Category Archives: Foreign Forces

The Cost of a Syrian Intervention

The Cost of a Syrian Intervention

A Libya-style military intervention in Syria could take up to six times as many combat aircraft as last year’s Operation Odyssey Dawn, according to a recent analysis from Massachusetts Institute of Technology.The analysis comes as calls are increasing to intervene in the escalating civil war in Syria.

USS Barry (DDG 52) fires Tomahawk cruise missiles in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. U.S. Navy Photo

USS Barry (DDG 52) fires Tomahawk cruise missiles in support of Operation Odyssey Dawn in 2011. U.S. Navy Photo

When Odyssey Dawn began in March 2011, it appeared to hail a new model for military interventions. The relatively swift, painless and low-cost application of offshore and aerial power against a hostile regime to protect a rising hub of Libyan resistance in Benghazi began the military unraveling of the Gadhafi regime. Today, as Syria’s own civil war intensifies and officials such as Senators Lindsey Graham, John McCain, and Joe Lieberman call for military action, might another aerial and offshore campaign effectively establish a haven for the Syrian opposition and topple the Syrian government?

Brian Haggerty, doctoral candidate at MIT, recently released an extensive open-source analysis of what an aerial campaign to suppress Syrian air defenses and establish a safe zone would entail. While the operation is feasible, mitigating its significant risks would require a major campaign—one requiring at least 191 strike aircraft, at least six times the number of comparable aircraft in the opening phase of Odyssey Dawn, and perhaps several times more bombers and cruise missiles.

Discerning the capability of Syria’s integrated air defense system (IADS) is critical to that question. American officials, such as General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, stress the sophistication of Syria’s IADS relative to other countries in the region and particularly in comparison with Libya. Syria has faced American air power before, while the embarrassments of Israel defeating of its air force in the 1982 Lebanon War and destroying a Syrian nuclear reactor in 2007 left it acutely aware of the need to deter and defeat hostile air power.

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Russian Subs in Vietnam

Russian Subs in Vietnam

On August 15, Thanh Nien newspaper reported that Vietnam would take delivery of its first Kilo-class submarine by the end of the year. Vietnam has another five Kilo submarines on order and is expected to take delivery at the rate of one submarine a year. According to Vietnam’s defense Minister, General Phung Quang Thanh, Vietnam will develop a modern submarine fleet in the next five to six years (2016-2017).

Kilo class submarine Yunes

Kilo class submarine Yunes

In the late 1980s Vietnam sought to acquire its first submarine from the Soviet Union. A crew was selected and it trained on a Project 641 diesel submarine attached to the Soviet Pacific Fleet. The program was suspended by General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev out of concerns about riling China. Vietnam’s hopes to acquire submarines went into abeyance with the collapse of the USSR.

In a 1997 guns-for-rice barter, Vietnam acquired two Yugo-class mini-submarines from North Korea. These were berthed at Cam Ranh Bay where they underwent repair and overhaul. For the next 13 years analysts were uncertain about their operational status. In January 2010, Tuoi Tre newspaper dramatically revealed the existence of M96, Vietnam’s secret submarine service, with a photo of a Yugo submarine and its crew. The Yugos were used for diver related operations. According to a Western defense attaché stationed in Moscow, “The mini-sub experience provides a basic foundation for understanding submarine operations and maintenance.”

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Pentagon Denies Russian Sub Patrolled in Gulf of Mexico

Pentagon Denies Russian Sub Patrolled in Gulf of Mexico

Associated Press File Photo

Associated Press File Photo

The Pentagon and the Navy have denied it, but this month’s report that a Russian attack submarine prowled near the U.S. without being detected has turned attention back to the art and science of anti-submarine warfare.

The story, which appeared in the conservative “Washington Free Beacon,” reported that “U.S. officials” said the Akula-class sub loitered in the Caribbean for a month without being detected, and this “exposed deficiencies” in the Navy’s ASW capabilities.

The story did not contain enough detail to know what to make of that assessment – whether, for example, the Navy searched for the sub and didn’t find it, or whether it visited and left without a trace. The “Free Beacon” story said American commanders only learned of the sub’s patrol after the fact, but it did not explain how they could learn of it given that they hadn’t been able to detect it in the first place.

The incident is similar to 2009 reports in which the U.S. Northern Command (NORTHCOM) confirmed that two Akula boats patrolled off the Eastern U.S. seaboard.

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The Makin Island Raid at 70

The Makin Island Raid at 70

On August 17, 1942 211 Marines set out from two submarines to Makin Island, the home of a Japanese seaplane base. The raid 70-years ago was a first for the U.S. and a precursor to U.S. Special Operations forces that operate routinely from submarine assets. This is a narrative of the raid originally published in the October, 1946 issue of Proceedings

It was D-Day plus One in the Solomons. Three thousand miles away two submarines passed Hospital Point, Pearl Harbor, and headed out to sea.

Smoke from Makin Island taken by the crew of the one of two submarines that ferried Marines to the raid.U.S. Navy photo

Smoke from Makin Island taken by the crew of the one of two submarines that ferried Marines to the raid.
U.S. Navy photo

Submarines often had silently left Hawaii and had as silently returned, their conning towers emblazoned with miniature Japanese flags, since the first days of the war. They would until the last. But none had left with such a cargo as these two on that August 8 of 1942.

A plane on patrol swooped low over the pair. To the pilot as he waggled his wings in a gesture of “Good Hunting!” they were as other submarines he had seen taking the great circle route westward. Could he have seen below those narrow decks into the strong pressure hulls, he would have snorted “what the hell are those ‘@#$%’ Marines up to now?”

For there were Marines in the two submarines — two hundred and twenty-two of them. But they weren’t taking over submarines, they were being taken by them — on a foray unique in American naval history.

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Iran Claims 'Carrier-Killer' Missile; Experts Skeptical

Iran Claims ‘Carrier-Killer’ Missile; Experts Skeptical

kahlij_farsAs the United States continues to help Israel improve its missile defense shield due to growing fears of possible attack by Syria and Iran, claims by Iran that it has developed its own ‘carrier-killer’ that can evade U.S. Navy defense systems to hit ships in the Persian Gulf are drawing skepticism from naval experts.

As first reported by Jane’s Defence Weekly, Iran released images of a test last month in which the Khalij Fars antiship ballistic missile was launched and struck a moving target. The missile is purported to be a smaller version of China’s modified Dong Feng 21, which was quickly dubbed the ‘carrier killer’ after it was revealed in a March 2009 report by the U.S. Naval Institute.

Like the Dong Feng 21, the Khalij Far is alleged to be able to track moving ships and then take a flight path that attacks though a “hole” that is not covered by the U.S. air defenses, designed to guard against antiship missiles that approach from more typical altitudes and angles.

If real, the Khalij Fars would pose a significant threat to U.S. ships in the waters near Iran. While the missile’s touted range of 185 miles falls well below the Dong Feng 21 reach of 1,240 miles, it would be enough to strike anything in the Strait of Hormuz within a few minutes.

An infographic published on the official Hezbollah website on 21 July illustrated an attack on a U.S. aircraft carrier using the Kahlij Fars and other missiles in the Iranian arsenal.

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Russia Plans Massive Arctic Expansion

Russia Plans Massive Arctic Expansion

Russia plans to expand its military presence in the Arctic, officials said Monday. According to Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of the Federal Security Service of the Russian Federation (FSB) and the current head of the Security Council, Russia is going to create a number of “dual use” facilities in the Arctic, facilities that will be expected to host commercial craft as well as vessels of both the Northern Fleet and the FSB’s border service.1


View Russian Bases in a larger map

Patrushev’s announcement is connected with the continued development of the or the “northern sea path,” basically an updated and modernized version of what was once known as the “northeast passage.” The rapid melting of the Arctic has opened up previously unreachable parts of Russia’s northern coast and has made what was once a near-impossible voyage far more practical. Traffic on the route, while still paltry compared with the traffic going through the Suez or Panama canals, has grown rapidly in recent years, and is forecast to increase as the Arctic stays ice-free for longer periods of time. Should warming continue, the northern sea path could very easily become one of the world’s busier maritime corridors. In comparison with the route through the Suez, it allows container traffic from Europe to Asia to reach its destination traveling about 4,000 fewer miles and roughly 13 fewer days.

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Rise of The Asian Cyber Armies

Rise of The Asian Cyber Armies

States are increasingly standing up military and intelligence organizations for computer network operations. While countries everywhere perceive a need to attack and defend in cyberspace, cyber forces are of particular interest to security in Asia because they coincide with a regional investment in naval, air, and command, control and communications systems. And although American society may be vulnerable to disruption, highly technical and increasingly informatized Asian societies also face complex security challenges.

For years, most understood Asian cyber issues through the prism of China. Since the early 1990s, the Chinese have evinced an intense doctrinal and practical interest in information warfare. The Chinese simultaneously desired to “informatize “their conventional forces in imitation of the United States while developing command and control warfare tools as part of a larger asymmetric warfare strategy.


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India is centralizing network defense around the National Critical Infrastructure Protection Centre, with the Intelligence Bureau in charge of patrolling government networks. The Indian Defense Intelligence Agency may be vested with power to conduct offensive attack. While India has not developed a cyber strategy like the United States, it is taking cyber seriously. As in the United States, India’s cyber efforts are split between civilian cybersecurity and the offensive tools of the state. Symantec recently decried a lack of security knowledge.

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Russian Bases in Vietnam or Cuba? Don't Panic

Russian Bases in Vietnam or Cuba? Don’t Panic

russ_CNO_0The sprawling Russian defense apparatus has some of the world’s biggest braggarts. You don’t need to look very hard to find examples in the Russian defense ministry or the military-industrial complex stating the impossible. Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, for example, said that by 2013 “production capacity [at Russian shipyards] will allow us to build six submarines and an aircraft carrier every year.” Serious Western analysts of Russian military procurement reacted with derision. Not only does the Russian Federation currently not have any shipyards large enough to build a carrier, they noted, the shipyard that built earlier Soviet carriers is in the Ukraine, and the Russian navy doesn’t even have a finalized design that would allow construction of a carrier to begin. Rogozin’s statement was so self-evidently fraudulent that he was forced to retract it.

The Russians have an extensive and well-documented history of making incredibly bold and aggressive statements only to quietly retract those statements (with much less fanfare) a few days later.

The latest tempest in a teapot got started on 27 July when VADM Victor Chirkov, the commander in chief of the Russian navy, made the following remarks in an interview with RIA Novosti:

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ROKN the Boat: South Korea Expands its Naval Bases

ROKN the Boat: South Korea Expands its Naval Bases

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visits the wreckage of the Korean ship Cheonan in April, 2011[U.S. Navy Photo]

U.S. Navy Secretary Ray Mabus visits the wreckage of the Korean ship Cheonan in April, 2011
[U.S. Navy Photo]

Living next to a touchy neighbor can be trying. When that neighbor has enough emplaced artillery pieces in range to level your capital city, managing those relations is a matter of life and death. This situation has vexed South Korea for decades, and North Korea is its only concern. With its northern border effectively closed and half its GDP generated through exports, The Republic of Korea (ROK) is heavily reliant on maritime trade. That, coupled with a neighborhood of aggressive fishing fleets backed by technologically advanced militaries and economically powerful nations make it easy to see why South Korea seeks to expand its naval defenses. Over the past month, the ROK moved forward with plans for two new installations that have respectively set its northern neighbor and southern most citizens on edge.

The first is a tiny new facility in the region just south of the disputed maritime border with North Korea — or the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) — established in 1953 by the United Nations Command as the Northern Limit Line (NLL). In late June, ROK announced the construction of an installation for up to 100 troops, featuring a small dock, barracks, and training grounds on the island of Baengnyeong. Baengnyeong is one of five islands west of the Korean peninsula in the area that saw the sinking of the ROK Navy (ROKN) warship ROKS Cheonan (PCC-772) by North Korea in 2010, killing 46 South Koreans. While the islands are not themselves claimed as part of North Korea’s own Inter-Korean Maritime Demarcation Line, they are often targeted as the outposts upholding the NLL; the DPRK in 2010 shelled another of the islands, Yeonpyang, killing four.

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Searching for Nelson's Quote

Searching for Nelson’s Quote

Rising young U.S. Navy officer Stephen Decatur earned famous praise for ‘the most bold and daring act of the age’—or did he?

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Lt. Stephen Decatur, Naval History and Heritage Command

Late in the evening on 16 February 1804, the ketch Intrepid , commanded by Lieutenant Stephen Decatur, entered Tripoli Harbor. Almost becalmed in the dying breeze, the Intrepid drifted with agonizing slowness toward the captured American frigate Philadelphia , lying under the massed guns of the bashaw’s castle and harbor fortifications. As the Intrepid approached, a Barbary lookout on the Philadelphia spotted the Americans and cried out the alarm. The Intrepid tied onto the frigate. Decatur and 60 men boarded the Philadelphia , scattered or killed her harbor watch, and burned the ship. They then made good their escape in the Intrepid, with only one sailor slightly wounded.

The raid into Tripoli Harbor helped establish the reputation of the U.S. Navy, small as it then was, and is an iconic part of the service’s history. Almost equally known in American naval lore is that Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson, upon learning of the raid, called it “the most bold and daring act of the age.” It’s no wonder such a statement has assumed a hallowed aura. Nelson was a brilliant and daring naval officer, perhaps the greatest admiral in the long maritime history of England, and if he said the raid was without equal, his audience (posterity) can accept it as truth. Equally important, there is the sense of a laying-on of hands by Nelson, who died 18 months later in the moment of his greatest triumph at Trafalgar, “blessing” a seminal event led by one of the dynamic officers in the rising navy from across the Atlantic. It’s a dramatic story, loaded with symbolism.

But did Nelson actually call the burning of the Philadelphia “the most bold and daring act of the age”?

No contemporary or near-contemporary biography of Decatur, and no early account of the Barbary Wars, contains the Nelson quote. In what may have been the first attempt to provide the public with an account of Decatur’s life, Washington Irving’s 1813 article in the widely read Analectic Magazine , Nelson’s comment is absent. An 1819 collective biography of early American military and naval officers, written when Decatur was alive, makes no reference to the Nelson quote. The first full-scale biography of Decatur, published in 1821 (just after his death), contains no hint of it, nor does the first great history of the U.S. Navy, James Fenimore Cooper’s, the first edition of which appeared in 1839. 1

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