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
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
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is without a doubt a fantastic media achievement. At the time of this writing, it spans thirteen films, with eleven in development, and four TV series, with four more also in development. One thing immediately apparent to anyone familiar with the series is that it is never afraid, like its comics origin, to provide commentary on contemporary events, politics, and cultural and social trends. Between characters, plots, villains, and more, Marvel films do not cease to provide metaphors for viewers to chew over, even as they deliver bombastic films that are whirlwinds of entertainment. I would like to propose a new vehicle through which to examine a Marvel commentary on force and power: the SHIELD Helicarrier. A gigantic craft that serves various functions throughout its cinematic career, the helicarrier and the events surrounding the titanic ship and her Insight sisters provide an unique look at the appropriate uses of force and might in the resolution of ongoing international crises and even interpersonal conflict through individual lens. Continue with this piece
On the evening of Friday, November 13th, Paris, France, was attacked. Seven different locations were attacked, including a soccer stadium with French President Hollande in attendance, restaurants, and a concert played by an American band. As of the time of this writing, the known death toll is 132, with over 349 injured and 42 in critical condition. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has claimed responsibility, in the latest and among the most egregious of a long list of atrocities. To the people of Paris, and France as a whole, and to victims of terror attacks around the globe, you have my deepest sympathies, and my sincere hope for your swift recovery and healing as a nation from these unwarranted and unjust attacks. Now, to everyone, but especially the United States of America, we as a world, standing with France, have a responsibility. That responsibility is to not allow this, for any reason, to be politicized, and we cannot, absolutely cannot, allow this to become a new September 11th. This is of the utmost importance, we cannot allow France to follow us to their destruction. Continue with this piece