Indonesia could end up with a semi-stealthy aircraft

Friday, May 13th, 2022

The U.S. State Department has approved an Indonesian request to buy F-15EX Fighters:

Critics claim the F-15EX is based on an old design and can’t survive against advanced defenses. Yet with a large bombload that could include hypersonic missiles, conformal fuel tanks to smooth out its shape and confer some degree of stealth against radar, as well as 21st Century avionics and radar, the F-15EX appears to be a formidable platform. Indonesia could end up with a semi-stealthy aircraft based on a proven design that may avoid the cost and reliability problems that have plagued the F-35 and F-22.

The missile attempts to keep itself inside the beam

Thursday, April 21st, 2022

Most MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles, but the British Starstreak does not, as I mentioned when they started shipping them to Ukraine:

In contrast, the Starstreak uses laser-beam-riding guidance, in which the operator fires the missile as soon as a target is detected in the optically stabilized sight. Line-of-sight is then maintained throughout the engagement process. The aiming unit projects two laser beams onto the target, with sensors on the missile calculating the relative positions until impact. The intensity of these laser beams is low enough that, the manufacturer claims, the targeted aircraft won’t be able to detect them.

Overall, this guidance method is more accurate than traditional laser guidance, in which the target is ‘painted’ with a single beam. The twin-laser approach is more resistant to maneuvering targets that could otherwise break the laser lock. At the same time, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS, the Starstreak cannot be spoofed by flares or other heat sources. Unlike most air defense missiles, it’s effectively immune to countermeasures, including the latest L-370 Vitebsk (exported as the President-S) directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) found on many Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters.

Another advantage is that smaller targets can be engaged (as long as the operator can see them through the sight), including those with infrared signatures that might be insufficient for a heat-seeking missile to track.

Its laser-beam-riding guidance evolved from earlier radar beam-riding guidance:

Beam riding is based on a signal that is pointed towards the target. The signal does not have to be powerful, as it is not necessary to use it for tracking as well. The main use of this kind of system is to destroy airplanes or tanks. First, an aiming station (possibly mounted on a vehicle) in the launching area directs a narrow radar or laser beam at the enemy aircraft or tank. Then, the missile is launched and at some point after launch is “gathered” by the radar or laser beam when it flies into it. From this stage onwards, the missile attempts to keep itself inside the beam, while the aiming station keeps the beam pointing at the target. The missile, controlled by a computer inside it, “rides” the beam to the target.


By placing receiver antennas on the rear of the missile, the onboard electronics can compare the strength of the signal from different points on the missile body and use this to create a control signal to steer it back into the center of the beam. When used with conical scanning, the comparison can use several sets of paired antennas, typically two pairs, to keep itself centered in both axes. This system has the advantage of offloading the tracking to the ground radar; as long as the radar can keep itself accurately pointed at the target, the missile will keep itself along the same line using very simple electronics.

The inherent disadvantage of the radar beam riding system is that the beam spreads as it travels outward from the broadcaster (see inverse square law). As the missile flies towards the target, it, therefore, becomes increasingly inaccurate.


Another issue is the guidance path of the missile is essentially a straight line to the target. This is useful for missiles with a great speed advantage over their target, or where flight times are short, but for long-range engagements against high-performance targets the missile will need to “lead” the target in order to arrive with enough energy to do terminal manoeuvres.


Beam riding guidance became more popular again in the 1980s and 90s with the introduction of low-cost and highly portable laser designators. A laser beam can be made much narrower than a radar beam while not increasing the size of the broadcaster.

If the Russian Army was tactically skilled, then the Javelin and other ATGMs would be suppressed by artillery or air support and their surviving crews would be swept up by Russian infantry

Wednesday, April 20th, 2022

The question before us now is whether the tank is the modern equivalent of the battleship or the horse:

The U.S. Navy was able to accommodate both the battleship and aircraft carrier in World War II, although the battleship mostly was relied upon to provide fire support, rather than crossing the T against an enemy battleline. The horse, however, was a different kind of problem for the Army. Herr was an obstacle to modernizing the Army with tanks, insisting that he would accept no increase in armor at the expense of horse-cavalry strength. There could be no accommodation. Accordingly, Army chief of staff Gen. George C. Marshall used his executive-order authority, given after Pearl Harbor, to get rid of all the horses in the Army — and Herr.

What is the point to these anecdotes? There are two. In the case of the battleship, the platform may change, but not the function. The last U.S. Navy battleships were in active service until 1990, when the costs to maintain them clearly outweighed their utility. The naval gunfire mission persisted, however, albeit from smaller vessels. In the case of the horse cavalry, the role has ended. And the weapon needs to be retired, perhaps to a nice stud farm where it can recall the glories of the past.


What the officers of the German General Staff eventually realized was that man and animal power could not negotiate the distances required for strategic victory before France, Britain, and the United States, blessed with interior lines, could bolster their defenses and thwart the strategic objectives of the German plans. Quite simply, an army cannot walk to Paris fast enough to keep the enemy off balance.

The solution to this mobility-at-distance problem was the internal combustion engine. Tanks would provide lethal and protected mobility that would give the German army longer reach. To solve the problem of fire support to support the blitzkrieg, Germany looked to the airplane. To connect the two weapons, it employed new radio technology. Although history has frequently credited this innovation to Gen. Heinz Guderian, in reality, the blitzkrieg was an institutional response to solving the strategic problems encountered during World War I.

Only Germany took this approach of combining the tank and the airplane into a combined arms force between the two world wars, even though all the combatants on the Western Front had direct experience with these technologies. This provided Germany with an elegant potential solution to the vexing problem Germany had faced since unification: how to avoid a two-front war in the west and in the east? Rapidly defeating the adversary in the west, before turning east had always been the objective. The blitzkrieg, enabled by mechanization and motorization, provided the means to achieve the strategy. Others (the U.S. and French armies) continued to view the tank largely as an infantry support weapon or alienated their militaries with demands for ascendancy (British Army).


The 1967 Arab-Israeli War was the first conflict since World War II that saw the large-scale employment of tank formations on a mobile battlefield. The resounding Israeli victory in this conflict solidified the view in most state militaries that the tank was the dominant force on the battlefield.


In less than ten years, the same battlefields in the Middle East that had validated the main battle tank as the dominant force in modern combat betrayed the tank’s first major vulnerabilities. Between 1967 and the 1973 Yom Kippur War, two technologies appeared that seemingly changed everything. The development of the Sagger and other anti-tank guided missiles (ATGM) gave infantry the capability to destroy a tank at long range for the first time. Similarly, the other key component of the Israeli defense establishment — air power — was put at risk by mobile surface-to-air missiles. For the first time ever, the ascendancy of the air-armor team was in doubt. The two key components that were the basis of the blitzkrieg and combined arms maneuver warfare — tanks and airplanes — had failed dramatically.


The solution was mainly tactical: combined arms operations, with particular attention paid to suppressing these ATGMs. The Israel Defense Forces also made a technical improvement, installing mortars on their tanks, a practice that continues to this day with the Merkava main battle-tank series. Finally, smoke-cannister dischargers were mounted on the combat vehicles in every army to screen them from fire. This was not a new practice, having been used on German tanks during World War II.

In combat, when a tank crew detected a Sagger, it immediately began suppressing it with mortar fire. That fire would soon be joined by larger mortars and field artillery. Furthermore, a practice evolved in the Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. Army where artillery units would have guns laid on potential Sagger locations so they could rapidly engage them with immediate suppression missions. This technique was particularly effective against the Sagger, which required the dismounted gunner to track the missile all the way to the target. Making him flinch — which high explosive rounds near one’s position tend to do — would break his lock on the target and cause the ATGM to miss.

The most important technical improvement in response to ATGMs was, however, the development of improved armor to replace the World War II-era rolled homogenous steel that was used on tanks. The demand was for a new armor that would protect the tank against the shaped warheads of the Sagger and other anti-tank weapons. Here, the British led the way, developing and fielding Chobham armor that protected against both shaped warheads and kinetic energy penetrators. Other solutions soon followed, e.g., explosive reactive armor.

Furthermore, given that the Israel Defense Forces relied heavily on air-ground operations, it had to solve the SAM challenge to air superiority. It learned that suppression by artillery fire was the tactical solution to neutralizing enemy missiles as well.


The next indication that the tank faced a significant, and perhaps mortal, new challenge came during the 2006 Second Lebanon War. Again, the challenge was the ATGM. But, the 9M133 Kornet had a much longer range than the Sagger (5,000 meters vs. 3,000 meters), a tandem warhead that can defeat all known armor, even frontal, and — most importantly — it has a laser-beam guidance system that is simple to operate.

Almost immediately, the end of the tank was proclaimed, but this time at the hands of even sub-state actors.


The technical solution the IDF fielded in response to the new generation of ATGM was the Trophy active protection system. Briefly, the Trophy uses a sophisticated radar-directed weapon, mounted on the tank, to shoot down an incoming ATGM. It also has the benefit of providing the crew and other networked systems with the location of the ATGM launcher.

Trophy soon proved its worth in Israel’s operations against Hamas in Gaza, essentially neutralizing the ATGM and rocket-propelled grenade threats to vehicles equipped with the system. The United States, Germany, and the United Kingdom have all fielded Trophy. Other states have developed both soft- and hard-kill active protections systems, e.g., the Russian Arena and Afghanit and the German MUSS.

Most active protection systems were designed to defeat ATGMs attacking the front or sides of a vehicle. This was the plane in which ATGMS like the Sagger, Kornet, and the U.S. TOW were employed because the front and sides are the most heavily armored areas of a tank, given that is generally where enemy weapons hit. Top-attack weapons aim at the much more lightly armored tops of vehicles. These include ATGMs, e.g., the U.S. FGM-148 Javelin, an increasingly wide variety of artillery projectiles, and drones. These weapons have all complicated the active defense challenge that Trophy originally addressed.


The Russian Army has shown that it is not competent in combined arms fire and maneuver. Where is the accompanying infantry with the tank formations, who are supposed to bust the ambushes executed by Ukrainian forces? Where are the suppressive mortar, artillery, and close air support fires? If the Russian Army was tactically skilled, then the Javelin and other ATGMs would be suppressed by artillery or air support and their surviving crews would be swept up by Russian infantry.


Is there a continued role for mobile, protected lethality on the battlefields of the future? If the answer is yes, or even maybe, then the next act in the ongoing drama of how to protect the tank is to enable it to do what only it can do.

They are difficult to defend against due to their speed, maneuverability, and flight path

Tuesday, April 19th, 2022

Iain Boyd, University of Colorado Boulder, explains how hypersonic missiles work:

These new systems pose an important challenge due to their maneuverability all along their trajectory. Because their flight paths can change as they travel, these missiles must be tracked throughout their flight.

A second important challenge stems from the fact that they operate in a different region of the atmosphere from other existing threats. The new hypersonic weapons fly much higher than slower subsonic missiles but much lower than intercontinental ballistic missiles. The U.S. and its allies do not have good tracking coverage for this in-between region, nor does Russia or China.


Describing a vehicle as hypersonic means that it flies much faster than the speed of sound, which is 761 miles per hour (1,225 kilometers per hour) at sea level and 663 mph (1,067 kph) at 35,000 feet (10,668 meters) where passenger jets fly. Passenger jets travel at just under 600 mph (966 kph), whereas hypersonic systems operate at speeds of 3,500 mph (5,633 kph) — about 1 mile (1.6 kilometers) per second — and higher.


All of the intercontinental ballistic missiles in the world’s nuclear arsenals are hypersonic, reaching about 15,000 mph (24,140 kph), or about 4 miles (6.4 km) per second at their maximum velocity.

ICBMs are launched on large rockets and then fly on a predictable trajectory that takes them out of the atmosphere into space and then back into the atmosphere again. The new generation of hypersonic missiles fly very fast, but not as fast as ICBMs. They are launched on smaller rockets that keep them within the upper reaches of the atmosphere.

Three types of hypersonic missiles

There are three different types of non-ICBM hypersonic weapons: aero-ballistic, glide vehicles and cruise missiles. A hypersonic aero-ballistic system is dropped from an aircraft, accelerated to hypersonic speed using a rocket and then follows a ballistic, meaning unpowered, trajectory. The system Russian forces used to attack Ukraine, the Kinzhal, is an aero-ballistic missile. The technology has been around since about 1980.

A hypersonic glide vehicle is boosted on a rocket to high altitude and then glides to its target, maneuvering along the way. Examples of hypersonic glide vehicles include China’s Dongfeng-17, Russia’s Avangard and the U.S. Navy’s Conventional Prompt Strike system. U.S. officials have expressed concern that China’s hypersonic glide vehicle technology is further advanced than the U.S. system.

A hypersonic cruise missile is boosted by a rocket to hypersonic speed and then uses an air-breathing engine called a scramjet to sustain that speed. Because they ingest air into their engines, hypersonic cruise missiles require smaller launch rockets than hypersonic glide vehicles, which means they can cost less and be launched from more places. Hypersonic cruise missiles are under development by China and the U.S. The U.S. reportedly conducted a test flight of a scramjet hypersonic missile in March 2020.

The primary reason nations are developing these next-generation hypersonic weapons is how difficult they are to defend against due to their speed, maneuverability and flight path.

The result is a Russian military designed to win land wars while avoiding a rout from the air

Monday, April 18th, 2022

Back at the start of March, Samo Burja wrote about observers puzzled to see Russian troops advancing into Ukraine without attaining air supremacy:

On the first morning of the attack, Russia disabled many Ukrainian airfields with a barrage of missiles. Since this was evidently insufficient to stop the Ukrainian air force from fighting back or launching air-to-ground attacks on the Russian army, Russia has, at best, achieved only air superiority over Ukraine: it can operate advantageously in Ukrainian skies, but it lacks the total dominance at which effective interference is no longer expected.

From the U.S. perspective, Russia’s decision to pursue a ground invasion when the skies remain contested seems foolhardy. The American military strongly favors establishing air supremacy before committing ground troops to battle. In the 1991 Gulf War, when the United States led a coalition force to liberate Kuwait from Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, an air campaign that lasted 42 consecutive days and nights preceded the first major ground assault. Over 100,000 sorties flew, using stealth bombers and laser-guided munitions to incapacitate the Iraqi military from above. When coalition forces invaded Iraq again in 2003, they did not first wait for an extensive air campaign—not because of a fundamental change in doctrine, but because the U.S. and its allies had continuously maintained air supremacy over Iraq for the previous 12 years. At the end of the Gulf War, the U.S. and allied militaries declared and enforced no-fly zones over most of Iraq, periodically striking Iraqi aircraft and air-defense systems, among other targets.

Since World War II, the United States has used airpower to great success. But airpower has another benefit beyond the strictly military advantage of being able both to see and strike any target in a theater of war: it is politically feasible. Air campaigns can inflict tremendous casualties on an enemy while sustaining few losses of their own. This prevents the bad public relations and loss of morale that afflicted the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in later years, while bypassing the onerous bureaucratic and logistical capacity needed to field an effective army. It’s unlikely that the U.S. ever would have launched conventional ground invasions of Yugoslavia in 1999 or Libya in 2011, but overwhelming airpower proved sufficient to achieve U.S. goals in both cases.

This extremely successful track record, however, has eclipsed the reality that orientation around airpower is not the only potent military strategy for a major power. Russia’s military is instead built around ground-based heavy artillery. Much of the Russian force now invading Ukraine consists of “Battalion Tactical Groups” (BTGs). These formations of less than 1,000 men operate as much artillery as a U.S. armored brigade—a formation of about 4,500 troops—as well as air-defense, anti-tank, and multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS) batteries. Russia’s Soviet-era artillery has been modernized and much of it is brand new. In addition to large quantities of self-propelled artillery, many of Russia’s active artillery systems substantially outgun and outrange their Western equivalents, partially thanks to a domestic defense industry that specializes in this niche. Unlike many European countries, Russia still employs cluster munitions that can saturate an area of 40,000 square meters with explosives. In Western doctrine, tanks are typically supported by artillery fire when seizing contested ground. Russian doctrine is the other way around: tanks are used to seize favorable positions for artillery, which then finishes off an enemy force. Surprisingly, the Russian military currently does not even operate any armed drones but uses a 2,000-strong fleet of reconnaissance drones to help locate artillery targets.

This artillery-centric army would be nevertheless highly vulnerable to air strikes in the absence of air defenses, a weakness of which Russian military theorists have been aware since the last years of the Soviet Union, and which modern Russia has taken pains to address. In the 1980s, Soviet marshal Nikolai Ogarkov proposed—among many other reforms—the creation of a unified aerospace service with combined responsibility for both airpower and air defense. The Soviet military proved too rigid for reform before the USSR’s collapse in 1991, but Putin’s Russia inaugurated the Russian Aerospace Forces in 2015. This followed a major period of military reform from 2007 to 2012 under Defense Minister Anatoly Serdyukov, a civilian and career tax official who relentlessly purged Russia’s bloated defense bureaucracy and worked to modernize equipment, tactics, and administration. Today, Russia operates some of the world’s densest and most sophisticated air-defense systems. The infamous S-400, which has been purchased by China, India, and Turkey, is one example, but progress has also been made in linking up older air defenses to modern target-acquisition systems. Every BTG also operates its own short-range air-defense systems.

The result is a Russian military designed to win land wars while avoiding a rout from the air. Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine without air supremacy simply because its army was designed to operate without it. Moreover, Putin’s authoritarian Russia is far more politically willing to absorb casualties than Western democracies.

How Harpoon V would model the Ukrainian attack on the Moskva

Sunday, April 17th, 2022

Ian B. of the Rocky Mountain Navy looks at how the latest version of the table-top Harpoon war game, Harpoon V, would model the Ukrainian attack on the Moskva:

Given that Moskva is a major combatant with a wide assortment of radars and defensive systems, the result of the attack/accident seems almost implausible. On paper this is a Ukrainian David vs. a Russian Goliath. Alternatively, how could the Russian Navy lose a ship to a fire? A closer examination of a plausible “engagement” using the Harpoon V rules reveals it’s not as lopsided as one might think.

If reports are to be believed, Moskva was struck by by two RK-360MC Neptun (Neptune) anti-ship cruise missiles. Neptune is generally reported to be a Ukrainian version of the Russian Kh-35U but with a longer body, more fuel, and a larger booster. For the purposes of this discussion, let’s use the Kh-35U which is listed as the Uran (3M24) [SS-N-25 Switchblade] in Annex D1 of Russia’s Navy: Soviet & Russian Naval Vessels, 1955-2020 (Admiralty Trilogy Group, 2021). The most important data element is perhaps the damage caused by the 150kg warhead which Harpoon V rates as “35+D6/2” or 36-38 damage points. Admittedly, this number may be a bit low given the Neptune has more fuel and is larger, factors which lead to more damage in Admiralty Trilogy models.

Moskva is (was?) the lead ship of the Project 1164 Atlant class. To Cold War Grognards like me it’s perhaps better known as a Slava-class guided missile cruiser. The lead ship, Slava, entered service in 1983 and eventually was renamed Moskva in 1995. This particular ship was overhauled between 1991-2000 and was to be overhauled again in 2016. Reports indicate the overhaul stalled for lack of funds and the ship reentered service in 2019 with few—or none—of the planned upgrades completed. Full details for Moskva are found in Annex A of Russia’s Navy. Of particular concern to this analysis, Moskva is rated at 341 damage points.

There are many unanswered questions about how the Ukrainians may have hit Moskva with two ASCMs. In Harpoon V one can play out the detection, engagement, and damage results. While many pundits are saying that Moskva “should” have seen—and defeated—the inbound missiles, Harpoon V helps us understand why this may have not been an “automatic” thing.


The defensive model in Harpoon V assumes ships are at General Quarters with all sensors and weapons at the ready. General Quarters is also very hard to maintain with watertight doors secured and people constantly on edge. It is more likely that Moskva was operating in some lesser readiness condition. This of course means sensors and weapons may not have been ready (extending the Reaction Time) and watertight integrity/damage control teams may not have been set to immediately deal with damage.


The late Captain Wayne P. Hughes Jr., USN (Ret.) in his book Fleet Tactics and Coastal Combat, Second Edition (Annapolis: Naval Institute Press, 2000) shared a study showing the number of Exocet equivalents (approximately equal to one 3M24) it would take to cripple or sink a warship (see Fig. 6-1, Exocet Missile Equivalents versus Full-Load Displacement for Ships Out of Action and Sunk, p. 160). The table goes up to 7,000 tons but extrapolating the data to ~10,000 tons (Moskva is 9,380 tons standard displacement) indicates that two hits are very likely enough to put Moskva out of action and four or five hits would be sufficient to sink the ship. Assuming two missiles and maybe one sympathetic detonation of ordnance that’s already three hits…with maybe a fourth from fire and flood damage. In many ways the surprise should not be Moskva sinking but if the ship somehow survives.

It’s bad enough losing a ship, but worse not losing it in combat:

At this point the Russian need to claim the ship was saturated with dozens of missiles and they heroically downed all but the last two. The story will be the Captain stood on the bridge with his middle finger raised and said, “F*ck you, Ukrainian missile!”

Tom Clancy used an earlier edition of Harpoon to game out The Hunt for Red October and Red Storm Rising — which he did with Larry Bond, the US Navy officer who developed the game. A Forbes piece from a couple years ago describes the origin of the game:

In July 1976 a young naval officer made the short walk from his warship to a destroyer tender docked nearby. Lieutenant (JG) Larry Bond returned to the USS McKean with a precious copy of the NAVTAG wargame. And because it was a Secret document, he promptly signed it in to his ship’s classified material locker. NAVTAG (Naval Tactical Game) was an official war game used to train U.S. Navy officers how to fight with their ships. It was a great training aid, but its classified status created a bureaucratic barrier to playing it, so it rarely came out of the safe. What Bond thought was needed was a non-classified version which could be played more easily. It was the beginning of the now famous Harpoon wargame lineage.


When Bond released the first version in April 1980 it was an instant success, even winning the H.G. Wells award in 1981. Bond knew all about wargames, being an associate of Dave Arneson of Dungeons & Dragons fame. Arneson’s company even publish the first two editions. While it was popular with the civilian audience, it was also a hit with professional war fighters. It was easier to play than NAVTAG, and free from classified material, but retained the realism needed in a navy setting.

Arneson was not the only famous person associated with the game. Upcoming author Tom Clancy bought a copy of Harpoon and began corresponding with Larry Bond. Clancy used the game during his research for his first novel, The Hunt for Red October. His second book, Red Storm Rising, was based on scenarios tested out playing Harpoon. The bona fide wargaming gave the book a level of realism and credibility which sets it apart from many other Techno Thrillers. Bond was also Clancy’s co-author on the book.

Red Storm Rising was essentially a Soviet Invasion of Europe war game written as a story. It was a scenario familiar to naval planners. So if you have ever wondered why Russia’s Tu-22 Backfire bombers featured so prominently, it was a real-world concern of NATO navies. Armed with powerful supersonic missiles, these could overwhelm all but the latest warships. It was the threat that AEGIS and the F-14 Tomcat were primarily intended to counter.

In Red Storm Rising — spoiler alert — the Soviet Navy achieves a decisive early victory against a US Navy carrier group by using air-launched decoy drones to draw the carrier’s air patrol far away, while Tu-16 Badger bombers attack from another direction, causing considerable damage. Apparently the Ukrainians pulled off this trick against the Russian Moskva, with their Turkish drone.

Another tactical lesson from the book seems to be playing out, too. Three men and a jeep can race along the road, set up, fire one or two missiles, be gone before the enemy can react, then repeat the process a few hundred meters away.

(The Harpoon V Jumpstart rules are free to download.)

The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield

Wednesday, April 13th, 2022

The current war in Ukraine is causing no end of trouble for the staff officers and civil servants working on next year’s budgets, Edward Luttwak remarks:

The infantry is once again the queen of the battlefield, empowered as it is by anti-tank missiles that pursue armoured vehicles until they destroy them, and by portable anti-aircraft missiles that are the doom of helicopters, even if they cannot intercept much faster jets. This means that current combat helicopter and armoured vehicle purchases should be cancelled until they can be redesigned with much better protection; that is active defences that detect and intercept the incoming missiles — a process that might take years. (So far only Israel has active defence systems for its armoured vehicles )

By contrast, killer drones that can reliably destroy armoured vehicles and anything else beyond the horizon are grotesquely underfunded given their demonstrated combat value, largely because they are captive to air force priorities, set by pilots and ex-pilot senior officers. Only with political intervention can the stranglehold of the flying fraternity be overcome — they are today’s reactionary horse cavalry that resisted tanks in the Twenties. But the main thing, of course, is to have more infantry and to train it very well, and that raises the need for compulsory military service which only Sweden has confronted so far — by re-instituting it.

What Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience was a future battlefield that would be far more lethal than most of his contemporaries imagined

Saturday, April 9th, 2022

In The Kill Chain, Christian Brose tells the story of Jan Bloch:

Jan Bloch was not a soldier. He was a banker who was born into poverty in Warsaw in 1836 but worked his way up to become a wealthy railroad financier in Russian-controlled Poland. He never served a day of his life in uniform. But he was passionate about military issues and for years obsessively studied how the new technologies of his era would change warfare.

Bloch examined the introduction of the machine gun, smokeless gunpowder, long-range artillery, new types of explosives, railroads, telegraphs, steamships, and other innovations. And he traced their increasingly devastating effects from the Crimean War in the 1850s through the American Civil War a decade later, the Austro-Prussian War in 1866, the Franco-Prussian War in 1870, the Russo-Turkish War that began in 1877, and the start of the Boer Wars in 1880. He poured the results of his lifelong study of technology and warfare into a six-volume doorstop of a book that he published in 1898, four years before his death. He called it The Future of War.

What Bloch foresaw with stunning prescience was a future battlefield that would be far more lethal than most of his contemporaries imagined. The invention of smokeless gunpowder would literally lift the fog of war that had hung thick over past conflicts so that, unlike in previous skirmishes, opposing armies would remain dangerously exposed after the initial volleys of gunfire. Rifles could shoot farther, faster, and more accurately than ever. For centuries, the best professional soldiers could fire a few accurate shots per minute. At the end of the nineteenth century, average conscripts could fire dozens of accurate shots per second. And because bullets had become smaller, soldiers could carry more of them into combat.

Modern fast-loading artillery, equipped with range finders and high-explosive shells, were 116 times deadlier, by Bloch’s calculation, than guns from just a few decades prior.


For Bloch, this meant that battlefields would become killing fields, where combatants would never “get within one hundred yards of one another.” War would cease to be “a hand-to-hand contest in which the combatants measure their physical and moral superiority.” Instead, Bloch predicted, “the next war will be a great war of entrenchments.”


Much of the war was waged with modern technology but antiquated doctrine.


Another factor that made the war so calamitous was the military technological parity that existed between the great powers.

Lethal autonomous weapons have existed for a long time

Thursday, April 7th, 2022

Lethal autonomous weapons have existed for a long time, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain):

Such systems, with varying degrees of capability, are currently in use by at least thirty different states. The US Navy, for example, has used the Phalanx gun and Aegis missile defense systems to defend its ships for decades. Though far less capable than the intelligent machines of today and tomorrow, these systems can be switched into a fully automatic mode that enables them to close the kill chain against incoming missiles without human involvement. The decision to trust those machines to do so was born of necessity: it was unlikely humans could respond fast enough to counter incoming missiles. That inability was deemed a greater danger than the option of turning the kill chain over to a machine that could shoot down missiles in time-sensitive situations more effectively than humans could.

Both militaries had tanks, radios, and airplanes

Tuesday, April 5th, 2022

History is replete with examples of military rivals that had the same technologies, and what set them apart is how they used them, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain):

The archetypal case is that of France and Germany in the 1930s. Both militaries had tanks, radios, and airplanes. But whereas the French chose to employ those technologies as part of their effort to build better versions of the fortifications they had relied upon in World War I, Germany combined those capabilities into a new concept called blitzkrieg, which enabled the German army to maneuver rapidly through France’s defensive positions, capturing Paris in roughly one month in 1940.

This was how America acted when it was serious

Friday, April 1st, 2022

It is difficult to overstate the all-encompassing sense of urgency that Washington felt in the early years of the Cold War, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain):

The way Eisenhower saw it, Washington’s primary role was to get the big things right. That started with picking the right people—not necessarily good people or nice people, but exceptional people, the kinds of people who might today be called “founders.” Eisenhower believed in empowering these founders by giving them broad authority to solve clearly defined problems, providing them all of the resources and support they needed to be successful, and then holding them strictly accountable for delivering results. In short, it was a strategy of concentration—of priorities, money, effort, and, most importantly, people.


He awarded gigantic contracts with fat margins to companies and technologists and integrated them into one military-industrial team. He scraped a space launch center out of a boggy stretch of Florida wetland called Cape Canaveral. He repeatedly blew up rocket engines and missile prototypes on the launchpad. But along the way, Eisenhower defended Schriever, got him more money when he needed it, and protected him from bureaucrats and staunch rivals, such as fellow Air Force general Curtis LeMay, who tried to kill the project at every turn…

Eventually, Schriever and his team did the impossible: they developed the Thor, Atlas, Titan, and Minuteman missiles that could deliver nuclear weapons to precise locations on the other side of the planet in minutes.


This was how America acted when it was serious. The paramount concern was picking winners: the priorities that were more important than anything else, the people who could succeed where others could not, and the industrialists who could quickly build amazing technology that worked.


This is how Silicon Valley originated: as a start-up incubated by the Department of Defense. Margaret O’Mara, a historian and former staffer for Vice President Al Gore, has observed, “Defense contracts during and after World War II turned Silicon Valley from a somnolent landscape of fruit orchards into a hub of electronics production and innovations ranging from mainframes to microprocessors to the internet.”


A sprawling bureaucracy materialized in the 1960s to administer and discipline the military-industrial complex. Eisenhower’s more personalized approach to military acquisition and innovation, which was based on picking winners and holding them accountable, became bureaucratized amid the broader adoption of the industrial age management practices that had come into vogue in leading companies.

No one did more to further this trend than Robert McNamara, a veteran of Ford Motor Company who ran the Pentagon for much of the 1960s. Under his tenure, in the spirit of improving efficiency, new layers of oversight, analysis, and management were added, and these grew and began choking off the ability to develop breakthrough technologies quickly.


The result was that the process of developing military technology became harder, slower, and less creative. This outcome only intensified in the early 1970s, when many engineers in Silicon Valley began growing uncomfortable working for the US government as the Vietnam War grew more divisive.

There have been only three unicorns in 35 years in the defense space

Thursday, March 31st, 2022

In 2016, Facebook unceremoniously pushed Palmer Luckey out of the virtual reality startup he founded, Oculus. Then Luckey founded Anduril:

Luckey is now winning billion-dollar Pentagon contracts. One of them is for a counter-drone system based on its “battlefield operating system,” called Lattice. Anduril’s demo video shows one of the company’s sentry surveillance towers detecting a hostile drone and dispatching a small high-speed drone of its own to literally knock the intruder out of the sky. Recently, Anduril acquired a company that makes robot submarines.


Anduril has a valuation of nearly $5 billion, making Luckey a rare founder of two unicorns. He is unusual for a military contractor. Perpetually garbed in a Hawaiian shirt, and occasionally still in cosplay threads, his vibe is much more cheerful hacker. His conservative politics also make him an awkward figure in Silicon Valley. (One of his sisters is married to the right-wing provocateur and congress member Matt Gaetz.)


There have been only three unicorns in 35 years in the defense space: Palantir, SpaceX, and Anduril. All three of those companies were founded by people who had just sold their previous company for billions of dollars.

The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system

Wednesday, March 30th, 2022

The UK is sending Starstreak High-Velocity Missiles (HVMs) to Ukraine:

The first key to Starstreak’s capability is its guidance system. Most MANPADS fire heat-seeking missiles — first, the missile’s infrared seeker head needs to become locked onto the target’s heat signature, before it’s launched and then autonomously homes in on it, in a ‘fire and forget’ mode. Depending on the age of the missile, certain heat-seeking MANPADS will also require some time for the seeker to cool down before it can lock on.

In contrast, the Starstreak uses laser-beam-riding guidance, in which the operator fires the missile as soon as a target is detected in the optically stabilized sight. Line-of-sight is then maintained throughout the engagement process. The aiming unit projects two laser beams onto the target, with sensors on the missile calculating the relative positions until impact. The intensity of these laser beams is low enough that, the manufacturer claims, the targeted aircraft won’t be able to detect them.

Overall, this guidance method is more accurate than traditional laser guidance, in which the target is ‘painted’ with a single beam. The twin-laser approach is more resistant to maneuvering targets that could otherwise break the laser lock. At the same time, unlike infrared-guided MANPADS, the Starstreak cannot be spoofed by flares or other heat sources. Unlike most air defense missiles, it’s effectively immune to countermeasures, including the latest L-370 Vitebsk (exported as the President-S) directional infrared countermeasures (DIRCM) found on many Russian Aerospace Forces helicopters.

Another advantage is that smaller targets can be engaged (as long as the operator can see them through the sight), including those with infrared signatures that might be insufficient for a heat-seeking missile to track.

In another break from MANPADS tradition, it’s not a single missile with a traditional warhead that’s guided onto or very near the target before detonating. Instead, three tungsten darts are released from the missile body, which contains the rocket motor, during the end-game terminal portion of the attack on the target.

The velocity of these darts, also known as ‘hittiles,’ is such that the Starstreak can destroy not only targets in the air [but] also heavily armored targets on the ground if the need arises. The darts have small control surfaces at the front to ensure they are steered into the target, via the projected laser matrix. They fly in ‘formation’ with a separation of around 5 feet.

The speed with which the missile itself then closes in on the target — up to 2,000 mph — gives it little chance of escape within a very brief engagement window, or ‘unmasking time.’


Once they have penetrated the target, the darts also explode, each one carrying a fragmentation warhead.

Some of the technologies behind China’s Assassin’s Mace weapons were indigenously developed

Tuesday, March 29th, 2022

After the Gulf War, Christian Brose explains (in The Kill Chain), the Russians weren’t the only ones to notice the US military’s success:

Upon visiting Baghdad, Chinese military officials learned that Saddam Hussein had the same aging Soviet air defenses and other weapons that China did, and in some cases, Iraq’s were better.


What unnerved the Chinese Communist Party was not just the stealth and precision of US forces but also their ability to achieve victory without completely annihilating the Iraqi military.


In 1996, as tensions between China and Taiwan flared, the United States sailed an aircraft carrier battle group into the Taiwan Strait, one hundred miles from China’s mainland, and the Chinese military struggled to locate its exact position. Three years later, China watched again as the same US way of war that had triumphed in Iraq destroyed Serbia’s ability to fight and forced Milosevic to capitulate. This time, however, it was personal, because a US airstrike had destroyed the Chinese embassy in Belgrade.


Under what it called its 995 Plan (named for the Belgrade embassy attack in May 1999), China accelerated work to build a different kind of military. It continued to spend money on traditional military systems, such as ships and tanks, but its priority was to develop what it called “Assassin’s Mace” weapons. The name refers to special weapons that were used in Chinese history to defeat more powerful adversaries.


In the event of a war in Asia, the US military would build up its iron mountains in these forward bases, much as it had used similar bases to wage the wars in Iraq and the Balkans, and this would enable US forces to fight how, when, and where they wished. China knew that Washington assumed all of this, and it built larger and larger quantities of increasingly capable missiles, primarily medium-range and long-range ballistic missiles, to wipe out America’s critical warfighting infrastructure in Asia.


As a result, China developed early-warning and long-range radars to spot approaching US aircraft from as far away as possible. It also built dense and formidable networks of integrated air and missile defense systems that would aim to shoot down US planes from greater distances and high-powered jammers that would seek to destroy their ability to communicate.


The fact that aircraft carriers could move — so first had to be located — made them much tougher targets than land bases. But China knew that most US carriers were not based in Asia and would need to sail into the region from elsewhere in the event of conflict.


So, China set about building over-the-horizon radars, long-range reconnaissance satellites and aircraft, and other means of hunting America’s floating airfields as they made their long journey across the Pacific Ocean.


The DF-21, the world’s first ever anti-ship ballistic missile, was designed to do just that — fly out more than one thousand miles, slam into a carrier, and cripple its ability to fight, if not sink it altogether.


As Washington lurched from one costly military acquisition debacle to another, Beijing fielded an even more capable carrier killer missile, the DF-26, which may be able to fly twice as far as the DF-21, possibly farther, carry a larger warhead, and strike more precisely. It also fielded quiet diesel submarines and anti-ship cruise missiles that were harder to detect and defeat because they could fly low and maneuver unpredictably.


An additional set of Assassin’s Mace weapons focused on doing to the US military what it had done to Iraq in 1991: destroying the underlying systems that sustained the ability to wage war. In America’s case, this was its communications and intelligence satellites, especially its Global Positioning System (GPS), which enabled US weapons to find their targets. It was the information networks that moved targeting data from sensors to shooters. And it was the logistics enterprise that allowed US forces to flow into theaters of operations and sustained forces in combat with food, fuel, and supplies.


This was all part of a broader warfighting doctrine that Chinese military officials ultimately called “systems destruction warfare.”


Some of the technologies behind China’s Assassin’s Mace weapons were indigenously developed, but many fell into Chinese hands as the result of a long-term and large-scale campaign of state-sponsored theft.


It was often noted, for example, that China’s CH-4B unmanned aircraft was a spitting image of the US Predator drone, and that its J-20 fifth-generation fighter jet looked strikingly similar to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter. Indeed, some joked in Washington that all of the multi-billion-dollar acquisition disasters that plagued the US military were actually part of an ingenious plot to sabotage China when it tried to copy them.


By 2012, General Keith Alexander, director of the National Security Agency and commander of US Cyber Command, estimated that the United States was losing a quarter of $1 trillion every year to cyber-enabled industrial espionage, much of it by China. He called it “the greatest transfer of wealth in history.”

Why assassin’s mace?

A club-type weapon sounds like a rather unsuitable weapon for an assassin. The actual Chinese term is Sha Shou Jian (literally “killing hand club”), which refers to a pair of short wooden or metal rods used as a martial arts weapon. “Jian” normally denotes a long Chinese swordbut Sha Shou Jian are blunt and heavy. They could be concealed in the long sleeves of court robes and used to make surprise attacks — hence the association with assassins.

And although some Western commentators like the *New Atlantis *claim that the meaning of the assassin’s mace “remains elusive, ” it’s no mystery to Mandarin speakers. Sha Shou Jian a popular expression used by sports commentators, businessmen and even in romantic advice columns. Alastair Johnston of Harvard University criticizes the way Washington pundits want to make the Assassin’s Mace “mysterious and exotic”: it’s simply the decisive, winning quality. In sports, the Assassin’s Mace may be the key goal-scorer; in business, it’s any quality that puts you ahead of the competition; in love, it might be the subtle smile that wins over the object of your affections. Johnston suggests that a fairly idiomatic translation would be “silver bullet” and that the concept behind it is less fiendishly oriental than is often supposed.


The Pentagon defines the Maces as technologies that might afford an inferior military an advantage in a conflict with a superior power. In this view, an Assassin’s Mace is anything which provides a cheap means of countering an expensive weapon. Other examples might include Chinese anti-satellite weapons, which might instantly knock out U.S. space assets, or a conventional ballistic missile, designed to take out a supercarrier and all its aircraft in one hit. It’s an interesting contrast to the perspective of the American arms industry, which can end up spending vast amounts countering low-tech, low-cost threats like mines and IEDs.

The Little Green Men could jam Ukrainian drones

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2022

The Russian military of 2014, which Christian Brose describes in The Kill Chain, seemed disturbingly competent:

This was not a Russian military that most in Washington recognized. It had highly capable weapons, such as electronic warfare systems, communications jammers, air defenses, and long-range precision rocket artillery, much of which was better than anything the US military had.


The Little Green Men could jam Ukrainian drones, causing them to fall out of the sky. They could also jam the fuses on Ukrainian warheads so they never exploded when they hit their targets, but instead landed on the ground with an inert thud. The Ukrainians talked about how the Little Green Men could detect any signal they emitted and use it to target them. Minutes after talking on the radio, their positions were wiped out by barrages of rocket artillery. Their armored vehicles were identified by unmanned spotter drones and immediately hit with special munitions that came down right on top of them, where the armor was weakest, killing everyone inside.


The Ukrainians tried to dig themselves into bunkers and trenches, but the Little Green Men hit them with thermobaric warheads that sucked all of the oxygen out of those closed spaces, turning it into fuel that ignited everything and everyone inside. Entire columns of Ukrainian troops were annihilated by cluster munitions.


One day during the conflict, the man’s mother received a call from someone claiming to be the Ukrainian authorities, who informed her that her son had been badly wounded in action in eastern Ukraine. She immediately did what any mother would do: she called her son’s mobile phone. Little did she know that the call she had received was from Russian operatives who had gotten a hold of her son’s cell phone number but knew that he rarely used the phone for operational security reasons. This Ukrainian commander, being a good son, quickly called his mother back, which enabled the Little Green Men to geolocate his position. Seconds later, while still on the phone, he was killed in a barrage of precision rocket artillery.


What emerged in Ukraine in 2014 was more than just Little Green Men; it was a battle network of sensors and shooters that closed the kill chain with remarkable speed and lethality. It was a Russian reconnaissance-strike complex.