The Buzz

Need Your Air Force Upgraded on the Cheap? Call Israel

The Buzz

While glitzy new jets like the stealthy Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter and the Russian PAK-FA capture the lion’s share of attention, most of the world’s air forces don’t need the latest and greatest toys. Often, something much more basic is more than sufficient for the purposes of most nations.

A lot of air arms don’t even need or even want the latest fourth-generation fighters on the market like the Eurofighter Typhoon, Dassault Rafale, Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, Lockheed F-16V “Viper,” Saab JAS-39 Gripen or even a Russian-made Sukhoi Su-30 or Su-35. Moreover, many countries simply can’t afford such extravagances. But even those nations have options—one doesn’t have to buy a top-of-the-line F-35 stealth fighter to obtain decent capabilities. Often, refurbished older aircraft can offer capabilities that are comparable to their new brethren at a fraction of the price.

Israel has often capitalized on that part of the international fighter market. Tel Aviv’s defense industry has sold or upgraded a host of aircraft for air arms around the planet. Those aircraft have ranged from its own homegrown products to upgraded Soviet-built MiGs for former Warsaw Pact member like Romania.

In fact, Romania still operates a number of Israeli-upgraded MiG-21 Lancers that incorporate modern Elta EL/M 2032 pulse-doppler radars and a partial glass cockpit. Those jets can also carry the Rafael LITENING targeting pod and a host of laser-guided bombs and the Python-series dogfighting missiles. Effectively, Romania received good, modern capability for a fraction of the price of a new fourth-generation fighter.

India also operates an extensively upgraded version of the antiquated MiG-21 called the Bison, which has proven to be surprisingly effective—if crash prone. With their upgraded Phazotron Kopyo radar—which is capable of simultaneously tracking eight targets—the Indian MiG-21s are able to attack targets beyond visual range with Russian-made Vympel R-77 radar-guided missiles.

The Indian MiG-21s also incorporate helmet mounted cueing systems and the ability to carry the R-73 Archer dogfighting missile. That combination makes the aged jet a formidable adversary close in even against a much more modern aircraft. In fact, the Indians MiG-21s fared well even against Boeing F-15C Eagle during a Cope India exercise in 2004—granted the U.S. Air Force was operating with restrictive rules of engagement.

However, while the Romanian and Indian MiGs were upgraded with new avionics, not much was done to upgrade their airframe structure. But conceivably, the even the ancient MiG-21 would still be viable with a refurbished airframe and cutting edge avionics. While no nations has opted to do that, Israel made a deal to supply fourteen refurbished and extensively modernized Israel Aerospace Industries F-21 Kfir fighters to Argentina—which is also a forty-year-old platform.  The airframe is being completely refurbished to an almost “new” state and the aircraft’s General Electric J79 turbojets will be supplied in a “zero-hour” condition after a complete overhaul, according to my colleague Arie Egozi at Flight International. An engine replacement/overhaul would be required after 1,600 flight hours.

The Mach 2.0 capable Kfir first flew in 1973, but the aircraft is an unlicensed derivative of the French Dassault Mirage V—which first flew in 1967. The Mirage V itself is a ground attack version of the Mirage III, which first flew in 1956. Thus, the Kfir design ultimately originates in the 1950s, but nonetheless, the latest Israeli modifications to the jet make the ancient fighter viable even in the 21st Century—and against much newer fourth-generation fighters. Even if the Kfir is old, it was always a fairly capable airframe. The U.S. Navy and U.S. Marine Corps leased Israeli Kfirs under the F-21 designation for use as aggressors during the 1980s against American fourth-generation fighters like F-14, F-15, F-16 and F/A-18.

Argentina’s Block 60 Kfir will be fitted with an Elta Systems EL/M-2052 active electronically scanned array (AESA) radar, which can simultaneously track sixty-four targets. The new radar can also simultaneously operate in air-to-air and air-to-ground modes—and it can support the latest air intercept weapons like the Israeli Darby active radar-guided missile (or AMRAAM if the U.S. were willing to sell it to Argentina). The jet is also being fitted with state-of-the-art electronic warfare systems for protection against air and surface threats. The Kfir will also be able to carry a host of Israeli-made air-to-ground weapons—and it offers a comprehensive suite of data-links.

It’s not clear if the Argentinian Kfirs are being upgraded with a helmet-mounted cuing system, but there is no technical reason that would prevent the integration of such a system along with the Python-5 high off-boresight missile. The integration of those systems would make the Kfir an extremely formidable opponent in a close-in dogfight. But the Israeli jet does use open architecture avionics—which makes it easy to upgrade. So even if it’s not immediately going to be equipped with those weapons, they could be added later.

Israel has other potential customers who might be interested in the Block 60 Kfir. Colombia is upgrading its Kfirs to a similar a standard as the Argentine jets while Ecuador—which operates an earlier version—may also want to upgrade its planes. But Israel’s sales focus has been on the Asia-Pacific region where there are a number of countries that need capable jets but which don’t have the money for an expensive top-of-the-line fighter like the F-16.

Only time will tell how much success Israel will have in resurrecting the four-decade old Kfir for the 21th Century. But if other jets are out of many nations’ price range, Israel may have a winner on its hands.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.


China's Great South China Sea Challenge: What Next and How to Respond

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China’s land reclamation in the South China Sea has generated concern across Asia about China’s challenge to U.S. strategic primacy in the Western Pacific. The U.S. has belatedly responded to this challenge with a single ‘Freedom of Navigation’ operation (FONOP) that saw the deployment of the USS Lassen within the 12nm limit of Subi Reef on 27 October. So what might happen next?

The U.S. has indicated further FONOPs will occur at roughly the rate of two every quarter, which hopefully will send a clear message that clarifies mixed signals emerging from the first deployment. Australia must choose whether it will join this effort by deploying its own vessels to reinforce a collective message that China’s claims to maritime rights under UNCLOS around artificial islands are not accepted by the region. Japan must also consider its response, given that Chinese assertion of control over the South China Sea—through which vital Japanese sea-lanes of communication run—would be an intolerable threat to Japan’s economic stability and national security.

When those events are taken together with the Philippine’s recent success in the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which has declared it has jurisdiction and will hold hearings on the dispute, it’s clear that at a political and strategic level, China’s heavy handedness in building new islands is counter-productive.

China however doesn’t look set to back down, with the Chinese Foreign Ministry reasserting its “indisputable sovereignty” and calling on the U.S. to “refrain from dangerous or provocative actions” in the future. John Chen and Bonnie Glaser suggest three possible paths forward for China should it choose to militarize its new islands. The first would involve deployment of intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) capabilities to the new islands that would give China superior situational awareness, intelligence gathering and vital targeting information when necessary. The second path could involve deployment of missile systems—surface to air missiles (SAMs) and land-based anti-ship cruise missile (ASCMs) capabilities which could threaten aircraft and naval vessels of regional states, the U.S. Navy and its allies including Australia. Finally, China could use airstrips and deep-water ports to support PLA Navy and PLA Air Force (PLAAF) operations within the South China Sea and beyond, including potentially against Australia in a future crisis. Notably, Chen and Glaser cite the example of PLAAF H-6K bombers equipped with land-attack cruise missiles (LACMs) bringing Australia within range.

Furthermore, the islands may continue to expand in size, with Andrew Erickson and Austin Strange suggesting Fiery Cross Reef may be potentially transformed into a military base twice the size of Diego Garcia. Erickson recently stated that the reclaimed land could be used to support the imposition of a South China Sea Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) in a manner that would allow China to claim airspace within its self-declared nine-dash line as its territorial airspace; strengthen its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities to support bastions for its Jin-class SSBNs; and, reinforce its anti-access and area denial (A2/AD) capability.

Clearly things have moved on from the rather rosy and optimistic perspective on China’s rise suggested in Australia’s 2013 Defense White Paper. The next Defense White Paper must acknowledge that Australia’s security environment is now more challenging, uncertain and complex, with greater risk for major power competition in coming years. The cockpit of this competition is likely to be the South China Sea, given its geostrategic significance in terms of energy and commerce. In this environment the U.S. will expect, and Australia must be prepared, to do more to deter and dissuade China from more opportunistic land grabs in the future.

What does this mean for Defense planning after the next White Paper? While Australian defense planning should never be determined by a single issue, it would be unwise for the next Defense White Paper to downplay China’s challenge in the same way that the 2013 White Paper did. Most importantly, the idea of Australia distancing itself from the U.S., or promoting an accommodation of an assertive and rising China through convincing the U.S. to cede strategic presence and influence, should be strongly resisted. Instead, Australia’s future defense policy needs to be more forward orientated and focused on Southeast Asia and the Indian Ocean. Australia must strengthen its ability to support the U.S., as well as its key regional allies in ASEAN, Japan, India and South Korea, including in asserting key principles such as freedom of navigation of the seas.

Our traditional defense strategy that focuses on the defense of Australia’s air and maritime approaches needs to be updated because the potential military threat is no longer distant. China’s construction of new islands which could be militarized in a manner suggested above, its expanding naval, air and long-range missile capabilities, and its growing strategic interests along the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road means that far from Australia benefiting from a historical tyranny of distance, our proximity and relevance to events in a contested Asia has never been closer.

China’s desire to project military power and presence at long range have forced the U.S. to consider new strategic approaches, notably the ‘Third Offset’ strategy as part of the Defense Innovation Initiative, to mitigate risks posed by PLA counter-intervention (A2/AD) capabilities. Australia now faces similar risks as Chinese military power extends from the South China Sea, through the vital waterways in Southeast Asia and out into the Indian Ocean.

Therefore Australia would be wise to expand its efforts to reinforce the U.S. rebalance to Asia not only by offering greater access to Australian facilities for U.S. air, land and naval forces, but also to seek opportunities for participation in the Defense Innovation Initiative. This could realize future long-range military capabilities to offset growing Chinese A2/AD and power projection potential, and which could lead to future ADF force structure development beyond the limits envisaged under Force 2035.

Malcolm Davis is assistant professor in International Relations and post-doctoral research fellow in China-Western Relations at Bond University.

This piece first appeared in ASPI's The Strategist here

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

The A-10 Lives: America’s Lethal ‘Flying Tanks’ Won’t Be Retired Just Yet

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The U.S. Air Force delayed its plans to retire the A-10 Warthog in favor of the Lockheed Martin F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. The service has been trying to scrap the venerable flying tank—a darling of U.S. ground troops—in favor of the stealthy single-engine jet despite resistance on Capitol Hill by 2021.

“We have to retire the airplanes, but I think moving it to the right and starting it a bit later and maybe keeping around the airplane a bit longer is something that's being considered based on things as they are today and what we see in the future,” Air Combat Command commander Gen. Hawk Carlisle told reporters at the Defense Writers Group breakfast according The Hill reporter Kristina Wong. “I think if you look at what we'd like to do is probably a couple of squadrons maybe early, because we have F-16s coming out of Hill [Air Force Base], and we'd like to transition A-10s to F-16s in a couple of different places, but I think the majority of it we would move it a couple of years, two to three years, to the right.”

Carlisle told reporters that he deployed the jets to Turkey because of their unique capabilities which are particularly useful against enemy ground forces—like ISIS. “I will tell you, I have A-10s and I will use them because they are a fantastic airplane.” Carlisle said. “The guys are incredibly well-trained and they do fantastic work in support of the joint war fight...They're doing fantastic work and we're very proud of them.”

Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), a former Air Force A-10 squadron commander, was dismissive of the service’s latest move. McSally has often spoken out about the capabilities gaps the Pentagon would face if the A-10 were retired. “As it has always been, the plan to retire the A-10 ahead of schedule is irresponsible and reckless. No plane in our inventory or under development can match the A-10’s unique capabilities to provide Close Air Support – capabilities that are in increasing demand,” McSally said in a statement. “A-10s are now deployed in the fight against ISIS, in Europe to deter Russian aggression, and along the border with North Korea. We just invested over $1 billion to keep this asset flying until 2028. Until there’s a suitable replacement, we absolutely need to keep this life-saving capability in the air.”

McSally dismissed Carlisle’s move to defer the A-10’s as a political ploy. “This is the Administration’s same ploy only in a different disguise to whittle away at a critical capability, “ she said. “Over the last three years, the Administration has already mothballed the equivalent of four A-10 squadrons, leaving us with only nine to carry out the critical missions for which the A-10 is best suited.”

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

Image: Wikicommons. 


Creating Synergy: An Agenda for Turnbull’s Visit to Jakarta

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Tomorrow Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull will sit down with Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (Jokowi) for some valuable face time. Just over a year into his presidency, Jokowi has already had some experience dealing with Australian foreign policy challenges, having responded to both the boat turn-back policy of the Abbott government and rockier diplomatic ties surrounding the execution of two Australian prisoners in Bali in April.

This meeting is a chance for the countries to start afresh and, with economics and trade set to be on the agenda, there should be plenty to discuss given Turnbull’s and Jokowi’s respective business backgrounds. But should the leaders’ first meeting be so straightforward?

More than merely a meet-and-greet, this Jakarta visit could potentially set the tone for Australia–Indonesia relations for the foreseeable future. Despite their business backgrounds, the two heads of government should see to rise above transactional diplomacy. We face a world of shared challenges, from terrorist networks to environmental concerns, so it’s never too early to start deepening cooperation and discussing shared responsibility.


Jokowi’s global maritime axis vision is likely to remain a dominant feature of his foreign and domestic policy and this is a good chance for Turnbull to develop a firsthand understanding of Jokowi’s intentions. In essence, the vision involves reinvigorating Indonesia’s character as a maritime nation, building up its maritime defences, optimising oceanic resources, and seriously upgrading its ports and related infrastructure to help boost the economy (PDF).


Of course, most foreign investment will come from major players like Japan, China and the US. However, there are other challenges that could hamper the realisation of Jokowi’s maritime vision and it’s in these areas where Australia can offer targeted cooperation. Those include defence capability and acquisition, maritime research and conservation, policy development and interagency coordination, and anti-corruption efforts. With Jokowi’s term set to last another four years, it’s a good time for the Turnbull administration to establish a solid working relationship in areas that play both to our strengths and to Jokowi’s needs.


The face-to-face meeting also affords Turnbull the chance to ask Jokowi how he perceives both China’s actions in the South China Sea and the recent US freedom of navigation operation (FONOP) near Subi Reef. Australia and Indonesia are both deepening their economic and investment ties with a rising China, with Indonesia–China ties growing even closer under Jokowi and Xi. With the Royal Australian Navy and the Indonesian Navy kicking off Exercise New Horizon on Monday, Turnbull could discuss the future of South China Sea defence diplomacy with his counterpart.


It would be beneficial to discuss international order in the light of China’s land reclamation activities and what role Jokowi envisages for Indonesia as a middle power diplomatic actor. During his recent trip to the US, Jokowi revealed to a Brookings Institute audience that he wanted Indonesia to take a more active role in the South China Sea. What’s less clear is exactly what this role would entail. Thus far, unlike the previous administration, Indonesia isn’t falling over itself to engage ASEAN as a framework for regional diplomacy and in any case, the adoption of a binding Code of Conduct in the South China Sea continues to move at a glacial pace, if at all. Complicating matters further, the Chinese nine-dotted line puts Indonesia in direct conflict with China even if Indonesia doesn’t like to admit it—the line cuts through Indonesia’s UNCLOS-enshrined maritime territory. If Indonesia were to play an ‘honest broker’ role, what other regional organisations or diplomatic instruments could it rely upon, and what role could Australia play?


The growing threat of ISIS globally is undoubtedly one Australia and Indonesia should tackle together, particularly given our history of effective counterterrorism cooperation. The head of Indonesia’s national counterterrorism agency has warned that foreign fighters from Malaysia are finding safe haven in some parts of Indonesia’s archipelago. There are already a number of regional terrorist groups who have sworn allegiance to ISIS. Indonesia has responded to the domestic manifestations of this threat by, among other steps, blocking the content of radical websites and, in June, standing up a Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) drawn from all three of the military’s special forces units.


In a positive move, Australian and Indonesian authorities will co-host the inaugural meeting of a regional counter-terrorism financing summit in Sydney later this month. However, more can be done in areas like prison reform, cyber radicalisation and anti-radicalisation programs. Strong statements from both leaders that continue to stress the shared threat posed by global extremism and the need for sustained cooperation would help signal both the importance of collaborative efforts and publicly reinforce our security partnership.

The point of a broader agenda is not to step on the toes of the Defence and Foreign Ministers; they’ll be able to build on those themes while also discussing other issues including development assistance, the growing role of Indonesia’s military in domestic security affairs, and environmental issues such as the haze and climate change.


The point is to be more businesslike than confrontational and to signal a maturing of the relationship (especially since the 2013 spying scandal) where the two leaders are comfortable discussing difficult issues. A stronger Australia–Indonesia diplomatic relationship can also form a more robust backbone around which other multilateral initiatives like joint interagency task forces or MIKTA-related diplomacy can further develop. Jakarta won’t be the only time Turnbull and Jokowi will see each other this year: this month, they’ll also meet at the G20 summit in Antalya, APEC in Manila and the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, and again at COP21 in December. Developing a rapport is part of the game so the next time we need Indonesia, Jokowi might take the PM’s call.

A joint statement on those sorts of issues probably isn’t on the cards for this trip but it might be something to consider for future gatherings. While our leaders remind us that ‘Indonesia matters to Australia, Australia matters to Indonesia’, carefully articulating areas of mutual interest that extend beyond economic and trade issues and then crafting them in the language of shared responsibility brings us closer to a working partnership. Let’s see what unfolds after the first handshake.

Natalie Sambhi is an analyst at ASPI, and managing editor of The Strategist, where this first appeared.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

America's 5 Next Generation Super Weapons

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The United States military is far by the most technologically advanced and capable force the Earth has ever seen.

From satellites, to stealth fighters and bombers, to advanced surface ships and submarines, America’s arsenal is unmatched by any other power. But American military supremacy rests on maintaining that technological edge. Even now, Russia and China are advancing their capabilities in the hopes of one day matching or even exceeding U.S. capabilities.

But the Pentagon isn’t standing still. Even now, new ships, submarines and aircraft are on the drawing boards that will help maintain America’s edge over Beijing and Moscow. However, first those efforts must navigate the Byzantine labyrinth that is the Pentagon bureaucracy and secure funding from the U.S. Congress.   


The centerpiece of future American dominance in the Western Pacific and around the world is the U.S. Air Force’s Long Range Strike Bomber (LRS-B) program. The new bomber is being designed to fly over vast distances into the teeth of enemy air defenses to deliver a bomb load before the enemy even knows it’s there. But unlike previous U.S. stealth bomber efforts, the LRS-B is just one part of a larger family of systems. Reconnaissance assets, electronic attack platforms, cruise missiles and other systems will accompany the bomber as it flies into enemy airspace. Moreover, the bomber will be designed so that it can be optionally manned. Northrop Grumman and Boeing are battling over the right to build the new plane.


While often thought of as a “new” aircraft, 2015 marks the tenth year that the U.S. Air Force’s mighty F-22 Raptor has been in service. The Air Force is already starting to look at midlife structural upgrades for its surviving fleet of 186 Raptors—especially the oldest aircraft at Tyndall AFB, Fla. Moreover, the service never received enough Raptors to replace the Boeing F-15C Eagle, which also has to be replaced.

The F-X will replace both the F-22 and the F-15C. Exactly what form the F-X will take is not yet known, but the Air Force is looking at a range of options based on the kinds of threats it expects in the post-2030 world. Options range from a new aircraft to a combination of drones and manned aircraft to new versions of existing planes. But whatever emerges from the F-X analysis of alternatives—which will be conducted jointly with the U.S. Navy—will likely dominate the skies once it enters production later this century.


The U.S. Navy also has a next-generation fighter program in the works to replace the long-serving F/A-18E/F Super Hornet in the 2030s. The service is about to kick-off a joint analysis of alternatives with the Air Force, which needs to replace its Raptors and F-15Cs. Like the Air Force, the Navy is looking at concepts like manned-unmanned teaming and a family of systems approach to the problem. The service has not decided what the F/A-XX will look like—but early indications are that it will be a less offensively oriented weapon than the Air Force’s F-X.

Right now, the Navy’s focus seems to be a geared toward a multirole aircraft. However, many in industry and the think-tanks like the Hudson Institute believe the Navy should focus on a jet with an air-to-air bias in light of new threats like the J-20. The F/A-XX will probably be accompanied on the flight deck by a second-generation naval unmanned combat aircraft if the Navy has its way. Only time will tell.


The U.S. Navy’s Seawolf and Virginia-class attack submarines are the most capable boats in the world. But the Navy has to prepare for a future where next-generation Russian and Chinese submarines lurk under the waves. As such, the Navy has started preparation work on the next-generation of attack submarines, which it is calling the SSN(X). Work on planning for the new vessels started last year, but the service offered some additional details at the Naval Submarine League’s annual symposium this year.

According to Naval Sea Systems Command’s George Drakely, who is the executive director of Program Executive Office-Submarines, the service plans to begin an analysis of alternatives in 2024 for the new attack boat—as reported by Seapower Magazine. Construction will probably start in in 2034. Drakely said that affordability would be a key focus of the design. The boat will make extensive use of off-board sensors.


The U.S. Navy will also have to replace its long-serving DDG-51 destroyers. The Navy has said that it is looking for a new Future Surface Combatant that would enter service in the 2030s. The new ships are expected to incorporate new technologies like lasers, electromagnetic rail guns and advanced powers systems. Those new innovations are needed to keep pace with a rapidly evolving threat—especially as potential enemies have developed precision guided weapons that can threaten the carrier strike group. Weapons like lasers and railguns would break the per shot cost curve. Instead of a $10 million SM-3 interceptor shooting down a $2 million anti-ship ballistic missile, a single railgun slug might cost a few thousand dollars.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Israel's Nightmare: Iran Buys Russia's Lethal S-300 (Again)

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Russia has reached a new agreement with Iran to supply that nation with the S-300 integrated air defense systems. News of the sale comes after Iran reached a deal to curtail its nuclear program in exchange for lifting economic sanctions.

Under the new deal, Moscow will supply a version of the powerful surface-to-air missile system to Tehran, but which version of the weapon is not clear. Nor it is clear how many batteries the Iranians are buying. However, Russian officials say that a contract has been signed and is being implemented. “The contract on S-300 systems has been signed,” Sergey Chemezov, chief executive officer of RosTec told the TASS News agency in Dubai. “I believe that Iran will withdraw its claims to us, when the first part [of the contract] is completed.”

Iran is suing Russia over a previous $800 million sale in 2007 of five battalions worth of the S-300PMU-1 missile systems in the International Court of Arbitration. Moscow suspended that deal in 2011 after the United Nations Security Council imposed sanctions on Iran over its nuclear activities. Now that a deal has been reached, Russia is planning to deliver the weapons. Given that the original deal called for the sale of five battalions worth of missiles, the new deal is likely similar in scope.

Iran originally contracted for the S-300PMU-1, but that version of the weapon is out of production. As such, Iran will either have to buy a new version of the system or existing hardware in Russia’s current inventory might be upgraded for sale. “Much time has gone by and the S-300 system has changed, so we’re working on the modernization of the system,” said Rosoboronexport general director Anatoly Isaikin according to Russian state-owned media outlet Sputnik.

Manufacturer Almaz-Antey still builds the S-300PMU-2 Favorit and the S-300VM—also known as the Antey-2500. Both have a range of more than 120 miles and can hit targets as high as 100,000ft. The weapons can engage half-a-dozen or more targets simultaneously. Either version of the weapon is extremely capable and could render entire swaths of Iran nearly invulnerable to attack via conventional strike aircraft.

As one senior U.S. Marine Corps aviator told me earlier in the year, the S-300 series is a deadly threat to everything except the most advanced stealth fighters and bombers. “A complete game changer for all fourth-gen aircraft [like the F-15, F-16 and F/A-18]. That thing is a beast and you don’t want to get near it,” he said.

Only the Lockheed Martin F-22 Raptor, F-35 and Northrop Grumman B-2 Spirit stealth bomber would be able to operate inside areas protected by those weapons. But even those aircraft could be challenged if there were enough S-300 batteries operating as part of an integrated air defense network.

The exact number and location of the S-300s would make a huge difference. The problem is further compounded by the fact that the S-300 system is mobile—and can move at a moment’s notice. “If they’re all over every square inch of the country, then it doesn’t matter what you put out there—it’s going to be a challenge,” a senior Air Force official with extensive stealth experience told me earlier in the year.

Dave Majumdar is the defense editor for The National Interest. You can follow him on Twitter: @davemajumdar.

TopicsSecurity RegionsMiddle East

Semper Fi: Happy Birthday to the United States Marine Corps

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The Marine Corps turns 240 years-old today. On November 10, 1775, the Continental Congress adopted a resolution to create a Marine force composed of two battalions. Since then, the Marines have been “from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli” and many other places as well.

You probably know that the Marine Corps’ motto is Semper Fidelis, or Semper Fi for short. It means “always faithful” in Latin, and it signifies a Marine’s loyalty both to the Corps and to the United States. What you may not know is that Semper Fi wasn’t the Corps’ motto until 1883. During its first century of existence, the Corps had a few unofficial mottos. These included “to the shores of Tripoli,” which commemorates the Marines’ service in the First Barbary War, Fortitudine (meaning “with courage”), and Per Mare, Per Terram (“by sea and by land”), which the Marines borrowed from the British Royal Marines.

No Marine has ever become president, but several have made it in politics. Secretaries of State James A. Baker and George P. Shultz both served in the Marine Corps, as did Senator John Glenn (who first gained fame as an astronaut) and legendary political consultant James Carville. Several baseball hall-of-famers are veterans of the Corps, including Rod Carew, Roberto Clemente, Eddie Collins, Bill Veeck, and Ted Williams. Marines who made it in Hollywood include Gene Hackman, Harvey Keitel, Lee Marvin, Steve McQueen, and George C. Scott. Comedians Drew Carey and Rob Riggle were Marines, as was the late, great Jonathan Winters. If you are old enough to remember Captain Kangaroo (Bob Keeshan), he was a Marine. Several famous musicians served in the Corps, including country legend George Jones, hip-hop artist Shaggy, and “The March King,” John Philip Sousa. Marines who made it in the business world include Tom Bell (Taco Bell), Tom Monaghan (Dominos), Bob Parsons(, and Fred Smith (FedEx).

The Marine Corps is the smallest of the four U.S. armed services in the Department of Defense, with roughly 185,000 active-duty personnel, deployed in the Pacific, South America, Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. To put that in perspective, the U.S. Army is about two and a half times larger with roughly 490,000 troops. But compared to most of the world’s militaries the Marine Corps is a giant. Countries that have armies smaller than the U.S. Marine Corps include France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy, and Japan.

Want to learn more about the Marine Corps? Col. Christopher McPhillips, one of five active duty U.S. military officers spending the year in CFR’s Studies Program, recommends three books in particular worth reading. Here they are, along with his brief summaries:

- Webb, James. Fields of Fire (1978). A novel about young men from different worlds plunged into jungle warfare as U.S. Marines in the An Hoa Basin of Vietnam in 1969. This book is a classic story of men under fire and combat leadership.

- Twining, Merrill B. No Bended Knee: The Battle for Guadalcanal (2004). A first person account of the battle to take Guadalcanal at all levels of war told through the eyes of the 1st Marne Divisions Operations officer.

- Gamble, Bruce. The Black Sheep: The Definitive History of Marine Fighting Squadron 214 in World War II (2007). An historical account of a famous air squadron and a detailed telling of what a typical Marine Squadron endured during the war in the Pacific.

If you want to know what all Marines are required to read, the Marine Corps has posted its reading list online. also has a great timeline of the history of the Marines.

The official YouTube page of the United States Marine Corps posted this 240th birthday message, providing a moving reminder of the heroism and sacrifices Marines have made over the years

This piece first appeared in CFR’s website here.

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

The Great Stealth Bomber Protest

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So Boeing, on behalf of its teaming arrangement with Lockheed Martin, has protested.

Late last month, the US Air Force chose Northrop Grumman to develop and build its hoped-for Long-Range Strike-Bomber (LRS-B), and the losing bidder is naturally unhappy. Two friends at the defense conference I attended last weekend expressed alternate but emotional reactions: well of course they protested said the writer; geez I was hoping they wouldn’t said the consultant. I wasn’t calling the odds, figuring that the nuances of corporate strategy and the degree of corporate indignation were unknowable. But that’s the problem with this episode of the drama—the unknowable knows inherent in this program are nearly inscrutable, but the policy implications of yet another protest are more clear.

The filing was extensively covered. Courtney Albon of Inside Defense did call Boeing's complaint “an unusually detailed statement on its decision to protest.” The simple brief on Boeing's website decried the decision process as “fundamentally flawed.” The company is certainly trying to evoke sympathy with its corporate ambitions for better public policy. “The cost evaluation,” its lawyers claimed, “did not properly reward the contractors’ proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves of defense acquisitions.” Loren Thompson, advisor to senior management at both Boeing and Lockheed, immediately covered the issue for Forbes to further explain their intent. In Defense News, Andrew Clevenger and Lara Seligman cited him as asserting that “the Boeing/Lockheed team bid $11 billion for engineering and manufacturing development (EMD), but the Air Force calculated EMD at $21.4 billion.”

How such a gap? In National Defense, Stew Magnuson wrote how Boeing complained that “the Air Force over-relied on historical data to make its decision, and ignored recent advances that Lockheed Martin has made in manufacturing processes with the F-35 program.” In the Wall Street Journal, Doug Cameron cited an unnamed source that relying on historicals rather than the contractors’ estimates “doesn’t seem to make any sense.” But is the best basis for estimating future costs really such a knowable know? Should the USAF take contractors’ word when bidding for a cost-plus contract? Should they not thoroughly check them against experience? Perhaps the Air Force also considered how Lockheed has performed on the F-35 program—at least up until those “recent advances”. That two-decade mess is also substantially the government’s fault, but even so, the JSF might not have been the best example to cite. Perhaps the service considered how well Boeing has performed recently on the KC-46A tanker program. If the company can have such trouble developing a flying gas station from a commercial airliner that first flew in 1982, then maybe the whole stealth bomber thing could be a stretch.

To be fair, defense contractors are easy targets for defense analysts like me. Building stealthy attack thingies is hard work, and has been for a long time. Back in 1994, I helped the Air Force Department analyze some details around the AGM-137 Tri-Service Standoff Attack Missile (TSSAM). Development contractor Northrop was having such trouble that by the end of the year, Deputy Defense Secretary John Deutch had terminated the program. The next year, the Pentagon’s acquisition secretariat initiated the Joint Air-to-Surface Standoff Missile (JASSM) program as a partial replacement. Lockheed bid its AGM-158 design, and McDonnell Douglas—soon to be bought by Boeing—bid its AGM-159. In 1998, the USAF chose the former, but over the next ten years, production quality problems troubled the winner. By 2009, these were mostly resolved, and the USAF has since bought thousands. The extended range version (the JASSM-ER) is now even the basis for the forthcoming Long-Range Anti-Ship Missile (LRASM), which the Navy will hang from those Boeing F-18 strike fighters that it loves so much.

AGM-137, AGM-158. TSSAM, JASSM, LRASM. Northrop, Boeing, Lockheed. Similar numbers, similar names, similar purposes, repeated problems, same contractors—all now arguing over whether two of them should get a do-over. Historically, those mulligans have been granted by the GAO at a rate of about 2 percent; this time, Byron Callan puts the odds at maybe 15 percent. Again, I have no idea, but this time, I argue that the unknowns are even less knowable. This time, the losers are protesting something that’s classified. The USAF won’t even release the amount of the winning bid, as the figure could “provide a window into the development being undertaken by the contractor.” If they’re keeping even the price from preying eyes, how much the rest of us can ever know is pretty questionable.

All the same, the leadership of the Air Force must realize the importance of knowing those future costs—to the extent that they’re at all knowable. The Congress was already experiencing serious sticker shock before the topline estimate became real. In the 2020s, the LRS-B program will absolutely compete with the JSF program for funding. In future wars, T.X. Hammes recently wrote, quantity may trump quality—so if there’s going to be an LRS-B at all, it had better be affordable. The USAF has already told the Congress that it may want well more than 100 aircraft. For the Big War in the Western Pacific, David Deptula of the Mitchell Institute (“Beyond the Bomber”) and John Stillion of the CSBA (“Trends in Air-to-Air Combat”) are talking about the potential multi-functionality of the big bomber. With added missions, though, usually come added costs.

Whatever those costs and the military need, the protestors are now asking the Government Accountability Office to substitute its judgment for that of the Air Force. For preventing fraud, corruption, or cronyism, I can agree that an appeals mechanism is a valuable public institution. But that’s not the argument here. How the GAO has the clairvoyance to assess, better than the USAF, “proposals to break the upward-spiraling historical cost curves” I cannot imagine. How the GAO would judge, with greater validity than the USAF,whether to consider those proposals with greater weight than historicals I also cannot imagine. At the end of the source selection process—stretched out for months while the USAF checked and rechecked the grading of the papers—some of the decisions had to be judgment calls. It’s understandable that Boeing protested. Unfortunately, at the end of day, we may mostly know that we’ve just lost 100 days.

James Hasík is a senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center on International Security where this piece first appeared.


The Rapid Buildup of China’s Military: The 'Intentions' Question

The Buzz

At the next presidential debate, the moderator asks: “How will you as President strategically respond to the rapid buildup and modernization of China’s military?” Each candidate’s answer will likely depend on the experts who have their ear – and what the candidates ultimately believe China’s intentions to be.

For example, experts like George Washington University’s Amitai Etzioni counsel accommodation – Etzioni sees China “as a regional, rather than global power” with “neither the capability nor evident desire to establish a new world order.”  In sharp counterpoint, the Hudson Institute’s Seth Cropsey asserts China’s “immediate goal is hegemony – to be the overlord of Asia” and insists on peace through countervailing strength.  Former Assistant Secretary of State and father of the “pivot to Asia” Kurt Campbell attempts to bridge this wide intentions gulf with the observation “it's not clear China itself knows really what it wants.”

This question of Chinese intentions is critical to determining appropriate White House policy – and whether any “pivot” to Asia is even necessary. If China seeks only to protect its homeland and guard the trading route its needs to prosper, the world has little to fear.  If, however, China seeks to seize territory and perhaps even drive the U.S. out of the Western Pacific as experts like US-China Commission member Dan Slane and University of Chicago’s John Mearsheimer insist, these decidedly bad intentions militate a far firmer presidential response.

China can certainly justify a strong military on homeland protection grounds after a Century of Humiliation involving aggression from a long list of foreign powers. There is also little question Trader China must morph from a continental-based power to a global naval force.

Indeed, as the world’s factory floor, China must continually feed its manufacturing facilities with massive quantities of natural resources from all over the world – copper from Chile, iron ore from Australia, oil from the Persian Gulf. China’s heavily export-dependent economy must also ship hundreds of billions of dollars of product to markets from Sierra Leone and Bolivia to Detroit, Frankfort, and Vancouver. As Alfred Mahan taught us long ago – and Mahanian scholars like Toshi Yoshihara and James Holmes of the U.S. Naval War College teach us today – naval power is the key to preserving one’s trading interests.

Having given China’s good intentions angel its due, there is also this insight from Dean Cheng of the Heritage Foundation: “China has a legitimate interest in preserving its trade routes and preserving access to its markets. The problem arises when China purchases systems that aren't really necessarily focused on defending things like sea lanes, but, instead, appear to be primarily focused on keeping the United States out of the Western Pacific.”  Dan Slane is even more blunt: “The Chinese are embracing their version of the Monroe Doctrine …to get us out of the Western Pacific so that they would have the ability to control that whole area of the world.”

To Professor Mearsheimer, this is perfectly rational: “The best situation for survival in the international system is to be a regional hegemon -- to be by far the most powerful state in your area of the world and make sure no distant great power has come into your region.”

As for China’s revanchist territorial ambitions, Beijing’s leaders themselves – along with People’s Liberation Army commanders – have made them abundantly clear.  While it is old news that China asserts its right to the “renegade province” of Taiwan, few outside of India realize China also claims India’s Arunachal Pradesh as “Southern Tibet.” 

In what Cambridge University’s Stefan Halper describes as a “preposterous claim,” China also asserts sovereignty over 80% of the South China Sea while it similarly lays claim to Japan’s Senkaku Islands – along with a continental shelf that runs from the Chinese mainland right up to Japan’s 12-mile territorial limit.

It is precisely because of such possibly bad intentions that this year’s bumper crop of presidential candidates must think deeply about the “China issue” and respond accordingly.  They must do so not with meaningless slogans but rather with a set of appropriately nuanced policies worthy of the word “debate.”

Peter Navarro is a professor at the University of California-Irvine.  He is the author of Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (Prometheus Books) and director of the companion Crouching Tiger documentary film series.

Image: Flickr/Creative Commons. 

TopicsSecurity RegionsAsia

Russia's Economy: What Do the Numbers Tell Us?

The Buzz

Before the Bolshevik revolution, Vladimir Lenin supposedly said “the worse the better.”  Essentially what he meant was that the more conditions deteriorated under the Russian czar (and in its aftermath) the more likely the Bolsheviks would obtain power. In this, Lenin was quite prescient.   

Today, the Russian economy has fallen into a “worse” phase. The collapse in oil prices, coupled with economic sanctions, has significantly impaired economic growth.  The question is: How bad is it, and what are the future prospects for recovery? 

In short, the prospects currently look dismal. Even a rapid and sustained resuscitation in energy prices is unlikely to restore growth to levels experienced earlier this decade.  Let’s glance at the numbers (see above for graph):  

One striking fact is that Russian growth started to decline rapidly in 2012 Q1, well before oil prices fell or economic sanctions took hold. Growth had plunged to approximately one percent before either phenomenon occurred. 

Russia’s 4 percent GDP growth rate was largely manufactured by enormous growth in consumer credit, which was not sustainable. The World Bank estimates that, by 2017, Russia’s real GDP will be smaller than it was in 2012. 

The Russian economy is seriously dependent on energy. Approximately 70 percent of its exports are hydrocarbons, and 50 percent of government revenue comes directly from the oil sector. Given this addiction, the exchange rate has collapsed to 62 rubles per dollar (as of October 2015), compared with its average of 29 rubles per dollar for the 10-year period preceding last year’s decline. Over the last year, inflation has increased from 7.8 to 15.8 percent. 

After being in surplus as recently as 2012, Moscow’s budget deficit is expected to run 4.5% of GDP in 2015. This is an enormous swing over a short period of time. According to Moody’s, the Russian Finance Ministry plans to pull more than 2 trillion rubles from one of its two sovereign wealth funds to cover the shortfall.  Finance Minister Anton Siluanov said Russia could exhaust both its funds in less than two years if it continues to rely on the reserves to balance the budget. 

The Russian Central Bank Governor stated that international reserves stood at $370 billion in early October, down from last year’s high of $510 billion. After crowing about an investment-grade sovereign debt rating for several years, Russia saw both Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s downgrade its rating this year.    

Meanwhile, consumption spending has fallen at its fastest pace since the 1998 crisis--contracting 7.5 percent in the second quarter. And the poverty rate has risen by two percent in just the last four quarters.  Twenty-two million Russians now live in poverty.  

While it is true Russia’s population has stabilized in recent years, that’s only because birth rates were relatively high during the 1980s. With birth rates collapsing during the 1990s, Russia’s population decline is set to quickly accelerate soon.     

The economic sanctions imposed after the invasion of the Crimea peninsula have produced deeper damage than anyone expected. Strict sanctions from many western countries have prevented Russian companies from raising money in Europe and the United States and have also blocked arms trades. 

The drop in the value of trade is indicative of the collapse in economic activity. During the first eight months of this year, imports have declined by 39 percent while exports have dropped by almost 30 percent. 

Looking longer term, without deep and sustained structural economic reforms, Russia, now classified as a high-income country by the World Bank, faces a bleak future. Snow blanketed Moscow the first week in October.  Russians should prepare for a long winter. 

As for that classic Lenin quote, it sparks the question: Will history repeat itself?  Russia had hoped to cut its defense spending—but given its campaign in Syria (and its earlier incursion into Ukraine), that has proved problematic. Vladimir Putin’s poll ratings are still high in Russia. But unless the economic fundamentals improve, such high poll numbers could be short lived. 

A former chief economist for Ernst & Young, William T. Wilson is a senior research fellow in The Heritage Foundation’s Asian Studies Center.

TopicsEconomics RegionsEurope