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Archive for the ‘Technology’ Category

Will countries be increasingly buying Chinese? A New York Times article (available here) reports that China’s defence industries are starting to market their products much more aggressively than in the past. The report notes that while China’s defence exports in the past have focused on fairly low-end equipment – small arms, in particular – increasingly, Chinese defence industries have been hawking their drones, combat aircraft and other more high-end weapons systems and platforms.

A critical breakthrough was the announcement that Turkey was buying a Chinese missile system to be integrated into its existing air combat platforms. Given that this decision presents serious technological challenges to the Turkish military – there will be technical challenges integrating the Chinese missile system into their existing platforms – the Turkish decision was, to put it mildly, something of a surprise. One report likens this decision as introducing a virus into an existing system.

How can we make sense of this Turkish decision? Zachary Keck suggests that it might represent a geopolitical move by Turkey, to distance itself from NATO to facilitate a move towards a more independent foreign policy.

For countries in China’s immediate vicinity, the question increasingly may be this: how much longer can we avoid buying Chinese???

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One for the techies amongst our readers (available here). The article outlines some of the ore exotic military technologies that the US might bring to bear if it conducts military operations against Syria in the near future.

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A commentary by colleague Paul Mitchell of the Canadian Forces College, published by The Laurier Centre for Military Strategic and Disarmament Studies, (and available here) for your reading pleasure. While Paul’s focus is on Canadian strategic requirements, don’t let that fool you into thinking it is irrelevant to other countries. The strategic dilemmas that Paul identifies apply pretty much to any country thinking of acquiring the F-35.

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We have commented on this issue before, but here is a recent offering from the BBC (available here).

I am not too sure about this idea of a cyber Pearl Harbour-style attack though. I think there will be a cyber attack, if only to shut down ISR systems, and then the Pearl Harbour-style attack will happen. It is kind of like the Cylon attacks on humanity in the 21st Century re-imagination of the 1970s classic Battlestar Galactica: a virus shut down the 12 colonies’ computer systems, and then the Cylons attacked.

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Tanks have been the king of the battlefield for much of the 20th Century, and, to badly paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of its demise have thus far been grossly exaggerated. The emergence of precision-guided anti-tank weapons in the early 1970s led to quite a few expectations of the impending demise of the tank, especially after the initial shocks of the 1973 Yom Kippur war, when Israeli tank forces were shown to be vulnerable to Egyptian anti-tank guided weapons. That being said, a return to simple combined arms operations soon rectified that problem for the IDF.

Now comes this BBC report, which re-examines the role of tank forces, especially in terms of the tank-on-tank battles that were witnessed in Kursk in World War Two and in the Sinai in the 1973 Yom Kippur war.

A pertinent observation made in this BBC report is that in a sense, an armoured knight on horseback, charging in a dense pack towards a another dense pack of heavy infantry, is the historical precursor to today’s armoured forces. It is no accident that some armies refer to their tank forces as cavalry.

My own take: warfare will always exhibit a pendulum swing between offensive and defensive capabilities. World War One witnessed the dominance of defensive capabilities, but once the ‘principles’ of cavalry were adapted into tanks, offensive capabilities regained their lustre. I don’t see any reason why this pendulum swing should ever end.

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Two publications purporting to explain the recently-introduced concept of Air-Sea Battle (ASB for short). The first, a policy brief by RSIS colleagues Richard Bitzinger and Michael Raska, came out some time back. The second, courtesy of breakingdefense.com, is a more recent analysis of what is still a fairly vague concept.

I love the language of the breakingdefense.com article: “‘cross-domain’ ‘attack in depth’ using ‘both kinetic and non-kinetic means.’ In plain English, this means we won’t just sit back and defend ourselves. We won’t just try to shoot down enemy missiles after they launch, block cyberattacks once they’re already underway, or jam sensors that are already scanning us, although all those defensive activities are certainly necessary. Nor will we just respond tit-for-tat, with our airplanes shooting down the airplanes that attack us, our ships shooting at their ships, our cyberwarriors hacking theirs, although such ‘symmetrical’ forms of fighting remain important, too.”

Instead, as the breakingdefense.com piece notes, “we’ll throw all sorts of wrenches into the enemy war machine at every possible point, what the top officers of the Air Force and Navy, Gen. Mark Welsh and Adm. Jonathan Greenert, called … ‘breaking the kill chain.'” Rather than attempting to shoot an incoming missile down, ASB asserts that “it’s much better to blow up the launcher before it actually launches, or to blind the radar that’s trying to find you, or, best of all, crash the enemy communications network that is orchestrating the attack in the first place, whether by blowing up their headquarters, jamming their wireless datalinks, or hacking their computers… Instead of fighting fire with fire, in other words, throw water on it, or sand.” In other words, as the report said, “‘cyber or undersea operations can be used to defeat air defense systems, air forces can be used to eliminate submarine or mine maritime threats, or space assets can be used to disrupt adversary command and control.'”

Maybe it is just me, maybe I am a cynical b@£$%rd, but, erm, people, surely that is precisely what the entire history of warfare has been about, finding out the best way to deny your adversary the capacity to interfere with your ability to realise your own objectives. And finding out the most creative, cost- and strategically effective way of achieving this outcome, so as to gain at least tactical surprise on your adversary.

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A fascinating story, courtesy of the BBC, about Operation Chastise, the famous dambusters raid by the RAF during World War Two, against a series of hyrdoelectricity dams in the Ruhr industrial heartland of Germany.

The hypothesis underpinning Operation Chastise had been that by destroying the key hydroelectricity dams, this could have knocked out German’s military-industrial capacity. By shutting down Germany’s military-industrial capacity, this would have a direct impact on Germany’s continued ability to wage war thereafter. At least, that was the hypothesis.

As the article points out, there has been quite some disagreement between historians as to the extent to which this operation was successful. The official historians, Charles Webster and Noble Frankland “believed that it was oversold, its achievements exaggerated and other Bomber Command raids unfairly ignored.” Such historians point to “the speed at which the dams were repaired, and production of energy, steel and other armaments resumed.” Not only did the historians disagree, even Arthur “Bomber” Harris had thought the operation a “harebrained” scheme, noting that “‘I have seen nothing… to show that the effort was worthwhile except as a spectacular operation.'”Indeed, as the BBC article notes, “British planners had known that the success of the raid largely depended on the German ability to rebuild the dams in time to store up the autumn rains.”

Other perspectives, however, suggest that the operation had strategically very important follow-on effects. It may be true that the dams were repaired and re-supplying electricity to the Ruhr industrial heartland in a matter of months, and that the absence of these hydroelectrical resources did not have a severe impact on Germany’s military industrial output. Nevertheless, by redeploying German slave labour towards the repairs of these damns, the article suggests that this had a follow-on effect on German’s plan to construct a series of coastal defences against the expected Allied counter-offensive.

My personal sense is that I do tend towards agreeing that the operation may not have achieved that much at lower levels of analysis, but at the higher levels of analysis, there is something to be said for the operation. That being said, I think it possibly spurious to assume a direct causal relationship between Operation Chastise and the German capacity to mount a coherent defence of the Normandy beaches a year later. If anything, I wonder if this effect was really a result of the law of unintended consequences.

Food for thought for current senior commanders, I wonder?

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