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U.S. Navy May Turn Every Ship into an Aircraft Carrier

The Buzz

The U.S. Navy is seeking to transform every ship into mini aircraft carriers.

Last month the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) announced the start of the second phase of its Tactically Exploited Reconnaissance Node (TERN) program. TERN, a joint program between DARPA and the U.S. Navy’s Office of Naval Research (ONR), aims to create a system that would enable small ships to operate both intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and combat drones.

“The goal of Tern is to give forward-deployed small ships the ability to serve as mobile launch and recovery sites for medium-altitude, long-endurance unmanned aerial systems (UAS),” DARPA said in a press release announcing Phase 2 of the program. “These systems could provide long-range intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) and other capabilities over greater distances and time periods than is possible with current assets.”

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Not only would Tern enhance the U.S. Navy’s strike capabilities, but it could also greatly reduce costs by decreasing the U.S. military’s reliance on expensive land-based air strips. “A capacity to launch and retrieve aircraft on small ships would reduce the need for ground-based airstrips, which require significant dedicated infrastructure and resources.” Land-based airstrips are also more vulnerable to enemy missiles, and frequently create tension​ with local populations.

Tern also potentially help reduce the U.S. Navy’s reliance on aircraft carriers. This is crucial as many fear that large aircraft carriers are growing obsolete amidst the proliferation of long-range precision-strike missiles to U.S. adversaries like China and Iran. Beijing, in particular, poses a vexing challenge to the U.S. Navy as missiles like the DF-21D— frequently dubbed the “carrier killer”— appear to be aimed at sinking America’s aircraft carriers.

An anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D is reportedly able to “carry a warhead big enough to inflict significant damage on a large vessel, providing the Chinese the capability of destroying a U.S. supercarrier in one strike.”

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Once operational—both the missile and its kill chain—it will reportedly be able to strike a moving supercarrier at ranges of nearly 1,500 kilometers. Given the immense cost of America’s ten aircraft carriers, as well as the manpower required to operate them, the DF-21D will essentially force America to keep its carriers out of range from the Chinese mainland and many potential hot spots in the region.

Tern would help the United States overcome this issue by greatly increasing the number of targets China or another U.S. adversary would have to strike in order to destroy America’s strike capabilities. Indeed, according to The Motley Fool, the system that comes out of the Tern program could “permit MALE-sized drones to operate off ships as small as an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer—or even a smaller Independence—or Freedom-class frigate.” In other words, nearly every U.S. naval surface ship could become a mini aircraft carrier, especially as the U.S. Navy is moving completely away from manned aircraft after the F-35.

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Nor are surface ships the only mini aircraft carriers the U.S. Navy is seeking to develop to compensate for the growing missile threat. Back in 2013, the navy first “demonstrated the launch of an all-electric, fuel cell-powered, unmanned aerial system (UAS) from a submerged submarine.” For the time being, however, these drones are strictly for IRS purposes.

DARPA launched the Tern program back in 2013. In May of the following year, it signed a memorandum of understanding with ONR to make it a joint program.

According to DARPA:

The program has three planned phases. The first two phases focus on preliminary design and risk reduction for the Tern system. In Phase 3, a performer would be selected to build a full-scale demonstrator Tern system for ground-based testing, culminating in an at-sea demonstration of launch and recovery.

AeroVironment and Northrop Grumman were the two contractors selected for the second phase of the program. Dan Patt, DARPA's program manager for Tern, said that:

Our Phase 2 performers are each designing a new unmanned air system intended to enable two  previously unavailable capabilities: one, the ability for a UAS to take off and land from very confined spaces in elevated sea states and two, the ability for such a UAS to transition to efficient long-duration cruise missions.

Zachary Keck is managing editor of The National Interest. He can reached on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Flickr/U.S. Pacific Fleet

TopicsSecurity RegionsAmericas

Breaking Down a Disaster: The Gallipoli Nightmare

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The strategic origins of the Gallipoli operation are to be found in the determination of the First Lord of the Admiralty, Winston Churchill, to use the navy decisively to influence the war on land, in the willingness of the British War Council and many of its advisors to believe that sea power could achieve this end, and in an underestimation by all concerned on the determination with which the enemy (Turkey) would defend its homeland.

Churchill had taken up his post in 1911 to ensure that a reluctant navy complied with the plans of the army to escort an expeditionary force to France in the event of war. By September 1914 this feat had been accomplished (without the loss of a single soldier).

Naval units were then engaged in sweeping up small squadrons of German ships in distant seas, ensuring that vital supplies carried in unarmed merchant ships arrived safely in Britain and in maintaining offensive patrols in the North Sea to keep watch on the German fleet.

None of this proved very congenial to Churchill. His restless mind had been devising a series of more offensive operations for his ships since the war’s outbreak. Although his schemes were many and various they had one factor in common: they sought not just to defeat the German fleet but to use British naval power to shorten the duration of the land war.

By early 1915 the war was entering an indecisive phase. The German assault in the west had been stymied at the Marne; the Russian armies had suffered grievously at Tannenburg and the Masaurian Lakes but were still in the field; French operations against Germany, Austrian operations against Serbia and Turkish operations against Egypt had collapsed almost at inception.

And these setbacks to the armed forces of the major powers had been accompanied by some ominous developments. Small groups of soldiers in rudimentary defenses and armed only with repeating rifles had proved capable of stopping attacks by masses of infantrymen.

The appearance of trenches and a few machine guns reduced even further the chances of advancing troops. Stalemate started to enter the vocabularies of the general staff.

Politicians and strategists on all sides greeted this spectacle of war without end with alarm. On the British side three men brought forth new strategic conceptions which were designed to surmount the problem. If there was no way through the Western Front they reasoned, there must be a way around.

First in the field was Lloyd George. He considered that Germany’s allies should be attacked—Austria-Hungary by a force consisting of the Balkan states led by Britain and France landing on the Dalmatian coast and advancing on Vienna. In addition a landing should be made on the Syrian coast to cut off the Turkish Army in the vicinity of the Suez Canal, bringing Germany down by a process of ‘ knocking the props under her’.

Lieutenant-Colonel Maurice Hankey, an ex-marine and secretary of the War Council had also conjured up an alliance of Balkan states, including Greece and Bulgaria. He thought that with these states on board it might be possible ‘to weave a web round Turkey which shall end her career as a European Power’. If Roumania and Russia could be enticed into the coalition "the occupation of Constantinople, the Dardanelles and the Bosphorus" could be accomplished. Thus communications would be restored with Russia via the Black Sea. Three British army corps combined with the Balkan and Russian forces should be sufficient to achieve these ends.

The third person to dabble in grand strategy was Lord Fisher, First Sea Lord at the Admiralty and Churchill’s chief naval adviser. He advocated a gigantic war against Turkey involving a coalition of Balkan states, a Greek army landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula and the navy forcing the Dardanelles with squadrons of obsolete battleships appearing off Constantinople and compelling the surrender of the pro-German government.

At the same time that Churchill was being bombarded by "Turkey" memoranda from various quarters, other events were directing his thoughts towards the Dardanelles. On January 1 Britain’s ambassador in Russia had telegraphed to the Foreign Office that Grand Duke Nicholas had informed him that Russian forces were being hard pressed by the Turks in the Caucasus and had asked if "it would be possible for Lord Kitchener to arrange for a demonstration of some kind against the Turk elsewhere, either naval or military [to] ease the position of Russia."

Lord Kitchener, Secretary of State for War, asked Churchill for his opinion, making the point that "we have no troops to land anywhere" and enquiring whether a naval "demonstration" at the Dardanelles might be the most effective way of preventing more Turkish troops being sent east.

Following a meeting of the Admiralty War Group on 3 January a telegram sent was by Churchill to Admiral Sackville Carden, commanding the squadron off the Dardanelles. It said:

Do you consider the forcing of the Dardanelles by ships alone a practicable operation. It is assumed older Battleships fitted with minebumpers would be used preceded by Colliers or other merchant craft as bumpers and sweepers.

Importance of results would justify severe losses

Let me know your views.

On January 8 Carden’s plan for forcing the Dardanelles arrived. In truth it was not so much a plan as a list of the order in which the Dardanelles defenses would be attacked—starting with the outer forts and working towards the series of forts at the Narrows.

Nevertheless, at last Churchill had a plan which he placed before the War Council on  January 13. He emphasized that the guns of the Fleet were more modern than those in the Turkish forts and outranged them. What the Fleet would do when it cleared the Narrows was left rather vague. All Churchill had to say on this aspect was that "it would proceed up to Constantinople and destroy the ‘Goeben’."

Lloyd George and Kitchener thought the plan worth trying, Kitchener making the additional point that "we could leave off the bombardment if it did not prove effective."

A group of old battleships was to attempt to blast their way through the Dardanelles to Constantinople. If operations in the Straits prospered, well and good: if they did not all seemed to agree that the ships could sail away.

The conclusion of the War Council therefore was unanimous that the Admiralty should also prepare for a naval expedition to bombard and take the Gallipoli Peninsula, with Constantinople as its objective. Churchill immediately ordered his admirals to give effect to Carden’s requests.

During the next few weeks a force of a dozen or so old battleships (including some provided by France) and two new ones were gathered off the entrance to the Dardanelles. After an action that lasted from February 19 to March 18, the naval attack was broken off.

It was a complete failure. Not for the first time during the First World War a strategic concept had come unstuck because the tactics required for its successful implementation were beyond the abilities of the force employed. The idea was that the ships would destroy the Turkish forces by bombarding them at a range outside the guns of the forts, but it was soon found that from these ranges the chances of hitting the guns of the forts were negligible.

Any attempt to close the range was hampered by the minefields laid before the war and enhanced while the bombardment was underway. Similarly attempts to sweep the minefields were hampered by the batteries of howitzers. When these batteries were attacked by the fleet it was found that the shallow trajectory of the ships’ guns meant that most of the Turkish guns sheltered behind hills or in low lying ground were safe from naval fire.

Meanwhile pressure was building to send troops to the Dardanelles. Hankey had informed Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, that Churchill’s opinion that a "ships alone" operation might still succeed was not to be trusted. Asquith was much influenced by Hankey and agreed that a "fairly strong military force" should be assembled to assist the fleet. Above all Fisher had undergone a change of heart. He informed Churchill: "Not a grain of wheat will come from the Black Sea unless there is military occupation of the Dardanelles!"

Eventually, this pressure of opinion had an effect on Churchill. By mid-February he was not only arguing that troops should be sent but that at least one division should consist of regular soldiers (the 29 Division). At a War Council Meeting he told Kitchener who understandably was having trouble grasping why the navy suddenly required the presence of troops:

It would be a great disappointment to the Admiralty if the 29th Division was not sent out. The attack on the Dardanelles was a very heavy naval undertaking. It was difficult to overrate the military advantages which success would bring … In his opinion, it would be a thrifty disposition on our part to have 50,000 men in this region … He was sending out ten trained battalions of the Naval Division. Neither these, however, nor the Australians and New Zealanders could be called first-rate troops at present, and they required a stiffening of regulars … We should never forgive ourselves if this promising operation failed owing to insufficient military force at the critical moment.

Although on this occasion Kitchener resisted Churchill’s call for troops, gradually momentum for their employment at Gallipoli increased. Therefore when the naval attack finally collapsed in ignominious defeat on  March 18, there was virtually no discussion. Kitchener decreed that there would be a combined operation and such was the consensus that the War Council was not summoned to discuss its merits.

The combined operation was in fact no more sensible than the naval attack and a lot more dangerous. Britain could only raise about 75,000 troops to land in the first phase of an attack on Gallipoli. Yet the Turks had no less than 500,000.

It is true that Turkey was hardly a first-rate power. But the Turkish army was equipped with those two great killers of infantry—machine guns and artillery which were the determinants of victory in all the battles of the First World War. And on the Gallipoli peninsula the Turks would have the advantage of occupying all the high ground.

In short what was likely to happen was that the smaller Allied force would fight the Turkish Army in relays because it would be much faster for the Turks to rotate their forces in and out of the battle area than could a force with bases far from the theater of war.

Moreover, in one respect the combined operation was a much worse scenario for the Allies than the naval attack. After a naval defeat (as everyone said at the time) the ships could always sail away. Once there were "boots on the ground" it would be more difficult to withdraw if things went awry. There would be calls for additional forces for that one final push that would decide the campaign and cries of lost prestige if the operation was not seen through to a successful conclusion.

And one final fact must be noted. Both plans were based on the assumption that the defeat of Turkey would somehow have a cosmic influence on the war as a whole. This was far from the case. The defeat of Turkey would have meant the defeat of Turkey. The great engine of the war was the German army and its position in France and Flanders would be hardly imperiled by what happened far away in southeastern Europe.

Until the German army in the west was beaten the war would continue. In the First World War there was no way around. Strategists would have been better employed in devoting their attention to the tactics that would allow victory to be achieved on the only front that mattered—the Western Front.

This is an edited version of an ASPI Strategic Insight, ‘The Strategy behind Gallipoli: strategic decision-making in the Dardanelles and Gallipoli’, published April 2005 and on ASPI’s website here

TopicsGallipoli

A Big Deal: China Reveals Its South China Sea Strategy

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Growing international criticism of China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea and the publication of detailed images of China’s dredging and construction activities prompted the Chinese government to explain in greater detail than ever before the purpose of these activities. In response to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter’s charge that China has “intensified the militarization in the islands and reefs in the South China Sea and escalated regional tension,” and the release of a series of satellite photos by CSIS of recent dredging and construction activities on Mischief Reef, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Hua Chunying issued a lengthy statement on April 9. In addition to repeating prior positions that China has “indisputable sovereignty” over the Spratly Islands and adjacent waters, and that China’s construction is “fair, reasonable, and lawful,” Hua stated that China’s activities aremainly for civilian purposes, but also are intended to serve “necessary military defense requirements.”

That is the first time that the Chinese government has officially acknowledged that its land reclamation activity is intended at least in part for military purposes. On September 9, 2014, when Hua Chunying was asked explicitly whether China’s large-scale reclamation work was intended for commercial or military use, she responded “As far as I know, the construction work China is undertaking on relevant islands is mainly for the purpose of improving the working and living conditions of people stationed on these islands.” On November 24, Hua made the same claim, adding that by improving the conditions for the island-stationed personnel, they can better fulfill their international obligations and responsibilities in search and rescue.

In the April 9 statement, in addition to acknowledging that China plans to use the outposts for unstated military missions, Hua also provided greater detail about the civilian purposes that the islands will serve. She maintained that China seeks to improve relevant functions the islands and reefs provide, to better safeguard national territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests, to better meet China’s international responsibilities and obligations in maritime search and rescue, disaster prevention and mitigation, marine scientific research, weather observation, environmental protection, navigation safety, fishery production services, and other areas.

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Hua added that the civilian facilities would provide services to China and its neighboring countries, as well as international vessels sailing in the South China Sea.

In other words, the Chinese are now attempting to assuage concerns about their artificial island building by claiming that these activities are aimed at providing public goods. Chinese researchers are also making this argument. For example, PLA Navy Rear Admiral Yin Zhuo wrote in an article published by China News Agency on March 8 that large scale radar stations are needed in the South China Sea for communication and monitoring. Citing the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines flight MH370, Yin Zhuo argued for enhanced search and rescue capabilities to respond to possible sea and air accidents. China, he said, has “undisputed responsibility” for maritime search and rescue in the South China Sea based on an International Maritime Organization (IMO) determination in 1985 that “China and Chinese Hong Kong are responsible for the region north of 10 degrees north latitude and west of 124 degrees east longitude.”

Likely in response to accusations by the Philippines that China’s dredging is causing catastrophic damage to the coral reefs, Hua insisted that China had undertaken “scientific assessments and rigorous tests” to ensure that “the ecology of the South China Sea will not be damaged.” That China’s foreign ministry spokesman felt compelled to make this statement suggests that Beijing is at least somewhat concerned that it not be seen as harming the environment. This may be a useful pressure point for the international community going forward. ASEAN might consider asking the Chinese to share their environmental impact studies.

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China’s transparency, albeit limited, about its intentions should be welcome and be used as an opportunity to press for additional information as well as reassurance.  China should be urged to match the information it has provided on the potential civilian purposes of its land reclamation activities with similar details about the military functions its garrisons will serve. CSIS’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative has confirmed that China is building a 10,000 ft. runway on Fiery Cross Reef that could enable China to monitor and potentially control the airspace over the South China Sea, which would provide greater capability to exert sea control. China might even plan to declare an air defense identification zone (ADIZ) similar to the ADIZ it established in November 2013 in the East China Sea.

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Concerned nations should also demand that the Chinese pledge that they will refrain from using these new outposts for destabilizing and coercive conduct. This should include promises not to interfere with freedom of navigation and to forego establishing an ADIZ over disputed maritime areas. To make such commitments palatable to Beijing, they could be included in a Code of Conduct that not only China, but also ASEAN members, agree to. Creating such a legally binding Code is increasingly urgent.

This piece first appeared in on the CSIS Project website Asia Maritime Transparency Project here

TopicsSouth China Sea RegionsAsia-Pacific

The Real South China Sea Crisis: An Environmental Time Bomb

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China’s accelerated construction activities in the South China Sea have understandably alarmed countries across the region and beyond. In particular, Southeast Asian claimant states such as Vietnam and the Philippines are deeply worried about the prospects of an irreversible Chinese consolidation of its sweeping maritime claims, more expansive Chinese paramilitary patrols in the area, and, perhaps most alarmingly, the establishment of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) across the South China Sea. Meanwhile, the U.S. seems to be primarily concerned with how China’s ambitious and sophisticated construction activities could pose a threat to its national interest in term of freedom of navigation and overflight in the area.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has also been scrambling for an appropriate and timely response, more vigorously discussing the possibility of joint patrols in the contested waters to prevent further escalation in the disputes. An often neglected aspect of the issue, however, is the ecological implications of ongoing construction activities as well as illegal, underreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing across the South China Sea. Continued failure to address the environmental time bomb in the area could lead to a major economic disaster for all claimant countries, including China.

Geo-Engineering Wonders

In fairness, China is a relative late-comer in the ongoing construction game across the South China Sea. Back in the late-20th century, Southeast Asian claimant states such as the Philippines and Northeast Asian claimant states such as Taiwan were already able to establish relatively advanced structures, including airstrips, on the Thitu and Itu Aba islands, respectively. In the Spratly chain of islands, China occupies seven features (e.g., rocks, atolls, and reefs), behind Vietnam (21) and the Philippines (8).

Nonetheless, Hanoi and Manila occupy features that fall well within their 200-nautical-miles Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) and continental shelf. The same cannot be said about China, the southernmost province (Hainan) of which is located considerably farther. The more important difference, however, is the scale, speed, and sophistication of China’s construction activities across the Spratly chain of islands. While the Philippines and Taiwan have been building advanced structures on actual islands — that is to say, naturally-formed features that can support human habitation — China instead is artificially transforming rudimentary features (e.g., low-tide elevations, reefs, rocks, atolls, etc.) into de facto islands.

The artificial and permanent alteration of the nature of a contested feature is not admissible before international law, but it allows China to achieve de facto – rather than de jure – sovereignty over contested features. After all, China doesn’t even recognize the jurisdiction of any third party, under the aegis of United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS), when it comes to its sovereignty claims in adjacent waters. By all accounts, China is winning the scramble in the South China Sea. The accelerated pace of China’s construction activities may be linked to at least two factors.

First, China may hope to tighten its grip over contested features ahead of the expected conclusion of Manila’s legal arbitration against Beijing at The Hague sometime in 2016; and second, China may hope to deepen its strategic depth in the area before a more hawkish leadership replaces the Obama administration.

What China is doing in the South China Sea is nothing short of geo-engineering on steroids. It clearly presents both military and ecological threats to the region and beyond. In strategic terms, construction of advanced facilities allows China to establish military garrisons in the middle of the contested area, with Fiery Cross expected to serve as a command-and-control center for Beijing’s military and para-military activities across the South China Sea. Soon, China may be able to place advanced missile-defense systems, coordinate more sophisticated marine and air patrols in the area, and progressively prevent other neighboring countries from resupplying their personnel on features they already control.

The Environmental Conundrum

The other major concern is the potential ecological damage caused by the ongoing scramble in the South China Sea. The South China Sea is a global leader in terms of biodiversity, thanks to its warm waters and tropical weather. China maintains that its construction activities are in line with its “lawful”, “reasonable”, “justified”, and “inherent and indisputable sovereignty” in the area. It recently mentioned “environmental protection” and “fishery production service” as one of the core objectives of the ongoing construction activities.

Other claimant states such as the Philippines, however, argue that China’s activities have damaged up to 300 acres of coral reefs, leading to “irreversible and widespread damage to the biodiversity and ecological balance” and costing neighboring states up to $100 million annually due to the negative impact on coral reefs, which are breeding grounds for high-value fisheries. Philippines’ coral reefs have also been damaged by American (USS Guardian) and Chinese vessels in recent years. By some estimates, 70% of coral reefs in the South China Sea have already been adversely affected by a combination of pollution, unsound fishing practices, mechanical accidents, and climate change.

Fisheries resources have been severely undermined due to over-exploitation and large-scale illegal fishing. In recent years, the Philippines has repeatedly apprehended Chinese andVietnamese fishermen for poaching endangered species such as sea turtles within its EEZ. Desperate to stem illegal fishing by foreign vessels within its waters, Indonesia has resorted to a more aggressive ‘sink the vessels’ policy. With China increasingly relying on itsfishermen-cum-militia armada to consolidate its claims in the South China Sea, illegal, underreported, unregulated (IUU) fishing will most likely intensify.

From the Northern Pacific, North Sea, and the Baltic to the Mediterranean and even the Yellow Sea, there have been numerous and relatively advanced efforts at establishing fisheries management and related environmental-protection regimes. As signatories to the UNCLOS and Convention on Biological Diversity, South China Sea claimant states should begin to seriously discuss necessary measures to address the brewing environmental crisis, which will affect the livelihood of tens of millions of people in the area with unimaginable socio-political and economic repercussions. This may after all be the biggest challenge in the South China Sea.

This piece first appeared in on the CSIS Project website Asia Maritime Transparency Project here

Image: U.S. Navy Flickr. 

TopicsSouth China Sea RegionsAsia-Pacific

Watch Out, China: Asia's Dangerous Submarine Race Heats Up

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Thailand is the latest country in maritime Asia seeking to build up its submarine force.

According to local media reports, the Thai Royal Navy has formally submitted a proposal to the cabinet asking it to fund a submarine program.

Admiral Kraisorn Chansuvanich, the commander of the Thai Navy, explained the rationale behind his service’s desire to acquire submarines.

"Neighboring countries like Vietnam, Malaydsia, Indonesia, and Singapore have had submarines in their arsenals for many years,” Kraisorn said, according to Khaosad, a local Thai newspaper. "Now that I am here, I think it is a part of the strategy to improve our armed forces. It's my duty to submit the request to the government for consideration. Whether the government will approve it or not is up to them."

In the proposal, Kraisorn also stressed the urgency of the request, noting that even after it has been approved it will take some time before Thailand will actually be able to acquire the subs.

"Even if the government approved the purchase today, we won’t be able to acquire them instantly, because time will be needed to build the ships and send our personnel to receive training and improve their expertise for one to two years. So, it will take at least five or six years before submarines can enter our service,” Kraisorn said, according to the Khaosad report.

The navy’s proposal was not unexpected. Back in January of this year, the Bangkok Post reported, citing an unnamed official in the defense ministry, that the navy would ask to procure two to three submarines in the new defense budget.

“The navy has been vetting submarines from various countries including South Korea, China, Russia and France. South Korea's U209 model is said to be the least expensive at 11 billion baht apiece [roughly $338.7 billion].” The same report said that Thailand’s defense minister backed the proposal in principle.

Thailand has lacked a working submarine since 1951. However, the military has repeatedly tried to persuade the government to purchase subs, and many believe that the military coup in Thailand last year made it more likely that the navy would finally win this support.

Thailand’s purchase of submarines would be consistent with the general trend in the region. Indeed, maritime Asia seems to be locked into something of a submarine arms race as of late, with a number of countries expanding their undersea fleets.

As I’ve noted elsewhere, the three countries that line the Malacca Strait— Singapore, Malaysia, and Indonesia— have all acquired formidable submarine fleets. Indonesia, in particular, has ambitious plans to acquire at least ten submarines by 2024, and ultimately may amass a fleet of between 14-16 vessels.

Vietnam, too, has been hard at work strengthening its submarine force. Most notably, it is purchasing six Project 636M Kilo-class submarines from Russia for $2.6 billion. It has already taken possession of at least three of these boats.

Meanwhile, across the South China Sea, Taiwan— which already possesses four submarines—is seeking external help to develop an indigenous capacity to build diesel-electric submarines. Japan, too, has one of the most powerful submarine fleets in the world, and is in discussions with Australia to sell Canberra its most advanced submarines. Japan may also sell India six submarines.

South Korea has also gone “all in” on submarines, with around thirteen subs already operating and ambitious plans to increase this number in the years ahead.

The Philippines is the latest country to express an interest in building an undersea fleet.

China’s growing military power is behind much of the desire to beef up submarine capabilities in the region. Beijing itself has rapidly expanded its submarine fleet in recent years, and now operates more subs than even the United States.

At the same time, China’s anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities have lagged, and this is especially true away from the Chinese mainland. As a result, many of the countries locked in maritime disputes with China see submarines as a crucial asymmetric capability they can use to beat back their larger neighbor’s military challenge.

This is not limited to small Southeast Asian nations, however. Even many in the United States believe submarines will be essential if Washington is to contend with China’s growing military might.

As Dave Majumdar recently noted on The National Interest, “A new class of nuclear-powered guided missile submarines could be the key to maintaining America’s future naval supremacy as new weapons increasingly challenge the dominance of the U.S. Navy’s aircraft carriers.”

Image: U.S. Navy photo by General Dynamics Electric Boat

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Game Changer: China's Massive Economic March into Pakistan

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The China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is nothing short of a “fate changer,” said Pakistani Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, the man behind the historic project. The excitement appears to be mutual, as China has shown equal enthusiasm for the project throughout a two-day visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Islamabad, which culminated on Tuesday.

Over 51 agreements and MoUs were signed between the two countries worth over US$46 billion, the largest ever investment in the history of Pakistan by any country.

The major component of the CPEC includes power projects worth US$35-37 billion for energy-starved Pakistan, and massive infrastructure development throughout the country through concessional loans of US$7–8 billion, with the lowest interest rates in the international market. A chunk of the investment will be used for the development of a 3000km rail, road, and oil pipeline network stretching from Kashgar in China all the way down to Gwadar port on the Arabian sea, operated by the state-owned China Overseas Port Holding Company.

CPEC is part of an expanding network of corridors that will link China's eastern industrial zones with markets in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa and Europe. This will allow China to rapidly develop its interior and western provinces, which have “missed” the Chinese economic miracle.

The CPEC also holds symbolic value because it sits at the crossroads of China's Silk Road Economic Belt and Maritime Silk Road, cutting the travel time and distance of freight, especially oil imports, by thousands of kilometers to China. Moreover, in terms of geopolitics, the CPEC fills the last slot for China to complete a web of economic networks in the region. With major investments already in place in Sri Lanka, Burma and Bangladesh, China is shredding any Indian hopes of playing hegemon.

It's a surprise, given India's strong linguistic, historical and cultural links with Bangladesh, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, that New Delhi missed the opportunity for economic integration with South Asia, allowing China to take the advantage. 

But China's economic inroads into Pakistan and its recent involvement in Afghanistan benefit the US, which has historically maintained a strong influence over Pakistan. With the US desperate to end its presence in Afghanistan, China is beginning to play a central role through its economic corridors in stabilizing the region for a US withdrawal, a win-win for both China and the US. 

For Pakistan, a country in a perpetual state of war since the 1980s and which has suffered near economic collapse due to the War on Terror, CPEC is an opportunity to boost it's sluggish economy.

'At a time when no country was ready to invest in Pakistan due to security concerns, China has come forward to make an enormous investment that has a potential to transform Pakistan forever', said Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal. CPEC aligns with the Vision 2025 economic plan of the Pakistani Government, which has regional connectivity as one of the seven pillars of Pakistan's future economic growth. 

The symbolism of this project is that it comes as investment, not aid. The latter is generally considered wasteful by authorities in Pakistan for having no real on-the-ground impact on poverty or development. 'Most of the aid goes to the non-governmental sector, and the bulk goes back to the donor countries', stated Ahsan Iqbal in an interview with AFP.

Such an enormous project comes with severe challenges, especially in terms of how much will eventually be delivered. And given Pakistan's fragile democracy, instability, a growing insurgency in the Baluchistan region (where Gwadar port is located), and dissident voices, many will wonder if these projects will see the light of day.

For Federal Minister Ahsan Iqbal, who recognizes these challenges, the most important thing is to keep pace with China on the CPEC. According to him, “CPEC is the shortest but not the only supply chain route available for China,” and hence, if Pakistan is not able to implement and meet China's swift development, the CPEC will not go ahead as planned.

CPEC will face many hurdles, both domestically and from regional powers that may see it as a threat.  However, with a multi-billion dollar Chinese stake in the project, and Pakistan looking at it as a lifeline for survival, optimism remains high in both countries.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Creative Commons Flickr

TopicsChina RegionsSouth Asia

How America's Bombers Could Become Even More Deadly

The Buzz

The US Air Force announced this week that it will be consolidating all its heavy bombers in its Global Strike Command. This realignment will be culturally significant, as it will provide a single organizational home to all big bomber crews, including those of the forthcoming Long-Range Strike Bombers (LRS-Bs). While the requirements of the LRS-B are a public mystery, technological trends point to an expansive mission set. With that art of the possible emerging, the organizational heft of this new ‘Bomber Command’ may then spur some really new thinking, which the USAF genuinely needs for dealing with the mounting threat from China.

Let’s start with the org chart. GSC was (re)established in 2009, when Air Force Headquarters combined the nuclear-capable B-52Hs and B-2As of the 8th Air Force with the Minuteman III missiles of the 20th Air Force. But the de-nuclearized B-1Bs stayed behind as part of the 12th Air Force of Air Combat Command, where they had resided since 1992, when ACC was formed from the the merger of the Cold War Tactical and Strategic Air Commands. This realignment thus effectively reconfigures GSC as a Bomber and Missile Command. It’s not quite fair, though, to describe the remainder of ACC as Fighter Command, as it also houses the reconnaissance, surveillance, attack, and rescue aircraft.

This suggests that the proximate motivation may be focus. Kevin Baron of Defense One tweeted how General Welsh, the chief of staff, noted that the Schlesinger Report had recommended the realignment, and that he thought it “made sense”. As the press release put it, “a single command will help provide a unified voice to maintain the high standards” expected of training for penetrating, long-range combat missions. It’s not that a Fighter and Bomber and Everything Else Command can’t do that; the thinking is simply that a single Bomber (and Missile) Command might do so better, and possibly by adding a literal dash of esprit de corps.

That single Bomber Command has not always been an unalloyed good. For decades, the political dominance of the old Strategic Air Command unhelpfully propagated its pernicious safety obsession—admittedly born of nuclear surety requirements—throughout the Air Force. Ss Steve Davies wrote in Red Eagles: America's Secret MiGs (Osprey Publishing 2012), 
 

"There was some truth in the old saying that the Air Force had a book for all the things you were allowed to do in the air, and anything not specifically written down was prohibited; whereas the Navy's rule book contained all the things you were not allowed to do, and anything not written down was perfectly legal." (p. 205)
 

In part by watching the Navy’s positive example, in combat over North Vietnam and in practice over San Diego, Tactical Air Combat got its act together. So contrary to the mantra too often heard inside the Beltway, inter-service rivalry sometimes spurs healthy competition. You know, competition—that Anglo-American capitalist concept we should all revere. There’s a long literature, taught in the war colleges, about how inter- and intra-service rivalry is important for military innovation. You know, innovation—that thing that the Pentagon brass can’t stop invoking. It's amazing how often all this is forgotten amidst the centralizing tendencies of Big Government. 

So what might be different with this reestablished Bomber Command? To begin, the nuclear mission just doesn’t dominate the USAF anymore, and won’t. But more positively, those future LRS-Bs may bring combat capabilities broader than just bombing things. Little is publicly known about the aircraft’s stated requirements, but it’s quite possible that it will be a flying sensor array, much like the F-35. Assuming that the program doesn’t founder on its software integration problems (think F-35, just bigger), the LRS-B could serve as a flying frigate—reconnoitering, surveilling, bombing, and even shooting down enemy fighters.

How’s that? As John Stillion argues in his new monograph Trends in Air-to-Air Combat: Implications for Future Air Superiority (CSBA, April 2015), air combat hardly involves dogfighting anymore, so with the right sensors, big bombers could defend themselves from fighters. Indeed, the bigger the plane, the further the bigger array can see. In a further development of the views he and Scott Perdue briefed in the infamous Air Combat Past, Present and Future (RAND, August 2008), he also argues that magazine size matters, as not all missiles hit, so this again favors the bombers. Between RAND and the CSBA, Stillion spent a few years at bomber-builder Northrop Grumman’s Analysis Center, so his thinking might align with at least one contractor’s conception of the LRS-B.

Earlier this month, Colin Clark of Breaking Defense related the musing of an unnamed industry source that this shift in what’s technologically logical for the LRS-B might result in "a fleet of roughly 400 aircraft as the core of the United States’ power projection force.” But his source doubted whether that would happen, wondering “how will the Air Force leadership—primarily composed of fighter pilots—react to the idea of using ‘bombers’ to do the air superiority mission?” Well, they might not get the opportunity to squelch the idea, now that there’s a rivalrous unified branch behind the concept.

This new Bomber Command, that is, presumably won’t be run by fighter pilots. A bomber-heavy USAF could prove either a really good or really bad idea, but to know, bomber crews need early models of new aircraft equipped for operational experimentation. By generating the right requirements and allocating money for testing, 8th Air Force could show us whether there’s something worth developing. And over the vast distances of the Pacific, in the face of legions of long-range Chinese missiles, an expansive mission set for long-range aircraft could be worth buying.

James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for International Security at the Atlantic Council, where this article first appeared

TopicsDefense

Shameless: The UN Fiddles While Syria Burns

The Buzz

“Unless the Council delivers on its call for accountability, including an arms embargo, it risks losing credibility.”

That remark from Philippe Bilopion, the United Nations Director at the global rights watchdog Human Rights Watch, rings loud and clear to the countless civil servants, analysts, and policymakers who have been focusing on the horror that is the Syrian civil war over the past four years.  It’s a simple statement, but one that describes perfectly how irrelevant and ineffectual the United Nations Security Council has been on the issue of Syria.  Put simply — and in the bluntest terms possible — the Security Council has been an absolute embarrassment, an elite multilateral body that time and again has been unable to pass the most basic of resolutions on the conflict.

The war in Syria has seen countless cases of human rights abuses, war crimes, and crimes against humanity against detainees, innocent civilians, and political activists perpetrated by the Bashar al-Assad regime.  The list is as graphic as it is long: summary executions of opposition sympathizers; the systematic and mass-scale torture of prisoners in Syrian detention facilities; the wanton killing of women and children; and the casual dropping of large-barrels on neighborhoods packed with civilians and refugees.  Whole neighborhoods and city blocks have been destroyed by these crude barrel bomb attacks and entire families have been wiped out from the kinds of weapons that have left mothers paraplegics and children blinded, as captured in this descriptive piece from an orthopedic surgeon who dedicated his time to helping the injured.

Yet, however deadly these munitions are, it’s been the use of chemical substances that have horrified the international community the most.  The August 21, 2013 sarin gas attack on rebel-held districts outside Damascus, an attack that claimed the lives of over 1,400 people, was so shocking and against any civilized person’s conscience that it spurred Russia — Bashar al-Assad’s biggest supporter on the Security Council — to cosponsor a resolution demanding the regime’s full dismantlement of its chemical weapons production facilities.  It was the one instance in the Syrian conflict when the Syrian government was held accountable, and it was the only case in the past four years where all five members of the Security Council were able to come together and enforce a resolution and ensure compliance.

Since then, however, the Security Council has reverted back to old-self.  As least with respect to Syria, the Council is a paper tiger: expressing outrage at the violence, but doing nothing to stop it.  And, when resolutions are passed in unanimity, the Council has been unable to enforce what they’ve passed.

Two specific cases stand out.  On February 22, 2014, the Council passed Resolution 2139, which demanded “that all parties immediately cease all attacks against civilians, as well as the indiscriminate employment of weapons in populated areas.”  The Syrian government was specifically mentioned, which was a welcome exception of calling out the Assad regime’s behavior.  

The Council acted with a similar degree of urgency on March 6, 2015, when it expressed concerns that chlorine munitions were being used as weapons of war — weapons that only the Syrian authorities have at their disposal in large numbers.

If the Syrian government complied, we could sit here and laud the international community for being proactive in the face of the worst humanitarian catastrophe in the 21st Century.  Instead, in typical Assad fashion, both of these resolutions have been blatantly violated, barrel bombs continue to slam into schools, hospitals, and homes, and chlorine gas continues to be dropped from helicopters.  Six separate chlorine attacks were perpetrated over a two-week time frame only ten days after the March 6 resolution passed through the chamber.  The videos of the choking victims generate tears and heartbreak in the Security Council chamber, but nothing else.

The war goes on, hundreds of civilians continue to die, families continue to be torn apart, and the Security Council — held hostage by Russia and China — remain deadlocked on what to do.

Even the most strident multilateralist and advocate of the United Nations cannot deny the simple fact that the Security Council — the highest collective decision-making body in the world on maintaining international peace and security — has essentially been defeated by Bashar al-Assad.  As long as Russia and China keep acting as holdouts, Assad will keep killing his own people in perpetuity.  

Daniel R. DePetris is a Middle East analyst for Wikistrat, Inc., a geopolitical risk consulting firm, and a consultant to a Washington think-tank.  He can be followed @DanDePetris​.

Image: Wikimedia/Christiaan Triebert   

TopicsGlobal Governance RegionsMiddle East

Would America Back India in a War?

The Buzz

Last month, I had the privilege of taking part in a Track 1.5 strategic dialogue on Indo-U.S. relations. Held in New Delhi, the gathering was an unabashed success, and the richness and candor of the discussions aptly reflected the renewed momentum of the bilateral relationship. Over the course of the event, much mention was made of Obama’s recent visit, and of one document in particular: the U.S. India Joint Strategic Vision for the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean Region.

Shortly after having completed my presentation on Indo-U.S. cooperation in the Indian Ocean, I was asked a pointed question by a retired Indian Navy Admiral. Should India, queried the Admiral, read more deeply into both governments’ decision to jointly reference the importance of freedom of navigation in the South China Sea? More specifically, did this mean that the United States would provide military assistance to India in the event of a Sino-Indian naval confrontation in maritime Southeast Asia?

As the distinguished veteran concluded his remarks, I could almost hear the sighs of relief emanating from some of the U.S. government participants. Thank God, they were no doubt thinking, that this question was addressed to a non-government employee. I found myself compelled, however, to give the vague and somewhat bureaucratic response that any U.S. official would have made.

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Much would depend, naturally, on the circumstances of the incident, and whether China was clearly perceived as the aggressor. But, I added, one must not forget that while India was a valued strategic partner of the United States, it was not an ally. Strategic partnerships, however tight and wide-ranging they may appear, do not come with the binding security guarantees that traditionally characterize alliance structures.

And therein lies the rub. Even though the Indo-U.S. entente is perhaps this century’s single most important bilateral relationship, with the greatest potential to positively shape the Asian security environment, it is not-nor will it ever be-a formalized alliance. The reasons for this singular state of affairs are well known.

Indeed, since independence, New Delhi’s grand strategy has always been coterminous with a quest for greater strategic autonomy, and with a solid aversion for any form of partnership that could lead to entanglement. This autonomy is perceived as a key enabler, allowing India to practice a “multi-vectored” diplomacy that maximizes freedom of maneuver, while minimizing the risks of friction that could flow from more solidified alignments.

(Recommended: India's Nuclear-Weapons Program: 5 Things You Need to Know)

Historical studies have pointed to the inherent plasticity of any successful grand strategy. This is something that India’s foremost strategists have fully interiorized, with a much-discussed-and unfairly lampooned-2012 study placing a strong emphasis on subtlety over “narrow linear narratives about what serves our (India’s) national interest,” in a world which is described as both fragmented and in flux. India’s grand strategy, the authors pursue, “will require a skillful management of complicated coalitions and opportunities in environments that may be inherently unstable and volatile rather than structurally settled.”

As India’s growth in wealth, influence and power becomes more manifest, it has presented the United States with a unique form of diplomatic challenge. While Chinese nationalists have argued in favor of a “new model of great power relations,” India’s political leadership seeks, first and foremost, a new model of strategic partnership. This partnership may come to yield a number of rich dividends in the defense realm, in terms of technology and intelligence sharing, joint training, or arms sales. Yet singularly absent are the most important components of any alliance—a clear strategic direction, and a sense of reciprocal security commitments and/or guarantees.

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India may, according to some reports, hold more joint military exercises with the United States than any other country, but nobody quite knows the conditions under which Indian jawans and U.S. grunts would find themselves crouching in the same foxhole.

Similarly, both countries’ defense communities may be moving toward cooperating on issues as sensitive and as critical as aircraft carrier design, but it remains uncertain whether the U.S. Navy would intervene were the INS Vikramaditya to find itself crippled by a Chinese torpedo.

To be fair, neither country expects the other to automatically intervene in the event of conflict. Indian security managers have long grappled with the grim prospect of fighting a two-front war alone, although the rapid growth in Chinese military strength and steady hemorrhaging of India’s fighter squadrons have begun to raise serious questions over the continued viability of this posture. American planners, for their part, rarely factor Indian military forces into their wargaming scenarios for the Indo-Pacific. Influential champions of the Indo-U.S. relationship, such as Ashley Tellis, have rightly observed that it does not require clearly defined mutual security commitments in order to be transformational, and that it is in the U.S. interests to bolster Indian power regardless. By virtue of its sheer size, geographical position, and latent capabilities, there is a certain degree of automaticity to India’s emergence as a major balancing power in Asia.

Nevertheless, it would no doubt behoove security communities in both countries to more frequently discuss and game out black swan scenarios that could, depending on how they are managed (or mismanaged), either irreparably damage, or durably reinforce the Indo-U.S. security relationship.

The most oft cited, and perhaps most likely, scenario is another major terrorist attack in India, with origins that clearly trace back to elements within Pakistan’s byzantine security apparatus.  The government of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was widely lauded by the international community for its measured response following the Mumbai attacks of 2008. Few analysts believe that the current Indian government would-or could-exert such restraint. Modi’s forceful response to recent disturbances along the Indo-Pakistani border, when viewed in combination with the Indian National Security Advisor’s recent statements on the need for India to adopt a more “offensive form of defense,” should act as clear signals to American observers that India cannot-and will not-simply absorb another Mumbai.  

There would be enormous public pressure within India for the government to act, and a roster of punitive actions would no doubt be considered. These options might range from the establishment of a maritime exclusion zone off Pakistan’s Makran coast, to cross-border special forces raids, to standoff missile and airstrikes against terrorist training camps, with the last option being the most likely. As people such as George Perkovich have thoughtfully demonstrated, all of these options are fraught with risk, and have the potential for grave escalation. Yet if military inaction on the part of the Indian government is no longer conceivable, they will all need to be considered—especially if the only alternative is a large-scale mobilization of ground forces in the vein of Operation Parakram.

If India were to engage in a military riposte against terrorist or hybrid elements on Pakistani soil, what should be the position of the U.S. government? Should the U.S. publicly support India’s actions, or should it remain silent? It is highly unlikely that the Indo-U.S. relationship could recover were Washington to choose the latter. Perhaps more importantly, should the U.S. go beyond publicly supporting to enabling certain Indian cross-border strikes, by providing actionable intelligence? One could imagine that in some cases, providing a more accurate picture of the situation might in fact help mitigate escalation and reduce casualties, either by helping India discriminate in-between terrorist actors and civilians co-located within dense urban environments, or by helping Indian military planners more effectively tailor their response. So might the emergency provision of certain forms of military equipment, ranging from precision munitions to night vision equipment for India’s special forces. U.S. policymakers would need to carefully balance these considerations against their longstanding concerns over the risks of irredeemably alienating Pakistan’s men in khaki.  These decisions would naturally be heavily influenced by a number of other externalities, such as the state of domestic and international opinion, the number and nationality of the terrorists’ victims, and the importance attached by the U.S. administration to its respective ties with each country.

If, God forbid, the crisis were to evolve into something far more serious, and U.S. intelligence officials were to get wind of the imminent deployment within Pakistan of tactical nuclear weapons, should they alert their Indian counterparts? Choosing to do so would almost certainly be viewed by the Pakistanis as an act of brazen hostility, but opting for silence might be perceived by New Delhi (were its intelligence services to subsequently find out), as an equally unmentionable betrayal.

The tense situation along the Sino-Indian border and how it might pertain to the future of the U.S.-India security relationship also warrants greater scrutiny. In the event of a Sino-Indian border war, would decision-makers in New Delhi once again turn in desperation to the United States for assistance, as they did during the 1962 war? And if they did, would an increasingly cautious and war-weary United States respond with the same vigor of the Kennedy administration? What form could U.S. assistance take? Might the United States, for example, be able to provide vital non-kinetic assistance in the form of cyber attacks against Chinese battle networks? Could the U.S. work behind the scenes to provide Indian forces with more robust space-based surveillance intelligence and better real-time targeting information? Would such forms of covert assistance be considered less escalatory than providing India with direct military support? Or would the White House, echoing its current ambivalence to the arming of forces in Ukraine, prevaricate and/or refuse to come to India’s aid? These questions could also apply to India’s stance in the event of a Sino-U.S. war in Northeast Asia. Would New Delhi remain on the sidelines while conflict raged in-between its foremost geopolitical rival and its most powerful democratic partner? Might such an event be viewed by India as a welcome opportunity to consolidate its own position along the Sino-Indian border? Could India provide the United States and its allies with intelligence on Chinese subsurface and surface deployments in the Indian Ocean? If conflict were to spill out of the Malacca Strait and into the Indian Ocean, how would the Indian Navy and Air Force respond?

These are but a few of the contingencies that both countries’ security communities should be discussing, whether in the form of joint wargaming between both militaries or under the aegis of future Track 1.5 and Track 2 dialogues. For while the Indo-U.S. relationship will continue to make progress in times of peace, it is in times of crisis that it will be forged-for better or for worse.

Iskander Rehman, Non-Resident Fellow for South Asia, Atlantic Council of the United States.

Image: Creative Commons 2.5. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

India's New Mega Weapon: Nuclear-Armed Supersonic Missiles

The Buzz

India’s nuclear command has begun receiving fighter jets armed with the country’s most advanced, supersonic cruise missile.

According to media reports, India’s Strategic Forces Command (SFC) has begun receiving 42 Su-30MKI air dominance fighters modified to carry air-launched BrahMos supersonic cruise missile. This will significantly enhance the striking power of the air leg of India’s nuclear triad.

“Individually, the Su-30 and BrahMos are powerful weapons,” Russia and India Report noted. “But when the world’s most capable fourth generation fighter is armed with a uniquely destructive cruise missile, together they are a dramatic force multiplier.”

The Sukhoi Su-30 MKI is a twin-seater, highly maneuverable, fourth-generation multirole combat fighter aircraft built by Russia’s Sukhoi Design Bureau and licensed to India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited. The plane will serve as the backbone of India’s Air Force through 2020 and beyond. Delhi has already acquired around 200 jets, and eventually plans to acquire 282 of them.

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The Brahmos is a joint development between joint effort between India’s Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO) and Russia’s NPO Mashinostroeyenia. Capable of traveling at speeds of Mach 3.0, the Brahmos is the fastest cruise missile in the world. As Russia and India Report explained, “The BrahMos’ 3000 km per second speed – literally faster than a bullet – means it hits the target with a huge amount of kinetic energy. In tests, the BrahMos has often cut warships in half and reduced ground targets to smithereens.”

The same report notes that the Su-30 will add to the Brahmos’ already deadly effect. “The Sukhoi’s blistering speed will add extra launch momentum to the missile, plus the aircraft’s ability to penetrate hardened air defences means there is a greater chance for the pilot to deliver the missile on to its designated targets.”

Pairing the Su-30 with the Brahmos missile will also drastically expand the striking power of the air leg of India’s nuclear triad. The Su-30 itself has a range of up to 1,800 kilometers while the Brahmos missile can strike targets nearly 300 kilometers away. Thus, the newly modified Su-30s will allow India’s nuclear aircraft to strike deep in the heart of China or Pakistan, Delhi’s two main adversaries.

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The plan to modify the Su-30 to carry the Brahmos missiles was first hatched back in 2010 when the SFC submitted a proposal for two squadrons of Su-30s to be put under its command. Later, in 2012, India’s cabinet approved the project to modify 42 Su-30s to carry 216 Brahmos missiles. According to the Times of India, the integration project was mostly carried out by BrahMos Aerospace, with HAL also contributing crucial modifications.

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The first of the new planes was handed over to the SFC in February and is believed to have undergone tests last month. Production on the second of the modified Su-30s has already begun. It is unclear when the SFC expects to receive the rest of the planes.

The Brahmos-armed Su-30s is only one of the ways that India is strengthening its strategic deterrent. It has also been busy testing the Agni-V, which is three-stage solid-fueled intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) with a range of about 5,000 km. When the Agni-V is inducted into service, India will have the ability to strike any part of China with nuclear weapons for the first time. Furthermore, India is currently testing ballistic missile submarines (SSBN), which will complete the nuclear triad.

Zachary Keck is the managing editor of The National Interest. You can find him on Twitter: @ZacharyKeck.

Image: Wikimedia/g4sp

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

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