Category Archives: U.S. Air Force

Soviet Perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis from Nikita Khrushchev's Son

Soviet Perspective on the Cuban Missile Crisis from Nikita Khrushchev’s Son

Sergei Khrushchev is the son of Nikita Khrushchev, the premier of the Soviet Union during the Cuban Missile Crisis. He shared his impressions of that showdown from a Soviet perspective and the lessons for current and future leaders.

Sergei Khrushchev, Brown University Photo

Sergei Khrushchev, Brown University Photo

What you consider to be the largest American misconception about the Cuban Missile Crisis?

The largest misconception was the idea that America thought this crisis was about defending Cuba against possible invasion [or] some broader implications with relations to Germany or infiltration into South America . . . theories that have nothing to do with reality.

What would those realties be?

The reality is that after the Bay of Pigs Fidel Castro announced he officially joined the Soviet bloc. Through that [declaration] the obligation of the Soviets was to defend all their clients, all their allies because otherwise they would lose face . . . and your allies would not trust you. Cuba, after 1961, became for the Soviet Union the same as West Berlin to the United States—a small useless piece of land deep inside hostile territory. But if you don’t defend it, you will not be treated as a superpower. The United States was ready to use nuclear weapons to defend Berlin. The Soviet Union sent missiles to Cuba . . . as a powerful signal to the United States: Don’t invade Cuba.

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The Asymmetric Nature of Cyber Warfare

The Asymmetric Nature of Cyber Warfare

Proceedings, Oct. 2012
How likely is it that a conflict between two combatants involving both kinetic and cyber operations would be an asymmetric one? And does the answer to that question depend on who the combatants are? In a kinetic scenario, the creation and “massing” of forces is often possible to observe. Whether it is the number of troops, warheads, or aircraft, one can physically monitor the activity. The buildup can be measured in days or weeks. Such a scenario involving state-of-the-art kinetic weaponry also needs a high level of expertise that only comes from years of education and training. One needs a well-funded organization to support this kind of activity.You can trace the kinetic matériel fairly accurately to its source, and the effects of a kinetic attack unfold over an observable period of time. You can watch and react to it. Defense is possible as long as you are sufficiently diligent and prepared with a response.

U.S. Navy photo

U.S. Navy photo

The cyber battlefield is different. First, you don’t need a factory or a military base or physical materials. You don’t need the same sort of education, training, and expertise. All you need is a computer, Internet connection, and the time and patience to learn about software, hardware, and network vulnerabilities. Anyone can learn about and create effective cyber weapons. That’s why non-nation-state combatants are the most common potential adversaries. The development of offensive cyber weapons is very hard to actually “see.” It might be occurring in the room next to you, and you’ll be unlikely to know it.

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Trends in Hybrid and Irregular Warfare

Trends in Hybrid and Irregular Warfare

Proceedings, September 2012
Savvy adversaries are more capable than ever of using high-tech gadgets and social media against the United States.

From Tunisia to Cairo, Sanaa, Bahrain, Benghazi, Damascus, London, Wall Street, Berkeley, and the University of California, Davis, 2011 was the year of the social-media revolution. Smartphones and social media have enabled groups of like-minded individuals to share information, spread their messages, and upend traditional relationships between the public and authorities. These developments are part of a continuing trend in the democratization of information: the empowerment of groups and individuals by information technology. Combined with the democratization of destruction, or the expansion of access to destructive technology and tactics, small groups and individuals will have greater ability to counter traditional security forces in hybrid and irregular conflicts, where force-on-force military engagements may be blended with other operations aimed at influencing key populations.1

ScharreF1Sept12

The future operating environment will be one of contested domains—air, land, sea, space, cyber, the electromagnetic spectrum, and increasingly, the influence domain, where individuals and groups compete to spread their messages. U.S. military forces must be prepared for future challenges within these domains from nation-states as well as non-state groups or individuals. While the Department of Defense (DOD) is generally good at estimating and preparing for challenges from organized military forces, threats from non-state groups tend to be more diffuse and decentralized, more organic, and less predictable in nature.2 The continued diffusion of power to non-state groups will increase the challenges associated with irregular and hybrid warfare, with significant implications for U.S. forces.3

The Democratization of Information

The widespread availability of social media and Internet-capable smartphones has transformed relationships between the public and traditional authority. In the past few years, these technologies have helped non-state groups record and broadcast abuses of power, organize to form ad hoc collectives, and counter messages from authorities. In many cases, authorities have been slow to realize the implications of these changes. Even U.S. domestic agencies have repeatedly been embarrassed by incidents in which officials have been recorded using heavy-handed tactics. Images and video of peaceful protesters being pepper-sprayed, abused, or intimidated by law-enforcement officials in New York, Berkeley, UC Davis, the University of Maryland, and Washington, D.C., have led to outrage, suspension of offending officials, and in at least one case felony criminal charges.4

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Syria Air-Only War Could Be Largest of its Kind

Syria Air-Only War Could Be Largest of its Kind

As the Syrian civil war escalates and expands, policy makers are increasingly examining proposals to patrol “safe,” “liberated,” or “buffer zones” with military aircraft. Creating safe zones, Turkish officials have argued, could relieve human suffering and hasten the fall of the Assad regime without a more costly direct intervention. Ubiquitous in Western interventions since Operation Provide Comfort in postwar Iraq, and infamous in the Balkan wars of the mid-1990s, safe zones once again appear a straightforward solution to an intractable conflict. Yet the strategic and logistical details present serious challenges. Despite the relatively easy execution of a safe zone around Benghazi in Libya, a comparable effort to protect besieged cities in Syria would be much more costly and difficult.

A previous post outlined the significant aerial and maritime demands for creating a no-fly zone, which would be a prerequisite to creating a safe zone over any part of Syria. Inadequate suppression of enemy air defense (SEAD) would be problematic enough for air superiority fighters enforcing a no-fly zone, but would be even more threatening for aircraft performing ground interdiction strikes.

Despite the prominence of attack helicopters and combat jets in discussions of the Syrian conflict, destroying Syrian air power is unlikely to be either decisive overall or sufficient to defend safe zones.
The success of the Libyan air intervention is a historical anomaly. In 1993, NATO’s Deny Flight no-fly zone over Bosnia failed to deter ground forces from attacking designated safe areas, eventually requiring ground bombardment and, more importantly, a massive Croatian ground offensive to defeat Serbian forces. In Iraq after the Gulf War, no-fly zones and years of punitive bombardments did not dissuade Saddam Hussein from repeatedly launching ground attacks into Shia and Kurdish areas. In Libya, it was rapidly obvious that destroying the Libyan ground threat to Benghazi, not simply its air force, was necessary to defend safe zones.

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An Unmanned Joint Strike Fighter?

An Unmanned Joint Strike Fighter?

f-35

F-35 Simulator
[Northrop Grumman Photo]

CRYSTAL CITY, VIRGINIA — Three nautical miles from an amphibious assault ship, I toggled a small button labeled “STOVL,” or short take-off and vertical landing. The abbreviation “REDY” flashed in green and I could see thrust vector angles change on my heads-up display in my F-35B Lighting II Joint Strike Fighter. I adjusted what my instructor called the cruise control and set my airspeed to 80 kts. All of a sudden, my flight controls changed as the “REDY” turned solid. I had transitioned to vertical flight.

With minimal coaching, after two minutes I had landed safely on the flight deck of a U.S. Navy ship. Though I briefly felt pride after my landing, I quickly realized that a computer had done all of the hard flying for me.
Computers and cockpits are nothing new, but with the proliferation of unmanned aerial vehicles and the degree to which computers control piloted aircraft today, policy makers and military leaders are asking when pilots can be removed completely from combat aircraft.

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Punch Them in the Nose...and Then Leave

Punch Them in the Nose…and Then Leave

KuehnF1July12Proceedings, July 2012
This year marks the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Soviet client government in Afghanistan. Mark Twain, and more recently Niall Ferguson, claimed that history does not repeat itself, rather, it rhymes. If this is the case, then the poem the United States has written in Afghanistan is a tragic one of the Greek variety and highlights hubris in ways we have not seen since that other tragic poem named Vietnam. There is an even more similar Soviet one, also in Afghanistan.

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