TL;DR: Alfred Thayer Mahan was an influential American naval theorist from the 19th century who got a lot of things right, and got the more important things wrong because his focus was the past and not the future. His positive contributions succinctly laid out key strategic points for waging a war at sea, but his negative focuses retarded the growth of offensive thought for over half a century, and directly led to the naval arms race between Germany and Britain that contributed to the start of World War I, and created what became “Kantai Kessen”, the doomed Japanese strategy that precipitated the strike on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941. Continue with this piece
Over the last few months, there’s been quite a bit of hubbub about the doings of the brand new Chinese aircraft Liaoning. She finished her refit for service late last year, and has spent these last few months working up with exercises in the Bohai Sea, including live-fire drills, further exercises in the South China Sea seen by many as a signal to the incoming Trump Administration in America, and finally a return to her new homeport of Qingdao through the Taiwan Strait, sending the entire Taiwanese military into a frenzy. Even Chinese media has been abuzz with the developments of the ship, the first aircraft carrier in People’s Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) service, such as this editorial suggesting the ship make a cruise to the West Coast of the United States as a geopolitical gesture. To be frank, the ship is being rather overblown. A former Soviet warship, the Liaoning represents a fundamentally different approach to carrier warfare at sea than the United States Navy’s (USN) Nimitz and Ford class supercarriers that mass nearly twice her full load, and to presume that the ship means the PLAN is now nearly ready to oust the USN from East Asian waters is laughable. Rather than swallow these sixty thousand tons of hype, this is intended as a rational discussion of the ship and her actual capabilities. Continue with this piece
As readers of this blog are aware, I’m a bit of a Star Wars fan. I was crushed when the Expanded Universe was remade into Legends, and was generally disappointed by The Force Awakens last year. I follow the Star Wars Report (an excellent site with quality podcasts), and have dived headfirst into the new(ish) Star Wars miniatures fleet battle game Star Wars: Armada (the best tabletop game I’ve ever played, period). I had the distinct pleasure of viewing Rogue One: A Star Wars Story on Sunday, December 18th, and I have to say, without reservation, this is now my favorite Star Wars film by a county mile. A more detailed review follows this, but for now, this is your OFFICIAL SPOILER WARNING. I repeat, this is a SPOILER WARNING (for both Rogue One and The Force Awakens, though the latter has been out for a year). Continue with this piece
I have made an effort to avoid partisan politics on my blog. It’s a personal choice, but I wouldn’t be surprised if readers, especially ones who know me personally are well aware of my political views on the American presidential election happening at the beginning of next month. In response to the severe and unprecedented circumstances of this election, I am temporarily abrogating my commitment to non-partisanship for this post. I could list off all of the reasons I oppose Donald Trump, from racism, narcissism, poor temper control, dishonesty, bragging about sexual assault, or outright incompetence and ignorance. I could link an extremely short summary of only a few of the most egregious reasons he should not be president, his opponent’s flaws notwithstanding. But I won’t (list them, obviously I did link that article). Instead today I will offer a somewhat more subtle rebuke, to a particularly virulent isolationist idea he has revived into national prominence. Just over a month ago, I posted an article devoted to the future issues of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO, and a way I thought it could help future-proof itself. This time, I am instead going to focus on NATO in the present, and an issue raised in this presidential election campaign: is the Alliance still relevant to American global interests, or is it a long-lived ghost of the Cold War? Does NATO have a place in a world focused on defeating international terrorism, or should America stop allowing European powers to free-ride on its own defense commitments? For myself, the answer is clear: NATO has never needed American engagement and energy more than the present moment. The long and short of why is thus: so you can have the iPhone or laptop you are reading this essay on. At a fundamental level, NATO and its security guarantee underwrite the international order that uphold the Western lifestyle and allowed the creation of that device. Not only will American withdrawal engender an international collapse, but the modern technology sector will rapidly follow global order and peace into chaos and dissolution. Continue with this piece
It seems every technology and defense magazine these days is gushing about the future of warfare. The discussions center on all the revolutions claimed to be on the horizon or already arriving to a battlefield near you. They’re not wrong. A plethora of convergent technological revolutions stand to upend the ways wars are fought around the world, between both state (e.g. the US, China, Russia), and non-state actors (e.g. ISIS, Boko Haram, FARC). Today we are going to discuss implications for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, otherwise known as NATO. Current NATO doctrine in effect assumes efforts will be made to minimize civilian and military casualties. It also assumes that the Alliance will have electronic, airborne, and general technological parity, if not outright superiority, against any near-term opponent. This was a key part of NATO defense strategy during the Cold War, relying on superior Western munitions, non-kinetic technologies, and the threat of American, British, and French nuclear arsenals to offset massive Warsaw Pact numerical and conventional firepower advantages. Further, current Alliance defense procurement indicates a continued belief that it only needs better versions of the tools with which it planned to wage war against Red Army tank and infantry divisions, the war to end all conventional wars. The Eurofighter Typhoon multi-role fighter, F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters, Zumwalt-class destroyers and Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers, the new Leopard 3 main battle tank Germany is developing, and the ongoing upgrade series for the vaunted M-1 Abrams tank all are examples of this line of thinking.
That will not be the next war, either strategically or tactically. While conventional force and firepower will be an integral piece of the next war, the rate of change in how wars can and should be fought since the collapse of the Iron Curtain cannot be underestimated. There is little to no investment in any of the following combat revolutions on the horizon: strategic and tactical cyber warfare, offensive electronic warfare (EW) to deny the enemy use of their battlespace networks, defensive EW against the same, airborne and land-borne autonomous weapons systems, battlefield-ready directed energy and electromagnetic weapons (e.g. lasers and railguns respectively), and asymmetric strategies, including not only insurgencies but both limited nuclear warfare and anti-civilian strategies in a total war scenario. However, even more pressing than understanding these individual revolutions is a broader concern. There is a critical lack of significant Alliance investment in understanding the aforementioned revolutions from the perspective of an opponent of NATO. NATO has not studied the implications for enemy strategies. There is no Alliance-wide effort to perceive and adapt to such strategies. Without investment in at least understanding these potentially revolutionary technologies and the doctrines they will fit into, their possible strengths and weaknesses, in the next decade or less, the Alliance could find itself on the back foot technologically and its enemies leapfrogged over it into the next era of warfare. Continue with this piece