, with the additional benefits of convertible ammunition types, attachment of suppressors, and optics mounting.
Western platforms are also being adopted in Ukraine, such as Armalite rifle variants and other commercial small arms that are chambered in the NATO standard 5.56x45mm and 7.62x51mm ammunition. The use of these weapons and ammo makes resupply possible from more countries rather than strictly Eastern Europe, and is another indicator of greater alignment with the west. Furthermore, the variety in ammunition provides a greater advantage against Russian body armor and more versatility in infantry tactics. Thus, small arms of Ukraine are advancing greatly compared to the beginning of the conflict, and their effectiveness on the battlefield could dictate the outcome of the attrition warfare in eastern Ukraine.
Sunday, February 05, 2023
The Constitutionality of Mandatory Military Service in the United States
Upon further research into the merits of federally mandated military service of all American adults, a common misconception that I came across is that such a policy would be unconstitutional. The idea here is that the Thirteenth Amendment, which reads "neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist...", prohibits the government from instituting such a practice. This, however, is not the case.
While slavery and involuntary servitude are indeed prohibited by the constitution, mandated military service is not. This is because all enlisted personnel are paid salaries and given benefits, which means that service, while it may be "involuntary", cannot be deemed "slavery" or "servitude". This means that the federal government is free to mandate such service if the need arises - as long as all participants are compensated. A far reaching, yet more plausible, case may be made that mandated service violates a person's freedom of religion or expression, although this argument has little merit.
The issue with such a policy is that it is "unAmerican". A nation that is depicted and viewed globally as a bastion of freedom and liberty would be going against their perceived nature by removing a citizen's personal choices by mandating such service. The individual liberty that America boasts has drawn people to the nation for centuries and it would behoove us to continue to uphold it.
Going up? Spy Balloon debacle
This weekend the United States discovered a white object floating 66,000 feet up in the Montana sky, which the Department of Defense claimed to be a Chinese spy Balloon. Over the course of a day or two it was finally decided that it needed to be shot down and was promptly done so after traveling from Montana skies all the way to Myrtle beach, South Carolina. Having traveled two-thirds of the continental United States, I want to explore the potential sensitive military sites it may have gathered evidence from. But first a brief history of spy balloons.
Balloons for surveillance and/or research have been used as early as the Franco- Austrian War in 1859, when the French used crewed balloons. During the Civil War both the Union and Confederate forces used crewed and tether balloons. Also during both World Wars Balloons were used for a multitude of capabilities. These earlier forms of "spy balloons" gave way to the more modern forms that are commonly used today. During the Iraq and Afghanistan Wars, the United States has surveillance blimps called PTDS aerostats, or Persistent Threat Detection System, which help to detect incoming mortar fire or rocket attacks, as well as monitor, via hundreds of cameras, allied troop movements in the area of operation.
The cause for concern over the last few days is that while the United States claims it is a Spy Balloon, China vehemently claims that it is a civilian research or weather vessel that strayed off course. In my opinion it is much harder to believe given the linear path the balloon had taken before being shot down. Crossing through 12 different states, the balloon has plenty of sensitive areas that could be photographed. Many nuclear silo sites in the Midwest happen to be around the line that the balloon traveled, as well as most likely having flown over Oak Ridge in Tennessee based on the reported sightings prior to being shot down. Some pundits and talking heads claimed it should've been shot down immediately upon detection, while others were concerned for debris and where it would land. While this balloon debacle is not cause for major alarm, it does pose a question in terms of National Security. What if it is, in fact, a spy balloon gathering intel on our sensitive nuclear sites? 2 days of travels can gather a lot of intelligence. Does our hesitation to act constitute weakness in the eyes of our enemies? Only time will tell whether this is just another balloon boy hoax from 2009, a research balloon blown off course, or something deeper and more sinister in the game of power and politics.
Saturday, February 04, 2023
Insurgency, Territorial Integrity, and Ukraine
The Western states and the Russian Federation are currently at odds over the territorial realities of the Ukrainian and Russian states, with Russian absorption of five distinct territories incorporated within the 1991 lines recognized upon Ukrainian independence. The territories are: Crimea, Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporozhe, and Kherson; with other territories such as Kharkov, Odessa, etc. as potential future pickups should the war turn distinctly in Russia’s advantage. A question regarding governance, therefore, needs addressed, particularly within the context of counterinsurgency and the reality that foreign occupation can ignite an insurgency among disaffected members that view their occupiers with sufficient hostility.
There are some interesting sides to this question. A first is that the current iteration of the war in Ukraine that sparked on February 24, 2022, is in reality an extension of a broader civil conflict that has been ongoing since the Maiden events of 2014. At that time, Ukraine both lost Crimea, which is a distinctly Russian region at present times and was fully incorporated into the Russian Federation; and control over the Donbass to rebellions in both Donetsk and Lugansk: insurgencies which Ukraine failed to bring to heel at any point since people revolted in 2014. Russian assistance, of course, proved highly beneficial to the two breakaway republics, which ultimately developed a concurrent civil society outside the bounds of Ukrainian governance and in association as sort of adjunct members of the Russian Federation, similar to South Ossetia and Abkhazia. Ukraine’s current goal is the absorption of all three territories that departed in 2014: Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk; plus, reabsorption of Russia’s pickups since the war began. On the first question, the people of Donbass have fought and resisted for eight years. It must therefore be asked as to the viability of Ukraine’s war aims.
Put simply, were Ukraine able to evict Russia from any or all of these regions, would the Ukrainians be able to assert definitive control over areas that do not view themselves as belonging to the Ukrainian state. Recent history suggests the answer to be no, certainly not without Western assistance. A broader topic then, is would the West be willing to assist in subjugating, broadly speaking, ethnic Russians who want no part in a Ukrainian project that weakened the use of Russian in certain public settings or teaching of Russian in schools and that bans opposition parties, newspapers, etc. Further, would it even be in Ukraine’s interest to reabsorb large groups of hostile voters who may very well tip the electoral scales against the Galician consensus of a Western alignment that is inimically hostile to Russia and Russians? Would such elections be maintained as “free and fair” in a state which ranks in the lower middle of Freedom House’s democracy index? There again is another indicator for a potential insurgency, to say nothing of corruption and other associated problems pertinent to the Ukrainian context. Ultimately, the question seems likely to result in significant societal dysfunction should Ukraine achieve, even partially, its stated war aim to reconstitute itself to its 1991 borders.
Russia, on the other hand, has shown a remarkable capability to absorb territories that do not really belong to it, at least not as of the 21st century. I have seen few if any reports of significant insurgent or partisan efforts within either of the two new territories: Zaporozhe or Kherson (the parts that are currently under Russian control). Ditto for Crimea, Donetsk, and Lugansk. The situation appears stable and moving towards successful integration with the Russian Federation. Bear in mind, too, that Russia is no stranger to the successful prosecution of counterinsurgency campaigns, as seen in the Caucus, with the subjugation of Chechnya. The Chechens and their associated forces, in fact, have at times been something of a social media celebrity, particularly during the operation to take Mariupol early in the war. Converting former militants to loyal fighters is no mean feat. And while it is not clear that should Russia incorporate any more territory that they would integrate their new turf peacefully or even successfully, the track record shows one of stability for such operations when conducted by Russia, and of conflict by those conducted by Ukraine. If the question is one of stability, then territorial integrity may become the ultimate loser.