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Category: Robert Farley

Sinking Carriers!

[ 52 ] March 18, 2017 |
Japanese aircraft carrier Shinano.jpg

HIJMS Shinano on trials, 1944. By Marine engineer Hiroshi Arakawa, Ishikawajima Shipyard.


I have a short piece on how to sink aircraft carriers up at the National Interest. Preview of a longer article by the end of the week…

Maybe China and Russia don’t need to kill a carrier to drive the species to extinction. All of the factors above—the weapon systems that can kill carriers, and the costs associated with the ships themselves—come together to create caution about how to use the ships. In the event of a conflict, U.S. Navy admirals and the U.S. president may grow so concerned about the vulnerability of carriers that they don’t use them assertively and effectively. The extraordinary value of the carriers may become their greatest weakness; too valuable to lose, the carriers could remain effectively on the sidelines in case of high-intensity, peer-competitor conflict.

And if aircraft carriers can’t contribute in the most critical conflicts that face the United States, it will become impossible to justify to the resources necessary to their construction and protection. That, more than anything else, will lead to obsolescence, and the end of the aircraft carrier as the currency of national power.


Trump Apology Tour

[ 67 ] March 17, 2017 |
Does the Churchill Bust Weep?

Does the Churchill Bust Weep?

I’m old enough to remember when a Kenyan anti-colonialist temporarily moved a statue of a head, thus ruining the Anglo-American relationship forever.

The US has made a formal apology to Britain after the White House accused GCHQ of helping Barack Obama spy on Donald Trump in the White House.

Sean Spicer, Mr Trump’s press secretary, repeated a claim on Thursday evening – initially made by an analyst on Fox News – that GCHQ was used by Mr Obama to spy on Trump Tower in the lead-up to last November’s election.

The comments prompted a furious response from GCHQ, which in a break from normal practice issued a public statement: “Recent allegations made by media commentator Judge Andrew Napolitano about GCHQ being asked to conduct ‘wiretapping’ against the then president-elect are nonsense. They are utterly ridiculous and should be ignored.”

Intelligence sources told The Telegraph that both Mr Spicer and General McMaster, the US National Security Adviser, have apologised over the claims. “The apology came direct from them,” a source said.

Tourney Challenge Last Chance

[ 20 ] March 15, 2017 |
Bill Walton 8-26-08.JPG

A man who deserves the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his color commentary alone.

Last chance for the LGM Tourney Challenge:

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

Red Herring?

[ 345 ] March 14, 2017 |
Red herring.jpg

By misocrazy from New York, NY – Cropped from Kipper, CC BY 2.0

Jeet Heer flags a pair of articles raising concerns about the investigation of ties between Russia and the Trump campaign:

“Imagine if the same kind of attention could be trained and sustained on other issues—like it has been on the Muslim travel ban,” Masha Gessen argued last week in the New York Review of Books. “Russiagate is helping [Trump]—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.”

Rolling Stone’s Matt Taibbi fears that the final scandal will amount to a relatively minor matter, thus discrediting the press and Trump critics.

Dan responded to a similar piece last week, but I think it is well beyond time to cease treating Greenwald as an honest interlocutor on these issues.  And I believe Heer’s analysis of the motivation behind these kids of pieces is spot on:

There are other reasons to sideline the Russia narrative. For a Democratic Party adrift after last year’s electoral wipeout, focusing on the Russia story risks ignoring hard questions about the need for internal reform. After all, if the election loss can be blamed on Russian interference, the party doesn’t need to change. For some on the anti-war left, there is also the fear that the Russia story will ignite a new Cold War. And pushing unfounded claims about the Trump administration’s Russian connections only contributes to the destructive culture of conspiracy created by the president.

Granting that it is possible (even probable) that the Russia connections will not amount to anything much more significant that what we’ve already seen,  I think it’s worth working through some of the complaints.

  1. Strictly in terms of doing damage to the Trump administration, the investigation has already been worthwhile; Flynn is gone, and Trump has been far more distracted by the task of fighting the investigation than the Democrats have been by pushing it.
  2. If there is anything more to Trump-Russia collusion than is already in the open, we certainly won’t find anything about it UNLESS the Dems push hard. Some Republicans are at least somewhat sensitive to these questions, but can’t be expected to drive the investigation on their own.
  3. Taibbi’s warning about a failed investigation discrediting the media is really quite strange; it seems to suggest that journalists should avoid serious investigations when they’re not sure what precisely they might turn up.
  4. There is zero evidence that “failed” investigations are politically damaging to those who drive them.  The Russia investigation has already turned up more than Benghazi ever did, and the political penalty that the GOP paid for pushing Benghazi appears to be nil.
  5. There is zero evidence for Gessen’s assertion that calling for investigations of Russia will “crowd out” other complaints, and help Trump; the Democrats (and other groups opposed to Trump) haven’t had any trouble generating opposition to Trump’s travel ban, Ryancare, etc.  The various failed investigations of Clinton and Obama did not prevent the GOP from also pursuing policy-oriented opposition (such that it was).
  6. Concern about the efforts of a right-wing semi-authoritarian country to influence a US election is not “xenophobia,” whether the country in question is Russia, China, or Saudi Arabia.  More later on the “new Cold War” nonsense.

As Heer suggests, the main driver of concern over the Russia investigation seems to be the role that it will play in internal reform of the Democratic Party. I can fully appreciate the reluctance of would-be reformers to place Russia (or Comey) front and center in an analysis of the 2016 election, evidence of their importance notwithstanding.  Narratives of reform always borrow facts selectively, and it’s not obvious that the Russia investigations will be useful for progressives in internal battles.  But this is only part of the project, and there is no reason to discard what may well be an exceedingly useful weapon against the Trump administration.


2017 LGM Tourney Challenge

[ 2 ] March 13, 2017 |
John Calipari, 1979-1980 University of North Carolina, Wilmington basketball team.png

Few Men Can Be Both Hero and Saint, But He Is Both

It’s that time…

League: Lawyers, Guns and Money

Password: zevon

If you had a team last year, you can simply reactivate.  “Prize” of some sort for the “winner.”


“Left of Launch”

[ 8 ] March 9, 2017 |
Rodong and Taepodong 1&2.png

By Tosaka – (ref:防衛技術ジャーナル編集部編 『ミサイル技術のすべて』 (財)防衛技術協会 2006年10月1日初版第1刷発行 ISBN 4990029828), CC BY 3.0


I have some more thoughts on “left of launch” cyber-espionage against the North Korean ballistic missile program up at the Diplomat:

To be sure, The New York Times could not confirm the impact of U.S. sabotage efforts; building and testing ballistic missiles is tricky business, and accidents happen whether the U.S. has its thumb on the scales or no. Nevertheless, the use of cyber-espionage to disrupt the development of foreign ballistic missile systems, in particular, raises some difficult questions about nuclear deterrence…

…For example, several years ago the Russian military experienced a series of failed tests of its Bulava submarine launched ballistic missile. Every indication suggests that these failures happened for domestic reasons; the Russian aerospace industry struggled to find its footing in the wake of the Cold War, and the serial Bulava failures were an understandable, if embarrassing, part of the process of reconstitution. In retrospect, however, some Russian spies and engineers probably have cause to wonder whether the missile failures had an external cause. The idea that U.S. cyber-espionage disrupted Russian missile development is simultaneously far-fetched and evidence-free, but is certainly more credible today than it was last week.

See also this excellent Matthew Waxman post at Lawfare:

First, did the U.S. government regard electronic sabotage of ballistic missile tests as an act of “force” or an “armed attack”? The multi-factor approach to cyber-attacks as “force”/“armed attack” leaves a lot of room to argue this either way. I assume that the U.S. government wants to keep open some legal flexibility to conduct this type of cyber-operation, but I also suspect that it would it would regard as quite reasonable a determination that a disabling cyber-attack against U.S. missile systems constituted an armed attack—and therefore justified self-defensive force. The Times story notes that this cyber-operation has echoes of Stuxnet attacks that, as has been widely reported, physically wrecked Iranian nuclear centrifuges, and any internal legal analysis may be similar, though it is unclear exactly what effects the North Korea attacks had on missile systems that may ultimately have contributed to test failures.


Sino Your Soviet!

[ 16 ] March 7, 2017 |

I have what amounts to a review of a review of a new book on the Sino-Soviet split up at the Diplomat:


The Sino-Soviet split remains one of the most pivotal events of the Cold War, representing the break between the two giants of the Communist world and the shattering of socialist solidarity. And in particular, the question of Mao’s attitudes towards the USSR remains one of the great lacunae of Cold War history. American scholars working in the Realist tradition have long viewed the split as emblematic of their worldview; ideological affinity cannot bridge gulfs between geostrategic interests. Kremlin and Peking-ologists, on the other hand, have long focused on ideological and personalistic factors.

Mao and the Sino-Soviet Partnerhsip, 1945-1959, a new volume from Shen Zhihua of East China Normal University and Xia Yafeng of Long Island University (both well-respected within the discipline) sheds new light on the post-war relationship between the two countries. The volume offers a Chinese perspective on the early years of the Sino-Soviet relationship (a second volume will bring the narrative into the 1970s), and uses a wide variety of sources from China, Russia, and elsewhere.

Cyber ABM

[ 33 ] March 6, 2017 |
This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on March 9, 2016 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un (C) meeting with the scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons and guiding the work for boosting the nuclear arsenal at an undisclosed location. / AFP / KCNA / KCNAKCNA/AFP/Getty Images

(KCNA) March 9, 2016.  Kim Jong-Un (C) meeting with the scientists and technicians in the field of researches into nuclear weapons and guiding the work for boosting the nuclear arsenal at an undisclosed location. / AFP / KCNA/AFP/Getty Images

Absolutely fascinating:

Three years ago, President Barack Obama ordered Pentagon officials to step up their cyber and electronic strikes against North Korea’s missile program in hopes of sabotaging test launches in their opening seconds.

Soon a large number of the North’s military rockets began to explode, veer off course, disintegrate in midair and plunge into the sea. Advocates of such efforts say they believe that targeted attacks have given American antimissile defenses a new edge and delayed by several years the day when North Korea will be able to threaten American cities with nuclear weapons launched atop intercontinental ballistic missiles.

But other experts have grown increasingly skeptical of the new approach, arguing that manufacturing errors, disgruntled insiders and sheer incompetence can also send missiles awry. Over the past eight months, they note, the North has managed to successfully launch three medium-range rockets. And Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, now claims his country is in “the final stage in preparations” for the inaugural test of his intercontinental missiles — perhaps a bluff, perhaps not.

Still digesting, but it’s very interesting stuff. I saw some speculation that we’re hearing about this now because it’s been impossible for briefers to get Trump’s attention. Guessing that situation won’t be improving soon…


[ 82 ] March 6, 2017 |
Rafale - RIAT 2009 (3751416421).jpg

By Tim Felce (Airwolfhound) – Rafale – RIAT 2009, CC BY-SA 2.0

Oh hey EU nukes!

An idea, once unthinkable, is gaining attention in European policy circles: a European Union nuclear weapons program.

Under such a plan, France’s arsenal would be repurposed to protect the rest of Europe and would be put under a common European command, funding plan, defense doctrine, or some combination of the three. It would be enacted only if the Continent could no longer count on American protection.

Fisher runs through all of the complications, which are immense. The strategic aspect is fairly interesting, though. At the moment, the EU (such that it remains) has sufficient latent conventional military power to squash any conceivable opponent, other than the United States. Germany on its own has a GDP more than double that of Russia, and France and Italy aren’t far behind.  This is not 1945, with the gigantic Red Army menacing a prostrate Europe.  Granted that the Russia still poses a serious threat to the Baltics (with the exception of the 1990s, it has always been the case that Russia/USSR could penetrate the outer shell of NATO), even the extant EU capabilities that everyone whines about aren’t that shabby.

If 1) NATO disintegrates and the US commitment to European defense disappears, and 2) the EU survives as a political and economic unit, then we would expect that Berlin, Paris, Rome, Warsaw, etc. would increase investment in conventional capabilities, at least at the margins. It would take a while to fill in all of the gaps that the US has historically provided, but then it’s not as if the Russian military is flawless, either.  In the medium-to-long term there is no way that Russia can compete in conventional military terms with an even mildly acerbic EU.  Russia’s major advantages come from a) political disunity within the EU, and b) nuclear weapons.  French nukes solve part of the second problem, insofar as they provide deterrence against Russia’s strategic nuclear arsenal. But Russia also has a vast arsenal of tactical nukes, and Russian doctrine can incorporate those weapons into conventional warfighting scenarios.  The question would then become whether France, Germany et al would decide to get competitive on the tactical side of the ledger.

Here’s an idea: Let’s not find out.


Book Review: Flotilla

[ 11 ] March 5, 2017 |

[Ed. note: This was originally published on September 27, 2009 at Information Dissemination.  The ID archives were down for a while, but are back up now, along with new content (read!).  Nevertheless, I wanted to make sure that this was available at LGM…]







I recently finished Donald Shomette’s Flotilla: The Patuxent Naval Campaign in the War of 1812. The United States initiated the War of 1812 in response to the activity of the Royal Navy, including the impressment of US sailors and the restriction of US freedom of trade. Territorial aggrandizement was also a goal; although opinions differ on how serious the US was about the annexation of Canada, the elimination of British influence along the frontier was understood as necessary to further US settlement and expansion. In spite of US growth since the Revolution, Great Britain remained militarily dominant by any metric. It was hoped, however, that the British would be too distracted by the war against Napoleon to devote their full attention to North America. Unfortunately for the Americans, the Royal Navy had largely eliminated the French Navy as a major threat, and was able to devote serious attention to the United States from the beginning of the war. The US coastline was virtually unprotected, leaving American vulnerable to trade blockade and to raids. The Royal Navy decided to concentrate its activity in the Chesapeake Bay area, home of the new US capitol and of the major port of Baltimore.

In response to the overwhelming dominance of the Royal Navy, Revolutionary War veteran Joshua Barney proposed to the Secretary of War a new set of tactics. In order to carry out their raiding operations, large, deep draft Royal Navy vessels had to accept some vulnerability, and had to employ launches in order to deliver and recover troops. Barney reasoned that a flotilla of shallow draft barges could sufficiently harass Royal Navy raiding parties to make the operations too costly and dangerous to carry out. Barney received approval from Washington to build a flotilla and recruit a corps of sailors necessary to carry out this effort; for his pains, he was made Commodore of the flotilla. The organization was distinct from the USN, and was viewed with some hostility by military professionals. Nevertheless, it represented the only chance to break the hold of the Royal Navy over the Chesapeake, a hold that was becoming increasingly intolerable as escaped slaves began to flock to the British flag.

Barney was able to put together his flotilla, but he was unable to stop Royal Navy depredation. The British took the flotilla seriously, and treated it as the major threat in the Chesapeake. They responded by bottling the flotilla up and blockading it on the Patuxent River. This utilized some Royal Navy resources, and the Americans were able to score some minor victories, but no major British vessels were lost, and British raiding activity continued. Local militia had no interest in fighting the British, and typically fled at the first shot. Because of the large number of pro-British slaves (male slaves of age were trained to fight, while the rest were freed and sent either to Canada or British Caribbean possessions), the Royal Marines typically had excellent intelligence as to American capabilities and dispositions.

The Chesapeake campaign resulted in an almost complete victory for the Royal Navy. Atlhough the British were unable to secure and burn the city of Baltimore, they managed to burn and loot much of the rest of the region, including the city of Washington. The British looted an enormous quantity of tobacco, ground regional commerce to a halt, and freed a substantial number of American slaves. Barney’s flotilla was scuttled to prevent capture, although his men served heroically at the Battle of Bladensburg and at Fort McHenry. British victory depended not only on vast material superiority, but also on exceptional skill on sea and on land. American militia and regular Army were simply inadequate to the task of fighting the battle-hardened British on anything approaching equal circumstances. It didn’t help that the very best American forces were deployed to the Canadian border. Moreover, the outcome of the Chesapeake campaign should have been essentially foreseeable to American policymakers. While Americans lacked the capacity to challenge the Royal Navy in anything but single-ship battles, it was obvious that the British would use their superiority at sea to devastate American coastal areas. The presence of the French and Spanish navies had limited the damage during the Revolution, but neither were a factor in the War of 1812. I think it can be plausibly argued that the War of 1812 represents the biggest “mistake war” in American history; regardless of whether sufficient cassus belli existed, the United States was simply not up to the task of launching and winning a war against Great Britain.

The American strategy in the Chesapeake campaign represents the same kind of asymmetric, small boat strategy that gave the USN fits in the first half of this decade. To be sure, the Americans also employed other asymmetric strategies, most notably a commerce raiding campaign that depended both on USN frigates and on privateers. Nevertheless, as the points of comparison between the Royal Navy of 1814 and the USN of 2009 are obvious, it’s not surprising that opponents adopt broadly similar methods. The small boat strategy is not, apparently, dependent upon a particular constellation of technologies. Small boats can always provide some threat to large ships in littoral areas, although I think it could be argued that the development of the torpedo increased small boat lethality. German torpedo boats significantly reduced Allied freedom of action off the French coast in World War II, for example. Indeed, there’s nothing new about the idea of blowing up a small boat next to a big ship, although the suicide element is reasonably novel. Of course, small boats can and have also been utilized as part of a larger symmetrical strategy of warfare; the USN PT-Boat campaign of World War II caused the Japanese no end of difficulty.

The experience of Barney’s flotilla also brings up some interesting issues regarding the behavior of military organizations. Barney was forced to essentially invent the flotilla, without significant support (and indeed against opposition) from the United States Navy. Barney did his own recruiting, designed his own ships, and procured his own artillery, provisions, and ordnance. To be sure, he didn’t do this from his own funds; both the US government and the State of Maryland gave him some support. Also, even a regular naval commander of the Napoleonic Era had to play the role of independent contractor on many occasions, as readers of Patrick ‘Brian will be well aware. Nevertheless, the organizational environment that he created is quite distinct from that which exists in any modern military organization. I suspect that it would be nearly impossible to create such an organization today in a modern state; the institutional and legal barriers would be insurmountable. The exception that proves the rule might be Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which has managed to create naval forces independent of the main naval organizations of the Islamic Republic. The Revolutionary Guard, however, enjoys a level of political and organizational independence that is extremely rare in a modern state, and that depends on the peculiar institutions of modern Iran.

Archaeologists excavate wreck of sloop USS Scorpion. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada/Released)

Archaeologists excavate wreck of sloop USS Scorpion. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Kenneth G. Takada/Released)

Barney’s task was undoubtedly made easier by the fact that he could draw upon a population that was familiar with the sea and with boats. This substantially increased the recruiting pool, the interest level (people who depended on the sea were particularly vulnerable to the British), and the skill level of the recruits. I found this interesting in that it supported Mahan’s contention that one of the pillars of naval power is a population that is familiar with and interested in maritime life. I have always had some doubt that this is the case in the industrial era; I don’t, for example, believe that a serving officer born and raised in Nebraska is any less capable than an officer raised in Maryland or Massachusetts. This is because the tasks of modern naval life are sufficiently distant from the tasks of civilian maritime experience to make any initial differences disappear beneath professional military training. I have no doubt, however, that a population oriented around maritime activities was critical to naval power in the Age of Sail and before. I’m also inclined now to think that the success of irregular naval forces (of which Barney’s flotilla is an example) is much more sensitive to the maritime capabilities of a given population than is that of a professional naval organization.

It’s odd that the small boat strategy always seems somewhat surprising to established navies, especially given the recurrence of such strategies over the years. One reason might be that navies are organizationally inclined to think about threats that are symmetrical. A Mahanian naval stance requires modern shipbuilding capabilities and a long organizational tail. A commerce raiding or cruiser strategy requires much the same thing, if on a different scale. A small boat strategy, however, can be conducted by organizations utterly unlike a modern Navy. In its relatively ad hoc approach to construction, procurement, and recruitment, Barney’s flotillas shares some characteristics with the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, the pre-independence Israeli naval forces, the Tamil Tigers, and even Al Qaeda. In combination with the above observation regarding the importance of “people of the sea” to irregular naval forces, there’s undoubtedly some interesting work to be done regarding the prospects for Al Qaeda penetration into various maritime-oriented tribal networks in SE Asia. I suspect that there are also some interesting observations to be made regarding population, professionalism, and the effectiveness of small boat strategies.

In any case, Flotilla is valuable both to those interested in naval history, and to those focusing on small boat and irregular warfare strategies. I highly recommend it.

Multi-Domain Battle

[ 14 ] March 3, 2017 |
Patriot missile launch b.jpg

Patriot SAM System

What is “Multi-Domain Battle?”

Admiral Harris’ comments accord with the concept of Multi-Domain Battle, which the Army and Marine Corps have pushed over the last year as an answer to concerns over their ability to contribute to a high intensity war in the Western Pacific. At its core, Multi-Domain Battle hopes to enable the U.S. military to do what China’s PLA has already done; integrate land-based assets into an A2/AD battle in which sea and air assets predominate. The United States has enough bases in the Western Pacific to usefully employ long-range missiles, sensors, and other assets in an A2/AD fight; it requires an operational concept, an organizational commitment, and a forward looking procurement strategy to turn the Army’s potential contribution into a reality.

There’s nothing at all wrong with multi-domain battle; the U.S. military should attempt to leverage every capability it has in the Western Pacific, and can certainly benefit from integrating Army assets into the broader plan, even if the Army’s plan carries the whiff of inter-service struggle. And this, at its core is the problem; the extant structure of the U.S. military weighs heavily against long-term efforts at creating a multi-domain battle capability.

Trump, China, and IP

[ 15 ] March 2, 2017 |


Some thoughts on Trump’s approach to intellectual property issues…

We don’t yet have a full sense of how the Trump administration will manage intellectual property disputes with China, but we do know that Trump just won a big IP victory for himself. After years of effort, Trump managed to acquire a trademark for building construction services, after China’s trademark office invalidated the claim of an acknowledged squatter. Dozens of other trademarks claimed by Trump remain in dispute, and could also come under his control in the near future.

There are unquestionably serious conflict of interest issues associated with Trump’s recovery of his trademark rights in China. The trademark cases give the Chinese government an almost unique ability to signal approval or disapproval of Trump; by fiat, the Trademark Office can determine the financial value of his name in China.

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