The Buzz

Coming Soon to the Australian Navy: Japanese Submarines?

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If Australia is to choose the Japanese contender for their future submarine then it should be because it’s the best fit for our ongoing strategic requirements, fully meets project criteria, and is the most economically viable from now until the end of the 2060’s. This decision shouldn’t be a ‘captain’s pick.’

The Soryu-class (‘Blue Dragon’) submarine provides the capability the Japanese Maritime Self-Defense Force’s needs. But the current Soryu-class won’t meet Australia’s requirements. We will need Soryu Mark Two (Goryu? ‘Australian Dragon’) as a completely new design, which will have cost, performance and schedule risks. It won’t be a Military off-the-Shelf (MOTS) acquisition, as some seem to think. Similarly, the hull can’t be built in Japan and fully fitted out in Australia.

The Soryu fleet includes six commissioned vessels, which have a surface displacement of 3,480 tons (compared with the Collins-class 3,100 tons) and are 84 meters long. A further five are in various stages of construction.  There’s a continuous build program, with both Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI) and Kawasaki Heavy Industries (KHI) involved and alternating the start of each new vessel.

There are a number of major changes required for Mark Two in evolving a design to meet RAN’s requirements. This is no simple matter and presumably the CEP will establish how this could be accomplished.

The Soryu-class are currently operated and maintained for a service life of 20 years. Australia will want 30 years. Welding techniques, the steel used, corrosion control and number of compression/decompression cycles from deep dives all affect service life. So too do the maintenance and upgrade arrangements—Japan will need to create a new upkeep plan for Mark Two.

Australia needs a greater range than the current Soryu. The Collins-class has a range of 11,500 nautical miles at 10 knots surfaced and 9,000 nautical miles snorkeling just sub-surface at the same speed. Fully submerged it has a range of 480 nautical miles at 4 knots, when running on lead-acid batteries.  Soryu has a surface range of 6,100 nautical miles at 6.5 knots, faster underwater. This will need to be increased in Mark Two by more fuel-efficient engines and extra bulk fuel storage—perhaps by filling some water ballast space with fuel, to get longer range.

Remaining silently at depth for periods of up to 35 days, while travelling slowly for approximately 4,000 nautical miles in the patrol area, will be important for Australia’s next submarines. Although not specified explicitly in the CEP criteria, Australia needs an excellent Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) system and specialist batteries to give the required endurance.

The Japanese have obviously made significant progress with Lithium ion batteries (LiBs) to the point where they are proposing that the final two Soryus being constructed in Japan about 2020 abandon their Stirling AIP engines and have only LiBs. LiBs are much more energy dense, providing up to four times as much power in the same space as occupied by classic lead accumulators. If this happens, this is a major technology advance as currently no commissioned diesel-electric submarine in the world has gone to sea with LiBs.

Diesel engine-driven battery charging technology needs to adapt to the new requirements—the need for much more electrical power for faster charging possible with LiBs. Currently, Soryus have two chargers, while Collins-class have three. This has significant implications for detectable snorkel depth battery charging time, which means that Soryus currently may have the higher indiscretion ratio. Mark Two must do much better.

Soryu Mark Two will be offered with a permanent magnet synchronous electric motor, with the advantage that brings of high torque at low revolutions, keeping propeller noise to a minimum and avoiding the need for a gearbox.

The Soryu-class have a Hitachi command and control system, while Australia wants the U.S. AN-BYG-1 installed, a first for Japan. In terms of weaponry, the Soryus can launch Type 89 torpedoes, Harpoon missiles, and mines. Australia wants Mark 48 Mod 7 CBASS torpedoes, mines and probably the same UGM-84C Sub-Harpoon missiles as fitted in Collins Class. There will also be issues over which type of sonars should be fitted.

Cultural differences between the Japanese and Australian defense industries will be challenging. If they’re lining up an Australian-based partner to help them deal with the serious issues ahead, there’s been no public disclosure as yet.

The best chance for a successful Mark Two design and construction program with MHI and KHI, as Australia’s international partners, appears to be a hybrid build. The first one or two submarines would be built completely in Kobe, with heavy involvement by Australian designers and shipyard workers there, before construction shifts to Adelaide for the remaining vessels in the project.

In the political arena, given that China is Australia’s number one trading partner, what would be the impact of teaming with Japan and the U.S. in what will be seen by China as a strategic coalition to contain their naval expansion? Neither French nor German CEP contenders have this problem.

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Taking on the Dragon: U.S. Presidential Hopefuls Breathe Fire on China

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China bashing in the 2016 presidential election has begun in earnest. In past campaigns, many of the attacks on China were forgotten as candidates dropped out of the race or were defeated. In 2012, for example, Mitt Romney pledged to declare China a currency manipulator on his first day in office. He never got the chance, of course, and Obama's policies were unaffected by Romney's campaign rhetoric.

Sometimes, promises to 'get tough' with China during the campaign simply became irrelevant as presidents, once in power, confront the demands of real-world policy challenges. When George W Bush ran for president in 2000, he criticized his predecessor Bill Clinton for calling China a strategic partner, and instead said China should be viewed as a 'strategic competitor.' After becoming president, however, Bush dropped that label. When a Chinese jet collided with a U.S. surveillance plane over the South China Sea, Bush worked hard to avert a U.S.-China political crisis, and after the September 11 attacks, he welcomed Beijing's proposal to fight together against terrorism.

This time may be different, however.

China's repressive policies at home, combined with its transgressions in the South China Sea and massive cyber attacks on U.S. companies and the Federal Government, make it an easy target. Moreover, criticism of China likely resonates with most Americans. Republican candidates will accuse Obama of being too soft on China and vow that if elected, they will stand up for American interests. Democrats, including Obama's former secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, are more likely to find fault with than defend the current Administration's approach to managing U.S.-China relations. Regardless of who is elected president in November 2016, he or she is likely to adopt a firmer approach to China on a litany of issues.

So what are the candidates saying about China so far?

GOP candidate Donald Trump condemned China's recent currency devaluation as “the greatest theft in the history of the United States.” If elected president, Trump said,
“Oh would China be in trouble!” Carly Fiorina, another GOP contender, criticized China's cyber hacks on federal databases as an “act of aggression” against America. She also warned against allowing the Chinese to control trade routes in the South China Sea and pledged she would be “more aggressive in helping our allies...push back against new Chinese aggression.” In a lengthy critique of Obama Administration policies published in Foreign Affairs, GOP candidate Marco Rubio lambasted Obama's “willingness to ignore human rights violations in the hope of appeasing the Chinese leadership.” He also accused China of pursuing “increasingly aggressive regional expansionism.”

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton has joined the fray in an effort to shield herself from the accusation that she was complicit in the implementation of a policy that accommodated China and failed to sufficiently stand up for American interests. Clinton acknowledges that as secretary of state she worked hard to build a better relationship with China and says she would continue to do so as president. But she also warns about the dangers posed by China's militarization of the South China Sea and condemns China's “stealing commercial secrets, blueprints from defense contractors” and “huge amounts of government information” in its quest for an advantage over other nations.

The presidential campaign is just starting to heat up. The torrent of China-bashing in the remaining 15 months before the general election is likely to have a profoundly negative effect on China's image in the U.S., which is already unfavorable. In a 2014 poll by the Pew Research Center, only 35% of Americans had a positive view of China, while 55% had a negative one. China's image in the U.S. has tilted in a more negative direction in recent years – as recently as 2011 half of Americans gave China a positive rating.

The negative public mood will likely align with harsher attitudes in Congress, reinforcing the proclivities of the next U.S. president to adopt a tougher stance against Chinese trade policies, human rights violations, cyber intrusions, and assertiveness in the South China Sea. Despite a sincere desire for a positive bilateral relationship with the US, Xi Jinping is likely to prioritize the preservation of domestic stability, defense of sovereignty, and pursuit of the Chinese Dream.

Fasten your seat belts and get ready for a rough ride in US-China relations beginning in 2017.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsChina

On Display: China's Master Plan to Sink the U.S. Navy

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Look out, China military watchers. Beijing seems to have displayed some of its most impressive missile technology—technology that would be used to keep the U.S. Navy at bay in the event of a military conflict. And if all works out, we might just get an up-close look in the days to come.

According to a report in China’s Global Times, Beijing displayed some of its most deadly military hardware during a warm-up for its September 3rd World War II commemorations and parade.

Get your cameras and cell phones ready. Logic would suggest such weapons will be displayed in the actual celebrations.

According to various accounts, several types of missiles were paraded, among them some of the most lethal in China’s arsenal.

“The latest weaponry-the DF-26 intermediate-range ballistic missile that could reach a major U.S. base in Guam in the western Pacific, and the most potent missile, the DF-5 intercontinental ballistic missile, were seen in the rehearsal,” explained Shao Yongling, a senior colonel from the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Second Artillery Command College.

Of special note is the possible show in the days to come of China’s much-discussed “carrier-killer” missile, the DF-21D, a weapon at the heart of China’s anti-access/area-denial strategy.

“DF-21D anti-aircraft carrier ballistic missile that the U.S. believes is targeting it, also was seen for the first time, without concealing its model number.” Shao explained to the Global Times.

Getting an up-close and personal view of this important weapons system, described by many as being on the verge of a game changer, could tell us a little bit more about the system’s capabilities.

How the “Carrier-Killer” Works

How the DF-21D would work on the battlefield is key to understanding its possible potential.

The weapon is mobile, making its detection difficult—even under the best of circumstances. When fired, the missile is guided using advanced radar, satellites and possibly even an unmanned aerial vehicle. Various reports indicate it has a maneuverable warhead potentially capable of defeating missile-defense systems. It slams down on its target—an oceangoing vessel like an aircraft carrier—at speeds of Mach 10 to Mach 12. Most sources suggest the missile holds the ability to attack naval vessels up to approximately 1,000 miles away, outranging by many times the strike range of all U.S. aircraft aboard existing carriers.

Can America Defend Against It?

While there are many doubts as to whether the system is fully operational—the DF-21D has never been tested against a noncooperative sea-going target—it presents a tremendous challenge to U.S. maritime might in Asia once it becomes fully ready for military operations.

In an interview I conducted with Roger Cliff for The Diplomat back in 2012, China’s anti-ship weapon seemed to pose quite the challenge with no clear indications of what would happen in wartime:

“The thing to keep in mind is that, in order for China to successfully attack a U.S. navy ship with a ballistic missile, it must first detect the ship, identify it as a U.S. warship of a type that it wishes to attack (e.g., an aircraft carrier), acquire a precise enough measurement of its location that a missile can be launched at it (i.e., a one-hour old satellite photograph is probably useless, as the ship could be 25 miles away from where it was when the picture was taken), and then provide mid-course updates to the missile. Finally, the warhead must lock onto and home in on the ship.

This complicated ‘kill chain’ provides a number of opportunities to defeat the attack.  For example, over-the-horizon radars used to detect ships can be jammed, spoofed, or destroyed; smoke and other obscurants can be deployed when an imagery satellite, which follows a predictable orbit, is passing over a formation of ships; the mid-course updates can be jammed; and when the missile locks on to the target its seeker can be jammed or spoofed. Actually intercepting the missile is probably the most difficult thing to do. The SM-3 has an exoatmospheric kill vehicle, meaning that it can only intercept the missile during mid-course, when it’s traveling through space, so an Aegis ship escorting the target would have to fire its SM-3 almost immediately in order to intercept the missile before it reentered the atmosphere, or else there would have to be an Aegis ship positioned right under the flight path of the missile. The DF-21D may be equipped with decoys that are deployed in mid-course, making the SM-3’s job harder. U.S. Aegis ships are also equipped with the SM-2 Block 4 missile, which is capable of intercepting missiles within the atmosphere, but the DF-21D warhead will be performing some high-G maneuvers, which may make it impossible for the SM-2 Block 4 to successfully intercept it.

How all this would work in reality is impossible to know in advance. Even after China has tested its missile against an actual ship, it won’t have tested it against one employing the full range of countermeasures that a U.S. ship would throw at it and, as you say, the U.S. Navy will never have tested its defenses against such an attack. Somebody is likely to be surprised and disappointed, but there is no way of knowing who.”

We can only hope we never have to find out. 

Harry Kazianis is Executive Editor of The National Interest and a Senior Fellow for Defense Policy at The Center for the National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @Grecianformula.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Madness: The European Refugee Crisis

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Europe's refugee crisis has escalated from tragedy to farce. More than 2000 people have died this year trying to enter Europe via the Mediterranean -- on top of unknown numbers who perished in the Sahara Desert on their way to Libya to risk the sea crossing. Thousands more languish in smuggler's dens or Ukrainian prisons.

But for the lucky many who make it to the shores of the European Union (arrivals now exceed 100,000 a month) the journey has just begun. African and Middle Eastern boat migrants do not want to stay in Italy and the Italian government is only too happy to pass them through. Train conductors turn a blind eye to migrants headed north.

Under pressure from the liberal internationalist intelligentsia, buck-passing has become a carnival act farther east in Macedonia. Thousands of refugees had piled up on Macedonia's border as they tried to travel north from Greece toward Germany, Scandinavia, and the United Kingdom. Reporters flocked to Macedonia to expose the Balkan country's harsh border enforcement.

Macedonia, sensitive about its human rights record, did the only logical thing: it opened its border, scheduled extra train and bus services, and herded migrants north to Serbia. Serbia is likely to do the same, passing the burden on to Hungary, which lies on the edge of the European Union's visa-free Schengen area. Hungary is rushing to build a border fence to keep them out.

But these migrants do not desire refuge in Hungary any more than they desire refuge in Italy, Greece, Macedonia, or Serbia. In fact, they refuse to accept refuge in any of these countries. They want to be registered as refugees in northern Europe, where they (probably correctly) believe that they can build better lives than in the austerity-wracked south.

These migrants are willing to make enormous sacrifices so that their children's children can be born in the world's richest countries. They are, in effect, citizenship shopping -- not just for themselves, but for future generations of their families. They certainly have no intention to return to Afghanistan, Eritrea, or Syria if and when peace is restored. They are on a one-way road to a better future.

The Chunnel Jungle:

This is nothing new. For years it was stories from Calais about African and Middle Eastern refugees trying to sneak through the Channel Tunnel to England. People died in ones and twos as they were run over by trucks, slipped off the bottom of train cars, or drowned trying to reach ferries making the 20-mile passage to Dover.

The camps in Calais came to be known as "the jungle" and a succession of British prime ministers and French presidents have been excoriated for not offering shelter to the hundreds and then thousands of people stranded in France on their way to pursue their dreams in England.

Now this trickle has turned into a flood and the bizarre standoff at the entrance to the Channel Tunnel has turned into a continent-wide crisis. No one denies that these Africans and Middle Easterners are fleeing terrible conditions in their home countries. No one should deny that they should be offered safe refuge. But equally no one should assert that these or any migrants have a human right to refuge-shop in the country of their choice.

When people fleeing terrible conditions in their home countries refuse refuge in countries like Greece and Italy they cease to be refugees and become irregular economic migrants. This is not to vilify economic migrants. But sovereign states have neither a moral nor a legal obligation to admit economic migrants. Ours is not a world of open borders.

Proponents of open borders often point to the American experience. How can Americans put up fences when our own ancestors were, for the most part, economic migrants who came to America in the simple pursuit of a better life? Shouldn't Europeans embrace the American example and open their borders to people fleeing terrible circumstances in Africa and the Middle East?

From the comfortable distance of the twenty-first century it is easy to forget that the price of America's openness to immigration was the genocide of dozens of Native American nations. Most Americans alive today are the beneficiaries of this genocide. But it is not an attractive model for Europe -- or even for contemporary America.

In Search of Welfare:

Today's economic migrants to Europe and America are not looking for virgin soil to farm on the open range. They are seeking welfare services. Liberal intellectuals cringe at the charge that refugees are welfare migrants, but these liberal intellectuals fail to understand the scope and scale of the modern welfare state and what it means for migrants.

In most countries direct income support ("welfare") payments to migrants are relatively small. Few people would expose their children to the dangers of people smuggling and the challenges of adjusting to life in a foreign land for a mere pittance in government handouts. But welfare means much more than handouts.

Welfare includes free primary and high school education, free or highly subsidized university education, free or highly subsidized healthcare, freedom from severe infectious disease, free roads to drive on, highly subsidized mass transit, and all the other accoutrements of life in the developed world.

Migrants don't somehow manufacture better lives through sheer sweat and toil. The age of the immigrant homesteader is long since gone. Like the rest of us, immigrants rely on state welfare institutions to provide the societal structure that supports modern life.

You can't blame people for wanting to see their children graduate from British universities or their grandchildren born in Swedish hospitals. But it is sheer madness to allow people to use the refugee system for this purpose. It creates massive perverse incentives for migration, not to mention resentment among host populations. Not only is this mad -- it is tragically unsustainable.

The liberal internationalists who advocate extensive refugee search and rescue in the Mediterranean and the free passage of refugees across Europe have in effect created a system that encourages people to threaten that they will commit suicide at sea unless their children and future generations of their families are given European citizenship and the opportunities this provides for upward mobility in the global status hierarchy.

Russian Roulette:

Let us not perpetuate the myth that refugee status is not a pathway to citizenship, since the same liberal internationalists who advocate for the acceptance of migrants also decry the deportation of people who came to the developed world as babies and have no knowledge of their nominal countries of citizenship. Listen to any interview with the people reaching Europe today. They have no intention of going back.

Every successful threat of "admit me or I will drown" encourages thousands of others to play the same dangerous game of chicken. And (thankfully) most of them don't drown. The figures suggest a death rate of less than 0.5 percent. Unfortunately, millions of people are willing to risk a 0.5 percent risk of death to get themselves and their families to ultimate safety and prosperity. The risk of staying in Afghanistan, Eritrea, or Syria may be much higher.

But Mediterranean boat migrants are safe when they land in Italy or Greece. They are not willing to accept safety in Italy or Greece. They demand prosperity in northern Europe. All countries have a responsibility to provide safety. No country has a responsibility to provide prosperity.

That doesn't imply that the European Union should just let people die at sea. With great power comes great responsibility, and even if European countries' maritime capabilities leave much to be desired they are certainly up to the challenge of Mediterranean search and rescue. Europe must save lives.

European countries should save lives but they should insist on booking refugee claims immediately, either on ship or shoreside, before discharging asylum seekers into the general population. Asylum seekers who refuse processing should be detained, just as they would be at an airport. Since this would inevitably place an undue burden on Greece and Italy, the EU should take financial responsibility for supporting refugees.

There should be no mobility northward and no civilian resettlement until claims have been processed, and if necessary force should be used to restrict asylum seekers to a limited area while they make their claims. This is not about cruelty. It is about control.

Here Europe should study Australia's experience with boat arrivals. Australian governments have learned to impose control but unfortunately have not learned to do so without cruelty. Australia's abuse of black site offshore detention centers closed to press scrutiny is unworthy of a civilized society. But the underlying determination to "stop the boats" is the right goal.

If Europe wants to learn from Australia's successes while avoiding Australia's shame it should offer irregular migrants arriving by sea the tough love of making sure that their economic aspirations are thwarted. Every human story of the pursuit of a better life pulls at the heart. But the reality of tens of thousands of beggars on the streets of Italy and Greece should harden the mind.

Left, Right, and Common Sense:

In many ways the political right has a troubled history when it comes to immigration. Too often anti-immigration rhetoric has been used as a populist veil for bigotry and racism. Thus it is perhaps best that the case for secure borders be made from the left. The wholesale accommodation of people seeking better lives in Europe will generate more suffering than it alleviates. Europe cannot accommodate its way out of this crisis.

This position will be contradicted by hundreds of news stories highlighting the dramatic improvements in the lives of refugees resettled in Europe. Almost anyone who is resettled from Africa or the Middle East to northern or western Europe will have a better life. If not them, their children and grandchildren will. Sweden will always trump Somalia.

But reporters don't interview the people who die in the Sahara Desert, the people who are imprisoned in transit countries, or the people who are lost at sea. They don't calculate the impact of the migration of middle-class professionals on the availability of education and healthcare services in the sending countries. And they don't acknowledge that ordinary citizens should have the democratic right to decide who will be admitted into co-citizenship with them.

A focus on the migrants who make it puts the call for charity ahead of the call for justice. Some 3 million people in Eritrea are liable for unlimited national service under the rule of a totalitarian one-party state. Another 3 million people have fled Syria for safety in neighboring countries. A billion people might leave China for northern Europe, given the opportunity. Globally 2 billion people live on less than $2 a day.

It strains common sense to argue -- as liberal internationalists implicitly do -- that those among the world's poor who are willing suffer terrible privations and risk their lives at sea to get to Europe should win the lottery of good schools for their children. It encourages others among the world's poor to enter the same lottery. If Europe wants to admit new citizens, it should do so in a fair way, perhaps in a real lottery like the one the United States uses. The drowning lottery is a terribly cruel way to be kind.

The hard Way Out:

European governments should take a tough stand against irregular migration. But they should also contribute massively to the funding of better facilities for refugees in Africa and the Middle East and they should get serious about pushing for the peaceful resolution of conflicts across the region. Most of all, they should act together, if the refugee crisis is not to undo sixty years of progress toward a borderless Europe.

The spectacle of hundreds of thousands of homeless foreigners in desperate need trudging north and west across Europe is the unintended consequence of years of interventionist foreign policies that have destabilized the countries of Africa and the Middle East combined with neoliberal economic policies that have exacerbated global inequalities. As ye sow so shall ye reap.

There is no way out of this crisis except the hard way out -- both for the countries of Europe and for the migrants who are so desperate to live in them. Continuing accommodation will yield an exponential growth in migrant numbers (and deaths), a spiraling crisis that will ultimately break the Schengen agreement. The European Union faces a clear choice: open borders without or open borders within. The old liberal dream of both at once cannot survive the harsh reality of our unequal world.

Image: Creative Commons/Flickr. 

TopicsImmigration RegionsEurope

Asia's Next Crisis Is Here: North and South Korea Lurch Towards Trouble

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The South Korean injuries incurred on August 4 from land mines allegedly planted by North Korean soldiers at a South Korean guard post adjacent to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) has set off an inter-Korean rollercoaster ride punctuated by rising tensions: the first South Korean propaganda broadcasts toward the North in over a decade beginning on August 10. Then, an exchange of artillery fire across the DMZ on August 22, an ultimatum from the North demanding that South Korea stop the broadcasts by 5:00 p.m. on August 24 or face all-out war, and finally an agreement hours in advance of the North’s deadline to pursue over thirty hours (thus far) of marathon talks, led by senior military and civilian officials of the two governments at the Peace House on the South Korean side of the Joint Security Area at Panmunjom.

The lurch toward confrontation and rapid escalation of tensions on both sides has been unnerving in part because there is little room for backing down by either side without the risk of losing face, or worse, the upper hand, in inter-Korean interactions. But it is also positive that the self-isolated North finally demonstrated recognition of the seriousness of the situation by proposing diplomatic talks between Korean Workers’ Party Secretary Kim Yang-gon and South Korea’s National Security Advisor Kim Kwan-jin.

The South was correct to counter with a proposal that Kim Jong-un’s most senior military advisor Hwang Byung-seo join the talks along with Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo. This formulation ensured authoritative representation of both senior party and military officials while opening the possibility that the two sides can talk comprehensively on issues beyond the specifics of the military confrontation. These are the most extensive talks between high-level officials from the two Koreas—or between North Korea and any other country—since Kim Jong-un has taken power.

The initiation of talks eased the atmosphere of tension but did not lead to relaxed military postures on either side. In fact, the talks are held amidst heightened military readiness that accompanies the scheduled U.S.-ROK annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises. Signs of heightened military tensions include North Korea’s maneuvering of towed artillery closer to the DMZ, the launching of over fifty North Korean subs from their bases to unknown positions, and a mobilization of U.S. and ROK fighters in displays intended to provide leverage and show determination.

After the first twenty hours of negotiations, at a Monday morning meeting with senior officials President Park Geun-hye stated publicly that an apology and pledge to avoid recurrence of the land mine attack would be necessary for the South to cut off its propaganda loudspeakers, while the North denies responsibility for the land mine incident and insists that the dangerous barrage of South Korean news, weather, and K-pop songs be halted.

But more than these specific demands for apology and the end of propaganda broadcasts across the DMZ, the senior level talks must find a formula for restoring conditions of peaceful coexistence between the two Koreas that have gradually eroded in recent years. The fact that inter-Korean tensions have spread from the disputed and ambiguous maritime border to incursions and shooting across the DMZ itself illustrates the breakdown of the inter-Korean status quo.


The task for the negotiators, beyond seeking apologies and renewed military restraint, is to determine whether the two Koreas can live together without poking each other across the DMZ via either military or propaganda means. The marathon nature of the talks is illustrative of the difficulty of the task, and highlights the fact that the costs of failure are higher than either side should be willing to pay.

Some may question whether it is even possible for these two leaders, both of whom likely will face serious criticisms at home if they pursue compromise, to reach a new inter-Korean understanding. Unlike Park Geun-hye’s father and Kim Jong-un’s grandfather, who made a first-ever inter-Korean declaration on July 4, 1972 following secret talks, these talks among senior proxies are public, and the result will immediately be assessed as either a “win” or a “loss” on both sides of the DMZ. These talks may take a while, but they are better than no talks at all, if only because they reveal a sobering recognition of the need to contain escalation before the costs of confrontation rise to unacceptable levels on both sides.

This piece appears courtesy of CFR and Forbes magazine.  

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Time for a U.S. Military Strategy to Stop China in the South China Sea

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As any close observer knows, the South China Sea is a rapidly evolving—and increasingly perilous—strategic arena. China’s assertion that almost the entire sea is “indisputably” Chinese territory has been backed by a rapid buildup of maritime military power and an audacious series of land grabs. The most dramatic of these has been the construction of multiple artificial islands. The military utility of these formations has hardly been disguised.  On Fiery Cross Reef, for example, a long military runway with attendant radars is being constructed.

Reactions among Southeast Asian claimants to maritime tensions in the South China Sea have varied along a spectrum of alarm, fear, anger, defiance, and resignation.  There is no indication that Beijing regards any of these countries—Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Brunei, and the Philippines—as a serious impediment to Chinese ambitions over the near to medium term. 

The only nation seen as capable of seriously constraining China is the U.S.  But from Beijing’s standpoint, America has no business “interfering” in a region far from its shores and where its interests are secondary compared to China’s. For Beijing, Washington’s insistence on maintaining a military presence in the South China Sea is provocative, destabilizing and illegitimate.  A distinguished Chinese professor speaking at a recent conference in Washington described America as acting like a “gangster boss” in the South China Sea.

China is driving events and has presented the U.S. with a fraught choice: acquiesce to China’s authority over the South China Sea and preserve harmony in U.S.-China relations or challenge Beijing’s ambitions at potentially great risk and cost.  Whether fully cognizant of the implications or not, the Obama Administration’s embrace of the pivot/rebalance to Asia was to opt for the latter.

The fact that China’s claim to the South China Sea are without legal merit makes little difference in the hard world of geopolitics.  Chinese leaders, backed by their publics, believe the South China Sea is theirs.  This is a drama animated by nationalism as fierce and deep as any on the planet.  A U.S. counterstrategy, if it is to have any prospect of success, will have to enlist the full range of national capabilities and assets. Thus economic negotiations over the Trans-Pacific Partnership are critical to the overall strategy. But in the immediate term the challenge is military.  If China’s military deployments and land seizures are not checked, the rest of the region, including the U.S., will be confronted with an irreversible fait accompli.

It is therefore appropriate (and necessary) that the pivot/rebalance has taken on a distinctly military coloration since its first presentation by Secretary of State Clinton. The burden of making the rebalance real has fallen on the Pentagon—and more particularly on U.S. Pacific Command.  So far their initiatives have been significant but modest—new Littoral Combat Ships to Singapore, some Marines to Darwin, and a commitment to deploy the bulk of the U.S. Navy to the Pacific and to equip those forces with the most advanced systems available.  A new operational concept, Air-Sea-Battle (now renamed JAM-GC), is under redevelopment but still largely under wraps.  Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter has declared that Chinese island building will not deter U.S. forces from patrolling and deploying in the South China Sea as they always would. In other words, the new “islands” have no standing as sovereign jurisdictions with territorial seas or economic zones under international law.

What has been missing is a U.S. military strategy designed to effectively stop further Chinese expansion in the South China Sea. Such a strategy should begin with an affirmative assertion of U.S. interests—the South China Sea must be preserved as a global commons and free of coercion. It might include the following:

- U.S. Pacific forces should maintain a continuous 24/7 365 presence in the South China Sea.  They should deploy, as Secretary Carter indicated, with no regard for Chinese claims that its artificial islands have sovereign rights.  This should include—and here the risks are obvious—air and naval transit within 12 nm of at least one of these features.

- The U.S .and the Philippines should consider an agreement for U.S. Naval escort of Philippines ships supplying inhabited outposts in the South China Sea.  These escort operations would be conducted, not in support of the Philippines claim, but in defense of the principle of non-coercion.

- Propose a program of joint naval and air patrols with allies and security partners over and through the South China Sea.

- Consult with Manila concerning the feasibility of U.S. built military air and naval facilities on Palawan Island on the shore of the South China Sea.

- Consult with Hanoi concerning a possible upgrade in the frequency and numbers of U.S. Naval (and air) visits to Cam Ranh Bay.

- Consult with Malaysia and Vietnam concerning possible U.S. Navy courtesy calls at selected outposts (e.g. Swallow Reef) in the South China Sea.

- Establish a permanent ASEAN-U.S. working group on the South China Sea as an offshoot of the recently inaugurated U.S.-ASEAN Defense Ministers meetings.

- Formalize a multi-lateral program (U.S., Japan, Australia, and perhaps Korea) to improve the capacity of Southeast Asian states to maintain maritime domain awareness and a Coast Guard/police presence in the South China Sea.

All these measures would have a common purpose—to establish sufficient hard power deterrence to induce China to see the South China Sea as a diplomatic and legal challenge, not an arena of military expansion.

 Dr. Marvin C. Ott is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins University, a Senior Scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center and a former Professor of National Security Strategy at the National War College.

Image: U.S. Navy/Flickr.                                                                                                             

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Australia’s Big Submarine Debate: The Case for an On-Shore Build

The Buzz

Pressure on the three contenders for Australia’s future submarine contract is mounting. At issue is their readiness to build all or part of the next fleet in Australia—assuaging the political vulnerabilities of the Abbott government. The imperative for an on-shore build is more than just political, however. Australia’s naval capability and economic stability depend on it.

Building overseas would strike a blow to Australia’s sovereign capability. The reason lies in the inextricable link between data ownership and both submarine sustainment and national capability to upgrade the submarine system: control over and understanding of the intellectual property is essential for a naval power to retain capability.

While Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems (TKMS) and France’s DCNS have pledged to share technology, Japan’s pledge is mired in caution. Culturally and politically, Japan isn’t accustomed to sharing its intellectual property.

Yet the maintenance of sovereign capability has to be non-negotiable if Australia is to invest its $20 billion wisely. Value for money is also an imperative—upheld in Commonwealth procurement legislation designed to deliver the best return on taxpayer dollars.

The economic benefits of an on-shore build are well documented, with one model predicting that the Australian economy would be $21 billion better off. While the model’s methodology has been questioned, this debate has been largely theoretical.

The economic impact of an offshore build remains undeniable. Paying $20 billion to an offshore manufacturer will have an impact on Australia’s economy. When multiplier and spillover effects are taken into account, the impact is greater still.

Multiplier effects arise from both the need for sub suppliers (i.e. one job in the prime generates several jobs at sub suppliers) and the value of every dollar spent, as currency circulates through an economy. A dollar in wages becomes a dollar in consumer spending.

Spillover effects arise from knowledge, skills and capabilities that are spread across the economy following a complex manufacturing process. The more complex the system, the greater the opportunity for spillovers, generating exportable innovation. Since submarines are three times more complex than surface combatants in terms of their design, construction and sustainment, the spillover effects are higher. The benefits not only have impact on the shipbuilding sector, they generate highly skilled workers in engineering, IT and manufacturing.

Sending $20 billion overseas for an offshore build would remove $20 billion from the economy. In contrast, investing the same amount on-shore would deliver a multi-billion dollar return in terms of innovation, exports and employment.

Australia prides itself on its innovation. A hybrid build on-shore, in collaboration with an overseas manufacturer, is one way to ensure that new skills, intellectual property and technology are acquired and retained. It makes no sense to relinquish those assets to another nation, jeopardizing thousands of jobs.

Given current economic conditions, the need for investment at home to create job opportunities into the future is all the more urgent. Commodity prices have fallen, unemployment has increased.

Now is the time to extract guarantees from the three contenders. Germany’s TKMS has said it could turn Australia into a regional submarine industry hub for Asia, by building the next fleet here. The region is entering a phase of expansion in terms of submarine acquisition and sustainment, with naval powers competing to maintain parity.

Singapore is buying submarines from Germany to complement their upgraded submarines from Sweden; Vietnam is buying from Russia; Indonesia is buying from South Korea. Thailand is expected to buy from China, while Malaysia has bought from France. Australia’s challenge, and opportunity, is to identify how its own fleet can compete, while ensuring that any tactical advantage benefits both its economy and defense. Notably, the Taiwanese have decided to build their own submarines for this very reason: recognizing the link between defense, employment and skills retention.

France’s DCNS says it sees no barrier to building in Australia and has also pledged to share intellectual property in a bid to offer Australia control over capability. DCNS is also offering a logical path to a future potentially nuclear powered submarine fleet.

Japan’s Kawasaki Heavy Industries and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which is widely expected to win the contract, has also pledged to hand over data (although it is rumored that they are unwilling to hand over the most advanced and latest submarine technology). But when it comes to a domestic build in Australia, the Japanese remain cautious, doubting that Australia lacks the technology—in particular the materials manufacturing expertise—to contribute to the project successfully.

Recognizing that an off-shore build would cause political upheaval—as warned by South Australian Senator Nick Xenophon during his recent visit—Japan is now exploring other options including collaboration with an international partner. One of several partners under consideration is Saab, another is BAE.

As the debate currently stands, the federal government can’t afford to spend billions of dollars on the next submarine fleet—and gamble its prospects at the next election—without providing firmer guarantees regarding jobs, naval capability and economic security. After making its promises on submarine jobs, the government should explain how it proposes to keep its word.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strageist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Why Is America's Lethal F-117 Stealth Fighter Back in the Sky?

The Buzz

The U.S. Air Force officially retired its 52 surviving F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighters in 2008, transferring their radar-evading attack mission to B-2 bombers, F-22s and — eventually — F-35s.

The Air Force claimed it would preserve the F-117s for future use, but it’s possible most of the Nighthawks actually wound up in a landfill inside the Air Force’s highly secure Tonopah Test Range in Nevada. But the flying branch has held on to at least two of the sensor-dodging F-117s, which first entered service in the early 1980s.

Amateur plane-spotters packing powerful cameras have photographed and videotaped F-117s flying over the desert test range and taxiing on a remote runway, sometimes singly and sometimes in pairs. The most recent snapshot of F-117s in flight are dated July 22 and can be found here.

Why would the Air Force want to keep a few F-117s operational, despite their age, complexity, high cost and the fact that Serbian air-defense forces figured out how to detect the planes and actually shot one down during the 1999 U.S.-led air war on Serbia?

Aviation expert Tyler Rogoway has an idea:

On the radar and infrared tracking side of argument, the F-117 is also a near-perfect and highly available low observable aircraft to test everything from ground based radars and SAM systems, both foreign and domestic, AWACS modifications, fighter radars and even infrared search and track systems.

This piece first appeared in War Is Boring here

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 


Why the $1,000,000,000,000 F-35 Stealth Fighter Might Be Good Enough

The Buzz

The jet fighter can’t maneuver, the critics say. It’s based on a wrongheaded concept. It relies on unproved technologies. It’s a one-size-fits-all jet for the Air Force, Navy and Marines, and yet it doesn't really meet any of their needs.

Is this Lockheed Martin’s F-35 Joint Strike Fighter I’m describing? No, it’s actually the McDonnell Douglas F-4 Phantom II, the ubiquitous fighter-bomber, reconnaissance and radar-hunting aircraft that formed the backbone of U.S., NATO and Israeli air power in the 1960s and 1970s. More than 50 years later, the Phantom still flies, as evident when Syrian gunners downed a Turkish RF-4 recon plane last year.

While the Phantom still has many fans, it also had quite a few detractors. And many of those complaints are eerily similar to the criticisms now aimed at the Joint Strike Fighter. Is the F-4 a guide to what we can expect from the F-35?

The F-111 parallel

Comparing the F-35 to other troubled aircraft projects has become a favorite pastime of journalists, analysts and other experts. Most notable was a 2009 op-ed, in which famed aircraft designer Pierre Sprey and defense watchdog Winslow Wheeler made a compelling case that the F-35 is a reincarnation of the infamous F-111.

The swing-wing F-111 was originally conceived in 1960 as a long-range Air Force strike aircraft, until bean-counting Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara and his staff decided that it should also be the Navy’s carrier-based interceptor.

But the Air Force and Navy had radically different requirements. The Navy backed out, and instead of becoming America’s primary tactical fighter, only 563 F-111s were built for the Air Force and Australia. The F-111 ended up costing far more than planned, suffered crippling design flaws and was ineffective in combat, Sprey tells War is Boring.

“Now change ‘F-111’ to ‘F-35,’” Sprey says. “Same consequences, same likely program result.”

If in fact the F-35 procurement is canceled or slashed, because of tighter defense budgets or a failure to meet performance goals, then it may become an expensive fiasco like the F-111.

However, suppose that all or most of the 2,443 U.S. F-35s, plus another 700 or so foreign orders, are actually built and deployed. That would make it the most common fighter among the U.S. and its allies. Just like the F-4.

Enter the Phantom

With nicknames like “Rhino,” “Lead Sled” and DUFF (“Double Ugly Fat F*cker”), and a shape that looked like a repeat offender against the laws of aerodynamics, the Phantom was proof that “a brick can fly if you stick a big enough engine on it,” to borrow one famous comment.

The F-4 was not pretty, but it was prolific. Some 5,195 F-4s were built, becoming the mainstay of the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Marine fighter forces, as well as the main fighter in Israel, Britain and Japan.

The Phantom became an icon of Western air power, the jet that symbolized the air wars in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Despite its aesthetics, the F-4 still earns rough affection in numerous books, videos and Websites.

Yet it didn't start off as a popular aircraft. Just as the F-35 began as a Marine Corps strike aircraft until it became the multi-service Joint Strike Fighter, the F-4 was born in 1959 as a Navy carrier-based interceptor, until McNamara again wanted a common fighter for all the services.

Like the F-35, the F-4 was based on a conception—or a gimmick—of what future air combat would look like. The F-35 was born of the belief that fighters must use stealth and possess the ability to share tactical data with other aircraft—all in order to surprise and pick off their opponents.

For its part, the F-4 was based on the conviction that air combat would be waged from beyond visual range using long-range, radar-guided missiles.

We don't know if the F-35's design philosophy will prove correct, but we learned the hard way that the Phantom’s did not. The Sparrow radar-guided missile fizzled, and in any event U.S. aircraft were forbidden to conduct beyond-visual-range attacks over North Vietnam. Instead of long-range aerial sniping, U.S. F-4 pilots found themselves engaged in low-speed dogfights against less sophisticated but far more agile MiG-21s and MiG-17s.

Because combat was supposed to be long range, the Phantom initially lacked an internal cannon, so even if it could get on a MiG's tail, it was limited to Sidewinder heat-seeking missiles. Its two J79 engines provided much power but also much smoke, so that MiG pilots could see the Phantom from miles away.

The result was that Air Force Phantoms barely achieved a 2:1 kill ratio over North Vietnam. And at one point in 1967, the kill ratio actually favored the MiGs.

Sprey believes the F-4 was a mistake. He contends the U.S. would have been better off with the cheaper A-4 attack plane as its bomber and the low-cost and highly maneuverable F-5 as its dogfighter.

“Buying the F-4 for the USAF instead of the much more effective A-4 meant we delivered far less bombs on Vietnam targets at a cost two and a half times as high while losing at least three times as many of our aircrews,” he says. “You'd have done far better by giving the USAF 500 F-5s for air-to-air and 2,500 A-4s for bombing. That would have cost one-third of what we paid for 3,000 USAF F-4s, and we’d have destroyed far more Vietnamese ground targets and at least twice as many MiGs.”

As rough a time as the Phantom initially had over Vietnam, it sounds like a cake walk compared to what awaits F-35, according to its critics. They see the F-35 as dog meat in a dogfight against the faster and more maneuverable Russian Su-35 and Su-30 and the Chinese J-20. The F-35 already suffers from cost overruns, complex and unproven software and performance compromises to enable it to operate from Air Force bases, Navy carriers and Marine forward airfields.

If stealth doesn't work out as expected in the next air war, and combat turns into Vietnam-style knife fights, the F-35 could be in trouble.

The F-4 Redeemed

It’s hard to find a silver lining when America’s premier aircraft now will cost more than a trillion dollars. Also, aircraft, weapons and enemies have changed since in the half-century since the Phantom first took flight. Yet in the end, while aircraft designers may wake up screaming from dreams of ugly Phantoms in the night, the F-4 didn’t do so badly.

When the Navy pioneered Top Gun air combat training, U.S. kill ratios soared in Vietnam. Israeli pilots muttered at first about losing their zippy little Mirage fighters in the late 1960s, but they grew to love the Phantom’s versatility and durability.

This doesn’t make the F-4 a great aircraft or excuse its design flaws. Everyone wants the best fighter, but there is truth in the adage that better is the enemy of good enough; there an infinite number of brilliant aircraft that never flew off the drawing board. Whatever the Phantom’s problems, they were not so bad as to prevent properly trained pilots from carrying out their missions.

If the F-35 does prove flawed, at least the Phantom shows that even a flawed aircraft can be redeemed. No doubt the Russians and Chinese feel the same way, because only a propagandist or career pessimist would believe that the advanced MiGs and Sukhois don't have their share of bugs and unfulfilled expectations.

Whether the American taxpayer should spend a trillion dollars on a flawed jet is another matter. But if the F-4 is a guide, the F-35 may yet prove good enough.

This piece first appeared in War Is Boring here


Russia's Blast from the Past: Beware the Tu-95 Bear Strategic Bomber

The Buzz

At first glance, the Russian Tu-95 Bear strategic bomber looks like a 59-year-old flying anachronism, a Cold War leftover that has outlived its usefulness in a century when stealth is king.

The Bear is showing signs of its age. In recent months, two Tu-95 crashes led to the grounding of the entire fleet of more than 50 aircraft to resolve mechanical issues. Besides, there is nothing stealthy about the Bear.

Even when the bomber is in top-notch shape, the turboprop-powered Tu-95 is loud … really loud. In fact, it’s so noisy that listening devices on submerged U.S. submarines can hear a Bear flying overhead.

Furthermore, it has the radar signature of a flying big-box store. The plane is huge.

Photos of lumbering Bear-H bombers intercepted by sleek U.S. or NATO warplanes as they flew toward protected airspace are some of the most recognizable images of the East-West nuclear stand-off during the 1970s and ’80s.

But Cold War aviation genius Andrei Tupolev was no fool. He designed an adaptable plane that can carry one Hell of a load-out when it comes to bombs and missiles, fly thousands of miles from bases in Russia, loiter on the edges of enemy airspace, and deliver megatons of nuclear destruction.

As recently as July 4, multiple Bear bombers flew into U.S. air defense identification zones off California and Alaska. In fact, some of the Bears flew within 40 miles off the California coastline.

Technically, the bombers were still within international airspace. But call it Cold War 2.0 — the Kremlin is sending the same message the bomber has always sent.

“The current missions being flown by the Tu-95 are absolutely designed and principally intended to appeal to Russian pride and national identity,” said Scott Palmer, professor of history at Western Illinois University and author of Dictatorship of the Air: Aviation Culture and the Fate of Modern Russia.


In 1956, the Soviet Military Air Forces wanted a replacement for the Tu-4 Bull, the USSR’s first nuclear-capable bomber. The Bull was a copy of the B-29 – Tupolev used crashed and interned examples of the B-29 as the basis of his reverse-engineered design.

But even though it was a clone of the same kind of aircraft that dropped the Hiroshima and Nagasaki nuclear weapons, the Bull did not have the range necessary to strike targets within the United States if it was flown from Russia.

The new Soviet bomber would need to have a range of at least 5,000 miles and carry a nine-ton bomb load.

Tupolev’s new design was big even by contemporary standards. The Bear’s narrow fuselage is more than 150 feet long with a 164-foot wingspan. What’s more, the wings are swept back at a 35-degree angle to reduce drag.

In addition, the Bear possesses a 9,000-mile range without refueling. Because it was originally designed to carry 1950s nuclear gravity bombs, it has a large bomb bay and plenty of room on its wings to accommodate newly added hard points.

Today, that means the modified Tu-95MS can carry 16 AS-15 Kent cruise missiles — six internally in an MKU 5-6 rotary launcher, and 10 on external wing pylons. Each missile is capable carrying a 200-kiloton nuclear warhead, a yield roughly equal to 10 times the atomic bomb that destroyed Nagasaki.

Last year, Russia upgraded eight Tu-95s to cruise missile-carrying MS status with 10 more modified Bears scheduled for deployment by 2016.

During the 1950s, the real technical innovation was the Bear’s 14,000 horsepower turboprop engines. The four Kuznetsov NK-12M engines each with two contra-rotating propellers are the most powerful turboprop engines in the world.

In fact, the engines are so powerful the tips of the 20-foot long propeller blades break the sound barrier when the pilot throttles up — one of the reasons the aircraft is so deafeningly loud.

Noisy as it is, the Bear’s seven-man crew can fly a number of Tu-95 variants configured not only for strategic bombing but also for maritime patrol and photo intelligence. There was even a version used as a passenger aircraft, and a specially modified Bear dropped the Tsar Bomba — the world’s most powerful nuclear bomb ever exploded — during its 1961 Soviet test detonation.

Despite its drawbacks, what explains the Bear’s longevity? Hans M. Kristensen, director of the Nuclear Information Project for the Federation of American Scientists, told War Is Boring the Russian Federation doesn’t have much choice.

The Russian defense industry fell into disarray after the collapse of the Soviet Union and has not recovered enough to sustain a new bomber program, Kristensen said. The Russians are developing a next-generation jet bomber that is expected to start test flights in the early 2020s, but it remains to be seen what they can build and how soon it can be deployed.

“Generally, airplanes can fly for a very long time, as long as spare parts are available,” he said. “Propeller engines are generally speaking less complex to operate than jet engines and many modern aircraft types also use propellers.”

“Moreover, although a Bear would not last long against a modern air defense system, it is equipped with long-range cruise missiles that provide considerable stand-off capability. So for now, the Bear serves Russia’s needs for standoff air-delivered weapons, signaling and national prestige.”

It may be flawed, but the Bear bomber will be going strong as both a weapons platform and a symbol of Russian might for years to come. Even with plans to build a jet-powered bomber during the next decade, upgrades will allow the Cold War giant to keep flying through the 2040s.

It’s old, it’s obvious and it has mechanical problems — facts hard to ignore while the Tu-95 plays a key role in a highly orchestrated and much exaggerated effort by the Kremlin to impress its foreign rivals.

But it’s equally hard to ignore a bomber that can fly within miles of your shoreline armed to the teeth with nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.

“The Tu-95 is a flying anachronism,” Palmer said, “though one that remains an essential component of the Russian strategic air arm.”

This piece first appeared in War Is Boring here

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