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Does the F-35 Have a Fatal Flaw?

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I read Australian MP Dennis Jensen’s article ‘Time to remember the Vietnam air war lesson’ in yesterday’s West Australian with interest. In essence, Dr. Jensen paraphrases the US Air Force experience in Vietnam as placing too high an emphasis on the technological promise of air-to-air missiles in the early stages, only to be brutally dragged back to the ‘fundamentals’ of close-in air combat in the form of maneuverability and bringing a gun to the fight.

Taken at face value, that narrative seems to suggest that the design of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter is badly conceived, and that it ignores a vital lesson from history. If that analysis were true, it would indeed be a damning indictment on an aircraft Australia is about to spend well over $10 billion on. But there are two reasons to doubt Dr. Jensen’s conclusion. The first is that it’s not at all clear why a technological lesson from over 40 years ago tells us what to expect today. A look at pretty much any other modern electronics-based system compared to its ancestor from that time shows why. It’s a bit like studying copper wire telephony and drawing conclusions about the capabilities of smart phones.

The early air-to-air missiles were crude forerunners of today’s, were much more limited in their ability to lock onto a target anywhere but straight ahead, and were more prone to losing contact after launch. That might seem to suggest that a gun might be just as good, since you had to maneuver around to get a lock on in any case. But even so the missiles did pretty well, and they were progressively improved as the war went on. When they were introduced in 1972, later G-model Sidewinder heat seeking missiles substantially improved the ability to target off-axis and increased the hit rate compared to the ones first deployed into theatre in the 1960s.

As I wrote here recently, today’s air-to-air missiles are capable of being launched at a target from a much wider range of angles still. To a fair approximation, if you can see the other guy you can get a missile lock and launch. Modern within visual range air-to-air warfare isn’t a case of the best flyer in the most agile plane wins—it’s much more likely that everyone loses.

But the second reason to doubt the applicability to modern air combat of the Vietnam air war experience is that it seems to be mostly myth. To see why, look at the data in this table. It shows the kills by weapon type, including the later model Phantoms which had been fitted with an internal gun after lobbying from fighter pilots. (Earlier models had an external gun pod as an optional fit.) It’s true that the proportion of gun kills went up from 12% to 24%, but they were still well out-numbered by missile kills.

And if we need more evidence, the US Navy’s F-8 Crusader went to war with both internal guns and missiles—so there was no period where its pilot wanted a gun but didn’t have one—and still scored 80% of its successes with missiles. So the Vietnam evidence, based as it is on pretty primitive air-to-air missiles compared to today’s, is that the missile was the preferred weapon even then. The Crusader was dubbed ‘the last of the gunfighters’ and there was a good reason for that. The time of the gun in air combat had passed.

Those inconvenient truths shouldn’t be construed as a complete defense of the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The development of that aircraft has seen a series of design compromises made that have undoubtedly reduced the potential effectiveness of the technologies that have been brought together. Trying to make it all things to all services has seen the development drag on for a decade longer than planned, and the rest of the world hasn’t been sitting still. When the F-35’s fielded, the environment will be a lot tougher than it was when the aircraft was conceived, and its stealth and electronic warfare capabilities will both face some significant challenges. But whatever other problems it faces, the lack of a gun in close-in combat won’t be near the top of the list.

Sources and further reading:

Source data: USAF Air-to-air encounters in Southeast Asia (large PDF)

Books: Vietnam Air War Debrief and F-8 Crusader Units of the Vietnam War (see also the list of kills here).

This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here

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Revealed: How to Wage War Against the Islamic State Online

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The media frenzy surrounding the rise of the Islamic State (IS) focuses heavily on the United States’ military strategy. But since IS’ influence transcends the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, it is equally important that the United States develop a coherent strategy to counter the group’s social media reach. The twenty-four-hour news cycle and the Internet plaster IS’ horrific beheading videos everywhere. President Obama’s July 6 speech at the Pentagon on his strategy to combat IS, as one example, enjoyed only a fraction of the media coverage IS beheadings have received.

In his remarks, Obama stressed the importance of a strategy to counter IS’ ideology that goes beyond a military strategy. However, the administration still hasn’t announced concrete measures to counter IS’ social media campaign.

The European Union has attempted to address this weakness through a new task force. But the so-called European Union Internet Referral Unit (EU IRU) will not make any real progress in its online efforts against IS because the unit’s objectives are misplaced. Europol Director Rob Wainwright stated that the aim of the EU IRU was to track and remove IS-affiliated online content. Rather than working with social media companies to create a counter narrative online, an area in which governments are particularly ill equipped, the EU plans to play a futile game of whack-a-mole, trying to take down the ringleaders of 90,000 IS-affiliated Twitter accounts.

How to Fight IS Online

Although it is tempting to take down the websites and social media accounts of those spreading IS ideology it is impossible to stop these ideas from cropping back up with new accounts. The nature of the Internet has fostered a new kind of guerilla warfare, one in which IS can recruit people from all over the globe. It is clear there is no simple solution, but here are two ways the EU and the United States could combat IS through social media:

First, take advantage of open-source intelligence. The EU should not take down IS-affiliated accounts or posts but instead work with the private sector, specifically social media companies, to use IS’ own posts against them. Using social media as a tracking device and window into the organization could be more harmful to IS than they anticipate. Even if it were possible, attempting to take down every tweet or “selfie” would prevent the US military and its allies from exploiting IS’ mistakes just as US warplanes did in June when they took out a command-and-control building a day after its location was revealed in a social media posting.

Meticulous analysis of the content, timing, and frequency of postings could help illuminate or even predict locations, movement, deaths, and other patterns that would be invaluable to the forces fighting IS on the ground. The Atlantic Council’s report “Hiding in Plain Sight,” where experts used geotagging to pinpoint the location of Russian troops and weapons in Ukraine, showcased the enormous value of meticulous open-source intelligence. Geotagging and other techniques, coupled with big data analytics, could reveal decisive information such as what role online ringleaders play in the organization offline, or clues to future IS attacks. 

Plenty of attention and personnel and large budget are devoted to the military strategy to take on IS. The EU IRU will only have fifteen experts working on social media. The EU should devote more resources to this unit and realign its objectives to track and study the motivations and modus operandi of the ringleaders they find on the web. And the United States would be wise to follow suit, allocating more manpower and leveraging open-source social media analysis that private social media companies have already mastered.

Second, rather than reactively taking down accounts with the help of private social media companies, use their expertise to construct a social media counter narrative campaign. US intelligence agencies should devote their energies to identifying and monitoring potential foreign fighters or homegrown terrorists, but the United States and its allies equally need to focus on educating the larger portion of the population that ostracizes the potential terrorists. The United States should spend more time and money promoting understanding and acceptance of Muslim communities. 

IS propaganda will continue to draw a limited number of recruits. But the best way to stop foreign fighters from ever leaving their home country or coming back from the battlefields to plan attacks at home is to create an environment that is more accepting than the rhetoric they see online. This, at the very least, should be at the top of the agenda when policymakers discuss how to stop IS’ long-term goals. 

It’s not enough to have the media’s incessant reminders of the horrors that is IS. We need to shed light on the positive aspects of the Muslim community and other minorities in our countries. Social media is the best avenue through which to start that pursuit.

Alexa Lipke is an intern in the Transatlantic Security Initiative of the Atlantic Council’s Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security.

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Russia's Stealthy New Nuclear Bomber Is in Big Trouble

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Russia is delaying production of its new fifth-generation PAK DA strategic bomber, a senior Russian defense official has announced.

Speaking at the Samara-based Kuznetsov Plant of the United Engine Corporation, a Russian defense company, Russian Deputy Defense Minister Yuri Borisov told reporters that production of the PAK DA has been delayed in order to resume producing Tupolev Tu-160M2 bomber.

“According to the plans, serial production of the [Tu-160] aircraft new version [the Tu-160M2] is to be implemented starting from 2023,” Borisov said.

When asked whether this would shift the timeframe of the PAK DA strategic bomber, Borisov confirmed that it would. “The PAK DA project will be somewhat shifted beyond [2023, when it is currently to begin entering service], otherwise there is no sense in it,” Borisov said.

(Recommended: The Soviet Union's Insane Plan to Crush NATO in Battle)

As The National Interest previously noted, back in May Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu announced that Russia had decided to resume production of the Soviet-era Tu-160 nuclear bomber, which NATO refers to as Blackjack.

Russia later revealed that the decision to restart production of the Blackjack bomber was made directly by Russian President Vladimir Putin. “The supreme commander [president of Russia] and the Russian defense minister have taken a decision on reviving production of the Tu-160M aircraft,” Col. Gen. Viktor Bondarev, the commander-in-chief of Russia’s Air Force, said in late May.

The decision to restart production on the Tu-160 was made in part because of production delays in the PAK DA.

(Recommended: America and Russia Test New Tactical Nuclear Missiles)

However, Bondarev previously denied that the decision to restart production of the Tu-160s would delay delivery of the fifth-generation PAK DA bombers, as both would be produced simultaneously. "Of course, we have no right to do it otherwise," he said in response to a question about whether the two planes could be produced at the same time.

Borisov’s comments last week seem to directly contradict that, as the PAK DA bomber program will experience more delays in direct relation to the decision to restart the Tu-160 bomber production.

Borisov also recently told Vladimir Putin that other aspects of Russia’s military modernization program will experience delays as a result of international sanctions. “The objective reasons for the failure to meet state defense procurement orders include restrictions on the supply of imported parts and materials in connection with sanctions, discontinuation of production and the loss of an array of technologies, insufficient production facilities," Borisov told Putin by phone, according to a transcript made available by the Kremlin.

The Moscow Times reported that the programs that have experienced a delay as a result of sanctions include: “production of Navy guard ships, Beriyev Be-200 amphibious aircraft, Vikhr anti-tank missiles, remote control and radio monitoring equipment for Igla surface-to-air missiles, and weapon launch systems for Tupolev-160 strategic bomber planes.”

It’s also possible that the PAK DA strategic bomber will never seen the light of day. After all, the newly produced Tu-160 strategic bombers will incorporate a number of upgrades that will give them some of the capabilities envisioned for the PAK DA.

The new Blackjacks are also expected to have a service life of around 40 years, which will give Russia some breathing room with regards to the aerial leg of its nuclear triad. Amid tightening budgets, its possible Russia could scrap the whole PAK DA program in general in order to make room for other more pressing defense needs. At this time, however, this all remains speculation.

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

Image: Wikimedia Commons/Rob Schleiffert/CC by-sa 2.0

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How to Stop the North Korea Nightmare Dead in Its Tracks

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North Korea is making headlines again. And this time, Seth Rogen and James Franco’s The Interview has nothing to do with it.

Recent news reports have emerged of a North Korean defector who alleges that Kim Jong-un tested chemical and biological weapons on his own people. The defector, whom we know only as “Mr. Lee,” says he has the evidence on a storage device that he will present to the European Parliament in the next few weeks. “Mr. Lee” is not the first to come forward in an attempt to expose the Kim regime’s unethical weapons testing on humans. Over the years, there have been several accounts of Kim’s testing on the disabled, including children.

Does this sound familiar? Inhumane testing of chemical and biological weapons on the innocent and disabled? It should. It’s what Adolf Hitler did during World War II. If this seems like a radical assertion, well, it’s not. During WWII, many (including some in the United States) did not believe—and really could not fathom, as it was so atrocious and then unprecedented—that Hitler was committing such heinous and gruesome crimes in the concentration camps. How many more defectors are going to need to come forward before we take these allegations seriously, and do something to intervene? After all, defectors like “Mr. Lee” are not pleading with Beijing to come help them out, they are making a run for the EU to plead for help.

In addition to testing such devastating weapons on his own people, Kim has some of the traits of another brutal, authoritative leader: Joseph Stalin. Kim’s leadership purges are textbook-Stalin. In fact, Stalin was so paranoid about his own commanders, it is said that the former Soviet leader did not like it when his subordinates stood behind him in a room; he wanted to be able to see them all at all times, in front of him. Kim suffers from a similar paranoia—one that leads him to mistrust everyone close to him, including his own family members, and so he kills them off preemptively to avoid being overthrown.

So what can the international community do? Well, for starters, we should not ignore or fluff off reports of Kim’s chemical and biological weapons testing.

North Korea’s increasing nuclear weapons tests should also be cause for concern. As Tom Nichols has asserted, the fact that we cannot be sure who really runs the weapons show in a rogue state such as North Korea makes it difficult to negotiate with it. Secondly, if North Korea is conducting more nuclear weapons tests and indeed testing biological and chemical weapons, its arsenal would be greatly enhanced.

The only country that may still be able to exert influence on North Korea—China—does not seem to be enthusiastic about doing so, and is not particularly fond of the current regime. So what other options are there?

Some have called upon the United States to bring North Korea to the negotiating table and at least talk with its leaders one-on-one. And while the Six Party Talks between North Korea, the United States, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea are a good idea in theory, the conflicting national interests of all parties involved has made negotiating nearly impossible. It seems, then, that a trilateral dialogue between North Korea, the United States and China might be more effective, if for no other reason than it reduces the number of participants.

However, ideally, if we could trust China to follow through, without having to make any grand deals with Beijing as incentive, a bilateral dialogue between China and North Korea would probably be better, since North Korea doesn’t trust America or really any other Western nation for that matter, but it might still be willing to listen to China. So far, however, Pyongyang has remained intransigent. But if the Iran deal holds up, proving that “rogue states” can indeed be reasoned with, perhaps even more pressure can be exerted on North Korea as a nuclear holdout that needs to reform.

The ultimate challenge that the international community will face with regards to North Korea is how to convince the Kim regime to act better without pushing it to war. And we likely cannot do it without China. It’s unclear what strategy would be best for China to employ. Perhaps, taking a cue from Franco’s character in The Interview, Beijing could attempt to approach North Korea and say, “We are same-same...but different. But still same.” That is, China could appeal to North Korea as one “big” Asian power to another, acknowledging their different national-security interests, but asserting that both China and North Korea want a stable, safe Asia continent (regardless of how true this might be, it’s all about diplomacy) and in order to achieve that, both sides have to refrain from biological, chemical and nuclear-weapons testing.

Beijing is probably our only hope to stop Kim. Getting North Korea to play nice with everyone, including its own people, will involve getting China on board.

Rebecca M. Miller is the assistant managing editor and illustrator of the National Interest. Follow her on Twitter: @RebecMil.

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Explained: Why Walker and Bush are BOTH Right on Iran

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Two of the Republican candidates for president, Gov. Scott Walker and Gov. Jeb Bush, are in an argument over how the United States can best get out of the Obama nuclear agreement. This argument has now become the subject of press comment too: for example, by Steve Hayes in an article entitled “Bush-Walker Dispute Catches Fire Over Iran Nuclear Deal” in The Weekly Standard, and by CFR’s own Max Boot in a Commentary blog post entitled “Can the Iran Deal be Reversed on Day One?”

In my view the argument is not much ado about nothing, because both men are making strong and valid observations. They are both right–just right about different aspects of the problem opponents of the Iran deal face.

The argument began when Gov. Walker said “We need to terminate the bad deal with Iran on the very first day in office.” Bush then commented that “At 12:01 on January, whatever it is, 19th [2017], I will not probably have a confirmed secretary of state; I will not have a confirmed national security team in place; I will not have consulted with our allies. I will not have had the intelligence briefings to have made a decision. If you’re running for president, I think it’s important to be mature and thoughtful about this.”

Both men have expanded on their views. Gov. Bush stated his opinion this way to Hayes:

"I have repeatedly said is a terrible deal. Congress should reject it and it would be best to do so before Iran is given more than $100 billion in sanctions relief that they can use to further destabilize the region. Should it be upheld, as President I would begin immediately to responsibly get us out of this deal, with a comprehensive strategy that is responsive to the conditions at the time and confronts Iran’s continued pursuit of a nuclear weapons capability, its support for terrorism and instability, its ballistic missile proliferation, and its horrific human rights record. Such a strategy will require a new national security team that is committed to rebuilding our defenses and restoring our alliances, starting with our relationship with Israel. It will require sustained diplomatic efforts to put significant financial, diplomatic, and military pressure on Iran to change its behavior. And because of the massive sanctions relief provided by this terrible deal, the impact of unilateral U.S. sanctions will be limited and it will be important to work with our allies to reimpose multilateral sanctions and pressure."

Walker’s view was this:

"I believe that a president shouldn’t wait to act until they put a cabinet together or an extended period of time. I believe they should be prepared to act on the very first day they take office. It’s very possible – God forbid, but it’s very possible – that the next president could be called to take aggressive actions, including military action, on the first day in office. And I don’t want a president who is not prepared to act on day one. So, as far as me, as far as my position, I’m going to be prepared to be president on day one."

Bush’s argument is right in the sense that unraveling the agreement after 18 months, and against possible opposition from the British, French, and Germans (and other allies), will be complicated politically. If we intend to reimpose sanctions, we will want to let them know this and we will hope to get them on board (or at least mute their opposition). The new president will want to think about possible Iranian responses and how to blunt them as well. And Bush is right in saying that we need a comprehensive Iran strategy–something the Obama administration has lacked. Reversing the JCPOA is only part of that, and blunting Iran’s terror and aggression in the region are critical.

Some of the work needed can begin during the transition, which now starts after the nominating conventions–not, as was the case until 2012, after Election Day. Certainly, the President-Elect and Vice President-Elect can get full intelligence briefings, and these can be extended to the secretary of state-designate, national security adviser-designate, chief of staff-designate, and a few other top officials.

But it would be wrong to conduct an independent foreign policy during the transition. During the first part of it, in September and October, the candidate will only be a candidate–not President-Elect. And even when President-Elect, it’s wrong to act as if you’re president and start conducting your own foreign policy. Moreover, on “Day One” it is correct that the government will be manned by Obama holdovers in many key posts. The new secretary of state will just be arriving in his or her office on January 20th, and the assistant secretaries who must carry out the new policy will not usually be confirmed for weeks or months. (In 1981, I was confirmed as an assistant secretary of state in the new Reagan administration in mid-April. This was typical.) The National Security Council team can be selected during the transition and can be in place on January 21st, but will they have mastered their new responsibilities? Their own teams will consist almost entirely of Obama holdovers, likely for weeks or months. Because presidential records leave with the president, NSC file cabinets will be empty and it will be take time to figure out exactly who said what to whom when in the Obama years about Iran and the JCPOA. Moreover, won’t we want to talk with the Israelis and Arabs about all of this?

So Bush is right as a matter of governance. Gov. Walker is right in a different way: about international politics and psychology. Max Boot explained this well in his Commentary blog. It’s critical to send the strongest possible message that the JCPOA will not be a ten-year deal but an 18-month deal, because the United States will turn away from it under a Republican president. That message must come through loud and clear. European and other investors will start making calculations soon about how they will act next year, when sanctions are removed. Opponents of the deal want them to go slowly, figuring that they may be better off to wait until November, 2017 to see who is elected president. It’s true that the JCPOA, in one of the provisions most favorable and beneficial to Iran, grandfathers in contracts signed while the deal is in effect. But the reimposition of U.S. sanctions of various kinds can become very expensive for banks and companies, and the idea would be to tell them now that the United States will investigate and prosecute violations vigorously.

More generally, the goal is to affect everyone’s behavior: Iran, the Arabs and Israelis, investors and oil purchasers, and on and on. Here’s one example: switching to Iran as an oil supplier may seem less attractive if you’re not sure how easy it will be to purchase and ship the oil after January, 2017. But this is about more than sanctions: the goal is also to avoid defeatism by our friends in the Middle East. The danger is wide adoption of the view that Iran is the rising regional power now, the United States sees it as a partner, and countries had better just adapt. Gov. Walker is emphasizing the importance of sending a crystal-clear one-line message, that the deal and the policy it represents are dead if he is president.

In my view, both men are right–about the JCPOA, the difficulty of unraveling it, and the need both to do so and to say clearly now that we will do so. Because they are political opponents today, the differences between them are being stressed–and there are differences in emphasis, though also of style. But both Gov. Bush’s message and Gov. Walker’s carry serious points that were worth making.

This piece first appeared in CFR's blog Pressure Points here

Image: Flickr. 

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The American Military's Worst Nightmare: The Fog of War Reborn

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For a work of fiction, Ghost Fleet: A Novel of the Next World War  by PW Singer and August Cole has been receiving more attention than usual from the defense analyst community. 

It's attention for all the right reasons. Clearly inspired by Tom Clancy's classic Red Storm RisingGhost Fleet does an able job explaining why Russia and China would enter a war with the U.S. in the Pacific. Reading the first half of the novel will feel like reading a fictionalized version of a future trends report: nuclear terrorism, growing resource demands, financial crisis and major technological shifts all inter-play to realign the geopolitical scenery.

The action is frenetic and truly global in scope (there are space pirates), although compared to Red Storm Rising I feel the technical detail and military jargon, which made that novel feel so engrossing, is missing here. Also, in a war between the U.S. and China in the Pacific, it is odd that South Korea and the 28,000 US troops stationed there are never mentioned. This is a lost opportunity to explore the military choices of a country in a particularly difficult situation.

The nuclear escalation scenario between the U.S. and China is also rather meekly explained away. At one point, as Chinese ballistic missiles are raining down on a U.S. naval task force, the co-pilot of a US Navy P-8 asks the pilot if he thinks they contain nuclear warheads. The pilot replies, “Nope. If it was a nuke, they'd only send one.” Yeah, maybe. But probably not, if the Chinese think the U.S. Navy's air defenses can handle a single ballistic missile.

This is a real-world concern. The potential for confusion over what kind of warheads are being carried by missiles (nuclear or conventional) is a growing worry, particularly with signs that tactical nuclear warheads may be making a comeback. Then there's the fact that the Chinese mix their strategic nuclear ballistic missile forces with their conventional.  

The thing to pay attention to in Ghost Fleet is its depiction of information. Modern warfare relies so heavily on networked sensors and location systems that, once these connections are broken, the individual platforms are relatively helpless against a fully 'connected' enemy. The information battle is truly global, and involves the interaction of space, cyberspace and tactical electronic warfare all at once. Clearly the 'ghost fleet' aspect of the novel illustrates the protection that older, less networked and integrated platforms have from cyber attacks and tracking.

Singer and Cole do a remarkable job bringing this story down to the individual. We are becoming more and more reliant on information, and this is also true in the battlespace, where our military personnel are likely becoming used to the idea that the 'fog of war' is being lifted by technology. When suddenly this information is no longer credible or available, how do the warfighters react? This is a particularly urgent issue for a younger generation that has been raised entirely in the information age. It is a fascinating question; I suggest you read Ghost Fleet to find the answers.

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

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Revealed: ISIS's Lethal War Inside the West

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Recent Reclaim Australia and anti-racism rallies in Melbourne and Sydney may not appear to have any direct association with ISIS, but a closer look reveals the imprints of the group's overall strategic objectives.

There is often a tendency at the security and defense policy level to view militant groups through the lens of sophisticated state-on-state warfare bound by resource and time limitations, and following traditional rules and strategies. However, ISIS has no resource or time limitations, and its greatest strength is its deceptive strategy. 

Having done extensive research work on understanding the psychology of militant groups, it's highly unlikely that the upper echelon of ISIS truly imagines itself (rhetoric aside) as toppling governments in the Muslim world and beyond. Rather, looking closely at ISIS's practices, media strategy, and most importantly the patterns of radicalization in the Western world, it is clear that the agenda of ISIS involves deceiving and leading Western policy-makers in a desired direction.

ISIS has made its investment in social media a priority. The aim is to inspire a radical mindset among Muslims, specifically those living in the West. It has succeeded, bringing the militant group international headlines for radicalizing Muslims living in the comfort of the West. Recruitment has multiplied and the group has become the center of Western policymakers' attention and a matter of curiosity to Muslims around the world.

Why so much focus on Muslims living in the West? Many in the policy world see this simply as a 'call' to Western Muslims to join the war in Syria and Iraq. But it's not armed support ISIS needs from these foreigners; it's the nuisance value and media buzz that ISIS desires.

It's not the end goal of ISIS to simply invite foreign fighters to join the war in Syria and Iraq to create an Islamic Caliphate. The grand goal is much more calculated and inspired by Syed Qutb's ideology of the 'near' and 'far' enemy – the notion that it's not only the West (far) that is an enemy but also the Muslims (near) who have adopted Western lifestyles and ideology. These should be the first to be guided in the right direction.

The major purpose of radicalizing young Muslims in the West is to inspire attacks on Western soil. But the real target is not Western society or its people. Attacks in Western cities may on the surface appear to be targeted against Western culture and ideology, but in reality these attacks are directed at the Muslim communities living in the Western world. ISIS understands that such attacks will spur a backlash against Muslims, thus alienating and isolating them in Western societies. If Muslims living in the West are alienated by both Western governments and their people, radical anti-Western discourse will start making sense to them.

The ultimate goal of Islamist radicals has been to unify the Muslim world against a common enemy (the West). This goal is at the core of ISIS's strategy, which is camouflaged under the rhetoric of ruling Iraq and Syria, something ISIS knows it can't manage for more than a few months. 

Western governments must realize that the real conflict ISIS wants to trigger is inside major Western cities through lone terrorist attacks and social tension between Muslim and other communities such as those we saw in Melbourne and Sydney last weekend. Understanding this strategy is essential to ensuring that Western governments do not end up alienating and thus radicalizing Muslims communities. 

This piece first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here

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India Is Building Second Homegrown Aircraft Carrier

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India’s Navy has outlined the some of the specifications for a second indigenous aircraft carrier (IAC-2) in a letter of request to global shipbuilders.

According to several Indian newspapers, last week India’s Navy sent out a Letter of Request to four global shipbuilding companies asking for help in designing India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier.

The LoR specifies that India would like to build a 300-meter long aircraft carrier that displaces 65,000 tons. The Navy also said that the ship should be able to travel at 30 knots.

In addition, the LoR says that the aircraft carrier will carry 30-35 fixed wing combat aircraft and about 20 rotary wing aircraft.

In contrast to India’s existing aircraft carriers, which utilize ski-jump launch systems, the LoR for IAC-2 says the ship will have a catapult launched but arrested landing (CATOBAR) system.

It did hold out the possibility that the new aircraft carrier would ultimately utilize an electromagnetic aircraft launch system (EMALS). Currently, only the United States’ latest aircraft carrier, the USS Gerald Ford, uses EMALS to launch fixed-wing aircraft.

The four companies that received the letter are: the U.S.-based Lockheed Martin; the U.K.-based BAE Systems; French shipbuilder, DCNS; and Russia’s Rosoboronexport. A representative from BAE systems has confirmed it has received the LoR from India’s Navy.

While much too early to say, it is likely that Lockheed Martin and Rosoboronexport are seen as the frontrunners to win the contract. India has a long and extensive history of defense cooperation with Russia. Indeed, India’s Navy currently operates a modified Kiev-class carrier, INS Vikramaditya, which India purchased from Russia.

Meanwhile, the United States has been deepening its military cooperation with India in recent years. In fact, earlier this year it was announced that the United States is considering helping India expand its aircraft carrier fleet.

A joint statement released by the two countries back in January said that they were forming a working group to explore Washington providing Delhi with aircraft carrier technology. Both countries view China’s rising military power as a long-term threat, and have sought to expand cooperation in order to balance against that threat.

On the other hand, in the past Delhi has also purchased a former British aircraft carrier. And, according to India’s Business Standard, IAC-2 is similar to the French Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier (in terms of speed and size, though not in displacement), and the British Queen Elizabeth II aircraft carrier (in terms of displacement and size, though not in speed).

India is currently testing its much delayed first homegrown aircraft carrier, INS Vikrant. That carrier, which will displace 40,000 tons, is expected to become operational in 2018, roughly five years late. It has also been hit by major cost overruns, and the total cost is now expected to be around $4 billion.

The LoR follows India allocating funding to begin conceptual work on IAC-2. Back in May, the Defense Acquisition Council (DAC), which is chaired by India’s defense minister, Manohar Parrikar, approved a slew of deals, including allocating 30 crore (roughly $5 million) to build India’s second indigenous aircraft carrier.

Notably, last week’s LoR did not specify what kind of propulsion system would be used to power the new aircraft carrier, which is expected to be called, INS Viraat. India currently operates a British-made carrier under the same name. That carrier is expected to be retired by the end of the decade.

Whenever IAC-2 becomes operational, it is believed that it will take the place of INS Vikramaditya, the aforementioned Russian-built vessel.    

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

Image: Wikimedia/India’s Navy

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A Russian Role in Central Asia That America Can Live With

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The ongoing war in Eastern Ukraine casts a long shadow over areas of shared American and Russian interest, making the Obama administration’s 2009 “reset” in relations appear a distant memory. However perceptions have shifted in the intervening six years, common concerns still exist between Washington and Moscow; chief among them: terrorism. For this reason, U.S. officials can look with (quiet) approval to Russia’s pursuit of a more robust security presence in Central Asia. 

In April, the commander of Russia’s Tajikistan-based 201st Motorized Division indicated that Moscow would increase its deployments in the Central Asian republic from 5,900 troops to 9,000 by 2020.

The announcement proved timely. Just two months later, Tajikistan made international headlines. Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov, a senior officer in the country’s national police force left for Syria and defected to the Islamic State (ISIS) in a highly publicized video produced by the extremist group.

Then, on July 16, Kyrgyzstan’s GKNB security services killed six gunmen in two shootout incidents in the capital Bishkek. Kyrgyz police captured seven others in the aftermath. GKNB officials say the militants were ISIS members and believe they were planning attacks in Bishkek’s central square and at the Russian Air Force base in Kant. The impact of Khalimov’s defection and possible Islamic State activity in the region should not be exaggerated. Still, the Central Asian republics, Russia, and the United States should be prepared to contain ISIS before more episodes occur.

It is tempting to view Moscow’s heightened presence in Central Asia in the context of the Russia-West divide and the Ukraine crisis. However, Russia’s security interests in the region are longstanding. Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have close relationships with Russia and are all members of the Moscow-led Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO). Russia’s ties to these states can allow it to play a constructive role in stemming militant activity. 

By boosting its military profile in Tajikistan, Russia is aiming to resolve a persistent issue in its post-Soviet security doctrine. For the Kremlin, the border between Afghanistan and the Central Asian republics is a gateway to Russia, even though these countries left Moscow’s control in 1991 and four of them do not even share a direct land border with Russia. This position is not without merit. After all, the Russia-Kazakhstan border was designed as an internal administrative boundary, not an international frontier.

Tajikistan represents a particularly problematic case for Moscow. One million migrant workers from the Central Asian republic live in Russia, according to the Russian Federal Migration Service. Only 10 percent of foreign laborers in Russia are working legally, meaning the number of Tajiks in the country may be even higher. Remittances from these workers totaled $4 billion USD in 2013, or 52 percent of Tajikistan’s GDP. Thus, for Dushanbe, what happens in Russia does not stay in Russia. Likewise, events in Tajikistan can roil the Russian Federation via the large migrant worker community there.

In that regard, it is notable that in his June video recorded by ISIS, Colonel Khalimov spoke in Russian. This is quite telling. The erstwhile security chief targeted his remarks at the regime of Tajik President Emomali Rahmon, even though many citizens (especially those born after the Soviet collapse) have at best a loose grasp of the Russian language. But most Tajiks fighting for ISIS are not lifelong residents of the Central Asian republic. Rather, they are migrant workers who have spent time in Russia. Exposed to poor working conditions and pressure from xenophobic elements, these workers become prime targets for recruitment by Islamic fundamentalist causes. In Russia, Central Asian laborers often find themselves involved with North Caucasus-based militant groups or with extremist organizations like Hizb ut-Tahrir.

If instability in Afghanistan spreads to neighboring Tajikistan, Russia will undoubtedly feel the impact. Such an eventuality is hardly unprecedented. From 1992-1997, the Islamist Tajik opposition, backed by Afghan militants, fought a bloody civil war against President Rahmon’s Russian-supported Popular Front. Already home to so many Tajik workers, Russia could make a convenient destination for refugees should violent unrest visit the Central Asian republic once more. Moscow therefore has an interest in containing violence south of the former Soviet frontier. 

The United States is likewise concerned about the spread of extremism in Afghanistan and Central Asia, which threatens advances made there by American-led forces at the cost of thousands of lives. The extension of ISIS influence to the post-Soviet space can also come back to haunt the U.S. and its allies in the Middle East.

While Washington maintains important security links with the Central Asian republics, its policy toward the region is primarily a function of the War in Afghanistan. It follows that U.S. security assistance to the Central Asian states is declining as American military operations wind down. Indeed, under the National Defense Authorization Act, Washington provided Tajikistan with $15.4 million in military aid during Fiscal Year 2012. In the first half of FY 2014, Dushanbe received just $1.1 million. Other countries faced even more substantial cuts during the same period. Kazakhstan benefited from $8.7 million in NDAA aid in FY 2012 but received only $187,000 in the first half of FY 2014.

As the U.S. and NATO presence in the area wanes, Russia can act as a pillar of stability. President Barack Obama’s pledge to withdraw all American troops by the end of his term in 2017 adds a sort of time constraint to Moscow’s task of securing the corridor between Russia and Afghanistan.

Of course, some in the West will be prone to see Russian imperialism wherever Moscow acts. Russia’s actions in Georgia and Ukraine lend some merit to this view. However, Russian influence will hardly go unchecked in Central Asia, as Moscow is no longer alone in the region. The United States built strategic partnerships in the area during the War in Afghanistan, while China continues to champion massive economic projects and infrastructure developments. Chinese trade with Central Asia totaled $28 billion in 2010, while Russian trade reached just $15 billion. Beijing has even managed to break Russia’s monopoly on energy transit routes from the region with projects such as the Turkmenistan-China natural gas pipeline. 

In addition to its concrete security concerns, Russia does seek respect as the primary power in Central Asia. However, this objective rests on vague notions of influence and prestige, concepts that can be bent and accommodated by Beijing and Washington. The United States can even pursue low-level cooperation with Russia in Central Asia. NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg already endorsed counterterrorism collaboration between Moscow and the Western alliance in the wake of January’s Charlie Hebdo attacks in France. Where political concerns prevent direct coordination, the two countries can undertake intelligence sharing and partnership by proxy through the republics in the region that share strong security relationships with both Russia and the United States.

It is highly unlikely that Moscow desires an extensive presence in Afghanistan itself comparable to the U.S. role after 2001, owing to Russia’s own limitations and memories of the failed Soviet war effort in the 1980s. Still, Russia will strengthen its ties with Kabul and the Central Asian states to Afghanistan’s north. The expansion of Russia’s military presence in Tajikistan, and even the potential return of Russian soldiers to the porous Tajik-Afghan border (Moscow stationed troops there until 2005) in the future, should be met with tacit acceptance and quiet support from the United States as this achieves an American objective—containing terrorist threats—in a region where Washington is reducing its presence. Respecting shared interests in one area may even provide the future basis for the United States and Russia to negotiate where their interests clash.

Evan Gottesman is an editorial assistant at The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter at @EvanGottesman.

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

Germany's Next Big Move: European Political and Fiscal Union?

The Buzz

The Greek parliament has voted through the preliminary conditions of a third bailout presented as an ultimatum to Greek Prime Minister Alex Tsipras in Brussels last weekend. Unsurprisingly, the streets are restive.

But otherwise Greece's capitulation is complete.

With this victory (of sorts) up her sleeve, what will Angela Merkel's next move be?

Last week, I suggested elsewhere that, by pushing the European Union to breaking point over Greece, the German Chancellor had already failed the test of statesmanship. That judgment looks no less correct this week. On the contrary, Germany's reputation has taken a battering on both sides of the Atlantic.

But it shouldn't be taken to mean that Merkel doesn't have a plan, or at least a sense of what she wants. A long biography in the New Yorker last December described her as haunted by the idea of Europe's lack of global competitiveness: proverbially, "7 per cent of the world's population, 25 per cent of its economic output and 50 per cent of its social welfare".

Indeed, Berlin went into Sunday's summit apparently determined to impose its vision of economic rectitude on Greece or chuck it out of the euro.

Merkel took no prisoners.

In effect, Greece will become a Eurozone protectorate. Indeed, last night the Greek parliament made about the biggest surrender of national sovereignty it's possible to imagine one country demanding of another in peacetime. In an interview with The Guardian, Jürgen Habermas said that Germany had "openly made a claim for German hegemony in Europe."

This will send a chill around the other capitals of Europe.

This is particularly true in the Mediterranean south where many countries still face the productivity and competitiveness challenges that lie at the bottom of Greece's travails within the euro.

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European commission, cannot have understood the full significance of what he was saying when he described the bailout as "a typical European arrangement."

Comparisons have been made with the punitive 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

But a better analogy is probably the Council of the Public Debt imposed on the Ottoman Empire in the aftermath of the 1878 Congress of Berlin, when Istanbul appeared about to default on enormous debts to British and French banks. The Council managed Ottoman revenues in bondholders' favor until the resentment it aroused helped push the Porte to side with Germany in 1914.

A similar debt crisis brought British administrators to Egypt in 1882: what started as a temporary occupation lasted until 1952.

There's always been something quasi-colonial about the "European project."

During the Cold War, European integration was as much about consolidating liberal democracy and market capitalism in southern Europe—Italy, Greece, Spain and Portugal—whose corporatist and authoritarian traditions were but the flipside of locally strong Communist and left-wing movements, as about preventing the next world war.

But this was feasible only as long as it was seen as being voluntary and above all consistent with the democratic values it hoped to instill.

The German power play in Brussels left that in smithereens.

The "technocratic" governments installed (apparently at German insistence) in Athens and Rome in 2011 were tolerable inasmuch as they appeared as domestic crises driven by the pressure of the markets. But last Sunday's ultimatum came directly from the chancelleries of Europe—above all, Germany and the crescent of northern and central states grouped around it: Belgium, the Netherlands, Austria, Slovakia, Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia, and Finland.

This reflects two long-term historical and geopolitical trends.

The collapse of Communism long ago removed any pressing need to indulge southern Europe's leftists. The massive increase of German influence in formerly Eastern-bloc and Soviet Europe that followed EU expansion now pits the interests of the new Baltic members against the old ones from the Mediterranean.

That Greece is still in the euro at all is being reported as the signal victory of France. And though since their own mid-2012 debt crises, Rome and Madrid have lived only by the (grudging) grace of the European Central Bank, Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi is said to have told Merkel that "enough is enough."

That might have stayed Greece's expulsion from the euro. But that a Brussels official could describe German negotiating tactics as "waterboarding" reflects frustration with a German government insouciant about the dance of European unity that the European Commission has choreographed for six decades.

For there have always been two parts to the European project: the utilitarian and the mythic. By forcing the harmonization of fiscal policy across the Continent, Germany's actions at Brussels may ultimately strengthen the former. But they sound a death knell for the latter impossible to miss.

With Greece's surrender so many of the old EU myths have gone, and it's worth trying to take stock of what remains.

The euro is the D-mark by another name. The currency union France insisted upon for binding German power to European (read: French) goals after reunification has instead turned into an instrument for binding the rest of Europe to Germany. To compete in the 21st century, Germany intends to realize a leaner, more disciplined Eurozone—with Greece as a cautionary example.

Berlin will face resistance. But that resistance is more disunited and less well organized than its supporters.

Europe's "Franco-German" engine is dead. Paris can still mount a limited rearguard action. But Germany sets the limits of the possible, thanks in part to a ring of satellite states, more or less integrated into its export-based economy and aligned culturally and politically with it.

Meanwhile, Britain—Europe's second-biggest economy—is still lost somewhere in a North Sea fog.

The euro crisis long ago vindicated London's profound skepticism about the wisdom of the single currency. But this hasn't increased British influence. If London has an alternative to Germany's vision of Europe, now is the time to present it. (Indeed, as it prepares to vote on leaving the EU, Britain will have to.)

This all leaves pondering Merkel's next move.

Some have suggested that, with Greece humiliated and the rest of the Eurozone cowed into submission, Merkel should now push for European political and fiscal unification on German terms to set the euro on a sound footing.

If she did, Bismarck—who engineered a series of international crises humiliating Denmark (1864), Austria (1866) and France (1870) to bring about German unity under Prussian leadership—might even smile at the wiles of Germany's present chancellor.

For if an analogy with a Treaty of Versailles must be found, that of 1871—when a united Germany was at last proclaimed—is a better bet. Germany's ascendant position in Europe today recalls Prussia's in Germany on the eve of the French defeat at Sedan in 1870 and the European sovereign debt crisis of 2010-15 has left Merkel with a tidy record of humiliations of her own: Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Italy.

The next German federal election is due in 2017. Could Europe be united on her watch?

Perhaps Merkel could go to the brink on Sunday because Greece's fate has been secondary all along.

The main aim has been to encourager les autres.

Matthew Dal Santo is a Danish Research Council post-doctoral fellow at the Saxo Institute, University of Copenhagen. Follow him on Twitter at @MatthewDalSant1. This piece first appeared in ABC’s The Drum here.

TopicsEconomics RegionsAsia