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Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Resurgent Russia - The New US-Russia Relationship

Image 1: Vladimir Putin and Dmitry Medvedev shortly after the annexation of Crimea 

“...we in the West, and in the United States in particular, dramatically underestimated the degree of humiliation on the part of the Russians with the collapse, not just of the Soviet Union which is a relatively recent phenomenon historically, but the collapse of the Russian Empire, a thousand years in the building…the humiliation of the collapse of the Russian empire, he and others like him, I think, have been determined from the beginning to restore Russia as a world power, as a force to be reckoned with, as a thousand year old empire.” – Former Director of the CIA & Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates 2014

Since the crisis in Ukraine, the United States has struggled to adjust toward a new more assertive Russia. In a recent event at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence Robert Vickers explained that monitoring “Russian Revanchism” is now the third highest priority among US intelligence services behind thwarting terrorism and monitoring the Syrian Civil War. 1 Vickers explained that Russian Revanchism is a term not limited to the current crisis in Ukraine as the intelligence community (IC) is also expanding its surveillance against Russian activities in a broader strategic context.

Although many Western policy makers are becoming increasingly aware Russia cannot be counted on as a “responsible stakeholder” or partner nation within the international community, few comprehend the extent in which Russian and Western interests are incompatible in Ukraine. In order to formulate an effective foreign policy response toward Russia, Western leaders must understand Russian objectives in both in Ukraine and within a broader global context in conjunction with associated developments in Russian strategic thinking and methodology. Part I will outline Russia's objective of maintaining nuclear deterrence against the United States and Part II will discuss Russia's attempts to establish hegemony in the near abroad; the two aforementioned objectives debatably constitute the most important Russian foreign policy objectives. An understanding of Russian foreign policy objectives will be instrumental toward the formation of an effective Western response highlighted in Part III. 

Nuclear Deterrence

Image 2: Russian Borei-class nuclear ballistic missile submarine (SSBN) Vladimir Monomakh

"The first great achievement - greatest achievement, of the Soviet Union was the defeat of Nazi Germany in World War II. The second greatest achievement was achieving nuclear parity with the United States in the early 1970s. It is this achievement that is the most important legacy, from the standpoint of military security - clearly, that was bequeathed to the Russian Federation. And it has assumed greater significance as a result of greater conventional deterioration over the last twenty years...maintaining strategic stability, i.e. parity, or more to the point preventing the United States, or anyone else for that matter, from attaining first strike capability is at the crux, at the core [of Russian national security policy]." - Andrew C. Kuchins, 2014

Russia's role as the only nuclear power on near equal footing with the United States dictates how Russian leaders perceive themselves and has had profound impacts on Russia's national security policy in the post-Cold War era. The Russian Federation continues to deploy and modernize its nuclear arsenal in a manner consistent with of the Cold War principles. The fear of a "bolt out of the blue" nuclear first strike by the United States continues to drive Russia's prioritization of its nuclear modernization programs over its conventional arsenal in order to maintain a credible second strike capability against the United States (Murdock, 2014). The more than 60% increase in defense spending under Vladimir Putin has enabled Russia to field and develop the: Borei-class SSBNs, RSM-56 Bulava submarine launched ballistic missile (SLBM), R-29RMU2 Layner SLBM, and RS-24 Yars road mobile intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). In contrast, the United States has largely been content with minimal service life extension programs to its two to three decade old nuclear arsenal.

Current US strategic planners do not devote a great deal of time generating first and second nuclear strike scenarios with offensive and defensive exchange rates against Russia. Conversely, the Russian Federation devotes considerable resources toward mapping out nuclear deployment strategies and structuring with respect to US nuclear exchanges. As Clark Murdock from CSIS explained, "The Russian's still believe the nuclear balance matters in a way that we Americans do not; They do these calculations". Murdock cited a recent study done by Dean Wilkening of RAND which illustrates the type of analysis routinely conducted by the Russian defense establishment. Wilkening's analysis, Strategic Stability Between the United States and Russia, examined the probable current offensive and defensive nuclear exchange rates between the US and Russia in a manner consistent with Cold War studies conducted by both the US and Soviet Union.

Image 3: US nuclear exchange rates against Russia in a first strike scenario. Image Credit: RAND

Wilkening concluded that a US nuclear first strike against the Russian Federation would leave 170 operable Russian nuclear weapons capable of reaching the contiguous United States (CONUS), the 48 connected states, while a Russian first strike against the US would leave 550 operable US nuclear weapons capable of reaching Russia. Russia is comparatively more vulnerable than the United States in a first strike scenario as less survivable land based missiles occupy a comparatively larger percentage of its nuclear arsenal when compared to the US which primary relies upon its more survivable but expensive SSBNs. Furthermore, the US deploys more nuclear weapons on a day to day alert status than Russia which mitigates US first strike vulnerability (Murdock, 2014).

When US anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems are added to the scenario, Russia's number of nuclear weapons capable of hitting CONUS is reduced by 80 warheads to a total of 90 warheads and the number of survivable US nuclear weapons after a Russian first strike rises to 665.

"Nationwide ballistic missile defense, even one of relatively limited size, has two different effects on strategic stability between the United States and Russia. First, such a defense can strengthen deterrence by complicating Russia’s counterforce first strikes and denying Russian limited attack options (to the extent they are part of Russian war plans). Second, they can weaken Russia’s nuclear deterrent by reducing the size of
its secure second strike. This second effect is the principal concern that Russian officials have cited repeatedly regarding a limited U.S. homeland ballistic missile defense." - Wilkening, 2014

Image 4: By 2019 the US will field 44 Ground-Based Interceptors (GBIs) pictured above which have a demonstrated 53% intercept rate during tests. The Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GMD) system is the only US ABM designed to fully defeat ICBMS in the mid-course phase of their flight path, the SM-III to some extent has mid-course capability, rather than the lower altitude systems which attempt to intercept in the terminal phase e.g. the Patriot PAC-3 and THAAD.

The current disparity between the number of survivable US and Russian warheads, 550 and 170 respectively, which is further pronounced - to a debatable degree - after US ABM, is significantly greater than the relative survivable warhead inventories between the US and USSR during the Cold War (Wilkening, 2014). Given its comparatively more limited second strike capability, Russia believes it is vital that it reach parity with the US (Murdock, 2014). Wilkening is fully cognizant of the shortcomings of US ABM technology in his analysis but as both Wilkening and Murdock emphasize, the distinction between Russian perceptions and reality is crucial. Ultimately, if the Russian leadership fervently believes US ABM technology is capable, they will continue to plan accordingly despite the stark reality that the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense (GBD) system and other US ABM systems were never designed to thwart a full scale nuclear exchange with Russia (Missile Defense Agency, 2014).

Similarly, 90 nuclear warheads would constitute a mortal blow against the United States and its nuclear armed allies but the distinction between Russian perceptions, that its nuclear arsenal would be sufficiently compromised after a US first strike and ABM defense, and reality is worth emphasizing. The United States Government cannot assume Russian leaders will behave in a manner consistent with actual US capabilities given that Russian leaders have consistently acted on different set of assumptions regarding US capabilities. Therefore, the US Government must take into account Russian perceptions and the perceptions of its allies when it decides to alter the nuclear arsenal, an objective assessment of required capabilities alone is insufficient to determining if further nuclear reductions are prudent.

Author's Note: Part II, which will detail Russia's attempts to establish hegemony in post-Soviet states, will be published week of September 1st.


  1. Russian and Chinese Assertiveness Poses New Foreign Policy Challenges, Robert Gates & Council on Foreign Relations, 2014.                                                                     
  2. An Assessment of Russian Defense Capabilities and Security Strategy, Paul N. Schwartz, Clark A Murdock, Andrew C. Kuchins, and Jeffrey A. Mankoff, 2014.           
  3. Strategic Stability Between the United States and Russia, Dean Wilkening, 2014.
  4. Missile Defense: Next Steps for the USA’s GMD, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.
  5. Backgrounder - Missile Defense, Jonathan Masters, 2014.                     
  6. USDI Vickers’ Top Threats: Terrorists, Syria, Russian ‘Revanchism’, Colin Clark, 2014.

1 Remarks made by Vickers at CSIS predate the capture of Mosul by ISIL and US air strikes in Iraq.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

August Blog Updates & News

Author's Note: The blog has undergone some organizational changes since the last update to facilitate easier access to archived articles via the new "Blog Articles By Topic" tab in addition to some minor visual rearrangements. Ideas on additional blog improvements are always welcome. As per the routine monthly blog update, planned or upcoming articles are detailed below. A list of recommended articles is subsequently provided.

Upcoming/Planned Articles

Image Credit: Morten Morland, The Times

(1) Resurgent Russia: The Future of US-Russian Relations - The Western response to the seizure of Crimea and the backing of Ukrainian separatist forces has been lackluster at best. Western responses have varied from merely denouncing Putin as a "thug" to targeted and severely limited US-EU economic sanctions. The reoccurring trend being few in the West, at least as reported by media sources, understand Russian intentions within Ukraine and Russia's broader strategic considerations. Only by understanding Russian objectives and Russia's strategic reasoning can the US formulate a comprehensive foreign policy response toward a new resurgent Russia.

(2) The American Approach Part IV: Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats - Within a few years both China and Russia will deploy fifth generation fighter aircraft comparable to American fifth generation aircraft. American and allied aviators will leverage the comparative advantages of the F-35's integrated sensor and avionics suite  in conjunction with innovative new tactics and doctrines to counter probable fifth generation adversaries such as the Chengdu J-20, Shenyang J-31, and Sukhoi PAK-FA.

(3) Rebalance: The Need for an Asia-Pacific Maritime Security and Stability Initiative - As highlighted by The Rebalance - Deterrence in the Asia-Pacific, US efforts to deter China at both the high and low intensity conflict level are failing. The publication of recent Chinese Defense white papers emphasizing "the new situation" or "zai xin xingshi xia" reaffirms the growing confidence of China's leaders with respect to enforcing territorial claims. The United States must work in consultation with its regional allies to halt China's attempts to change the territorial status quo in the South China Sea. The author will recommend a number of comprehensive proposals to deter China at the low intensity level.

Recommended Media

Council on Foreign Relations Interview with Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

"The President has talked about rebalancing toward Asia and the importance of Asia toward America and we strongly support that...America has to engage in actively [in the Asia-Pacific] and you have many other issues on your agenda...but we hope that amidst all that busy platter, you remember - at least once a day, that in Asia you have many friends, many interests, and many investments"

"Defense heavyweights – including Bill Clinton’s Secretary of Defense, former defense policy chiefs to Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and the former Senate Seapower chairman – just sent over their 'stress test' of the Pentagon’s latest defense strategy to Capitol Hill. Unlike many blue ribbon commission reports, the National Defense Panel (NDP) recommendations are blunt, serious, and urgent. The panel report describes in detail the dangerous accumulation of challenges to American military power and charts a path to reverse this decline...'U.S. military superiority is not a given.' To ensure the Pentagon stays ahead of the competition, the panel recommends “an energetic program of targeted reinvestment,” a larger Navy and Air Force, and a halt to planned reductions in active duty Army end strength. They call for greater investment in ISR systems, space architecture, cyber capabilities, joint command and control, air superiority assets, long-range and precision strike capability, undersea and surface naval warfare, electric and directed energy weapons, strategic lift, and logistics."

The Three C’s of U.S. Espionage in Germany - John R. Schindler

"The bottom line is that American espionage priorities in Germany can be boiled down to the Three C’s: Counterintelligence, Counterterrorism, and’s common knowledge that the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR) and military intelligence (GRU) have as many officers, including illegals (meaning deep-cover types posing as civilians without any ties to Russia), in Germany today as they had at the height of the Cold War.West Germany’s counterintelligence record during the Cold War was frankly dismal, for many reasons. East Bloc services had no trouble penetrating West German institutions at the highest levels. To cite only some of the most famous cases: Heinz Felfe, the BND’s head of counterespionage, was revealed to be a Soviet spy in 1961, while Otto John, the very first director of the BfV, defected to East Germany in 1954, and 1974 saw the unmasking of Günter Guillaume, a top adviser to Chancellor Willy Brandt, as a spy for East Germany’s legendary Stasi....Given the extent of attention paid to Germany by the SVR and GRU, U.S. intelligence would be foolish not to be watching this closely, especially because even closely allied spy agencies seldom spill the beans about penetrations, which are embarrassing to admit"

The New Neutrality - Yuriko Koike

"In both Germany and South Korea, economic strength seems to have produced an illusion of policy independence that is opening a chasm between the two countries and their allies – a chasm that revelations of US spying, on Merkel in particular, have deepened. Germany and South Korea, however, will gain little, and risk much, if they downgrade their alliance ties in favor of commercially motivated, if unofficial, neutrality. Whatever short-term benefits they receive will be more than offset by their strategic vulnerabilities vis-à-vis Russia and China."

Carbon Fiber Clouds Hiding Naval Destroyers from Anti-Ship Missiles - Defense Update

"The US Navy has recently tested a new anti-ship missile countermeasure system using an obscurant generator prototype. The systems and tactics were tested under a variety of at-sea conditions using assets from the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force to evaluate how radar-absorbing, carbon-fiber clouds can prevent a missile from detecting and striking its target as part of a layered defense."

Special report - Inside Xi Jinping's purge of China's oil mandarins - David Lague, Charlie Zhu and Benjamin Kang Lim

"In a bid to isolate his rival, Xi is steadily taking down Zhou's extensive web of colleagues, political allies, relatives, staff and business associates of his family, according to people familiar with the investigation."

ANALYSIS: India's Air Force Modernization Challenge - Atul Chandra

"The modernization of the Indian air force is massive in scale and hugely expensive, but should deliver capability that will put the service at the forefront of any future conflict."

Fourth Known J-20 Prototype Makes First Flight - Richard D Fisher Jr

"The fourth known prototype of the Chengdu Aircraft Corporation (CAC) J-20 fifth-generation fighter made its first flight on the morning of 26 July, according to Chinese aviation websites...Images show that '2012' features the refinements first seen in the third prototype, '2011'. These include an undernose faceted shape to hold a future electro-optical targeting system, adjusted air intakes to aid engine air flow and clipped tips on the vertical stabilizers. The new J-20 prototype does not give any outward indication that CAC has installed an indigenous turbofan engine, despite much online speculation. The status of the J-20's intended WS-15 turbofan is not clear, and it is possible that initially deployed J-20s may use a Russian-made turbofan, perhaps an upgraded version of the Saturn AL-31 or the newer AL-117S."

Russia Cheating on Nuclear Missile Treaty - Jim Kuhnhenn

"In an escalation of tensions, the Obama administration accused Russia on Monday of conducting tests in violation of a 1987 nuclear missile treaty, calling the breach "a very serious matter" and going public with allegations that have simmered for some time...The U.S. says Russia tested a new ground-launched cruise missile, breaking the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty that President Ronald Reagan signed with Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev. Russian officials say they have looked into the allegations and consider the matter closed."

Monday, July 21, 2014

The Rebalance - Deterrence in the Asia-Pacific

Image 1: US-Japan joint exercise with USS George Washington, 2010. 

Deterrence within the context of the rebalance can be examined in two respects: preventing a conventional high-intensity conflict and dissuading Chinese attempts to alter the territorial status quo through low-intensity disputes and paramilitary operations. In both respects the rebalance has encountered major shortcomings. A comprehensive examination of Chinese open source literature, ranging from academia to official PLA military publications, indicates a growing confidence within the People's Liberation Army (PLA) in its ability to defeat the United States in a regional conflict. In his testimony before Congress, Lee Fuell - Technical Director for Force Modernization and Employment with the National Air and Space Intelligence Center, commented on the growing confidence of the PLA:  

"Recent Chinese operational literature describes a more nuanced approach to counter-intervention that seeks to strike a balance between supporting the main campaign and deterring the powerful enemy - that usually means us in the literature - and striking at them if necessary with the need to avoid an expansion of the conflict...This newer literature reflects a departure from past PLA writings which placed more emphasis on preemptive attacks to counter a U.S. intervention. We feel that this demonstrates to some degree a growing confidence within the PLA that they can more readily withstand an initial U.S. involvement than in years past...This isn’t to say the PRC might not still feel compelled to conduct preemptive actions against U.S. intervention, particularly in the cyber domain or other less 'kinetic' ways; however, the PLA appears to be developing a more mature viewpoint on the broad application of military operations against the U.S." 

The following excerpt is from The Science of the Second Artillery Campaigns, the most authoritative Chinese open source publication with respect to China's strategic rocket forces which corroborates Mr. Fuell's testimony: 

"When the powerful enemy uses allied military bases in our periphery and aircraft carriers as aircraft launch platforms to implement various forms of military intervention; and when the powerful enemy's allied military bases around our periphery are beyond our air arm's firing range...conventional missiles can be used to implement harassment strikes against military bases of the enemy's allies around our periphery as well as the carrier battle groups" - Yoshinhara, 2014

Image 2: DF-21 launch site within the 810 Brigade's base near Dalian. DF-21C missiles launched from Dalian would have coverage of US bases in both Korea and Japan. Image credit: Federation of American Scientists 

In addition to preparing for a high-intensity conflict with the United States, China has been proactively changing the status quo in the South China Seas (SCS) through oil rig deployments, island reclamation efforts, establishing a coast guard, and declaring an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) all within the past two years. While significant US resources have been invested in acquiring platforms and capabilities relevant to a US-China high-intensity conflict such as 2 Virginia-class attack submarines per year or the development of the F-35 fifth generation fighter aircraft, both Congress and the Obama Administration have undertaken minimal efforts to address China's low-intensity efforts to change the status quo:

"China is pursuing in Asia what the United States has in Latin America: regional hegemony. In pursuit of that goal, China keeps trying to take territory, bit by bit, in the East and South China Seas. And the United States doesn't know what to do about it. This practice, known as salami-slicing, involves the slow accumulation of small changes, none of which in isolation amounts to a casus belli, but which add up over time to a substantial change in the strategic picture. By using salami-slicing tactics in the East and South China Seas, China does not have to choose between trade with the rest of the world and the achievement of an expanded security perimeter in the Western Pacific at the expense of China’s neighbors." - Robert Haddick, 2014 

Clearly current US efforts to deter China are insufficient as exemplified by the growing confidence of the PLA and the relative success of China's efforts to claim the SCS. Statements by both the Obama Administration and senior Navy officials such as Chief of Naval Operations (CNO) Admiral Jonathan Greenert have been carefully calibrated as to not antagonize Beijing. Admiral Greenert recently refused to discuss probable US tactics, techniques, and procedures (TTP) with regards to China at a Naval War College event as, "If you talk about it openly, you cross the line and unnecessarily antagonize”. As the status quo power who partly derives acceptance among regional powers by policing the maritime commons and promoting stability, it does not behoove the United States to act belligerent but statements such as CNO Greenert's do not promote effective deterrence.  

James Holmes recently wrote Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief , in which he argues the US shouldn't arbitrarily antagonize Beijing but the US must underscore its capability and resolve to promote an effective military deterrence:  

"Henry Kissinger supplies the best definition of deterrence, depicting it as a product of our capability, our resolve, and — here’s Kissinger’s special ingredient – the opponent’s belief in our capability and our resolve to use it...Teddy Roosevelt sums it up with a pithy frontier maxim: 'don’t bluster, don’t flourish your revolver, and never draw unless you intend to shoot'. In Kissinger’s terms, that’s a statement about communicating one’s intentions frankly but without needlessly giving offense, about clearly outlining the conditions that warrant reaching for the gun, and about actually following through should the opponent defy our terms. Capability, resolve, belief." 

Striking a balance between needlessly antagonizing Beijing and protecting long-held US strategic interests is difficult in and of itself but gets even more troublesome when accounting for the varying interests between the US and its Pacific allies. In broad terms, many US Pacific allies want the US to act as an insurance policy toward their security in a time of national crisis (Zakaria, 2014). Many US pacific allies such as Australia would like a peaceful and stable status quo without a Cold War type military escalation between the United States and China due to extensive trade relations. Stephen Walt recently underscored the logic behind Australia maintaining its robust alliance with the United States despite its extensive trade relations with China. Walt's reasoning applies not only to Australia but also to several countries in South East Asia: 

"You know when states get into trouble, there is no 911 number to call…You can’t call Ban Ki-Moon and get any help. You will get his sympathy, he will put you on the agenda at the Security Council but he’s got nothing else he can do for you. Therefore, nations who think at some point they might face some significant challenge of one form or another, it’s good to have friends…Having the United States as an ally would be a really nice insurance policy”.  

In conclusion, an appropriate US deterrence must address Chinese provocations by underscoring US resolve, US capabilities, and working in consultation with Pacific allies. The US must strike a balance between being minimally aggressive to assuage the concerns of US allies, but the US must also actively deter China and protect key US interests. Preventative measures such as establishing a robust military deterrence in the Asia-Pacific are much less costly than an open war with China over the long-term even if a robust deterrence sours US-China relations. Part II will examine a host of minimally bellicose measures to deter China at the low-intensity level, all of which underscore US resolve through joint Congressional-Presidential action. 


  1. China and America: Dancing Around the Containment Question, Joseph A. Bosco, 2014.
  2. America can make Friends in Asia through Trade, Fareed Zakaria, 2014.
  3. Deterring China = Capability x Resolve x Belief, James Holmes, 2014.
  4. History's Warning: A U.S.-China War Is Terrifyingly Possible, Michael Vlahos, 2014.
  5. America has no Answer to China's Salami Slicing, Robert Haddick, 2014.
  6. The perils of a foreign policy that leans forward, Fareed Zakaria, 2014.
  7. Rebalancing U.S. Forces - Japanese Bases and Chinese Missiles, Toshi Yoshihara, 2014. 
  8. China's Military Modernization and its Implications for the United States, 2014. 
  9. The rise of China and America's Asian allies, Stephen M. Walt, 2014.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The American Approach Part III: Future TTP - Network Centric Warfare & Cyber weapons

Image 1: F-35 weapons bay testing

Author's Note: This article is a continuation of the series Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft which details the American approach to fielding fighter aircraft. The series is F-35 centric given its key role in the future USN, USMC, and USAF.
Part I
Part II

The F-35 will compose a significant portion of the future USAF, USN, and USMC fighter fleets well into the 2030s and 2040s. Keeping a fleet of combat aircraft relevant to potential national security challenges over the course of their 20 to 30 year service life is achieved both through not only new capabilities via upgrades but also through the development of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP). Leveraging the immense technological capabilities of the F-35 to the fullest extent possible is the responsibility of the USAF's Weapons Test School and various test and evaluation units. The Weapons Test School at Nellis and test and evaluation squadrons (TES) are staffed by some of the most experienced and talented instructor pilots within the USAF.

"The Weapons School cadre also authors tactical doctrine, and conducts tactics validation. Actively collecting tactical knowledge and lessons learned from deployed units, evaluating solutions in exercises, and formally preparing them for application across the force, the Weapons School provides a controlled learning environment and knowledge trust for best practices in air, space and cyber combat techniques." - USAF, 2014

These pilots effectively translate the capabilities of the aircraft into actual tactics or methods of employment to be used on the battlefield. The Weapons School and TES units will have to cope with the following challenges with respect to keeping America's F-35 fleet capable for the next two to three decades:
  • Proliferation of advanced foreign fifth generation aircraft such as the Chengdu J-20, Shenyang J-31, and Sukhoi PAK FA
  • Integration with 4th generation aircraft into the 2020s and 2030s 
  • Expanded air-to-air role as a result of early F-22 production termination and eventual F-15C retirement in the late 2020s to early 2030s
  • Proliferation of Very High Frequency (VHF) radars which have the potential to degrade the stealth characteristics of small low observable aircraft as per the Raleigh scattering regime
  • Increasingly capable surface-to-air missile (SAM) systems such as the S-400 and the HQ-19
  •  Increasingly capable Digital Radio Frequency Memory (DRFM) jammers will degrade the effectiveness of beyond visual range radar guided missiles such as the AIM-120
  • Proliferation of Infrared Search and Track (IRST) systems among 4.5 generation and 5th generation aircraft will increased likelihood of detection within short to medium range 
  • Operating within contested anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) environments
  • Integration within combined arms approach and compatibility with allied forces 

These developments collectively represent a significant challenge toward keeping the F-35 relevant over the next three decades. Technological upgrades alone would be insufficient to maintain a force capable of countering these emerging national security threats. Historically, the innovative methods devised by of the Weapons Test school and TES units have been able to cope with emerging national security challenges and are poised to do so for future decades (e.g. new TTP and concepts developed post-Vietnam in Part II). The process of developing new TTP for the F-35 will likely resemble the process for developing new TTP for the F-22 by the 422nd TES and the Weapons School.

The 422nd TES received its first F-22s in 2004, a year before the first combat F-22s reached IOC status, in order to vet the equipment and systems within the Raptor in terms of both effectiveness and reliability under simulated combat conditions (Majumdar, 2009). The initial work done by TES units usually identifies teething problems with the aircraft. For example, the 422nd identified software reliability issues with the AN/APG-77 radar which have since been rectified as a result of input from the 422nd. After identifying and rectifying potential technological issues, the TES pilots create new methods of employing fighter aircraft. New TTP are strenuously evaluated with aggressor units in large simulated combat exercises such as Red Flag, Red Air, or Northern Edge. The USAF also has access to Su-27s and Mig-29s aircraft to further heighten the realism of combat training which are flown from Groom Lake, these aircraft were obtained as a result of the "Constant Peg" program.

For example, the 2006 exercise Northern Edge provided F-22 pilots an opportunity to evaluate the methods of contributing toward the efforts of Blue Force even after expending their payload of air-to-air missiles:

"After their missiles were fired, the F-22′s active and passive sensor capabilities functioned as the Raptor’s last weapon. Northern Edge 2006′s Raptors remained in the fight, flying as stealthy forward air controllers and guiding their colleagues to enemies sitting behind mountains and other 'Blue Force' AWACS blind spots." - Defense Industry Daily, 2013

The initial process for developing new TTP for the F-35 has already begun as both the 31st and 422nd TES under the 53rd Wing are receiving F-35 aircraft:

“As part of the Joint Operational Test Team, we take the aircraft hardware and software released from developmental test, our training from the 33rd Fighter Wing at Eglin (AFB, Fla.), the administrative and logistics support we get from the Joint Program Office and Lockheed Martin, and we integrate all of these disparate elements with maintenance practices, tactics, techniques and procedures required to create an incredibly lethal weapon system that can go out and win the nation’s wars...'We’ve got a brand new tool with a whole new set of capabilities that has never been used by the combat air forces. We have to take that tool and find out the best way to utilize it, to go out and defeat an enemy on the battlefield,'” - Commander of the 31st TES Lt. Col. Steven J. Tittel, 2013

While the specifics of any new TTP created for the F-35 are likely to remain classified, the following are plausible methods of employment in which the F-35 can be expected to be utilized over the next three decades:

Coordination Between Sensors and Shooters 

Image 2: Allied force networked via ATDL in an A2/AD environment (Image Credit: Northrup Grumman).

Both the USAF and USN are finding new methods of networking assets to facilitate greater situational awareness and coordination between C4ISR, bomber, and fighter aircraft. Data links form the basis for the USN's Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept which would allow assets such as the E-2D Hawkeye and F-35C to provide targeting data via the advanced tactical data-link (ATDL) or tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform to cue missile launches from other assets such as the F/A-18E/F and UCLASS.

"...the Rockwell Collins-designed tactical targeting network technology (TTNT) waveform, an individual platform does not necessarily need to generate its own tracks.To eliminate the target once it is located—in the air, on land, or floating on the ocean—the Growlers or the E-2D would relay via Link-16 a 'weapons quality' track to one of the Super Hornets, which would actually destroy the threat. 'That F/A-18E/F and the F-35C out front, they don’t even need to have their radars on,' Manazir said. 'They don’t need to be contributing to the picture themselves, they are just receiving this data.” Moreover, the F/A-18E/F would not even necessary even control the weapon that it launches—other than pulling the trigger. The E-2D, the EA-18G or even another Hornet or F-35C could guide that weapon, Manazir said." - Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014

Coordination between multiple sensors and shooters within NIFC-CA greatly increases the range of a carrier air wing as individual aircraft can engage targets beyond the range of their own individual radars so long as targeting data is provided by other friendly assets. Data links such as TTNT waveform create new opportunities to increase the effectiveness of a mixed 4th and 5th generation fighter force into the 2020s and 2030s. The USAF's service life extension programs (SLEP) will keep more than 200 F-15C/Ds and 300 F-16s in service until around 2030 and the F/A-18E/F is not scheduled to be replaced until the 2030s by a yet to be determined 6th generation design. Due to the internal carriage of weapons, 5th generation aircraft such as the F-35 generally carry fewer air-to-air weapons than equivalent 4th generation aircraft (CUDA will be discussed in Part IV). However, the individual survivability of a 4th generation aircraft is low as they are becoming increasingly vulnerable to long-range radar guided missile exchanges meaning they might not be able to fully make use of a comparatively larger missile load. Coordination between 5th generation and 4th generation aircraft via data-links effectively mitigates the aforementioned shortcomings of both aircraft.

Image 3: F/A-18C with ten AIM-120 and two AIM-9 air-to-air missiles

For example, the F/A-18E/F could act as a missile truck as it can carry up to 12 AIM-120D radar guided missiles and 2 AIM-9X Block II missiles to the F-35C's four (six AIM-120D on Block 4). The F-35C's stealth and enhanced situational awareness would allow it to stay on station within a highly contested anti-access environment and designate targets to the more vulnerable Super Hornets even after expending its internal air-to-air payload. USAF F-35A's and F-22A's could also provide targeting data not only to one another but also friendly F-16s and F-15s in a similar manner.

A major hindrance for the F-22 has been its interoperability with other systems due to its intra-flight datalink (IFTL) which can only transmit and receive data from other Raptors or specialized gateway communication aircraft. Plans to install the F-35's multifunction advanced data link (MADL) in the F-22 have effectively been put on hold due to funding limitations (Defense Industry Daily, 2013). However, increment 3.2A upgrades in conjunction with Project Missouri will allow the Raptor to transmit and receive Link 16 in a minimally detectable low-probability of intercept mode.

"Lockheed Martin, has demonstrated a new data-linking capability it developed for them secretly through 'Project Missouri', a proprietary program. During the demonstration, Lockheed validated the use of a Link 16 transmit capability from the twin-engine F-22 Raptor and showcased an exotic waveform developed by L-3 Communications and optimized for low-probability of intercept/low-probability of detection transmissions (LPI/LPD), says Ron Bessire, vice president of technology and innovation at the company's Skunk Works." - Amy Butler, 2014

Future American fighter aircraft will be able to seamlessly operate as part of a larger networked force across minimally detectable jam resistant data links. The F-35's integrated avionics suite and sensors are crucial to implementing both the USAF's and USN's vision of a highly coordinated mixed 4th and 5th generation fighter force.

Cyber and Electronic Warfare 

Image 4: The F-35's integrated avionics and sensor suite

Even in the midst of sequestration, systems and agencies related to cyber warfare have experienced consistent budget growth rates as a result of Congressional prioritization. Concepts and systems such as the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency's (DARPA) "Plan X" program increasingly seek to integrate cyber attacks with conventional kinetic strikes. Although the exact nature of the F-35's cyber capabilities remains classified, the F-35 has immense potential for use as a cyber weapon delivery platform as a result of its AN/APG-81 AESA radar and AN/ASQ-139 electronic warfare system:

"An enemy’s radios and radars are run by computers, so you can transmit signals to hack them. If the enemy’s computers are linked together then your virus can spread throughout that network. The enemy does not have to be connected to the Internet. You just need the enemy’s radios and radar to receive incoming signals...the AESA radar’s beams can throw out those zeros and ones to ANY sort of receiver. And an enemy’s radar is a receiver. His radios are receivers. Some of his electronic warfare sensors are also receivers." -Colin Clark, 2014

The effects of a future F-35 deployed cyber weapon are likely to be similar to BAE system's "Suter" which has already been deployed by US aircraft in coordination with L-3 Communications.

"[Suter] allows users to invade communications networks, see what enemy sensors see, and even take over as systems administrator so sensors can be manipulated into positions so that approaching aircraft can't be seen...The process involves locating enemy emitters with great precision and then directing data streams into them that can include false targets and misleading message algorithms." - Aviation Week, 2007

The US has deployed Suter via the EC-130 in both Iraq and Afghanistan to neutralize insurgent IEDs linked to wireless telephone systems. Plans to integrate air deliverable cyber weapons into the Miniature Air Launched Decoy (MALD) system have also been discussed. Israel is also suspected of utilizing Suter or a similar weapon as Suter to infiltrate and disable the Syrian integrated air defense system (IADS) surrounding a Syrian nuclear reactor site during "Operation Orchard" in 2007. Given the success of Suter in a SEAD role, its plausible future F-35 deployed cyber weapons could mask incoming radar contacts or display false signals to enemy fighter pilots which would greatly degrade the enemy's situational awareness (Clark, 2014). 

The United States is not unique in terms of possessing an air deliverable cyber weapon, both the Russian and Chinese militaries have been developing similar capabilities to target high priority US aircraft such as the E-3 and E-8 (Aviation Week, 2012). However, the F-35 is comparatively less vulnerable to similar cyber attacks as the AN/APG-81 radar features a low probability of intercept (LPI) mode. Successful delivery of systems like Suter requires a robust emitter locating capability which LPI modes make significantly more difficult via emission control principles. LPI software governs the duration, intensity, and space of signals to ensure a pilot maintains a high degree of situational awareness while mitigating the probability of detection by emitter locator systems. (Bill Sweetman, 2000). Equivalent Russian and Chinese aircraft are likely to be comparatively more vulnerable to US cyber weapons as a result of less mature LPI technology.

Russian AESA radars such as the Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE are a generation behind their US equivalents in the areas of TR module packaging and cooling technology (Kopp, 2012). Although information on the state of Russian LPI software is scarce within the public domain, it is plausible to assume Russian LPI software is also comparatively less mature compared to current Western designs given the performance of the Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE in all other non-LPI areas resembles primitive US AESAs. Similarly, Chinese AESA technology is less technologically mature than their Russian equivalents with no confirmed fighter mounted AESAs designs as of July 2014 outside of dubious internet leaks on various Chinese aviation forums. Although, most US intelligence officials believe the J-20 will be equipped with an AESA when it reaches initial operating capability (IOC) in 2018.


Image 5: A pair of Northrup Grumman E-2D Hawkeye aircraft. The E-2D along with the F-35C forms the linchpin of the USN's NIFC-CA concept. Current carrier air wings typically include 4 E-2C aircraft.

A significant outstanding issue with relation to the current adoption of network centric warfare and cyber weapons is the vulnerability of allied AWACS aircraft. Given the US focus on network centric warfare, where AWACS aircraft such as the E-3 and E-2 act as the central node of a network, a cyber weapon infecting an E-3 or E-2 remains a potential vulnerability from which the larger networked force could become compromised. Even if the F-35 is a reduced risk from becoming the initial point from which an enemy cyber weapon infects an allied network due to LPI, Chinese or Russian forces could still indirectly infect F-35 units as a result of the cyber weapon proliferating throughout the network from the AWACS aircraft.

The maximum effective range of an enemy air launched cyber weapon is likely dependent upon the range and accuracy of enemy emitter locator systems. However, given the intensity and volume of signals emitted, AWACS aircraft are comparatively more vulnerable to detection via emitter locator systems than other types of aircraft. The US Military is already in the process of enacting measures to mitigate the damage resulting from high intensity electronic jamming on its networks but publicly available information on measures to protect networks from air launched cyber attacks is understandably limited. Successful protection of AWACS aircraft against enemy cyber weapons is crucial to implementing network centric warfare. Potential methods to reduce the vulnerability of AWACS aircraft might include measures to reduce electronic emissions of AWACS aircraft or network diversification not dependent upon a "central node" based system. Both the USAF and USN should work in consultation with USCYBERCOM, DARPA, and other relevant agencies to develop appropriate countermeasures to protect US networks.

Developments in network centric warfare and cyber weapons have the potential to maintain US superiority in air-to-air combat and enable SEAD missions within contested A2/AD environments. The combination of the two techniques leverages the United States' existing competitive advantage in the fields of avionics and software relative to potential strategic competitors. As discussed in Part II, the US doctrines such as information dominance seek to attain situational awareness while degrading or denying the enemy's situational awareness. The combination of cyber weapon such as Suter and network centric warfare achieves both these objectives.

Author's Note: Stay tuned for the next article in the series, "The American Approach Part IV: Future TTP -  Countering Foreign 5th Generation Threats". If you have any questions or feedback, feel free to message me on the forum (ID: "mangler-muldoon"), send me an email, or leave a comment.

Sources (In addition to Parts I and II)

  1. Israel suspected of 'hacking' Syrian air defences, John Leyden, 2007.
  2. Five years on, new details emerge about Israeli strike on Syrian reactor, Amos Harel, 2012.
  3. New details of Israel’s 2007 attack on the Syrian Nuclear reactor emerge, Richard Clements, 2012.
  4. China, U.S. Chase Air-to-Air Cyber Weapon, David A. Fulghum, 2012.
  5. The E-2D Advanced Hawkeye Stays On-Track, Jan Tegler, 2011.
  6. Active Electronically Steered Arrays A Maturing Technology, Carlo Kopp, 2002. 
  8. Aerospace System Improvements Enabled by Modern Phased Array Radar, Northrop Grumman Electronic Systems, 2002.
  9. Phazotron Zhuk AE/ASE Assessing Russia's First Fighter AESA, Carlo Kopp, 2012.
  10. ‘A God’s Eye View Of The Battlefield:’ Gen. Hostage On The F-35, Colin Clark, 2014.
  11. Lockheed’s Secret ‘Project Missouri’ Links F-22, F-35, Amy Butler, 2014.
  12. Talking Stealth: USAF Pushes for 5th to 4th 'Gateway', Amy Butler, 2013.
  13. JSF: Integrated Avionics Par Excellence, Charlotte Adams, 2003. 
  14. F-35 Electronic Warfare Suite: More Than Self-Protection, Ron Sherman, 2006.
  15. FIGHTER EW, Bill Sweetman, 2000.                                                                         
  16. F-35 as ISR collector, Dave Majumdar, 2010.
  17. Inside the Navy’s Next Air War, Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014.
  18. ANALYSIS: Northrop, Lockheed vie to connect F-22 to airborne network, Stephen Trimble, 2014.
  19. Navy: F-35C Will Be Eyes and Ears of the Fleet, Dave Majumdar, 2013. 
  20. Introducing the USAF’s airborne networking future, Stephen Trimble, 2008.
  21. F-22 Raptor: Capabilities and Controversies, Defense Industry Daily, 2013.
  22. F-35 Enters Operational Testing at Edwards and Nellis Air Force Bases, Defense Update, 2013. 
  23. Simulation plays vital role in building F-35 tactics and aircraft development, Dave Majumdar, 2012. 

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Divergent Thinking: How Best to Employ Fighter Aircraft - The American Approach Part II

Image 1: Group of F-35 aircraft. Image Credit: Donald Allen, 2013.

  • A country’s method of fighter employment is uniquely tailored to the host country’s national security objectives, the relative strengths and weaknesses of its defense industry, budgetary considerations, prior combat experiences, and its pilot training programs and infrastructure.
  • The United States method of fighter employment favors aircraft with stealth and heightened situational awareness which results in a comparatively high cost mass production procurement strategy. This procurement strategy is made possible by consistent and large scale American R&D efforts in avionics, sensors, stealth technology, and related software in conjunction with the unrivaled Department of Defense procurement budget.
  • The US method of fighter employment addresses the national security challenges associated with a high intensity anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) conflict in the Western Pacific. A measure to replace the F-35 with existing 4.5 generation aircraft, as advocated by many F-35 critics, will not meet current American national security objectives, ignores the relative strengths and weaknesses of the American defense industry, and does not account for the robust pilot training programs and initiatives of the United States.

The air campaign in Vietnam was a significant learning experience for the USAF not only in terms of highlighting the importance of fighter maneuverability, institutionalizing dogfighting skills, and retaining an internally mounted gun - as commonly discussed by scholars and USAF officials, but also in terms of highlighting the importance of situational awareness. After the relative ineffectiveness of the USAF against Vietnamese Migs, the Air Force compiled its findings in the Project Red Baron report with the goal of improving American air to air capabilities. One of the key findings of the Red Barron report was the majority of American airmen who were shot down did not see their adversary until it was too late (Laslie, 2013). Robin Olds, a triple ace and one of the most distinguished American airmen who served in both World War II and Vietnam, described an encounter with Vietnamese Mig 21s for the Red Barron report:

"Going in a pair of MiG-21s hit us, two of them, and they came in supersonic from six o'clock high and was [sic] right on top of us before we ever knew anything about it,  launched a bunch of missiles, and shot down two of my F-4s. Bang. Just that fast. I turned around, I heard them scream, I turned, and all I saw were two burning objects on  the side….these MiGs were gone, supersonic."

Image 2: Robin Olds was an extremely influential American aviator who argued for greatly expanding basic dogfighting skills as part of standard fighter pilot training. Among his many accomplishments, Olds was responsible for orchestrating Operation Bolo which was both the largest and most successful air-to-air engagement carried out by American forces during the Vietnam War. Olds was also well known for his trademark non-regulation "bullet proof" handlebar mustache. NY Times obituary 

Significant investments in radar technology, command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (C4ISR) equipment and the institutionalization of new techniques, tactics, and procedures (TTP) and concepts  - such as John Boyd's OODA loop in the 1970s and 1980s, revolutionized the approach in which the USAF used established air superiority. The results of the USAF's approach to establishing situational awareness greatly contributed towards the lopsided engagements favoring Coalition forces in the Persian Gulf War. 

Similarly, the development of stealth technology in the mid 1970s enabled the USAF to greatly degrade an enemy's situational awareness by both limiting the effectiveness of enemy radars and enabling allied aircraft to destroy enemy command and control assets in the opening hours of a conflict. For example, F-117A destroyed Iraqi command and control facilities and Integrated Air Defense Systems (IADS) with impunity at the onset of the Gulf War which limited the effectiveness of the Iraqi Air Force for the remaining duration of the conflict.

The combination of both heightened situational awareness and low observability form the basis of American 5th generation fighter aircraft. New developments in cyber warfare, electronic attack capabilities, avionics, and sensors featured in the F-35 and recent F-22 upgrades further augments the USAF's ability to achieve situational awareness through Network-Centric Warfare (NCW) and provides new opportunities for the USAF to deny and degrade a potential enemy's situational awareness. Prior to an examination of how stealth and situational awareness have shaped the evolution of American air-to-air tactics, an examination of how fighter aircraft operate within a broader combined arms context in addition to pilot training is required.

The Combined Arms Approach 

Image 3: Flight deck of USS George Washington in the Pacific

As stated in part I of this series, one cannot draw meaningful conclusions of force effectiveness by merely reviewing the specifications of two opposing fighter aircraft (e.g. thrust to weight ratio vs. wing loading) to determine the probable victor. A comprehensive analysis to determine the future effectiveness of a nation's method of fighter employment must include consideration of its force doctrines, how its fighter aircraft preform within the nation's combined arms approach. In the case of the United States, fighter aircraft do not operate alone but as part of a larger networked force. For example, F-35C aircraft would coordinate actions as part of Naval Integrated Fire Control-Counter Air (NIFC-CA) concept:

"...targets spotted hundreds of miles away by one sensor—such as the emerging F-35C Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) or E-2D Advanced Hawkeye intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft—could be engaged cooperatively by any number of shooters: a JSF, F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet tactical fighter, or future unmanned vehicles, all available to the strike group over vast distances." - Majumdar & LaGrone, 2014

Aircraft from the carrier air wing, such as the F-35C and E-2D, would work in conjunction with Aegis equipped assets to cue SM-6 surface to air missiles (SAM) and SM-3 anti-ballistic missiles (ABM) beyond the range of ship mounted radars (LaGrone & Laird, 2014). Furthermore, the USN would closely coordinate with USAF assets in contested A2/AD environments resulting in new tactics such as F-22s providing targeting data to tomahawk cruise missile equipped nuclear attack submarines. In summary, American fighter aircraft train and fight with other assets. Thus, any examination of future American air-to-air capabilities must account for how American fighter aircraft would preform within not only a broader inter-service force but as part of a broader joint USAF and USN force.

Pilot Training

Image 4: Group of F-16 aggressor pilots participating in a Red Flag exercise

Similarly, without understanding how American fighter pilots train for combat at the tactical level (doctrines and broader operational concepts being strategic level), one cannot determine the probable outcome of an engagement. As The Russian Approach and the American Approach - Part I demonstrate, the manner in which air forces employ similar assets varies significantly. For example, the Russian method of fighter employment favors a comparatively minimal pilot training programs supplemented by mass production of 4.5 generation aircraft and cost-effective use of beyond visual range radar guided missiles. The American approach invests greater resources in both the airframe and the development of its individual fighter pilots. American fighter pilots fly between 250-300 hours per year for training purposes while Russian fighter pilots receive 100 practice hours each year (Source 1 & 2). The base requirements of American fighter pilots are augmented by realistic combat exercises such as Red Flag and Red Air.

Analysis of the air war in Vietnam led by Moody Suter concluded that the majority of pilot casualties occurred before each pilot's tenth combat mission, casualty rates decreased dramatically if a pilot survived their first ten combat missions. Red Flag was devised as a means to provide US fighter pilots with their first ten combat missions in a training environment. More than 30 years later, Red Flag and Red Air provide American fighter pilots with invaluable opportunities to hone their skills and operate alongside US allies in conjunction with a larger networked force. Aggressor units provide a holistic simulation of potential enemy threats not only in air-to-air operations but also in cyber warfare and electronic warfare operations:

"...the Information Aggressors simulate attacks on Blue Force computer networks and information systems. At the same time the 57th and 177th Information Aggressor Squadrons (57th and 177th IAS) might attempt to infiltrate Blue Force bases- including their dorms- to search for intelligence useful to the Aggressors during the simulated war. Combined with the aerial Aggressors flying the F-15 Eagle and F-16 Fighting Falcon fighters, these Aggressor forces mount a coordinated offensive against the Blue Force during exercises...
Similarly, in order to replicate the very real danger of computer network infiltration attacks the 57th and 177th Information Aggressor Squadrons stage elaborate attacks on various USAF installations in order to test their defenses...Toth said that due to the serious nature of the threat, the simulated attacks have to be very realistic. The bases that are subject to a simulated network attack by the Aggressors are not given any prior warning, Toth stated. He added that only a few seniors officer are given prior notice of these 'stimulation exercises' in order to ensure that the Aggressors tactics are not mistaken for an actual attack on the USAF network." - . Dave Majumdar

Image 5: Pair of aggressor F-16s at Red Flag Alaska. Aggressor units have incorporated new technologies in recent years such as IRST pods to replicate probable enemy threats.

American intelligence agencies (primarily the Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency, and National Security Agency) provide invaluable information to aggressor units regarding the capabilities, TTP, organization, and doctrines of potential enemies and strategic competitors (Bender, 2013). Aggressor units have imitated North Korean, Russian, Iranian, and Chinese forces within Red Flag exercises (Hoffman, 2009). The realistic training environment and robust pilot training infrastructure of the United States enables the facilitation of new TTP by special test and evaluation squadrons (TES) and the USAF Weapons School.

Author's Note: Part III will discuss the process in which TES units and the USAF Weapons School create new TTP which exploits the advantages of stealth and situational awareness. Probable tactics that will be utilized by future American fighter pilots, specifically F-35 pilots, will subsequently be examined. Part IV will discuss the American approach with an A2/AD context in the Western Pacific and the new challenges posed by emerging Chinese systems such as the J-20 and J-31.


(1) F-16 Fighting Falcon Service Life, Global Security, 2012.
(2) Reviving the Russian Air Force, Gorenburg, 2013.
(3) F-22 will provide targeting for submarine based Tomahawk cruise missiles, David Cenciotti, 2013.
(4) Plymouth native emulates enemy in Air Force war games, Bryan Bender 2013.
(5) Aggressor pilots: Paid to play the villain, Michael Hoffman, 2009.
(6) The Next Act for Aegis, Sam LaGrone, 2014.
(7) The Long Reach of Aegis, Robbin Laird, 2012.
(8) The makings of a warrior: Training pilots to fly America's next generation fighters. Part 1, Dave Majumdar, 2009.
(9) Inside the Navy’s Next Air War, Dave Majumdar and Sam LaGrone, 2014.
(10) The Implementation of Network-Centric Warfare, Office of the Secretary of Defense, 2005.
(11) Red Flag: How the Rise Of "Realistic Training" after Vietnam Changed the Air Force's Way of War, Brian Laslie, 2006.
(12) Aggressor squadrons feel the pinch of DoD cuts, Jamie Hunter, 2014.

Friday, June 6, 2014

News June 2014

Image 1: PAK FA weapon integration testing

I will have a full fledged article done by next week. In the meantime, here are a few articles to tide you over.

Recommended Articles:

Gen. Mike Hostage On The F-35; No Growlers Needed When War Starts - Colin Clark
‘A God’s Eye View Of The Battlefield:’ Gen. Hostage On The F-35 - Colin Clark
A Low-Visibility Force Multiplier Assessing China’s Cruise Missile Ambitions - Dennis M. Gormley, Andrew S. Erickson, and Jingdong Yuan
The Hunt for Full-Spectrum ASW - William Toti
What China still seek from Russian military export - Feng
America’s Lazy Asian Allies? Not Down Under - Henry Lawton
Navy Altered Destroyer Upgrades Due to Budget Pressure, Demand for Ships - Sam LaGrone
Navies of the World: The Royal Navy in the Pacific - James R. Holmes
Annual Report to Congress on Chinese Military Development - Office of the Secretary of Defense
Bombs Away: Study the Battleship to Save the Aircraft Carrier - James R. Holmes
How U.S. can reinvigorate India defense ties - Vikram J. Singh and Joshua T. White
5 Ways Europe Can Help the US Pivot - James R. Holmes
US To Review Europe Troop Presence -Agence France-Presse

The Rise of China and America's Asian Allies

Professor Stephen Walt offers a grim but increasingly plausible interpretation of future US-China relations and the role of US Pacific allies like Australia. A more succinct article with some of his thoughts: What Has Asia Done for Uncle Sam Lately?

Friday, May 23, 2014

Current Events: Recommendations Concerning HD-981 Vietnam-China Maritime Dispute

Earlier this May, China National Offshore Oil Corporation moved its Haiyang Shiyou HD-981 oil rig to within 120 miles of Vietnam's coast southeast of the Paracel Islands. The HD-981 Vietnam-China dispute is the latest in a series of territorial disputes involving China and its East and Southeast Asian neighbors. The intent of the manufactured crisis is to bring about a change in the status quo within the South China Sea, of which more than 80% China claims as part of its nine-dash line:

“Each step is designed by China not to provoke conflict, of course, but to change the understanding of the status quo, so that if they get away with it in Vietnamese waters, then they continue build these [oil rigs] in other waters and use the same tactic of claiming that this is really Chinese territory...China is across the board attempting to create a new type of understanding of the territory that is its own or over which it should have control.” - Michael Auslin, 2014                                                                                             China's decision to move the $1 billion dollar rig near the Paracel islands was a politically motivated rather than financially based decision as the prospect of hydrocarbon deposits within the area is questionable (Panda, 2014). Furthermore, the timing of the incident,  the rig was moved in place shortly after President Obama departed from his tour of Japan, South Korea, the Philippines, and Malaysia, suggests China is testing the resolve of the United States in its commitment to the pivot (Fravel, 2014). Despite the strong historical animosity between China and Vietnam, the HD-981 incident is especially notable given that the governments of both countries have greatly expanded economic ties with one another in recent years and Premier Li Keqiang visited Hanoi in October of last year. 

Vietnam is not a treaty bound ally of the United States despite steady progress in mutual defense cooperation and exchanges since the 1990s. The Government of Vietnam is currently divided among those who want closer ties with the West and the United States and those who seek to strengthen ties with China:

"The Vietnamese do not see normalization with the U.S., nor their continued normalization with China, in zero-sum terms. They realize that engaging more with the U.S. does not necessarily entail engaging less with China. Vietnam continues to acknowledge the critical importance of an effective, friendly relationship with China, even in the midst of exacerbated concerns regarding Beijing’s efforts to make its influence felt in the region. This means that the Vietnamese will not risk damage to their relationship with China in order to strengthen their relationship with the U.S...For this reason, the U.S. has little to gain from portraying its interest in improved strategic relations with Vietnam as focused exclusively on the extent to which enhanced defense and security cooperation between Hanoi and Washington can impact China’s strategic calculations." - William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012 

Given the somewhat limited extent of Vietnam-US defense engagement in conjunction with the aforementioned economic and political developments between Vietnam-China relations, Vietnam became the preferred candidate for another territorial incident. The PRC leadership correctly determined that the desire of Vietnam's Government to maintain robust economic ties with the PRC outweighed Vietnam's traditionally firm stance on maritime disputes. Because Vietnam desires close economic ties to China, its response has been limited to rhetoric and the deployment of its coast guard. 

Thus, the situation is more nuanced than prior territorial incidents involving stalwart US allies who are largely unified in their opposition of Chinese territorial claims such as Japan and the Philippines. This is not to say US interests are not at risk in the current crisis, but a hawkish US response will likely be undesired by Vietnam. Furthermore, a hawkish US response would undermine current efforts to promote greater military to military communication and the establishment of release mechanisms for US-China tensions. For example, the US recently concluded a series of high level military exchanges with China and is about to partake in joint exercises with People's Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) vessels in RIMPAC. 

As part of the pivot, the US seeks to maintain its role in the post-World War II international order e.g. maintaining US influence through international bodies and institutions, freedom of navigation, and the diplomatic resolution of territorial disputes (Fravel, 2014). These traditional elements of US foreign policy are at risk by China's latest provocation as they constitute a clear violation of several established international laws and norms in which the US has helped to both develop and promote e.g. the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS). Therefore, the US response to the HD-981 dispute should be tailored to preserve US backed international maritime laws and established international norms such as of freedom of navigation while also accounting for the somewhat divided stance of Vietnam's Government with respect to China.   

Recommendations for the United States

Image 2: Vietnamese President Truong Tan Sang with President Obama. Image Credit: Reuters, 2013.

Thus far, the US response has been limited to Secretary of State John Kerry and the State Department criticizing the HD-981 incident as provocative. Kerry spoke with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi about the incident but China has been unreceptive to the US narrative concerning the crisis. Chief of China's military, General. Fang Fenghui, responded to the HD-981 incident during his visit with US officials:

"We believe that the ones that are provoking those issues in the South China Sea [are] not China, but certain countries that are attempting to gain their own interests, because they believe that China is now developing its economy and the United States is adopting this Asia-Pacific rebalancing strategy"

It is abundantly clear that current US statements to discourage China from challenging the territorial status quo in the South China Sea remains insufficient. Despite the aforementioned caveats regarding the desire of Vietnam to maintain favorable economic ties with China, the HD-981 incident can still serve as the impetus for further US-Vietnamese defense cooperation. If the US can improve its defense ties with Vietnam as a result of the current crisis, the precedent would serve as a powerful deterrent for future Chinese provocations. However, the US should frame its new effort to improve relations with Vietnam in a manner that does not directly oppose China. Greater soft power engagement through the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would greatly enhance US ties with Vietnam:

"By 2025, Vietnam would stand to gain nearly $96 billion or 28 percent of its GDP. This is largely due to exports increasing an estimated 37 percent...Exports and privileged access to the U.S. market benefit emerging Asia, as the terms of trade will favor them over trading partners not at the table. The U.S. and Japan could also act as an economic counterbalance to China [which is not part of TPP talks] in the region—helping the smaller, less-developed countries compete for export growth" - Samuel Rines, 2014

Greater US-Vietnamese economic engagement as a result of the TPP would allow Vietnam to be less dependent on China for its economic growth over the long-term and ensures Vietnam maintains a vested interest in pursuing relations with the US. Soft power measures over time could form the basis of greater military cooperation.

As part of its effort to grant greater flexibility to Vietnam, the US can also help diversify Vietnam's military cooperation with US allies such as the Philippines. Vietnam and the Philippines have already concluded a number of defense agreements and exchanges in recent years. Encouraging stronger Vietnam-Philippines engagement in the South China Sea is largely to the benefit of the United States as it provides a means to further develop both countries' military capabilities while allowing Vietnam flexibility by avoiding a one-sided US or China centric foreign policy.

Over the long-term, an agreement between the US and Vietnam similar to the current Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement between the US and the Philippines would greatly assist the pivot. In the short-term, US military planners greatly desire routine access to Cam Ranh bay, one of the best deep water ports in the Pacific, for maintenance purposes. Vietnam has routinely expressed a desire for access to US arms exports, spare parts and restoration of its Vietnam era US equipment, and an end to US scrutiny regarding human rights (Weisgerber, 2012).

Image 3: Former Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta visiting Vietnamese officials in Cam Ranh bay. Image Credit: Department of Defense, 2012.

The US continues to prohibit the sale of military equipment to Vietnam on the basis of human rights violations within the country. Given the stake of US interests in the region, it might be wise for the US to offer Vietnam some degree of flexibility on human rights issues. This would not entail a complete withdrawal of human rights concerns, but Vietnam's treatment in US arms sales is somewhat arbitrary. When the national interest is at stake, Washington has shown  a willingness to overlook human rights violations if it means hedging potential national security threats. For example, as part of its effort to contain Iran, Washington has not only overlooked human rights issues within its Gulf state allies but also has provided them with access to some of its most advanced arms exports including the THAAD and PAC-3 anti-ballistic missile (ABM) systems. Thus, the sale low-end items such as spare parts for Vietnam's fleet of UH-1 helicopters should be permitted especially since these requests do not violate existing foreign military sale regulations (Jordan, Stern & Lohman, 2012).      

If the sale of spare parts remains politically difficult in Washington, it is likely the parts could be delivered through intermediaries or US allies given widespread usage of the UH-1. Private contractors could also preform the restoration work on Vietnam's UH-1 fleet, many logistics and support specialized private military firms (PMF) such as MPRI provide aircraft maintenance services. The use of private contractors would be convenient as it would grant the US a degree of separation from being directly involved in the UH-1 restoration work, which is beneficial as it minimizes potential Chinese and domestic scrutiny. Depending upon the firm (e.g. a large PMF like MPRI), the extent of official US Government involvement would be limited to State Department approval. In exchange for the spare parts, the US Government should press Vietnam for greater access to Cam Ranh bay in the form of more allotted port visits per year and investment in port facilities for maintenance work.

As far as high-end arms exports are concerned, large scale support from Congress is an unavoidable prerequisite. Furthermore, Vietnam's military is predominantly a Russian military supplied force. The interoperability issues that would result from a mixed Russia-US arms supply would likely limit the effectiveness of the Vietnamese military in the short-term. It often takes decades to effectively switch between a Russian and US equipped force, e.g. Egypt after the Camp David Accords 1978. Thus, the problematic nature of operating a mixed US-Russia arsenal and the political difficulties in Congress make high-end US arms exports to Vietnam unlikely. Vietnam can still effectively deter future Chinese attempts at forceful resolution of territorial disputes with a combination of Russian arms exports and US militarily assistance in the form of military training exercises and providing opportunities for Vietnamese officer education and training.

The combination of these measures would assist Vietnamese forces denying China the ability to seize and control disputed territories in a similar manner as China's current anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) strategy is situated against the United States. In essence, China would not be able to resolve existing territorial disputes effectively with the use of force if the aforementioned Vietnamese strategy was successfully implemented. In comparison to active power projection assets such as amphibious assault ships, which are used take seized island territory, an A2/AD strategy is much more economical and practical given Vietnam's circumstances. The basis for Vietnam's A2/AD strategy is already underway with the conclusion of several Russian arms purchases including: 6 Kilo-class submarines, SS-N-22 Sunburn anti-ship missiles, Kh-35 anti-ship missiles, SS-N-26 Oniks anti-ship missiles, the S-300 surface to air missile system, Molniya/ Project 12418 fast attack craft, Su-30s, etc.

In conclusion, the HD-981 incident can serve as a means to enhance US-Vietnamese cooperation. Despite the desire for the Vietnamese Government to prioritize economic ties with China, its more than likely that Vietnam's Government wishes for a flexible economic and defense policy not directly situated with either the United States or China. Expanding US-Vietnamese defense ties remains plausible so long as the US offers Vietnam increased flexibility in both economic and defense terms via the TTP and expanded relations with US allies such as the Philippines. A strong Vietnam-US defense partnership would greatly benefit the pivot if the US can obtain increased access to Cam Ranh bay and other Vietnamese facilities as part of its "places not bases" strategy.


  1. Why Did China Set Up an Oil Rig Within Vietnamese Waters?, Ankit Panda, 2014.
  2. China's Oil Rig Gambit: South China Sea Game-Changer?, Carl Thayer, 2014.
  3. The Gift of American Power, Robert Kaplan, 2014.
  4. US-China To Set Up Video Hotline, Talk Of Joint Exercises, Colin Clark, 2014.
  5. Vietnam Frees Some Dissidents Amid TPP Trade Talks, Luke Hunt, 2014.
  6. The $1 billion Chinese oil rig that has Vietnam in flames, Adam Taylor, 2014.
  7. China Claims U.S. Is Encouraging ‘Dangerous and Provocative Actions’ in Oilrig Standoff, Sam LaGrone, 2014.                                                                           
  8. China's Big Strategic Mistake in the South China Sea, Ha Anh Tuan, 2014.
  9. At Pentagon, Chinese general warns US on territorial disputes, Chris Carroll and Jon Harper, 2014.
  10. The Battle for the South China Sea, Michael J. Totten, 2014.
  11. China’s Naval Modernization: Implications and Recommendations, Andrew S. Erickson, 2013.
  12. Is a Philippine-Vietnam Alliance in the Making?, Carl Thayer, 2014.
  13. The Limits to US-Vietnam Ties, Richard Pearson, 2014.           
  14. China and America Clash on the High Seas: The EEZ Challenge, Jeff M. Smith and Joshua Eisenman, 2014.                                                                                          
  15. Vietnam’s Russian Restocking, Defense Industry Daily, 2014.                                                    
  16. U.S.–Vietnam Defense Relations: Investing in Strategic Alignment, William Jordan, Lewis M. Stern and Walter Lohman, 2012.