Hypersonic race

Russia says it has conducted another successful test of a nuclear-capable hypersonic missile:

Moscow’s hypersonic glide vehicle, dubbed Avangard, has been in development for three decades and can travel at least five times the speed of sound, or about one mile per second.

The weapon, which the U.S. is currently unable to defend against, is designed to sit atop an intercontinental ballistic missile. Once launched, it uses aerodynamic forces to sail on top of the atmosphere.

Sources familiar with U.S. intelligence reports assess that the Russian hypersonic glide vehicles are equipped with onboard countermeasures that are able to defeat even the most advanced missile-defense systems. The weapons are also highly maneuverable and, therefore, unpredictable, which makes them difficult to track.

The US appears concerned:

The Defense Department is looking to step up its development of hypersonic weapons — missiles that travel more than five times faster than the speed of sound — DOD leaders said at the National Defense Industrial Association-sponsored “Hypersonics Senior Executive Series” here today.

“In the last year, China has tested more hypersonics weapons than we have in a decade,” said Michael Griffin, undersecretary of defense for research and engineering. “We’ve got to fix that.”

Russia also is involved in hypersonics, Griffin said. “Hypersonics is a game changer,” he added.

If Russia were to invade Estonia or China were to attack Taiwan tomorrow, Griffin said, it would be difficult to defend against their strike assets. “It’s not a space we want to stay in,” he told the audience.

Pulling out

Evacuation of Saigon

Sometimes you just have to go

M K Bhadrakumar of Asia Times praises the decision to pull US troops out of Syria:

To take the last argument first – what will be the impact on the Syrian situation? To be sure, ISIS is down, but not quite out. But then, ISIS is today only residual terrorism, after the huge defeat in Iraq.

At any rate, the brunt of the fight against the ISIS was borne by the Syrian government forces and their allies – remember Aleppo? Their grit to finish the job has never been in doubt and there is no reason to fear any let-up.

In fact, their interest lies in stabilizing the security situation in the quickest possible way so the political process leading to a post-conflict Syrian order can be speeded up.

Ironically, the departure of the US forces could help matters, since in many ways the US military presence only impeded the anti-ISIS fight in Syria. It is well known that terrorist groups took shelter in the US-led security zones in eastern Syria.

The Al-Tanf base and its 50-square-kilometer security perimeter was only the most glaring example. Again, the “no-fly zones” prevented Syrian and Russian jets from hunting down the ISIS cadres and de facto amounted to US air cover for terrorists.

It’s really very hard to understand what the US strategy was in Syria. Was there even a specific strategic goal? What was the desired end-state of this campaign?

Personally I suspect most Americans’ reaction to this news has been: Wait, we had troops in Syria? Yeah, the public was never consulted about this, at all. I am not the only person who finds it bizarre that an ostensibly democratic nation can be engaged in a major foreign military campaign for years on end without a scintilla of public approval, or even knowledge, let alone a formal declaration of war. Did you know the US has at least a dozen military bases in Syria? What is going to happen to those?

Regardless, this is excellent news for the US. Give non-intervention a chance!

How to lose a war without firing a shot

I’m a little rusty on my Sun Tzu and Clausewitz, so I don’t recall what those great military theorists had to say about the bold strategy of allowing your most sensitive defense technology to be sold to your chief geopolitical rival:

China has obtained the big screen software used by Nato and the United States for war room mapping, putting its forces on an equal organisational footing with some of the West’s elite military operations.

Luciad, a defence contractor based in Leuven, Belgium, is selling the Chinese government high performance software used for situational awareness by the military commands of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, according to information from Chinese government contractors verified by the South China Morning Post.

The package includes LuciadLightspeed, a program that can process real-time data, including that from fast-moving objects, with speed and accuracy. […]

The same software is used by the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Florida, where covert missions for the US government – including the raid that assassinated al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in Pakistan in 2011, originated. […]

“Luciad is the Ferrari of GIS software. It comes to the right place at the right time,” said a geospatial information engineer from an aerospace company in Beijing.

Truly, this is a level of cunning strategery that makes Alexander the Great look like Sergeant Klinger! But seriously, what’s the point of having NATO if a Belgian company is blithely selling off crucial military technology to the People’s Liberation Army? Why bother even having a military at all? Wouldn’t it be easier and more profitable to disband NATO, dismantle all the Western armed forces and auction off our technology and weaponry to the highest bidder?

Has the US weighed in on this reported sale?

Tried and found wanting

General James Mattis growing stronger meme

The steady decline of the US military is getting mainstream attention with the publication of a scary new report by a panel of national security experts:

The United States has lost its military edge to a dangerous degree and could potentially lose a war against China or Russia, according to a report released Wednesday by a bipartisan commission that Congress created to evaluate the Trump administration’s defense strategy.

The National Defense Strategy Commission, comprised of former top Republican and Democratic officials selected by Congress, evaluated the Trump administration’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, which ordered a vast reshaping of the U.S. military to compete with Beijing and Moscow in an era of renewed great-power competition.

While endorsing the strategy’s aims, the commission warned that Washington isn’t moving fast enough or investing sufficiently to put the vision into practice, risking a further erosion of American military dominance that could become a national security emergency.

At the same time, according to the commission, China and Russia are seeking dominance in their regions and the ability to project military power globally, as their authoritarian governments pursue defense buildups aimed squarely at the United States.

Full report here.

The Heritage Foundation came to similar conclusions in a report released last year.

This is really bad, the product of decades of neglect. I don’t think it’s too late for Trump and Mattis to turn things around. But time is running out.

A new Manhattan Project

US Army tent fabric

Do you ever get the feeling that the US will sleepwalk into a war with a great-power rival and lose?

The U.S. military has a tent problem.

The only domestic supplier of the specialist polyester fibre used in its tents has gone out of business with potential “significant impact to multiple tent and fabric systems”, according to a multi-agency assessment of weaknesses in the U.S. defence complex.

Tents are just one of nearly 300 strategic frailties identified in the country’s military supply chains. (“Assessing and Strengthening the Manufacturing and Defense Supply Chain Resiliency of the United States”, September 2018)

The list ranges from the cold-rolled aluminium used for armour plating through submarine shaft maintenance to the silicon power switches used in missile systems. And that’s just the handful of examples that made it into the declassified section of the report.

“All facets of the manufacturing and defense industrial base are currently under threat, at a time when strategic competitors and revisionist powers appear to be growing in strength and capability,” the report states.

Topping the list of “strategic competitors” is China.

The DoD report (PDF) thunders:

“China’s non-market distortions to the economic playing field must end or the U.S. will risk losing the technology overmatch and industrial capabilities that have enabled and empowered our military dominance.”

True, but why is this up to China? Instead of whining about the unfairness of it all, shouldn’t the US be proactively defending the supply chain for critical technologies? How hard would it be to jump-start (or restart) manufacturing of key technologies in the US? Bring it ALL back under the aegis of a new Manhattan Project for the 21st century. Incidentally, this would also help to reduce the trade deficit and create manufacturing jobs in the US.

The Trump administration has just begun to do this with steel and aluminum imports, invoking national security as a justification for tariffs. Back to Reuters:

Beneath the apparent chaos of U.S. trade policy lies a comprehensive rethink of the country’s industrial-military policy, specifically its raw material supply chains and its manufacturing sector.

Taiwan is gone

Han Kuang military exercise Kinmen Taiwan

Annual military exercise in Kinmen, Taiwan, a few miles from mainland China (Source)

I’m not entirely clear on who this guy is, but he has a strong opinion on what would happen in the event of a Chinese invasion of Taiwan:

Now let me tell you the biggest military fiction to be found on the planet.

Taiwan will be able to defend itself against a Chinese invasion. The US will rush to Taiwan’s aid in the event of an invasion. Finally the combined might of the US and Taiwan with MAYBE the assistance of others in the region will be able to retake the island in the event that the Chinese establish a foothold/successfully take it.

Sorry boys and girls. Ain’t happening.

No matter how you slice it, we are victims of time and distance. The Chinese are too close, we’re too far away and the Taiwanese have been so thoroughly infiltrated that success is impossible.

Look at the Chinese order of battle.

Count numbers.

Do the same for Taiwan.

The results of your count should be obvious. Taiwan will fall.

Some numbers to consider:

China’s armed forces have long outnumbered and outspent Taiwan’s. China now has 800,000 active combat troops in its ground forces, compared with 130,000 in Taiwan; its budget last year was $144 billion, compared with Taiwan’s $10 billion, according to the Pentagon’s most recent annual report on the Chinese military. (Congress approved a $700 billion Pentagon budget in September, with an even larger increase than President Trump had requested.)

Back to the military blogger guy:

Remember the proposal (don’t know where it came from) to forward position US Marines on the island? If that was followed thu then the calculations change dramatically depending on the size of the force. Put a Platoon forward and its pretty much the same. Make it a Battalion and suddenly you have enough Marines in harm’s way where abandonment or rapid evacuation becomes impossible when ships show up on the horizon. Additionally you have the spectre of a Battalion of Marines “cutting and running” or being destroyed by Chinese forces. That would require a full scale military push if not to save the Taiwanese then to save the Marines.

That proposal would have signalled our determination for Taiwan to remain free.

But we didn’t bite.

Which means that this conversation has already occured at the highest levels of the Pentagon/State Dept/National Command Authority.

It has certainly been obvious for a while that when the pedal hits the metal, the US will throw Taiwan under the bus rather than fight China. As time goes on, China’s military edge over the self-governing island grows more extreme. It’s also very telling that Taiwan is struggling to recruit soldiers as it phases out conscription. The national morale needed to risk life and limb fighting off a PLA invasion seems… lacking.

There is some interesting back-and-forth about China’s capabilities in the blog’s comments section:

Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

You say Taiwan will vote to reunite with the mainland in a decade; that really shows your lack of understanding of the Taiwanese hatred of the communist regime of China. The only way the commies can “unite” the island with the mainland is by force.

Also I find your understanding of the local geography lacking as well. The Taiwan strait is 130 kms at its narrowest. The waters of the strait is considered the roughest in the northern hemisphere and the western side of the island (facing the mainland) has no beaches, only mud flats – the beaches are on the eastern side. This isn’t a Normandy crossing and the PLAN still hasn’t the capacity/capability to bring a significant number of troops ashore without them being sunk and drown at sea.

Solomon Mod Danger_Maus • 3 days ago

80 miles? hardly a long distance. i drive further than that on an almost daily basis. sorry bro but you’re dealing with an American. we know distance. we conquer just for shits and giggles in our personal lives much less militarily. 80 miles? that barely qualifies as a decent training opportunity much less a real world military mission…especially for forcible entry forces.

so what does that SHORT FUCKING DISTANCE mean? it means its within range of EVERY SINGE FIGHTER AND TRANSPORT PLANE IN THE CHINESE AIR FORCE! it means that an LCAC can cover the distance FROM FREAKING CHINA to Taiwan in 2 hours (assuming a transit speed of 35 knots)…it means that you have the almost IDEAL conditions for everything from a RAID to an AIR ASSAULT to a PARACHUTE ASSAULT to a MASSIVE AMPHIBIOUS ASSAULT using AERIAL INSERTION and SURFACE ASSAULT ASSETS!

you talk about me not knowing geography? hell yeah i know the geography. what i can’t figure is why China hasn’t already attacked. the ground is laid. this would be the stroke that would cement them as a Super Power with muscle to enforce their will.

no matter how you slice this thing. from a military point of view Taiwan is undefensible.

[…]

wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

Taiwan isn’t gone. If Taiwan were gone then the Trump administration would not be shoring up US Taiwan relations. Pence would not have recently singled out Taiwan as model of democracy in the Chinese speaking world. Trump wouldn’t be conducting all these FNOP operations right in China’s face if he didn’t believe the US could prevail over China. Losing Taiwan would signify to the world that Japan, The Philippines, Vietnam heck most of the Pacific is up for grabs thus the US isn’t just going to hand Taiwan over to China on a silver platter. If anything, the US seems be closer to Taiwan today, than it has been in decades.

Trump knows that China is the US’s biggest threat. He’s already taken steps to neutralize China starting with its economy. I’d even go so far as to say that USMCA was written in a way to specifically counter China’s exploitation of NAFTA loopholes to access America’s market.

Solomon Mod wtfunk555 • 4 days ago

wait. are you being serious or are you just being a nationalist (Taiwan) on this issue? i’m just looking at things as they are not as i wish them to be. you point out that as goes Taiwan so goes the Pacific? i think you’re just not being honest there. Taiwan could fall and the rest of the Pacific would remain unchanged. the same talk happened with regard to Hong Kong. it fell underneath China’s orbit and everything else remained the same.

quite honestly Taiwan COULD BE SEEN JUSTIFIABLY SO (to some) as properly being Chinese territory. a breakaway Republic but Chinese territory none-the-less.

but my bigger issue is the defense of Taiwan. i just don’t see how it could realistically done. we’re certainly not going to launch a nuclear war in defense of Taiwan so how do we defend it? additionally the US and Russia and NATO have ALL STARTED CONDUCTING LARGE SCALE EXERCISES! we claim that Trident Junction is peaceful but given past tensions it could mask an invasion. the same occurred with the large scale Russian exercise. i heard talk from some that it was a mask to make a move into Western Europe (yeah crazy talk). i said all that to say that the “we can see it from a mile away” is just plain happy talk. China has too many forces in the area. they run too many snap drills. the only real alert we’ll have is when we see Chinese Paratroopers and Marines loading transports and then its all over but the crying.

explain that away before you slam me for my thoughts on the subject. how far away is Taiwan from the mainland? a shorter drive than Atlanta to Louisiana! MUCH SHORTER. in today’s military that’s incredibly short.

Operation Urgent Fury

Invasion of Grenada

An interesting recap of Operation Urgent Fury, the US invasion of Grenada in 1983. I didn’t realize the operation was such a near-debacle, with 19 killed and 116 wounded on the American side:

In the end there were no maps of Grenada to be had anywhere at Fort Bragg. In an inspired moment a division staff officer headed for downtown Fayetteville, where he procured tourist maps of the island. Planners superimposed a military grid atop the map and distributed copies to the invading troops before they boarded their air craft. Interestingly, many senior leaders were relying on articles copied out of The Economist for the most up-to-date intelligence on the island. […]

Things did not go as smoothly for the Army. Newly obtained aerial photos showed obstacles on the airfield—something the SEALs might have cleared had they landed. Presuming the enemy was anticipating the assault, the Ranger commander decided to jump at 500 feet in order to minimize his troops’ time in the air. Such a low-level jump made reserve parachutes useless, so they were discarded. Worse, only the first assault company had expected to jump, so only they were wearing parachutes. At the last moment the rest of the Rangers scrambled to get into their harnesses, a task made infinitely more difficult when attempted in an aircraft crowded with men and equipment. As a result, the Rangers began landing more than 30 minutes behind schedule, and the successive drop waves took 90 minutes to complete —in daylight and initially under heavy enemy fire. So far, Urgent Fury was a perfect example of how not to conduct an airborne operation and was shaping up to be an unmitigated disaster. […]

A separate JSOC mission failed to capture the transmitter broadcasting the government-controlled Radio Free Grenada, after PRA counterattacks drove a SEAL team from the position. Similarly, Delta and Ranger assaults on the enemy command posts at Fort Rupert and the prison at Richmond Hill stalled after antiaircraft fire downed two helicopters and damaged others. Adding some macabre mockery to the unfolding spectacle, attacking U.S. aircraft accidentally hit a mental hospital, killing 18 patients and setting others free to aimlessly wander around a nearby town.

Etc. Apparently at one point, a solider had to use a payphone to call in support for his unit:

The basic story is that a unit on the island was pinned down by Communist forces. Interoperability and communications were so bad, they were unable to call for support from anywhere. A member of the unit pulled out his credit card and made a long-distance call by commercial phone lines to their home base, which patched it through to the Urgent Fury command, who passed the order down to the requested support.

Mistakes were made, and lessons were learned…

Germany scandalously unprepared for alien invasion

Very disappointed in Germany. Apparently, the task of fighting off an alien invasion will fall on the US by default:

The German government has “no plans or protocol” should first contact with aliens occur, according to a report by German daily Bild.

The government considers such an event “extremely unlikely according to current scientific knowledge,” the Ministry of Economics said when responding to a question from Green MP Dieter Janecek.

“Concrete cases that could have been the subject of bilateral or multilateral talks with other states are not known,” the ministry’s statement continued.

United States has a plan

While Germany might not have a plan for extraterrestrial visitors, the US is more prepared. Even before the establishment of a Space Force that US President Donald Trump has recently said he plans to created as a new branch of the military, the 527th Space Aggressors Squadron is already a part of the United States Air Force. It aims to train US, joint and allied military forces for combat with “space-capable adversaries.”

The Air Force squadron regularly conducts drills designed to simulate what a space attack might look like if an otherworldly adversary attempted one.

In all seriousness, it’s hard to see what this can accomplish. Any alien invasion fleet will need to have traversed many light-years before reaching the earth, implying a level of technological sophistication that is surely far beyond that of the US military. Maybe, instead of rousing the invaders’ anger with pointless attacks, it would be better to do absolutely nothing.

From 2007-2012, the US also ran a task force that investigated sightings of unidentified flying objects with an annual budget of $22 million (€19.2 million). The UK has also run UFO sighting projects in the past.

More here about the Pentagon’s secret UFO task force. The military did admit that it was “incapable of defending itself against some of the technologies discovered” by the program, according to a New York Times report.

After analyzing past media coverage about possible findings of extraterrestrial microbial life, Varnum found most people’s reactions were positive.

In two following studies asking respondents what their hypothetical reaction would be if researchers did discover signs of life beyond Earth, or if researchers created a new life form in the lab, participants were still more positive than negative and were more excited about finding alien life than synthetically-created life.

Presumably, these people are betting that what we discover is kinder and gentler than this:

The research found that about half of Americans and Western Europeans surveyed elsewhere said they believe aliens have already visited Earth, Varnum said, and there does not seem to be any “chaos or disorder in the world” as a result.

“Perception-management campaign”

A pair of Republican congressmen allege that a major environmental nonprofit appears to have been co-opted by China’s influence machine:

Environmental advocacy groups that take the Defense Department to court appear to operate as foreign agents working to help China and undermine the U.S. Navy and America’s military readiness in the Asia-Pacific region, congressional leaders suggest.

Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., chairman of the oversight and investigations subcommittee, called on two environmental groups to submit documents that “identify any policies or procedures” the groups took to ensure compliance with the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Bishop and Westerman last month wrote the two groups, the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Center for Biological Diversity.

In a letter to Rhea Suh, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the two Republican lawmakers expressed concern about China’s “extensive perception-management campaign” and the “NRDC’s role” in assisting these efforts.

The environmental group’s press releases and other written correspondence “consistently praise the Chinese government’s environmental initiatives and promote the image of China as a global environmental leader,” their letter says. […]

The political activism of the Natural Resources Defense Council continues to coincide with China’s geopolitical interests, while it regularly files lawsuits against the Pentagon aimed at constraining military exercises vital to national security, Bishop and Westerman say in their letter to the NRDC.

The organization “collaborates with Chinese government entities deeply involved in Chinese efforts to assert sovereignty over the South China Sea in contravention of international law,” the two Republicans say. It also works to “discredit those skeptical of China’s commitment to pollution reduction targets” who seek to report honestly on environmental data, their letter says.

Quote from the letter: “Over the last two decades, your organization has also sued the U.S. Navy multiple times to stop or drastically limit naval training exercises in the Pacific arguing that navy sonar and anti-submarine warfare drills harm marine life. We are unaware of the NRDC having made similar efforts to curtail naval exercises by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army Navy.”

Another take from the New York Times. At first glance, it seems more likely that the NRDC — like so many Western organizations — is simply forced to adopt a double standard because of the Chinese government’s unique sensitivity to criticism, than that the NRDC is part of some Chinese influence campaign. However, is there a functional difference between these two possibilities?

Whatever the reasons or motive, any group that attempts to clip the wings of the US Navy in the Pacific, while working closely and uncritically with the Chinese government as the latter builds and weaponizes thousands of acres of islands in the South China Sea, is rightly viewed with a considerable amount of suspicion by the US.

China aims to overtake “slower vehicle” US

China has big plans for enhancing its military power around the globe, is bracing for increased frictions with Japan and other neighbors, and sees the US as a power in decline, according to a leaked document:

China’s military reforms are aimed at expanding its military might from the traditional focus on land territories to maritime influence to protect the nation’s strategic interests in a new era, according to an internal reader of China’s Central Military Commission obtained by Kyodo News.

If the reforms progress, the reader points to intensifying friction with neighboring countries, including Japan, in the East and South China Seas and elsewhere. It also suggests the willingness of China to overtake the United States in military strength. […]

“The lessons of history teach us that strong military might is important for a country to grow from being big to being strong,” it said. “A strong military is the way to avoid the ‘Thucydides Trap’ and escape the obsession that war is unavoidable between an emerging power and a ruling hegemony.”

A Thucydides Trap is a phrase used to refer to when a rising power causes fear in an established power that escalates toward war.

Military reforms are therefore a significant “turning point” for any given emerging country to “overtake a slower vehicle on a curve,” it said, suggesting that the United States is in its decline.