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Russia's Nuclear Forces Conduct Surprise Drill

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Russia’s Nuclear Forces performed a surprise readiness drill on Tuesday, according to state-run Russian media outlets.

The Strategic Missile Forces (RVSN), which control Russia’s Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBMs), began a snap drill on January 20, the reports said, citing a press release from the RVSN. The drills, which are taking place in Western Siberia, will include 1,200 RVSN troops who will perform over 20 different tasks. Emergencies Ministry's troops, as well as Internal Ministry and Federal Security Service forces, were expected to participate in aspects of the drills.

“During the unannounced exercises of the missile forces, a committee will study the current condition in organizing activities by the commanders in completing drills of fighting terrorism as a command unit, missile force regiments and a number of other subdivision units," Russian Defense Ministry spokesman Col. Igor Egorov was quoted as saying of the drills.

RVSN said that “no less” than four such drills will be held in 2015. Earlier this month, Egorov had announced that in 2015, the Strategic Missile Forces “will conduct over 100 command and staff, tactical and specialized drills. The drills will be conducted in complex and tense conditions.” In December, RVSN Commander Colonel General Sergei Karakayev had told reporters that “A total of 14 launches are planned for 2015 - for the flight tests of advanced weapons samples and controlling technical readiness of missile systems adopted for service.” As of last summer, Russia had planned on conducting 16 ICBM test launches in 2014.

This focus on strengthening Russia’s strategic deterrent seems to still to continue unabated. Last month, Russia’s Chief of the General Staff, Valery Gerasimov, said that Russia’s nuclear forces would be the Defense Ministry’s top priority this year. Part of this will include becoming better equipped at using new and modernized platforms, including the 38 new ICBMs that Russia acquired in 2014. It will also include incorporating new personnel into the RVSN. In August of last year, the RVSN announced that it will add an additional 8,500 troops to its force through 2020. According to Newsweek, the RVSN currently boasts about 18,000 troops.

Russia’s modernization efforts come at a time when its nuclear relationship with the U.S. is fraying. The Boston Globe reported earlier this week that Russia severed nuclear security ties with the United States last month.

“The Russians informed the Americans that they were refusing any more U.S.” help protecting their largest stockpiles of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium from being stolen or sold on the black market,” the report said, citing three unnamed American officials. The U.S. and Russia have previously cooperated on protecting Russian nukes as part of the Cooperative Threat Reduction (CTR) Program, which began in the 1990s shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union.

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

Image: Wikimedia/Vitaly V. Kuzmin

TopicsSecurity RegionsRussia

An Important Anniversary: Remembering the Twenty-One Demands

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Compared with the high-profile national Memorial Day for the Nanjing Massacre last month, the date January 18 passed uneventfully. Chinese media appeared to have forgotten that one hundred years ago, on exactly that day, Japan presented Chinese President Yuan Shikai (Yuan Shih-Kai) with requests that would have turned China into a de facto Japanese protectorate.

The Japanese requests included five groups of secret demands that became known as the Twenty-One Demands. Groups One and Two were designed to confirm Japan’s dominant position in Shandong, southern Manchuria, and eastern Inner Mongolia. Group Three would acknowledge Japan’s special interests in an industrial complex in central China. Group Four forbade China from giving any further coastal or island concessions to foreign powers except for Japan. The most outrageous was Group Five. Group Five required China to install Japanese advisors who could take effective control of Chinese government, economy, and military. These demands would have had a similar impact to that of what the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty had on Korea in 1910.

These notorious demands were issued at a time of shifting balance of power in East Asia. With the Qing dynasty’s humiliating defeat in the first Sino-Japanese War (1894-95), regional dominance for the first time had moved from China to Japan. Japan’s ambitions in China were further emboldened by its decisive victory in the Russo-Japanese War (1904-05), which affirmed the Japanese presence in south Manchuria and Korea. The 1911 Revolution brought an end to the Qing dynasty and ushered in the Republican era in China, but China remained a pushover in the face of pressure from Western powers. Furthermore, Yuan’s ruling status itself was shaky due to threats from competing local warlords. World War I granted Japan a perfect opportunity to push the envelope even more with China. As the war was underway in Europe, the Japanese hoped that other major powers would show little interest in countering Japanese expansion in China. For these reasons, Japanese Foreign Minister Kato Takaaki was convinced that the filing of an ultimatum buttressed by the war threat would cause China to accept all the demands.

Fully aware of the negative reaction the demands would cause, Japan asked China to keep them confidential and threatened to take “drastic actions” if they were leaked. Contrary to the popular Chinese image of Yuan being a traitor, archived history suggests that Yuan and his top associates worked hard to minimize the harms caused to China’s sovereignty by the Twenty-One Demands. Soon after studying the Japanese request, Yuan instructed top Chinese diplomats that by no means should China submit to the demands of Group Five. Headed by then Foreign Minister Lou Tseng-Tsiang, the Chinese negotiators sought to stall the negotiation process for as long as possible. Between February 2 and April 17, twenty-five rounds of negotiations were held. Disregarding the Japanese threat, Yuan had his political advisor leak the full contents of the Twenty-One Demands to a correspondent for the Timesin Beijing, who then reported them on February 12. In seeking international support, Yuan also relied on the traditional Chinese strategy of playing one power against another (yi yi zhi yi). He hoped that a perceived threat to European and U.S. political and economic interests in China would lead them to constrain Japan’s aggressiveness. Although the United States continued with a low-risk strategy in China, Secretary of State William Jennings Bryan warned that the United States would not recognize infringements on Chinese sovereignty and the Open Door policy. As author Bertram Lenox Putnam Weale documented in the book An Indiscreet Chronicle from the Pacific, the possible intervention of Great Britain and the United States was indeed a concern for Japan in deliberating what final steps to take on May 6. In addition, Yuan also sought to affect Japanese domestic politics by mobilizing the support of Genro, who were angered by the government’s failure to consult them before drawing up the demands. As the negotiations evolved into an inevitable crisis at the end of April, the open opposition of elder statesmen like Matsukata played a decisive role in forcing the Japanese government to drop the demands of Group Five in the ultimatum delivered to China on May 7.

Not surprisingly, Yuan, who had no intention of risking war with Japan, accepted the ultimatum on May 9. The final form of the treaty was signed on May 25, 1915. With the removal of the most odious provision, however, the new treaty gave Japan no more than what it already had in China. Yuan, whose credibility and popularity as a leader was further weakened as a result of his appeasement policy, viewed accepting the treaty as a “terrible shame” (qichi daru) and made May 9 China’s National Humiliation Day. The Twenty-One Demands nurtured a considerable amount of public ill-will towards Japan, and the upsurge in nationalism is still deeply felt today in China’s handling of Sino-Japanese relations.

To be sure, times have changed. This time, the pendulum of power is swinging in China’s favor. Given the ongoing territorial disputes in East Asia, the episode that occurred exactly one century ago can still provide critical insights into how a rising regional hegemon like China should behave, and how less powerful states could play the power game to better protect their national interests.

This piece comes courtesy of CFR’s blog Asia Unbound.

TopicsHistory RegionsAsia-Pacific

Explained: The Real Point of the State of the Union

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America’s constitution is more than just seven articles and twenty-seven amendments. Although they are often overlooked, a number of unwritten conventions also form part of the de facto U.S. constitution. The rule that the Supreme Court gets the final say over interpreting all aspects of the constitution, for example, is nowhere to be found in the written constitution itself—and, indeed, was vigorously disputed by past presidents such as Andrew Jackson—but is now held to be sacrosanct, part of a deeply entrenched unwritten constitution that oils the machinery and eases the working of the written components.

The State of the Union address has become part of that unwritten constitution. Formally, Article II is vague about how presidents should keep Congress informed (“He shall from time to time give to the Congress Information of the State of the Union, and recommend to their Consideration such Measures as he shall judge necessary and expedient”). From Jefferson through to Taft, in fact, each successive president opted to send a written address to Congress rather than appear in person. But in the twentieth century, a recognizable tradition emerged regarding how the State of the Union should be delivered. Today, that tradition constitutes a powerful constitutional norm that few can imagine deviating from.

What is the point of the State of the Union address? The nineteenth-century constitutional scholar Walter Bagehot distinguished between “dignified” and “efficient” elements of a constitutional system. Dignified elements are mostly symbolic, designed for public consumption and to maintain the outward appearance of competent and legitimate government. Efficient elements, by contrast, are those aspects of a constitution that truly are responsible for the day-to-day business of governing a country. People prefer the majesty of monarchy or the pomp and ceremony of well-oiled traditions than they do the reality of government, which can vacillate between the grotesque and the utterly mundane, Bagehot reasoned.

Without doubt, the State of the Union address is part of the dignified constitution. The tradition puts on show almost the entire U.S. political establishment, a political haut monde portrayed as congenial public servants intent on deliberating the issues of the day. The president takes care to craft remarks that emphasize the unity and strength of the republic and so will reassure ordinary members of the public. And the ritual of announcing a raft of new policies can be thought of as symbolizing the efficient workings of Washington: the supposed first stage in an orderly legislative process.

In truth, American government does not function in the way that the State of the Union portrays it. Indeed, a cynic might joke that there are precious few “efficient” elements of the American constitution left standing. With the Republicans in control of Congress and many in Washington already looking to 2016, President Obama is not the primary originator of new legislation; Congress will not follow his lead. Instead, President Obama will vie with Congressional leaders for the remaining part of his presidency. Each branch of government will push the limits of its constitutional authority to implement its own vision of what America should look like. When the two sides do pause to talk to each other, it will be to sling mud as often as to find agreement. As a result, the next two years will be decidedly undignified and likely inefficient, marked by pitched battles fought over “middle class economics” at home and “smart diplomacy” abroad.

President Obama’s penultimate State of the Union address thus told us little about how the business of government actually will be conducted over the next two years. But it was not supposed to. After all, any event that accurately portrayed the filthy business of sausage-making in Washington would be repulsive to behold. Instead, the State of the Union fulfils a different role in the American political system: it is a focal point of the political calendar; a rallying opportunity for both parties; and a chance for politicians, pundits and citizens alike to take stock. For all the pomp and ceremony—because of it, in fact—the State of the Union has a serious role to play in the overall order of things. If nothing else, last night’s event was enjoyable to watch—and that was the point.

Image: White House facebook

TopicsDomestic PoliticsThe Presidency RegionsUnited States

Run Silent, Run Australian? Why Australia Should Build Its Own Subs

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The case for building the next generation of Royal Australian Navy (RAN) submarines in Australia begins with the stand-out attributes that make submarines so important for Australia as a whole: they must be able to operate in areas a long way from home, without air or sea control, to watch, listen, evaluate and act when necessary. Australia’s future submarine will be a unique platform, giving early warning of an adversary’s intentions and providing an excellent antisubmarine and anti-surface ship capability.

As discussed in an earlier post, these capabilities are based on the submarine’s key attribute—stealth—which enables access to sensitive or critical areas denied to other vehicles and surveillance systems.

In simple terms, a submarine has to have sufficient buoyancy to support its payload when it’s underwater (that is, to be neutrally buoyant). If you add more fuel (or any other payload), you have to either take out an equivalent weight or increase the vessel’s volume. Simply lengthening an existing design by adding hull sections to increase volume works only so far. As the ratio of the vessel’s length to its diameter grows, it becomes noisier, less agile and less efficient.

At some point, increasing the volume of a submarine requires an increased hull diameter. But once that threshold is crossed, you’re no longer dealing with the same design. It’s safer to put all the parameters on the table and design a submarine with the volume to carry the payloads required for the desired capability.

The recent discussion in the press on the possible acquisition of Japanese submarines by Australia (dubbed ‘Option J’) raises a number of issues. Despite what’s been surmised based on the relatively large submerged displacement of the Soryu class, the current Japanese submarine appears to have less payload, endurance and mobility than the Collins. That isn’t surprising—Japan’s requirements are different from ours.

So any Japanese boat is likely to require modification to meet Australia’s requirements, particularly for long-ocean transits and patrols. Australia’s also certain to want to install a US combat system, communications fit-out and weapons suite. Those changes will carry cost, performance and schedule risks that are best handled as a developmental project rather than as an off-the-shelf acquisition.

Quite apart from the suitability of the design, a Japanese purchase would entail particular risks. The prospects for difficulties arising from cultural differences with Japan are significant. Accessing all the relevant technologies during the course of an overseas build of a complex vessel and understanding the design intent (critical to supporting the submarine) would be extraordinarily ambitious and inherently risky. And Japan has no experience with foreign customers for military exports.

The lure of having submarines built overseas rests upon the assumption that it’d be more expensive to build them here. But design and construction are only one-third of the cost of ownership. The balance arises when the boat is in service.

It’s worth looking at how other countries approach the problem of maintaining a cost-effective submarine force. Germany, France, Japan, Sweden, the UK and the US all have national designers and builders for their submarine programs. Common characteristics of their approaches include the following:

-New designs are undertaken as developmental projects in a seamless process, avoiding traditional step-by-step design, which can lead to delays, design changes and cost escalation.

-The cost of ownership is considered front and center at the design and construction phases so that it can be minimised.

-The builder and in-service support industries inject their knowledge into the design, thereby minimising the requirement for costly re-work or extra maintenance.

To optimize a submarine design from a whole-of-life perspective requires the designers, builders and maintainers to work closely together during the design and build phases. That’s best achieved if they’re co-located, as they tend to be in the countries mentioned.

There’s an important lesson here for Australia: coordination will be much easier if the build occurs in Australia, where the design will be supported throughout its life, rather than at an overseas shipyard with different standards and practices and a language barrier.

Whatever the design source, Australia’s future submarine will have substantial differences from the overseas navy’s design. As it was for Collins, Australia will be the parent navy for the future submarine. The Coles review highlighted the vital importance of establishing through-life logistic support arrangements in Australia during the construction phase. It’s critical that Australia has full access to the technologies and intellectual property underpinning the future submarine; otherwise, the effectiveness of the new boat will rely on the relationship with the overseas parent navy and its industry base.

In addition to the challenge of establishing cost-effective through-life support, building Australia’s future submarines offshore would entail a number of additional costs:

-Transferring Australian engineers, construction personnel, submarine crews and their families to stand by for two- to four-year periods in an overseas shipyard across the 28 or so years needed to build 12 submarines would be neither cheap nor practical.

-The land-based test sites and maritime test ranges used to reduce risks during construction and for acceptance testing are also required in-service, which imposes additional costs for using overseas facilities in addition to building our own facilities.

Australia’s use of US-sourced weapons and combat systems also poses sensitive problems for acceptance testing on a foreign test range.

In my next post I’ll consider the lessons from Collins, the possibility of a hybrid build and sum up the case for building in Australia.

Peter Briggs is a retired RAN submarine specialist, submarine commanding officer and past president of the Submarine Institute of Australia. Peter has no affiliations with any of the potential suppliers to the RAN’s SEA 1000 project. This piece first appeared in ASPI’s The Strategist here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsAustralia

Exposed: How China Purchased Its First Aircraft Carrier

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A Hong Kong-based businessmen bought China’s first aircraft carrier under false pretenses, according to a new report in the Hong Kong-based South China Morning Post.

In a two part expose published over the weekend, the South China Morning Post gave the inside story of Xu Zengping’s quest to purchase China’s first aircraft carrier, which later became the Liaoning. The piece draws heavily on interviews with Xu himself.

Xu reveals that he first stepped foot on the Ukraine built vessel in 1988, although it didn’t go up for sale until 1992. At that time, it was around two-thirds complete.

The Ukrainian shipyard, who had been commissioned to build the carrier by Moscow in the early 1980s, was nearly bankrupt after the Soviet Union’s collapse and sought to find a buyer for the vessel. It approached the Chinese government about purchasing the vessel, but— seeking to repair ties with the U.S. following Tiananmen Square— Beijing demurred. Unhappy with this decision, some naval officials apparently approached Xu, the head of Chinluck Holdings, about purchasing the carrier at that time. Xu had previously served in the People’s Liberation Army before going into the “private” sector.

According to SCMP, the naval officials told Xu that there were two major impediments to purchasing the ship: “the navy was severely underfunded and there was no support in Beijing for the carrier project. If Xu took on the job, he would be taking a gamble on government policy.” Xu gleefully relays that he decided to move ahead despite these challenges. “My passion pushed me to take on the mission because it was a now-or-never chance for China to buy a new carrier from a nearly insolvent state-owned Ukrainian shipbuilder."

As Xu began laying the groundwork to purchase the vessel, he ran into another obstacle. Namely, the Ukrainian shipbuilder did not want the carrier to be used for military purchases. Xu overcame this impediment by deceiving the Ukraine officials into thinking he would use the carrier solely as a floating casino. To that end, he established a Macau-based shell company and acquired a gambling license. According to a 2011 report in Caixin, a prominent Chinese business newspaper, that gambling license was revoked the very day the carrier arrived in China. Under unclear circumstances it later fell into the military’s hands and was refurbished and launched as China’s first aircraft carrier in 2012, a decade after it arrived in China.

The carrier’s technology has been a boon for the Chinese navy. Despite claiming he would turn it into a casino, Xu demanded that they shipbuilder provide all the ship’s blueprints to him. And, in contrast to Beijing’s prior claims, Xu told SCMP that the vessel came with all four engines completely intact. “Xu Zengping disclosed that the militarily sensitive original engines of the carrier were intact when Ukraine sold the vessel in 1998. This is contrary to what Beijing told the world at the time,” SCMP reported.

Quoting a “source familiar with the deal,” SCMP said: “The Chinese side deliberately released false information about the removal of the engines to make it easier for Xu and the shipyard to negotiate.” A retired PLA Navy colonel told the Hong Kong newspaper that it is “very likely” that China’s carrier is still powered by Ukraine’s engines.

Xu’s machinations went beyond deception. For instance, Xu bribed his way into the Ukrainians’ good graces, with SCMP reporting that Xu flooded the shipbuilder’s management with “stacks of U.S. dollars.” Xu also boasts that he got the Ukrainians excessively drunk when negotiating the deal. During the four days of negotiations over the ship, Xu claims to have brought the sellers 50 bottles of 62-per-cent-proof Chinese liquor called erguotou.  

In other words, if the story is true, Xu, covertly working on behalf of China’s Navy, lied, deceived and bribed his way into buying China its first aircraft carrier. The results appear to be worth it for Beijing. According to Xu, “some naval experts told me that my deal helped our country save at least 15 years of scientific research.”   

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

Image: Wikimedia

TopicsSecurityDiplomacy RegionsAsia-Pacific

Forget About Cheap Oil: Cheap Solar Is the Real Game Changer

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The Economist has a special feature on energy this week, and it is resolutely optimistic about renewables:

Measuring progress is tricky: the cost of electricity from new solar systems can vary from $90 to $300 per megawatt hour (MWh). But it is clearly plummeting. In Japan the cost of power produced by residential photovoltaic systems fell by 21% in 2013. As a study for the United Nations Environment Programme notes, a record 39GW of solar photovoltaic capacity was constructed in 2013 at a lesser cost than the 2012 total of 31GW. In the European Union (EU), renewables, despite a 44% fall in investment, made up the largest portion (72%) of new electric generating capacity for the sixth year running.

The clearest sign of health in the renewables market is smoke-clogged China, which in 2013 invested over $56 billion, more than all of Europe, as part of a hurried shift towards clean energy. China’s investment included 16GW of wind power and 13GW of solar. The renewable-power capacity China installed in that year was bigger than its new fossil-fuel and nuclear capacity put together.

And note this:

The IEA (International Energy Agency) expects the cost of solar panels to halve in the next 20 years. By 2050, it predicts, solar will provide 16% of the world’s electric power, well up from the 11% it forecast in 2010.

So it is now remarkably cheap to generate renewable energy, but what about storing it? That relies on building better, and cheaper, batteries, and here The Economist's optimism is less well grounded in statistics. Instead it points to government subsidies (which can be and often are withdrawn at short notice) and promises by entrepreneurs such as Elon Musk to cut the cost of storing energy in batteries from US$250 per kWh to US$100.

All of this is of course excellent news for our warming planet, but the implications of a world in which “solar power will become so cheap that energy will no longer be seen as scarce” are more far-reaching even than that. What would a world of cheap, clean and limitless energy mean for our economies and societies?

This blog first appeared in the Lowy Interpreter here


Australia’s Future Submarines: The World’s Best Non-Nuclear Subs?

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There has been considerable public debate about Australia’s future submarine program with much of the focus being centered on whether submarines should be produced locally or procured offshore. But surprisingly little of the debate has touched on the imperative to avoid a capability gap once the Collins-class submarines begin to be retired from service in the latter half of the next decade, nor on how Australia might best utilize existing sovereign submarine capabilities to achieve that.

Given the unique nature of the Australian requirement, it seems highly unlikely the solution for Australia’s future submarine would be either an “off-the-shelf” purchase from an offshore supplier or an onshore design-and-build activity. Notwithstanding the fact that Australia doesn’t have the design capabilities to go it alone on the future submarine program, any existing design would need to be customized with a US combat system and weapons while an appropriate indigenous design would obviously have significant cost, risk and time implications. Instead, the optimum acquisition strategy for Australia’s future submarine program is likely to fall somewhere between those two approaches as part of a “hybrid” design-and-build process.

While it’s clear that Australia cannot, and should not, undertake the enormous venture of the future submarine on its own, there are many reasons why a collaborative approach, encompassing Australia’s sovereign capabilities in submarines and the sovereign capabilities of a partner nation with experience, capability and capacity in large conventional submarines, would be sensible, practical and feasible.

Such an approach would draw upon the submarine design capabilities of an international partner; a US combat system and weapons (based upon ‘spiral development’ of the Collins class combat system); Australian industry’s existing naval integration capabilities; and the submarine sustainment capability resident in-country. It would also facilitate the inclusion of leading-edge international and Australian technologies, build on Australia’s sovereign submarine capabilities, and provide considerable work for Australian industry. Overall, it would result in the lowest cost/risk approach to the provision and sustainment of a new submarine capability for Australia.

From a capability perspective such a collaborative approach would facilitate the timely provision of an appropriate future submarine capability for Australia on a schedule that would militate against a capability gap once the Collins-class submarines begin to be retired from service in the latter half of the next decade.

That said, the Government doesn’t have the luxury of time in their decision-making process. It’s clear that to avoid a capability gap, Australia should confirm its acquisition strategy and move as soon as practicable to establish a long-term collaborative partnership for the design and build of the future submarine. Raytheon Australia has now released its own paper, which confirms that if the first future submarine is to be in the water by 2026, an acquisition strategy needs to be settled now.

From a defense industry perspective, such a collaborative approach would provide many new, long-term Australian jobs. That’s a view that has been articulated by ASPI, argued by Government and confirmed by our own analysis.

To be clear, the likely roles for Australians under a collaborative design-and-build model would, at a minimum, include: mission system design—working closely with an offshore designer; mission system integration; hull consolidation; test and activation; and the substantial task of sustaining the submarine throughout its approximately 30-year operational life. Potential also exists for a level of in-country platform assembly. Such a collaborative approach would also require a substantial Australian supply chain.

Through a collaborative approach with an international partner, Australia has the potential to acquire the most capable conventional submarine in the world, optimized for its needs while delivering maximum value for money for the taxpayer. That means Australian industry has every reason to welcome the opportunities presented by the SEA1000 future submarine program.

This article first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAustralia

No, China Can NOT Shoot Down 90% of Hypersonic Missiles

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A number of media outlets have reported in recent days that China has deployed a new missile defense system on many of its ships that has a 90 percent success rate against hypersonic missiles. The same reports also unwittingly highlight that this assertion is false.

All the reports appear to originate from a story the Taiwan-based Want China Times carried last month. Citing a report in its “Chinese-language sister paper Want Daily,” which itself cited a story by an unnamed Russian media outlet, Want China Times reported last month that “that China's latest indigenous Type 1130 close-in weapon system can fire 10,000 rounds per minute and destroy 90% of hypersonic missiles traveling at a speed four times the speed of sound.”

The Want China Times report has been picked up by numerous news outlets since— either directly or indirectly. For example, citing the Want China Times article, International Business Times reported last month that “China has developed a new close-in weapon system” that can “reportedly destroy 90 percent of hypersonic missiles even travelling four times the speed of sound.” Earlier today, ran a story based on the IBT report that was headlined, “Chinese Chain Gun Can Destroy Almost Every Hypersonic Missile.”

Meanwhile, yesterday Gawker media’s design and technology website, Gitzmodo, ran a story headlined “Say Hello to China's New 11-Barrel Hypersonic Missile Killer.” In that article, Gitzmodo staff writer Andrew Tarantola cites the Want China Times article (which he refers to as a Chinese media outlet) in reporting that “China's newly unveiled Type 1130 close-in weapon system can make short work of inbound warheads traveling at four times the speed of sound [emphasis in the original].” Later in the piece he reports that the Type 1130 is “quite accurate, notching 90 percent accuracy against hypersonic threats,” before concluding, ominously, that “Combined with the PLA's new WU-14 hypersonic glide vehicle, naval battles may soon be over in the blink of an eye.”

There are a number of issues with all this. The first, and least egregious, is that the Type 1130 CIWS system is not particularly new. In fact, it was first noted by Western defense analysts as far back as May 2011, albeit at the time it was still in development and referred to as the Type 1030. However, by the time China’s aircraft carrier, the Liaoning, began sea trials the following year, the gun-based CIWS was being called by its current name (noted, the Type 1130 is also called the H/PJ-14). Thus, at the very least, the Type 1130 is about two and a half years old.

Far more importantly, however, by these reports own admission, the Type 1130 CIWS can’t shoot down hypersonic missiles. As noted above, these reports claim that the Type 1130 CIWS can target missiles traveling at up to four times the speed of sound, or Mach 4. As impressive as these reports make Mach 4 out to be, it doesn’t reach hypersonic levels. To constitute hypersonic, the missile must travel at five times the speed of sound (Mach 5) or greater. NASA further categorizes speeds as hypersonic (between Mach 5 and Mach 10) and high hypersonic (between Mach 10 and Mach 25). This oversight— calling Mach 4 hypersonic— is particularly surprising given that it was featured on science and technology websites Gizmodo and

There are other smaller issues with the claims as well. For example, no country currently deploys hypersonic missiles, raising the question of how the Type 1130 achieved its 90 percent success rate in shooting them down. In fact, it’s unclear where the 90 percent success rate statistic comes from at all, although one possible culprit is a report by a Chinese state-run television station. Needless to say, this is another source that should be taken with a grain of salt.

Finally, while no country currently deploys hypersonic missiles, any that China’s potential adversaries like the United States would deploy in the foreseeable future are almost certainly going to be long range missiles (for example, as part of Prompt Global Strike). Since the Type 1130 CIWS can’t even shoot down medium or long-range subsonic missiles it’s a good bet that it will struggle with hypersonic ones.

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

Image: Wikipedia/U.S. Air Force

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia-Pacific

Explained: Why The Oil 'Lesson' of 1986 is Wrong

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When I was on the road promoting The Power Surge in 2013, I regularly said two things: First, oil prices could easily plunge for a year or two, though it was far from certain that that would happen. Second, we would not see a repeat of 1986, when the hangover from a price crash lasted for well over a decade before high prices finally returned.

As oil prices have fallen, it’s been pleasantly surprising not to see people trot out the 1986 episode as evidence that we might be in for a decade or more of low oil prices once again. Earlier this week, though, a Bloomberg writer decided to buck the trend with “Oil Collapse of 1986 Shows Rebound Could Be Years Away”. The “Chart of the Day” from that article, reprinted here, pretty much tells the story.

But 2015 isn’t 1986.

Then, massive investment in oil production following the twin oil crises of the 1970s led to a buildup of long-lived oil production capacity. With money spent, that production capacity cost very little to operate. Prices needed to stay low for several years to throttle not only new investment but also production back. Non-OPEC oil production fell every year between 1988 and 1993.

Weak demand also played an important role. While consumption originally rose after 1986 in response to lower prices, between 1989 and 1993, world oil consumption rose by a mere 1.5 million barrels a day, dragged down by the collapse of the Soviet Union and economic weakness more broadly.

The biggest difference today is the supply picture. In 1986, the world faced an overhang of conventional oil production capacity. Today, it is buffeted by a surge in tight oil production. The difference is stark. Once investment in tight oil stops, output from existing wells drops sharply, which is very different from what happens with conventional wells. This can, in principle, balance the market much more quickly than was possible in the 1980s.

Of course investment in U.S. production hasn’t come to a halt. That’s why most analysts still expect supply growth this year. But this is a fundamentally different situation from the mid-1980s. If oil prices stay low for as long as they did after 1986, it will be because tight oil production turns out to be massively scalable at remarkably low prices while remaining profitable, not because sunk investment costs have created oil producing zombies that continue pumping at almost any price. (It could also happen if the world rapidly accelerated the deployment of low-cost alternatives and efficiency.) The aftermath of 1986 was almost inevitable at the time given the investment that had already happened. (This brackets the far-from-inevitable decisions by Saudi Arabia and others to boost their own production after 1986.) What happens over the next decade in oil markets still remains very much to be determined.

This piece first appeared in CFR’s blog Energy, Security and Climate here.

Image: Flickr. 

TopicsOil RegionsUnited States

Why Invading Hell (North Korea) Would be a Big Mistake

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The North Korean regime is the closest thing to Nazi Germany still in existence. Toppling it would free an enslaved people. There is perhaps no government on Earth that more deserves to be cast into the dustbin of history.

Yet few military experts have pitched the idea of invading the Hermit Kingdom. That is because opening such a Pandora's box would unleash hell on East Asia. Desperate for survival, Pyongyang would have every incentive to use all its nuclear bombs and other weapons of mass destruction, threatening the lives of millions of innocent people.

So while I tip my hat to Pascal-Emmanuel Gobry for making the case for invasion in The Week, in what amounted to an impassioned plea to rid our planet once and for all of this evil cancer, a dispassionate review of the facts demonstrates why very few have endorsed such an idea. Here is why an invasion would be a great cause for regret:

Please see the rest in The Week here.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsNorth Korea