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India Gets Its Carrier

[ 29 ] November 19, 2013 |

Another of my annual predictions turns up bust:

On November 16, the Indian Navy finally took delivery of aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, formerly the Adm. Gorshkov, at Sevmash Shipyard in northern Russia’s Severodvinsk town. The acquisition marks a new phase in India’s quest to become a true blue-water navy.

The handover ceremony of the 44,570-tonne carrier is sure to have generated more than a passing interest within the PLA Navy and across the rest of the continent, since India will be the only country in Asia to have two aircraft carriers in its fleet. Admittedly, the 55-year old INS Viraat is “long in the tooth” as India’s Navy Chief Admiral D. K. Joshi himself described it in a recent interview, but it will continue to operate until India’s locally built carrier INS Vikrant becomes operational by 2017.

I’ve discussed my concerns about India’s naval aviation project before, but it’s good that they’re finally getting the carrier they expected to take possession of in 2008.  I’m kind of curious as to the long-term plans that the Soviet Navy had for the Kiev class, whether they were planning on keeping them around in their current form, or updating them once better carrier aircraft came available.  I suppose it depends to some extent on how the Yak-141 would have worked out:

“Hall of Fame Season”

[ 60 ] November 17, 2013 |

Quiz time: Without looking it up, how many times have position players who were not eventually elected to the Hall of Fame  (or who are not named “Bonds, “Sosa,” “Rodriguez,” or “Trout”) recorded a 10+ WAR season?  Which player(s)?

Data here.

Foreign Entanglements: Talking About the Talks

[ 0 ] November 15, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Matt speaks with Meir Javedanfar about the progress made in Geneva:

Friday Linkage

[ 6 ] November 15, 2013 |

From around the inter-tubes:

All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Guns

[ 12 ] November 13, 2013 |

My latest at the Diplomat:

recent article in the New York Times highlighted China’s rise as a major arms exporter. The mainstream discovery of China’s growing weight in the international arms trade won’t surprise many close observers, but it’s nevertheless worthwhile to study the trends in some detail.

According to SIPRI, China is the fastest growing arms major arms exporter in the past decade. Also, Chinese arms exports have moved beyond small arms and into heavier equipment, such as aircraft and warships.



Have Fun Paying Off that $450 Million

[ 117 ] November 11, 2013 |

Turner Field is 17 years old:

The Atlanta Braves announced Monday they will leave Turner Field for a new 42,000-seat, $672 million stadium about 10 miles from downtown Atlanta in 2017. It’s not clear how much the proposed ballpark will cost taxpayers.

Braves executives John Schuerholz, Mike Plant and Derek Schiller said the team decided not to seek another lease at 17-year-old Turner Field and began talks with the Cobb Marietta Coliseum and Exhibit Hall Authority in July.

Looks like $450 million in public funds:

(Although Schiller initially declined to say how much the county would be paying, this story says that Cobb County will be on the hook for $450 million, with the Braves paying roughly $200 million.)

In case you’re wondering, Cobb County falls mostly in Newt Gingrich’s old district, which consists of people who hate big government except when it transfers extraordinary amounts of money to incredibly wealthy people. I wonder how they’ll manage to shift the burden from the county to the state and federal government; I don’t doubt that the effort will involve some altogether ingenious accounting, combined with a concerted effort to screw over the poor.

Sunday Book Review: The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate

[ 57 ] November 10, 2013 |

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is a curiously popular aircraft. It doesn’t look like a modern warplane, doesn’t fly at supersonic speed, and has never been exported to any other country.  Yet in popular culture the A-10 is ubiquitous, from Terminator to GI Joe to Transformers to dozens of  book covers.  Douglas Campbell’s  The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate attempts to frame the history of the A-10 within the larger story of conflict between the Army and the Air Force.  For obvious reasons, I find this subject fascinating.

The contours of the myth of the A-10 are relatively well known.  Concerned that the Army would take control of the close air support mission with the AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter, the Air Force developed an alternative that could beat the Cheyenne on reliability and technical capacity.  The presence of the A-10 proposal gave Congress the excuse to cancel the troubled Cheyenne, after which the Air Force attempted to discard the murder weapon.  However, pressure from the Army and from Congress forced the Air Force to keep the A-10, and has kept the A-10 in service despite repeated USAF attempts to kill it over the years.

This story isn’t entirely wrong, but isn’t entirely right.

The problems, and consequently the story, begins well before the paper hits pencil on the earliest A-10 designs.  The USAAF was not well-prepared for the close air support mission before World War II, preferring behind-the-lines interdiction in cases where strategic bombing wasn’t warranted.  Disastrous experiences in North Africa led to institutional and organizational changes, forcing the ground and air forces to work together in a team that became very effective by 1944.

However, with the end of the war and the independence of the Air Force, attention to the close air support mission waned.  Campbell capably illustrates the difference between an official commitment to CAS (which the USAF has always maintained), and a genuine organizational commitment to CAS (which has varied widely over the history of the air-ground team).  The immediate post-war period, in which the USAF was dominated by the strategic bombing mission, was not a high point.  Tactical Air Command, responsible for close air support, interdiction, and other tactical missions, decided to fight for resources by emphasizing its ability to deliver nuclear weapons, a decision which had dreadful consequences for procurement (many fighters developed in the 1950s sacrificed air superiority capabilities for nuclear weapons delivery), training, and doctrine. Fighting in Korea was a struggle, even as the USAF managed to achieve complete air superiority over U.S. troops.

With the Kennedy Administration came Flexible Response, and a new emphasis on the joint air-ground team.  The Army began working hard on attack helicopters to fill the gap in USAF tactical capabilities, and McNamara even proposed assigning light tactical fixed wing attack jets to the Army, a prospect that the Air Force viewed with a great deal of hostility.  Intervention in Vietnam strained the capabilities of both services, with the Army ill-prepared to fight a counter-insurgency conflict and the Air Force not well suited to either the conventional bombing campaign over North Vietnam or the close air support mission in the South.  Nevertheless, the A-1 Skyraider performed well in the CAS mission, but as an aging propeller aircraft wasn’t particularly popular in the USAF.  Under significant duress the Air Force adopted the A-7, a development of the Navy’s F-8 Crusader which the Air Force regarded as old and inferior.

The A-7 was an inconvenience, but the  AH-56 Cheyenne was a problem.  The high performance Cheyenne could fly at speeds that challenged the A-1, yet had a helicopter’s flexibility.  It could threaten to take the CAS mission away from the Air Force.  While the USAF didn’t particularly dig CAS, it feared that a shift in responsibilities would also lead to a shift in resources.  Consequently, the Air Force responded by laying the framework for its own successor CAS aircraft, the A-X.

Turns out the Cheyenne was too advanced for its time, and could never quite be made to work.  The development of the A-X program reassured both Congress and the Army that the Air Force was sufficiently committed to providing close air support, which made the Cheyenne superfluous. The USAF didn’t love the A-X program, but the growing strength of TACAIR, combined with the belief that the USAF would have to adopt one attack aircraft or another, incurred grudging acceptance on the part of the Air Force. There’s no question that the rise of TACAIR led to considerably more attention for close air support; squadrons of A-10s practiced the mission at various Red Flag exercises.

The first serious Air Force effort to ditch the A-10 came in the mid-1980s, when a proposal to replace the A-10 with the F-16 garnered significant support.  The Air Force argued that A-10s were not survivable in a modern war environment, and that the “A-16″ had dual use potential.  Congress and the Army were not particularly amused, although the proposal did find some support in both places. The Air Force was slow to deploy the A-10 to Saudi Arabia in 1990, but internal pressure (largely emanating from the A-10 pilot corps itself) helped ensure that the Warthog would have a role.  The A-10 performed very effectively during the war, although its loss rate was significant.  There’s little question that the USAF, still interested in the F-16 option, downplayed the success of the A-10, but the image of the Warthog destroying Iraqi tanks in the desert became sufficiently popular in Congress that plans to retire it were shelved.  The A-10 survived the post-Cold War drawdown, and survived (with Congressional support) another retirement effort in the early 2000s.

I’m ambivalent about the future of the A-10. Armor notwithstanding, the Warthog isn’t particularly appropriate for a contested airspace, unless you can sacrifice hundreds of aircraft in pursuit of the destruction of several hard-charging Soviet armored divisions. The A-10 does very well in situations like those in Iraq and Afghanistan, where the opponent lacks the capacity to hit even a low and slow aircraft with anything more than small arms fire. It’s not an ideal aircraft for such a situation; something like a Super Tucano or an AT-6 is a better, cheaper counter-insurgency aircraft. But then, the chance that the Air Force will replace the A-10 with something like the Texan or the Super Tucano is regarded as virtually nil, which is why so many communities committed to maintaining the close air support mission are willing to go to the wall for the Warthog. In some ways, the continued sentimental attachment to the A-10 obscures the real issues associated with inter-service conflict and the close air support mission, and muddles the conversation about the appropriate level of prioritization for CAS against other missions.

But then, many old planes can prove very useful at new jobs (hello, B-52!), and you can do a lot with an airframe like the A-10.  Wing replacements can keep existing planes flying until 2040, and fuel tank upgrades can increase range and loiter capacity. Additional weapon system upgrades can make the plane considerably more lethal, and it will always be better at some aspects of the job than the F-16 or F-35, although it may not perform much better than the system of drone-driven CAS that’s emerging in Afghanistan.

This book doesn’t answer every question about either the A-10 or the history of close air support, but it’s a pretty good introduction to both subjects. Campbell has obvious affection for the A-10, which is an odd thing to say were it not for the fact that nearly everyone seems to have a great deal of affection for the A-10. An update which covered the contributions of the A-10 to both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the most recent bureaucratic conflicts associated with the aircraft, would be more than welcome.

“The Patrician Elite to Which Vidal Himself Belongs”

[ 288 ] November 9, 2013 |

I guess Harvard needed the money.

Mr. Steers said Mr. Vidal, in his original will, left everything to Howard Austen, his partner of 53 years who died in 2003, then amended it in 2011, awarding it to Harvard. A few paintings were bequeathed to the Huntington Library in San Marino, Calif. At about that time Mr. Vidal also bought a house in the south of France.

“Part of the idea was to relocate there and live in exile,” said the film director Matt Tyrnauer, a close friend and former literary executor. Ultimately Mr. Vidal gave the house to his onetime assistant, Muzius Gordon Dietzmann, who lives there with his family. Mr. Vidal told Mr. Tyrnauer, “I have made him a rich boy.”

Mr. Vidal’s fortune, according to Ms. Straight, is estimated at $37 million; representatives for the estate would not confirm this or any other details about the will. Mr. Auchincloss declined to comment. His lawyer, Adam Streisand, a partner at the Los Angeles firm Loeb & Loeb, declined to answer questions, though in a statement said: “The claims asserted by Ms. Straight have no merit and we will have no further comment while this matter is in litigation. We will answer these claims in court, not in the press.”



Gotta say that Niall Ferguson called this one.

Yet criticism of American empire was never the exclusive preserve of the political Left. In the eyes of Gore Vidal, the tragedy of the Roman Republic is repeating itself as farce, with the ‘national-security state’ relentlessly encroaching on the prerogatives of the patrician elite to which Vidal himself belongs.

Foreign Entanglements: On the Table

[ 4 ] November 8, 2013 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, I speak with Daniel Larison about Iran, John Bolton, and airpower:


[ 35 ] November 8, 2013 |

This week at the Diplomat I take a look at the USS Gerald Ford:

The USS Nimitz (CVN-68), the name ship of the most numerous class of aircraft carriers since the World War II-era Essex, was laid down in 1968. George H. W. Bush (CVN-77), the final carrier in the class, entered service in 2009. Many of the carrier’s escorts, including the California and Virginia-class cruisers and the Spruance-class destroyers, went through their entire production runs and life cycles during the Nimitz production run. The last ship of the Nimitz-class may not leave service until the 2060s. It’s hardly hyperbole to suggest that the Nimitz and her sisters have set the standard of maritime primacy for longer than any other single class of warships in modern history.

But as with any production run of extended length, the differences between the early and later ships are significant. The service-life extension program (SLEP) gave the U.S. Navy (USN) the opportunity to update the earlier ships, although Nimitz still differs considerably from George H.W. Bush. And rather than continue with the evolutionary process, the USN has decided to make a more substantial step into the Gerald R. Ford class.




[ 9 ] November 8, 2013 |

Well, that sucked.

Why I Didn’t Leave Academia?

[ 38 ] November 7, 2013 |

At the prodding of Dan Drezner, a few people have written on the question “Why didn’t I quit academia?”, while others have written on the natural companion “Why did I quit academia?” For the sake of completeness, I think we probably need a “What did I do after academia quit me?” but we’ll save that for later.

For my own part, I wonder about the framing of the question.  While I know that some make clear, conscious, forthright decisions to abandon academia, whether at various points in the graduate student stage, after a frustrating effort at the job market, or during the first job, I suspect that most people who quit the academy drift away as consequence of a series of decisions that aren’t apparent at the time. I can recall two points that I would, in hindsight, identify as critical “Why didn’t I quite academia?” moments.  The first was when I decided not to move to Massachusetts to be with my longtime girlfriend; I certainly planned to continue with my dissertation, but I doubt now that I’d have had the wherewithal to complete it if I’d left Seattle.  The second, about a year later, was when I was offered a (paid) internship at a DC think thank the name of which I cannot recall.  Again, I planned to finish my dissertation either way, but if I’d moved on I doubt I would have put together the time and effort to make it happen.

And so for me, it’s not so much “Why didn’t I quit academia?” as “Why didn’t I follow through on decisions that probably would have killed my academic career?”  And the answer to that, as much as anything else, is simple inertia. But for many, I think that the better asked questions are “Which decisions caused me to drift away from the academy, and am I happy with how that worked out?”