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The National Interest online seeks to provide a space for vigorous debate and exchange not only among Americans but between U.S. and overseas interlocutors. This is the new home for informed analysis and frank but reasoned exchanges on foreign policy and international affairs.
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20 октября, 17:45

Russia's T-90 Tanks Can Smash Any Army (And Then It Went to Syria)

Sebastien Roblin Security, Middle East TOW missiles were devastating. Key point: Syria's many rebels became very proficient with anti-tank weapons. The interconnected conflicts raging across the Middle East today have amounted to a dreadful human catastrophe with spiraling global consequence. One of their lesser effects has been to deflate the reputations of Western main battle tanks mistakenly thought to be night-invulnerable in the popular imagination. Iraqi M1 Abrams tanks not only failed to prevent he capture of Mosul in 2014, but they were captured and turned against their owners. In Yemen, numerous Saudi M1s were knocked out by Houthi rebels. Turkey, which had lost a number of M60 Pattons and upgrade M60T Sabra tanks to Kurdish and ISIS fighters eventually deployed its fearsome German-built Leopard 2A4 tanks. ISIS destroyed eight to ten in a matter of days. While these tanks could have benefited from specific defensive upgrades in some cases, the real lesson to be drawn was less about technical deficiencies and more about crew training, competent morale, and sound tactical employment matter more even than “invulnerable” armor. After all, even the most heavily armored main battle tanks are significantly less well protected from hits to the side, rear or top armor—and rebels with years of combat experience have learned how to ambush imprudently deployed main battle tanks, particularly using long-range anti-tank missiles from miles away. One exception to the general tarnishing of reputations has been Russia’s T-90A tank, 550 of which serve as Russia’s top main battle tank until the T-14 Armatas fully enters service. The T-90 was conceived in the 1990s as a modernized mash-up the hull of the earlier mass-production optimized T-72, and the turret from the higher-quality (but operationally unsuccessful) T-80. Retaining a low profile and a three-man crew, (the tank’s 2A46M auto-loading cannon takes the place of a human loader), the fifty-ton T-90A is significantly lighter than the seventy-ton-ish M1A2 and Leopard 2. Read full article

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20 октября, 17:30

$30 Billion Dollars Down the Drain: U.S. Super Weapons That Were Never Built

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Sebastien Roblin History, Americas What a waste of taxpayer money. Key point: Washington is more than willing to spend on wonder weapons, but that doesn't mean it is always worth it. The United States spent $610 billion in 2018 on defense, roughly one-third of all military spending on the planet—but that doesn’t mean that money is always being used efficiently. Over thirty years, the U.S. Army has engaged in two long-term wars and several briefer ones without replacing the major weapon systems which entered service in the 1970s and 80s. In part, this is because the Army scaled back hi-tech equipment procurement in order to sustain expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But at the same time, the Army did spend $30 billion dollars on five new hi-tech weapons—all of which were canceled. Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition Even in the waning years of the Cold War, the Pentagon remained preoccupied by the threat posed by the Soviet Union’s vastly larger tank force. The “Brilliant Anti-Tank Munition” (BAT) was devised as part of the “Assault Breaker” initiative to qualitatively offset Soviet armored forces. The BATs were miniature guided rockets packed into a larger long-range Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) fired by the M270 multiple-rocket artillery system. The ATACMS would release thirteen BATs that would float down by parachute using directional fins to home in on armored vehicles using sophisticated infrared-seekers. Theoretically, a single ATACM could wipe out an entire company of tanks. Of course, the dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 and the thrashing of Saddam Hussein’s huge mechanized army in the 1991 Gulf War made the threat of tank hordes seem quaint—but the cost of the BAT submunition was anything but quaint at a cool $2.2 billion before it was finally canceled in 2003. Read full article

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20 октября, 17:15

Can't Afford and Stealth F-35? China's L-15 Fighter Just Might Do the Trick.

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Sebastien Roblin Security, Asia It's very popular. Key point: The L-15 is a robust fighter and trainer for air forces that are on a budget. Flying a high-performance jet fighter is a physically and mentally demanding skill that requires a lot of practice—but each hour flying a warplane can cost tens of thousands of dollars in fuel and maintenance expenses. That's why air forces employ lighter, easier-handling Lead-In Fighter Trainers (LIFTs) to give pilots a chance to accumulate real-life experience with supersonic flight, air combat maneuvers, and weapons launch before they take the stick of a possibly finicky high-performance jet fighter. The thing is advanced jet trainers like South Korea’ T-50 Golden Eagle are quite capable of basic combat duties short of high-intensity conflict while costing half or a third as much as a brand new warplane. For example, Filipino FA-50s and Nigerian Alpha Jet trainers have played a major role in combating brutal insurgencies in 2017, though both were involved in tragic friendly fire incidents. The U.S. Air Force is looking to purchase 350 new LIFT jets following its T-X competition and is evaluating several designs costing between $30 and $40 million per airframe. However, China has already been phasing into service its own very slick and speedy LIFT, costing the equivalent of only $10 to $15 million, which has attracted interest in Africa and Latin America. Built by Hongdu in Nanchang, China, the L-15 Falcon resembles an adorably abbreviated Super Hornet or F-16. The Falcon’s two Ukrainian-built AL-222 turbofans afford the trainee and instructor a backup should one engine fail, while multi-function displays in the ‘glass cockpit’ and the hands-on-throttle-and-stick controls give trainees a chance to work with the kinds of instruments typical to fourth-generation fighters. Read full article

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20 октября, 17:00

.45 Caliber Handguns: The 5 Best of the Best

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Kyle Mizokami Security, The list. Key point: Semi-automatic pistols have come a long way. The .45 Automatic Colt Pistol round, or .45 ACP as it is commonly known, is fairly controversial. Invented in 1905 by prolific firearms designer John Moses Browning, the .45 ACP was the standard caliber of the Colt M1911 pistol, and remains so to this day. A heavy, subsonic bullet, a typical .45 ACP weighs twice as much as the 9mm Luger round and delivers a third more energy. Today, advances in bullet technology means a 9mm round can deliver as much energy as the .45 ACP. Despite this, the .45 ACP is far from dead, as it has also benefited from increased performance. Today there are more choices of .45 ACP pistols than ever before, as almost all gun manufacturers offer their most modern semi automatic handguns in the big caliber. Here are five of the best .45 ACP pistols today. Wilson Combat Tactical Carry Wilson Combat was started in 1977 by founder Bill Wilson, a watchmaker by training. For those that know the platform, that’s an appropriate background for a company building custom 1911 handguns. The 1911’s early twentieth-century pedigree involves the precise fitment of many small interlocking parts to produce a reliable, accurate pistol. Recommended: We Went Aboard the Most Powerful Aircraft Carrier Ever Built. Recommended: This Is How China Would Invade Taiwan (And How to Stop It). Recommended: The Story of the F-52 Fighter. Read full article

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20 октября, 16:30

The F-22 and F-35 Have a Big Problem. A Stealth Tanker Could Solve It.

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Sebastien Roblin Technology, Americas The United States has devoted billions of dollars to building stealth fighters, stealth bombers, stealth cruise missiles and stealth spy drones. Surely a stealth tanker for refueling aircraft midflight would be an extravagance too much?  Key point: Tankers are vulnerable but needed to extend the range of stealth fighters, so why not make a stealth tanker? The United States has devoted billions of dollars to building stealth fighters, stealth bombers, stealth cruise missiles and stealth spy drones. Surely a stealth tanker for refueling aircraft midflight would be an extravagance too much? However, the concept of a stealth tanker is not as absurd you’d think for one simple reason: the Pentagon’s F-35 and F-22 stealth fighters, which it has made the lynchpin of its twenty-first century air warfare strategy, simply can’t fly far enough. At first glance, the F-35’s six to eight-hundred-mile range doesn’t seem bad compared to conventional fighters like the Super Hornet or F-16. But those non-stealth designs can carry fuel in in underwing tanks into combat—meanwhile, an F-35 can’t carry those extra lumps of metal under its wings if it wants to preserve its miniscule radar cross-section. Read full article

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20 октября, 16:15

Why Nothing Can Stop the Delta Force

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Joseph Trevithick Security, The details are here. Key point: America has put these well-trained forces to use around the world. After more than three decades and dozens of Hollywood movies, the U.S. Army’s Delta Force—one of Washington’s premier specialized units—is still largely hidden from public view. The Pentagon offers few details about the group, its organization or even how many Delta “operators” there are in total. But the unit—technically the 1st Special Forces Operational Detachment D—is a part of the Army, and has all the formal trappings that come along with being part of that bureaucracy. As a result, some of the detachment’s formative history is a matter of public record. The Army originally planned Delta Force as “an organization which can be deployed worldwide and has the capability to provide an appropriate response to highly sensitive situations including acts of international terrorism,” explains a 1977 analysis of the proposed unit held by the Army’s Center of Military History. The center keeps an assortment of records to help track Army units, their histories and honors. The staff help determine what battalions and squadrons the Army keeps—or even brings back into existence—when the ground combat branch shuffles things up. Both Delta Force and the Navy’s SEAL Team Six trace their origins to an outburst of political violence in the 1970s. At the time, Washington watched as acts of terror became a significant problem in Europe and the Middle East. In 1972, Palestinian militants shocked the world when they attacked Israeli athletes at Munich Olympics. Smaller groups like the radical leftist Red Army Faction and ethnic Basque separatists carried out a campaign of bombings and assassinations across the continent. One Army officer, Col. Charlie Beckwith, was personally responsible for pushing his superiors to create Delta. In the 1960s, Beckwith embedded with the United Kingdom’s 22nd Special Air Service Regiment in Malaysia. His influence, if not his actual hand, is clearly visible in the 1977 review. Beckwith’s concept for the Delta Force is based on his experience with the SAS. Read full article

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20 октября, 16:14

Smartphones Are Helping the U.S. Air Force Push Its Limits

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Charlie Gao Security, Smartphone applications are changing how the military does business. Key point: And the service has a preference for Android phones. Since the 2000s, militaries have experimented with wearable computers and displays in a variety of locations in “Future Soldier” programs. Generally, the purpose of these devices was to allow soldiers to easily locate friendly forces and mark the positions of suspected enemies, reducing friendly fire and allowing for easier tactical maneuver. However, most of these have been unsuccessful, being too bulky, power-hungry or incompatible with existing architecture to stick. But in 2010, a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory team decided to leverage the open-source, multi-device compatible nature of the Android operating system to create a geospatial app for the teams on the ground. Called the Android Tactical Assault Kit, or ATAK, this piece of software has gone on to become the preferred app of American tactical teams across most branches. ATAK at its heart is a map application that shares data across a local network. Map and locational data, along with regular text, voice, video, video streaming and image data can be shared from user to user through the app. As most android devices are equipped with a GPS receiver, ATAK is also useful as a regular navigation and orienteering app. In many ways, ATAK resembles the U.S. military’s FBCB2 system (which also shares ATAK/Android’s Linux roots) scaled down to the squad level, as it allows for the infantry soldier to keep track of the position of other friendly infantry—a capability FBCB2 gives mostly for vehicles. ATAK also provides a fairly wide variety of map tools, driven by the feedback of its users. These include the ability to see elevation along a planned route, the ability to measure distances to locations on the map and the ability to overlay graphics over the map as layers. All of these are fairly advanced features, which while common in the civilian world were something military navigational devices often lacked. ATAK also includes targeting and runway survey features in its military version, which allows for observers and reconnaissance troops to work more efficiently. Read full article

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20 октября, 16:11

Why the Guillotine May Be Less Cruel Than Execution by Slow Poisoning

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Janine Lanza Security, Americas Could using the guillotine be more humane than execution by lethal injection? Concerns about the drugs used for executions are being raised again after the federal government announced it will once again execute inmates convicted of capital crimes almost 16 years after the last execution was carried out. International drug companies will no longer sell drugs for use in lethal injections in the United States. But Attorney General William Barr has authorized the federal justice system to use the widely available drug pentobarbital, despite concerns about whether that method violates the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. In common use, the drug controls seizures in humans and is often used to euthanize pets. In 2014, several executions carried out by states with untested methods using a mixture of drugs caused suffering and took hours to end prisoners’ lives. Read full article

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20 октября, 16:00

How the Royal Navy Fought During the Battle of Britain (Yes, They Did)

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Sebastien Roblin History, Europe Their finest hour. Key point: The Royal Navy did a fine job helping in fighting the German Air Force. By June 1940, Hitler’s Panzer Divisions had rolled up to the English Channel. The German Luftwaffe had just taken on the air arms of France and the United Kingdom, the two other most advanced air forces on the planet, and defeated them after a month-and-half of sustained aerial warfare. The Royal Air Force was forced to hastily withdraw its fighter squadrons from France lest they were wiped out by attrition. Miraculously, 338,000 men of the British Expeditionary Force were evacuated at Dunkirk—leaving nearly all their heavy weapons (tanks, artillery, trucks) behind, as well as 68,000 soldiers killed or captured. Germany’s Panzer Divisions could easily have smashed aside the U.K.’s battered defenders if only they could be ferried across the Channel—but therein lay the problem. How were the vehicles and men to be physically landed on a beachhead? By that time, the Kriegsmarine had only tested a few prototype landing craft, and certainly did not possess the vast fleet of specialized, ramp-equipped vessels used by the Allies in landings in Normandy or Iwo Jima. The best solution the Kriegsmarine could come up with was to transfer barges known as Peniche and larger Kampine from the Rhine River to Calais and convert them. More than 2,400 were assembled for an invasion of the UK, codenamed Operation Sea Lion and modified with bow-ramps. Of the barges, only 800 were self-powered, meaning the rest had to be towed at a speed of roughly two miles per hour. Some were later converted by the Luftwaffe with airplane engines, and others were loaded down with extra armor. Even the best of these riverine platforms were only minimally seaworthy, with top speeds of seven miles per hour. This is to say they were sitting ducks. Read full article

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20 октября, 15:39

The Royal Navy Has A Crazy New Idea To Build Aircraft Carriers In A Hurry

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Sebastien Roblin Security, Container ships. Key point: Desperate times call for desperate measures. The Royal Navy in 1982 faced a galling problem as it prepared to take back the Falkland Islands from Argentinian forces that had seized it that March: not enough aircraft carriers. These were needed to launch air strikes on Argentinian forces on the islands, to deploy helicopters to patrol for Argentinian submarines and land troops and supplies, and launch jets to intercept attack by the Argentinian land-based fighters certain to swarm the British task force. The Royal Navy could muster only eight Sea Harrier jump jets and twelve Sea King helicopters on the carrier Invincible—which had been on the verge of being sold to Australia!—and another twelve Sea Harriers and twenty Sea Kings on the larger Hermes.  As hostilities broke out late in April, the Harriers rapidly proved immensely valuable, shooting down twenty Argentine attack jets, but also sustained losses from ground fire and accidents. However, on April 14 the Royal Navy had commandeered a fifteen-thousand-ton G2-class roll-on-roll-off container ship named Atlantic Conveyor that measured longer than two football field as a Ships-Taken-Up-From-Trade (STUFT). Just as early U.S. and British escort carriers during World War II were converted from civilian ships, the Conveyor was to be converted into impromptu aircraft carriers laden with helicopters and Harrier jump jets that didn’t require a long carrier deck. The Conveyor received only limited modifications, as she was intended more for delivery rather than sustained flight operation. Just as World War II carriers were often employed to transport land-based fighters across oceans, the Conveyor’s main job was to ferry Royal Air Force ground-based Harriers for delivery to the Hermes and Invincible. In any case, after undergoing nine days of conversion at Devonport, Atlantic Conveyor put out to sea on April 25 under her snowy-bearded Captain Ian North. From Ascension Island she took on eight Royal Navy Sea Harriers from 809 Squadron and six usually ground-based Royal Air Force Harrier GR.3s hastily modified to carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to serve in air defense roles. Read full article

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20 октября, 15:37

WKD: Ukraine Is Facing a Tough Path Towards Peace with Russia

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Stratfor Worldview Security, Europe Can Kyiv pull it off? Key point: Zelenskiy will need the Ukrainian people’s buy-in as well as that of the Donbass and Moscow. Developments continue to muddy progress toward resuming the so-called Normandy Format to try to settle the conflict in Ukraine. Representatives of the separatist Luhansk People's Republic informed observers with the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe that the group would be ready to begin withdrawing its forces on Oct. 9. The date was delayed two days when Ukraine postponed the pullout of some of its own forces because of artillery fire between both sides in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. At the same time, the Azov Battalion — a right-wing, pro-Ukrainian paramilitary group — announced on Oct. 7 that it was taking up positions in Zolotoe, a village on the line of contact. Ukrainian forces would likely have to leave Zolotoe as part of a withdrawal, but the Azov Battalion's leader has said his forces will not abandon the village. Why It Matters Despite Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy's desire to work with Russia to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine, there are many obstacles on the path to peace. The hindrances include not only the full implementation of a political settlement under the 2015 Minsk agreement and related Steinmeier formula, but also the initial tactical step of pacifying the front lines in eastern Ukraine. Attempts to sabotage Zelenskiy's efforts by paramilitary groups that oppose his approach could prevent separatist forces from reciprocating a withdrawal by Ukrainian armed forces, should Ukrainian forces indeed initiate a pullout. Background Read full article

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20 октября, 15:30

64,500 Tons of Terror: The Montana-Class Battleship Could Have Been Epic

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Kyle Mizokami Security, But the U.S. Navy had no choice but to pass.  Key point: A new age of warfare had begun. The U.S. Navy’s most powerful battleships were never actually built.  The five Montana-class battleships, leviathans designed to dwarf even the giant Iowa-class battleships, were authorized for construction but never built, victims of the ascendance of naval aviation. Nearly as large as a modern supercarrier the Montana-class, like all battleships, was made obsolete by the success of the aircraft carrier. In the late 1930s, the U.S. government, recognizing the deteriorating world situation, sought to rebuild U.S. naval power. The crash of the stock market in October 1939, as well as the Washington and London naval treaties, had slowed the growth of the U.S. Navy and reduced its tempo of peacetime operations. By 1940, however, with fighting raging in Asia and Europe, it was clear the United States needed to beef up its defensive capability to deter attack—or to prosecute a war if it were dragged into conflict. In 1940, the federal government authorized the famous “Two Ocean Navy” capability that laid the groundwork for the wartime U.S. Navy that followed. One set of authorized ships: five Montana-class battleships to complement the Iowa-class battleships. America’s shipyards would split the work between the Philadelphia Navy Yard (two), New York Navy Yard (two), and Norfolk Navy Yard (one). Numerous proposals were floated for the Montana-class ships, though they all had one thing in common: they were considerably larger than the Iowas. The Iowa class battleships were 860 feet long, displaced 58,000 tons fully loaded, and featured nine 16”/50 caliber main guns. Secondary armament was in the form of twenty 5”/38 caliber dual-purpose guns capable of firing on targets in the air, on land, and at sea. Speed would have been 28 knots, slower than the Iowa-class’ 33 knot top speed. Read full article