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Airpower Over Asia

[ 9 ] April 4, 2014 |

This week at the Diplomat, I answer some questions about the implications of Air Force independence in Asia and in Asian history.

While you concentrate your book on the Royal Air Force and the United States Air Force, the argument would seem to hold for any independent air force. What do the major Asian air forces look like?

This is a very interesting question. Most post-colonial Asian states take the model of their former colonizer; Pakistan, India, and Malaysia all have independent air forces on the model of the RAF, for example. Revolutionary states tended to adopt the Soviet or Chinese models, in which the air force was subservient to the army. This includes China, Vietnam, North Korea, and Indonesia. The Japanese case is complicated, but the JASDF is more or less an independent service within the Japanese Self-Defense Force.

Next Divorce: Hello, Helsinki!

[ 16 ] April 2, 2014 |

Well, this explains it.

Almost a year after announcing their split in a stilted scene at the Grand Kremlin Palace, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his wife Lyudmila have finalized their divorce. The duo were married for 30 years and have two children together, though Putin’s official biography on the presidential website no longer makes any mention of Lyudmila.

The news marks perhaps the final chapter in the hushed but turbulent drama of Putin’s personal life. Rumors long circulated of a rift between the Russian strongman and his seldom-seen wife. The Kremlin regularly issued denials of such gossip, and Putin himself denied marital troubles, telling Italian reporters there was “not a single word of truth” in the speculation and that he had contempt for those whose “erotic fantasies prowl into others’

lives.”

 

F-22s Are Magic Dragons Made Out of Unobtanium

[ 97 ] April 1, 2014 |

Colonel Robert Spalding III (USAF):

To buy time for Ukraine and to allow time for diplomatic measures to be effective, a military solution is called for. A purely defensive deployment of F-22 fighters (along with supporting aircraft) is just one possible solution. To be diplomatically effective these forces would have to come with an American promise to defend Ukrainian skies from attack.

Without firing a shot, such a deployment would immediately change Putin’s invasion calculus. Faced with F-22s, Russian aircraft would not survive, and thus could not support a Russian ground invasion. Ukrainians would feel more confident about their ability to defend their country, since any Russian invasion would be subject to attack by Ukrainian aircraft protected by F-22s.

I have a response at War is Boring.

This proposal would seem merely silly if it came from a civilian policymaker without the faintest notion of the finer points of air power. Instead, it comes from an Air Force colonel. But it shouldn’t surprise anyone that Air Force officers are pushing palpably absurd solutions to the Ukraine crisis.

People complain that my book Grounded: The Case for Abolishing the United States Air Force focuses too much on having “dead arguments with dead men,” and that modern air power advocates have given up on making extravagant, unsupportable claims about the effectiveness of aviation.

 

Spying Makes People Stupid

[ 33 ] March 31, 2014 |

This is dumb:

Ahead of a Swiss referendum on the country’s plan to buy 22 fighter jets from Sweden, a report raised concerns Sunday that a US-made communication system onboard could be used for spying.

According to a report in Swiss weekly Le Matin Dimanche, Swedish defense firm Saab last year brought in US company Rockwell Collins to replace Roschi Rohde & Schwartz of Switzerland, which had originally been contracted to build the communications system.

While the Swiss would still be making their own encryption keys, the physical box and the software inside would be American made, according to the report.

Several experts quoted by the paper cautioned that the US company could potentially build a “backdoor” into the system, making it possible for US intelligence to see the information gathered during reconnaissance flights.

In case you’re wondering, the Swiss Air Force currently flies (between 9am and 5pm on weekdays) Boeing F/A-18 Hornets, and Northrop F-5E Tiger IIs.

But more broadly, this is the kind of unpredictable second order effect that happens when national security establishments are allowed to expand their activities without sufficient forethought and monitoring by civilians and diplomats.  It’s dumb that NSA spying concerns might convince some Swiss citizens to vote against buying a Swedish fighter with American components to replace their American fighter with American components.  But it’s not exactly surprising that people around the world will resent the perception that US intelligence agencies are collecting massive amounts of data about their lives, and act (even in small ways) upon that resentment.

Airpower Makes People Stupid

[ 42 ] March 31, 2014 |

Oh, hell.

How can the U.S. add muscle in the present Ukraine crisis?

The boldest and riskiest course would be to dispatch 50 or 60 of the incredibly potent F-22s to Poland plus Patriot batteries and appropriate ground support and protection. Russian generals and even Putin surely know that the F-22s could smash the far inferior Russian air force and then punish Russian armies invading eastern Ukraine or elsewhere in the region.

There’s no sense at all in making this move unless Obama unambiguously resolves to use the F-22s. The worst thing to do is bluff. Nor would the dangers end there even if Obama were not bluffing; Putin might think he was bluffing anyway and start a war.  With all these complications and risks, the Obama team still should give this option a serious look—and let Russia and our NATO partners know this tough course is under serious consideration. Obama has sent a few F-15’s and F-16’s to Eastern Europe, some military aid to Ukraine and other states. But everyone knows this is tokenism.

I have prepared a short dialogue illustrating the history of airpower thought:

Sagredo: “We must do something!”
Salviati: “But what? The situation is complex.”
Simplicio: “I know!  Airpower!

Some additional thoughts:

  • The difference between the US commitments to Ukraine and to Estonia lies not with a particular technology, but rather in the nature of the political relationship. A commitment of US military power might well deter Russia (although it would likely have unpredictable second order effects) but this commitment does not depend on any specific technology.
  • Given what appears to be the balance of forces between Ukraine and Russia, and given especially the apparent political unreliability of the Ukrainian military, it is not at all certain that “50 or 60 of our incredibly potent F-22s” could actually prevent a Russian military victory. Russia could prevent the loss of its own air force by simply refusing to accept combat against the F-22s, and using its overwhelming ground superiority and short-range ballistic missile capabilities to overrun Ukrainian air bases. A much larger NATO commitment that included ground attack aircraft might make a difference, but this reinforces the point that the political commitment, not the technology, is what matters.
  • Washington punditry, Gelb included, remains drunk on the promise of “resolve” and “toughness.” The issue here has nothing to do with nebulous concerns about American toughness, and everything to do with the specific commitments that the United States has to Ukraine. Given that Ukraine was a Russian client state until two months ago, it’s hardly surprising that no one (including Putin) believes that the United States will fight to preserve our relationship with Kiev. The threat of force is a transparent bluff, impressive only to idiots besotted with Putin’s sense of machismo.

 

Storyline Pre-emption

[ 19 ] March 30, 2014 |

Let’s pre-empt: No one should refer to this Kentucky team as  ”The Miracle Cats.”  They are not “scrappy underdogs” in the sense that the term is normally used.  Kentucky and national press will, if the ‘Cats manage to win it all, undoubtedly refer to them as “the unlikeliest of champions.”  This is incorrect.   Calipari’s performance is not, in fact, “the greatest coaching job of an era.”  Rather, this Kentucky team was a pre-season #1 that managed to struggle its way into the tournament despite playing remarkable craptastic basketball for long stretches of the season. The ‘Cats are an eight seed only in the formal sense; I’m not sure how many would disagree with the proposition that they were one of the five most talented teams in the field of 68.

It is amusing, though, that three weeks ago Lexingtonians were assembling the tar, feathers, and rail for Calipari.  One popular theory held that the team was terrible because Cal was addicted to prescription painkillers.  A common joke ran “What’s the best thing about the Harrison twins?  They aren’t triplets.”

And yes, more than 2 out of 193 LGM brackets should have taken Kentucky to win.  And apparently more than 0 of 193 should have taken UConn.

LGM Baseball Challenge

[ 10 ] March 29, 2014 |

Almost forgot!  The LGM Baseball Challenge league has been reactivated (you’ll be given an option to rejoin if you activate a new team with the same ESPN account).  If you’re new to the League:

Group Name: LGM

Password:  zevon

As always with the prize for victory, etc.

Tourney Challenge Update

[ 4 ] March 29, 2014 |

Here’s the latest from the LGM Tourney Challenge:

RANK BRACKET, OWNER R64 R32 S16 CHAMPION PPR TOTAL PCT
1
War On Error SouthSideFan773
270 240 200 Wisconsin 640 710 99.8
2
The ed17 1 The ed17
270 220 200 Michigan St 880 690 99.5
3
davidrrutherford 1davidrrutherford
240 240 200 Michigan St 720 680 99.2
4
aintthatprettyracobeen
260 200 200 Florida 880 660 98
5*
TXlovesOZkinestx
230 220 200 Iowa State 400 650 96.9
5*
the PBOATMr.Madame Psychosis
230 220 200 Louisville 80 650 96.9
7
maybe this timesullivap
240 200 200 Florida 960 640 95.4
8*
Karate Bearfighter 1Karate Bearfighter
210 180 240 Arizona 880 630 93.3
8*
folkbumfolkbum
250 180 200 Kansas 400 630 93.3
10*
Hugh Jassjwilloth
240 180 200 Florida 960 620 90.8
10*
Lexington Bearded Ducks farls0
260 160 200 Kentucky 880 620 90.8
10*
Vote SaxonFrinklin
260 200 160 Michigan St 720 620 90.8
10*
Pass me a rolling rockstrauszm
220 200 200 Michigan St 640 620 90.8
10*
dcheval 2dcheval
220 240 160 UCLA 400 620 90.8
10*
spartypartyjohnrauchman
260 200 160 Wichita State 400 620 90.8

Last night’s UK-Louisville game was… epic.  And strange.

“We never threaten anyone. We just explain the situation.”

[ 106 ] March 29, 2014 |

Meaningless vote, but it does suggest that international opinion views the annexation of Crimea differently than the Kosovo War or the South Ossetia War:

Russia threatened several Eastern European and Central Asian states with retaliation if they voted in favor of a United Nations General Assembly resolution this week declaring invalid Crimea’s referendum on seceding from Ukraine, U.N. diplomats said.

The disclosures about Russian threats came after Moscow accused Western countries of using “shameless pressure, up to the point of political blackmail and economic threats,” in an attempt to coerce the United Nations’ 193 member states to join it in supporting the non-binding resolution on the Ukraine crisis…

A spokesman for Russia’s Mission to the U.N. denied that Moscow threatened any country with retaliation if it supported the resolution, saying: “We never threaten anyone. We just explain the situation.”

In the end, the Ukrainian resolution declaring Crimea’s vote on March 16 in favor of seceding from Ukraine as having “no validity” passed with 100 votes in favor, 11 against and 58 abstentions. Another 24 U.N. member states did not cast votes.

Western diplomats called the result a diplomatic success for Ukraine. A similar General Assembly vote was held in 2008 after Russia went to war with Georgia over its breakaway enclave South Ossetia, which later declared independence and

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has unsuccessfully sought annexation to Russia. That resolution was adopted with a mere 14 votes in favor, 11 against and 105 abstentions.

This highlights some of the complexity with respect to understanding the role of precedent in international affairs. Even if the bulk of the world doesn’t find the Kosovo-Crimea parallel plausible, it seems that the Russians do, at least insofar that it serves as legal and moral cover for what Russia wants to do anyway. Moscow calls the shots, and gets to self-describe in the manner it sees fit. And speaking of calling shots, here’s what it’s like

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to be attacked by a Syrian MiG-29:

Say Hello to Your New Black Sea Fleet

[ 50 ] March 28, 2014 |

Bad week for the Ukrainian Navy:

Ukraine’s maritime forces have been dealt a heavy blow by the Russian intervention in Crimea with 12 of its 17 major warships, nearly 40 support vessels, and much of its naval aviation assets now falling under Moscow’s control.

In the eight days following the controversial referendum on 16 March that opened the door for Crimea to be absorbed in the Russian Federation, almost every Ukrainian naval base and ship on the peninsula has been seized by Russian forces or local pro-Moscow self-defence units.

The scale of the crisis facing the Ukrainian navy is apparent from the fact that around 12,000 its 15,450 personnel were based in Crimea when Russia intervened on 27 February. Over the past three weeks, the majority of the Ukrainian military personnel in Crimea have defected to the Russian military or resigned from military service, according announcements by the new pro-Kremlin administration in Crimea. Independent media reports suggest the Ukrainian navy has suffered personnel losses broadly along the lines claimed by the Russians.

In a major blow to its pride, the service’s commander, Admiral Serhiy Hayduk, was arrested by Russian forces when the navy headquarters in Sevastopol was seized on 19 March and unceremoniously dropped off by Russian troops at the new “border” checkpoint with Ukraine at the north of Crimea. Those of the admiral’s sailors who wanted to continue to serve in Kiev’s navy had to make own way in civilian cars or public transport off the peninsula.

In Sevastopol, the Russians seized intact four major warship – the Grisha V-class frigates Ternopil and Lutsk , the Pauk-class corvette/patrol vessels Khmelnytskyi , and the Bambuk-class command ship Slavutych – as well as Ukraine’s only submarine, the Foxtrot-class Zaporizhzhia . Also seized in Sevastopol was the oceangoing tug Korets.

That probably understates the overall loss, which also includes infrastructure, communications, and training equipment. More captures may come, as the Russians continue to blockade Ukrainian ships in Lake Dunuzlov. I can think of two long-run upsides; first, the ships and equipment lost are relatively old, poorly maintained, and largely a drag on the Ukrainian defense budget. Two, Ukrainian military spending needs to be heavily refocused on land and air capabilities in any case, so a rump fleet (based in Odessa) is probably appropriate.

Back to Battleships!

[ 21 ] March 27, 2014 |

Over at War is Boring,  I expand, rewrite, and update a very old Sunday Battleship Blogging post:

Until the invasion of Crimea, Russia expected to take into service in 2016 RFS Sevastopol, a 21,000-ton-displacement, French-built amphibious assault ship. The choice of name was odd, given that—until recently—the city of Sevastopol lay outside the borders of Russia.

France may cancel the deal in light of Moscow’s aggression. But the soon-perhaps-not-to-be Sevastopol was not the first ship named for the great Russian naval base on the Crimean peninsula.

In fact, Russian naval history is an intricate web of politics, geography and foreign influence. Moscow has long struggled with the problems of maintaining four distinct, unsupportable fleets—and of an unreliable shipbuilding industry.

Read the rest, etc. I have very notional plans of someday revisiting, rewriting, and compiling the battleship posts for an e-book, but that’s probably a couple projects away.

 

The More Things Change, the More They Change

[ 85 ] March 26, 2014 |

This week’s column at the Diplomat takes at how the relative expense of different weapon systems has changed over time, and tries to draw out some operational and strategic implications of those changes.

In 1944, the relative costs of fighters, bombers, and aircraft carriers ran very roughly as follows:

F6F Hellcat: $35,000

B-29 Superfortress: $700,000

Essex-class aircraft carrier $70,000,000

An aircraft carrier was worth 100 heavy bombers, each of which cost roughly as much as 20 carrier-borne fighters. These are (roughly) the expected cost numbers for the next generation of fighter, bomber, and aircraft carrier for the United States

F-35: $150 million

LRS-B: $810 million

CVN-78: $12.8 billion

The ordinal relationship remains the same, but the ratios have changed; an aircraft carrier costs 15.8 bombers, while a bomber cost 5.4 fighters.

 

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