Moskva’s sinking, the rise of anti-ship cruise missiles and what that means for the US Navy

“If Ukraine’s Neptune ASCMs upended Russia’s naval presence in the Black Sea with ease, clearly the U.S. Navy and Congress must consider whether our pacing threat is capable of the same.

The U.S. Navy has been furiously working on countermeasures, such as longer-range radars and integrated air and missile defense systems, both of which are being incorporated into new ship construction. The Navy also expressed confidence in the contribution of our submarine fleet with a higher budget for submarine construction and plans to extend the life of older Los Angeles-class subs.

These vessels are relatively impervious to the ASCM threat; our surface fleet is not. Today’s surface fleet must be capable to detect, track and engage our adversaries’ most capable anti-ship missiles, and have the structural integrity to survive damage sustained in combat.

President Joe Biden’s proposed Navy budget reflects the need to think through this strategic challenge. On the one hand, the request of $28 billion for Navy shipbuilding is the largest ever. By way of comparison, then-President Donald Trump’s last budget in 2020 requested $19 billion. But Biden’s request also seeks to decommission a number of legacy surface ships that predate the threat posed by modern anti-ship missiles. Predictably, this decision has been greeted by a chorus of protest, but nonetheless the fact remains: Every U.S. ship that sails into harm’s way must represent a relevant threat and be fit to fight.”

US, UK, Australia team up on hypersonic weapons with eye on Russia and China

“The U.S., the U.K. and Australia will start joint work on hypersonic missile technology and electronic warfare capabilities under the umbrella of the AUKUS security pact.

The decision, announced Tuesday by the leaders of the three governments, is the latest move in an international race for hypersonic weapons, which can travel up to 10 times the speed of sound, making them much harder to detect.

It is also a further example of the deepening security partnership between the U.S., Britain and Australia, after their creation of AUKUS last September scuppered a mega submarine deal for France, souring relations between Washington and Paris. Developing hypersonic missiles represents a long-term aim for Canberra, which is seeking to step up the long-range strike capabilities of the Australian Defence Force.”

“In March, Russia said it had used a hypersonic missile to strike an ammunition warehouse in western Ukraine. Last year, China reportedly tested two hypersonic weapons, causing alarm at the Pentagon.

The U.S. successfully tested a hypersonic missile in mid-March but did not announce it for two weeks to avoid increasing tensions with Russia, according to media reports.”

An expert on the dismal state of nuclear treaties

“When the [second] Bush administration came in, they actually used the withdrawal provision to get the country out of the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty that had been in place since 1972. That limited what kind of missile defenses both sides could deploy. [The administration] didn’t want to see any limits at all anymore. And ironically, to this day, we have not deployed defenses that are substantially in excess of those limits. In fact, I think with very slight modifications to the treaty — deployment locations, things like that — we could still be inside it. But the point was more to get rid of the treaties, in my view, than it was to actually deploy a working defense.”

Russia Deploys a Mystery Munition in Ukraine

“American intelligence officials have discovered that the barrage of ballistic missiles Russia has fired into Ukraine contain a surprise: decoys that trick air-defense radars and fool heat-seeking missiles.

The devices are each about 1 foot long, shaped like a dart and white with an orange tail, according to an American intelligence official. They are released by the Iskander-M short-range ballistic missiles that Russia is firing from mobile launchers across the border, the official said, when the missile senses that it has been targeted by air defense systems.

Each is packed with electronics and produces radio signals to jam or spoof enemy radars attempting to locate the Iskander-M, and contains a heat source to attract incoming missiles. The official, who was not authorized to speak publicly about intelligence matters, described the devices on the condition of anonymity.”

“The devices are similar to Cold War decoys called “penetration aids,” the intelligence official said, that have accompanied nuclear warheads since the 1970s and were designed to evade anti-missile systems and allow individual warheads to reach their targets. The incorporation of the devices into weapons such as the Iskander-M that have conventional warheads has not been previously documented in military arsenals.”

Satellite images show China built mock-ups of U.S. warships

“China’s massive military upgrade has emphasized countering the U.S. and other countries’ naval forces.

That includes the development of land, sea and air-launched missiles to repel and possibly sink opposing vessels, expressed most emphatically by the land-based DF-21D ballistic missile known as the “carrier killer.””

“The Pentagon..issued a report saying China is expanding its nuclear force much faster than U.S. officials predicted just a year ago. That appears designed to enable Beijing to match or surpass U.S. global power by midcentury, the report said.”

“China’s test of a hypersonic weapon capable of partially orbiting Earth before reentering the atmosphere and gliding on a maneuverable path to its target also surprised top U.S. military leaders. Beijing insisted it was testing a reusable space vehicle, not a missile, but the weapon system’s design is meant to evade U.S. missile defenses.

Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the test was “very close” to being a “Sputnik moment,” akin to the 1957 launching by the Soviet Union of the world’s first space satellite, which fed fears the United States had fallen behind technologically.”

Why North Korea is ramping up missile tests again

“Why is North Korea suddenly testing all these missiles?

Experts are split. One potential reason is that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un wants to slowly ratchet up pressure on Biden and get his attention.

“North Korea usually begins its new military threats-cum-psychological warfare cycle through graduated escalation,” Sung-Yoon Lee, an expert on Pyongyang’s politics at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University, told me.”

“the North Korean leader wants the tests to bother Biden so much that the US engages in some kind of diplomacy with North Korea to stop the launches. Once at the negotiating table, Pyongyang would seek an end to US sanctions on the country before agreeing to dismantle (at least some parts of) its nuclear program, while Washington would push for the opposite — North Korea first verifiably dismantling at least some parts of its nuclear program before the US lifts any sanctions.

That broad standoff has plagued US-North Korean relations for decades, but it’s particularly irksome to Kim right now. The sanctions hurt his country’s economy, which the dictator has promised to improve, and are especially biting during the Covid-19 pandemic. His new round of testing, then, is a message to the White House: End the sanctions, or America’s relations with North Korea are about to get a lot more tense.”

“The other potential explanation experts gave me for the recent tests has less to do with the US and more to do with simply improving North Korea’s military capabilities.

“These launches are not a cry for attention, nor are they a cry for help with North Korea’s broken economy. Such launches are a sign of North Korea’s clear determination to continue advancing its ballistic-missile programs as part of making good on the ambitious plans for North Korea’s weapons programs,” said Markus Garlauskas, the US national intelligence officer for North Korea from 2014 to 2020.

Getting stronger militarily, after all, was a promise Kim made to top North Korean officials and his people during a January meeting. “If these [launches] go unchecked by the international community, this is likely to lead to launches of bigger and more capable systems, including those capable of carrying multiple nuclear warheads,” added Garlauskas, who is now at the Atlantic Council think tank in DC.

Whatever the reason, though, it’s important to note that Kim could have chosen to be even more aggressive than he has been.”

4 looming foreign policy crises that could derail Biden’s agenda early on

“President-elect Joe Biden may want his administration to focus on long-term issues like the coronavirus pandemic, climate change, rebuilding alliances, and America’s relationship with China, but some key near-term foreign policy problems will likely require his attention first.

After the assassination of its top nuclear scientist by an unknown attacker, Iran might be less willing to engage in diplomacy with America and instead seek revenge by targeting US officials. North Korea could test an intercontinental ballistic missile early in Biden’s term to try to gauge the new administration’s response. The last remaining nuclear arms control deal between the US and Russia is set to expire just over two weeks after Biden takes office. And the reduced number of American troops in Afghanistan could derail sputtering peace talks and worsen the country’s security situation.

Such a dilemma wouldn’t be unique to Biden. Every new president comes in with ideas on how to handle larger global problems, only to have the colloquial “tyranny of the inbox” monopolize their time. “If you assume that foreign policy is less than half, and maybe a quarter, of the president’s time, then that really shines a light on how serious this inbox problem is,” said Christopher Preble, co-director of the New American Engagement Initiative at the Atlantic Council think tank.

Once he’s in the Oval Office, then, Biden will likely find his hopes of tackling grander foreign policy challenges dashed by the effort he’ll have to expend cleaning up more immediate messes.”

North Korea shows off new, larger ICBM missile during parade

“It wasn’t clear if the monster missile was active or simply a shell, but the unprecedented spectacle less than a month ahead of the U.S. presidential election could raise the specter of coming North Korean weapons tests.

North Korea hasn’t tested an ICBM in almost three years. And the country’s leader, Kim Jong Un, conducted three high-wattage meetings with President Trump after the flight of Hwasong-15, a missile believed to be capable of reaching the U.S.

This year, North Korea has taken a hostile posture toward the U.S., airing grievances and declaring its aversion to nuclear negotiations with Washington.

A military display was not unexpected on Saturday, the 75th anniversary of the ruling Workers’ Party, and Kim didn’t directly criticize the U.S. during the festivities.

But the event stood out for size of the possible new missile, which appeared much larger than the Hwasong-15, and for the parade’s timing in the small hours of Saturday morning local time.

“This was most unusual,” Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korea expert at Tufts University’s Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, told the Daily News. “The amount of electricity they must have spent — in a country that lacks electricity even in the capital city — shows you they went all-out.””

How Trump got suckered by Iran and North Korea

“Kim Jong Un didn’t give up his nuclear weapons. Negotiations stalled. North Korea resumed testing with 22 missile launches and counting, including a new submarine-launched missile with a range of about 2,500 km. And North Korea, in December, resumed engine testing at a test facility near Tongchang-ri. Kim ended the year with a speech in which he announced that he would no longer abide by the moratorium on nuclear and missile testing, that North Korea would “shift to shocking actual actions to make [the US] fully pay,” and would soon reveal a “new strategic weapon.”

Yet US officials are still arguing that these threats are little more than bluster and that Kim will soon enough yield to pressure. On January 7, a State Department official asserted that there had been a “significant reduction through the year of North Korean activity, missiles, tests, and all the rest of that stuff” and that “will continue … because the US has taken a solid stand and demonstrated strength and insistence that the agreements be adhered to.”

US officials, of course, said the same thing about Iran. When a State Department official was asked if he thought Iran would retaliate after the assassination of Qassem Soleimani, the official said, “No, I don’t.” When reporters pressed the issue, he said: “I’m just saying that weakness invites more aggression. Timidity will invite more aggression,” and “we’re speaking in a language the regime understands.” That was on January 3. Less than a week later, Iran fired more than a dozen ballistic missiles at US targets in Iraq.

US officials were also skeptical that Iran would respond to Trump withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal, arguing that Tehran would simply agree to a “tougher” deal. Under the agreement reached by President Obama, the world lifted sanctions in exchange for Iran agreeing to limits on its civilian nuclear energy program that would help reassure the world that Tehran was not building a nuclear weapon.

When Trump reimposed those sanctions, Iran responded by abandoning those limits one by one. Iran has not completely abandoned the agreement: It is still allowing the International Atomic Energy Agency to monitor its nuclear programs, remains a non-nuclear member of the Non-Proliferation Treaty, and has offered to return to compliance if the US removes the sanctions again.

But what Iran has not agreed to is the better deal that Trump’s supporters promised was just around the corner.”

“It is remarkable that, across the board, Trump’s strategies of pressure and bullying have resulted in no tangible agreements — no deal with Kim Jong Un, no meeting with Iran’s leaders, and no arms control deals with either the Russians or the Chinese.”