Analysis 06-28-2021


The New Brinkmanship


Brinkmanship between the military forces of major powers has been a part of international relations for centuries.  Although they risked war, these provocations also allowed militaries to train their forces and see how the potential enemy reacted.

However, by the Cold War, the forces of NATO and the Soviets had taken this type of brinkmanship to new heights, with naval land and air forces coming close to shooting incidents on a regular basis.  The answer was an understanding about what was considered acceptable behavior and what was considered overtly hostile.  Some of these rules were common sense: military aircraft and naval vessels would follow international rules concerning “rules of the road,” not using fire control radar to target a warship on the other side, not carrying out dangerous maneuvers that could cause a collision, cutting back on hostile military exercises during diplomatic summits, etc.

The rules worked well and both sides were able to carry out their exercises without risk of war.  The Cold War ended without any accidents leading to a major conflict.

That has changed.  In the last week alone, several incidents have gone beyond the old rules of behavior.

One was the Russian naval exercises off the coast of Hawaii – the largest since the Cold War.  Although they did not enter American territorial waters, they came close enough that American fighter aircraft were scrambled on at least two occasions.  The Russians made it clear that the purpose of the exercise was to destroy a naval task force – the type that could be found at the naval base at Pearl Harbor, just a few miles away.

Ironically, this happened just as Biden was sitting down with Putin for their summit talk – talks that the White House insisted were successful.  Biden had given Putin the “go ahead” on the Russian pipeline, backed down on the ransomware issue, and the stationing of Russian troops on the Ukrainian border.

Former Deputy National Security Advisor K T McFarland later said that Biden should have walked out of the talks immediately.

This was not a “one time” event.  Just this week, Russian bombers, escorted by Russian fighter aircraft, entered the Baltic Sea airspace.  The Russian move forced fighter aircraft of several nations (Denmark, Sweden, and Italy) to scramble from bases in Estonia to intercept them.

On Wednesday, Russian ships and aircraft are alleged to have fired warning shots at the British warship HMS Defender, an air defense destroyer.  The Russian Su-24 attack aircraft dropped four bombs near the ship according to the Russians.

The British Ministry of Defense denied that and said the firing was part of a scheduled naval exercise that was nearby.

The Russian Ministry of Defense also released video footage of a Russian fighter buzzing the British destroyer.

This would be the first time since the Cold War that Russia used live munitions to deter a NATO vessel.

The Russians claimed that the ship had entered Russian waters off the Crimean Peninsula.  However, Britain has not recognized the Russian control of the Crimea and claims that the ship was not in Russian waters.  The Royal Navy said that the ship was taking the most direct course from the Republic of Georgia to the Ukraine.

A BBC correspondent was on the Defender at the time and verified the aggressive action by Russian aircraft and patrol boats.  However, the video did not show any bombs or cannon fire.  There, however, was aggressive maneuvering by the Russian ships – something that was not permitted under the Cold War rules.

But what was the most provoking incident of the week, was the Russian naval exercise just off the coast of Hawaii.  It was the largest Russian exercise in the Pacific since the end of the Cold War.  It included 20 warships, fighter aircraft and long-range bombers.

The exercise showed that Russia is attempting to develop a post-Cold War ability to project power well beyond its borders.

Although most of the exercise took place 300 miles off Hawaii, some warships came as close as 20 nautical miles off the Hawaiian coast.

The fleet was not unescorted.  Three American Arleigh Burke Class Destroyers and a Coast Guard cutter monitored the exercise.  When Russian “Bear” bombers approached US territorial waters, the Hawaii National Guard scrambled F-22 stealth fighters.  The bombers never entered US airspace and turned around after being intercepted.

The Russian Defense Ministry described the exercise as “destroying an aircraft carrier strike group of a mock enemy.”  The most powerful Russian warship was the Slava class Cruiser, which carries 16 S-300F anti-ship missiles.  Obviously, the Russian bombers would also be carrying anti-ship missiles that they would launch as they enter the missile’s range.

Exercises like this provide information for both sides.  It gave the Russians a chance to carry out some of the tactics that would be used against an American naval task force.  It also gave the Americans an idea of what to expect.

Both sides can learn radio frequencies that may be used in an operational situation and what bands of radar are used.

It appears that Russian naval tactics have not changed much since the Cold War.  Back then, the idea was to fire massive salvos of anti-ship missiles that would overwhelm American Navy air defense systems.  This, in turn led to the American development of the Aegis air defense system that could track multiple targets and launch several missiles at the same time.  With the multi-layer air defense system of Navy F-14 aircraft and their Phoenix missile system and the Phalanx close-in weapons system, the naval task force could destroy most of the aircraft before they launched their missiles and then intercept any anti-ship missiles that did get launched.

The Russian tactics still focus on overwhelming the carrier air defense systems.  But, this time, the Russians have another technology – hypersonic missiles, which will be harder to intercept.

However, American aircraft carriers are not defenseless.  Navy video footage of shock tests on the newest American aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, demonstrated that it can absorb considerable damage and continue operating.  In the shock test, a 40,000-pound high explosive charge (equivalent to the combined weight of about 20, S-300F anti-ship missile warheads) was detonated underwater and 500 feet from the carrier.  The ship remained operational, even though the blast caused an earthquake in Florida.

American aircraft carriers are known for their ability to absorb damage.  In 1967, the aircraft carrier USS Forrestal had a fire that killed 134 men and wounded 161 men.  The fire caused 10 bombs with a high explosive weight of about 10,000 pounds to explode on the flight deck.  Despite the damage, the carrier sailed to the Philippines for repairs before returning to its homeport.  Although the rear part of the flight deck was seriously damaged, the USS Forrestal could have continued limited air operations within a few hours if it had been necessary.

Pentagon war planners while alarmed by Russian maneuvers they project confidence in US military power, they insist that American carriers are tougher than many thinks.  And the air defense systems of the carrier task force are better than they were in the Cold War. They believe that the current defense doctrine would call for destroying hypersonic missile launcher systems like bombers and warships before they are launched.  There are also electronic warfare tactics that would try to confuse the missiles in flight.  Finally, there are maneuvering tactics for the warships that would make it harder for the missile to hit its target.

They point out that redundancy is important.  Since there is the risk of a carrier being damaged, most carrier task forces that are intended to go into a major conflict are expected to operate with two aircraft carriers.

In the end, they are claiming that hitting an American carrier enough to put it out of action would be harder than many imagine.

A former high ranking U.S. navy official commented on the Russian latest exercise: “Another factor that Putin must account for is the growing Western fleet of aircraft capable ships.  There are the British carriers, Queen Elizabeth and Prince of Wales.  There is the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle, and the Italian carrier Cavour.  The American Navy has several amphibious ships that can carry smaller numbers of the F-35 stealth attack aircraft. The Spanish, Japanese, and Australians also have ships that can carry the American F-35”.

To him Putin must answer the question: Can Russia launch another Pearl Harbor attack – one that could cripple the American Navy unlike the Japanese attack?

He added “Although the Russian exercise was just off the coast of Hawaii, the size of the force was not anything like the Japanese fleet that hit Pearl Harbor at the beginning of WWII (the Japanese had six aircraft carriers and 353 aircraft on December 7, 1941).  The only Russian aircraft carrier (which was not in the exercise) has a history of mechanical problems and aircraft that have been lost in operations.  The only other aircraft were bombers that were launched thousands of miles away in Siberia.

In the end, the naval provocations that Putin and Russia engaged in this last week make for great headlines, but do not indicate the real power of the Russian Navy, which has a history of being unable of operating beyond the coast of Syria, which is only a few hundred miles from Russian territory”.

Washington pundits seemed to be miscalculating Putin determination to advance Russian power globally, they are downplaying his actions by resorting to the thinking that Successful brinkmanship requires having the assets to project sufficient power on the other side of the world.  And insist that lessons learned after the Cold War, proved that the Soviet Union did not have that power.  And, despite “Putin’s boasts”, post-Cold War Russia does not have the reach or power yet. But the fact that Biden administration is trying hard to contain Putin prove that reality is otherwise.

Analysis 06-21-2021


Biden’s First Trip OverseasPart Two


Biden’s trip to the G-7 meeting, the NATO gathering, and finally the summit with Russian President Putin was hailed as an “America is back” tour.  However, the tour showed to the world an American president that is in his dotage.

From being led out of a restaurant by First Lady Jill Biden, to confusing Libya with Syria, to embarrassing press conferences, to shouting at a CNN reporter who asked an inconvenient question, foreigners saw a president far different than the one covered by the American media.

One member of Parliament, who never had good things to say about President Trump in the past said of the former president, “At least he could stay awake in meetings.

While the G-7 meeting was limited to six other world leaders, the NATO meeting was more difficult.  Several Eastern European nations like Poland remain pro-Trump, even though they agree with Biden that Russia remains a major threat.

Biden’s most important task was to reassure NATO allies, after his predecessor had threatened several members for not paying their fair share, that the US remained committed to NATO.

One thing rarely mentioned at this meeting was that the number of NATO nations that had raised their defense commitment to 2% of their GDP had grown under the Trump Administration.

Much of the NATO meeting targeted Russia.  Biden noted in his press conference that, “I’m going to make it clear to President Putin that there are areas where we can cooperate if he chooses.  And, if he chooses not to cooperate and acts in a way that he has in the past, relative to cybersecurity and some other activities, then we will respond.  We will respond in kind.

One topic that came up in the NATO talks was Belarus.  Events came to a head recently when Belarus fighter aircraft forced a commercial aircraft flying in its airspace to land to arrest an opponent of the current Belarus regime.

There is growing concern that Belarus could join Russia in an attack on the Ukraine.  Belarus also borders NATO members Poland, Latvia, and Lithuania.  Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Belarus has had close relations with Russia.

NATO Secretary General Jens Stollenberg told an audience that NATO was prepared “to protect and defend any ally against any kind of threat coming from Minsk and Moscow.”

Lithuanian President Nauseda said of Belarus, “We see that this country is losing its last elements of independence and could be used in the hands of Russia as a weapon…for foreign aggressive activities towards NATO allies.”

Despite these warnings about Russia and Belarus, the Ukrainian request to join NATO was put off as Biden said Ukraine was not ready to join alliance.  Government corruption was cited as a reason.

China was not left out.  A NATO communiqué warned that the rising power of China presents “systemic challenges to the rules-based international order.”  “We remain concerned with China’s frequent lack of transparency and use of disinformation,” the document said,

While there was the focus on Russia, one important part of the NATO meeting was the face-to-face meeting between Erdogan and Biden.  There has been considerable tension between the two nations after Turkey bought a Russian S-400 air defense system and the US cancelled Turkey’s participation in the F-35 fighter aircraft.

While the Biden-Erdogan meeting was described as “positive and productive” by Biden, many issues like the Armenian genocide remain stumbling blocks to better US-Turkish relations.

“We had detailed discussions about how to proceed on a number of issues,” Biden said.  “Our two countries have big agendas.”

Although Syria was undoubtedly on the agenda, neither leader was willing to give details on the discussions.  Biden indicated that the two nations will establish diplomatic teams to try to work out solutions to Syria and other bilateral issues.


Meeting Putin

Although the G-7 and NATO meetings were important, the highlight of the trip was the meeting with Putin in Switzerland.  Bilateral meeting between US and Russian leaders have been a regular event for over 60 years.

Before the meeting, the question was how aggressive Biden would be with Putin and his aggressive foreign policy.

However, everyone had forgotten that Russia could play the aggressive card just as well.  While Biden and Putin were meeting, Russia was holding the biggest Pacific exercise since the Cold War just 300 miles off the coast of Hawaii.  The exercise forced the US Air Force to scramble F-22 stealth fighters from its base in Hawaii to intercept a contingent of Russian military forces that included long range bombers, surface ships, and anti-submarine aircraft.

Although the Russian aircraft did not enter the US Air Defense Identification Zone, the provocation was clear.  Since the Cold War, Russia has limited its military reach to territories close by.  By holding military exercises close to the US they are clearly indicating that Russia has once again become a military power with global reach.  And, by holding these exercises in the Pacific, they are indicating that they can have an impact in current disputes with China in the South China Sea and Taiwan.

Although Russia and the US have many issues to discuss, ranging from the Ukraine to nuclear arms limitations, the meeting between Putin and Biden was shorter than planned – just two and a half hours instead of the planned five hours.

The shortness of the meeting indicated the lack of agreement between the two on most issues.  In a post meeting briefing by a State Department official, the discussions were described as “very direct,” which is diplomatic speak for a lack of cordiality and willingness to negotiate.  Later, the official said, “We are not flipping a light switch,” which indicates that serious negotiations are needed in the future.

Given the number of subjects that the State Department official mentioned as being discussed, it was clear that each issue was probably only given a few minutes in the short 150-minute meeting.  Some of the subjects were Afghanistan, Belarus, the Ukraine, Covid, Freedom of Navigations, China, media foreign agents, Climate, Cybersecurity, Restoring ambassadors in both countries, electronic attacks on American personnel like those seen in Havana Cuba, The Russian gas pipeline, the Arctic, nuclear weapons negotiations, Iran, and the humanitarian corridor in Syria.

This does not include the list of 16 infrastructure targets that Biden said should be “off Limits” to cyberattack.

Putin also had issues that he brought to the table, including the growing number of NATO warships that are entering and patrolling the Black Sea, once considered a “Russian lake.”  During the summit meeting US and NATO warships were patrolling the Black Sea.

Clearly, there was little time to hold meaningful discussions on any subject.  In fact, the State Department merely referred to “forward motion” from the summit.

However, the meeting was not a loss.  Russia and the US agreed to return ambassadors, which will make additional negotiations easier.  They will begin consultations on cybersecurity, a point that the US considered critical.

Other issues included an exchange of convicts and mutual recognition of covid-19 vaccines.

The two leaders also released a document calling for strategic stability and pledged future talks on arms control and reducing the risk of war.

So, how was Biden’s first trip overseas?  Although his meetings had their fair share of gaffs, it wasn’t as bad as some thought it would be.  Biden’s staff kept him on subject and kept him away from embarrassing questions.

The G-7 meeting was bland, especially as the same people were to meet a day later at the NATO conference.  There were the usual pledges to act on issues like climate control, but the only big agreement was on a global corporate tax (and that will need ratification by the counties’ legislatures).

The NATO meeting was more important given the number of potential flash points across Europe and the world.  The focus was on Russia, as it has been since the end of WWII.  The Ukraine and the Baltic states remain at risk.  However, this time, Belarus was added to the list of concerns.

The meeting with Putin could be better than some of the US-Soviet meetings of the last 60 plus years.  However, it did not rank as one of the best.

While US-Russian relations usually focused on nuclear arms treaties, today’s US-Russian relations are more complex.  Russia is now part of the world economic system, so economic issues must be considered.

Both nations have interests that collide.  Russia considers Syria as its most important ally in the Middle East and is committed to keeping the legitimate President Assad in control despite US desires and hundreds of US troops on the ground in Syria.

China remains a difficult issue.  Russia wants good relations with China to offset the decades of good US-China relations.  However, Biden is hoping and counting on the notion that Russia sees China as a competitor in many areas like the Arctic and Northern Pacific.  And that Russia remembers several border incidents several decades ago.

Then, there is the desire of Putin to restore the grandeur of the Soviet Empire.  That includes reducing US influence around the globe.

One the other hand, the US also wants to reduce Russian influence.

These problems remain.  However, the joint decision to return ambassadors means that Russia and the US are talking again at a diplomatic level.  And ambassadors and embassy staff that talk to each other daily is more important than 2 ½ hour talks between Putin and Biden. It seems that the next 6-9 months ahead are crucial test of the future direction of US-Russian relations.

Analysis 06-15-2021


Biden’s First Trip OverseasPart One


Biden’s trip is scheduled to take in talks with Western leaders, the G-7 meeting, a visit to NATO headquarters, and a meeting with Russian President Putin.  This analysis covers the first part of the trip and will be continued in next week’s report.

After being in the White House for nearly half a year, Biden is making his first trip overseas.  It started with the G-7 meeting of major Western leaders in Britain, preceded by a meeting with his host, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

The Biden Administration made the trip’s theme: “America positively engaged with its European allies after four years of Trump.”  Polls came out saying Biden was more popular with foreigners than Trump (although they downplayed the fact that German Chancellor Markel) is seen as a better leader than Biden.


Biden reaffirming the “Special Relationship” with Great Britain

The first meeting with Johnson – and the leader of America’s closest ally started with some diplomatic bumps that are usually avoided prior to such meetings.  Biden and his State Department issued a diplomatic demarche (something usually reserved for unfriendly governments) over the lack of hard trade borders between Northern Ireland and the rest of Britain.

The issue is a domestic one for Britain and has been dubbed the “Sausage War.”  The EU, still upset with London’s Brexit, now wants to stop the movement of chilled meats (sausage and bacon) from the island of Britain to Northern Ireland.

Why Biden chose to involve the US in this issue is a mystery. The EU intransigence on the issue could also cause an outbreak of hostilities in Northern Ireland again.

Bilateral relations were not helped when Biden previously called Johnson a “Physical and Emotional Clone” of President Trump and had criticized the British decision to leave the EU.

Despite these problems overhanging the meeting of the two leaders, the meeting went off without a hitch.  British foreign secretary Raab told reporters that the two did not “linger” on the Sausage War issue.

“The prime minister wanted to raise it and be very clear on our position,” Raab said.

The press conference afterwards was very positive.

To give a positive spin to the meeting, Biden and Johnson held a ceremonial signing of the Atlantic Charter, which was first signed by Churchill and Roosevelt during WWII.  It addressed human rights and the right of self-determination.

The one signed by Biden and Johnson was not as historic.  Rather than focusing on human rights, it talked about climate change and technology.

After the ceremonial signing of the Atlantic Charter, the two leaders held their private talks.

One issue that was sure to come up was the growing tensions with China.  While the US has strengthened its ties with Taiwan and challenged Chinese control over the South China Sea, Britain has seen China break the treaty with the UK that turned the colony of Hong Kong over to the Chinese.  The treaty guaranteed Hong Kong’s special status and human rights for a period of 50 years.  The Chinese have broken the treaty with the crack down on (what has been considered by US and its allies) as human rights in Hong Kong in the past few years.

One issue for discussion is the Western naval presence off the Chinese coast during the next few months.  The only US supercarrier in the Western Pacific is the USS Ronald Reagan.  However, it is moving to the Indian Ocean to cover the planned withdrawal of US troops from Afghanistan.  The US wants the Reagan on station if the Taliban or other radical groups tries to attack the US forces while they are leaving.

Although the US has an amphibious assault ship (USS America, LHA-6) in the Western Pacific, it can only carry 6 F-35 fighter aircraft.  It is designed for amphibious missions like attacks on the artificial islands China has built in the South China Sea.  It does not have the air capability for countering a possible Chinese invasion of Taiwan (however, it might be ideal for countering ground attacks on US troops in Afghanistan).

During this Afghanistan mission, the US is expecting the new Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth and her two squadrons of F-35 fighters to provide needed air support to the American, Japanese, and Australian naval forces around China.

This is also a subject sure to come up in private talks at the NATO meeting next week.  Should France’s nuclear aircraft carrier, the Charles de Gaulle, move towards China or should it remain in the European theater as tensions with Russia remain high?


G-7 Talks Begin

Friday was the opening of the G-7 talks in Cornwall, England.  The G-7 nations include Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, and the United States.

However, the reality is that the G-7 nations are not as important as they once were.  These top 7 Western nations once controlled much of the world’s economy.  However, as other nations outside of the G-7 nations have grown economically (China being a prime example), their economic clout has declined considerably.

That is one reason why South Korea, South Africa, Australia, and India have been invited to attend the G-7 meeting this year.

And, unlike the unity shown during the Cold War, national differences have created major wedges between the nations.  France and Germany are advocates of the European Union, which Britain left, and Italy threatens to leave.  Japan, the US, and Britain are concerned about Chinese hegemony while Germany pushed the EU-China Investment Agreement.

These differences and loss of economic importance did not stop the G-7 nations.  One example is the idea of having a global tax of 15% on companies – an idea that will not go anywhere.  The taxes will not be implemented by nations that have lower corporate taxes since it destroys their competitiveness.  There is also the fact that the taxes will have to be approved by the various legislative bodies of the respective nations.

Some see the global tax to tax more of Amazon’s profits.

It is also important to remember that the global tax has been under discussion for over a decade without any results.  And, as proof that the idea of a global tax is not fully accepted, it will be a subject of discussion at the G-20 meeting in July.

There will also be many more issues discussed at the G-7 talks.  China will be a target as the G-7 nations will push for an investigation into the Covid pandemic and the claims that it was created as a bioweapon in China.  There will also be talks about claims of Chinese slave labor.

China passed a law during the G-7 meeting that penalizes countries that sanction China.

Russia will also be a subject as there will be a call for Russia to hold cyber criminals to account for ransomware attacks as well as other cybercrimes.

The G-7 nations are also expected to endorse the Iranian nuclear talks, even though there are still many obstacles to a final deal.

Covid issues will be discussed, including common standards for covid vaccine documents and trade restrictions on vaccine exports.  There will also be a call on stricter public sector spending as the world recovers from the covid virus.

Now that the US has a president that believes in climate change, the G-7 nations will be making major announcements on global warming.  There will be a commitment to shift to zero emission vehicles.  There will also be vague talk about climate funding and financial assistance to poorer nations.  They will also advocate initiatives like carbon markets to restrict carbon emissions.

And there will be talk about the “Sausage War” between the EU and Great Britain.

The world awaits the results with breathless anticipation.

Analysis 06-06-2021


Reading Gentlemen’s Mail


When the United States began reading coded diplomatic communications of its allies, President Herbert Hoover’s Secretary of State, Henry Stimson, stopped the practice saying, “Gentlemen do not read each other’s mail.”

The concepts of accepted diplomatic behavior have changed in the last 100 years.  Today, gentlemen do read each other’s mail.  Gentlemen read their closest friend’s mail.  Gentlemen team up with other gentlemen to read their friend’s mail.  Gentlemen swap other’s mail with each other.  Gentlemen set up false internet sites to make it easier to read other gentlemen’s emails.  And gentlemen let other gentlemen read the mail of its citizens to circumvent laws.

In 2009, the British signals intelligence agency GCHQ set up fake internet cafes for delegates to the G20 meeting in 2009.  The British logged their keystrokes, broke into their Blackberries, and recorded all the phone calls.

Not to be left behind, the Americans monitored the phone calls of Russian leader Dmitri Medvedev (and undoubtedly many others).

Even though all nations have their communication intelligence services that intercept and crack other nation’s secret communications, everyone acted surprised this week when it was learned that the American NSA had tapped Danish underwater internet cables (with the assistance of the Danes) from 2012 to 2014.  The targets were the leadership of Germany, Sweden, Norway, and France.

This should not have been a surprise to anyone since Edward Snowden had revealed that the NSA had broken into German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Blackberry during the Obama Administration, although there is the question if Obama had any say so about the spying.

The European leaders who were spied upon were quick to condemn the act, even though these nations are also guilty of intercepting their allies’ communications.

“This is not acceptable between allies, and even less between allies and European partners,” said French President Macron.  “I am attached to the bond of trust that unites Europeans and Americans,” Macron said, adding that “there is no room for suspicion between us.”

Merkel added, “We requested that our Danish and American partners provide all the information on these revelations and on these past facts. We are awaiting these answers.”

Merkel did not mention that Germany had spied on Turkey and had even intercepted phone calls made by Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry.

Merkel should not expect any apologies from Obama or his former Vice President, Joe Biden.  During his administration, the president, Barak Obama spied on his own Congress.

If everyone spies on each other, why the clamor?  As French foreign minister Bernard Kouchner said, it was not those nations spying on their allies, it was that the United States was better at it.

“Let’s be honest, we eavesdrop too,” Kouchner confessed while being interviewed by French radio.  “But we don’t have the same means as the United States, which makes us jealous.”

In many cases, the eavesdropping is to learn what an ally is saying to an enemy.  Reports surfaced that Israel was spying on the Iran-US nuclear talks during the Obama Administration.  One target was intercepting the communications of Secretary of State John Kerry.

Much of the intelligence was then passed on to US senators and congressmen.  This upset the Obama Administration more than the original spying.  Obama was trying to keep the negotiations secret, even though the US Constitution requires the Senate to confirm treaties made with foreign nations.

One unnamed Obama Administration official told the Wall Street Journal, “It is one thing for the US and Israel to spy on each other.  It’s another thing for Israel to steal US secrets and play them back to US lawmakers to undermine US diplomacy.”

Of course, the reason the US learned that Israel was spying on the Iranian nuclear talks was that US intelligence agencies were intercepting Israeli communications amongst Israeli officials.

Do not be surprised if Israel is spying on the current Iranian nuclear talks.  In fact, be surprised if they are not spying.

A lot of communications are intercepted and broken by the cooperative effort of two or more nations.  The “Five Eyes” – the English-speaking nations of the US, Canada, Britain, Australia, and New Zealand is a good example.  However, it is England’s sophisticated communications intelligence agency, GCHQ, that is the most valuable for US intelligence.

According to a report by the Guardian, Edward Snowden provided documents showing that the US was paying GCHQ hundreds of millions of dollars to upgrade its capabilities.  The Guardian went on to call GCHQ more aggressive than the American NSA.  It is also called GCHQ, an intelligence superpower.

One reason the Americans like to team up with the British GCHQ is that Britain doesn’t have a constitution and a Bill of Rights that protects its citizens or citizens of other nations from unlawful spying.

Although it is illegal for the NSA to monitor the communications of Americans, unless they have a warrant, it is perfectly okay for the British to monitor American communications and pass information on to the Americans (although this is a very grey area of the law and likely a violation of the US Constitution and its Bill of rights).  In fact, one Snowden document was a pitch from GCHQ to the NSA and other US spy agencies noting that the legal and regulatory environment in Britain made electronic spying easier.

It is not illegal for the UK to spy on Americans, although it should be discouraged by the US government.

Another nation that spies on the US, while cooperating with them is Israel.  American intelligence names Israel as the third most aggressive espionage threat to the US (China and Russia have the top positions).  A 2013 American intelligence document called Israel a “hostile” foreign intelligence service.

A former NSA Global Capabilities Manager for Countering Foreign Intelligence praised the US relationship with Israel, but said, “one of NSA’s biggest threats is actually from friendly intelligence services like Israel.”

Israel is an equal opportunity spy.  The French newspaper La Monde claimed that NSA documents indicate that a massive computer hack in the French presidential palace in 2012 was carried out by Israel.

The NSA says that Israel targets the US government for invasive electronic surveillance, including fake cell phone electronics, called “stingrays,” installed in sensitive locations in Washington to catch American bureaucrats using their cell phones for confidential conversations.  These stingrays mimic regular cell towers, capture the contents of the calls and data, and even give the location of the cell phone.

However, since 9/11, the US has tempered its condemnation of Israel for practical reasons.  It has relied on Israel’s intelligence contacts in the Middle East and justifying it by claiming to fight terrorism and seeking to stop the development of an Iranian nuclear bomb.

Israel is spying on the US right now.  They want to know what is being discussed between the Iranians and Americans in the nuclear talks.  They want to know what the response is to a more aggressive Israeli approach to sabotage inside Iran.  They want to know how much money will be given to them by Congress (especially the additional $1 billion needed to replenish the Iron Dome interceptors used in the past few weeks).  They want to know what the Biden Administration is saying to Hamas now.  And they want to know how American lawmakers are responding to the recent fighting in Gaza.

Israel also understands the US spies on Israel.  A former American intelligence official admitted Israel was spying on the US government.  However, he noted, “on the other hand, guess what we do in Tel Aviv?”

Former State Department coordinator of counter terrorism under Obama Daniel Benjamin once told Politico that a former Mossad official told him that Israel did not spy on the US.  “I just told him our conversation was over if he had such a low estimate of my intelligence.”

The famous quote by Stimson nearly 100 years ago about gentlemen not reading each other’s mail has gone to the board.  In today’s intelligence game, not only do gentlemen read everyone’s mail, but it is also expected of them.

Analysis 05-30-2021


Palestinian Rocket Arsenal and The Iron Dome


Although the ceasefire between Palestinian resistance and “Israel” appears to be holding, it is obvious from the recent conflict that the resistance organizations in Gaza has a vast rocket arsenal as well as the ability to build rockets inside its borders.

This analysis looks at the type of rockets that have been used, which ones have been built in Gaza, and their capabilities.  It also looks at Israel’s Iron Beam anti-missile system and how the recent fighting may change Israel’s missile defense strategy.

Before going further, we want to look at the type of solid fuels used in these rockets because they determine the range and efficiency of the rockets.

The easiest fuel to make and the basic propellant for the Palestinian rockets made in Gaza, is what is commonly known as “Candy” propellants.  These contain an oxidizer (usually Potassium Nitrate) and a sugar fuel (dextrose, sorbitol, or sucrose), which are cast by melting the constituents, mixing them and pouring the liquid into a mold.  These are low to medium specific impulse fuels and are frequently used in amateur rocketry.  They have a specific impulse 30% lower than composite propellants that would be used in a more sophisticated rocket produced in Syria or Iran.

These sophisticated fuels use components like ammonium percholrate and aluminum or magnesium as a fuel.  Some contain a rubber binder like Hydroxyl-terminated polybutane.

As one can see, using a simple rocket fuel will seriously degrade the performance and range of the Palestinian built rockets.

Rockets used by Palestinians in Gaza.

Qassam 1

The oldest and most basic Hamas’s rocket design is the Qassam 1.  It has a diameter of 115 mm, is 1.8 meters long, a range of 4.5 km and carries a warhead of 5 kg.  It is made in Gaza and uses a “Candy” propellant. It is considered a less accurate rocket and has been superseded by better rockets.


107 mm rocket

This rocket is made in Iran and has better performance than the Qassam because of its composite propellant fuel.  It is less than a meter long, is 107 mm in diameter, has a range of 8.5 kilometers and a 18 kilogram warhead.  It is spin stabilized and is more effective than the Qassam 1.


Qassam 2

The Qassam 2 has a longer range than the Qassam 1.  It uses a “candy” propellant, is 1.8 meters long, 115 mm in diameter and has a 10 kg warhead.  Like the Qassam 1, it is made in Gaza.  However, it remains inaccurate and is unreliable.  It is used to target populated areas.


Qassam 3

The Qassam 3 is a family of improved rockets built in Gaza.  It is 2.2 meters long, 115 mm in diameter, and has a 20 kg warhead.  It is powered by “Candy” fuel like its predecessors and has a range of 16 km.  It has an estimated cost of $800.


122mm Rocket

This rocket is built in Iran or Syria and has a range of 30 km.  It has a diameter of 122 mm, length of 2.8 meters and a warhead size of 18.4 kg.  It uses a composite propellant.  It can carry a chemical warhead.



This missile was first used this year and was responsible for 2 Israeli deaths and 60 injuries.  140 were fired.  It is a new design, and little is known about it, however, its length is less than 3 meters and it has a range of 40 km.



The Fajr-3 is Iranian built but based on a North Korean design.  It has a range of 43 km, a diameter of 240mm, a length of 5.2 meters, weighs 407 kg, and carries a 90kg fragmentation warhead that contains 4 to 5 kg of explosive (the rest is fragmentation materials).  It is spin stabilized but doesn’t have any guidance system.  Its composite propellant engine burns for 4 seconds and reaches over 530 meters per second.



This is an Iranian built rocket.  Little is known about it.  It is shorter than 3 meters and has a range of 55 km.



This is produced in Gaza, using smuggled Iranian components.  It is less than 3 meters in length and has a range of 75 km.



This is a long range, one or two stage rockets with a length of 6.4 meters, with a diameter of 333mm.  It has a 175 kg warhead and a range of 75 km.  It is a Chinese design, and the critical components are made in Iran.

This rocket uses a double base propellant. These are usually compounding like nitroglycerin dissolved in nitrocellulose and have a specific impulse 10% higher than composite propellants.  However, a study of the Fajr-5 exhaust indicates that the Iranians have added aluminum to the fuel, which causes metal oxide nucleation, which will also boost the specific impulse by another 10%.

Some pictures show it has movable nose fins that indicate it may have a guidance system.  This is probably the Fajr-5C model, which uses GPS for guidance.  Without the guidance system, it is very inaccurate.

There is no evidence that the Fajr-5C has been acquired by  Hamas.



First fired in 2018.  It has a length of less than 3 meters and a range of 80 km.  It is produced in Iran and is reputed to be better at avoiding Israel’s Iron dome due to its trajectory.


Qassam Sh-85

First used against Ben Gurion International Airport in May.  It is 5 meters long and has a range of 85 km.



This Iranian built rocket is about 3.5 meters long and has a range of 90 km.



A rocket used in May 2021 is the A-120.  It is supposed to be built in Gaza and has a range of 120 km.



This is a Syrian built rocket that can deliver a 150 kg warhead up to 180 km.  It is 6.3 meters long and has a diameter of 302 mm.  It can hit any target in the entire occupied Palestine.


Ayyash 250R

Hamas recently announced that it was using a new rocket called the Ayyash.  It is reported that it can reach all of “Israel” from Gaza and it is thought to have been used to hit Eilat.  It is 7 meters long and has a range of 250 km.  It was made in Iran and its range is due to its size and the use of component propellants.

Little is known about some of these rocket families and it is possible that they are similar – differing only in warhead weight, fuel quantity, and some modifications in dimensions.  The modifications could be merely to boost range or warhead weight.


Iron Dome

Much is made of the number of Hamas rockets that penetrated the Israeli Iron Dome system.  However, the psychological and political effects caused by the rockets has the same effect if not more than inflicting a similar death toll that resulted from Air attacks by the Israeli planes on the Palestinians.  Needless to mention, the tradeoff between expensive Israeli interceptors ($40,000 each) and cheap ($800 each) Hamas rockets meant that Israel has spent more money than Hamas.

However, it is also important to remember the limitations built into the system.  It is designed to be part of a layered anti-missile system, including Arrow 2 & 3, Iron Beam, Barak 8 (a project between Israel and India), and David’s Sling that can intercept everything from long range ballistic missiles to drones.

One weakness that limits its sale to other nations is that each system only protects 100 – 150 square kilometers, which is ok for a small nation.  Thus, it can only be part of a more extensive layered air defense.

Although the IDF claims that 90% – 95% of the missiles aimed at populated areas were intercepted and destroyed, the cost is proving to be a problem.  As a result, Israel is pushing ahead on the Iron Beam System, which will defend against rockets, artillery, and mortars.  It will use a directed high energy beam to destroy targets up to 7 kilometers away.  The cost is about $2,000 per shot compared to the $40,000 per interceptor used in Iron Dome.

Given its limited range, it will be a “point defense” weapon and hundreds would need to be deployed to protect all of Israel’s populated areas.  That could make it as expensive as Iron Dome and its interceptors.

Iron Beam could be fielded along the Gaza border to destroy the rockets as soon as they are launched.  However, the Iron Beam laser must remain fixed on the rocket for a couple of seconds to destroy it.  Therefore, it is possible that the system could easily be swamped with more rocket targets than its laser could hit before they hit their targets.  That makes it useful as a “last ditch” system that could target the few missiles that would lead through the Iron Dome.  But it would not have the flexibility of Iron Dome.

The other problem is that Iron Beam has not been fielded yet. And, given the number of Hamas rockets that could be fired at one time, it may prove to be too limited for a practical rocket defense.  Israel may prefer to design an advanced “multi-laser” system that could acquire and target several rockets at a time.

As one American analyst observed, “in the end, the best investments for Israel are bunkers for its citizens to cower in”.

Analysis 05-25-2021


Western Militaries Speak Out


Western militaries tend to be apolitical.  While the soldiers and officers may have political opinions, they tend to hold them back and focus on their job of protecting the nation’s interests.  Commanders are told to focus on the task at hand and not the political beliefs of their subordinates.

Not anymore.  In the past few weeks, officers, and soldiers of two major NATO nations have spoken out about the political trends in their nations.  And, undoubtedly, there are several other Western nations who have retired officers that have serious concerns about the direction of their nations.

The first was an open letter by 20 retired French generals that warned of a civilian insurrection – fueled by claims of French President Macron’s concessions to fundamentalist Islam.  Polls taken since then showed that the French public agrees with the generals.

The next letter was published a week ago by the French publication Valeurs Actuelles by an anonymous group of soldiers serving in the army.  They noted that they have fought fundamentalist Islam in Afghanistan and the Central African Republic, only to see Macron caving into radicals at home.

The letter endorsed the previous letter and criticized the president for disrespecting the officers.  However, the letter did note that the military will maintain order should civil war break out.

This is a dramatic course for a military that has stayed out of politics for 60 years – since the Algerian Civil War.

Now the US military has taken a similar turn – not only protesting national politics, but the politicization of the US military.

Just over a week ago, an open letter by from 124 retired generals and admirals complained about a political “hard left” turn in national politics and forced politicization of the US military.

The group called Flag Officers 4 America accused the Biden Administration of “Using the US military as political pawns…forcing politically correct policies like the divisive critical race theory into the military.”

“Under a Democratic Congress and the Current Administration, our Country has taken a hard left turn toward Socialism and a Marxist form of tyrannical government that must be countered.”

The retired officers also questioned Biden’s “mental and physical condition” as Commander in chief.  “The mental and physical condition of the Commander in Chief cannot be ignored.  He must be able to quickly make accurate national security decisions involving life and limb anywhere, day or night.”

The letter also questioned the validity of the election.  It stated, “Without fair and honest elections that accurately reflect the ‘will of the people’ our Constitutional Republic is lost…Election integrity demands insuring there is one legal vote cast and counted per citizen…Today, many are calling such commonsense controls ‘racist’ to avoid fair and honest elections.

Amongst those signing was Lt. General Boykin, who was Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence during the George W. Bush administration and Vice Admiral Poindexter, who was Deputy National Security Advisor under President Reagan.

Although critics denounced the retired flag officers criticizing the president, these same critics approved of retired flag officers denouncing Trump – for instance, in 2017, 55 retired flag officers saying Trump was unfit to be president.

The criticism that the US military has become politicized was highlighted this week when Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeier of the US Space Command was relieved of his command of the 11th Space Warning Squadron.  He was removed for writing the book Irresistible Revolution: Marxism’s Goal of the Conquest & the Unmaking of the American Military, that claimed that the US military was promoting Marxist ideologies.  He noted that the Secretary of Defense said that extremist ideologies must be rooted out of the military.  Lohmeier maintained that Marxism is an extreme ideology.

Lohmeier maintained that the spread of Marxism in the military was not a new trend, but something that occurred over many years.  In 2017 it was revealed that a West Point cadet, now a commissioned officer in the Army was an avowed Communist.  He showed pictures taken during his commissioning with him wearing a t-shirt with the picture of Communist Revolutionary Che Guevara.  In the inside of his cap, it said, “Communism will win.”

The officer, Spensor Rapone, was discharged with a less than honorable discharge.  However, others asked how a communist could make it through a 4-year course without anyone of his fellow cadets or members of the faculty noticing.  Further investigation uncovered the fact that several members of the facility were Marxists and many of the cadets, who would become the leaders of the US Army, also had Marxist beliefs.

There are several instances that the military academies are encouraging principles of Marxism like systemic racism that is used to divide and create the dialectic that communists use to create revolution.  In June 2020, recent graduates of West Point (and now commissioned officers in the US Army) decried West Point’s many failures specifically in regard to systemic racism.  They demanded that the military academy “normalize anti-racism” and “racial inclusion.”  That would have institutionalized a witch hunt against anyone of a different skin color or political ideology.

The political desires in this West Point document mirrored those of the Port Huron Statement that led to the formation of the Socialist Student for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s.  The president of SDS, Carl Oglesby later publicly proclaimed that the organization’s intention was to destroy capitalism and “trying to launch” a communist civil war.

This radicalism is not limited to West Point.  The US Air Force Academy football team came out with a statement that it wasn’t enough to be not racist.  “It’s time to be anti-racist.”  In other words, any politics that were not “anti-racist” enough were to be condemned.  The team also endorsed the Black Lives Matter organization, which has been involved in numerous protests in recent years.

At the US Naval Academy, a midshipman was expelled this year for expressing pro-police and anti-riot views – an unsurprising stand since both of his parents were police officers.  His discharge was delayed until Biden was in office so the midshipman couldn’t be pardoned by Trump.

Some conservative analysts claims that this Marxist ideology has hit more than the military academies.  Soldiers, sailors, airmen, and Marines are leaving the military in large numbers because they oppose the new political ideology being thrust on them.  Even veterans, who have been responsible for encouraging young people to join the military, are telling potential recruits to avoid the current politicized military.  The result is that enlistment and reenlistment rates are down, and the US military finds itself unable to meet its manpower needs.

They believe also that the result is that the world’s most powerful military is undergoing a transformation that will weaken it.  Only third world nations cull military members that support the opposition candidate.  And the result is a substandard military that is only useful for suppressing domestic opposition.

In Lt. Colonel Matthew Lohmeier’s book Irresistible Revolution, he notes Americans are becoming radicalized and shifting to either the extreme left or right.  In many cases, it is respected flag officers that are causing the extremism.  General Stanley McChrystal, who headed operations in Afghanistan, compared Trump voters with al Qaeda in Iraq.

These are not words that will smooth the political waters or encourage national unity, since more than 75 million American voted for Trump.

So, what is in the future?  In their letter, the French soldiers note that the military will maintain order should civil war break out.  However, the American military, as it is currently being politicized, will not do the same.  They are more likely to pick their side based on political considerations, not the Constitution which every soldier swears an oath to support and defend.

Analysis 05-13-2021


Britain’s New Aircraft Carrier
and the Growing Naval Cooperation with US and Other Allies


The HMS Queen Elizabeth and her task force left the naval base of Portsmouth, England on May 1, 2021 for a worldwide cruise called Carrier Strike Group 21.  It is the first British naval aviation exercise in nearly a decade (since the last British carrier HMS Illustrious was decommissioned) and the largest naval task force in four decades – since the Royal Navy recaptured the Falkland Islands in the early 1980s.

The task force is international.  10, F-35 fifth generation fighters from the US Marine Corps are onboard the Queen Elizabeth, One of the three destroyers, USS The Sullivans, is American (providing the task force with protection from high altitude, long range ballistic missiles), and one of three frigates is Dutch (HNLMS Eversten).  During the cruise, ships from India, France, Australia, the US, Japan, and South Korea will be involved in joint naval exercises.

After NATO exercises in the North Atlantic, the task force will travel to the Mediterranean for exercises with the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle.  One British and one Dutch ship will detach to enter the Black Sea.  The task force will carry out air operations against ISIS before transiting the Suez Canal and stopping at a British naval port in Oman.  It will visit India and carry out joint naval exercises with the Indian Navy before travelling to Singapore.  It will then move to the South China Sea for freedom of navigation exercises with US, Japanese, Australian, South Korean, New Zealand, Malaysian, and Singapore navies.

The operation is meant to be a show that Britain is committed to a global reach and is not limiting itself to an Atlantic mission.  Commodore Steve Moorhouse, Commander of the strike group said, “HMS Queen Elizabeth is at the center of this operation; it’s an international operation with the Americans and the Dutch, but to have the Royal Navy at the heart of something like this shows that we are well and truly back on the global stage.”

But, in an era where many navies, including small nations like Thailand, have aircraft carriers, is the new British carrier that much of a threat?  Or is it just a high-profile target?


HMS Queen Elizabeth – Not Just Another Small Deck Aircraft Carrier

The HMS Queen Elizabeth is named for Queen Elizabeth I, not the current Monarch, Queen Elizabeth II.  Queen Elizabeth I (1558 – 1603) saw the rise of the Royal Navy as a force in naval power, especially after the defeat of the Spanish Armada.  The first warship named the Queen Elizabeth was a WWI battleship.

Britain was a pioneer in naval aviation and still has corporate knowledge in the shipbuilding industry and the Royal Navy to build and operate large carriers.

In a world of many carriers, the Queen Elizabeth class carriers are larger and better than all but the American nuclear supercarriers.  It is the largest Royal Navy ship built and it displaces 66,000 tons.  That makes it larger than the French nuclear carrier Charles de Gaulle at 42,500 tons, Russian Admiral Kuznetsov at 42,000 tons (this class includes the two active Chinese carriers), and the domestically built Chinese carriers of 50,000 tons displacement.

British shipbuilders used new technologies in the Queen Elizabeth Class of carriers (the second ship of the class is the Prince of Wales, which is currently operational).  It has solved the age-old question of where the ship’s superstructure should be (forward for ship operations or aft for air operations) by building two superstructures – each with back up for the other superstructure in case of battle damage).  By making each superstructure smaller, it reduces air turbulence over the flight deck and provides more deck space for aircraft.  The super structures are also curved to improve “stealth” capabilities.

Although it is not nuclear powered, it does have a range of 10,000 nautical miles – further than that of its potential competitors (Russia and China).

To make it harder for enemy submarines to detect, it has integrated electrical propulsion, which lessens the engine noise because it decouples the engines from the electrically driven propellers.  It also has diesel engines for fuel conservation and gas turbines for high speed.

It was also designed to operate seamlessly with US nuclear carriers.  As a result, it was designed in conjunction with American Navy input.

The ship class has two ships, and it is planned that one ship will be always available for operations.

The ships were designed to carry about 36 F-35 joint strike fighters and launch 75 sorties a day for five days.  This, it was felt, would allow the ship to have the same “clout” as one of the American nuclear carriers, but without the extra classes of aircraft (ASW, transportation, helicopters, cargo, etc.).  Clearly, this ship class was designed to fill in for an American nuclear carrier – a class of ships which is frequently overextended in today’s volatile world.  In fact, the US had to call upon the French to deploy their carrier during the Afghan campaign.

What makes this ship class a serious strategic force is its use of the fifth-generation fighter the F-35.  Like the Harriers, which the British carriers used for vertical takeoff and landing, the F-35 can operate by taking off and landing vertically.  However, since vertical takeoff uses so much fuel, the Queen Elizabeth class of ships use a “ski jump” ramp that allows the aircraft to get airborne quickly without using as much fuel.

The ship uses what is known as a “rolling landing” to reduce fuel consumption during landing.

Except for US nuclear carriers, this is the only carrier class that is currently carrying a fifth-generation fighter.  The US and UK governments have signed an agreement that allows British F-35 aircraft to be stationed aboard US carriers, while US F-35 aircraft can be stationed onboard UK carriers (as is happening with the US Marine F-35s stationed onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth for this deployment).

About 250 American Marines and sailors are currently onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth.

The ship also fields four Merlin helicopters that carry airborne radar (Crowsnest) that will be used as an airborne early warning system.  The British learned during the Falkland Islands operation that airborne radar is critical to protecting its task force from enemy aircraft.

The ship class can also integrate with the American E-2C airborne warning radar.

One of the interesting facts about the F-35 is that it appears to be the naval aviation fixed wing fighter choice of the West.  The two Italian aircraft carriers, Cavour and Giuseppe Garibaldi will be F-35 capable.  The Cavour (which has gone through its F-35 integration exercises in the United States) will be able to handle up to 15 F-35s in its hangar and on its flight deck.  It appears that Spanish and Australian carriers may also carry small numbers of F-35s.

Although the Japanese Constitution prevents the production of aircraft carriers, the Japanese have a helicopter class ship, (Izumo and Kaga) that is designed for anti-submarine warfare.  Despite some political opposition it appears that both ships are F-35 capable and could embark about a dozen F-35s per ship.

Japanese naval doctrine is to establish a blockade stretching from the Philippines to Japan and to pursue Chinese submarines that break that blockade.  The Japanese carriers would use the F-35 to provide air defense for a task force and establish air supremacy at a “theater level.”

So, what we see is not purely American naval aviation.  Several American allies are intending to use the F-35 as a quick way to establish a naval aviation presence.  At one end of the spectrum are the HMS Queen Elizabeth and HMS Prince of Wales, which are designed to fill in for an American supercarrier.  At the other end are American allies like Japan and Italy that can assist in naval operations.

Then, there are some allies like Spain and Australia that are still considering ship borne F-35s.

Despite stories of the aircraft carrier’s demise, they remain as popular as ever.  Although only the US and France can afford the cost of a nuclear carrier and only the US can build a large deck, multipurpose carrier air arm, several Western and NATO countries are investing in smaller carriers and modern fifth generation aircraft which will give them a serious combat capability and the ability to operate seamlessly with American naval aviation.

While the American nuclear supercarriers may remain the major target for Russia and China, it appears that there will be more than enough ships to base modern fighter aircraft in the world’s oceans.

It appears that the naval chessboard is getting more crowded.

Analysis 05-04-2021


Rare Earths – A Strategic Assessment


As concerns about open hostilities between China and the US increase, the issue of Rare Earth Elements (REEs) scarcity increases.  For years, China has managed to totally control the mining and refining of rare earths.  Given the importance of REEs in defense technology, it’s time to take a levelheaded look at REEs, defense technology, and whether or not America is facing a critical shortage of the group of elements.

Today, REEs are considered strategic minerals of the 21st Century.  This is a dramatic change for a group of elements that were once considered merely chemical curiosities.  China is threatening to use rare earths as a “nuclear” option in their growing trade riff with the US.  China accounts for more than 70% of global output of rare earths and it has actively restricted exports of rare earths to the US as the threat of a trade war has waxed and waned.

Two years ago, the Commerce Department released a report requested by President Trump to investigate US access to rare earths in an emergency.

The report said, “The United States is heavily dependent on critical mineral imports…If China or Russia were to stop exports to the United States and its allies for a prolonged period – similar to China’s rare earth embargo in 2010 – an extended supply disruption could cause significant shocks.”

Rare Earth Elements are relatively unknown to the average person.  Names like europium, praseodymium, neodymium, lanthanum, samarium, cerium and gadolinium rarely get mentioned in chemistry classes, much less normal conversation.  Although called “Rare Earths,” they are abundant in the Earth’s crust.  It was the fact that they were hard to extract and purify that led early scientists to think they were rare.  Before World War Two, the world’s supply of many of these elements was measured in grams and merely laboratory curiosities.  And the lack of samples guaranteed that scientists didn’t spend much time studying their properties.

The growth in electronics in the post WW II age changed all that.  Today REEs are critical for optics and electronics.  Europium, for instance provides the red phosphor in color cathode-ray tubes and liquid crystal displays used in computers and televisions.  There is no known substitute.

Rare earths are not just important for our cell phones, computers, and DVD players.  They are increasingly important in America’s national defense, which leaves the Department of Defense concerned that the United States may not have enough rare earths to wage a war, especially if China cuts off our supplies.

U.S. military technologies such as anti-submarine warfare, smart bombs, and night vision rely heavily upon rare earth elements.  But rebuilding an independent U.S. supply chain to protect the country from foreign dependency could take up to 10 years, according to a recent report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO).  The GAO report was commissioned to look at national security risks that could arise from our dependency upon rare earth elements.

These are some of the military technologies that could be hurt with a rare earth embargo.

Rare earth elements are a critical part of devices such as lasers, radar, missile-guidance systems, satellites, and aircraft electronics. And many military systems also rely upon commercial computer hard drives that use rare earth magnets.  Specific examples of rare earth-driven technologies include the navigation system for the M-1 Abrams battle tank, and the electric drive for the Navy’s DDG-51 destroyers.   The GAO report states, “Defense systems will likely continue to depend on rare earth materials, based on their life cycles and lack of effective substitutes.”  The rare earth element neodymium, for instance, is very magnetic and is used in everything from computer hard drives to wind turbines and hybrid cars.

But is it as bad as the US Government makes it?  In many ways, it is like looking at a glass of water – is the glass half full or half empty?

The US has world class REE mineral reserves, and the infrastructure is in place to exploit them.  The U.S. once supplied most of the global supply of rare earth elements, and manufactured rare earth products such as the neodymium magnets.  But rare earth processing has largely shifted to China since the 1990s.

The key to America producing enough REEs soon lies in the REE mine at Mountain Pass, California.  Mountain Pass is perhaps the largest non-Chinese rare earth deposit in the world.  For years, the United States was self-sufficient in the mining of REE thanks to the Mountain Pass deposits which were discovered in 1949.  Two prospectors were looking for uranium deposits, when their Geiger counter detected high radioactivity in a rock outcropping.  The prospectors staked a claim and sent off ore samples.  When the assay results came back, they discovered that they had discovered a rare earth mineral called bastnaesite, which was worthless at the time.

Mountain Pass was developed at a critical time.  By the 1960s color televisions were finding their way into every American household and europium was critical for their television tubes.  As the mine developed more efficient solvent extraction processes to extract europium, they produced in turn more REEs, which allowed scientists to find new uses for them.  Many of these new applications were in defense industries.


The problem for REE mining in the US

The Chinese have used their chokehold on REEs to maintain their dominant position in the industry, while discouraging development of a competitor that could mine REE ores and then turn them into “consumer ready” products.  For years, the Chinese would manipulate REE prices to maximize profits, while preventing development of a competitive REE sector in the US.  Even when the US managed to mine REE ores, the concentrate still had to be shipped to China for final refining.

That has changed.  MP Materials, which owns Mountain Pass Mine has acquired all the equipment for refining and is in the process of constructing a refinery on site.  The refinery is expected to be in operation next year.

“Our mission is to fully restore the [rare earth] supply chain to the United States of America,” said James Litinsky, MP Materials CEO.  “We are going to invest that capital.”

He continued, “We will ultimately, over time, make the magnets ourselves in the United States.”

Mountain Pass clearly can meet those goals.  The mine is the largest producer of REEs in the Western Hemisphere and produces 15% of the world’s production of REEs.

In September, President Trump signed an executive order to encourage REE production in the US.

The US government has also stepped in to ensure a constant supply of orders for the mine.  In November, the DoD gave the company nearly $10 million to begin refining the REEs on site.

Another factor that may help encourage mining at Mountain Pass is the recall election for Democratic Governor Newsome, whose environmental policies have discouraged mining in California.  If the California governor is recalled, a new governor may move to encourage REE mining.


But will that be enough?

While REE uses are critical in many defense technologies, it is easy to forget that REE demand is dominated by commercial demand – from electric vehicles to cell phones.

Litinsky noted that although Defense orders will be important, only about 1% of the REE demand is defense oriented.  The other 99% will be used for communications, wind turbines and electric vehicles.

So, is the US critically short of REEs?  No, it is not as bad as some articles make it out to be.  Not only is Mountain Pass producing REE ore, it will soon be producing refined REE products.  There is also the government’s strategic reserve of REE material.

There is also the option of recycling.  The rare earth element neodymium is used in powerful magnets is easily separated from consumer electronics.  The same is true for other REEs.

As we noted, rare earths are not rare.  There are mineral deposits across the world and China would be hard pressed to control all of them in a crisis.  Soon REEs would find their way from other countries to the Mountain Pass refinery.

Clearly, the REE crisis is a case of a glass that is half empty.  China still dominates the REE sector, but the US is moving quickly to establish itself as a major producer.  However, while it can supply defense needs, it still has a problem meeting all the consumer demand.

There is also the REE shortage outside the US, but still found in Western nations.  One must wonder if EU nations, without REE reserves, will modify their foreign policy towards China to keep the REEs coming.  Would German auto manufacturers, anxious to produce electric vehicles, push the government to make concessions to China?

That may be a bigger threat.

Analysis 04-27-2021


Syrian Missile hits near Dimona – The facts so far


On Thursday April 22, a Syrian SA-5 surface-to-air missile (SAM) was launched from Syrian territory.  It proceeded to fly over Palestinian occupied territory and finally exploded over the northern Negev.

Before that, at around 1:30 am, Israeli jet fighters conducted a series of airstrikes on targets in Syrian Golan.  In response, Syrian Air Defense launched a salvo of Sam missiles at the attackers.  One missile continued flying over the occupied territory.  Although Israeli radar detected it, attempts to intercept it with Israel’s vaunted missile defense system failed.

The missile exploded in flight over the Negev, sending fragments crashing down on the community of Abu Qrainat, about 30 kilometers from the Israeli nuclear facility at Dimona.  No one yet, including the Israelis, think the missile was targeting Dimona.


What is the SA-5 Missile?

Developed by the Soviets in the 1960s, it was the premier Soviet air defense system for decades and remains a key part of air defense systems of former Soviet client nations like Syria.  The radar and command and control function allow it to fire and control several missiles at the same time.  It was designed to provide long range protection of critical cities or military bases.

The SA-5 missile is designed for medium and long-range attacks.  Its range is 300 kilometers, and its ceiling is 40,000 meters.  It has a 200+ Kg warhead.  The warhead is detonated either with a proximity fuse or a command from the ground.

If the missile fails to reach its target it is designed to self-detonate when its fuel runs out.  Although the missile is launched with four solid fuel boosters, it sustains its flight with a liquid fuel motor.

It is reported that the Soviets had made this type of missile capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.


Could the SA-5 have been used to attack Israel?

Yes.  The Soviets had given it a secondary mission capability as a surface-to-surface ballistic missile.  The 300-kilometer range is relatively modest by today’s standards.  But it was also incapable of reliably hitting any small target.  However, it was more than capable of hitting large targets like military bases or urban areas.

The warhead, which was designed for bringing down aircraft would also work well against soft targets like urban areas or buildings.  The warhead had 217 kg of high explosives and 37,000 steel pellets.  Nearly everyone within 125 feet of the explosion of the warhead would probably be hit by these pellets of 2 and 3.5 grams.  At about 100 feet, about 50% would sustain wounds that would be fatal.

Of course, a SA-5 missile could have been used to target Dimona, but since reports indicate all the sensitive nuclear weapon production equipment is underground, the missile would have inflicted some damage to the surface structure.


Was this intentional or an accident?

Some experts point their assessment toward an accident.  The missile is supposed to explode when its fuel runs out and it appears to have done that at about 300 km from the launch site.

“Runaway” SA-5 missiles are not unusual.  On July 1, 2019, a Syrian SAM missile flew over the Mediterranean and exploded in the air above Northern Cyprus.

Since it appears that the missile exploded in the atmosphere by itself, it is likely that it followed directions and self-destructed when the fuel ran out.


Why didn’t Israeli air defense shoot the missile down?

This is one question many people – especially the Israelis – are asking.  At this point in time, we do not know what system was responsible for the failure, although there are reports that it was the American made Patriot Theater Ballistic Missile System that is responsible.

If that is so, it points out a major flaw of the Patriot that other missiles like the SA-5 could take advantage of.

The Patriot is designed to intercept ballistic missiles like the Scud missile and Iran’s Shahab missile family.  These missiles are launched in a high ballistic trajectory that takes the missile out of the atmosphere, high into space and then back towards earth and its target.

This is a far different flight path taken by the SA-5 in normal operations.  The SA-5 follows a propelled flight path that is nearly parallel to the ground compared to the elliptical path of a traditional ballistic missile.

Sophisticated missile defenses focus more on ballistic missiles and their flight path.  Their radar stations and software are designed to give them their best results in these scenarios.

It also must be remembered that the SA-5 can operate in a ballistic missile mode at heights that are lower than many air defense missiles that aren’t purposely designed for low altitude targets like cruise missiles.


Lessons learned.

For all the money spent on air defense systems, they remain very vulnerable.  They may be able to intercept a ballistic missile coming in from an expected path, but that same system cannot intercept a cruise missile one mile away, ten feet off the ground, and heading towards the command vehicle at 600 miles per hour.  Nor can it stop a drone flitting 50 above the radar unit.

Modern air defense systems have impressive capabilities if they face what they are expecting – ballistic missiles, cruise missiles, hypersonic weapons, etc. – and the physics that govern them.

Israel has focused its missile defense against the Iranians and their missiles.  And, although the average layman does not realize it, the physics of launching a ballistic missile from Iran towards Israel fits a narrow band of trajectories – like the limited options for a basketball player taking a last second shot from the other side of the court.  Israel has invested much of its anti-missile defense in detecting and destroying missiles coming from those areas, at certain altitudes and at certain speeds.

Israeli may try to justify their failure by claiming that In this case, a missile came from an unexpected point in Syria.  It did not take the traditional ballistic course because it was using powered flight.  Its course was also headed for an isolated part of Israel, the Negev, instead of a population center.

A final lesson is that many weapons systems have alternate uses – uses that many tend to forget about.  In 1956, obsolete Israeli P-51 Mustang aircraft cut Egyptian telephone lines in the Sinai with their propellers in Operation Kadesh.  Similarly obsolete surface-to-air missiles like the SA-5 have other applications that military people forget.

War is not always about the best equipment, but it is about making the best use of equipment in ways that will surprise your enemy.


Israel’s damage control

Israel’s military spokesman Hidai Zilberman downplayed the likelihood of a deliberate attack. “There was no intention of hitting the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” he told reporters.

A senior US general also speculated that the incident was not intentional, but rather indicated a lack of Syrian air defense capability.

“I think it reflects actual incompetence in Syrian air defense… I do not believe it was an intentional attack,” marine general Kenneth McKenzie, head of US central command, said during a senate armed services committee hearing.

Whether it was intentional or an accident the effects of this incident will force the Israelis to examine their failure to intercept similar missiles in the future and may rethink their strategy of continuous attacks on Syria.

Also, it is likely that the Syrians discover that they can use this option of directing their SA-5 missiles like surface to surface to gain a deterrent against future Israeli attacks.

Analysis 04-19-2021


Afghanistan – a Retrospective and Military Lessons


Biden has announced that the United States will pull out of Afghanistan by September 11th – the twentieth anniversary of the World Trade Center attack and the twentieth anniversary of the US decision to invade Afghanistan to capture al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden.

The American invasion (and retreat) also marks another chapter in Afghanistan’s successful opposition of foreign invasion that goes back over 2,000 years to Alexander the Great.  America has joined the Greeks, the English, and the Soviets in wasting lives and treasure in trying to conquer the Afghans.

Much has changed in the last 20 years – nearly all bad.  Today Americans are routinely spied upon by American intelligence agencies.  Until 9-11, it was illegal for the NSA and CIA to spy on Americans.

Today there security checkpoints everywhere not only around government sites and the Capitol.  Americans must show identification to board trains, airplanes and even interstate busses.  Invasive body searches are now accepted.

America has now turned its national security agencies on its own citizens, with widespread fear and danger of “domestic terrorists” a term that has been used lately by government and security officials.

The payoff for all of this has been minimal.  The Taliban still is found in Afghanistan.  And there are even more radical Muslim groups today like the resurgent ISIS.  Except for a few buildings, the impact of the Americans on Afghanistan will disappear within a few years.

Why did this happen?

A lot of the lessons are contradictory.  In the 1990s, the US ignored the turmoil that was occurring in Afghanistan.  They understood that Afghanistan was a quagmire that was best to avoid.  One the other hand, by ignoring what was happening a price had to be paid later, which it was.

One problem was that the US entered the war without strong goals.  Yes, there was the desire to find and capture bin Laden, but the US was throwing Special Forces units into Afghanistan within days to the 9-11 attack without knowing what the goal of the invasion was.

Rather than focus on attacking the al Qaeda strongholds, the US focused on a political win by capturing the capital of Kabul and other key cities that had nothing to do with the war on bin Laden.

The problem is that Americans used in their intervention the cover of being strong advocates of democracy and freedom.  Suddenly, political leaders who had wanted a “hands off” approach to Afghanistan were pushing for invasion to introduce democracy and human rights.  However, that goal quickly disappeared as Obama said he was elected to end the war and the nation building effort was needed at home.  He remained, however, committed to the Afghan war even after bin Laden was found and killed.

Trump also wanted to withdraw, only to find himself fighting his own generals, who wanted to remain.

The reality is that Americans and the West were not ready for the commitment needed to stop transnational terrorism.  President George W. Bush warned Americans that this would be a “lengthy campaign unlike any other we have ever seen.”  British Defense Chief Adm. Michael Boyce warned in 2001 that the war on terrorism “may last 50 years.”

In this way, the war on terrorism, which was frequently fought in Afghanistan, was more like the Cold War, which occupied generations of American soldiers and sailors.  Although money was spent, and people died (especially in Vietnam) the war was ideological.  Much of the focus was on bolstering our allies politically and spreading the advantages of democracy and “evils of communism”.

This “Battle for the Minds” failed in Afghanistan.  And that contributed to the eventual pull out of American forces without a clear victory.


Military lessons

Wars need clear goals.

There was never a clear goal in Afghanistan.  It started out to kill or capture bin Laden.  Then it was to cripple al Qaeda.  Then it was to topple the Taliban.  Then it was to install a friendly government.  Then it was to turn Afghanistan into a functioning nation.  No wonder that the small military footprint that saw most of the American victories in 2001 was replaced with a military presence that was more reminiscent of the Vietnam War – without the jungle.

Americans established large military camps and carried out operations away from those bases.  It seemed that these bases had more in common with the massive facilities at Da Nang, Vietnam.

Forget clear cut goals.  For many career soldiers, going to Afghanistan was the key to promotion.  For politicians and bureaucrats, it was the statistics – numbers of Taliban killed and the amount of new investment in Afghanistan.

When presidents like Trump or Obama wanted to leave Afghanistan, there were no clear-cut reasons to stay.  Generals did not tell their leaders that staying in Afghanistan for another six months would achieve a certain goal.  Instead, they spoke of potential long range problems and outbreaks of terrorism elsewhere – very reminiscent of the “Domino Theory” given as a reason to stay in Vietnam.

The American military will pay a considerable price for its time in Afghanistan.  When the war began, it carried out an invasion on the other side of the world that no other nation could do.  It parked aircraft carriers in the Arabian Sea that launched hundreds of Special Forces into the country to assist pro-American tribes.

As the mission evolved from finding bin Laden, the shape of the military force changed.  Special Forces who worked with the tribes became less important than a large military force that could occupy large parts of the country.

Equipment priorities also changed.  American tanks were too heavy for many roads and bridges in Afghanistan, so lighter armored equipment like the Stryker was deployed.  And, as more improvised mines were encountered, mine resistant vehicles (MRAPS) were used.

There were some problems with these new vehicles.  To keep them light enough to be airmobile, their armor became so light that heavy Russian machineguns could penetrate their armored skin.  Of course, there were kits of additional armor available, but that added to the weight and kept them from being as mobile.

Military doctrine also evolved.  The Air Force did not need to establish air superiority in the sky over Afghanistan, so they focused on bombing and ground support.  Meanwhile, the Army was focused on a military designed to fight insurgencies, so they did away with the “division” concept and established brigades that could move quickly by air to a developing country with an insurgency problem.

Even the Navy has problems as it has invested in inexpensive “littoral combat” ships that are best used in low threat naval operations around countries that have insurgencies.  Some of these ships will be decommissioned early because they do not fit the Navy’s needs.

The problem now is that the Afghan War is over, and the US military finds itself with equipment and tactics far different from the conflicts they may face in the near future.

Both Russia and China are focused on establishing air superiority in any potential conflict and the wargames that US generals and admirals play show that the US may have problems controlling the air, even over its own naval task forces.

Meanwhile, the US Army has large numbers of light armored vehicles that will easily blow apart in the face of Russian main battle tanks.  They are so unfit for conventional combat that the US has started giving them to local police forces, which only allows the police to become more aggressive in the face of popular protests in parts of the US.

There is also the problem of the military personnel and their training.  Although the Afghan War has provided good combat experience for a cadre of Army and Marine soldiers, there is a big difference between breaking down the door of an Afghan family hut in search of weapons and facing Russian soldiers with more modern weapons.  Can a pilot who has spent the last ten years providing ground support to the US Army go head-to-head with a fifth-generation Russian fighter aircraft?

America’s generals have spent nearly all their careers fighting in Afghanistan.  Can they adjust to fighting a conventional war in Europe?

The Army is slowly evolving away from an insurgency mode of combat.  Last year, before the Covid epidemic, the US Army carried out a major movement of US ground forces and equipment (including main battle tanks) from the United States to Europe.  Although the movement was cut short, it did demonstrate that the military is beginning to move away from the Afghan experience.

If the US military can start preparing for the next conflict – one that will probably involve China or Russia, at least they will have learned one lesson – prepare for the next war, not the last one.