Week of April 12, 2021

Hypersonic Weapons – Fad or Fact?

 

At the beginning of WWII, it was tanks.  After WWII, it was nuclear weapons, bombers, and missiles.  In the past few years, it has been drones.

Now it is hypersonic missiles.  China, Russia, and the US are engaged in a race to field the first practical hypersonic missile.

According to military experts, hypersonic weapons are the latest “leading edge” technology.  Travelling at five times the speed of sound, they are harder to detect and considerably more difficult to shoot down.  Russia sees them as the answer to America’s missile defense of North America and China sees them as the “golden bullet” that will defeat America’s super carriers.

The problem, however, is that hypersonic weapons are neither new, nor do they offer anything that current technology does not offer – for less money.

Hypersonic technology is about 80 years old and was first explored as a weapon technology during WWII.  Nazi Germany, who was the leader in rocket technology at that time, had considered it when looking at ways to attack America from Germany.  The first solution was a long-range bomber, but they took time to cross the Atlantic and were vulnerable to Allied long range air patrols.

The solution was a rocket that could travel at hypersonic speeds.  The Germans conceived a hypersonic boost glide missile called the Silbervogel (Silver Bird).  The problem was its cost, compared to the size of the weapons payload.

The post WWII era saw a demand to quickly hit distant targets in the most efficient way possible.  The answer was the ICBM.  It flew a ballistic flight plan, went up to a thousand miles in space at hypersonic speeds and landed with a degree of accuracy – at least accurate for nuclear weapons.  It was also the most economical solution.

The US continued to look at hypersonic flight and developed the Dyna-Soar hypersonic glider.  The program was cancelled because of its cost and the fact that there was no clear objective to the weapon.

The fact is that hypersonic weapons use nuclear technology from the 1950s, boost technology from the 1950s, and hypersonic glide technology from the 1960s – hardly a revolutionary weapon system.

However, afraid that it will fall behind, the US is pushing to develop a hypersonic missile as quickly as possible, and with the minimal testing.  The pace of testing indicates that this week’s hypersonic missile test failure off the coast of California will not be the last one.  The missile is designed to target high value strategic targets.

The Army hopes to field its first missiles in FY 23.

The US is focusing on the Hypersonic Conventional Strike Weapon and the air launched AGM-183A Rapid Response Weapon.

The Defense Department plans up to 40 hypersonic missile tests in the next five years – a fast track that could lead to problems if there are any test failures.  There are also few places like hypersonic wind tunnels that can test such a weapons system.

Russia has already fielded hypersonic missiles for strategic purposes – like replacing its current ballistic missiles.  The two missile systems are the Avangard and the Kinzhal.  The Kinzhal reportedly has speeds of up to Mach 10 and a range of 1200 miles.

The Russians are also testing an air-to-surface hypersonic missile for use on the Russian SU-57 jet fighter.

The Chinese are behind and are developing a hypersonic missile with a different tactical application.  They are developing an inexpensive Mach 5 scramjet, the SF-17.  Since it is cheaper, it can be deployed in massive attacks that could overwhelm the defense systems of an American carrier task force.  It is expected to enter service in the late 2020s.

The British and French navies are working on a hypersonic missile to replace the Harpoon and Exocet anti-ship missiles.  The missile, Pursues will have a ramjet engine and is expected to enter service in 2030.

For all the optimistic talk, hypersonic weapons face an invincible foe – physics.  That is why they were considered impractical in the 20th Century,

Hypersonic weapons will launch like traditional ICBMs.  However, instead of taking a ballistic path as an ICBM, the warhead will be attached to a hypersonic glide vehicle that can ride the shockwaves created by its high speed as it flies through the atmosphere.  Unlike ICBMs, it will fly at a much lower altitude, which will be below many missile defense system envelopes.

The key is the hypersonic glide vehicle, which is quite maneuverable at hypersonic speeds.  In a long-range flight, it skips across the edge of the atmosphere until it approaches its target.  Then, it rolls over and dives into the atmosphere.  It can maneuver by rolling clockwise or counterclockwise.  It does the same in a short-range missile, except it will stay in the atmosphere.

These glide vehicles have problems though.  As they fly through the atmosphere, they are subject to atmospheric drag and temperatures of thousands of degrees.  If one were to shape the glide vehicle to reduce the drag, it loses its hypersonic glide ability.  And, although it can maneuver at hypersonic speeds, doing so drastically reduces the speed and range.  Hypersonic flight depends on a narrow band of atmospheric density and speed.

This narrow band of atmospheric density and hypersonic speed drastically limits the ability of the missile to travel faster than the conventional ballistic missile taking the traditional ballistic flight plan.  This negates the argument that hypersonic missiles are dramatically faster than conventional ICBMs.

Although these hypersonic glide vehicles are fast, the heat created leaves a heat signature that is visible to satellites from thousands of miles away.  Both the US and Russia have early warning satellites that look for large heat signatures like those from ballistic missiles.  These thermal signatures are quite visible to satellite both in the boost phase and as the glide vehicle flies through the atmosphere.  Admittedly, modern anti-missile systems may not be able to intercept these fast-moving vehicles, but they can track them.

Hypersonic weapons are also subject to the age-old physics equation; Energy equals mass times velocity squared.  If one wants to make an object that travels Mach 1 to go Mach 5, the energy needed equals 5 squared, or 25.  That means that pushing a hypersonic glide vehicle at hypersonic speeds throughout its powered flight requires 25 times more energy then moving the vehicle at Mach 1.  No wonder the engineers of Nazi Germany, the Soviet Union, and the US moved away from hypersonic weapon technology back in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s.

The high speeds and heat incurred during its travel through the atmosphere also tests the structural integrity of the vehicle.  ICBM nosecones reach temperatures of a few hundred degrees Celsius.  Hypersonic vehicles will have skin temperatures of thousands of degrees Celsius.  Small imperfections in the skin can cause catastrophic failures.  Small pieces of shrapnel from an interceptor warhead will also cause a failure of the glide vehicle.

There is also the high temperature plasma that surrounds the glide vehicle during any high-speed flight in the atmosphere.  This is what causes the blackout with manned spacecraft reentering the atmosphere at the end of a mission.  This plasma will hinder communications and navigation.  This might preclude remote guidance changes or allow for the vehicle to use navigation satellites to make course corrections.

In the end, hypersonic flight represents a set of tradeoffs – tradeoffs that engineers felt was not worth it for several decades.  Drag forces at low altitudes reduce speed, which is only obtained by the considerable expenditure of fuel.  There are tradeoffs between speed, altitude, and maneuverability.  High speed through the atmosphere produces immense amounts of heat, which are detectable by satellites.

The key advantage of hypersonic flight is that current missile defenses cannot intercept them due to speed, flight paths that go under the envelope of defensive missile, and remarkable maneuverability.

However, as nations develop and perfect hypersonic missiles, there is another race going on to develop defenses that will negate the hypersonic missile.  Directed energy weapons and particle beams are already in the testing phase.

In the end, much depends on solving several major technological problems.  These problems were once faced by some of the greatest rocket scientists of all time, and they opted for simpler solutions.  Will this generation of scientists succeed when those others failed?

Week of April 05, 2021

US Army Europe Raises Threat Level
Over Increased Russia-Ukraine Tensions

While most of the world is focused on China, its regular incursions into Taiwanese air space, the status of unoccupied Japanese islands, and the number of Chinese boats in the South China Sea, tensions in Europe over increased fighting along the Russian-Ukrainian border has forced the US Army in Europe to increase its threat level to the highest level – “Potential Imminent Crisis.”

In the past few days, the New York Times has reported that four Ukrainian soldiers were killed and two more seriously wounded in a mortar barrage during a battle against Russian backed “separatists” in the Donetsk region.  The fighting was along the “Line of Contact” which stretches 250 miles between the two fighting forces.  Unlike much of the recent skirmishing of the past few months, this fighting included artillery fire.

This recent escalation in fighting appears to abrogate the cease fire negotiated last July.

Observers have also noticed new Russian manufactured weapons with the “separatists”.

The Ukraine Parliament issued a statement noting a “significant increase in shelling and armed provocations by the armed forces of the Russian Federation.”  They also called on Western nations to “continue and increase international political and economic pressure on Russia.”

Although fighting has been occurring for several years, there have been some recent activities that led to the US Army increasing its threat level.

A few weeks ago, the Russian military announced airborne exercises that targeted water canals supplying the Crimea from the Dnieper River in Ukraine.  The regiment sized airborne exercise was held in conjunction with Russian Black Sea Fleet amphibious exercises.  The airborne units were to seize Ukrainian objectives and set up a defensive perimeter until relieved by other Russian units, possibly Russian marines.

Most worrying for NATO has been the increase in Russian military aircraft incursions into NATO airspace.  This week, NATO fighter aircraft were scrambled 10 times within a six-hour period on Monday.  The incursions were in the Baltic Sea, North Sea, and Black Sea areas.

The incursions included TU-95 Russian bombers nearing the Norwegian coast.  After being intercepted by Norwegian F-16s, they flew south, over the North Sea, prompting the scrambling of British and Belgium fighters.

Other Russian incursions included two Russian Blackjack bombers entering Norwegian airspace, three Russian aircraft in the Black Sea, and a Russian maritime patrol over the Baltic Sea, which was intercepted by Italian aircraft.

NATO has also been concerned about the buildup of Russian military units along the Ukraine border.  Units that participated in maneuvers along the Ukraine border have not been withdrawn, eliciting allegations from Ukrainian military leaders that Russia has intentionally massed more troops on the border.  There are also unconfirmed reports that trains are moving heavy armored equipment like tanks up to the Ukrainian border.

Russia responded to these accusations with the comment, “The Russian Federation transfers the Armed Forces on its soil as it wants to.  This should not concern anyone, and this is not posing any threat to anyone.”

The US has also pushed tensions.  Biden has always been a supporter of the Ukraine and has said, “Crimea is Ukraine,” – a comment bound to infuriate the Russians and Putin, who Biden insulted recently by calling him a “killer.”

In the past few weeks, the US has also delivered 350 tons of arms to the Ukraine military.   This included at least 35 military Humvees, which are designed to carry heavy weapons like heavy machineguns, anti-tank missiles, and rapid-fire cannon.

The Ukraine military has also announced exercises in the flatlands north of the Crimea, which would be an important target in any conflict between the two nations.

 

Increased Threat Level

All of this caused the US Army in Europe to increase its threat level from “Possible Crisis” to “Potential Imminent Crisis,” which is its highest level.  “We’re discussing our concerns about this increase in tensions and ceasefire violations and regional tensions with our NATO allies,” Pentagon spokesman John Kirby told reporters Wednesday.

In addition, US Secretary of State Blinken called his Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kulbea.  And, US Chairman of the Joints Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, called top military leaders in both Russia and Ukraine – Russian General Gerasimov and Ukraine General Khomchak.

How the change in threat status impacts US forces in Europe is a closely held military secret.  This type of threat level is quite different than those caused by a terrorist threat.  Terrorist threats focus on force protection (limiting access to military bases and protecting personnel) instead of a response to an external conventional military threat by another country.

However, we can deduce some of the possible responses by American forces in Europe to this increased threat.

Increased manning of headquarters and communications commands.  Many headquarters and communications commands work at a peacetime level on a regular basis.  However, as the watch level has increased, it is likely that manning will be increased during the higher threat level.  Liberty may be cancelled, which will have an impact as this weekend is the high point of Holy Week activities.

Alternate headquarters and communications locations may also be activated.

Larger number of aircraft put on alert.  It is normal routine for NATO air forces to have several alert aircraft on standby in order to intercept Russian military aircraft entering NATO airspace.  However, given the higher watch level, more aircraft will probably be put on the highest alert status.  There is also the possibility that some of the aircraft may be deployed to other airfields for security purposes.

Weapon loads for the alert aircraft may also be modified.

One theater where the alert status of NATO aircraft will be higher will be in the Baltic nations of Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia.  NATO regularly keeps squadrons in these nations to discourage Russian aircraft incursions.

Dispersion of ground forces.  Military ground forces that are near Russia may be ordered to leave their bases and to disperse in the countryside, especially in strategic areas near borders.  This prevents a surprise attack on the forces and leaves them well placed in case of invasion.

As we noted with NATO aircraft, the likeliest theater where military dispersion will take place is in the Baltic nations.

Activate air and missile defenses.  This is most likely in areas around Russia.

Increased airborne and satellite-based reconnaissance.  The focus will be on units that appear to be moving closer to the Ukraine border.  If Russian railroads are moving heavy armor to the border, intelligence can judge the potential threat.

Putting rapid response forces on alert.  If the situation deteriorates, moving a rapid response force into the theater can show the Russians that NATO is willing to defend its territory and interests.  In addition to units in Europe, there is also the possibility that airborne units of the 82nd and 101st airborne divisions may be deployed.

 

Are NATO, Russia and the Ukraine overreacting to the crisis?

Although there has been fighting between Russia and Ukraine for several years, is the current situation that critical?  Some analysts say no.

Retired Lieutenant General Fredrick Hodges is the former commander of the US Army in Europe.  He says, “This could be posturing, but the Kremlin is testing the new Administration.”  He continues that Russia has no interest in real peace in the Ukraine and wants to keep the country destabilized.

That, however, could be a viewed as an escalation by Putin.  Biden has a record of supporting the Ukraine since his time as Vice President and was influential in increasing military aid to the Ukraine from non-lethal aid to high tech weapons like the Javelin anti-tank missile.

The American embassy in Kiev has also taken a strong stand.  A statement from the embassy said that the US was, “Deeply saddened by the deaths of four Ukrainian soldiers today due to shelling near Shumy, Donetsk.  Russia must observe ceasefire measures, end daily violence that is causing senseless suffering, engage constructively in peace negotiations, and end its aggression in Ukraine.”

American Defense Secretary Austin spoke to Ukraine’s defense minister on Thursday and expressed “unwavering US support for Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Although it is easy to downplay this as posturing, repeated Russian military aircraft incursions, military maneuvers, and the recent history of invading the Crimea and supporting “separatists” in Eastern Ukraine demonstrate that there is a potential for miscalculation and escalation.

Anyone who thinks that there is no chance of a crisis which will escalate into open conflict may want to remember the beginning of WWI.  The assassination of the Hapsburg heir and the future Emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, in Sarajevo, was not considered a major international incident.  The Archduke’s liberal politics and marriage to the Duchess Sophie made him unpopular in the royal family.  His removal from the Hapsburg’s line of succession was welcomed by many.

However, many of the same people who did not like Franz Ferdinand wanted to use the Archduke’s death for political and territorial gain in the Balkans.  The result was a major bloodbath in Europe.

Week of March 30, 2021

Maritime Chokepoints and their Influence on World History
Why the closing of the Suez Canal means a lot?

“Yet, by 1706, instead of seeing the navy of France riding upon our coast, we sent every year a powerful fleet to insult theirs, superior to them not only in the ocean, but in the Mediterranean, forcing them entirely out of that sea by the mere sight of our Flag.”

On the impact of capturing Gibraltar
The Influence of Sea Power upon History
By Alfred T. Mahan

300 years ago, the War of Spanish Succession was to have a major impact on the history of Europe and the influence of British naval power.  In return for being allowed to have a king from the Royal House of Bourbon, Spain ceded ownership of Gibraltar, which controlled the western entrance to the Mediterranean, to the British.

300 year later, Spain has a king from the Royal House of Bourbon, King Felipe VI, and Britain still controls Gibraltar.  And, if anyone thinks that control of the Strait of Gibraltar does not mean anything in today’s modern world, they only must look back to 2019, when British Commandos launching from Gibraltar captured an Iranian tanker bringing oil to a Syrian refinery.

Alfred Mahan’s book, The Influence of Sea Power upon History, 1660 – 1783 is considered the greatest book written on naval strategy.  Kaiser Wilhelm ordered his naval officers to read it and it impacted Germany’s push to build a large surface fleet before WWI.

President Theodore Roosevelt read it and wrote to Mahan calling it a “naval classic.”  As president, he used the principles in the book to reconfigure the American Navy to become a major naval power – the main reason one of the most powerful warships in the world, the nuclear aircraft carrier USS Theodore Roosevelt is named after him.

Ironically, the USS Theodore Roosevelt is currently in the South China Sea facing off against the Chinese navy, which also uses the naval principles of Mahan too.

The Influence of Sea Power upon History focused on how geography determined the commercial maritime influence and naval power of nations.  And, with the shipping accident in the Suez Canal, we see how the geography of maritime chokepoints can seriously impact maritime shipping and projection of naval power.

It is estimated that 90% of the world’s trade is transported by sea and the major maritime link between Europe and Asia goes through the Suez Canal.  In 2019, 19,000 ships carrying 1.25 billion tons of shipping went through the Suez Canal between Europe and Asia via the Suez Canal.  13% of the world’s trade is expected to be hampered by this accident.  Ships that will have to head around Africa’s Cape of Good Hope will need an extra 15 days to make the trip.

But the Ever Given accident isn’t just a civilian maritime problem.  It has caused a major problem for the US Navy, which has ordered a team of American naval personnel to travel to Egypt to help solve the problem.

At a time of increased tension between China and the US, the Suez blockage has seriously impacted the ability of the US to reinforce its fleet off China.  The aircraft carrier USS Eisenhower is currently in the Mediterranean and was scheduled to transit the Suez to carry out exercises in the Arabian Sea.  It was also tasked to be reinforcement in the South China Sea, if conditions called for it.  Although the USS Ronald Reagan is stationed in Japan, the USS Eisenhower would be likely to arrive on station in the South China Sea before the Reagan could finish scheduled repairs and modernization and set sail.

For centuries, naval officers have known that controlling the oceans is too big a task.  Therefore, control of the seas requires controlling chokepoints.  Some of the critical ones are the Strait of Gibraltar, Strait of Hormuz, Suez Canal, Panama Canal, English Channel, Malacca Strait, Strait of Bab al Mandab, and the Taiwan Strait.

There are several reasons why controlling one of these chokepoints is critical.  First, it allows a nation to control maritime shipping – allowing the movement of friendly shipping, while restricting the shipping of the enemy.  This has been the primary use of Gibraltar.  Over the last 300 years, it has restricted commercial shipping of nations like France during the Napoleonic Wars.

Second, it allows a small naval force to stop the movement of an enemy naval force through the chokepoint.  During WWII, the English Channel and the British Navy were able to prevent a German invasion of that island nation.

Finally, a chokepoint is an ideal place to carry out an amphibious invasion.  In 1944, the Allies were able to use the narrow seas between France and England to launch the D-Day landings in Normandy.

The most important chokepoint in terms of commercial traffic is the Malacca Strait.  It is the main shipping channel between the Indian and Pacific oceans.  94,000 ships pass through the strait each year and it carries about 25% of the world’s traded goods.  It carries about one quarter of the oil from the Middle East to Asian countries.

The amount of traffic also makes the strait highly congested.  Near the south of the strait, the channel narrows to only 2.8 kilometers wide.  On August 20th, 2017, the US Navy warship USS John McCain collided with the merchant ship Alnic MC, leading to the death of 10 American sailors.  Eventually the blame was placed on the US ship and the lack of training of its bridge crew.

In terms of potential threat, there is nothing that is considered more critical than the Strait of Hormuz.  It is the only passage to the open sea for several oil producing nations.  35% of the world’s oil tanker traffic passes through the strait, of which 85% goes to Asian markets.  There is currently new tension between Israel and Iran concerning several explosions onboard their shipping.

The Strait of Hormuz is currently patrolled by a multinational naval task force.  Currently the French nuclear aircraft carrier Charles De Gaulle is the capital ship of the force.

Like the Suez Cannel, the Panama Canal is manmade and very vulnerable to breakdowns.  In 2016, larger locks were built to allow larger shipping to transit the canal.

Although the Panama Canal remains a critical chokepoint, some ships from Asia stop at American Pacific ports and allow the cargo to be transported to the East Coast by rail.

The Taiwan Strait has been a historic strategic chokepoint.  In WWII, Japanese maritime trade used it as a protected passage from the islands in the south and the Japanese Islands.  Cutting the supply of oil and raw materials from its colonies of Indonesia (Dutch East Indies) was considered so important that America debated whether Taiwan or the Philippines should be invaded.

The Taiwan Strait remains of strategic importance as it would be the route of a Chinese amphibious assault against Taiwan.

The Bosporus separates Europe and Asia as well as the Black Sea and the Mediterranean.   It has a long history in terms of invasions between Europe and Asia.  The ancient Greeks got their grain from Black Sea ports and the Persians invaded Greece across the Bosporus several times.  Its importance caused Roman emperor Constantine the Great to establish Constantinople (Modern Istanbul) there.  It was subject to the largest amphibious invasions during WWI (Gallipoli).

The Bosporus has been a long-term strategic goal of Russia as it has always been desirous of a warm water port that does not freeze in the winter.

The English Channel is an arm of the Atlantic Ocean and is the busiest shipping area in the world.  Its narrowest point is the Strait of Dover, which is only 21 miles.  It has been the “moat” that has protected England from invasion since the last successful invasion in 1066 by William the Conqueror.  Since then, it has stopped the Spanish Armada, Napoleon, and Hitler.

Gibraltar is the gate from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean.  Much of the maritime traffic that goes through the Suez Canal transits the Strait of Gibraltar and goes to northern European ports like Hamburg.

As the capture of the Iranian oil tanker proved, Gibraltar still has strategic significance.  It monitors Russian submarine movements in the Mediterranean by tracking submarines that leave the port of Murmansk and then transit the strait while submerged.  It remains a Royal Navy port and is frequently used as a training area and a stopover for units, ships, and aircraft heading east of the Suez Canal.

There are hundreds of chokepoints for local and limited maritime traffic.  However, an accident like that in the Suez Canal, or war can make anyone of them important.

One such chokepoint that only had importance for a couple of years in WWII was in the Solomon Islands.  During the Battle of Guadalcanal and later amphibious landings by American Marines, the channel between the islands would be called “The Slot.”  Allied and Japanese warships would battle regularly over control of these waters and so many ships would be sunk in the waters that it would later gain the name of “Iron Bottom Sound.”

So, while some chokepoints like the Strait of Gibraltar will remain chokepoints over the centuries, we can never be sure what the next critical piece of ocean will be.

Week of March 22, 2021

America, China, and Taiwan – A Potential Tinderbox?

 

At a time when Chinese American relations are at their lowest ebb since the Tiananmen Square Crisis, the US and China met in Alaska to try to resolve some of their issues, which include trade, intellectual property issues, human right abuses in China with the Uighur minority population, abrogating the human rights treaty with the UK on Hong Kong, the South China Sea, border issues with India, and the status of Taiwan.

In addition to several high ranking Chinese officials, the meeting included US Secretary of State Blinken and National Security Advisor Sullivan.

Before Alaska, Blinken and Austin met with the Japanese, who “condemned China’s aggressive international moves”.  Austin then headed off to India, which also has territorial issues with the Chinese – issues that led to skirmishes along their border with China.

However, for all the hope of the Alaska meeting, the talks were described as “frosty.”  China’s attitude was outlined by a foreign Ministry spokesman, who said, “China will take strong measures as appropriate to resolutely defend national sovereignty, security, and development issues.

The US responded by placing sanctions on 24 Chinese and Hong Kong officials.

Of all the issues to be discussed, the most explosive appears to be Taiwan, or the Republic of China, as it bills itself.  China considers it a breakaway province, while the Taiwanese consider themselves a sovereign nation.  And, although the US has diplomatic relations with mainland China, it has guaranteed, by treaty, that a Chinese invasion will elicit an American military response.

The US is also the major weapons supplier to Taiwan.

Many observers have been surprised that the Biden Administration has indicated it will continue with the tough stance on Taiwan’s independence. “War over Taiwan would be unthinkable” said Eric Sayers of the American Enterprise Institute.  “The [Chinese Army’s] capabilities have now matured to such a degree that this is no longer a dilemma we can afford to push off.”

A Pentagon official told Politico that, “China has built a global sized navy for a regional mission…we just don’t have the same kind of capabilities against China that we used to because of numbers.”

However, a strong response is needed.  As the Politico noted, “the US can’t afford to do nothing.”

The seriousness of the Chinese challenge was highlighted by documents that show that in a conflict with China over Taiwan, the US would lose.  The war games suppose a massive military Chinese exercise that would hide the deployment of an invasion force.  Missile and biological strikes against US bases and warships would paralyze the US while the Chinese carry out an amphibious assault on Taiwan.

The US forces would lose with a serious number of casualties amongst manpower and weapons systems.

Lt. General Hinote told Yahoo in an interview, that the US was, “Not just losing, but we were losing faster…After the 2018 war game, I distinctly remember one of our gurus of war gaming standing in front of the Air force secretary and chief of staff and telling them that we should never play this war game scenario [of a Chinese attack on Taiwan] again, because we know what is going to happen.  The definitive answer if the US military doesn’t change course is that we’re going to lose fast.”

In Senate testimony, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral Phil Davidson warned that China might try to annex Taiwan this decade – possibly within the next six years.

Without releasing the results of the war games, the Trump Administration took action by increasing naval patrols through the Taiwan Strait, not to stop any invasion, but to illustrate the American determination to defend Taiwan.

The US military has also initiated a program called the Pacific Deterrence Initiative, for which they are requesting $4.6 billion for this next year.  It will increase the number of ground-based cruise missiles, ballistic missiles, and hypersonic missiles in areas close to China.  The US Marine Corps has also completed construction of the first permanent base in the Indi-Pacific region since 1952.  The military is also improving its ability to quickly build military airfields on islands much like the US did during the island-hopping campaigns in the Pacific in WWII.

There are also plans for other bases that will be close to the “First Island Chain” near China.

More important was the increased supply of American arms to Taiwan – a move that was supported by both the Republicans and Democrats since a stronger Taiwanese military reduces the risk for the US.

The arms sold to Taiwan were designed to enhance Taiwan’s ability to withstand a Chinese invasion.  In fact, over $5 billion in arms were sold to Taiwan in 2020.

To stop a Chinese amphibious assault on the island, the US sold 100 Harpoon coastal defense systems.  These are the state-of-the-art missiles, and the type II Harpoons are designed specifically for littoral anti-ship capability, which is ideal for an engagement in the Taiwan Strait.  They have improved targeting and better anti-electronic countermeasures abilities.  Since they are designed to fly close to the surface of the water, they are harder to detect and defeat.

Taiwan also purchased in 2020 the standoff land mobile rocket artillery systems, which can be used against any Chinese land forces that have landed on the island.  They are also effective against stationary ships offloading soldiers.

Taiwan also purchased the Mk-48 submarine launched torpedo, which would make it harder for Chinese amphibious ships to transit the strait.

In 2019, Taiwan purchased Stinger man-portable missiles that have a well-documented record against Russian and Chinese aircraft.  They also bought over 100 M-1 Abrams tanks, which would make it difficult for the Chinese to maintain any foothold on the island.

Probably most important, the Trump Administration and the Congress approved the sale of 66 F-16 fighters.  These are the same aircraft that the US is currently purchasing, and the Taiwanese versions have a low radar cross section and improved electronics.  They are the main fighter for the Taiwanese air force and are frequently used to intercept Chinese aircraft flying too close to Taiwan.  They would make it difficult for the Chinese to maintain air superiority, a prerequisite for covering an amphibious operation, especially since the F-16s would be operating over their own territory and would have longer loiter times than the Chinese fighters.

This will give Taiwan over 200 modern fighters to China’s 600.  The Chinese J-11 is its most modern fighter and is based on the Russian Sukhoi SU-27 fighter, which was introduced in 1984.  Russia intends to replace the SU-27 with the SU-57 fifth generation fighter.

The Chinese J-20 fifth generation fighter aircraft are entering the Chinese air force in small numbers (20 so far) and, with their stealth capability, would be a part of any attempt to invade Taiwan.

However, the Chinese military has weaknesses that are frequently ignored.  The Chinese air force is designed for air superiority.  It has no close air support ability, which would be critical for a land war on Taiwan.  This implies that the Chinese do not see a conventional war with opposing armies.  Their assumption is that surface to surface ballistic missiles, bombers, and the neutralization of American forces in the region would cause the Taiwanese to capitulate without fighting.

The Chinese also lack a precision bomber strike ability and rely on conventional ballistic missiles without stealth capability.

The Chinese don’t have much satellite reconnaissance capability, which means they rely on ground and air-based systems that can be easier to take out.

China has few 5th generation stealth aircraft and would be hard pressed to get into an arms race with the US.  The US has about 500 5th generation fighters and is producing about 40 more a year.  They are also selling them to allies like Japan, Britain, Australia, and South Korea that could very well join the US in any conflict with China.

The ability of the F-35 to penetrate modern air defenses was proven with the report that three Israeli F-35s flew to Tehran and back in 2018. It was claimed that the mission led to the firing of the Iranian air force chief.

So, is the US and Taiwan that vulnerable?  May be not.  The US has been too focused on the Middle East in the past and is now more focused on China as the Pacific Deterrence Initiative demonstrates.  In the most recent war game, the US tested some Pacific Deterrence Initiative concepts and forced the Pentagon’s “Red Team leader” to forego an attack because there was too much uncertainty.

The strategy that stymied the Red Team leader, focused on long range anti-ship missiles (remember the sale of Harpoon missiles to Taiwan), mobile rocket artillery systems (another Taiwanese purchase), and surface to air missile batteries (They have the Patriot missile system and are buying man-portable missiles too).  There was also more focus on surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities to give policy makers more information faster.

In the end, the US posture (along with Taiwan’s upgraded military capabilities) was able to create enough uncertainty to make it unprofitable to invade Taiwan.

Which also answers why the results of a secret war game was released.  The US is recalibrating its military from operations in the Middle East to more conventional operations around China and Russia.  Releasing the results of the war games will provide the information to encourage Congress to redirect defense spending.

In the short run, that may be the only way to discourage Chinese ambitions in Asia.

Week of March 16, 2021

The Mirage of Artificial Intelligence

 

Long before computers, man was dreaming of intelligent machines that could fight a war.  In fact, H. G. Wells’ book, “The War of the Worlds” envisioned such machines, produced by Martians, conquering humans.

Military men still dream of war machines driven by artificial intelligence (AI).  However, the dream remains just that – a dream.  Even as computer technology improves, scientists discover that the concept of intelligence is more complicated than imagined and that merging such technology with a lethal machine is a recipe for disaster.

In fact, the idea of what artificial intelligence is has evolved over the decades.  The first step was defining a set of rules for computers like, if it is raining, bring an umbrella.  In a wartime setting, that could mean if someone is wearing an enemy uniform, shoot him.

This type of AI technology is common in tax programs.

The second step was replicating higher order human thinking skills like problem solving.  This would be like a drone detecting a person and then using its problem-solving skills to determine if it is an enemy – like the person does not have a uniform, but is in enemy occupied territory, is a young male and is pointing a weapon at you.  However, does the response change if it is a young female pointing the weapon?

The third wave will attempt to merge these technologies.  However, much remains to be solved.  True artificial intelligence requires merging machine learning, symbolic reasoning, statistical learning, search and planning, data, cloud infrastructure, and algorithms.  Even with high order computing, scientists find the problems immense.

There is also the question; can a machine replicate the human calculation for waging war – either in something as simple as a drone or as complex as a computer in a headquarters?

Probably not.

Here are some of the problems:

How do we develop the right algorithms and thinking processes for military AI?

The reality is that who we are determines how we think and solve a problem.  And that can determine the eventual answer and the likelihood that the answer is right.

One algorithm problem that faced the Navy decades ago was to develop an algorithm that could compute the cost of warships before they were built.  One algorithm branch took the engineering direction and postulated that the cost of the warship was determined by the cost of all the components – propulsion, radar, electronics, etc.  The problem was that most Navy ships include new technology that has not been fully matured during the planning phase, i.e., how do you determine the cost of a new technology propulsion system that only exists on the drawing board?

Another algorithm took an economics path.  Rather than determine the cost of each component in the warship, it used the principles of supply and demand – determining cost by how much more efficient the new warship was than the current design.

The economics algorithm was an unpopular answer for the engineers at the Naval Systems Command.  They did not understand the thinking behind that solution and opted for the engineering route, even though the economics algorithm produced more accurate data.

The author of the algorithms has an overwhelming impact on the AI.  In military AI, how the machine thinks will depend on who designs it.  Is the AI developer a software engineer without military experience, a military man with desert fighting experience against militants, a military man with experience in conventional war, a counterinsurgency specialist, or an anti-war activist?

AI also has problems adjusting to the differing behaviors of its opponent.  An example can be found in DARPA’s attempt to develop driverless vehicles.  Engineers quickly discovered that how drivers react in different parts of the United States impacted how the computer would react.

In the Great Plains like the State of Minnesota, drivers are much more courteous and let other drivers merge easily on busy roads.  However, in New York City, where drivers are more aggressive, they do not allow other drivers to merge in heavy traffic.

The result was that a Minnesota programmed automated driving vehicle would be unable to operate in New York City, where a degree of aggressiveness is required.

The same problem occurs in AI military technology.  A Russian officer trained in conventional warfare and modern military equipment will react differently than another commander in another country who has poorly trained soldiers and obsolete equipment.

All warfare also requires flexibility.  However, can AI rapidly recognize a potential problem that has not occurred yet and rapidly come up with another plan?  This is something that makes great generals stand out from their contemporaries.

One example was General Patton’s decision to rotate his army 90 degrees to drive into the German flank at the Battle of the Bulge despite the logistical problems it presented.  AI might very well have opted for the conventional solution, which the other Allied generals recommended, but took longer.  The result of Patton’s initiative was a quick relief of the town of Bastogne by Patton’s subordinate, General Abrams (for whom the American tank, the M-1 Abrams Tank is named for).

However, a daring AI program can be equally disastrous.  In Operation Market Garden in 1944, British General Montgomery tried to use a Patton like strategy to outflank the German defenses.  The result was a costly operation that failed in its goal to cross the Rhine and outflank the Siegfried Line.

This brings up another problem with military AI – some types of AI might be better than others in certain situations.

General Erwin Rommel was a master of desert warfare, who ran rings around the British, in North Africa, even though he had a smaller army.  Yet, his strategy to defeat the Allies at the invasion of Normandy was criticized by many senior German generals (including Field Marshal von Rundstedt) and was to prove inadequate in the end.

AI, like many generals, also tend to focus on tangibles rather than intangibles.  Undoubtedly in May 1940 AI would have looked at British and French tank quality and numbers and forecast that they would have easily defeated the Germans.  It would have discounted General Manstein’s plan to strike through the dense Ardennes Forest with obsolete tanks.

Would an American AI overestimate US weapons capability and underestimate the enemies?

Would “expertise” overrule that brilliance that military geniuses have?   The operational commander of the two critical naval battles on WWII in the Pacific was Admiral Fletcher, a surface fleet admiral who had no real experience in fighting an aircraft carrier battle.  However, Fletcher won both battles and the US Navy was able to claim naval supremacy in the Pacific.

Would AI programmers pick Fletcher’s problem-solving processes over Admiral Halsey, who had experience in aircraft carrier operations and would have commanded the task forces if he had not been ill? Probably not.

Since differing AI algorithms can come up with differing solutions, how would this problem be resolved?  How would a General Patton AI interface with an AI that focuses on military logistics?  Would one of the AIs be “senior” or would the system try to come up with a compromise – a sort of General Eisenhower AI.

Although the military speaks confidently about AI, they have come no closer to a practical solution than they did 40 years ago.

“We’re in the very early days of a very long history of continued very rapid development in the AI field,” said William Scherlis, director of the Information Innovation Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.  He was speaking at a virtual panel discussion at the Defense One Genius Machines 2021 summit.

Artificial Intelligence remains a mirage – just on the horizon, but out of reach.  Whether the AI is linked to a smart weapon, or a strategic computer that is found at the general’s side, the problems remain too great for anyone to rely upon them.  The fate of nations and innocent victims rely too much upon them.

The Art of War is just that – an art.  Very few men have mastered it – Napoleon Bonaparte, The Duke of Wellington, George Patton, Erwin Rommel, Gustavus Adolphus, and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson had the brilliance to win battles and wars.  The idea that a lesser man can develop a military artificial intelligence to mimic them remains difficult to believe.

Week of March 03, 2021

The World of Drones

 

The increased use of drone warfare globally is raising the issue of the proliferation of drones.  Several countries have agreed to set out international standards for the use of military drones.  However, some of the major producers of drones refuse to sign on.

Although the focus is on large drones like the armed Reaper and Global Hawk drones that can carry missiles, there are many others made by many companies around the world.  In fact, over 90 countries use drones in their military – usually for tactical reconnaissance.  However, over a dozen possess and have employed armed military drones that can take out a target.

One drone technology that has been ignored in the reporting on drones is the micro drone.  One example is the 1” x 4” Black Hornet that is used by British soldiers to look over walls and around corners in Afghanistan.  They are made by the Norwegian company Prox, can fly for up to 25 minutes on one charge of its battery, and transmit images up to a mile away.

One weakness of the micro drone is that it is extremely sensitive to wind.  Obviously, its size also limits the payload.  Larger drone can operate in higher winds and can carry more batteries and sensing devices.

Small tactical drones like the French FULMAR can fly for 12 hours and travel up to 90 kilometers.  They are launched by a soldier throwing them into the air much like a toy glider.

Small tactical drones are generally used for intelligence, target acquisition, surveillance, and reconnaissance.  The preferred US small tactical drone is the Raven.

The “Work Horses” of the drone fleet is the medium sized reconnaissance drone.  These are the high endurance drones that can operate either at high or medium altitude.

An example of this class of drone is the Heron, made by Israeli Aerospace Industries.  It has a wingspan of over 16 meters and can fly for up to 52 hours at an altitude of 35,000 feet – the same altitude as commercial jetliners.

The Israeli Heron has been purchased by Germany, the US, Canada, India, Turkey, Australia, and Morocco. Some unconfirmed reports suggest Gulf states acquisitions.

Another drone that has many hours of duty in nations like Afghanistan and Kosovo, is the German LUNA.  It only has a range of 100 kilometers.  Germany, Saudi Arabia, and Pakistan have it in their arsenal.

The drones that are best known are the large combat and surveillance drones.  These can be operated by operators thousands of miles away and use difficult to intercept satellite communications.  Their payload can include air-to-surface missiles and laser guided bombs.  They can travel over a thousand miles and have flight times over 14 hours.  Two examples are the American Predator and Reaper.

These drones also have non-military applications like communications interception.  They can scan mobile phone calls and locate targeted individuals or groups.

Several NATO nations like Spain, France, Britain, and the Netherlands own the American made Reaper.

China has a Reaper rival that looks similar.  It is the CH-4 and it has been purchased by Egypt and Iraq.

As impressive as these large drones are, they are expensive.  The Global Hawk costs $131 million apiece.  That does not include the infrastructure costs that include building a facility that can launch, recover, and maintain such a large complex machine.  It also includes a complex command control facility that can control the drone via satellite – a satellite that (obviously) belongs to the country operating the drone.

 

Countries with Armed Drones

The drones that elicit the most concern are the drones capable of being armed.  Only about three dozen countries have drones that are capable of being armed.

The biggest is the United States, which carried out its first drone strikes in 2001 in Afghanistan.  They currently have several armed drones and are a major exporter of drones.

Israel does not publicly acknowledge that it has armed drones, but there are several reports that they have been used.  They have been employing them since 2004, but first produced them in the 1990s.

The United Kingdom purchased the Reaper drone from the US in 2007 and armed them in 2008.  They have armed their drone (now called the Protector) with domestically produced Brimstone 2 missiles.  The UK has also worked with Israel to create the Watchkeeper tactical drone.

Iran has been producing drones since2010.  Their current armed drone is the Shahed 129. Recently, as last week Iran unveiled its new Kaman-22 drone, which seems modeled on the U.S. -made MQ-1 Preditor, with other features from the more advanced MQ-9 Reaper.

The UAE has drones from several nations, including the US and China.  They purchased the Predator drone from the US in 2013.  They also have a domestically produced drone that was first flown in 2013.

China has several armed drones.  In 2013, they tested a stealth armed drone called the Sharp Sword.  They have several armed drones including the CH-3, Wing Loong 1, Wing Loong 2, and the CH-4.

 

Best Combat Drones

It is difficult to name the best combat drones because different countries have differing operational needs.  In addition, some drones are still secret, and many have not been in combat yet.  The ones in this article have had operational experience under combat conditions and are recognized by experts as the top five drones.

Russia’s S-70 Okhnik.  This drone was produced by the aircraft design firm Sukhoi in 2018.  It looks much like America’s B-2 bomber and is made of stealth materials to make it invisible to radar.

The Okhnik can carry low altitude anti-ship missiles like the subsonic X-35.  It can carry 4 supersonic missiles like the X-74M2 or 8 bombs.

Turkish Bayratar TB2. This is a tactical medium altitude drone with a long flight duration.  Some of the design copied the Israeli Heron drones purchased from Israel.  It can fly for over 24 hours.

Although designed for surveillance, the Bayratar can carry two anti-tank missiles and laser guided ammunition.  It supposedly can drop a bomb within a 3-meter square target.

American MQ-9 Reaper (Predator).  This design has been in operation since 2003.  It can carry up to 14 Hellfire missiles in one configuration.  It can carry two laser  guided Paveway missiles.

It can remain airborne for up to 14 hours.

This drone has considerable operational time in the Middle East, especially in Afghanistan and Iraq.  It has reduced the need for F-16 manned aircraft.

Israeli Heron.  This surveillance drone can remain airborne for up to 45 hours and can operate for most of its mission without an operator.  It was used in the Gaza Strip in 2008 – 2009.

The French have modified the Heron to create the Eagle drone.

American GASS Avenger (Predator C).  This drone was produced by General Atomics Aeronautical Systems (GASS).  It can carry up to 1,000 kg of weapons or electronics.  It was designed to operate off aircraft carriers.

It has improved stealth protection and presents a smaller heat signature.  It is designed for communications with satellites but is opaque to lower frequencies that are used by missiles and aircraft.  It has many stealth technologies copied from the F-22 and F-35 aircraft.

 

Defending from Drone Attacks

A constant of military technology is that for every advancement made, a countermeasure is soon developed.  It is the same for drones.

Anti-Drone tactics are not new.  On December 4, 2011, a RQ-170 Sentinel crashed into the Iranian countryside.  Iran claimed its electronic warfare unit brought the plane down. The Pentagon said the aircraft was flying over western Afghanistan and crashed near or in Iran.

However, the drone was found 140 miles inside Iran’s borders.  Although the US dismissed the idea of Iran’s military having the technology to down one the most sophisticated drones in the world, it appears the Iranians Sflight. Dailytech.com later reported.

According to them, by using its knowledge of the GPS frequency, Iran initiated its ‘electronic ambush’ by jamming the drone’s communications frequencies, forcing it into autopilot.  According to a GPS expert, ‘By putting noise (jamming) on the communications, you force the bird into autopilot. This is where the bird loses its brain.’

“The team then use a technique known as ‘spoofing’ — sending a false signal for the purposes of obfuscation or other gain.  In this case the signal in questions was the GPS feed, which the drone commonly acquires from several satellites.  By spoofing the GPS feed, Iranian officials were able to convince it that it was in Afghanistan, close to its home base.  At that point, the drone’s autopilot automatically kicked in and triggered the landing.  But rather than landing at a U.S. military base, the drone was captured at an Iranian military landing zone.

Obviously the Iranians had acquired the complex ability to give the drone the proper forged distance and find an appropriate altitude landing strip to make sure the drone landed as it did in Afghanistan.

Drones are not only vulnerable to spoofing, but their communications can also be jammed, which would probably end its mission by forcing the drone to return to its home base.  Already, some vulnerable parts of the US like the White House and Capitol are guarded from drone attacks by sophisticated electronic countermeasures.

Lasers are also seen as a potential protection against drones.  Some systems are already in operation that can damage sensitive drone systems; however, more powerful laser weapons are in the works.

The US Army appears to be developing a laser weapon that is “a million times stronger” than anything ever used before.  The new weapon will deliver a short burst for a quadrillionth of a second that vaporizes a drone or other projectile.  It is called the Ultrashort Pulsed Laser (UPSL) and can also destroy electronics by acting as an electromagnetic pulse weapon (EMP).

High energy lasers with energy levels of over 100 kilowatts are expected to be used with the 6th generation fighter.

A prototype model of the UPSL could be ready next year.  This was a major project under the Trump Administration, but there is no clear signal from the Biden Administration about its future.

Obliviously, as past military history shows, drones are the weapon of today, but may be the obsolete weapon of tomorrow.

Week of February 23, 2021

The Future of the Republican Party

 

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”
Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

This famous quote by American humorist Samuel Clemens could apply equally to the Republican Party.  While reports circulated about the death of the GOP as Trump left Washington and talked about running for president again, the party of Lincoln still had a lot of life in it.

The fact was that the Republican Party did well in November, except for the Senate (which experts predicted would go Democratic instead of being tied) and the presidency.

Republicans seriously narrowed the Democratic margin in the House.  According to the Associated Press on January 22nd, Democrats control only 222 seats, just four seats above the 218 seats needed to have a majority.  That means if midterm elections follow history and the party in power loses seats, the House of Representatives will be Republican in two years.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears currently, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate.  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature.

In Texas, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

This is hardly the record of a party in decline.  However, it does show a change that may predict future Republican and Democratic gains and losses.

For decades, the criticism of the Republican Party was that they were too focused on the presidency.  While Republicans did well in winning the White House in the post ww2 period, they had no control over the Supreme Court, Senate, most states, and House, which remained Democratic for decades.

This has changed.  The Republicans control most of state governors and legislatures but are at a disadvantage at the federal level.  The reality today is that the Republicans control the states, while the Democrats control the federal government in Washington.

This dichotomy explains much.  While Trump is disliked by many (including some Republicans) in Washington DC, he remains popular with many Republicans outside of Washington.

Some in the Republican Party discovered this in the past few weeks.  Liz Cheney, the Republican Representative from Wyoming voted to impeach Trump for the events on January 6th, only to be censured by Republicans in Wyoming.  Ironically, this censure was of the third ranking Republican in the House and a woman who was a rising star in the Republican Party.

At this time, 107 Republican congressmen (many of the Republicans in the House) have indicated that they support removing her from the leadership role for her impeachment vote.

Cheney is not the only one to face censure back home.  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has also been censured by Republicans back in Kentucky for his comments about Trump and impeachment.

Since Trump remains popular with many Republicans, any senator supporting Trump’s conviction could be risking their Senate career.  Given that and the serious constitutional issues surrounding the impeachment and conviction of a former president, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict or that the courts will uphold the conviction as constitutional.  In fact, with legislation like the stimulus bill awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate, voters (who are not in favor of impeachment and want Congress to address real problems) will punish senators for taking time for this endeavor.

The reality is that Trump is unlikely to run for president again.  He is currently 74 and will be 78 when the next presidential election is held – the same age as Biden when he took the oath of office.  Since there were many criticisms of Biden over his age and mental capacity, a 2024 Trump presidential campaign would run into the same problems.  In fact, Democrats will likely remind voters of Trump’s comments on Biden’s age and mental health.

Trump is more likely to play to his strengths – money and organizing.  He has already indicated that he wants to campaign for clean elections and provide support for Republicans who back his agenda.  He is also expected to raise money for Republican candidates by speaking at local events.

With Trump’s loss, there are many who are looking towards the 2024 presidential election.  However, those who criticized Trump over the last four years like Romney are unlikely to find it an easy road.  Voters will remember those candidates who opposed their president.

However, there are some potential candidates who are already making a name for themselves.  In Senate confirmation hearings, two Republican Senators have made it clear that they will take a leading role in opposing the Democrats and their agenda.  They are Senator Cruz (Texas) and Senator Paul (Kentucky).  Although they did have differences with Trump over the past four years, they were generally supportive of his agenda.

Senator Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 and was the last major candidate to drop out after it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.  He is eloquent and a strong conservative who has the backing of many grassroots Republican organizations.

Senator Rand Paul is an outspoken senator with libertarian leanings.  His father is former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012.  Although he disagreed with Trump on the deployment of US troops in the Middle East, like Trump, he favors small government.

While the 2024 presidential election will impact events, it is the 2022 election and the future of the “nullification” movement that will have the biggest impact in the near term.

As mentioned earlier, some candidates are already setting up their congressional campaigns.  Thanks to her vote for Trump’s impeachment, Liz Cheney is already being challenged in the Republican primary.  She will not be the only one to face competition from pro-Trump candidates.

The Nullification movement will also pick up as Biden reinstates many Obama era regulations.
Nullification is a principle that was frequently employed by southern states in the pre-Civil War era but died out after the war.  It says that each state can decide which federal rules to obey.

The principle gained life again in the 1990s when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not impose rules on the state if they didn’t provide the necessary funding.  The ruling declared unconstitutional a law that forced states to impose additional rules on gun purchases.

Ironically, this principle was expanded by the Obama administration to stop states from enforcing federal laws on immigration.  The principle was also used extensively by Democratic states like California during the Trump Administration to ignore laws that would send undocumented immigrants back to their homes in other countries.

As the Biden Administration is expected to push legislation and regulation on gun rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, voting procedures, and economic regulation, we can expect states to refuse to enforce federal legislation.  Since the federal government does not have that many law enforcement officers and relies on local police to enforce federal laws, this is essentially the same as nullification.

The states have already started pushing back.  Texas is already suing the federal government to prevent them from ignoring immigration laws in Texas.  And, in a public defiance of Biden, governors of both Texas and Florida withdrew their National Guard units from the District of Columbia when it was discovered that they were expected to sleep in substandard accommodations like the marble floor of the halls of Congress and parking lots.

So, can the federal government impose its dictates on the states?  The federal government does not have enough law enforcement officers to do the job.  Nor can it use the National Guard since it is controlled by the governors.  The military is prohibited from law enforcement unless there is an insurrection and declaring an insurrection against Republican states is one way to guarantee an insurrection and the resulting civil war.  It will strengthen the position of legislatures that are considering secession.
In the end, although it appears that the GOP is in a weakened condition, it is much stronger than many of its opponents think.  While it is weakened in Washington, its strength lies in the states, where the concept of just ignoring Washington and its orders is gaining momentum.

While, the Democrats may control Washington and the federal government, they are projecting weakness.  Surrounding the Capitol and the inauguration with barbed wire and three divisions of military while swearing in a new president who is saddled with serious questions about his mental health projects weakness, not power.

This projection of weakness will continue as 7,000 troops are expected to be stationed until March (may be more) in the District of Columbia – a ratio of DC population to troops of 100 to 1, which according to International Institute of Strategic Studies is a higher civilian to military ratio than in China’s Central Theater Command, which protects Beijing.

In the end, Biden may choose to force his unpopular regulations and laws on the states only to find that the governors of Republican states like Florida and Texas have more power than he does.
Although it is too early to make a final judgment or prediction on the future status of the republican party and the emerging leadership after Trump, he may be still holding more influence until the 2022 mid-term election.

Week of February 12, 2021

US Military Moves Against Russia and China

 

The last few weeks have been busy ones for the US military as they have redeployed several units to meet what US leadership perceived to be potential threats by Russia and China.  American bombers have deployed to Norway for the first time.  Two US nuclear super carriers are holding maneuvers in the South China Sea, the National Guard is reconfiguring to better meet Russian and Chinese military challenges, and several American allies are also carrying out operations aimed against Chinese aggressive move.

The US Air Force is deploying B-1 bombers and aircrews to a base in Norway for the first time in a demonstration of the importance of its Arctic strategy.  The 200 airmen are supporting a B-1 bomber squadron that is temporarily moving to Orland Air Base in western Norway.  Norway operates a fleet of F-35 fighters at the same base.

The focus on the Arctic is designed to counter Russian and Chinese designs in the Arctic.  Up till now, most strategic bomber operations in the Arctic have been launched from Britain or the continental United States (which require long flights and in-air refueling).

The deployment of bombers to Norway is a new development.  The Norwegian government does not allow the deployment of nuclear capable bombers to its air bases.  However, the B-1 bomber, which was nuclear capable until the mid-1990s is now designed totally for conventional missions.  It is designed for low level, high speed missions that can fly under radar.

Although this operation is taking place during the Biden Administration, these NATO deployments take a long time to plan and receive the necessary Norwegian approval – especially since this is a first-time deployment of American bombers.  That means the planning took place under the Trump Administration.

It is not just the Air Force that is interested in the Arctic.  The Navy released its Arctic strategy in early January, while Trump was still president.

“In the face of increasing aggressive activity in the high north, from both Russia and China, which claims to be a near Arctic nation, we in the United States must maintain a favorable balance of power in the region for ourselves and our allies,” Navy Secretary Kenneth Braithwaite said.

The Arctic Sea has traditionally been a patrol area for American nuclear ballistic submarines since it offers little response time for the Russians.

The 25-page document noted, “Without sustained American naval presence and partnerships in the Arctic region, peace and prosperity will be increasingly challenged by Russia and China.”

This interest in the far north is not new.  In the 1980s, under President Reagan, the US Navy started developing a strategy to close the northern naval approaches to Soviet forces.  The strategy saw US Navy closing the major Soviet naval port of Murmansk, which is the base of its Northern Fleet and many ballistic missile submarines.

Since the Arctic is the shortest route for bombers of either Russia or America, there is a growing concern over the state of infrastructure, especially as the frequency of Russian aircraft penetration of Canadian and American air space has increased.  Russia is also the only nation with offensive capabilities stationed within the Arctic Circle.

The Arctic is also the best place to control and maintain communications with polar orbit satellites like America’s spy satellite constellation.

The National Guard is also preparing for a possible conflict with Russia or China.  The Army National Guard will place most of its brigades under the command of its eight-division headquarters, which were previously just commands, with about 300 men, but without any brigades attached to them.  This will increase the number of complete Army divisions to 18.  This gives the Army National Guard a better ability to fight a large conventional war.

American divisions usually have about 20,000 men.

In the past two decades, the focus has been on smaller brigade combat teams, which are ideal for counter terrorism operations or for deploying and assisting other nations.  By combining them into divisions, it allows for combined training and better cohesiveness in combat.

Last summer Lt. General Daniel Hokanson, who is Director of the Army National Guard, said, “There is a potential for large-scale combat operations…[and] it could be division level fights.”

 

China

This week, the Department of Defense announced that the two aircraft carriers, USS Nimitz and USS Theodore Roosevelt carried out joint operations in the South China Sea.  As we have noted in the past, operations in hostile waters are best carried out with two carriers.  Two carriers make it difficult to neutralize the task force, allow one to launch aircraft, while the other recovers aircraft, and provides a secondary base for emergency landings.

The Nimitz is heading back to its base in Sand Diego for refitting and training.  Contrary to reports, this was a planned movement and not ordered by Biden to reduce tensions with Iran (who is currently carrying out exercises with Russia and China).

The Chinese called the operations a blow to “regional peace and security.

The two carrier operations allowed aircrews from both ships to improve combined operations as well as command and control capabilities.  It is only the ninth time that two aircraft carriers have operated together in the region since 2001.

It is not just the US Navy that is carrying out joint operations in the area.  The region is seeing wargames with the US, Australia, and Japan.  The joint exercises named Cope North 2021, will run until February 19th.

The exercise is designed to prevent a major hostile nation (China (and) or Russia) from carrying out a surprise attack on US airpower with missiles.  F-35 fighters from Alaska and Guan are involved.  A total of 95 aircraft from Australia, the US, and Japan are involved in the operation.

The Australians are taking these operations seriously as Chinese/Australian relations are at low ebb as the two nations are engaged in a major trade war.

Other nations are also planning exercises in the region.  The Royal Navy’s flagship, HMS Queen Elizabeth, will drill with several maritime forces this spring.  The US, UK, and Japan are part of a trilateral naval agreement.  This is the first time that Royal Navy fixed wing jet aircraft have deployed in a decade.

The exercise will include US Marine F-35s stationed onboard the HMS Queen Elizabeth in addition to the Royal Air Force F-35s.  The Japanese will contribute two helicopter destroyers that will also deploy Japanese F-35s.  The Japanese have also requested that American Marine F-35s also deploy onboard the destroyers.

Other Japanese, American, and British escort and air defense ships will also be part of CSG 21.

One nation, whose support for of these exercises is necessarily discrete, is Taiwan.  Recent American naval exercises have been held in the sea between Taiwan and the Philippines.  Some of this area is part of the Taiwan air defense zone, which has been tracking the increasingly frequent Chinese military aircraft penetrations of Taiwanese airspace.

By operating to the east of the Taiwan air defense zone, the US Navy (and other nations) has an extra layer of radar and air defense.  If Chinese aircraft move against the US fleet, Taiwan is well placed to detect the aircraft and warn the American warships.  The Taiwanese air force can also scramble fighters to intercept the Chinese aircraft if necessary.  In that case, the Taiwanese fighters can confirm the type of aircraft approaching and the type of weapons that they are carrying (anti-ship or anti-air missiles).

This is what happened a few weeks ago when Chinese bombers and fighters conducted a simulated missile attack on the USS Theodore Roosevelt.

Although much has been said about Biden’s new military strategy, little has changed.  US Navy warships are still transiting the South China Sea and Taiwan Strait as they did under Trump (but rarely under Obama).

In Europe, Biden has allowed US Air Force bombers to temporarily deploy in Norway – something Obama never did.

At the same time, Biden is maintaining a tough stance against Iran.

It has often been noted that national foreign policy transcends the desires of politicians.  The fact that Biden is continuing to follow Trump military policy is an excellent example of that.

Week of February 08, 2021

Department of Defense undergoes a
“Stand down” to rid itself of “Extremism”

On February 4th, Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin said he ordered a military wide stand down over the next 60 days to deal with extremism in the military ranks after it was learned that active and former military personnel participated in events on January 6th that led to the storming of the Capitol.

During Austin’s confirmation hearing, he vowed to get rid of “racists and extremists.”

“Today I met with senior leaders to discuss extremism in the military.  As a first step I am ordering a stand down to occur over the next 60 days so each service, each command and each unit can have a deeper conversation about this issue.”

These “stand downs” are not uncommon.  Ever since the end of the Civil rights movement in the 1960s, the military has occasionally held seminars on race relations.

The meeting by Austin with the Joint Chiefs of Staff and other military leaders was an initial discussion on the issue of extremism and White supremacy within the military.  “No matter what it is, it is…not an insignificant problem,” Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.

Kirby also noted that the FBI had opened 68 investigations into troops or veterans for domestic extremism in 2020 (only one quarter of those was associated with White nationalism).  Given that there are 18 million veterans and 1.3 million in military active service, the number is still significant if we consider the unknow number of likely sympathizers.  However, after Trump presidency and today’s Democratic Progressive movement and charged Culture political climate, many are trying to highlight as a national issue the white supremacy.  Many find it reasonable to equate supporting Trump with extremism.

Although there are regulations in the military against extremism, the question is what is extremism? The definition is vague and much depends on one’s political outlook.  Retired Brigadier General Thomas Kolditz gave his opinion to Fortune Magazine, “One of my bigger concerns is that there has long been a strong Trump following in the military.”  He said rooting out “Trump loyalists may entail pursuing thousands of service members and Department of Defense employees.

For example, a Special Forces briefing on January 22nd at the Fort Bragg Special Warfare Center and School on the extremist threat left many Special Forces personnel shaken.  They were informed that mere possession of certain “right wing” imagery could lead to being “detained” by Homeland Security.

One soldier, who wished to remain unnamed said, “People who are willing to stand up for the country are now being told we are extremists and that we are terrorists and that if we share these ideals with anyone or if we publicly speak on these ideals, that not only will I be chaptered out of the Army, but that I could possibly be detained and put under investigation by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Lawyer and First Amendment expert Harmeet Dhillon said, “We’re definitely seeing a crackdown on our constitutional rights as we speak – there’s no question about that…It’s a very scary time.”

Of course, civilians who support Trump are also finding themselves facing more scrutiny too.

Major American media has attacked Trump supporters as extremists and White supremacist – amongst other things.  MSNBC contributor Jason Johnson accused Republicans of being “Terrorist sympathizers.”

Washington Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted, “There are millions of Americans, almost all white, almost all Republicans, who somehow need to be deprogrammed.”

However, some Democrats see the charges as going too far.  The longest serving woman in Congress, Representative Marcy Kaptur (D, Ohio), says she feels increasingly alienated in the Democratic Party.

Former Democratic Congresswoman, former Army Officer, and former Democratic presidential candidate Tulsi Gabbard has also said it has gone too far. She has condemned former CIA director Brennan and Democratic Congressman Schiff’s statements against Trump supporters.

Brennan has called Trump supporters “fascists,” “bigots,” and “racists.”

Schiff is introducing a domestic terrorism law that could be used against Trump supporters, although some republicans are pointing to Antifa and BLM as extremists and radicals.  Such a law would leave the decision to prosecute up to political prosecutors, who could use the law to punish political opponents.

Not all threats would be punished.  In May of last year, the Senate Majority leader Senator Charles Schumer threatened SCOTUS by saying, “You have released the whirlwind, and you will pay the price…you won’t know what hit you.”  These comments were a threat of violence by many and earned a rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts.

So, extremist and threatening language comes from more than extremists or white supremacists in the military or general population.  It is common on both sides of the aisle in Washington.

Which brings us back to the key question; is the US military generally racist?

A study by the Council on Foreign Relations says no.  In a study conducted months before the 2020 election it showed the military as more open than society.  Obviously, it is more male dominated since it is organized for combat operations.  However, the percentages of women and races are surprising.

The report summary says, “The US military has taken significant steps over the past decade to build a more diverse and inclusive force that attracts the country’s top talent.

Although the flag ranks (general and admiral) are still predominantly white, the percentage of black flag officers closely matches the general American population.  One reason for the fewer Hispanics in the flag ranks is that the Hispanic part of the population has grown dramatically in the past few decades – there has not been the time it takes for many eligible Hispanics to reach flag rank.

The good news is that the officer corps has similar levels of racial diversity as the general population.  This guarantees that the number of Hispanic flag officers will grow in the future.

Interestingly, in all the services, women in the military are more likely to be a minority.  Among Black Army recruits, the portion of Black women is higher than it is in the civilian labor force, which indicates that opportunities are better in the military for Black women, but this may be the result of seeing joining the military as an economic opportunity that not available in the civilian work force.

The Whitest branch of service is the Coast Guard.

There is a preference for the branch of service amongst minorities.  Blacks prefer the Army.  Hispanics (both men and women) prefer the Marine Corps.  There are higher percentages of Blacks in the Navy and Air Force than in the general civilian work force.

Women have also found opportunity in the military.  When the draft ended in 1973, only 2% of the enlisted ranks were women and 8% of the officer corps.  Today that is 16% and 19% respectively.

Nearly a quarter of Coast Guard officers are women.  Of the traditional military services, the Air Force has the highest number of women officers at 21%.  The lowest is the Marine Corps with only 8% – a reflection of the Marine Corps’ tradition that every officer is also a foot soldier and must be equally qualified for a combat role.

One difference is in the jobs the different races want to hold.  While Blacks prefer office jobs, where they can acquire skills useful in the civilian world, many whites and Hispanics prefer combat roles – probably a reflection of their desire to “prove themselves.”

So, is the military racist or filled with White supremacists?  May be.  A minority person, who can meet the tough standards to join the US military has a better chance for promotion than in many segments of the civilian work force.  If that weren’t true, minority reenlistment rates would fall, and the percentage of minorities would be less than they are.

What SecDef Austin proposes will not help the military become more effective or even less racist.  Those holding “improper” views will learn just to keep their opinions to themselves – just as many have over their military careers.

History shows that there are two reasons why factions seek to limit speech.  One is that it is an effective method to quash dissent.  The second is that they cannot defend their own actions or beliefs.

Week of January 25, 2021

The Future of the Republican Party

“The report of my death was an exaggeration.”

Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)

This famous quote by American humorist Samuel Clemens could apply equally to the Republican Party.  While reports circulated about the death of the GOP as Trump left Washington and talked about running for president again, the party of Lincoln still had a lot of life in it.

The fact was that the Republican Party did well in November, except for the Senate (which experts predicted would go Democratic instead of being tied) and the presidency.

Republicans seriously narrowed the Democratic margin in the House.  According to the Associated Press on January 22nd, Democrats control only 222 seats, just four seats above the 218 seats needed to have a majority.  That means if midterm elections follow history and the party in power loses seats, the House of Representatives will be Republican in two years.

According to the Cook Political Report, at the state level, Republicans did well, which gives them control of the redistricting and gives them a better chance to win more House seats in 2022.  This was despite the hundreds of millions spent by Democrats to gain a bigger foothold in the states.

While Delaware, Washington, and North Carolina elected Democrat governors; Indiana, Montana, New Hampshire, North Dakota, Utah, Vermont, and West Virginia went Republican. Montana switched from Democrat to Republican with the result that Republicans control 27 of 50 governorships.  The Montana win also gives Republicans total control of Montana, since Republicans already control the state legislature.

The New Hampshire State Senate and State Legislature flipped to Republican after going Democratic in 2018.  With its new Republican governor Sununu, it means New Hampshire is now in GOP hands,

It appears currently, of the 99 state legislative bodies in the US (Nebraska has only one legislative body), that the Republican Party controls 62 legislative bodies, while the Democrats now control 37 (a loss of two by the Democrats).  Republicans also gained in seats held in several states.  In heavily Democratic Maine, the GOP gained six seats in the state legislature.

In Iowa, Republicans expanded their majority control of their legislature.  Republicans in Pennsylvania gained seats in both the legislature and state senate.  North Carolina saw the GOP retain control of both state senate and legislature.

In Texas, Democrats gained only one senate seat.  Both legislative chambers remain Republican, as well as the Texas governorship.

This is hardly the record of a party in decline.  However, it does show a change that may predict future Republican and Democratic gains and losses.

For decades, the criticism of the Republican Party was that they were too focused on the presidency.  While Republicans did well in winning the White House in the post ww2 period, they had no control over the Supreme Court, Senate, most states, and House, which remained Democratic for decades.

This has changed.  The Republicans control the majority of state governors and legislatures but are at a disadvantage at the federal level.  The reality today is that the Republicans control the states, while the Democrats control the federal government in Washington.

This dichotomy explains much.  While Trump is disliked by many (including some Republicans) in Washington DC, he remains popular with many Republicans outside of Washington.

Some in the Republican Party discovered this in the past few weeks.  Liz Cheney, the Republican Representative from Wyoming voted to impeach Trump for the events on January 6th, only to be censured by Republicans in Wyoming.  Ironically, this censure was of the third ranking Republican in the House and a woman who was a rising star in the Republican Party.

At this time, 107 Republican congressmen (many of the Republicans in the House) have indicated that they support removing her from the leadership role for her impeachment vote.

Cheney is not the only one to face censure back home.  Senate Minority Leader Senator McConnell has also been censured by Republicans back in Kentucky for his comments about Trump and impeachment.

Since Trump remains popular with many Republicans, any senator supporting Trump’s conviction could be risking their Senate career.  Given that and the serious constitutional issues surrounding the impeachment and conviction of a former president, it is unlikely that the Senate will vote to convict or that the courts will uphold the conviction as constitutional.  In fact, with legislation like the stimulus bill awaiting an impeachment trial in the Senate, voters (who aren’t in favor of impeachment and want Congress to address real problems) will punish senators for taking time for this endeavor.

The reality is that Trump is unlikely to run for president again.  He is currently 74 and will be 78 when the next presidential election is held – the same age as Biden when he took the oath of office.  Since there were many criticisms of Biden over his age and mental capacity, a 2024 Trump presidential campaign would run into the same problems.  In fact, Democrats will likely remind voters of Trump’s comments on Biden’s age and mental health.

Trump is more likely to play to his strengths – money and organizing.  He has already indicated that he wants to campaign for clean elections and provide support for Republicans who back his agenda.  He is also expected to raise money for Republican candidates by speaking at local events.

With Trump’s loss, there are many who are looking towards the 2024 presidential election.  However, those who criticized Trump over the last four years like Romney are unlikely to find it an easy road.  Voters will remember those candidates who opposed their president.

However, there are some potential candidates who are already making a name for themselves.  In Senate confirmation hearings, two Republican Senators have made it clear that they will take a leading role in opposing the Democrats and their agenda.  They are Senator Cruz (Texas) and Senator Paul (Kentucky).  Although they did have differences with Trump over the past four years, they were generally supportive of his agenda.

Senator Ted Cruz ran for president in 2016 and was the last major candidate to drop out after it became clear that Trump would win the nomination.  He is eloquent and a strong conservative who has the backing of many grassroots Republican organizations.

Senator Rand Paul is an outspoken senator with libertarian leanings.  His father is former Congressman Ron Paul, who ran for president in 2012.  Although he disagreed with Trump on the deployment of US troops in the Middle East, like Trump, he favors small government.

While the 2024 presidential election will impact events, it is the 2022 election and the future of the “nullification” movement that will have the biggest impact in the near term.

As mentioned earlier, some candidates are already setting up their congressional campaigns.  Thanks to her vote for Trump’s impeachment, Liz Cheney is already being challenged in the Republican primary.  She will not be the only one to face competition from pro-Trump candidates.

The Nullification movement will also pick up as Biden reinstates many Obama era regulations.

Nullification is a principle that was frequently employed by southern states in the pre-Civil War era but died out after the war.  It says that each state can decide which federal rules to obey.

The principle gained life again in the 1990s when the Supreme Court ruled that the federal government could not impose rules on the state if they didn’t provide the necessary funding.  The ruling declared unconstitutional a law that forced states to impose additional rules on gun purchases.

Ironically, this principle was expanded by the Obama administration to stop states from enforcing federal laws on immigration.  The principle was also used extensively by Democratic states like California during the Trump Administration to ignore laws that would send undocumented immigrants back to their homes in other countries.

As the Biden Administration is expected to push legislation and regulation on gun rights, abortion, the environment, immigration, voting procedures, and economic regulation, we can expect states to refuse to enforce federal legislation.  Since the federal government does not have that many law enforcement officers and relies on local police to enforce federal laws, this is essentially the same as nullification.

The states have already started pushing back.  Texas is already suing the federal government to prevent them from ignoring immigration laws in Texas.  And, in a public defiance of Biden, governors of both Texas and Florida withdrew their National Guard units from the District of Columbia when it was discovered that they were expected to sleep in substandard accommodations like the marble floor of the halls of Congress and parking lots.

So, can the federal government impose its dictates on the states?  The federal government does not have enough law enforcement officers to do the job.  Nor can it use the National Guard since it is controlled by the governors.  The military is prohibited from law enforcement unless there is an insurrection and declaring an insurrection against Republican states is one way to guarantee an insurrection and the resulting civil war.  It will strengthen the position of legislatures that are considering secession.

In the end, although it appears that the GOP is in a weakened condition, it is much stronger than many of its opponents think.  While it is weakened in Washington, its strength lies in the states, where the concept of just ignoring Washington and its orders is gaining momentum.

While, the Democrats may control Washington and the federal government, they are projecting weakness.  Surrounding the Capitol and the inauguration with barbed wire and three divisions of military while swearing in a new president who is saddled with serious questions about his mental health projects weakness, not power.

This projection of weakness will continue as 7,000 troops are expected to be stationed until March (may be more) in the District of Columbia – a ratio of DC population to troops of 100 to 1, which according to International Institute of Strategic Studies is a higher civilian to military ratio than in China’s Central Theater Command, which protects Beijing.

In the end, Biden may choose to force his unpopular regulations and laws on the states only to find that the governors of Republican states like Florida and Texas have more power than he does.

Although it is too early to make a final judgment or prediction on the future status of the republican party and the emerging leadership after Trump, he may still be holding more influence until the 2022 mid-term election.