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Russia Reveals New 'Super' Aircraft Carrier Plans

The Buzz

Russia has revealed key details of a new supercarrier it plans to build.

In a new interview with IHS Jane’s, Valery Polyakov, the deputy director of Russia's government-owned Krylov State Research Center, the company designing the new carrier, outlined some new details about the ship, which is being billed as Project 23000E or Shtorm (Storm).

According to Polyakov,, the vessel will displace between 90,000 and 100,000 tons, roughly double the size of any carrier Russia has built to date. It will also be 330 meters in length, 40 meters wide, and have a draft of 11 meters. The carrier will have a cruising speed of 20 knots (kt), with a top speed of 30 kt. The vessel will also have an endurance of 120 days and require a crew of between 4,000-5,000 sailors.

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The carrier will be able to carry between 80-90 combat aircraft of various kinds. Jane’s revealed that “the model features a split air wing comprising navalised T-50 PAKFAs and MiG-29Ks, as well as jet-powered naval early warning aircraft, and Ka-27 naval helicopters.”

A mockup of the carrier built by KRSC will be unveiled at the International Maritime Defense Show 2015, Polyakov said. That show will be held July 1-5 in St. Petersburg.

In addition, the carrier mockup KRSC built has four launching positions. Two of the launching positions are of the ski-ramp variant, while the other two are electromagnetic aircraft launch systems (EMALS), which the U.S. Navy itself just tested last week. As the U.S. Navy explained in a press release announcing the test, EMALS offer a number of advantages over the traditional steam-based launch systems.

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“Using electromagnetic technology, the system delivers substantial improvements in system maintenance, increased reliability and efficiency, higher-launch energy capacity, and more accurate end-speed control, with a smooth acceleration at both high and low speeds. By allowing linear acceleration over time, electromagnetic catapults also place less stress on the aircraft.”

One of the major shortcomings of the vessel, as currently designed, is that it will be powered by a conventional power plant, rather than a nuclear one. This could be later changed, per the customer’s wishes, Polyakov said.

In the Jane’s interview, Polyakov also detailed some of envisioned missions of the proposed heavy aircraft carrier: "The Project 23000E multipurpose aircraft carrier is designed to conduct operations in remote and oceanic areas, engage land-based and sea-borne enemy targets, ensure the operational stability of naval forces, protect landing troops, and provide the anti-aircraft defense."

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Reports that Russia was planning a new aircraft carrier first emerged in local media back in February. Those reports were confirmed by Russia’s naval chief the following month. "The Navy will have an aircraft carrier. The research companies are working on it, and strictly in compliance with the requirements from the Chief Commander," Viktor Chirkov, Russia’s top naval officer, said at the time.

Russia currently operates one carrier, the Admiral Kuznetsov, which was launched by the Soviet Union back in 1985. This should make it easier for Russia to construct a new aircraft carrier than a country like China, which has less experience with naval aviation than Moscow.

That being said, the proposed new carrier will be exponentially more complicated to build than Russian and Soviet carriers of the past. As such, it is extremely likely that the proposed Shtorm carrier will never come to fruition, especially given Russia’s mounting fiscal difficulties. As Jim Holmes wisely counseled, “Let’s not make too much of this.”

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

TopicsSecurity RegionsEurasia

Iran, Israel, and the North Korea Analogy

Paul Pillar

One of the lines of attack against the agreement to limit Iran's nuclear program is to liken it to the case of North Korea, with which the United States and other powers reached a deal in 1994—the so-called “Agreed Framework”—that did not stop North Korea from building and testing nuclear weapons. The most prominent opponent of any agreement with Iran, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been among those who have tried to make this comparison. The comparison ignores many large and important differences between the two cases.

Even just a few of those differences are sufficient to show how misplaced the comparison is. Start with the nature of the regimes involved. Iran, despite its complicated institutional arrangements that constitute departures from full democracy, has a political system in which responsiveness to public demands and expectations matters. The political futures not only of President Rouhani but also of the supreme leader depend in large part on satisfying expectations for economic improvement that could come only from adherence to an agreement with the West that would bring some relief from economic sanctions. In Pyongyang, in contrast, is a family-led band of thugs posing as a government that has had no compunction about pursuing policies that have caused mass starvation among the North Korean population.

The agreement being negotiated by Iran and the P5+1 is nothing at all like the North Korean Agreed Framework, apart from each having to do with nuclear matters. The Agreed Framework was a sketchy four-page document that provided for little in the way of monitoring and enforcement. In contrast, the leading feature of the agreement being negotiated with Iran is its unprecedented degree of monitoring and inspections. The final agreement will have an enforcement and dispute resolution mechanism consistent with the Additional Protocol pertaining to work of the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The agreement with Iran addresses, comprehensively and in detail, all possible routes to a nuclear weapon, from the mining of uranium to the internal design of nuclear reactors. In contrast, the Agreed Framework was a deal about reactors that did not address the uranium enrichment route at all.

As sketchy as the Agreed Framework was, it was broader than the Iran agreement in that part of the bargain was that in return for the restrictions North Korea was accepting on its nuclear program the United States was expected not only to provide help in building proliferation-resistant reactors but also to provide fuel oil and to move toward normal political and economic relations. In contrast, the Iran agreement is sharply focused on nuclear matters. Although successful implementation of the agreement might lead to worthwhile dialogue on other topics, the agreement will stand or fall on compliance by both sides regarding nuclear-related obligations.

This broader though vaguer aspect of the Agreed Framework was a large reason for the breakdown of the deal. However questionable North Korea's own behavior was, the North Koreans had good reason to be disappointed with what they regarded as Washington's failure to live up to its obligations. In addition to the aid in building new reactors never fully materializing, the Clinton administration was slow in moving toward more normal relations. The George W. Bush administration had even less interest in moving in that direction; it consigned North Korea to the Axis of Evil and was talking publicly about militarily attacking North Korea before Pyongyang withdrew from the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty and proceeded with its bomb-building program.

The compliance issues stemming from the Agreed Framework point to one worthwhile lesson to be applied to the Iranian case, and this has to do with the care and attention required in implementing an agreement. There will need to be more care and attention—and there is no reason there cannot be—in scrupulously living up to obligations in the agreement between Iran and the P5+1 than there was with North Korea if the Iranian agreement is to succeed. The experience of North Korea is one of the reasons for well-founded Iranian suspicion and doubt about the willingness of the United States to live up to its side of the deal. (Other reasons include some actions by the U.S. Treasury Department since the reaching of the preliminary agreement with Iran in 2013, and the majority party in the U.S. Congress saying it might destroy the deal once it has the ability to do so). The suspicion and doubt about U.S. compliance explain Iranian determination to retain certain capabilities, such as the underground facility at Fordo, that could function as an insurance policy should the agreement break down.

There is one other valid parallel between North Korea and what's going on now regarding the Iran negotiations. One of the most distinctive aspects of the North Korean regime's international behavior is to make trouble, and to threaten to make even more trouble, as a way of getting attention and getting its way on something else. The troublesome act that functions as a signal might be some bellicose action against South Korea, the firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, or something else. The nuclear weapons program also serves this purpose: North Korea threatens to be a troublesome proliferator and actually is troublesome along this line, as a way of trying to get material aid and recognition. The chief trouble-maker during the nuclear negotiations with Iran—the actor that has been endeavoring to sabotage the negotiations at every turn—is Netanyahu's Israeli government. Motivated less by the nuclear issue itself than by a desire to keep Iran ostracized and isolated, the Israeli government is not about to end its sabotage efforts. But it is now thinking of how it can use the threat of more troublemaking on the issue to get some other benefits for itself. This means telling the Obama administration to pay up or else face continued vigorous efforts by Israel to use its influence in Congress to derail the deal even after it is signed and has entered into force.

Israel doesn't have the material needs that North Korea does, but it always will welcome more advanced armaments to make its regional military superiority even more overwhelmingly superior—in addition, of course, to the United States providing unstinting political cover in international organizations for Israeli policies. The opportunities for Israel to exert this kind of pressure are enhanced by its tag-team effort with the Gulf Arabs, who have been making their own demands for more advanced arms. Then, invoking the article of faith that Israel always must be militarily superior to the Arab states, the Israeli demands go even higher.

Some of the Israeli government's followers in the U.S. Congress are going even farther and urging that Israel be given bunker-buster bombs. This would facilitate Israel being able to threaten a even greater degree of trouble: not just political shenanigans in Congress, but starting a new war in the Middle East—which would not only kill the nuclear agreement for sure but also cause all manner of other untoward consequences.

The Obama administration probably is going to have to allow itself, lest the benefits of the nuclear agreement be lost, to be bullied into playing to some degree this extortionate game. But playing it is still distasteful, and still damaging to sound and credible U.S. foreign policy, whether those imposing the game do so with a Korean accent or an Israeli one. 

TopicsIran Israel North Korea RegionsMiddle East

America in 2015: Democracy, Republic or Aristocracy?

The Buzz

In the United States, most citizens are taught from elementary school on up that the American form of government – democracy – is the best, most fair means of governance in the world.  Others will point out that in reality our country is a Republic, as James Madison described in the famed Federalist #10 in 1787.  But in practical terms, do either of those terms describe the American form of government today?  The results of an analysis released last week by OpenSecrets.org indicate that the term most approximating the genuine nature of the U.S. political system today would be “aristocracy.”

Most Americans would chafe at such a suggestion, pointing to the fact that every two years a new Congress is voted into office by the people.  Any time the constituents don’t like their representative, the thought goes, they are free to vote him or her out.  While it is true that mechanism exists and on occasion the people do actually send a representative packing (as happened in 2014 when incumbent Congressman Eric Cantor was defeated by a virtual unknown in his party’s primary), it is extremely rare. 

In the 2014 federal elections, a staggering 96% of all incumbents were reelected, despite the fact the body had a disapproval rating of 83% heading into the vote.  How can this be?  If the people are so dissatisfied with their representatives and the people have the power to vote them out of office, why would they choose to reelect virtually all of them? 

In a word: Money.

While voters readily agree there is “too much money in politics”, few are aware of what that money actually does to the electoral system or exactly why it’s bad.  As the following data confirms, however, the excessive amount of money that has saturated our political system over the past few decades has effectively eliminated the ability of regular Americans to influence the outcome of elections and has handed an electoral monopoly to a tiny elite class of wealthy Americans.

On April 30, OpenSecrets.org published a report analyzing the outcome of the 2014 midterm elections which revealed that a tiny minority of wealthy Americans had more influence over the outcome of the election than the balance of the nation’s 319 million citizens.  The report noted that this tiny group of the wealthy elite “accounted for an astounding $1.18 billion in disclosed political contributions at the federal level. Those big givers — what we have termed the Political One Percent of the One Percent — have a massively outsized impact on federal campaigns.”

In the 2014 elections – as was the case in the 2012 Congressional elections before it – not one single candidate won a seat in Congress who did not get money from this group.  But it gets worse.  The average winning House seat in 2014 cost $1.2 million.  If a person isn’t wealthy enough on their own or have the ability to raise such huge amounts, they are barred from even competing.  Thus, by bankrolling the candidates of their choice with so much cash, this “Political One Percent of the One Percent” effectively performs a “gatekeeper” function so that only other wealthy elite candidates get to stand for election.  Consider the ramifications of those facts.

With only rare exceptions, the only people who are able to compete to serve in our nation’s legislature are those who are independently wealthy or are able to make successful financial appeals to the “Political One Percent of the One Percent.”  Everyone else is excluded.  Dictionary.com defines aristocracy as “a government or state ruled by an…elite or privileged upper class.”  Given the set of facts that govern our political system today, by definition the United States is not a representative democracy.  As distasteful as it is for us to contemplate, we must admit “aristocracy” comes closer to the mark, as a small elite, privileged class does presently rule the U.S. electoral system.

When projections for political spending during the 2016 cycle are as high as $12 billion, what chance does anyone have to resist?  The analytics don’t lie: the American political system is now effectively controlled by a neo-aristocracy.  Within a number of weeks I will retire from the United States Army where I have served almost 21 years on active duty, including four combat deployments.  I have spent the majority of my adult life serving the people of this country and pledging to support and defend the U.S. Constitution – not the preferences and interests of an aristocratic elite.

As I retire from the active Army, I will be transitioning my service to the country to a different venue by establishing a 501c3 nonprofit called Democracy Awake, dedicated to the prospect of returning democratic power and influence to the American people.  If we are able to raise the necessary funds, we will provide a number of no-cost products and services to the American people for the 2016 cycle that has a chance of giving them greater influence over the electoral system (please see www.democracyawake.org for more information). 

What we propose to do is unprecedented and has never been attempted in the history of American politics. I obviously cannot guarantee our effort will succeed.  What I can promise, however, is that if we do not try, if the people of this country remain passive in light of the political power amassed by this tiny wealthy elite, their power will continue to increase as the influence of the people shrinks even smaller.  By birth-right this country belongs to all the people.  It is time for us to wake up to these new realities before we lose this precious birth-right.

Daniel L. Davis is a retired Lt. Col. in the US Army.  He served four combat tours, including both Iraq and Afghanistan.  He was the 2012 Ridenhour winner of the Truth Telling prize.

Image: Wikicommons. 

TopicsDemocracy RegionsUnited States

Is U.S. Foreign Policy Making Americans Less Safe?

The Buzz

Senior U.S. intelligence and counterterrorism officials increasingly warn of the threat of “lone wolf” individuals attempting terror attacks within the United States. These potential perpetrators are characterized as externally motivated, but predominantly self-directed in plotting and attempting acts of politically and/or ideologically motivated violence. They need not travel to purported foreign “safe havens” to receive training or guidance, nor be in direct contact with terrorist organizations based abroad. Rather, their inspiration, in large part, appears to stem from the principles and narratives promoted by Islamist jihadist groups.

On February 12, National Counterterrorism Center Director Nicholas Rasmussen told the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:

“We face a much greater, more frequent, recurring threat from lone offenders and probably loose networks of individuals. Measured in terms of frequency and numbers, it is attacks from those sources that are increasingly the most noteworthy…”

On February 26, during the annual worldwide threats hearing, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper warned:

“Home-grown violent extremists continue to pose the most likely threat to the homeland.”

Last Friday, Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson stated on MSNBC:

“We’re in a new phase…in the global terrorist threat where, because of effective use of social media, the Internet, by ISIL, al-Qaeda, we have to be concerned about the independent actor who is here in the homeland who may strike with little or no warning…”

Finally, yesterday, former CIA deputy director Michael Morell described the messaging efforts of jihadist groups generally and the self-declared Islamic State (IS) more specifically:

“Their narrative is pretty powerful: The West, the United States, the modern world, is a significant threat to their religion. Their answer to that is to establish a caliphate. And they are being attacked by the U.S. and other Western nations, and by these apostate regimes in the region. Because they are being attacked they need support in two ways; people coming to fight for them, and people coming to stand up and attack coalition nations in their home.”

In summary, the most likely—though not most lethal—terror threats to Americans come from individuals living within the United States who are partially motivated to undertake self-directed attacks based upon their perception that the United States and the West are at war with the Muslim world.

Remarkably, these two observations have had virtually no impact on U.S. foreign policy discourse. In Washington, there is an agreed-upon, bipartisan understanding that under no circumstances will officials or politicians acknowledge, or even explore, the concept that foreign policy activities might play a role in compelling U.S. residents, who would not otherwise consider terrorism, to plot and attempt attacks. This is somewhat understandable given that there are many different backgrounds, experiences, and precursors that lead people to become violent extremists. Yet, whereas there are constant hearings and debates—even White House summits—about how to “counter violent extremism,” there is rarely any consideration of which U.S. foreign policy activities might themselves be precursors to U.S. terrorism.

In fact, the only foreign policy decisions that the Obama administration admits might inspire terrorism are those made by Obama’s predecessor. The first is one that the White House has tried to reverse since January 2009: detaining terror suspects at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Most recently, at a House Armed Services Committee hearing on March 18, Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter endorsed closing the military prison because, “It still provides a rallying point for Jihadi recruiting.” The other decision is the 2003 invasion of Iraq; as President Obama stated on March 17, “ISIL is a direct outgrowth of al-Qaeda in Iraq that grew out of our invasion, which is an example of unintended consequences.”

Of course, another unintended consequence emerged from the U.S.-led airwar in 2011 that ensured the toppling of Muammar al-Qaddafi in Libya.  As a U.S. military official told the Wall Street Journal today, “ISIL now has an operational presence in Libya, and they have aspirations to make Libya their African hub. Libya is part of their terror map now.”  Compare this recent warning to how the State Department described Libya on the eve of the 2011 airwar: “The Libyan government continued to demonstrate a strong and active commitment to combating terrorist organizations and violent extremism through bilateral and regional counterterrorism and security cooperation, particularly on the issue of foreign fighter flow to Iraq.”  Now, foreign fighters are flowing from Iraq and Syria to establish a stronghold in Libya. This is clearly an unintended, though not at all unsurprising, consequence, but not one that the Obama administration will acknowledge because it happened under its watch.

More critically, what foreign policy activities are bolstering the narrative of Islamic jihadist groups today? Is it really just the 122 terror suspects still in Guantanamo? What about drone strikes, which themselves are universally hated? Or, what of the support for President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi in Egypt, whose government sentenced that country’s first elected leader to death this week? Finally, is the U.S.-led airwar against IS fueling that narrative and making the likelihood of lone wolf attacks within the United States more likely?

What else is the United States doing abroad that could be making Americans less safe from lone wolf terrorism at home? Why is this never asked or considered when officials and politicians discuss how the thirteen-and-a-half-year war on terrorism is progressing?

This piece first appeared on CFR’s blog Politics, Power and Preventive Action here

TopicsSecurity RegionsUnited States

Lifting the Veil on Asia's Greatest Fear: A Deadly Arms Race

The Buzz

Last month, Thailand’s navy requested funding for a submarine program which, when finalized, will make it the region’s eighth submarine-equipped nation—joining Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Vietnam, Taiwan, India, and Australia. The Philippines, Thailand, and Bangladesh, meanwhile, have all expressed interest in acquiring submarine fleets. As tensions in the South China Sea continue to escalate, this arms race poses a significant threat to the security of the region.

The rapid improvement of military capabilities in Southeast Asia has not deterred China, however, which continues to construct man-made islands and runways on partially submerged coral reefs. In response to the naval build-up in the region, Beijing, which boasts the world’s largest submarine fleet, has begun to double down on its anti-submarine warfare (ASW) capabilities.  Take, for instance, the recent addition of the GX-6 anti-submarine aircraft, which will enhance PLA maritime patrols and reconnaissance while expanding China’s ASW capabilities by over six-hundred miles. China is also investing heavily in sea-floor mapping and sonar technology to improve its intelligence and tracking abilities, part of an announced 10.1 percent increase in its 2015 defense spending, bringing its total defense budget to $145 billion dollars.

In turn, neighboring countries are scrambling to enhance their naval and air capabilities with the help of the United States and its allies; last week, the United States approved a $130 million deal to upgrade Singapore’s F-16 program; the State Department recently approved missile sales to Indonesia and Malaysia, worth $47 million and $21 million, respectively; Japan could very well soon sell some of its submarines—considered by many some of the best in the world—to Australia; the Philippines are moving to procure stealth frigates, anti-submarine helicopters, and guided missile fast attack craft (FAC) to deter “Chinese aggression” with the help of U.S. foreign military financing; and Taiwan just announced that it will deploy its P-3C Orion maritime patrol aircraft, recently acquired from the United States, to conduct operations in the South China Sea.

Clearly, U.S. policymakers believe the best strategy for discouraging Chinese aggression in the South China Sea is to arm U.S. allies in the region. What Washington must recognize, however, is that foreign military sales have unintended consequences. With more capabilities and vessels deployed in the disputed territory, a small skirmish could ignite an all-out crisis. In December 2013, a Chinese vessel in the South China Sea cut in front of a U.S cruiser, forcing the U.S. ship to execute an emergency maneuver to narrowly avoid a crash. Last August, the Pentagon reported a near-collision between a Chinese jet and an American ASW aircraft over the South China Sea. Now, with no less than nine countries laying claim to parts of the South China Sea and populating the disputed waters with additional submarines, aircraft, and other vessels, the chance of an accidental—or intentional—collision continues to increase. If the United States wants to reduce the risk of conflict, it needs a new strategy.

Long-term, a code of conduct (COC) is essential for limiting the risk of this arms race, if not ending it entirely. The COC negotiations, however, have thus far failed to produce any real results. The first round of negotiations, held in September 2013 in Beijing, concluded with an agreement to pursue “gradual progress and consensus through consultations.” A year and a half later, few signs of progress exist. Meanwhile, China has given no indication that it plans to limit its activities in the region.

To mitigate the risk of accidental collisions and intimidation tactics, the United States and its allies should focus on establishing an information-sharing center in the region to ensure high-level communication between all involved parties. Existing mechanisms, such as the Code for Unalerted Encounters at Sea (CUES), provide a framework for establishing dialogue among countries in the region in the event of air or sea encounters. Expanding the role of the CUES (or creating a new mechanism altogether) could mark important progress in resolving the dispute. Creating an advanced communication center in the South China Sea isn’t enough on its own, but it’s a start. And in a rapidly militarizing region, any development is an important step towards a peaceful solution.

This piece first appeared on CFR’s blog Defense in Depth here.

TopicsDefense RegionsAsia

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