American Bomber Overflights Challenge Chinese Air Control

A B-52 Stratofortress bomber leads a formation of American and Japanese fighter jets in a flight over Guam, February 21, 2011 (USAF/Angelita M. Lawrence)

America sent a strong signal on Tuesday of its position in a territorial dispute between China and Japan when it conducted bomber overflights of the Senkaku Islands. The island chain has been at the center of tensions in the Sino-Japanese relationship for some years and lies at the heart of an Air Defense Identification Zone that China declared just days ago.

Chinese authorities’ announcement of the ADIZ unilaterally requires all aircraft wishing to operate within a broad zone of the East China Sea to register their flight plans and other identifying information ahead of time. Failure to comply would, according to the government in Beijing, lead to proportionate responses from its armed forces. The implication being that this applies to the military and merchant aircraft that regularly service and patrol the Senkaku Islands which are administered by Japan and known in China as the Diaoyu Islands. Read more “American Bomber Overflights Challenge Chinese Air Control”

America’s Cool New Destroyer, Coming Soon

Artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer
Artist rendering of the Zumwalt class destroyer (USN)

The United States Navy’s coolest and most controversial new surface combatant is just months away from leaving drydock at the General Dynamics Bath Iron Works in Maine, according to Navy officials, despite delays caused by the recent government shutdown.

The USS Zumwalt, the first of the new DDG-1000 class of destroyer, is expected to put to sea for tests and shakedown in the first few months of 2014, moved back from the original October 19 launch date.

At a little more than 15,000 tons at full displacement, the Zumwalt will be one of the biggest non-aircraft carrying surface combat ships to be produced by the United States since the Second World War. The class features a new “tumblehome” design, which will improve upon ship stability by allowing new destroyers to pierce and pass through waves rather than cresting them, as well as extremely advanced electronic warfare systems that might be adapted to carry new types of weaponry developed in the future. Read more “America’s Cool New Destroyer, Coming Soon”

What Iran’s New Drone Aircraft Mean for Israel

During televised press briefings on the 33rd anniversary of the Iran-Iraq War and with demonstration videos on hand, the Islamic Republic of Iran last week announced the production of three lines of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV) that could see deployment within the year. The drones, dubbed the Yaseer, the Ra’ad-85 and the Shahed-129, have apparently been designed to perform in both reconnaissance and combat roles and will allow Iran greater capacity to monitor and enforce activities at home and, potentially, across the region.

UAV technology has not, until now seemingly, been effectively deployed by Iran. Patrolling sovereign airspace and undertaking aerial strike missions, like those prosecuted during the Iran-Iraq War, has for years been the responsibility of Iran’s missile corps and, with aging planes like the F-14 Tomcat and the MiG-29, the air force’s manned fighter fleet.

New unmanned systems would, if feasible in their deployability, allow for a significant expansion of the country’s capacity to both gather intelligence and surgically project power at home and in its near abroad. After all, from the lightly built Yaseer to the heavy Shahed, each of Iran’s new drone systems will have advanced reconnaissance suites, including high resolution cameras and communications equipment, as well as the capacity to launch precision strike munitions. Read more “What Iran’s New Drone Aircraft Mean for Israel”

New Choppers, New Capabilities on the Horizon for US Army

After more than fifty years of remarkable service from helicopter combat and airlift platforms like the Apache and the Black Hawk, the United States Army has taken the first crucial step toward obtaining replacements for decades to come. The Army’s Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Center recently issued four contracts to major development firms to begin work on designs for a family of future helicopters that would be phased into service sometime after 2030.

Development of the “next generation” family of helicopters will begin immediately and testable prototypes are expected by 2017. The new choppers will eventually replace all current medium-lift platforms and the vast majority of those combat models presently in use. Read more “New Choppers, New Capabilities on the Horizon for US Army”

Navy’s Drone Carrier Test Points to Robotic Warfare Future

Sailors move an X-47B demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, May 14
Sailors move an X-47B demonstrator onto an aircraft elevator aboard the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, May 14 (US Navy/Timothy Walter)

A milestone in the development of unmanned aerial technologies was passed recently when the United States Navy’s sea based drone strike platform, the experimental X-47B, was successfully launched from and recovered aboard an aircraft carrier.

Testing of the Navy’s prototype drone took place aboard the USS George H.W. Bush and mirrored earlier tests undertaken at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River in Maryland. As was the case in previous trials, this most recent undertaking examined the plane’s ability to take off and land using the assistive catapults and wires needed to fly from seaborne runways. Unlike earlier trials, however, this test was without simulated variables — the drone was actively tasked to consider and calculate the movement of a ship at sea.

The success of the test is significant for a number of reasons. Perhaps foremost among these is the way in which the Navy test — in essentially proving that launching drones from aircraft carrying ships is viable — highlighted America’s relatively near term ability to field the advancing capabilities of unmanned planes like the X-47B and those future variants likely to be designed around it.

Unlike the fleet of drones utilized by the United States in recent wars in both global surveillance and surgical strike roles, this new generation of drones exhibits characteristics of more traditional combat fighter platforms and will benefit from the greater power and mission flexibility afforded by an air frame built for combat. Read more “Navy’s Drone Carrier Test Points to Robotic Warfare Future”

Taiwan’s Defense Review Consciously Vague

Earlier this month, Taiwan’s Ministry of National Defense released its second Quadrennial Defense Review. The document, in addition to discussing the state of defense policies in the present political environment, examines the challenges facing the island and reports on the condition of national military preparedness.

Beyond minor changes in the language describing the local threat environment, there is very little new content over what was in the 2009 version. Indeed, the only substantial changes come in the form of a renewed focus on mainland China’s strategic transformation from a focus on near shore power projection to far sea perimeter defense.

This, of course, will guide Taiwanese defense planning and preparedness calculations in the future. But details on how that will translate into what new capabilities are to be pursued are thin on the ground and commentators have been quick to suggest that proposed spending levels and a lack of decisive developments could leave the island vulnerable to Chinese attack. Read more “Taiwan’s Defense Review Consciously Vague”

North Korea Cancels Peace Pacts, Threatens Nuclear Strike

Days of escalatory remarks and posturing on the Korean Peninsula culminated on Friday with the North announcing that all peace pacts with the South will be called off and threatening a nuclear strike against the United States. The move follows the unanimous approval of new sanctions by the United Nations Security Council as a punitive measure for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons test last month.

A spokesman for President Barack Obama stated in response that the United States can defend against any North Korean attack and that Pyongyang’s rhetoric is not unusual. However, the threat of nuclear assault is a serious problem for regional and international security. Could the rogue regime actually deliver a nuclear device to American soil? If not, could it hit treaty partners like Japan and South Korea? Read more “North Korea Cancels Peace Pacts, Threatens Nuclear Strike”

Drawn Out Confirmation Could Inhibit Hagel’s Effectiveness

Top Republicans in the United States Senate urged President Barack Obama on Thursday to withdraw his nomination of former Republican senator Chuck Hagel for the position of secretary of defense.

Tension between the parties has been high for several weeks as concerns about Hagel’s record of comments and actions on a number of issues failed to abate. Opposition legislators have questioned his position on the entrenched American-Israeli relationship, the United States’ military force posture around the world and his commitment to resolving the Iranian nuclear question.

Republicans in the Senate have previously resolved to stand aside and allow the Democratic majority to approve Obama’s nominations but it is clear that unease yet permeates discussions in Washington about Hagel’s future in the administration. Read more “Drawn Out Confirmation Could Inhibit Hagel’s Effectiveness”

Chinese Military Might Look Inward With New Drone

Recently, at the ninth biennial China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, the China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) showed off a full-scale version of its new unmanned aerial vehicle. The Yi Long, which AVIC officials labeled a proof of concept model that will see further development before it is deployed, can carry two missiles and has the distinctive bulbous outline of a plane designed to contain a veritable arsenal of electronic warfare and surveillance systems.

While the Yi Long will likely not be as immediately effective as the relatively veteran Predator, Avenger and other American military platforms that it clearly resembles, the move toward the capacity to deploy drone forces says a lot about the mentality surrounding China’s future airpower calculations.

Most prominently, it suggests that the military leadership in China has seen America’s extensive use of unmanned aerial technologies in Afghanistan and Iraq as an indication of where war fighting capabilities will be in the future. Read more “Chinese Military Might Look Inward With New Drone”

Iraqi-Russian Arms Deal Suggests Reduced American Role

Russian news agencies report that Moscow has signed arms trade agreements with Iraq worth more than $4.2 billion.

The move returns Russia to the role of principal arms provider to Iraq, second only to the United States in the volume of goods to be shipped, for the first time since Saddam Hussein was in power and could hint at a number of dynamic trends for the broader Middle East, including the nature of America’s withdrawal from the region.

The new arms agreement, reportedly signed shortly after talks between the two countries’ prime ministers concluded on Tuesday, is apparently the first in what is supposed to be a litany of procurements for the new Iraqi state. It is said to include orders for as many as thirty Mil Mi-28 attack helicopters, nearly four dozen Pantsir-S1 mobile surface to air missile systems and numerous types of weapons designed to augment the capabilities of the country’s infant ground forces. Read more “Iraqi-Russian Arms Deal Suggests Reduced American Role”