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Strange Partners

[ 19 ] June 27, 2016 |
Presidential Standard of Guyana (1980-1985) under President LFS Burnham.png

Presidential Standard of Guyana (1980-1985) under President LFS Burnham. By Prez001 – Own work, Public Domain,

My latest at the Diplomat looks at the strange case of the late Cold War relationship between North Korea and Guyana:

Cold War politics made for strange bedfellows. Albania and the People’s Republic of China became fast friends, because of a shared aversion to the Soviet Union. The United States developed a cordial relationship with Romania, despite the brutality of the Ceaușescu government. Both China and the United States became far too defensive of the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia, in order to balance against the power of Vietnam.

Among these, the strangest of the bedfellows may have been the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the small South American country Guyana. A recent article by Moe Taylor (reviewed by Suzy Kim) sheds light on this odd relationship. Guyana’s leader, Forbes Burnham, was inspired by the apparent discipline and devotion of North Korea’s workforce, and of its gymnastics performance teams.



Alfa Alfa Alfa!!!

[ 36 ] June 26, 2016 |
Alfa class submarine.jpg

Public Domain,

In my latest at the National Interest, I look back at the Alfa:

After the first few designs came to fruition, the Soviets decided to undertake a combination of brute force and extremely risky high technology. The brute-force part meant building a submarine that could move faster and dive deeper than any Western counterpart; the high-tech part meant innovative hull design, reactor design and material manipulation. The result was the Type 705 Lyra (known as Alfa in NATO), a submarine that the West regarded as a profound, if short-lived, threat to its undersea dominance.



[ 21 ] June 26, 2016 |
Slash in 2010.

By Scott Penner –, CC BY-SA 2.0,

As the world disintegrated on Thursday night*, I was at Ford Field in Detroit watching the first show of the new Guns N’ Roses tour. This was the third time I’ve seen GNR; the first in Seattle in October 1992, and the second in April 1993 in Portland. I don’t mind stadium shows, although I haven’t seen one in a while. Thursday’s show was the first of the “Not in this Lifetime” tour, which brings Slash and Duff McKagan back into the fold.  Feel free to debate whether Axl, Slash, and Duff are sufficient to constitute “Guns N’ Roses,” but if your answer is “no,” then the band hasn’t existed since 1991.

Alice in Chains opened, which we missed because really, there are limits. GNR hit the stage at 9:43, two minutes ahead of schedule.  Several friends had asked me “what if Axl throws a tantrum and they only play for fifteen minutes and then cancel the tour?” to which I responded “Well, that would be awesome.” There were hiccups; in particular, the sound effects associated with the pyrotechnics were off, and unnecessarily distracting.  And halfway through It’s So Easy, the first song of the set, Rose looked visibly winded.  A lot of folks seemed to notice this; I thought to myself “first song of the first concert; gonna be a long tour, Axl,” but he recovered quickly.

Axl somehow convinced Duff and Slash to do three tracks of Chinese Democracy. I’m not nearly as familiar with CD as with the rest of the catalogue, although I don’t think it’s a bad album. And I’m happy that it hasn’t been expunged from the history of the band. The inclusion of the songs (along with a few covers) suggests that Rose, in particular, still wants to do something interesting and challenge the audience, rather than becoming a greatest hits act. There were no extra musicians on stage, no background singers, no orchestra; the stripped down set worked particularly well for November Rain, which plays better in such conditions than with the full regalia.

With respect to Axl… it may shock some readers that a fifty-four year old man can add a few pounds over his thirty-one year old self, but let me assure you that this is a thing that can happen in the real world (Slash also seems just a bit stouter than he was in the 1990s, although Duff looked like he had somehow lost weight). Although Rose’s drug use has been overstated, he endured some significant health problems in the 1980s and 1990s. On balance, Rose is almost certainly more healthy now than just about any time in his GNR tenure.  And while he may be a bit slower and less slinky than he was in the early days of the band, it’s only a marginal difference; he remains a remarkably energetic front man, and his voice is still quite strong.

With respect to intra-band relations, Axl and Slash worked very well together.  I’ve heard that relations between Duff and Axl are still quite bad, but it didn’t show up on stage in any meaningful way.  Overall, the entire band performed very professionally, and worked well as a unit.  If GNR is your thing, then you should give the tour some consideration.

*Yes; I was, in fact, frantically checking my phone for Brexit updates during a Guns N’ Roses show.

Arrow Arrow Arrow!

[ 20 ] June 22, 2016 |
Avro CF-105 Arrow 3-view

By Bzuk (talk) – Original work by original uploader. (Original text: I (Bzuk (talk)) created this work entirely by myself.), CC0,

Continuing our tour of super-fast Cold War jets…

In the early 1950s, the Canadian government began to solicit orders for a new high-speed interceptor. The explosion in jet technology had rendered Canada’s first- and second-generation interceptors obsolete; in order to patrol Canada’s vast airspace, the Royal Canadian Air Force would need something awesome.

Avro Canada answered the call with the CF-105 Avro Arrow, a high-performance interceptor on the cutting edge of existing aviation technology. A big, beautiful fighter, the Arrow offered a promise to patrol Canadian airspace for decades, while also throwing a lifeline to Canada’s military aviation industry.

But the Arrow was not to be.

On a related point, I really have to watch this. And possibly live-tweet it.

Putting the “Strike” Back into Joint Strike Fighter

[ 7 ] June 20, 2016 |
Formation of F-35 Aircraft MOD 45157750.jpg

F-35C, F-35B. By Photo: Harland Quarrington/MOD, OGL,


Lockheed Martin’s machinists union members made it clear Saturday that they support a strike against the aeronautic giant if a contract agreement can’t be reached in the next few weeks that adequately boosts their wages while also protecting healthcare and pension benefits.

The International Association of Machinist and Aerospace Workers District Lodge 776, which represents about 2,600 workers at the Lockheed plant west of Fort Worth, met for about an hour at the Will Rogers auditorium before voting 1,696 to 32 to approve a strike.

Lockheed’s four-year contract with the union expires July 10, and the union has set July 9 vote for its membership to consider the company’s last, best and final offer. If that deal falls short, union members will decide whether to walk a picket line.

“I’m ready to strike. They are taking everything away from us,” said David Darlock, who installs plumbing in the F-35’s wings. “They are disrespecting us.”

In a proposal made to Lockheed last week, union leaders asked for a longer contract — from July 2016 to April 2021 — that increases pay 38 percent. The machinists also want $7,500 in cost-of-living adjustments and a $5,000 signing bonus, among other things.

Read more here:

Extremely specialized workforce in high leverage situation… seems like the union is in a strong position.

Foreign Policy in the 2016 Election

[ 25 ] June 18, 2016 |
USS Rushmore (LSD 47) passes PCU Coronado (LCS 4).jpg

By U.S. Navy photo by Senior Chief Mass Communication Specialist Donnie W. Ryan/Released – 140310-N-SV210-059, Public Domain.

The thing about writing on foreign policy in this campaign is that there’s depressingly little to write about. Erik flagged the Counterpunch article below; while I think that any formulation of “Sanders could have done better if he’d hit Obama harder from the get go!” is laughably stupid, it was correct to make the point that Sanders did not dwell overmuch on Clinton’s most glaring foreign policy weaknesses.

And Donald… oh, Donald. It’s not just that Donald doesn’t seem to have a coherent foreign policy vision from moment to moment (we can safely ignore Rania Khalek on this point), it’s that he doesn’t even have the beginning of a coherent team. #NeverTrump has taken hold on both sides of the Neocon/Realist divide in GOP FP circles, probably to a greater extent than in domestic policy.

Anyway, I did write this bit on the defeat of Randy Forbes in the Virginia GOP primary. It’s an interesting event insofar as Forbes (quite conservative across the board) had worked hard to develop a strong expertise on Asia and defense issues, especially on the maritime side. Didn’t help, even in Virginia.

Forbes was a hugely important voice for the Navy on Capitol Hill. He published “A Conservative Case for Seapower,” which laid out an argument for why the Republican Party should concentrate its foreign and defense policy around maritime issues. He was generally an advocate for the Littoral Combat Ship, although he also favored heavy scrutiny for the program. He favored AirSea Battle and other projects for ensuring that the services worked effectively together in the Pacific, and argued that the U.S. Army should pursue land-attack cruise missiles as part of a system for controlling the PLAN’s access to the Second Island Chain.

Foreign Entanglements: Brexit

[ 8 ] June 17, 2016 |

On this week’s episode of Foreign Entanglements, Brockington and I talked Brexit:

It’s a very good episode, if I do say so myself.  Here are the highlights:


[ 218 ] June 14, 2016 |

I don’t think that this quiz has the implications that Dr. Jill Stein is attempting to draw from it:

I mean, sure; 91% is bigger than 41%. But 99% is even BIGGER than 91%, which obviously means that somebody should play a spoiler and try to ensure the election of the 41% guy. It’s all just good sense, folks.

Kick. Start. The Game.

[ 10 ] June 13, 2016 |
Dungeons and Dragons game.jpg

Moroboshi. Own work assumed (based on copyright claims)., CC BY-SA 3.0,


Friend of the blog (and Battleship Book editor) Leigh Grossman has an interesting project in the pipeline connected to the Wildside Gaming System. The idea is to develop an app to support the Wildside system, but that’s also geared to other tabletop game systems. If you’re a gamer and halfway interested, take a look at the Kickstarter page and give some thought to contributing.

Fishbed Fishbed!

[ 22 ] June 13, 2016 |
MiG-21 LanceR in flight.jpg

Romanian MiG-21 “LanceR” in flight. By claudiu_ne2000 – CC BY-SA 2.0,


Still working through some back catalog, but I worte this on the MiG-21 a couple weeks ago…

A few designs stand the test of the time. The B-52 Stratofortress first flew in 1952, yet remains in service today. New C-130s continue to roll off the production line, based on a design that became operational in 1954.

But those are bombers and transport aircraft; they don’t fight one another. Fighters face a special problem of longevity, because they must compete directly with newer models. Thus, very few fighters have had long lifespans, either in production or in service.

The MiG-21 “Fishbed” is an exception

Chinese liked it so much the stole the plane. Russians liked it so much they stole the article.



The Amphibs!

[ 11 ] June 11, 2016 |
USS Coral Sea (CV-43) and Wasp (LHD-1) underway in 1989.JPEG

USS Coral Sea and USS Wasp, 1989. By PH3 Rick Stamm, USN – U.S. DefenseImagery photo

I’m just back from Salt Lake, still catching up.  Here’s a bit I wrote for the Diplomat on amphibious warfare vessels in the Pacific:

A recent report from the Center for a New American Security (CNAS) argues that the United States and its allies can effectively use amphibious assault groups in high intensity conflict against China. While the big, flat-deck amphibs have demonstrated their strategic value through humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) and associated operations over the last decade, the CNAS report (written by Colonel Grant Newsome, USMCR Ret.) argues that they can contribute effectively during wartime conditions.


Foxbat Foxbat!

[ 21 ] June 5, 2016 |
Air-to-air right underside rear view of a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft.jpg

“Air-to-air right underside rear view of a Soviet MiG-25 Foxbat aircraft”. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons.

My latest at the National Interest takes a closer look at the MiG-25:

Bearing a wicked name, a forbidding profile, and some great stats, the Foxbat looked like a world-beater. Combining exceedingly high speed with high altitude tolerance and a heavy weapons load, it looked as if the plane could contribute effectively on the Central Front while also helping to immunize Soviet airspace from U.S. penetration. Combined with the lessons of third-generation fighters in Vietnam, the existence of the Foxbat helped spur U.S. innovation, pushing the development of the F-15 Eagle.


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