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

Human-Machine Dogfighting

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

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. 

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.