All posts in “Geopolitics”

PLA Navy, Recruiting and Strategic Communications

Recently – earlier this week in fact, the People’s Liberation Army (Navy), or PLAN, released a new recruiting video as part of a larger push begun in early August by the PLA for more recruits – and especially those with degrees.  Pushed to YouTube and other social media, it is at once slick and highlights the latest in the PLAN and PLANAF’s inventory (or at least the best CGI can bring):

Full length video here.

The video itself is broken into four defined segments – and here is where it gets interesting. The four segments: ‘Our Dream,’ ‘Call to Duty,’ ‘Honor of Gene'(sic), and ‘Seeking Blue Dream’ are also the only segments with English subtitles, save for the ending frames, and we will see why that is particularly intriguing and cautionary in a few.  I’ve taken the liberty to excise two of the segments – ‘Call to Duty’ and ‘Honor of Gene’ (let’s just agree to call it ‘Gene of Honor’… – SJS) for a little more detailed breakdown.

But first some background.

Our (remaining) stalwart readers will recall our calling attention some five years ago to the the importance of the South China Sea (and East China Sea too) and some particularly aggressive moves and statements made by the civilian Chinese researchers and explorers at the time.  Since then – especially in the past 4-6 months, the frenetic island building campaign by the Chinese in the Spratlys and elsewhere in the SCS has (finally) started to garner world attention.  While there are any number of articles, posts, etc. available on the web and elsewhere, the single best “go to” resource I have found and strongly recommend is the Center for Strategic & International Studies’ Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative.  As described at their website:

The maritime environment in East Asia contains both promise and peril. The Indo-Pacific region is host to some of the world’s most important shipping lanes, facilitates huge volumes of regional trade, and boasts abundant natural resources. Competing territorial claims, incidents between neighboring countries, and increasing militarization, however, raise the possibility that an isolated event at sea could become a geopolitical catastrophe. This is all occurring against a backdrop of relative opaqueness. Geography makes it difficult to monitor events as they occur, and there is no public, reliable authority for information on maritime developments.

The Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative seeks to change this. AMTI was conceived of and designed by CSIS. It is an interactive, regularly-updated source for information, analysis, and policy exchange on maritime security issues in Asia. AMTI aims to promote transparency in the Indo-Pacific to dissuade assertive behavior and conflict and generate opportunities for cooperation and confidence building. Because AMTI aims to provide an objective platform for exchange, AMTI and CSIS take no position on territorial or maritime claims. For consistency, all geographic locations are identified using the naming conventions of the United States Government as determined by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names. – AMTI, 8 Aug 2015

Among the very useful resources at the site is the interactive timeline covering over 175 years of history in the Asian maritime domain.  For a relatively quick (ok, a good afternoon’s worth of time) survey of the history of the region is necessary to understand the complex relationships between overlapping claims, recognitions and the blood spilled over dashed lines on the chart.  Which brings me back to the topic at hand — the recruiting video.  See, while watching there were a couple of scenes that grabbed my attention for their placement within a recruiting video.  About 0:45 into the first clip below, following an extended sequence showing a fair bit of humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HADR) footage there is a cut to a sequence of islands – prominently featuring the Senkaku () Islands (Japan) or Diaoyu (钓鱼附属岛屿) Islands as they are called on mainland China:

Senkaku Islands

Additional imagery from what may well be the Paracel islands (in conflict with Vietnam) and Spratlys (in conflict with pretty much the rest of the SCS littoral) is followed by an orgy of ordnance from the modern day PLAN to underscore the point about capability and capacity of the PLAN.  But lest there be any doubt about China’s intent; be it prospective recruits with shaky patriotism or lesser nations and their hegemonic/interloper supporters, then the first few seconds of the second video should remove that doubt – at least that appears to be the intent.  Here is the key image:



What are you viewing?  This is a reconstruction of the naval clash that took place on 14 Mar 1988 on Johnson Reef in the Spratlys between Vietnam and China.  Accounts will vary depending on if you follow the Chinese or Vietnamese version – but PLAN film footage that surfaced around 2009 seems to validate the Vietnamese version.  In summary:

The 1988 clash at Johnson Reef saw Chinese naval frigates sink two Vietnamese ships, leaving 64 sailors dead – some shot while standing on a reef – and remains a point of friction between the two nations. But its broader significance lies in the strategic nature of the operation.

The battle’s aftermath saw China take and secure its first six holdings in the Spratlys – fortifications that remain important today, with one at Fiery Cross reef housing an early warning radar. Fourteen years earlier the PLA navy had routed the South Vietnamese navy to complete its occupation of the Paracels to the north – islands being built up into a formidable military base.
– Source: SCMP, Mar 2013

Here is a screen capture of the mostly unarmed Vietnamese workers holding their position, waist deep in water on the reef, as Chinese marines approached to move them off.


The video clip below (source) tells the rest of the story:

Sixty-four lightly and unarmed Vietnamese cut down and two transports sunk.  Hardly the heroic warship – to – warship slugfest the PLAN video made Johnson Reef out to be.  Indeed, this clip provides significant insight into the Chinese character and approach to conflict (and deterrence), especially when viewed in other engagements with India and Russia.  For those that think we can pull the Cold War playbook down off the bookshelf and use the same deterrence models – I would urge caution and a deeper study of what Kissinger called the Chinese “Offensive Deterrence” in his work, On China.

So – a recruiting video that (a) makes a case for China as a maritime nation (sequences 1 and 4) and reinforces its claims to disputed territory in the ECS/SCS via reconstructed (and retold) historical imagery interposed with images of a modern day PLAN’s range of capabilities.  I would argue it is indeed, less a recruiting video for more bodies and more a piece of educational video (“Why we need a navy”) directed at the larger domestic audience and a quiescently crafted piece of stratcom directed at China’s neighbors and you-know-who lurking over the horizon. An interesting exercise in messaging and filmaking when viewed in a vacuum – but China never does things in a vacuum.  On the 70th anniversary of the surrender of Japan, with attention of the world starting to focus in on the island building campaign in the SCS and direct pushback from the Philippines, Vietnam, Japan and possible regional cooperation to counter China’s push that is gaining US support and cooperation, one can, I believe, make a strong case that this is the opening fusilade of the social media and communications war to signal China’s intent and determination as the islands reach completion and IOC.

And about that end sequence…

“Sail on the broad sea and be brave and courageous”

Oh, BTW – anyone remember this from the 2007-2008 timeframe?  Has a familiar, er, tone about it…




Protests in Ukraine – a ‘Blue’ Revolution?

Quick overview of why the protests in #Ukraine today- (Source: Radio Free Europe)

— Until late November, President Viktor Yanukovych had said he intended to sign a pact with Europe, but backed out after pressure from Moscow. He also refused to allow former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko to leave prison for medical care in Germany — a key European demand.
— Early on November 30, riot police broke up a protest encampment in Kyiv’s Independence Square. Video showed police using batons and tear gas and Yanukovych said he was “deeply outraged” by the use of force. European and American officials also condemned the violence.
— Some 10,000 protesters regrouped later in the day, gathering in Kyiv’s Mikhailovska Square.
— The opposition is calling for early elections, a general strike to begin on December 2, and the impeachment and resignation of Yanukovych.
— The protest movement is being called “Euromaidan” (евромайдан), in reference to Kyiv’s Independence Square.


This Week on MIDRATS: “Let’s Talk Missiles” – UPDATED


Join us for Midrats this Sunday, 22 July 2012 on blogtalk radio, where the topic is missiles – ballistic and cruise; and your humble scribe is the guest.  Seven months into this year and we have seen much on this front.  Pick a theater and you will find ballistic and cruise missiles are at or near the top of the various COCOM’s top 5 concerns.  A report released by DoD a few weeks back states in part:

Iran continues to develop ballistic missiles that can range regional adversaries, Israel, and Eastern Europe, including an extended-range variant of the Shahab-3 and a 2,000-krn medium-range ballistic missile, the Ashura. Beyond steady growth in its missile and rocket inventories, Iran has boosted the lethality and effectiveness of existing systems by improving accuracy and developing new sub-munition payloads. – Annual Report on the Military Strength of Iran

At the same time, Iran has also been working at developing forces and tactics that will be used in an anti-access campaign to close the Strait of Hormuz and threaten regional naval and land forces should it decide to retaliate against growing sanctions over its nuclear program.

In the Pacific, besides the world’s largest and most robust program in developing and deploying a range of ballistic missiles from short- to inter-continental, they are likewise building a range of cruise missiles for land-attack and anti-ship that are both formidable in number and capability:

The PLA is acquiring large numbers of highly accurate, domestically built cruise missiles, and has previously acquired large numbers of Russian ones. These include the domestically produced, ground- launched CJ-10 land-attack cruise missile (LACM); the domestically produced ground- and ship-launched YJ-62 anti-ship cruise missile (ASCM); the Russian SS-N-22/SUNBURN supersonic ASCM, which is fitted on China’s SOVREMENNY-class guided missile destroyers; and the Russian SS-N-27B/SIZZLER supersonic ASCM on China’s Russian-built KILO-class diesel-powered attack submarines. – Annual Report to Congress: Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China, May 2012

If past practice is prologue, we can expect to see domestic variants of the Russian-sourced cruise missiles in the near future (witness the SU-27 v. J-11).  Again, all part of a larger Advanced-A2/AD strategy being put into play as we in turn conduct the “Pacific pivot”.  And need we mention Syria, with its inventory of missiles and extensive chemical weapons arsenal, teetering on the brink of chaos and their  practice of passing missiles to Hezbollah?

Joint ventures of the sort between Russia and India that yielded the BrahMOS ASCM/LACM will increasingly become more common.  And with a world increasingly awash in growing numbers of ballistic and cruise missiles, how long before a non-state actor obtains, and uses, these sophisticated, technical weapons systems?  Oh wait – that’s already happened.  Just ask the Israeli navy

Oh, and did I mention hypersonics too?

Today’s warfighters find themselves in a complex, multi-layered and highly nuanced threat environment – one that parallels the multi-polar world that has emerged in the past two decades.  Successfully operating in this environment will require that we open the aperture on kinetic and non-kinetic solutions and take an integrated approach to air and missile defense.

Just some of the things we’ll be talking about Sunday afternoon.  Why don’t you join us?

Here’s today’s transcript:

Listen to internet radio with Midrats on Blog Talk Radio


P.S.  A little read-ahead if you’d like for background:

Everything Old is New Again*

* Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Embrace The Bad Old Days

Get out your white suit, your tap shoes and tails
Let’s go backwards when forward fails
And movie stars you thought were alone then
Now are framed beside your bed

Don’t throw the pa-ast away
You might need it some rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again

– Peter Allen, ‘Everything Old is New Again

There was a point, a decade or so ago (OK, maybe two decades back), when I thought some of my bete noirs, like medium- and intermediate range ballistic missiles and long-range cruise missile-armed supersonic bombers were going to go skulking off into that not-so-gentle night.  Alas, it appears not so:

A move by Russia to sell its production line of Tu-22M3 long-range bombers to China for US$1.5 billion to China was confirmed by the US-based US-China Economic and Security Review Commission two years ago and the bomber’s name will be changed to the Hong-10, reports the state-run China News Service  … The Hong-10, whose components will all be produced in China with the exception of the engine, is expected to fly in the second half of next year, and the country will produce 36 aircraft in the first batch to be delivered to the air force. One of world’s fastest long-range bombers which can also carry atomic weapons, the plane can cover the South China Sea, East China Sea and even the western Pacific.  Sources here and here.

So now, along with pondering MRBMs that may be the Pershing II re-incarnated, alongside bulked up Badgers, we have the prospect of the Backfire being introduced into the increasingly volatile mix that constitutes the Far East Theater.  Mah-velous.  Previously rebuffed in the late 80’s/early 90’s by the Russians who didn’t want to upset the balance of forces in theater, the Chinese evidently closed the deal in 2010 to domestically produce up to 36 Tu-22M3 Backfires (Domestic designation: H-10) with the engines to be supplied by Russia – an agreement all the more curious because of the very real anger the Russians have (had?) over the Chinese knock-off production of the Su-27SK that formed the basis of the J-11 family and the navalized J-15 without paying the attending license-fees.

While it is easy to wave the “game changer” flag, the appearance of the H-10 in the region, especially in terms of coverage in the SCS and as a possible LACM platform for strikes against Guam, will be cause for more concern and an additional complication in the “Pacific pivot.”  Already, H-6’s and H-6K’s running around the region with a variety of sub- and supersonic cruise missiles are cause for concern, and now, just as in the ‘Good/Bad Old Days’ the appearance of the Backfire on the stage once again places a premium on our ability to reach out and touch at long ranges, the archer before he has the option to shoot his arrows – rebuilding the Outer Air Battle as it were, but in an updated form to handle an updated threat and under conditions we didn’t necessarily have to face in the Cold War.   It also means stepping up our training and putting renewed emphasis on countering the reconnaissance-strike complex that would support the H-6/H-10 (and ASBMs for that matter) – time to get serious about OPDEC, EMCON and a host of other TTPs we became very practiced with during the 80’s but have let atrophy over the years.  Oh, and did I mention the need for some really, really good AEW? 😉

And do-on’t throw the past away
You might need it some other rainy day
Dreams can come true again
When everything old is new again
When everything old i-is new-ew a-again

The Missiles of Spring: 2012 Edition

Stick around any job long enough and pretty soon you’ll find a pattern of repetition or cycles will emerge.  When on active duty, it was inexorably tied to the CVW turnaround training cycle.  This year we are now on the threshold of the 3rd North Korean space launch vehicle (SLV) attempt since 2006 and the 4th overall since 1998 and my third participation in one form or another thereof (for the record, they are batting .000 with an Oh-for-3 record since 1998 – kind of like how the Red Sox and Yankees started the year, eh?).  At least this time they had the good grace not to screw with a 4-day holiday weekend.  Given this Northeast Asian 21st century meme, I thought we might take a moment and breakdown aspects of the launch and the SLV as it will provide a basis for comparison with the next in the series on the Atlas – our first ICBM and workhorse SLV from almost a half-century ago.

Continue Reading…

What We’re Reading – And Why

The Current "Stack of Shame"

A quick look at the sidebar will reveal a variety and number of books read over the course of the past year, oft times engendering discussions off-site as to selections and purpose.  Looking at the current working stack on my desk, I thought I’d take this opportunity to talk to why these particular selections.

My first read of Kissinger’s book got me thinking about deterrence theories that emerged during the Cold War, how they were put on the shelf 20 years ago when the Soviet Union disappeared and now, how some folks think we can just pull them off the shelf and apply them to China.  Problem is, not only do I think those theories may not apply, they may in fact, carry us down avenues with results quite different than we intended.  Part of my studies and work on theater nuclear forces was grounded in a better understanding of Russian culture as applied to Soviet deterrence practices across a range of operations, theaters and levels of war.  That I ended up disagreeing with the prevailing (at the time) school of thought shouldn’t come as a surprise to readers here – and neither should my initial thoughts laid out above vis-a-vis China.  This isn’t just in the nuclear arena, but even more so conventional as we look at the array of advanced anti-access/area denial forces being fielded by China, employable outside of a conflict over Taiwan.  So – I’m taking a historical perspective/approach looking at China’s actions in a conventional realm versus near peer (conventional) powers and major nuclear power.  There is a pattern that points to an offensive deterrence that, during a confrontation, has led to fairly aggressive actions that incurred substantive losses on the other party’s account, followed by a rapid withdrawal from overrun territory by Chinese forces to show occupation wasn’t their intent.  A noteworthy element of these actions though, and one that must be factored into the analysis is that these case histories stem from Mao’s reign and a PLA that was short on technology and long on manpower (ground forces) which runs counter to the decade-long modernization and overhaul in doctrine and operations (epitomized, for example, by the development and wide deployment of a range of conventional ballistic missiles).  Additionally, while most of the Party leadership were veterans of the Long March and Korea and as such, had experience with military operations, today’s Party leadership has at best, passing acquaintance with military operations and requirements.  In such a scenario, will there be more deference given plan and COAs sourced from the military — IOW, a tendency to accept at face value n the part of Party leadership?  As I delve into this issue, these are some of the questions I am asking myself and which form the entering argument with the publications above.

  • Russia, NATO BMD and the INF Treaty:
Nervov, RSVN (Strategic Missile Troops) Missile Complexes Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty; Text and Annexes National Defense University, Case Studies: U.S. Withdrawal from the Antiballistic Missile Treaty Podvig, Russian Strategic Nuclear Forces Stav, The Threat of Ballistic Missiles in the Middle East

When the US withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, there was a varied response from Russia, ranging from Putin’s non-committal “do what you must” to statements from the Defense Minister and Chief of Staff that Russia would investigate dropping out of the INF Treaty.  In the intervening years since, this threat was rolled out on various occasions when the Russians wanted to highlight their concern over various aspects of the US efforts to develop and deploy ballistic missile defense.  Since the initial announcement of the European Initiative in 2007  (basing 10 ground-based interceptors in Poland, supported by an X-band radar in the Czech Republic) it has become a recurring theme, in concert with “other military-technical means.”  This begs a couple of questions – namely, what are the real motivations behind the rhetoric, what real benefits would Russia accrue in stepping away from the first bi-lateral nuclear treaty that banned an entire class of weapons and set the stage for the START treaties on strategic nuclear forces and, in an age of growing numbers of ballistic missiles, nuclear and conventional, inhabiting the 500-5500km range (essentially longer ranged SRBM, MRBM and IRBMs as well as ground-launched cruise missiles), is the INF Treaty still relevant?  Part of the investigation includes a deep dive into the developmental history of Russian ballistic missiles with particular attention being paid to one of my old haunts — the period 1976-1987 and the impetus behind the development and deployment behind the SS-20/Pioneer IRBM.  As noteworthy as the political, military and engineering decision-making behind Pioneer’s development and controversial deployment was, there were two other programs – Skorost (“Speed”) and Kuryer (“Courier”) which bear investigation.  Each program was the result of a deliberate decision to respond to the Pershing II/GLCM deployment (itself a response to the SS-20 deployment) with new ballistic missile systems (or in the Russian vernacular, missile complexes), derived from (then) new mobile strategic systems like the SS-25 and aimed specifically at the systems the US was deploying to strengthen the nuclear guarantee to NATO.  The impetus behind this is to see if there are parallels between then and now that may predict or explain certain behaviors and statements from Russian leadership in the current dispute over the US-led European Phased Adaptive Approach to ballistic missile defense against the Iranian ballistic missile threat.

It is popular to talk about the “global economy” in referential terms as if it is a late-20th Century/21st Century phenomena.  In actuality, beginning with the return of Columbus from the 1492 expedition, profound ecological and economic wheels were put into motion – almost all of which had unforeseen consequences.  Mann’s work is a masterful, scientific review of the “Colombian Exchange” and later, the impact the founding of Manila some 80 years later by the Spanish explorer Legazpi would have on not only Europe, but the American and African continents that stretch into today.  Economist Miller (author of “War Plan Orange”) turns to recently declassified documents to take another look at attempts by the US to dissuade Japan from its aggression in China in the run-up to Pearl Harbor.  Building on his experience in international trade while working for a major mining company, he brings new perspectives on the role international finance had in influencing Japanese decision-making and actions — and in the process spurred a branches & sequels process that led to the Pacific war.  While far from finished with Bankrupting the Enemy, I think those who would argue for a trade war/currency war today with China would be well advised to consider Miller’s work and a look at the unintended consequences (as well as what a bureaucracy can do to thwart Presidential initiatives) that may result.  Both authors have a compelling writing style that addresses head on, complex ideas and concepts, placing them in a thoroughly comprehensible context – something, unfortunately, that cannot be said about some the preceding texts which can verge on the turgidly pedagogical….

And finally, there is reading just for the simple pleasure of a story well told, even if it is of an event that has been as widely dissected and told as that of Midway.  One of the vehicles used under such conditions is historical fiction and a new entry in that genre is Vengeance Strikes the Blow, written by G. Alvin Simons and published by Cripple Creek Press:

 Excerpt from the book:

    Kusaka staggered a few steps as Akagi turned toward the approaching enemy aircraft presenting a smaller target. He watched as three of the battered, tattered medium bombers continued winging toward the carriers intent on launching their torpedoes. Frantic Zeroes, having retreated earlier from the tremendous volume of friendly gunfire belching forth from the screening vessels, now ignored the threat. They dove in, blasting away at the deadly intruders.

    The deep Pacific waters already littered with destroyed enemy aircraft, Kusaka wondered at the Americans’ tenacity. We slaughter them with ease, yet still they come, he thought. Seemingly oblivious to the certain death awaiting them. Almost contemptuous in their disregard for our defense. Are they arrogant? Stubborn? Fools? What kind of men are these?

The lead aircraft closed to within a thousand meters before releasing its torpedo. It splashed down and disappeared from view, running toward its intended target. The unburdened plane skittered away across the wave tops with enraged Zeroes hounding its tail. Kusaka’s eyesight remained locked in place, waiting for the weapon to reappear when it neared Akagi.
    The huge ship made another hard turn, veering away from the oncoming torpedo. Kusaka lurched sideways into Genda, releasing a groan of pain from the young officer. The torpedo chugged past, missing the carrier and leaving a trail of bubbles in its wake. Cheers and clapping drifted on the combat-torn wind, falling silent as the second enemy plane bore in. The defensive gunfire increased in volume. A mountain of shot and steel sought to destroy the attacking aircraft. Amidst the panicked frenzy and close quarters, friendly fire struck neighboring vessels. Kusaka winced at the number of stray rounds zipping between the ships. This is utter madness, he thought. We could be wounded or killed at the hands of our fellow countrymen.

Haven’t had much of a chance to get too far in, but what I have read so far I like and it is getting good reviews in important venues like the Battle of Midway Roundtable; definitely a recommended buy (available on Amazon in both paperback and Kindle versions).

So that’s were the end of 2011 and the (near) start to 2012 finds us — some of the research will find its way here, but the bulk is for other venues.  I will be interested to see what is in the offering for the new year (book-wise) and am interested in what you are reading as well as why – let’s hear what’s on your Stack of Shame!

w/r, SJS

The Rule of Unintended Consequences and Covert Operations – Bay of Pigs Edition

What happens when you get so clever in planning a covert invasion that you paint your aircraft like that of the country you are invading and then fly them over “friendly” forces conducting the invasion?  You get shot:

As for the aircraft overhead, Lynch had problems not only with Castro’s aircraft, but the Brigade B-26’s also made life difficult for him. Of the Brigade aircraft on D-Day, Lynch said:

“ We sent a message very early on the first morning down there — a Monday morning, just after daylight — to Puerto Cabezas and told them to tell those planes to stay away from us, because we couldn’t tell them from the Castro planes. We ended up shooting at two or three of them. We hit some of them there because when they came at us … it was a silhouette, that was all you could see. Now, there were blue rings painted around those planes [actually a blue stripe around the wings, exterior of the motors], [but] I saw [only] one aircraft all day long where I actually saw the blue rings, and that was after he passed over me. They were impossible to see when they were coming at you. Our planes were a little nosey, and they wanted to take a look at the action. They wanted to take a look at the ships, and they would come from over the water straight at us … fly directly above it
at the same altitude that the Castro planes did … The only type of rings that would have helped there, would have been this brilliant international orange that the Air Force uses, or something of that nature. 29/”

The B-26, while having a very distinctive profile, nonetheless has a small frontal cross section and in the heat of battle, those on the ground being shot at will historically take a dim view of the finer points of visual markings to distinguish friend from foe (note that even with the black/white “Invasion Stripes” on the wing and fuselage, most of the 113 Allied aircraft lost in the first 24 hours of D-Day were lost to friendly fire).

This citation is but one of the revelations found in the newly declassified and released Air Ops volume of the Official History of the Bay of Pigs Invasion (found here (PT1 – photos) and here (PT 2 – text) — both open PDFs) and made available through the National Security Archive, operated by the George Washington University.

Other revelations – how quickly (surprise) the Cuban air force improved in its operations and lethality over the course of the day – in the face of no opposition in the air and limited AAA fire from below:

At the beginning of that [Monday] morning, they [FAR] were pretty sloppy and haphazard, but the one thing which was worrying me badly was the fact that they kept improving as the morning wore on .•. They were getting bolder, they were getting closer, and they were now using rockets. That’s what hit the Rio Escondido. That was a lucky hit for them, but there was a clear danger as far as I was concerned that we could lose both of those ships — the Atlantico and the Caribe — in the same manner that we lost the Rio Escondido. By a rocket setting them on fire …

Failure to plan and train to deconfliction zones, failure to take out the achingly small revolutionary air force and especially the T-33’s that took a toll of the B-26’s (mixing jet fighters with prop bombers typically does not turn out well for the latter, something we learned near the end of WW2 and again in Korea…); the list of shortcomings continues its inexorable growth even fifty years later. It has been no secret that the Bay of Pigs was wholly bollixed-up, from concept to execution - the epic fail at all levels of war is underscored with the release of these documents (there are several other volumes released in concert with theAir Ops volume at the NSA site).  What is becoming clear(er) with the release of more historical info from previously classified archives is just how outstandingly bad that planning was, the disconnect between the CIA, the Services and State (and between the Services too) and the stage being set for the run-up to the Missile Crisis the following year.

It also underscores that even those with extensive combat experience (like the WWII and Korean experience of the senior military and civilian leaders here) can suffer blind spots under new or changing conditions, a lesson worth reviewing even today…or else:

Channeling “Streetfighter”? The PLAN’s Houbei FAC

“In the information age we substitute mass for speed, a high degree of simultaneity for sequential action,” he said. “And access is highly valued: access to information, access to ideas, access to the domains of conflict. The Streetfighter concepts are meant to secure access and achieve high speed. That is, to be able to alter initial conditions, develop very high rates of change, stop things before they start…that’s what the military is paid to do.” – VADM Cebrowski (13 Mar 200)

Asymmetric forces and anti-access/area denial have been getting an increasing share of press of late – and for good cause. In the past year or so the poster child for the latest thing in A2/AD, the DF-21D, has netted a good portion of that press, a pretty impressive feat for something that by all accounts is somewhere between the final stages of development and IOC.  Do not, however, under any circumstances construe the preceding as questioning the existence of the DF-21D ASBM, something I’ve been writing about since 2007…   Still, when racking/stacking threats in the present and near future, the reality of the present threats to our naval forces is that the burden falls on cruise missiles, which have seen operational use in a variety of theaters and conditions. Cruise missile capabilities have advanced on par with their supporting technologies — engines, materials, navigation, seekers, etc. From relatively large, slow and medium-altitude threats they have progressed to smaller, faster, longer-range weapons with complex seekers, sophisticated navigation systems and challenging profiles from launch to terminal stages. Concurrent with the improvement in technology has come proliferation across a large number of delivery platforms operating from the shore and above, under and on the surface. In-line with this development, some delivery platforms have emerged, evolved or morphed into optimal platforms for delivering cruise missiles. Among these are the Type 22 Houbei fast attack craft being fielded by the PLAN.


In a separate fora, I received the following brief, which turns out to be a pretty comprehensive look — all from sources on both sides of the Bamboo Curtain of what is rapidly becoming yet another A2/AD challenge for naval planners and commanders in the region. It’s author, George Root (a former Midway-sailor) passes:

“The PLAN’s emphasis on building a very large number of Type 22 Houbei Fast Attack Craft needs more emphasis in Navy and allied thinking. According to in country open sources, by February of last year, the PLAN had fielded over 80 of these vessels and the number is growing. As illustrated in the attached Type 22 focused presentation, just four of these C-803 missile shooters could provide double shooter coverage over the entire Taiwan Strait from the relative tactical safety of the Chinese coastal islands.

In my view, the fact that today, the PLAN could field over 640 mobile 100+nm missiles (80 vessels x 8 C-803s each) in the Chinese mainland littorals should give those interested in China’s growing anti-access capabilities some serious cause for concern.”

PLAN’s Type 22 Houbei FAC _July11_R1

“Streetfighter is alive, and well, and is an inevitability” – VADM Cebrowski

Indeed — but not where originally intended it seems… Your thoughts?

“Good Fences Make Good Neighbors”

“Washington should show its political will and stop playing with guns on China’s doorsteps.
‘Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.” – China Daily (27 July 2011)

Last week the Taiwanese press revealed an incident that occurred on the 29th of June wherein one of a pair of PLA-AF SU-27s crossed the median line between PRC and Taiwan while ostensibly pursuing a U-2 conducting reconnaissance in international airspace.  The story briefly ran in the Western press and the US Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ADM Mullen, when asked to comment on the incident, noted that while ” (W)e both have to be very careful about how we fly them,” the US would be undeterred in continuing to fly the missions.  In the days that followed, “opinion” pieces ran in the China Daily (source of the quote above) and Beijing Global Times – both generally recognized sources of “official” Chinese messaging without coming directly from a government spokesperson.  Both articles, pointing to the the recent visits by the PLA CoS to the US in May and the visit by ADM Mullen in mid-July, noted the difficulty in re-establishing these early steps in mil-to-mil relations and how this action (the continuation of U-2 “spy” missions) threatened their continuation.  For it’s part, the Global Daily quoted a military expert’s analysis on China’s “legitimacy” in challenging the missions:

Song Xiaojun, a Beijing-based military expert, told the Global Times on Tuesday that China can legitimately interrupt US surveillance moves.”It is impossible for China to deploy the electronic countermeasures needed to set up a so-called protective electronic screen in the air to deter reconnaissance. Sending flights to intercept spying activities is essential to show China’s resolution to defend its sovereignty,” Song said.”The US has insisted that their spying on China brings no harm by using the excuse that it is safeguarding its own security,”  Song said.  “US spying activities, arms sales to Taiwan and uneven military communications with China have been the top three major barriers for military ties between the two countries,” he added.

China Daily, which tends to be a little more restrained or conservative in tone, emphasized Chen’s comments during the recent visits:

During Mullen’s visit to China, Chen Bingde, the General Chief-of-Staff of the People’s Liberation Army, also voiced his concern on potential miscalculations or even clashes between the two militaries.  While China welcomes the US military presence in Asia-Pacific for its constructive role in maintaining regional stability, that does not mean that China will compromise on issues relating to its territorial integrity or national security.  Chen criticized the US naval drills in the South China Sea and attempted arms sale to Taiwan, and also urged the US to reduce or halt its military surveillance near China’s coast. Given the increasingly interdependent relations between China and the US, and the commitment by both governments to build a cooperative partnership in the 21st century, it is in both sides’ interests to build and maintain good-neighborliness based on mutual respect for each other’s sovereignty and national dignity. (emphasis added)

Which, of course, preceded the ‘good fences = good neighbors’  quote above.

 PLAAF J-8  PLAAF J-10  PLAAF SU-27/J-11





China, like North Korea and the former Soviet Union, is openly hostile to reconnaissance flights,  taking every opportunity to display their impatience and displeasure with the missions.  Generally speaking, unlike the Soviets and North Koreans, the Chinese have been less inclined to shoot down reconnaissance aircraft unless they were actually over Chinese territory (the wreckage of several Taiwanese U-2s shot down over the mainland are on display in a Beijing military museum).  T0 a degree, that has been a function of their inability until the recent past decade to reach out and touch US platforms, like the U-2 (and presumably the RQ-4 Global Hawk UAS which has been forward deployed to Guam for a while now).  The deployment of SU-27 FLANKERs, purchased from the Russians (and now, indigenously produced J-11’s) have served to significantly extend the PLAAF’s reach, both in range and altitude, over the much less capable F-8 and even the  That, however, does not mean that they will not react to US aircraft engaged in intelligence collection missions off the Chinese coast.  Ample evidence of how a reaction can go wrong, especially if the reacting fighters are overly aggressive, is provided with the midair between a PLAAF J-8 and a Navy EP-3.  Though it turned out badly for the Chinese pilot (whose body was never found) the exploitation of the EP-3 after it made an emergency landing at a nearby airfield on the Chinese island of Hainan, proved to be a windfall for Chinese intelligence.  Still, the manner and size of a reaction to reconnaissance missions can be used as yet another means of “signaling” to another country. A reaction by a pair of fighters that maintains a stand-off distance of 5 or so nautical miles, effectively shadowing the recce aircraft signals the awareness of the observed nation to the presence of the aircraft and the mission assigned.  An intercept with aggressive maneuvering, like a CPA inside 50 ft, “thumping” or other clearly hazarding maneuvers might serve as a warning to open distance from the edge of a nation’s airspace (even though the recce aircraft may be in international airspace) or even a warning that future missions will be met with hostile fire.  It’s all part of a range of strategic communications (like so-called “op-eds” in State-owned or directed media).  So, what is the context here?

China, I believe, has clearly laid out three redlines where the future of mil-mil exchange and talks are concerned – China’s claims to the South China Sea, the continuance of arms sales to Taiwan and so-called “dangerous military practices” that are typified by US reconnaissance missions.  In each of the high-level visits, this was the message delivered to the US – “here are our conditions for further progress.”  The message builds on actions taken from the tactical to strategic — from serial harassment of Vietnamese survey ships in the South China Sea and intercept attempts at high-level reconnaissance aircraft (don’t forget – this took place after the visit by Chen to the US and before Mullen’s visit to China) to pursuing a bi-lateral condominium of “understandings” with nations bordering the SCS, eschewing multi-party fora and working hard to exclude US presence and influence.  It is at once a fairly aggressive tack, but one that has remained hidden in plain sight of US policymakers who are wrapped up in three wars abroad and dealing with fiscal issues at home.  As part of a carefully crafted strategic communications campaign, the target audience isn’t just the US, but more importantly, regional states.  The message it carries – the US is in relative decline across all measures of power but more importantly, in the area of real power and presence in the region, its primacy is declining to such a degree that its reliability is increasingly suspect.  Therefore, measure carefully your actions and intent for it is in your better interests – in the long run, if you not only reduce reliance on the US and its instruments of regional presence and power (e.g., naval and air forces), but work with us to reduce this increasingly risky and reckless presence.  Combining challenges in relatively low-risk actions – like increasingly aggressive intercepts of US recce aircraft.  Just when, for example, has the US militarily reacted to an aggressive intercept, much less shoot-down of a recce platform?  Nothing was done to the North Koreans or Soviets even in the face of several high profile incidents like the Pueblo.  Throw an unmanned recce platform into the mix as a potential target for a demonstration during a high stakes stand-off and it could get very interesting very soon.  The very near sea trials of the former Varyag CV, allegedly named Shi Lang, serves as another point.  China knows full well that it can’t compete hull-to-hull with the US CVN/CVW team – but it doesn’t need to because the US is so strapped worldwide in terms of force structure and OPTEMPO.  Rather, the Shi Lang is at once a message and warning to states like Vietnam and the Philippines that should they decide to put force behind their challenge to China’s claims in the area, their naval forces are wholly inadequate to the job by themselves, and again, the US won’t be one to be relied upon to fill the breach.

Source: China Military Report (

None of this happens overnight and as mentioned, not without a strategic communications campaign.  The point is recognizing that one is underway and that the terms of engagement may in fact be changing.

Good fences make good neighbors’ the words of the American poet Robert Frost also hold true for this relationship.”

Indeed – but as many a suburbanite will tell you, fences can also be very polarizing to a neighborhood, especially when built outside of where property lines are clearly understood and recognized.


Fighter Deal of the Century: Europe – 2, USA – 0

India announced the winners of the down-select in the $9-11B (US) competition for 126 Medium-Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (M-MRCA) which will fill the gap between the high-end, 5th generation PAK-FA and India’s own designed and produced Light Combat Aircraft and replace older aircraft (e.g., Mirage’s) already in the inventory. Making the cut were the Eurofighter Typhoon and the Dassault Rafale, eliminating both US entries. The decision appears to have been something of a surprise to the American side and may have been the spur for American envoy Timothy Roemer who announced his retirement a day after the Indian government’s announcement. The announcement offered no particular insight as to the rationale behind the decision – but several seem to be in play.

Impounded Pakistani F-16 at AMARC (ca. 1998)

1. America as a reliable partner: A recurring theme in the Indian press was open questioning of whether America might chose to pull the plug on parts and support at some future point. Citing examples that included previous embargoes and penalties against India, to include lobbying of the Russian government under Yeltsin to stop a planned delivery of liquid-fuel rocket engines for their indigenous SLV program. They also cited the US embargo on Pakistani F-16s that followed from the Pressler Amendment, forbidding military aid to Pakistan after the 1996 nuclear tests.  And the years of US supply to India’s regional rivals, Pakistan in particular, still rankle.

Dassault Rafales support ODYSSEY DAWN ops off Libya with newly integrated LGBs

2. Technical performance: Both US aircraft reportedly suffered in comparison to the Eurofighter and Typhoon in tests held throughout India. One of the requirements levied on the competitors was the IAF’s insistence on comparison flights from the Himalaya’s to the coastal plains, simulating environments where India would have to engage it’s two regional rivals – China and Pakistan. The F-16 was likely not a player in the long run because it is in Pakistan’s inventory and evidently the F/A-18, the largest of the competitors, was not as maneuverable. Nevertheless, it was hoped by the US that, especially in the F/A-18’s case, the weapons system, employing an advanced AESA radar would trump all comers. With the local production requirement after the initial lot, India would then stand to gain substantial insight and access to the Super Hornet’s advanced weapons system, something industry craved. Yet the IAF was insistent on performance and it looks like the Eurofighter and Rafale were the best in that regard. One also wonders if the action in Libya which has seen extensive use of the Rafale and Typhoon (including debut of the LGB for the Rafale).

IAF's SU-30MKI are the most advanced version of the type

3. Supply/spares consideration: India’s air force already has extensive numbers of Russian and European aircraft in its fighter inventory, most notably the former with the SU-30MKI and MiG-29’s. Adding a US entry potentially would complicate logistics for the IAF beyond where it already is (Note – the SU-30MKI has a weapons system that is a hybrid of Russian, Israeli and European technology. With half the Sukhoi T-50 run going to India, Russia will be present in the IAF for the long haul. Adding an entry from Eurofighter or Dassault will lessen risk (and cost) for the IAF.

4. Price: With more poor people than all of sub-Saharan Africa, price is a matter of concern for the IAF and the Typhoon and Rafale were less expensive than their US competitors.

So, Eurofighter and Dassault are the apparent winners (with one more down-select to go) and the losers?  Certainly the major aerospace firms that did not make the cut – that much is obvious.  But there are longer-term implications to this.  As much as it hurt Lockheed-Martin and Boeing to be cut out of a contract with a $9-11B (US) potential, they still have domestic work to keep them going.  Saab has been successful in marketing to other second and third tier countries with an air defense package that includes the Grippen and their AEW platform – Thailand being the most recent buyer and Brazil showing interest.  For Mikoyan, however, it may have meant a deathblow.  The Russian Air Force was not prepared to fund development of the MiG-35 by itself, expecting instead that like the Sukhoi T-50, a joint purchase/production with India would offset the costs involved.  As poorly as the MiG demonstrator performed though (reportedly suffering as many as 14 major technical discrepancies in earlier evaluations) and as poor a record as the MiG-29 currently has in the IAF (the popular press refers to them as “flying coffins”), Mikoyan’s future in India, their only real export market, appears to have significantly dimmed – so much so that in spite of an order placed for the MiG-29K as part of the deal for the the purchase and upgrade of the ex-Gorshkov CV (now the INS Vikramaditya scheduled to begin dockside trials late this year and sea trials in 2012), Mikoyan may very well disappear as a recognizable entity in in the merger of Russian aerospace companies, United Aircraft Company (Russia).  Another loser, less noted, is GE and its military engine business.  Already having lost out to Pratt & Whitney in the JSF competition (and with a stake finally put in the heart of the F136 alternate engine) and the KC-X (P&W was partnered with Boeing on the winning entry), GE has one thin hope left  – if Dassault wins, the Rafale is powered by engines made by Snecama, produced by GE’s French partner in their CFM International joint venture.  One bright spot for GE is that their F414 engine, same as that for the F/A-18, was chosen to power the Tejas LCA when an indigenously developed engine failed to live up to expectations.  GE won that competition over the Eurojet consortium.

For those who would argue that the Indian government should have brought pressure to bear on the IAF to include an American manufacturer in the down-select, it is worth pointing out the political firestorm that would have ensued if it came to light that political expediency trumped performance (recall that in 2008, Prime Minister Singh faced a no confidence vote in his government over the nuclear deal with the US).  The IAF, on the other hand, is very much focused on its chief rivals in the region – China and Pakistan and that drives its analysis and selection.  To be blunt, the US offerings did not measure up – and that should be something taken to heart in corporate boardrooms as well as the E-ring.  With so much emphasis being placed on the bleeding edge of stealth and networked sensors, epitomized by the F-22 and F-35, the US is rapidly pricing itself out of the export fighter market and the likelihood of winning another competition, like the like the MRCA is dimming.  Next up will be Brazil and its FX-2 competition, which reprises India’s M-MRCA with all the same players (save Sukhoi’s SU-35 vice MiG) and it appears that many of the same issues besetting the Super Hornet in the M-MRCA competition have raised their head here too:

On the flip side, the Super Hornet offers poorer aerodynamic performance than other competitors, falling behind in areas like maneuverability, acceleration, etc. This weakness is compounded by the fact that Super Hornets sell for about $75-90 million each, placing them above the Grippen, F-16 E/F+, and the SU-35, but below the Eurofighter. Concerns about America’s propensity to use arms export bans as a political lever add a final complication to the Super Hornet’s odds.” (emphasis added)


Driving Brazil’s concerns, like India, is a rival neighbor (Venezuela) that has one advanced fighter (SU-30MKS) and is considering supplementing that fleet with the SU-35.  The performance of the two European offerings in the Indian competition and in action off Libya will figure very prominently in Brazil’s decision, despite intense lobbying by the US government.

Back to India – there are some upsides to the down-selection.  Consider – the US, absent the potential of the M-MRCA deal has already supplanted Russia as the leading arms seller to India.  With orders on the books for C-17s and P-8Is and the lead in that will provide for airliner purchases, Boeing in particular is positioning for a long-term major presence.  There are other orders with US firms for C-130s and AH-64 Apaches as well – more opportunities to establish supply and training pipelines that may accrue long-range benefits.  The US also conducts the most exercises with the Indians – and with platforms like the P-8I providing expanded opportunities for joint training and exercise with the Indian Navy, there appear to be more, expanded opportunities on the horizon.  Still, one must wonder what the reaction in Beijing will be in light of the choice and its implications for the region – both in terms of export potential of their own brand of fighters and what the selection says about regional perceptions of US power and prestige.

And right now, they have to be liking the odds.