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The Kia of the Fighter World

[ 2 ] December 5, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat takes a look at the export prospects of the Sino-Pakistani JF-17:

The JF-17, a joint Sino-Pakistani fighter project, is a single engine fighter developed, conceptually, as a modern MiG-21. Given how global fighter fleets have deteriorated since the end of the Cold War, the idea seemed sound; a low-cost fighter that didn’t present major technical challenges, and that could serve as a cheap option for revitalizing many air forces. Like many such low-end projects, however, the “maybe good enough” JF-17 has yet to catch on with defence ministries fixated on prestige and technology.

Recently, however, indications have emerged that a few countries might have an interest.

Off to Brazil this afternoon; blogging will be light, but hopefully not non-existent.

Listicles of the Arctic!

[ 5 ] December 4, 2014 |

Latest at the National Interest:

It’s not surprising that Russia has prepared its military for arctic operations better than any other country. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union prepared to fight across the Arctic, both in the air and at sea. Many of the weapons and much of the expertise from that era have remained, leaving the Kremlin with a lethal set of capabilities. Here are five systems we can expect Russia to use in order to defend its interests in the Arctic Ocean, in case the unthinkable ever occurred.

Some other links of note:


[ 21 ] December 2, 2014 |

Early next week, I’ll be attending a conference on the future of warfare in Brasilia, Brazil.  Two questions:

  1. What do people do for fun in Brasilia?
  2. Does anyone who reads LGM live in Brasilia?

Iran: Holding the Door Shut?

[ 11 ] December 1, 2014 |

My latest at the National Interest takes a look at Iran’s anti-access systems:

Iran’s anti-access systems have trailed those of Russia and China, but in some sense are more interesting than developments in the two larger countries. The idea that Russia or China, continental powers with massive defense-industrial bases and huge economies, should have the military wherewithal to deny military access to the United States is not, in itself, all that remarkable. Only the extraordinary dominance of the United States over the past twenty-five years has made the question of anti-access/area denial remotely interesting.

One of the conclusions I came to in writing this article is that Iran’s conventional military is extremely weak. The gap between Iranian and Vietnamese capabilities is really quite large; the Iranians have more and better ballistic missiles, but the Vietnamese have huge advantages in every other area. Decades of sanctions have really taken a toll.

Rock on Obama

[ 58 ] December 1, 2014 |


What do you think of how he’s done? Here we are in the last two years of his presidency, and there’s a sense among his supporters of disappointment, that he’s disengaged.

I’m trying to figure out the right analogy. Everybody wanted Michael Jordan, right? We got Shaq. That’s not a disappointment. You know what I mean? We got Charles Barkley. It’s still a Hall of Fame career. The president should be graded on jobs and peace, and the other stuff is debatable. Do more people have jobs, and is there more peace? I guess there’s a little more peace. Not as much peace as we’d like, but I mean, that’s kind of the gig. I don’t recall anybody leaving on an up. It’s just that kind of job. I mean, the liberals that are against him feel let down because he’s not Bush. And the thing about George Bush is that the kid revolutionized the presidency. How? He was the first president who only served the people who voted for him. He literally operated like a cable network. You know what I mean?


It Was Truly a Great Pumpkin

[ 104 ] November 29, 2014 |

“GreatPumpkin” by Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

I recently watched “It’s a Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown,” for the first time in several years, and so this discussion had some resonance for me. Re-watching after a long period also made me more cognizant of the contrast between Halloween Linus and Christmas Linus. If you’ll recall, Linus emerges from the Christmas special as the voice of wisdom, if not authority. He lends intellectual and moral weight to the Christmas program through his reading of Luke 2:8-14, and supports Charlie Brown’s decision to acquire the most pathetic tree available. Although Peanuts deliberately eschews adults, Linus lends an adult presence, someone to ensure that things will turn out right.

This sense of wisdom and competence persists through much of the Halloween special; he uses his blanket to great effect as a tool, speaks with confidence and authority about the Great Pumpkin, and wins the support of at least one convert. Moreover, the other major characters come off either as horrible (Lucy), pathetic (Charlie Brown), or detached (Snoopy). Indeed, the Halloween special doesn’t work unless we have the wise Linus in mind.  The idea of the Great Pumpkin seems absurd and destined for failure, until we’re exposed to the confidence and sincerity of the little kind who lent his voice of authority to Christmas. When Linus begins to doubt, we begin to doubt, although even those cracks in his confidence are instructive. We’re not so committed to the realism of Peanuts world to reject the idea that, in this universe, there may be a Great Pumpkin, and we’re primed to suspect that Linus might well be his prophet.

And so it’s a bit of a surprise when the Great Pumpkin fails to arrive, and the conventional wisdom, which proved so wrong at Christmas, proves right at Halloween.  And it’s particularly crucial that at the end, Linus seems to have learned nothing from this failure. His response to the (fairly measured) comments of Charlie Brown is to double down, arguing that insufficient sincerity may have been shown this time, but next time the Great Pumpkin will surely appear, rewarding his followers etc. etc.  It’s perhaps the classic “if we simply cheer harder, the team will win,” giving us tools to interpret all the similar claims that we’ll encounter.  The episode ends with the little boy who gave weight and gravitas to the Christmas special descending into an unhinged rant.

There’s a lesson here, but I think it took me quite a long time to learn it properly.  One potential (if obvious) lesson is suspicion of wise men; the one who speaks with authority at Christmas is revealed as a crank at Halloween.  But this reading casts too much of a shadow on Christmas Linus, undercutting the entire spirit of the previous special. Maybe I just don’t have the temperament for revolution, but I don’t want the abnegation of authority; the Linus of the Christmas special offers something more than comfort.  His comments shed light on the logic of the gathering, and explain to the gathered what’s important about the occasion.

The lesson I’d rather take, I think, is that the wise can be cranks, given the opportunity, and that the same traits that make them wise can make them blind to their own crankery. This creates a new set of dilemmas, both for the wise and for those who would listen to them; the former must sort through an appropriate means of self-examination, while the latter must develop a healthy sense of skepticism, without allowing that sense to become too healthy.

I’ll grant that this is an essentially liberal reading, saving some role for paternalism and authority, while creating a division between appropriate and inappropriate degrees of resistance. Like I suggested, the idea of complete abnegation of authority feels to me like revolution, and leaves me untethered. But I think that there’s something psychologically true about the need for authority; most revolutionaries have their own Linus, and that Linus oft descends into unhinged rants, notwithstanding the wisdom of their commentary on Christmas.

Small Business Saturday!

[ 17 ] November 29, 2014 |

Hey, we’re a small business!  The easiest way to support us is either through the Donate button (although you guys have already been extravagantly generous this year, so no worries), or through buying our books on the far right sidebar.  Every purchase through Amazon (admittedly a giant, evil corporation) sends a little bit extra to the blog.  Ain’t capitalism grand? Here are the books, helpfully in list form:

Small! Nimble!

[ 20 ] November 29, 2014 |

My latest at the Diplomat compares American and Chinese efforts to escape the MIC (military-industrial complex):

Early last week, the Pentagon announced a new initiative designed to broaden the defense industrial pool by appealing to smaller, non-traditional firms.  This is hardly the first time that DoD has launched such an initiative; over the past decade and a half, the Pentagon has repeatedly made efforts to shift procurement dollars to firms not normally associated with defense technology. The DoD keeps trying to do this because it wants to capture some of the dynamism of the civilian tech economy, reduce costs for key technologies, and introduce additional competition to defense procurement. Rhetorically, proposing to “give the little guy a leg up” appeals to Congress and the media.

So why does the Pentagon keep having to launch these initiatives?  They often don’t work… What’s interesting about this latest appeal is that it appears to come alongside a similar appeal from the Chinese military.

BH: Comments!

[ 6 ] November 28, 2014 |

Robert Wright explains some of the finer points of Bloggingheads:

B-52s for Israel, Because Why Not?

[ 32 ] November 28, 2014 |

This asinine little proposal apparently appeals to one of the finest minds in the land:

Congress could augment Israel’s capacity to strike Iran’s nuclear facilities by passing legislation that would sell Israel 30,000-pound Massive Ordinance Penetrators (MOPs)—bunker-busters that can penetrate 200 feet below ground—as well as spare B-52s, currently unused by the U.S. Air Force, to deliver them. This would boost our leverage with Iran, send a strong signal of support for Israel, and improve the chances for a successful Israeli strike if that proves necessary.

What I wrote here and here still applies. The proposal to send B-52s to Israel is abject idiocy. Anyone with professional knowledge of airpower understands this. It is dreadfully irresponsible for a senior USAF commander (even one in retirement) to say things about his area of professional expertise that he knows to be untrue, simply in an effort to “move the debate.”

It’s Tough Out There on a Merkel

[ 31 ] November 28, 2014 |

I’m just gonna leave this here:

Leftover Links!

[ 29 ] November 28, 2014 |

Devour thy leftovers:



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