Air Mission: April Overview

Air Mission: April Overview

May 01, 2021

By Nat South for the Saker Blog

From time to time, I gather and compile basic statistics on US / NATO/ Swedish flights principally near to Russia, (articles posted on my blog). The idea is to get a rough snapshot of the activity, location and types of aircraft that carry out intelligence-gathering missions, broadly known as Intelligence Surveillance Reconnaissance, (ISR), as well as those in direct support of those missions. It is a thankless and time-consuming task, but hopefully it can offer a semblance of having a wider perspective on issues, other than just riding on emotional off-one events, without providing any context.

The US and NATO (and Sweden) routinely send out a variety of aircraft dedicated for ISR missions along or in proximity to Russia. These missions are tasked with monitoring the military status quo, namely the movement of units and in particular the deployment of equipment and ships. Given the ongoing Ukraine-Russia tensions, the data collecting took on another aspect in the last month, namely what kind of activity and response could be seen. Well, the answer is that the skies got a little more crowded in April.

Going through the figures for April shows a marked overall increase in ISR the Black Sea region compared to other regions. Not surprising considering the military build-up in Crimea and in southern Russia, in response to the re-deployment of Ukrainian military hardware and units to Eastern Ukraine.

All the data obtained is done through trawling through social media accounts who track via ADS-B, Mode-S and MLAT sites, to identify the type of aircraft, location, and nationality of the aircraft. Invariably, there are some flights that are missed, because only those that had transponders active in each location were logged. For example, there were certainly more flights off the Norway, Barents Sea and in the GIUK region than I managed to record.

Some points to retain:

Intensification of flights in the Black Sea, (Crimea, Southern Russia FIR). Although the use of unmanned RQ-4B Global Hawks over Eastern Ukraine and Northern Georgia has been going on for a long time, (years in fact), there was an uptick of activities, (Graph 1) in April. Given their 250km reported ‘visual’ range, they can scan a wide swath of land. Unusually, on several occasions in April, two RQ-4B operated at the same time in the region. Prior to April, most of the ISR flight paths were fairly regular in character, this wasn’t the case several times during April, in particular the RQ-4B flights.

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Being unmanned, this is the only US / NATO aircraft that carries out missions over territorial airspace over Ukraine and Georgia. For a short time, a RQ-4B was brought in from the Middle East to carry air missions. Many of these flights did not have habitual flight track of prior ISR missions in certain areas, (Eastern Ukraine, Crimean coastline, and Georgia), often orbiting or making multiple tracking back and forth passes.

A comparison is provided below between the number of flights between February, March, and April. The figures for March or February were not different to previous months, so, a big change in frequency. To sum up, the redeployment of Ukrainian military units did not bring about changes in air missions but the Russian redeployments to the area certainly influenced US and NATO military brass in despatching aircraft to the region.

Another noticeable increase in flights is that of the US Navy P-8 Poseidon flights along the northern Black Sea coastline region. Flights were almost a daily occurrence and this unprecedented as far I know. However, this is partially consistent with the fact that the Russian Navy units started a series of naval exercises in the Black Sea over April, (some of the media reports below to get a gist of the frequency and intensity).

It has to be noted that the flights take place in international airspace, but some of the flights tracked closely the 12 nautical miles limit. As with the other ISR aircraft (Rivet Joint, EP3 Aries), the flight route taken were fairly consistent, going along the whole coast of Crimea, flying all the way down to the sea area adjoining Sochi and towards Novorossiysk, (which I refer to as Southern Russia FIR), and then returning back along the coastline.

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8-9 April

12-13 April

14 April

19-23 April

27-30 April

Boeing P-8s contrary to social media pundits aren’t just submarine hunters, (“must be looking for a Kilo” fare), but in addition to their anti-submarine warfare (ASW), P-8s have anti-surface warfare (ASUW), and shipping interdiction roles. In other words, maritime domain intelligence.

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Another interesting aspect that is noteworthy is the increase in intelligence-gathering flights along the Russian Far East, (Kamchatka and Anadyr). This ties in with press releases and videos on interceptions by the RuAF, where Russian Air Force MiG-31 high-altitude fighter intercepted an USAF RC-135W Rivet Joint reconnaissance aircraft off the coast of Kamchatka.

Often, several type of ISR missions were taking place simultaneously in the Black Sea region, (usually a combination of P-8 and Rivet Joint, or P-8 with Global Hawks). This means that several types of intelligence gathering are carried out, (maritime, ELINT, etc…). This situation

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The above graph shows the ISR missions carried out in April was done daily around many regions from the Baltic to the Barents Sea.

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The overall snapshot for April across many regions is shown in the above graph, the Baltic region, being the second busiest region overall.

So, how do these figures compare to those for March?

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The Black Sea region in April swapped places with the Baltic region, to lead by a wide margin. To note that I have split the Black Sea region into different sectors, to distinguish the location of flights. The Black Sea region is the overall total, which includes flights that did not enter Crimean, Russian FIRs but were in support of other ISR missions. Generally, this does not include Turkish flights in the southern Black Sea sector, as such the only flights that are counted are those support of other flights monitoring Russian military activities. Unfortunately, it wasn’t possible to confirm whether a RQ-4B flight went to Eastern Ukraine or Georgia, so it may be expected that the figures that I have are lower than in reality.

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The main types of aircraft that carried out various intelligence-gathering missions in the Black Sea region are listed above. While some (the E-3 AWACS, Peace Eagle) stayed over land, their location of activity suggested support for overall intelligence-gathering operations linked to Russian military activities and units.

No surprise to say that it is the US military that flies the most often, with the UK in second place.

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Lastly, as an interesting comparison with my dataset, here is a graph showing the numbers of air flights along Russian borders, (including the unmanned aircraft) along with interceptions carried out since the beginning of the year, as regularly reported by the Russian Ministry of Defence. As you can surmise, a lot more aerial activity takes place in proximity to Russia generally, (Not just ISR flights but air tankers, U2s and maybe bomber flights are possibly included in the figures). These figures probably also include other non-NATO aircraft elsewhere near to Russia.

Getting this level of official data from NATO and NORAD would be a rarity and as such, it is nearly impossible to compare data for Russian military flights, as the data is rather opaque compared that of the Russian MoD. Add in a level of obfuscation, as this quote shows the typical situation:
““NORAD responded to more Russian military flights off the coast of Alaska than we’ve seen in any year since the end of the Cold War” General Glen Van Herck’s briefing to the Senate Armed Services Committee in 2020.

  1. Define highest as per the yearly data (which is not available)
  2. Why reference it to the end of the Cold War? I find it rather misleading to use the basic value as “the end of the Cold War”, whether for aircraft and submarines.

The average NORAD interceptions in the USA/ Canada ADIZ, since 2013 is between 10-16 (roughly), PER YEAR. According to the Russian MoD, there were 10 interceptions for the whole of April alone.


The northern part of the Black Sea region has come under close scrutiny for April regarding US/NATO air missions, and it does not show any signs of decreasing in frequency as yet, (as I write this, there are 2 Global Hawks operating in the region). Yet other areas continue to be monitored as attentively as in previous months on a daily basis.

It highlights the continued need for intelligence by Washington and Brussels on all aspects of Russian military activities and units.

NB: For anyone interested in the naval sitreps side of activities, I have produced a series of them for March and April: concerning the Mediterranean, Black Sea and Red Sea. I regularly update the sitreps with a Twitter thread of additional events.

Why It Is Not Advised


Why It Is Not Advised

April 11, 2021

By Andrei Martyanov, exclusively for the Saker Blog

For the US Navy ships to enter the Black Sea and hope to survive in case of the, God forbids, any kind of a conflict with Russia—yes, you read it right—is a fantasy, or, to be even more precise—an unscientific fiction. This group, let alone a single US destroyer of the Arleigh Burke-class (these are the most active types in the US Navy), which enter the Black Sea periodically to “demonstrate flag” and US/NATO presence in this crucial body of water are aware of the fact that the Black Sea for all intents and purposes is Russia’s lake. Everyone can recall a wide-spread (spread most likely by some overly zealous, but not very literate, Russian “patriots”) rumor about DDG-75 USS Donald Cook having her electronics “burned” by a couple of intrepid Russian Su-24s in April of 2014, who allegedly forced this American ship to fast return to Constanta, where, allegedly some of her crew expressed a desire to abandon the ship. NYT and other US media, not without justification, called those rumors to be Russian “propaganda”. They have a point.

Reality of the events with USS Donald Cook had very little to do with Su-24s or some magical ECM. The reason for cutting American ship’s voyage short was the fact, as Russian President Vladimir Putin himself stressed not for once, that Donald Cook was detected, tracked and, when the necessity arose, was locked on by the radar of both K-300P Bastion and Bal coastal anti-shipping cruise missile complexes located on the shores of Crimea, which, no doubt, made a lot of noise, literally, when Donald Cook’s passive radiation detectors started to signal that the ship was locked on by one of the most fearsome weapon in Russia’s inventory—a launcher of the P-800 Oniks (Onyx) missiles. This long-range M=2.5 missile is what makes the first line of defense of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet so deadly, because it is precisely a type of weaponry designed to over-saturate air defense of US Aegis Combat Control System and Spy-1 radar-equipped ships. American naval officers are well-educated in terms of missile salvos and capabilities, including saturation thresholds, of their on-board Air Defense systems and know that 4+ P-800 Oniks or 8+ subsonic X-35 missile salvo, in the active ECM environment in the Black Sea are impossible to defend against such a salvo. Russia can repeat these and even much larger salvos many times over, with a desirable frequency and density.

But these are just the capabilities of a single 15th Independent Costal Defense Missile-Artillery Brigade in Sevastopol, which can deploy its launchers anywhere in Crimea, including in highly defended, by both aviation of the Black Sea Fleet and Air Defense forces in Crimea, locations which conceal the launch. Russia’s ISR systems provide updates for both operational situation and distribute targeting for any receiver on Russian side in real time. Of course, one has to always keep in mind that two squadrons (24+ combat aircraft) of SU-27SM/SU-30SM are also located in Crimea and each of those aircraft can carry a variety of strike weapons, including X-31A M=3.5 anti-shipping missile and X-31P anti-radiation missile, plus Aviation Regiment in Simferopol, which deploys 22 Su-24Ms is being reequipped with SU-30SMs. Incidentally, these venerable warriors (Su-24Ms) also carry X-31As, which, when counted realistically, provide for the first salvo (multiply by 0.5) consisting of 30 to 40 missiles by aviation wing alone, add here missiles from coastal complexes and we are looking at 60 to 70 missiles in the first salvo, at least. That’s enough to sink several Carrier Battle Groups even with their air wings airborne and all Aegis-Spy-1 systems working properly.

Of course, no one should forget that Black Sea Fleet also happened to have ships and those, even considering a cruiser, couple of frigates and SSKs attached to Mediterranean Squadron around Syria, still pack a massive anti-shipping punch by 3M54 missiles of Kalibr family which accelerate to M=2.9 on terminal and effectively are not interceptible in the salvo of 2+. All those missiles named here are AI-driven in salvo and posses a very high resistance to jamming (some of them can jam enemy’s sensors on their own). And this is not all, of course. Black Sea Fleet is supported by the forces of Southern Military Distric, parh of which it is, and if these news above were bad for any combination of US/NATO naval forces entering the Black Sea, this is where this news becomes even more depressing for Pentagon. 4th Air Force and Air Defense Army which is part of this district deployes those pesky MiG-31Ks (they originally were based in the District and continue to fly missions from there since 2017) armed with Kinzhal Kh-47M2 hypersonic missiles, whose M=10+ and violent maneuvering and incredible range of 2000 kilometers make them impervious to any air defense technology the United States has today and in the nearest future (7-10 years at least). It is even doubtful that these missiles are actually detectable. These combat aircraft are capable to sink not just anything in the Black Sea but also in the Eastern Mediterranean, without even crossing the shore line of Russia’s Krasnodar Region or Crimes, obviously Russia doesn’t say where each moment those aircraft are based. Who knows where? Well, US intel may know but it is a classic case of a good deterrence. In this case, the probability of hitting any target in Black Sea for Kinzhal is driven not by the ability of the target to respond but by the probability of the missile itself being in full combat order.

So, as you can see, there is plenty of subsonic, supersonic and hypersonic goodness to spread around by Russia’s Black Sea Fleet alone and competent people in Pentagon know this. That is why the appearance of those two US destroyers in the Black Sea is, literally, for the appearance primarily and for trying to collect some intel for what seems today a diminishing probability of confrontation in Donbass. I often write that many people in the US, and I am talking about policy-makers, cannot grasp the scale of the America’s trailing Russia in fire power in all domains. It is not just quantitative; it is qualitative and the gap only continues to widen. But I warned about it for years, didn’t I?


South Front

The USS Dwight D. Eisenhower aircraft carrier and its Carrier Strike Group have entered the Mediterranean Sea.

This makes it, currently, the closest aircraft carrier to the Middle East. It has been quite a while since the US hasn’t had one of its super warships deployed in or near the Persian Gulf.

Starting in the spring of 2019, the U.S. Navy has been publicly ordered to keep a near-constant presence in the region, as if this were something new.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced that a global posture review is taking place, and it would be reconsidered whether a carrier was even needed in the region. Still, the Mediterranean Sea is quite nearby, and the removal of the Carrier Strike Group (CSG) from the Persian Gulf was a political move.

It’s Lloyd Austin’s dream to have a CSG in every hotspot in the world, but resources don’t allow for that.

Still, the US has the amphibious warship USS Makin Island (LHD-8) in the Persian Gulf with a detachment of F-35B fighter jets, so it still has a hefty presence. Further, it is without a doubt possible for the USS Dwight D. Eisenhower and its CSG to operate without issue in the Middle East, be it Syria, Iraq or elsewhere, from its current place of deployment.

In Syria itself, as the primary US competitor, alongside Iran, Russian forces are preparing to set up a permanent military base near the city of Palmyra in the Badia Desert. This is not yet confirmed, but according to satellite photos it has a helipad as a runway.

This base is likely planned to support the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) further in their push against both ISIS and Turkish proxies.

On March 9th, the SAA carried out heavy shelling on the positions of Turkish proxies in the village of Jabal Al-Zawiya, in southern Idlib.

Separately, Pro-Turkey opposition factions reportedly thwarted an attempt by the SAA to advance on the Qalaat front in the northern countryside of Latakia. Attacks are frequently repelled in Twitter posts, but nowhere else, demonstrating that the propaganda wing of the Turkish proxies is quite active.

In the days leading up to this, the SAA has been preparing for a large push in the province of Aleppo.

This is likely an attempt to form a uniform front, which can exert equal pressure along the frontline and thin the enemy’s forces to provide opportunity for a breach.

Turkey and its proxies are sure to offer heavy resistance to any advance by the SAA, but so far it appears that this may not be enough.

Foolish FONOPs

Foolish FONOPs

December 01, 2020

By Nat South for the Saker Blog

A new tiny twist in U.S. naval activities, albeit one that raises some eyebrows happened last week due to its location. The latest in “freedom of navigation operation”, aka ‘FONOP’ carried out by the U.S. Navy took place in Peter the Great Bay (Zaliv Petra Velikogo), near to Vladivostok in the Far East of Russia. The fact that Washington cherrypicked the location might be at first sight, insignificant and also petty considering the context, but there’s more to this given the timing and ongoing pinprick but widely applied pressure applied to Russia on many fronts these days, (military, political, trade and diplomatic).

The legal background and historical details for the Peter the Great Bay incident has been explained in the article “Driving Russia further into China’s arms”, which lays out the legal issues and interpretations of baselines, internal, territorial and historic waters.

The bottom line is that naval vessels do have a right to navigate within other countries’ 12 nautical mile territorial limit, if it is under the rule of “innocent passage”, (see Article 19 of UNCLOS), by transiting in a “continuous and expeditious” manner that is not “prejudicial to the peace, good order or security of the coastal state”. There are specific activities that are not permitted including surveillance and flying shipborne aircraft.

Naval and air incursions have been going on for years and also back in the Soviet era, famously highlighted by the Black Sea ‘bumping’ incidents in 1986 and 1988, (also due to UNCLOS). The Black Sea remains one of the vital pressure points to this day, yet the Far East not so until December 2018, when the first post-Cold War FONOP in the area was carried out by the USS ‘McCampbell’.

The notion and implementation of FONOPs, started in 1979, are uniquely peculiar to the U.S. and symptomatic of Washington’s persistent mindset of “needing to poke their noses” where and when it suits them to prove all too often counterproductive point. Following the Peter the Great Bay incident, the U.S. Pacific Fleet stated that the “United States will never bow in intimidation or be coerced into accepting illegitimate maritime claims, such as those made by the Russian Federation.”

The concept of FONOPs also stands sharply at odds with Washington’s stance on UNCLOS, as the Senate has not ratified it. Nevertheless, it is worth pointing out that Washington has accepted UNCLOS as binding international law. Back in 2015, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joe Dunford, stated: “We undermine our leverage by not signing up to the same rule book by which we are asking other countries to accept.” Except that the U.S. would be bound by all the articles of UNCLOS and not stay in a position of cherry-picking just a selection that suits its narrow set of interests. Quite telling, the reasons as to why the U.S. shouldn’t ratify UNCLOS, as laid out in this Heritage Foundation document, namely the threat of lawsuits and being made accountable and abide by the decisions of the International Seabed Authority. This excerpt from another article speaks volumes about the mindset at work: “The U.S. can best protect its rights by maintaining a strong U.S. Navy, not by acceding to the convention.”

Cynically, the very fact that the U.S. hasn’t ratified it, means that Washington interprets UNCLOS with its usual ‘exceptionalism’ outlook and takes it upon itself to be the world’s leading proponent of upholding “freedom of navigation”; this only goes one way and it is principally the U.S. Navy that applies this concept, usually in the form of a destroyer. Typically, the style of Washington is to send in cruise missile carrying “505 feet of American fighting steel” over differences of legal views over claims over sea areas and reiterate pedantic enforcement of “innocent passage” in selected localities. The U.S. Coast Guard has been involved in FONOPs too, but in a very restricted capacity and more recently (and unusually so) one in the South China Sea.

The rationale for FONOPs is based uniquely on Washington’s interpretation of “excessive claims” made by other states that it finds unacceptable, “to protest other states’ excessive maritime claims and encourage those states to harmonize their claims with U.S. interpretations of international law” (Odell 2019) as well as maintain customary international law. There are two aspects to note, a. “innocent passage” and “excessive maritime claims” regarding territorial waters, since there is a fine line between these two statements. I am not at this stage going to go into the specifics and gritty details of the issues of either customary international law or UNCLOS, other to say it is complex and invariably there are conflicting views over interpretation. The crux of the legal matter is that the U.S. maintains the belief that if challenges to customary international law are not carried out, then this over time ultimately legitimatise them by setting a negative precedent. If this multiplied over and over worldwide, this ultimately erodes U.S. supremacy, (for an insight in this – read the top paragraph of page 3 of this document). In short, it sounds really immature and pathetic to nit-pick over where the baseline for Zaliv Petra Velikogo, yet this precisely what Washington did last week, because do not doing so erodes their maritime rights.

There are several elements that underpin a FONOP, legal, diplomatic and ultimately the operational naval stage. Originally, ‘operational’ FONOPs were designed as the next step to supplement diplomatic efforts to challenge excessive claims or when these efforts have proven fruitless. An example of this, the USCG did a FONOP 35 years ago in the North Western Passage, much to the annoyance of Canada.

As Odell stated, “the United States does not conduct FONOPs vis-à-vis all excessive maritime claims everywhere in the world every year”. The pattern, tempo and nature of ‘operational’ FONOPs has principally focussed on those countries who happen not to agree with the “rules-based liberal international order”, a concept exclusively promoted by Washington to uphold its global primacy. While other countries who take umbrage at what they perceive as excessive claims, they go to the ITLOS to try to settle the matter, the U.S. sends in the navy. What does that say?

The mantra often trotted out on these occasions by the U.S. Navy is that it “operates in close coordination with allies and partners who share our commitment to uphold a free and open international order that promotes security and prosperity.” In other words, only security and prosperity that serves first and foremost U.S. interests, namely via a rolled out globalised Monroe Doctrine. The FONOP concept has morphed into something wider -” to uphold security and prosperity interests”, not quite the same category as “challenging excessive maritime claims” or conducting “innocent passage” transits.

It is interesting to see that there is barely lukewarm support for FONOPs from those “allies and partners”, despite Washington’s active encouragement. In fact, they are not on the same page in terms of carrying out U.S. style FONOPs, especially in the South China Sea. Since a few states have competing interests and claims as well as strong trade relations themselves in the region, as such they aren’t keen on jumping on that particular kind of boat so to speak, (South Korea and Japan for instance are a case in point). U.S. FONOPs have been frequently carried out in the South China Sea for over a decade. Quite tellingly, Chinese PLA(N) ships have themselves sailed through U.S. waters back in 2015 to and from the Bering Sea and Washington merely twitched back then.

So the much vaunted short lived unilateral acts conducted by the U.S. can also be flipped, as the saying goes, it takes two to tango, so there is little that the U.S. could do if the PLA(N) (again) or let’s say even the Russian Navy decides to apply Article 19 “innocent passage” transit off continental U.S, the Aleutian Islands, Puerto Rico or Hawaii.

Another important pressure point is the Arctic, specifically the Northern Sea Route (NSR). Last year, I outlined the situation and background to FONOPs in the Arctic, as a result of the French Navy’s BSAH ‘Rhône’ transit from Norway to Canada via the NSR. Of interest to note that the Rhône’s voyage was essentially a very low key FONOP in nature, but without resorting to either using a combat ship or making public statements to the effect. Furthermore, I mentioned at the time that U.S. has started to take incremental steps towards a fully-fledged FONOP in the Arctic region.

As I write this, the U.S. had indeed taken further steps this year to carry out limited operations in the Barents Sea. In May, 4 US Navy ships and a UK frigate went to the Barents Sea, the first time in the area since the 1980s. On this occasion the Northern Fleet was notified, however this was not the case in September. In total, the US Navy went to the Barents: Sea 3 times in 2020 alone (2). The latest reason? – “This Barents Sea mission marks a significant milestone, clearly demonstrating our dynamic ability to operate anywhere in the world,” said Cmdr. John D. John, Ross’ commanding officer.

The U.S. isn’t actually trying to preserve UNCLOS for all, but in reality, trying to reimpose and expand a US‐led regional status quo, whether in the Barents or the South China Sea. It can thus be considered that FONOPs are little more than a barely concealed tool for keeping and deploying the U.S. Navy Fleets globally to obscure far flung places in order to make their combat capability posturing and presence known. If the U.S. had wanted to prove a point strictly regarding the principle of freedom of navigation, it would have been more tactful to send non-combat ships instead like the French apparently did. To certain extent, this can be summed up by the words of the commandant of the USCG, Adm Schultz, who said. “I think in the Arctic right now, if we did something with the Navy, it’s more about just showing our ability to project capability up there.”

Certainly, the U.S. Navy has a knack in conducting FONOPs near to the Russian Navy Fleets’ homeports or significant Chinese military installations. The Peter the Great Bay incident is no exception, given Vladivostok and the nearby new mega shipyard, ‘Bolshoy Kamen’, which just happens to be carrying out nuclear submarine upgrades. Hence the tone set recently by Moscow in response to the incident may be an indicator: “Such muscle flexing is apparently meant to exacerbate the situation, which once again proves that at the current historical stage the United States is opting to use force methods to advocate own foreign policy interests.”

So foolishly, the U.S. rattles the FONOP cage once more, with lofty pronouncements made once more, and more bloviating about freedom and security. What does this actually achieve other than more pushbacks and toughening of stances from Russia in this instance?

FONOPs are not a constructive diplomatic tool or even add value since they trigger more tensions and are also a cost to the military, (paradoxically even the U.S. ‘rules-based partners’ such as Canada and Australia see it that way too). Although, the aim of FONOPs is to shape the U.S.’s desired strategic effects and improve partnerships, they ultimately fail to do this is any consistent or meaningful manner of asserting maritime rights. Instead, FONOPs are seen as a crude instrument of U.S. military primacy, designed to send an antagonistic signal of power projection.

  1. Odell, Rachel, How Strategic Norm-Shaping Undergirds America’s Command of the Commons (August 31, 2019). MIT Political Science Department Research Paper No. 2019-23,
  2. May: Arleigh Burke-class Aegis destroyers USS Donald Cook, Porter and Roosevelt + HMS Kent; September: USS Ross + HMS Sutherland + HNoMS Thor Heyerdahl. October: USS Ross again).


The USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan cruising around somewhere near China



As South Front reported last week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo dedicated a major address to insulting and threatening China. However, his extravagant rhetoric and threats to further increase US pressure on the Asian giant have a major flaw. The deployment of US military assets to menace China’s frontier zones are already at historically high levels, leaving very little room for additional pressure short of an amphibious landing or missile strike.

As reported by the South China Morning Post last week, US military aviation flights around its maritime borders in July were the highest on record. According to the Beijing-based South China Sea Strategic Situation Probing Initiative (SCSPI), during the week ending 25 July US air force E-8C surveillance planes were spotted closer than 100 nautical miles to the southeast coast of Guangdong province on four separate occasions.

“At the moment the US military is sending three to five reconnaissance aircraft each day to the South China Sea,” SCSPI said. “In the first half of 2020 – with much higher frequency, closer distance and more variety of missions – the US aerial reconnaissance in the South China Sea has entered a new phase.”

US planes have ventured “unusually close” to Chinese airspace several times since April. The closest flight to date was in May when a US navy P-8A Poseidon – designed for anti-submarine warfare – almost reached the 12 nautical mile limit near Hainan Island, on China’s southernmost tip.

SCSPI said its statistics showed flights by US planes approaching up to 50 to 60 nautical miles off the mainland were “frequent”. A record of 50 sorties – flying from US land bases located in the vicinity of the South China Sea – was set in the first three weeks of July, coinciding with separate Chinese and US military exercises in the area.

On peak days, SCSPI said it had counted as many as eight US aircraft, including the aircraft types P-8A EP-3E, RC-135W and KC-135. One such peak occurred on July 3, as aircraft carriers USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz, along with their respective strike groups, entered the region.

The two aircraft carrier strike groups conducted drills in the area on two separate occasions, commencing on July 4 and July 17. In between the exercises, the US State Department issued a statement describing China’s claim to the disputed waterway as “unlawful” and adding that Washington supported the other Southeast Asian claimants.

The resource-rich South China Sea is one of the world’s busiest waterways, with around a third of international shipping passing through it. China claims most of the area while Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei and Indonesia all have overlapping claims.

The range of US military planes involved in the South China Sea missions was an indication of their purpose, according to SCSPI director Hu Bo. These included anti-submarine patrol, communication signal collection, and radar frequency detection, among others.

With the People’s Liberation Army also exercising in the Paracel Islands earlier this month, the US intelligence aircraft were probably collecting data on the PLA electronics, Hu said, adding. “The increasing US military operations have become the largest risk and potential source of conflicts.”

These operations have led to a number of incidents, and occasionally crises, in the past. The most serious occurred in April 2001 when a US navy EP-3E Aries II flew to within 59 nautical miles of Hainan Island and collided with an intercepting PLA navy J-8II fighter.

The Chinese pilot died and the US plane was forced to land on Hainan, giving then-president George W. Bush the first diplomatic crisis of his tenure.

In 2014, 2015 and 2017, the Pentagon repeatedly accused Chinese fighters of nearly causing accidents by making “unsafe” interception manoeuvres with US spy planes near the Chinese coast in the South China Sea, East China Sea and the Yellow Sea.

Hong Kong-based military commentator Song Zhongping said the PLA could be expected to send fighters out to intercept and expel US aircraft on every close reconnaissance mission.

“The PLA has developed a standard operating protocol on these US planes approaching Chinese airspace. With more frequent US provocations, the PLA will have more frequent interceptions too,” he said.

“It poses a challenge to pilots’ skills and training, but the PLA has also become quite proficient to avoid possible accidents or collisions.” LINK

The record number of military flights was accompanied by a large spike in navy deployments as well, with three aircraft carriers cruising around the South China Sea during June and July. Prior to the extended excursions of the USS Ronald Reagan and USS Nimitz mentioned above, the USS Theodore Roosevelt had wound up its latest trouble-plagued deployment to the north-western Pacific, much of which was spent at Guam as the crew desperately tried to contain an outbreak of the Coronavirus, with a short patrol towards China’s maritime border zone.

While the US’ increasingly hostile and hysterical tone against China has done nothing to alter the latter’s implacable resolve to pursue and defend their maritime claims and vital national interests, the US its placing its allies and partners in the region in an increasingly difficult position, South Korea in particular but also Japan and others, as they try to maintain amicable relations with China whilst hosting substantial US military forces whose distant commanders seem determined to pick a fight with China.


US Armed Forces Continue To Test China’s Patience, Prowling Around Disputed Maritime Borders


US Armed Forces Continue To Test China’s Patience, Prowling Around Disputed Maritime Borders

The Pacific Air Forces Public Affairs unit has announced that two B-1B Lancer bombers assigned to the 37th Bomb Squadron have been deployed to Andersen Air Force Base on Guam, along with approximately 170 support personnel, as part of a Bomber Task Force deployment.

According to the statement, the move is instended to demonstrate the US Indo-Pacific Command’s continuing commitment to allies and partners in the region.

The Stripes reported that before arriving on Guam, the bombers conducted intercept training over the Sea of Japan with F-15J fighter jets belonging to the Japanese Air Self-Defence Force. LINK

B-1s were last deployed to Guam in May when they flew in from Dyess Air Force Base, Texas. The duration of the current deployment has not been announced.

US Armed Forces Continue To Test China’s Patience, Prowling Around Disputed Maritime Borders

Against the backdrop of worsening relations between the US and China, the nuclear Ronald Reagan and Nimitz aircraft carrier groups as well as other US Navy vessels have been conducting exercises in and around the South China Sea over the last few weeks. The exercises and manoeuvres have also involved a strategic long range bomber B-52H Stratofortress. LINK

Earlier this week, the US officially rejected Chinese claims to a number of territories in the South China Sea.

The South China Morning Post reports that China’s Ambassador to the Philippines has urged Southeast Asian countries to be on guard against US attempts to “sabotage” the region’s stability by inserting itself into the South China Sea disputes.

He urged Southeast Asian nations to “properly resolve disputes” with China and “prevent them from being capitalised on by the US to sabotage stability in the Asia-Pacific region”.

The comments followed a shift in Washington’s posture on China’s claims in the area reflected in an op-ed in which his American counterpart, Sung Kim, declared Washington’s support for Manila in the “West Philippines Sea”.

This is the term Manila uses to refer to the portion of the South China Sea it claims as part of its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), and includes areas claimed by Beijing. The use of the term by a US state department official is rare and has been interpreted as being deliberately provocative in Beijing. LINK

Last week, one of the US Navy’s MQ-4C Triton high altitude long endurance (HALE) reconnaissance drones was spotted entering the South China Sea on Wednesday – the latest addition to an increasingly long list of US spy planes plying the waterway in recent months. LINK

In addition to flight operations by the US Navy carrier USS Nimitz and USS Ronald Reagan and other US military aircraft, the destroyer USS Ralph Johnson carried out a still-more-provocative act on July 14, a so-called “freedom of navigation operation” inside the waters surrounding the Spratly Islands, which are claimed by China as part of its territory, in a deliberate attempt to repudiate and challenge Chinese claims. Chinese media outlet stated in response to the latest manoeuvres:

“These incidents, taking place thousands of miles away from the US and on China’s doorstep, have again proven that the US is the real pusher of militarization in the South China Sea, and China is forced to take countermeasures to safeguard its national sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Global Times wrote, citing an unnamed Chinese military expert.

“If US military provocations in the South China Sea persist, China could be left with no choice but to conduct more drills and deploy more warships and warplanes in the South China Sea, to the extent of setting up a possible air defence identification zone (ADIZ).”

Sputnik reports that while the two US Navy carrier strike groups drilled in the South China Sea last week, Chinese People’s Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF) jets practiced anti-ship attacks nearby.

The US aircraft carriers have been carrying out drills in waters near China for several weeks, including in the Philippine Sea and South China Sea. Last week, the Chinese military decided to stage their own drills, holding live-fire exercises in which PLAAF jets rehearsed how they would carry out strikes against enemy warships in the region.

The drills involved JH-7A and J-16B naval strike aircraft, which practiced firing anti-ship missiles, the Global Times reported. The military exercises were held on 15 and 16 July. LINK


U.S. targets Iran-Venezuela trade, tanker market suffers a blow


BY: Ebrahim Fallahi

TEHRAN – The Trump administration is considering new sanctions on reportedly 50 oil tankers for working with Venezuela, in order to prevent the trade between Iran and the Latin American country.

Earlier this week, a U.S. official told Bloomberg that the sanctions were intended to avoid a U.S. military confrontation with other countries (indicating Iran and Venezuela).

Despite their anti-conflict claims, the Trump administration is, in fact, trying to block Iran’s support for Venezuelan people who are struggling with severe fuel shortages amid their country’s economic stagnation.

Furthermore, the U.S. actions are impacting the whole global market which is already wrestling with the pandemic.

This weekend, Reuters reported that the global tanker market is getting worried over the news of the U.S. sanctions and many market analysts believe that if the U.S. goes through A bruised ego

As mentioned earlier, the reason for the U.S.’s recent decision could be seen as getting back to Iran who had recently landed a heavy hit on the Trump Administration’s ego by sending five fuel loaded vessels to Venezuela before the eyes of the U.S navy.

The vessels delivered a total of 1.53 million barrels of gasoline and other oil products to the fuel-hungry Venezuelans in May.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of the Treasury sanctioned four shipping companies and their crude tankers for continuing to facilitate oil trading with Venezuela.

The tension between Washington and Tehran has been escalating since 2018 when U.S. President Donald Trump withdrew from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal and re-imposed sanctions on the Islamic Republic.


The Latin American country used to have the cheapest gasoline in the world and supplied fuel with subsidized prices for two decades, however, following the U.S. sanctions almost all of the country’s refineries shut down due to the lack of equipment and prepare maintenance.

The Venezuelan government has been forced to implement a rationing system and raise gasoline prices in recent months, while the gas stations in the country are currently under military control.

As a result, a black market is formed in which every liter of gasoline is sold for at least two dollars, and people have to wait for hours in long lines to get gas; people are the main victims of U.S.’s disruptive actions.

Washington is targeting people by blocking foreign revenues that could be used to import humanitarian goods, including food and medicine, Venezuela’s Foreign Minister, Jorge Ariazza said on Tuesday.

Iran-Venezuela trade

Iran has repeatedly reported that it is Iran and Venezuela’s legal right to be able to trade with each other and no country can impede the economic transactions between the two countries which are both sanctioned by the U.S.

Iran also complained to the United Nations and summoned the Swiss ambassador in Tehran, who represents U.S. interests in the Islamic Republic, over possible measures Washington could take against the Iranian tankers.

Later on, in response to the U.S threats for military actions, Iran’s foreign ministry said that any U.S. attempt to halt trade with Venezuela would face an immediate and decisive response.

Regarding the recent sanctions, if the Islamic Republic decides to continue trade with Venezuela it would use vessels belonging to its own shipping line most of which are already sanctioned by the U.S., so the new sanctions, despite their negative impacts on Venezuela’s global trade, would not have a huge effect on the trade between Iran and its Latin American ally.


Senior US Military Official Apologizes for Role in Trump Photo Op: I Shouldn’t Have Been Thereh

Senior US Military Official Apologizes for Role in Trump Photo Op: I Shouldn’t Have Been There

By Staff, NYT

The United States’ top military official apologized on Thursday for taking part in US President Donald Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square for a photo op after the authorities used tear gas and rubber bullets to clear the area of peaceful protesters.

“I should not have been there,” Gen. Mark A. Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said in a prerecorded video commencement address to National Defense University.

“My presence in that moment and in that environment created a perception of the military involved in domestic politics.”

General Milley’s first public remarks since Trump’s photo op, in which federal authorities attacked peaceful protesters so that the president could hold up a Bible in front of St. John’s Church, are certain to anger the White House. Trump has spent the days since the killing of George Floyd in police custody in Minneapolis taking increasingly tougher stances against the growing movement for change across the country.

Meanwhile, the back-and-forth between Mr. Trump and the Pentagon in recent days is evidence of the deepest civil-military divide since the Vietnam War — except this time, military leaders, after halting steps in the beginning, are positioning themselves firmly with those calling for change.

Relatively, associates of General Milley said he considered resigning, but he decided not to.

On Wednesday, Trump picked another fight with the military, slapping down the Pentagon for considering renaming Army bases named after Confederate officers who fought against the Union in the Civil War.

The Marine Corps has banned display of the Confederate battle flag, and leaders of both the Army and the Navy have in recent days expressed a willingness to move forward with renaming installations.

At the same time, the Senate Armed Services Committee, with bipartisan support, voted to require the Pentagon to strip military bases of Confederate names, setting up a possible election-year clash with the president.

Trump’s walk across Lafayette Square, current and former military leaders said, has started a critical moment of reckoning in the military. General Milley addressed the issue head-on.

“As a commissioned uniformed officer, it was a mistake that I have learned from,” General Milley said. He said he had been angry about “the senseless and brutal killing of George Floyd” and repeated his opposition to Trump’s suggestions that federal troops be deployed nationwide to quell protests.

General Milley’s friends said that for the past 10 days, he had agonized about appearing — in the combat fatigues he wears every day to work — behind Trump during the walk, an act that critics said gave a stamp of military approval to the hardline tactics used to clear the protesters.

During his speech on Thursday, Milley, after expressing his disgust over the video of the killing of Floyd, spoke at length about the issue of race, both in the military and in civilian society.

“The protests that have ensued not only speak to his killing, but also to the centuries of injustice toward African-Americans,” he said. “What we are seeing is the long shadow of our original sin in Jamestown 401 years ago, liberated by the Civil War, but not equal in the eyes of the law until 100 years later in 1965.”

He also called on the military to address issues of systemic racism in the armed forces, where 43 percent of the enlisted troops are people of color, but only a tiny handful are in the ranks of senior leadership.

Why Did Russia Refuse Venezuela’s Request but Iran Accepted It?

By Elijah J. Magnier


Tareck El Aissami Iran 257be

Iranian tankers were 2200 km from the US coast when the Iranian-flagged “Fortune”, followed by “Forest”, entered Venezuelan waters, challenging the US embargo and the US’s threats. The Islamic Republic was broadcasting loud and clear a strong message.

The first message was dispatched to the US administration after Gulf and Arab Leaders conveyed a direct message to the Iranian leaders: “Washington is determined to stop the Iranian tankers sailing to Venezuela”. Iran responded to all messages received that “its five tankers will sail to Venezuela and if any of these tankers is intercepted, Iran will respond in the Straits of Hormuz, the Gulf of Oman or anywhere else it sees fit.”

“These five tankers – the Clavel, Fortune, Petunia, Forest and Faxul- are only the beginning of the supply to Venezuela. Iran has the right to send any of its tankers anywhere in the world and any US interception will be considered an act of piracy and will trigger a direct response,” said an Iranian decision-maker who revealed the Iranian response to the US administration via message-carriers.

“Iran had decided to avoid the horn of Africa because the plan was for the first tanker to reach the Venezuelan waters on the first day of Eid el-Fitr. The aim was to share an important day of the Islamic Republic’s defiance to the US in its backyard and to break the sanctions imposed on one of Iran’s main allies. It is a message for the “Axis of the Resistance” that Iran will not abandon its friends and allies anywhere in the world whatever the challenges. It is directly confronting the US by imposing a new rule of engagement”, said the source.

Iran shut its ears to all threatening messages from the US menace and instructed its five tankers to go not round the horn of Africa but through the Gulf of Aden via Bab al-Mandab strait, the Suez Canal and Gibraltar into the Atlantic Ocean- where the US has a strong presence and influence. This shortens the distance and it tested the intentions of the American Navy. Simultaneously, Iran informed its allies of its readiness to confront the US if ever an escalation should loom on the horizon so that these allies within the “Axis of the Resistance” are ready for a wider confrontation if needed.

The first Iranian tanker, “Fortune”, reached the Caribbean Sea on the first day of Eid al-Fitr, on Sunday 24th of May, with US Navy ships in the vicinity. The tankers are carrying over 10 million barrels of oil but also Alkylate and spare parts to start repairing any of the eight “out of order” refineries, to enable oil-rich Venezuela to be self-sufficient in the future. The US sanctions on Venezuela had paralyzed Venezuelan refineries and caused gasoline shortages, with the aim of overthrowing the legitimately elected President, Nicolas Maduro.

Iran is challenging the US administration and considers it a victory that its first tanker went through without being intercepted. Tehran considers this challenge to US authority much more significant than the downing of the US’s most sophisticated drone or the bombing of the US’s largest military base in Ayn al-Assad, Iraq.

“Our allies used to wonder why Iran was not confronting the US dominance face-to-face. In fact, we were preparing for this day, and what helps us the most is the US sanctions that force this country to be autonomous on many levels. Today, Iran and its allies are all equipped with strong ideology and motivation to face down US hegemony, with sufficiently advanced military and financial support to stand up to the US and its allies, both in the Middle East and outside the Middle East. Since World War II the US has not faced a challenge to its hegemony similar to the one Iran is representing, particularly when the main enemy, the US, believes that 40 years of sanctions and maximum pressure have crippled Iran’s capabilities. Imam Khamenei informed all our allies that the military and financial support to all of them will increase and will meet all their needs in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. The Axis of the Resistance is now ready and united as one front”, said the source.

Venezuela had asked President Vladimir Putin for help. Russia said clearly it was not willing to send ships close to the US coast because that might support President Trump by triggering a false threat which could lead to unifying the national feeling behind him. This is why Putin had to refuse Venezuela’s request. Iran came forward at the first demand and was grateful for the opportunity to challenge the US and to pay back the support Venezuela offered in the year 2008 when Iran was in need and under heavy US sanctions that forbid technology transfer to build or repair its own refineries. Since then, Iran has built 11 refineries (and 3 more in Pars, Anahita and Bahman Geno which are still under construction) and is considered the third most important country in the world to have developed Gas to Liquid technology (GTL).

Since the US assassinated Brigadier General Qassem Soleimani at Baghdad’s airport, Iran has imposed new rules of engagement on the US. Its message consists in the inevitability of a response against its enemies if they hit Iran, and the threat that no attack will go unanswered. It seems Iran is no longer ready to turn the other cheek and has decided to take special measures to respond to any attack against its troops or interests, including in Syria (more details will be provided in another article). Also, Iran and its allies have raised the level of readiness to maximum in case the US administration decides to attack any aspect of Iran’s interests, particularly the flotilla heading to Venezuela.

Iran is not facing the US directly, and is not asking its allies to do the job on its behalf. The “Persian rug weaver” waited through 40 years of sanctions for this day, until its capability and preparations were completed. This means that now Iran will be tougher and harder, and that is manifest in the election of the new parliament and the new government. President Trump has abused and exhausted all the avenues used by President Hassan Rouhani. Therefore, any new negotiation between Iran and the US will be very difficult: there is a total lack of trust in any document signed by the US.

Whether a Republican or a Democrat reaches the White House at the end of 2020, they will be waiting by the phone for many long years if they imagine that Iran will take the initiative and call the US for a meeting. It will now be up to the US to prove to Iran that it is worth holding any negotiations at all.

Iran has planted robust roots in Afghanistan, Palestine, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen. It is now spreading towards Venezuela and will support President Maduro, a strategic rather than ideological ally, to stand against US hegemony and sanctions. More tankers are expected to follow in the very near future. Iran is eager to confront President Trump and tempt him into a confrontation only months before the elections. The Coronavirus mismanagement, the US’s rebuttal of its deals with Russia, Trump’s aggressive position towards China and the World Health Organisation, and his rejection of the Iranian nuclear deal (JCPOA): all these are striking possibilities for a challenge to his re-election. This is why Iran is preparing more surprises for Trump- to show that his Middle Eastern policy is jeopardizing the safety and security of the US and its allies both in Europe and the Middle East, and indeed global world security.

Will Trump really start *two* wars instead of “just” one?

May 20, 2020

Will Trump really start *two* wars instead of “just” one?

[Note: this article was written for the Unz Review]

Amidst the worldwide pandemic induced scare most of us have probably lost track of all the other potential dangers which still threaten international peace and stability.  Allow me to list just a few headlines which, I strongly believe, deserve much more attention than what they got so far.  Here we go:

  • Military Times: “5 Iran tankers sailing to Venezuela amid US pressure tactics
  • Time: “5 Iranian Tankers Head to Venezuela Amid Heightened Tensions Between U.S. and Tehran
  • FoxNews: “Iran tankers sailing to Venezuela in effort to undermine US sanctions

Notice that Military Times speaks of “US pressure tactics”, Time of “tensions” and FoxNews of “efforts to undermined US sanctions”?

I don’t think that this is a coincidence.  Folks in the US military are much more in touch with reality than the flag-waving prostitutes which some people call “reporters” or “journalists”.

Furthermore, the USA has embarked on a new policy to justify its acts of piracy on the high seas with something called Visit, Board, Search and Seizure (VBSS) all under the pretext of the war on drugs.  To get a better understanding of the context of these developments I asked a specialist of Maritime issues of our community, NatSouth, who replied the following: (stress added)

If a ship does not comply with the request to be boarded, it is usual that the pursuing authorities must gain the permission of the ‘flag’ state prior to boarding, on the high seas and the pursuit has to have started in the coastal state’s jurisdictional waters. The caveat here is that in the Caribbean – Caribbean Regional Maritime Agreement (CRA) – (long name: Agreement Concerning Co-operation in Suppressing Illicit Maritime and Air Trafficking in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances in the Caribbean Area).  So, there is an agreement with participating coastal states on boardings and pursuits in EEZs and the like.  You can find more on the legal aspects of boardings at sea here  and more info on so-called “consensual boardings” here

The anti-drug/ counterterrorism angle allows the U.S. Navy and the USCG to carry out interdictions on the high seas. Important point to note whether this approach will be taken to interdict the tankers, given that Venezuela is a declared narco-State. The absurdity is that Venezuela isn’t the primary transit point in the region, Colombia holds that honour.

Tweet threat

If I could add at this point, the origins are that Venezuela didn’t wish to play ball with Washington anymore, specifically with the DEA back in 2005, squaring the circle of sorts, (or should that be a vicious circle cunningly used by Washington, because who is going to argue with that narrative, aka the war on terror). March: SOUTHCOM’s Adm. Faller: “There will be an increase in US military presence in the hemisphere later this year. This will include an enhanced presence of ships, aircraft, & security forces to reassure our partners… & counter a range of threats to include illicit narco-terrorism.” At the same time, the State dept released this so the US could effectively carry out boardings under the guise of counterterrorism as well.

While the Iranian tankers were in the Mediterranean, Washington released a (delayed) “Global Maritime Sanctions Advisory”, to the maritime industry, setting out guidelines to shipowners and insurers to enable them to avoid the risks of sanctions penalties related to North Korea, Syria and Iran. This also concerns oil exports from Iran, (but doesn’t apply to Iranian flagged ships).  This came after the State Dept gave warning notice to oil companies  to stop operations, including Rosneft (Russia), Reliance (India) and Repsol (Spain).

Then NatSouth concluded the following:

Under international law, every merchant ship must be registered with a flag state, which has jurisdiction over the vessel.  Hence, this time, the use of Iranian-flagged tankers, as a direct response from Washington’s latest version of restating “maximum pressure” campaign on enforcement of Iran and Venezuela sanctions, (back in Feb, literally the same language as in Aug 2019). There was talk back then of a naval embargo, which would a serious notch up in tensions. There was mention of the 4 U.S. warships in the Caribbean, the U.S. Navy tweeted about, but one the Preble went through the Panama Canal into the Pacific).

Pretty clear, isn’t it?

What the USA is doing is substituting itself for the United Nations and it is now openly claiming the right to board any vessel under whatever kind of pious pretext like, say, narco-trafficing, nuclear proliferation, sanctions against so-called “rogue states”, etc.   Clearly, the AngloZionists expect everybody to roll over and take it.

How likely is that?

Let’s look at a few Iranian headlines, all from PressTV:

  • PressTV, May 16th: “Iran’s fuel shipment to Venezuela guaranteed by its missile power
  • PressTV, May 17th: “US aware Iran will respond ‘very strongly’ if Venezuela-bound ships attacked: Analyst
  • PressTV, May 18th: “Iran: US bears responsibility for any foolish act against tankers heading to Venezuela

Three days in a row.  I think that it is fair to assume that the Iranians are trying very hard to convince Uncle Shmuel not to mess with these tankers.  Does anybody seriously believe that the Iranians are bluffing?

Before we look at some of the aspects of this potential crisis, let’s just mention a few things here.

First, the US is acting in total and official illegality.  Just like the bombing of Syria, the threats to Iran, or the US murderous sanctions Uncle Shmuel imposes left and right – the blockade of Venezuela is a) totally illegal and b) an act of war under international law.

Second, if USN commanders think they can operate with impunity only because the Caribbean is far away from Iran, they are kidding themselves.  Yes, Iranian forces cannot defend these tankers so far away from home, nor can they take any action against the USN in the Atlantic-Caribbean theater of naval operations.  But what they can and will do is retaliate against any AngloZionist target in the Middle-East, including any oil/gas tanker.

Third, while Venezuela’s military is tiny and weak compared to the immensely expensive and bloated US military, being immensely expensive and bloated is no guarantee of success.  In fact, and depending on how the Venezuelan leadership perceives its options, there could be some very real risk for the USA in any attempt to interfere with the free passage of these ships.

What do I mean by that?

Did you know that Venezuela had four squadrons of Su-30MKV for a total of 22 aircraft?  Did you know that Venezuela also had an unknown number of Kh-31A supersonic anti-shipping missiles?  And did you know that Venezuela had a number of S-300VM and 9K317M2 Buk-M2E long range and medium range SAMs?

True, that is nowhere near the amount of weapons systems Venezuela would need to withstand a determined US attack, but it is more than enough to create some real headaches for US planners.  Do you remember what the Argentinian Air Force did to the British Navy during the Malvinas war?  Not only did the Argentinians sink two Type 42 guided missile destroyers (the HMS Sheffield and the HMS Coventry) which were providing long-range radar and medium-high altitude missile picket for the British carriers, they also destroyed 2 frigates, 1 landing ship, 1 landing craft, 1 container ship.  Frankly, considering how poorly defended the British carriers were, it is only luck which saved them from destruction (that, and the lack of sufficient number of Super Étendard strike aircraft and Exocet missiles).  I would add here that the British military, having been defeated on many occasions, has learned the painful lessons of their past defeats and does not suffer from the cocky-sure attitude of the US military.  As a result, they were very careful during the war against Argentina and that caution was one of the factors which gave a Britain well-deserved the victory (I mean that in military terms only; in moral terms this was just another imperialist war with all the evil that entails).  Had the Argentinians had a modern air force and enough anti-shipping missiles, the war could have taken a very different turn.

Returning to the topic of Venezuela, war is a much more complex phenomenon than just a struggle of military forces.  In fact, I strongly believe that political factors will remain the single most important determinant factor of most wars, even in the 21st century.  And chances are that the Venezuelans, being the militarily weaker side, will look to political factors to prevail.  Here is one possible scenario among many other possible ones:

Caracas decides that the US seizing/attacking the Iranian tankers constitutes an existential threat to Venezuela because if that action goes unchallenged, then the US will totally “strangle” Venezuela.  Of course, the Venezuelan military cannot take on the immense US military, but what they could do is force a US intervention, say by attacking one/several USN vessel(s).  Such an attack, if even only partially successful, would force the US to retaliate, bringing US forces closer not only to Venezuelan air defenses, but also closer to the Venezuelan people which will see any US retaliation as an illegitimate counter-counter-attack following the fully legitimate Venezuelan counter-attack.

Then there is the problem of defining victory.  In the US political “culture” winning is usually defined as pressing a few buttons to fire off some standoff weapons, kill lots of civilians, and then declare that the “indispensable nation” has “kicked the other guy’s ass”.  The problem with that is the following one: if they other guy is very visibly weaker and has no chance for a military victory of his own, then the best option for him is to declare that “surviving is winning” – meaning that if Maduro stays in power, then Venezuela has won.  How would the USA cope with that kind of narrative?  Keep in mind that Caracas is a city of over two million people which even in peacetime is rather dangerous (courtesy of both regular crime and potential guerilla activities).  Yet, for Maduro to “win” all he has to show is that he controls Caracas.  Keep in mind that even if the US forces succeed in creating some kind of “zone of real democracy” somewhere near the Colombian border, that will mean nothing to Maduro, especially considering the terrain between the border and the capital city (please check out this very high resolution map of Venezuela or this medium resolution one).  As for the notion of a USN landing on the shores of Venezuela, all we need to do is to remember how the immense Hodgepodge of units which were tasked with invading Grenada (including 2 Ranger Battalions, Navy Seals, most of an Airborne Division, etc. for a total of over 7,000 soldiers(!) against a tiny nation which never expected to be invaded (for details, and a good laugh, see here for a full list of participating US forces!) was defeated by the waves of the Caribbean and the few Cuban military engineers who resisted with small-arms fire (eventually, most of the 82AB was calling in to fix this mess).

In other words, if Maduro remains in power in Caracas then, in political terms, Venezuela wins even though it would loose in purely military terms.

This phenomenon is hardly something new, as shown by the following famous quote by Ho Chi Minh: “You can kill ten of my men for every one I kill of yours. But even at those odds, you will lose and I will win.”

By the way, this is exactly the same problem the Empire faces with Iran: as long as the Islamic Republic remains an Islamic Republic it “wins” in any exchange of strikes with the USA and/or Israel.

Still, it is pretty obvious that the US can turn much of Venezuela into a smoking heap of ruins.  That is true (just like what the USA did to Korea, Vietnam, Iraq or Serbia and Israel what did to Lebanon in 2006).  But that would hardly constitute a “victory” in any imaginable sense of the word.  Again, in theory, the US might be able to secure a number of landing locations and then send in an intervention force which could try to take key locations in Caracas.  But what would happen after that?  Not only would the hardcore Chavistas trigger a guerilla insurrection which would be impossible to crush (when is the last time the USA prevailed in a counter-insurgency war?), but many Venezuelans would expect the US to pay for reconstruction (and they would be right, according to the rules of international law, “once you take it, you own it” meaning that the USA would become responsible for the socio-economic situation of the country).  Finally, there is always the option of an anti-leadership “decapitating” strike of some kind.  I believe that in purely military terms, the US has the know-how and resources to accomplish this.  I do not believe that this option would secure anything for the USA, instead – it would further destabilize the situation and would trigger some kind of reaction by the Venezuelan military both outside and inside Venezuela.  If anything, the repeated failures of the various coup attempts against Chavez and Maduro prove that the the bulk of the military remains firmly behind the Chavistas (and the failed coup only served to unmask the traitors and replace them anyway!).

The bottom line is this: if Uncle Shmuel decides to seize/attack the Iranian tankers, there is not only a quasi certitude of a war between the US and Iran (or, at the very least, an exchange of strikes), but there is also a non-trivial possibility that Maduro and his government might actually decide to provoke the USA into a war they really can’t win.

Is Trump capable of starting a process which will result in not one, but two wars?

You betcha he is!  A guy who thinks in categories like “my button is bigger than yours” or “super-dooper weapons” obviously understands exactly *nothing* about warfare, while the climate of messianic narcissism prevailing among the US ruling classes gives them a sense of total impunity.

Let’s hope that cooler heads, possibly in the military, will prevail.  The last thing the world needs today is another needless war of choice, never mind two more.

The Saker

US aware Iran will respond ‘very strongly’ if Venezuela-bound ships attacked: Analyst

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)


Sunday, 17 May 2020 5:03 PM

The United States is aware of Iran’s military might and knows from the recent experience of the Islamic Republic’s retaliatory strikes in the wake of the assassination of anti-terror commander Lt. General Qassem Soleimani that Tehran will defend itself “very strongly” if Washington dared to attack its fuel-carrying vessels en route to Venezuela, says an American analyst.

Stephen Lendman, an author and political commentator in Chicago, made the remarks in a phone interview with Press TV on Sunday, while commenting on reports suggesting that Iran is shipping tons of gasoline to Venezuela in defiance of US sanctions on both countries.

Unconfirmed reports and tanker monitoring groups said at least five Iranian-flagged tankers are transporting fuel to Venezuela through the Atlantic Ocean despite US sanctions targeting both Tehran and Caracas.

Iran has intentionally hoisted its own flag over the huge tankers and is shipping large consignments of gasoline to Venezuela even though the US could try to intercept the shipments and seize the tankers.

The US Navy is said to have deployed its USS Detroit (LCS-7), USS Lassen (DDG-82), USS Preble (DDG-88), and USS Farragut (DDG-99) to the Caribbean along with its patrol aircraft Boeing P8-Poseidon for possible encounter with the Iranian vessels.

This comes as Iran has the upper hand thanks to its missile power, which was showed off to the US when retaliatory missile attacks by Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) in January pounded the Ain al-Assad Airbase in Iraq, which accommodated American troops.

Following is the full transcription of Lendman’s interview with Press TV website:

Reportedly Iran is shipping gasoline to Venezuela. Venezuela’s oil industry and refining capacity has been greatly eroded because of US sanctions that have deprived the country of needed revenues.Same thingis happening in Iran, of course, and to other nations that the US has waged sanctions war on.

Iran and Venezuela have cooperative relations. Both countries have cooperative relations with many other countries. The US is the belligerent, not Iran, not Venezuela. Those countries threaten nobody. They are at war with nobody. Their economic ties are perfectly legal. The US sanctions are perfectly illegal. There was nothing legal about US sanctions unilaterally imposed on any country. I’ve said this many times and written it. The only authority to impose sanctions on any nations comes from the Security Council, not from any one nation against another, and they are no exception to that law.

So US sanctions are illegal. Economic relations between Iran and Venezuela are entirely legal. They can ship anything; either country can ship any products to the other country. They could do the same thing to any other countries. This is what international commerce is all about, perfectly legal and acceptable. What will the US do? Well, nobody can predict exactly what it might do.

The last time the US acted with hostility against Iran by assassinating General Soleimani in January, Iran responded very harshly to the US. The US knows that Iran is not a weak power. It can defend itself. If attacked, it certainly could defend itself very strongly. If the vessel was seized, well maybe Iran will seize the US vessel. So, Iran can certainly respond and it will respond to any illegal actions the US takes against its vessel so on the high seas or any other illegal actions that cause harm to the country. The US is aware of that.

Will it interdict the Iranian vessels? Apparently five of them are on the way to Venezuela with gasoline, maybe more to come after this. Iran has sent technicians to Venezuela to help restore its refining capacity. China has done the same thing. Technicians for both countries are working in Venezuela, helping to restore the refineries and this will happen; they’re trading with Venezuela. I don’t think the US would dare attack China but you never know, because there are lunatics in Washington and the actions of lunatics can never be predicted.

But one thing that people with the least or a little sanity want you to know that if the US conducts a hostile act against Iran, Iran will respond appropriately in kind. And it will happen, probably pretty quickly. My guess is the ships will arrive at the destination but I certainly can’t say that with assuredness, because again, nobody could predict what the US is doing. And what it’s doing already? Waging wars against multiple countries, hot wars, and by other means sanctions, state terrorism, things like this.

A nation that acts this way against other nations might end up doing anything either willfully or by accident, so nobody knows. But I wrote about the shipment of gasoline for Miranda, Venezuela. I’ll follow this issue. If there are any developments I write more about it. I hope the vessels will arrive without incident and more to follow, and maybe over time, a little bit of normality will come to both countries because hopefully, the world community at one point will no longer put up with US aggression. That’s the only way to solve this problem.

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العقيدة العسكرية الأميركية الجديدة وداعاً غرب آسيا موسم الهجرة الى مالاقا

محمد صادق الحسيني

في ظل مجموعة الهزائم، التي لحقت بالولايات المتحدة الأميركية، خلال الثلاثة عقود الماضية، وفي ظل فشل جنرالاتها في تحقيق أي انتصار عسكري، على الرغم من أنهم يعاملون بعد أحداث 11 أيلول 2001 “كما كان يعامل جنرالاتنا بعد الحرب العالمية الثانية”، كما يقول الكاتب الأميركي، جيم ويب (Jim Webb ) في موضوع طويل، نشره في صحيفة ذي ناشيونال انترِست الأميركية The Nationai Interest بتاريخ 8/5/2020، في ظل كل هذا، ونظراً لأن الكونغرس الأميركي وكثيراً من السياسيين وصناع القرار في الولايات المتحدة، لم يأخذوا بآراء ونصائح القيادات العسكرية ذات الاختصاص، بدأ القائد الجديد لمشاة البحرية الأميركية ( Marine Corps ) التي تأسست سنة 1775، بدأ بالعمل على تنفيذ خطة تقليص واعادة هيكلة لهذا الفرع، من القوات المسلحة الأميركية.

اما اهم العناصر التي تضمنتها خطة الجنرال ديفيد بيرغر ( David Berger ) لتقليص حجم قوات المارينز (مشاة البحرية الأميركية) فهي التالية:

ان متطلبات الحروب المقبلة لم تعد تتوافق او تتطابق مع المهمات التي كانت تنفذها قوات المارينز سابقاً، والتي تمثلت في القيام بعمليات إنزال بحري كبيرة، وإقامة رؤوس جسور على اليابسة، وتوسيع العمليات العسكرية، وإنما يجب أن تكون مهمات المارينز مستقبلاً منطلقة من خطط عمليات بحرية منسقة ومتكاملة.
وهذا يعني، في تقديري، أن طبيعة المهمات القتالية التي ستكلف بتنفيذها قوات المارينز الأميركية، في مسارح العمليات الجديدة، ستكون مختلفة عما عرفناه من تكتيكات قتالية لهذة القوات. وستكون عملياتها تكتيكية من ناحية الشكل وحجم القوات واستراتيجية في هدفها، المتمثل في إلحاق الهزيمة بالعدو او إخضاعه للشروط الأميركية على الصعيد السياسي.

يجب أن تنسحب قوات المارينز من الشرق الاوسط، الذي مثَّل تواجدها فيه خطأً من الأساس، والتوجه الى جنوب شرق آسيا، حيث كان على الولايات المتحدة أن تترك تلك المنطقة أصلاً ولا تنخرط في صراعات الشرق الاوسط. وهذا ما يتطلب إعادة الهيكلة وتقليص عدد قوات المارينز.
وهو يهدف من وراء ذلك، في تقديري، الى تقليص النفقات وزيادة فاعلية هذه القوات وتطوير مهماتها وتغيير طبيعة تلك المهمات، نظراً لتغير مسارح العمليات، حيث لم تعد مطلوبة إقامة رؤوس جسور على اليابسة وتثبيت سيطرتها على نقاط معينة تمهيداً لنزول القوات البرية على اليابسة لتشن هجوماً برياً ضد قوات العدو. وذلك لأن العدو في جنوب آسيا سيكون الصين الشعبية وستكون المواجهة معها مختلفة عن الحروب السابقة. اي انها ستكون مزيجاً من عمليات بحرية وأخرى إلكترونية (سايبر).

من هنا فإن أهم ما سيقوم بة الجنرال ديفيد بيرغر، في اطار التقليص وإعادة الهيكلة لقوات المارينز، هي الخطوات التالية:
أ) تسريح ثلاث كتائب مقاتلة، اي 14% من عديد قوات المارينز، بحيث تقتصر القوات على 21 كتيبة مقاتلة، والتي ستكون كافية لتلبية احتياجات الميدان للقوات البحرية والقوات المشتركة.

ب) تقليص عديد الكتائب الواحدة والعشرين المتبقية بواقع مئتي جندي من كل كتيبة. وهو ما يعني تسريح أربعة آلاف ومئتي جندي من قوام هذه القوات، اضافة الى الكتائب الثلاث، المذكورة اعلاه والتي تقرر تسريح جميع أفرادها.

ج) تسريح كتيبتي مشاة، من اصل ثماني كتائب مقاتلة عاملة حالياً، اي الاستغناء عن 25% من القوة القتالية من المشاة.

د) حل ست عشرة كتيبة مدفعية قتالية، اي 76% من حجم سلاح المدفعية، التابع لمشاة البحرية. والاستعاضة عنها بأربع عشرة كتيبة مدفعية صاروخية، ستكون قادرة على تأمين النجاح في الحملات البحرية (المقبلة).

هـ) الاستغناء عن كل الدبابات، العاملة في سلاح المارينز الأميركي، وتغطية تأثير الاستغناء عنها عبر الجيش الأميركي.

وهذا يعني، حسب تقديري، تقليص النفقات، وطلب الدعم المدروس من القوات البرية الأميركية، في حال احتاجت قوات المارينز للمدرعات في اية عمليات بحرية مقبلة، وذلك بسبب تغير طبيعة المهمات القتالية التي ستقوم بها المارينز في مسارح العمليات الجديدة في جنوب آسيا.

و) حل سربين، من أسراب المروحيات السبع عشرة العاملة حالياً، وذلك لعدم الحاجة اليها بعد حل كتيبتين من كتائب المشاة.

يرجع هذا القرار، حسب تقديري، الى ان هذه المروحيات كانت تستخدم في عمليات نقل كتيبتي المشاة، المشار إليها اعلاه وتقديم الدعم الناري لتلك القوات في ميادين القتال.

ز) حل ثلاثة أسراب، من أصل أسراب مروحيات النقل الجوي الثقيلة الثماني، العاملة حالياً ضمن قوات المارينز الأميركية.

يرجع هذا القرار، حسب رأينا، الى تغيير العقيدة القتالية للمارينز، والتي لم تعد تعتمد القيام بعمليات إنزال بحري لتأمين رؤوس جسور للقوات البرية، عند إنزالها الى اليابسة، وإنما اتباع التكتيك الجديد المتمثل في تنفيذ عمليات إنزال بحري ليست كبيرة (هذا لا يعني أن تكون صغيرة)، يقوم أفرادها بمهاجمة اهداف العدو وتدميرها والسيطرة على مواقعها، او التدمير ثم الانسحاب، وذلك يعود لطبيعة الهدف المعادي وأهميتها العسكرية والجغرافية. علماً ان مسرح العمليات هذا سيكون بحار الصين (الجزر الصينية) وغرب المحيط الهادئ.

ح) الاستغناء عن سربين، على الأقل، من أسراب المروحيات الهجومية السبعة، العاملة حالياً في عداد قوات المارينز. وذلك لانها لم تعد ضرورية لعملياتنا، بعد الاستغناء عن ثلاث كتائب مشاة.

وهذا يعني، طبقاً لقراءتنا ايضا، ان حاجة المارينز لهذه المروحيات قد انتفت بسبب الاستغناء عن كتائب المشاة، المشار اليها اعلاه، والتي كانت المروحيات تقدم لها الدعم الناري خلال العمليات على الارض.

ط) اعادة تقييم حاجتنا، قوات المارينز، لطائرات إف 35 / F 35 /، آخذين في الاعتبار :

قلة الطيارين وصعوبة تدريب طيارين جدد ومشاكل الصيانة واستدامة الطائرات. الى جانب الصعوبات المالية والصناعية.

وهذا يعني، حسب ما أرى، ان موازنة قوات المارينز لا تسمح باقتناء هذا النوع من الطائرات، ذات الأسعار الخيالية. والاهم من ذلك الإشارة الى الصعوبات الصناعية وهو تعبير يستخدم لتغليف او لتجميل عبارة المشاكل الفنية التي تعاني منها الطائرة وبالتالي عدم ملاءمتها لتأمين الغطاء الجوي او لتقديم الدعم الجوي، المطلوب لعمليات الكوماندو البحرية، وهو الطابع الذي ستتخذه مهمات المارينز الأميركية مستقبلاً.

انطلاقاً من كل ما تقدم فلا بد لنا من التأكيد على قول شاعرنا، ابو الطيب المتنبي، عندما قال:
“ولا يصح في الإفهام شيء اذا احتاج النهار الى دليل”

إذ إن سحب القوات الأميركية، وأسلحتها، من “الشرق الاوسط” ومن دول الجزيرة العربية والعراق على وجه الخصوص، لم يعد أمنية او خيالاً وانماً تحول الى واقع ملموس وسيستمر، الى ان يستكمل قبل نهاية هذا العام او بداية العام المقبل…!

نقول هذا لان كل وقائع ميادين الصراع الدولي تؤكد ان موسم الرحيل والهجرة الى مضيق مالاقا يتسارع بشكل كبير، وما خطط قائد المارينز الأميركي الجديد الا جزء من هذا الرحيل. وهو رحيل عن جبل طارق المتوسطي الى جبل طارق الآسيوي، كما يسمّي البريطانيون مضيق مالاقا.

ميدان الصراع الجديد هو بحار الصين، بعد ان هزمت الولايات المتحدة، ومشاريعها التدميرية في منطقتنا التي يسمّيها الغربيون بالشرق الاوسط. تلك المشاريع التي ساهمت في تدمير القدرات الأميركية، على مدى 30 عاماً، استغلتها جمهورية الصين الشعبية وروسيا وإيران في تطوير قدراتها، وعلى جميع الصعد، مما حول الصين الى القوة الاقتصادية الأعظم في العالم، كما حول روسيا الى القوة العسكرية الأقوى دولياً (الصواريخ الفرط صوتية والاسلحة الكهرومغناطيسية) وجعل إيران دولة إقليمية عظمى قادرة على تحدي القوة العسكرية الأميركية وحشرها في الزاوية.

كما أن هذه الغفوة الأميركية، بنتائجها، والتحولات الاقتصادية والعسكرية في “الشرق الاوسط” والعالم، والتراجع الكبير في المكانة الاستراتيجية لمنطقة غرب آسيا عامة ودولها الوظيفية خاصة، قد تركت أعراب النفط في الخليج ومعهم حاخامهم، بنيامين نتن ياهو، يتامى يندبون حظهم، بينما يواصل حلف المقاومة بناء قدراته العسكرية والعض على الجرح والصبر العظيم بانتظار فتح القدس وتحرير فلسطين المقبل لا محالة كما هو يوم القيامة الذي لا ريب فيه ولا تردّد…!

أتى أمر الله فلا تستعجلوه.

بعدنا طيبين قولوا الله.

Is US Navy’s international presence shrinking? Is Pentagon mulling over new plans to counter rivals?


May 9, 2020 – 11:36

An inevitable new world order, rise of new military, economic and political powers in key regions worldwide as well as the idea of vulnerability of the US Navy’s supercarriers in a possible military confrontation with international rivals have pushed the Pentagon to come to the conclusion that it must conduct structural reforms in arrangement of its forces overseas.   

Steve Cohen, an attorney at Pollock Cohen LLP in New York, and a former member of the board of directors of the United States Naval Institute has drafted a report on the possibilities of a new approach adopted by the US Navy to replace its supercarriers with the smaller but more operational warships.

“When word of a crisis breaks out in Washington, it’s no accident that the first question that many people ask is, ”Where’s the nearest carrier?” former President Bill Clinton made that remark in 1993 while visiting the aircraft carrier Theodore Roosevelt — the same ship at the center of another crisis today. But disturbingly, while the Navy has 11 carrier strike groups, only three are actually at sea.

“With its 70 planes, six to 10 cruise missile-equipped destroyer escorts, a supply ship and an attack submarine lurking beneath the surface, the carrier strike group has been the Navy’s core asset for the past 75 years. It is therefore surprising that a recent story coming out of Secretary of Defense Mark Esper’s office — that the Navy was considering cutting two carriers from the fleet — didn’t generate more news. Moreover, the report also suggested that the two mega-warships be replaced by 65 small “corvettes,” some of them unmanned,” Cohen explained in his report published by The Hill.

Three concerns undoubtedly drive the secretary’s trial balloon: 1) Supercarriers are incredibly expensive; 2) Reports of a new Chinese cruise missile suggest that carriers are more vulnerable to attack, and 3) World threats are changing, and carriers may not be the best platform to meet coming challenges.

It is understandable that the Department of Defense (DOD) would want to consider the savings generated by cutting two carriers. The USS Gerald Ford — the first ship in the new class of supercarriers replacing the Nimitz class of carriers that entered the fleet in 1975 — cost about $13 billion. That includes about $2.4 billion in cost overruns to work out kinks in the ship’s launch, landing, and weapons elevator systems. Future ships in the class — currently being built, but not estimated to be fleet-ready before 2024 — cost about $12 billion each.

The cost of these individual ships is a constant sticking point with defense planners because of the need to increase the size of the fleet. The past few presidential administrations have agreed that 355 capital ships is the minimum number the Navy needs to carry out its assigned missions. With the Navy’s current inventory of only 297 battle-force ships, the Congressional Budget Office estimates that the Navy would have to spend at least $26 billion per year just on construction for the next 30 years to reach that 355-ship goal by 2048. But that investment level is 80 percent more than what the Navy has spent over the past 30 years — and 50 percent more than it has spent over the past six years alone.

But cost isn’t the only concern. There has been a rash of news stories about new Chinese anti-ship “stand-off” missiles whose range and ballistic speeds exceed the combat radius of American carrier aircraft and cruise missiles. Navy strategists worry not only that our fleet will be pushed so far from potential conflict zones as to be inconsequential, but that the carriers will themselves become inviting and vulnerable targets.

The third main issue is what roles the Navy will be expected to play, and what foes we will likely encounter. The composition of the fleet must, of course, emerge from those assessments. The mix of “high-low” — large/sophisticated ships and smaller vessels — is and has always been subject to constant reassessment and debate. The general consensus is that we should plan for “near-peer” conflicts with China and Russia, and place less emphasis on the need to respond to non-state actors engaged in regional or terrorist activities. To counter such emerging threats, military planners agree that we need presence, capability, and survivability/sustainability.

That is why the suggestion to replace two giant nuclear-powered carriers with a swarm of small, fast, lightly-armed frigates and corvettes — neither of which now exist in the American Navy — seems so disingenuous. The Navy’s last attempt at small, fast, lightly-crewed ships with the theoretical potential to quickly swap out mission packages was the LCS. And that has proved to be a disaster. The real debate should be between building more Ford-class supercarriers versus smaller, non-nuclear “lightning” carriers based on existing, in-service America-class ships.

These smaller carriers, the first of which was USS America, is an 840-foot vessel that was originally designed to transport and support Marines in amphibious and projection operations. Unlike the 1,106-foot Ford or similarly-sized Nimitz class carriers, America cannot launch or recover traditional jet aircraft; it has no catapults or arresting wires. Instead, it was designed to deploy helicopters and V-22 Osprey tilt-rotor hybrid planes. But with the introduction of the F-35B fighter/attack jets — the Marine Corps’ version of the next-generation plane that can take off and land vertically — the America class ships could have a pivotal new role. Even with the added expense of reinforcing America’s deck to withstand the extreme heat of the F-35’s engines when they point downward during take-off and landing, the cost of such smaller carriers is about $4 billion each, or one-third the cost of the Ford-class ships. 

An America class ship can typically house 12 F-35B’s and could support up to 20 by excluding other types of aircraft. A Ford-class carrier will typically deploy 44 F-35s and carry an additional 30 other aircraft at the same time. Such a trade-off, while economically appealing, is not simple. Are three smaller America class carriers deploying a total of 36 F-35Bs truly the equal of one Ford-class ship deploying 44 F-35s? Or, in the face of emerging (or multiple) threats, is it better to have more ships of lesser individual capability available?

As one retired three-star admiral — a former carrier strike group commander — said to me, “One of the things CSGs provide is deterrence. To do that, they need to be ‘there’ — they have to be deployed and in the area of potential hot spots. Today, with 11, the Navy still can’t meet the demand of COCOMs. Going to nine will only make that worse.”

Such questions of defense strategy and power projection merit broader debate. The technical issues of operating range, defensive countermeasures, staffing, maintenance, and operating costs should be the province of Navy planners. But the larger questions of strategy require serious bipartisan consideration. These are questions of national purpose and security, and ought not to be dominated by whatever party controls the White House or Congress at the moment.

Defense budgets are not unlimited and are unlikely to grow dramatically in the coming years, making tough decisions even more daunting. But they must be made now because as recent events have demonstrated, the future can ambush us at any time. And when it does, all presidents — hawks and doves alike — inevitably will ask, “Where are the carriers?”

“We had better have enough,” Cohen concluded.



South Front

The US-Iranian standoff in the Persian Gulf has once again entered an acute phase. On April 22, US President Donald Trump announced that he had ordered the US Navy to “shoot down and destroy” Iranian gunboats that follow or harass US ships. In response, Commander-in-chief of the Islamic Revolution Guards Corps, Major General Hossein Salami declared on April 23 that Iran will provide a swift, “decisive” and “effective” response to US forces if they threaten Iranian “vessels or warships”.

One of the reasons behind the escalation is the consistent and strengthening anti-Iranian rhetoric of the White House as a part of Trump’s presidential campaign. Another driving force of the US actions is likely the sharpening global economic crisis and the turmoil on the energy market that has led to the dramatic collapse of oil prices. Indeed, a new conflict in the Persian Gulf could theoretically return the oil prices to $50-60 per barrel.

In the current situation, Iran is not interested in an escalation of the conflict with the United States. The escalation could, however, be instigated by the US military:

  • A warship or a group of warships could enter Iranian territorial waters;
  • A US military aircraft could violate Iranian airspace;
  • US forces could block for Iran the civilian maritime traffic through the Strait of Hormuz, or detain an Iranian oil tanker;
  • Warships of the US Navy could imitate an attack on an Iranian submarine;

Iranian forces would have to respond to such a provocation. Thus, a military confrontation could start. After initiating a localized military incident, the White House would accuse Iran of aggressive actions against US forces and the US navy could carry out a demonstrative missile strike on a target or several targets inside Iran. Such an attack would prompt an Iranian response that would involve both its regular and irregular warfare capabilities.

The IRGC Navy doctrine reflects irregular warfare principles that include the use of surprise, deception, speed, flexibility and adaptability, decentralization and highly mobile and maneuverable units,  all of which are used at sea. These include hit-and-run style surprise attacks or the amassing of large numbers of means and measures to overwhelm the enemies’ defenses. In this scenario the employed naval forces might be described as a mosquito-like swarm of small boats using their size and maneuverability to track and hunt down enemy warships.

The IRGCN’s mosquito-fleet concept enables rapid formation of tactical groups of small crafts to carry out a surprise strike at any given time from different directions in a particular area of the offshore zone. Such groups can deploy in attack formation immediately prior to reaching the area of the attack.

Crafts from the formation reach their assault line position either independently or in small groups. This is the way the Iranian Navy would employ the swarm concept. It is important to note the high motivation and ideological training of the mariners involved, who well understand the high level of threat to them personally in the event of the employment of this tactical scheme. IRGCN personnel are motivated and ready to accomplish any feat to defend their homeland. This factor (the high motivation of the personnel) makes a mosquito-fleet armed with missile, torpedo and anti-air weapons especially dangerous to naval forces of the US.

Th aircraft carriers and large warships of the US naval group would become the main priority target of the Iranian response. In the event that the Iranian attack succeeds, the US would have to carry out a massive strike on Iranian infrastructure objects or political and military command centers. Teheran would have either to accept their defeat in this limited confrontation or to respond with another attack on US forces in the region.

Current US military doctrine dictates the prior employment of mobile interoperable forces, unmanned and robotized systems, as well as massive strikes with high precision weapons in conjunction with the maximum usage of electronic warfare and information warfare. If the confrontation develops further the US would be forced to conduct a limited landing operation on key parts of the Iranian coast. The success of such a limited operation under the likely condition of a strong Iranian military response is improbable. Furthermore, the move would be hampered by the weak psychological condition of US service members caused by current developments inside the US.

The US military would have to either retreat or venture on to a large-scale military operation in the Persian Gulf region. If the number of forces involved does not allow Washington to deliver a devastating blow to Iran within 1-2 weeks, China or Russia could intervene in some form likely turning the military standoff into a frozen conflict.

It is likely that despite all difficulties, the US would be able to create an occupation zone inside Iran, likely in the coastal area near the Strait of Hormuz. The Iranian oil trade would be fully blocked and the US shale industry would be rescued. At the same time, Washington would have to deal with a permanent insurgency in the occupied area.

Another possible scenario is the defeat of the United States in this limited conflict because of significant losses in warships, aviation and service members of the involved interoperable forces. In this case, US influence in the region would be drastically undermined and the White House would start drawing up plans of revenge.

Related News

US Defences Are Incapable of Intercepting Russian, Chinese Missiles, Navy Admiral Admits


15:27 GMT 28.02.2020

by Tim Korso20

The statement was made during a hearing devoted to the US plans to modernise American weapons and to possible ways the US can respond to the new cutting-edge weapons Russia rolled out in last two years.

US Navy Admiral Charles Richard has admitted that existing American air defences were not designed to counter modern hypersonic glide weapons, like the one recently deployed by Russia, and currently developed by China, and hence these weapons “challenge” the US, during an open hearing at the US House Subcommittee on Strategic Forces. He added that the Pentagon even has trouble determining the capabilities of modern weapons, although it still can make a reliable guess on what threat these weapons pose.

“It’s not that we have no ability to characterise the threat to this nation. The size of a raid alone starts to give us information as to what they might be able to do. We already don’t have the ability to characterise the payload on any inbound weapon system to the US, hypersonic or not”, he said.

In addition, while answering a question from House membeк Seth Moulton, Admiral Richard acknowledged that the US defence systems were not designed to counter any ballistic weapons capabilities of Russia and China, but only to protect from attacks by “rogue nations”. He noted that it would be “technically infeasible” due to the extreme costs of running such defences.

At the same time, Charles Richard noted that such a state of American defence doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s under threat by either Moscow or Beijing. He explained that the US relies on the strategic stability ensured by the ability of Washington to “impose [heavy] costs” on any nation, which might try to attack the US, using its own strategic arsenal.

Avangard hypersonic missile system

Russia’s Avangard Hypersonic Missile System Has Entered Service: What We Know So Far

The admiral made his statements during a hearing, which was devoted to the US plans to upgrade its arsenal and develop an appropriate response to new Russian cutting-edge weapons. Moscow recently presented and later deployed Avangard (Russian for “Vanguard”) hypersonic missiles, capable of travelling at speeds between 10 and 12 Machs and changing course mid-flight to avoid enemy defences. Russia is also completing the development of one-of-a-kind nuclear-powered ballistic missiles, capable of carrying nuclear warheads.


South Front

This video is based on the analysis “Can China Confront and Defeat the U.S. Navy?” released by SouthFront on January 4, 2020

China is on pace to achieve regional naval supremacy by the year 2025. This has been a long-term goal of the Chinese national and military leadership, the foundations of which were laid out in the early 1990s.

Chinese naval supremacy, and the absolute necessity of it on at least a regional basis, is tied not only to the development and security of the maritime segment of One Belt-One Road, but also access to China’s growing presence on the African continent. The modernization and expansion of the Peoples’ Liberation Army Navy (PLAN) has been conducted in parallel with the fortification of islands in the South China Sea and the establishment of military bases in and around the strategic Horn of Africa and the Strait of Hormuz. After centuries of isolationism, internal strife, a devastating cultural revolution and later an economic boom, China is now on the cusp of global expansion. This will not just be a limited or one-dimensional expansion, but one of economic, military and even cultural dimensions.

In contrast to the U.S. leadership of recent decades, the national and military leadership of the Chinese Communist Party has been diligent and focused on implementing long term programs. While both the military industrial complex of the U.S. and the authoritarian communist systems of government of these respective nations both breed rampant corruption, social and economic inequality, and a multitude of dysfunctionalities, the Chinese system is inherently more singular in focus, as all authoritarian regimes are. While one could reflect on U.S. foreign policy over the past forty years and determine that it has been quite haphazard, disjointed and even schizophrenic in nature, the opposite must be said of China. This fact becomes readily apparent when contrasting the development and expansion of the PLAN and that of the U.S. Navy.

A U.S. Navy in Disarray

It can rightly be asserted that the U.S. Navy is a force struggling to define its core mission and strategic focus as the year 2020 begins. Since the dissolving of the Soviet Union, the U.S. military industrial complex has encouraged a wasteful bureaucracy, an inept and overly confident civilian and military leadership, to invest vast sums of money in a growing wish list of high-tech weapons aimed at achieving full spectrum dominance over every possible adversary. Little thought was apparently given to the opportunity cost of investing in such programs, and how they would be employed in a broader national defense strategy. The U.S. Navy stands out as the worst example of these failures and is poised at a crossroads today.

After the Soviet Union disappeared as its chief adversary on the high seas, the U.S. Navy maintained its age old obsession with the aircraft carrier, and utilized its many aircraft carrier strike groups (ASG) to great effect in attacking any disobedient nation that lacked a robust navy or air defense system. While the modern ASG proved effective at power projection against weaker adversaries, its viability in a modern maritime environment heavily contested by a peer adversary has yet to be established. The U.S. Navy has decided to ignore this obvious fact and has continued to embrace the ASG as the cornerstone of naval strategic planning well into the future.

The U.S. Navy has maintained ten ASGs and launched the latest generation of aircraft carriers in the form of the Gerald R. Ford CVN-78 in 2013. Although commissioned in 2017, the carrier has yet to reach operational readiness and has been plagued by many technical problems with its most essential combat systems. The CVN-78 is the most expensive warship ever constructed, with current unit cost approaching $14 billion USD.

While the U.S. has invested vast sums of money, energy and focus in developing a massive new class of aircraft carrier, it has done very little to improve the one asset most crucial to the carrier, the carrier airwing that it carries into battle. Instead of committing to develop aircraft tailored to specific functions, the Navy chose to embrace the one-size-fits-all concept of the F-18 Super Hornet. In addition, the service also committed to this concept to a much larger degree, in throwing its support behind the F- 35 Joint Strike Fighter. Neither the F-18 nor the F-35 rectify rectifies the combat range deficiency now inherent in the aircraft carrier airwing. In short, an ASG will become a target of both land-based anti-ship ballistic missiles (ASBM) and even land-based Chinese aircraft equipped with anti-ship guided missiles, long before the ASG can achieve striking distance with its carrier borne aircraft. This problem becomes even more glaring when one considers the scenario of a Chinese battle group forward deployed and operating within range of its own land-based Anti-Air Warfare assets.

What has the U.S. Navy done to modernize and improve its surface warfare vessels over the past two decades? Not surprisingly, the service embraced new ship designs that were long on high-tech promise, yet did not fit into a specific, traditional and vital function within the broader strategic framework of the service. The Littoral Combat Ship (LCS) program and Zumwalt DDG-1000 programs were ill-conceived at the outset and resulted in two classes of vessels that consumed vast amounts of funding, time and energy that could have been used to improve upon traditional, proven warship designs. At an approximate unit cost of $350 million USD per LCS and $8 billion per DDG-1000, both vessels have proven long on cost and short on capability.

The Arleigh Burke class DDG is arguably the backbone of the U.S. Navy and is a highly effective and proven warship. The latest upgrade to the design, the Flight III, will not begin production until sometime between 2023 and 2029. A multi-purpose frigate vessel program known as the FFG(X), meant to pick up where the LCS failed, has yet to reach an advanced design phase. There are currently five contenders for the new FFG(X) proposal.

At the same time, there is no replacement at all planned for the aging Ticonderoga CG-47 class cruiser. The Ticonderoga class CGs perform a vital AAW and surface warfare function in the established U.S. Navy carrier strike group structure. The only other navy in the world fielding a similar warship is China’s, with the introduction of the first Type 055 class in 2018.

A Chinese Navy in Ascent

While the United States Navy struggles to identify its purpose and maintain its preeminence in the 21st century, the PLAN has embarked on a robust program of modernization and expansion based on sound strategic principles and proven technology.

China has produced a long list of modern, capable classes of warships in recent years. Not only has the PLAN designed, constructed and put a new generation of warships into operational service in the past two decades, it has engaged in an ambitious ship building program that has seen these vessels fielded at an unprecedented rate. Standardized designs for corvette, guided missile frigate (FFG), guided missile destroyer (DDG), large guided missile destroyer/cruiser (CG), landing platform dock (LPD), landing helicopter dock (LHD), and logistical support vessels of multiple classes have all been adopted and fielded in significant numbers in the past 20 years. Running in parallel to this, the PLAN has also developed a fledgling aircraft carrier program, including the 100% indigenous Type 001A Shandong. Such a feat is unparalleled in modern naval history.

The question must immediately be asked; why would a nation engage in such an ambitious program to transform and expand its naval warfighting capabilities in such totality? The answer is obvious. It intends to use this capability. But in what fashion and to what end?

In order for the Chinese nation to complete and secure the ambitious Old Belt-One Road economic trade corridor and to ensure the economic prosperity of the country into the next century, a sizeable navy of unparalleled capability will be required. Such a naval force is currently in an advanced state of completion, yet a further 5 years are likely required before the PLAN will be in a position to fight and win against a determined U.S. naval effort to confront it through force of arms.

If current production levels are maintained, the PLAN will field an impressive force of major surface warfare, amphibious warfare and aircraft carriers by 2025. By this time, major surface warfare combatants will include 50 x Type 056 Corvettes, 30 x Type 054A Frigates, 18 x Type 052D Destroyers, and 8 or more Type 055 Destroyers. The amphibious warfare fleet will be comprised of approximately 38 x LSTs, 8 x Type 071 LPDs, and at least 2 x Type 075 LHDs. The Type 001 Liaoning and Type 001A Shandong will both be operational, while the first of the much more capable Type 002 CATOBAR carriers will likely have reached operational status as well. These warships will be supported by no less than eleven logistics support and underway replenishment vessels and four garrison support vessels of modern design.

A major strategic advantage that China has achieved over the United States is that it has built the most robust and productive shipbuilding industry in the world. China has been ranked as the world’s top shipbuilder for 5 years now. The United States by contrast, ranks tenth. The gross tonnage of vessels of all types produced in Chinese shipyards; however, is 77 times greater than the total produced by U.S. shipyards.

The Greater Strategic Picture

It is important to view the development of both navies within the larger context of the respective geopolitical strategic positions of both countries. China undoubtably enjoys a stronger position today than it did a decade ago, while the opposite must be said for the United States. Not only has China gained greater political and economic influence on a global scale, but it has moved to secure military supremacy in all areas along its national borders, and increasingly within its expanding maritime territory. By contrast, the United States has lost both political and economic influence in many regions of the world, largely through its own failed policies

China has managed to develop greater economic ties with nations that have decided to participate in the One Belt-One Road project, which has also afforded them a greater political influence over these nations. China has negotiated the establishment of military bases, mostly logistical support facilities for its growing navy, which will also allow for the deployment of rapid reaction forces to deter and interdict threats to the One Belt-One Road trade corridor. China continues to solidify its presence on the Africa continent. The military base established in Djibouti, and fleet support agreements established in Gwadar, Pakistan and the African nation of Tanzania provide the resources needed to be able to exert military force if required to back up Chinese economic and political efforts on the continent.

Although the U.S. maintains numerous military bases and facilities in Africa to secure its own strategic interests in the region, it lacks the same political and economic influence that China has established. The U.S. military has been aiding a number of nations in Africa to battle Islamic extremist insurgents, but has made little investment in those nations in a broader sense, and thus exerts far less influence.

Although outside of the maritime sphere of influence of China, the nations of Europe have increasingly responded favorably to the promised benefits of the One Belt-One Road trade project. On a political and military level, China has largely remained out of European affairs. The same cannot be said for the United States.

While the Obama administration began the disastrous, multifaceted war against the Russian Federation, the Trump administration has only expanded it, while antagonizing its most traditional European allies in the process. The Trump administration appears to have doubled down on the failed Ukraine policies of its predecessor, increased U.S. military presence on the European continent, and has leveled trade tariffs on key allies. By propping up the phony Russian threat narrative with increased military deployments, the United States is squandering vast sums of money and diverting large contingents of front-line fighting forces to confront an enemy it knows to be a threat conceived through its own propaganda alone.

China has responded to the U.S. led effort to internationally isolate Russia, by leveraging its position to provide an alternate market for Russian goods. It has supplied political support for Russia on the world stage and has increased military cooperation with Russia in key regions where both nations share an interest and are forced to confront the United States. Both nations have increased bilateral cooperation in developing the northern arctic shipping route and have conducted joint naval exercises in the maritime regions of Europe, Asia and the Indian Ocean. Iran most recently joined the two in joint exercises in the Indian Ocean.

Can the PLAN Win?

A scenario where the PLAN and U.S. Navy engage in open conflict is improbable at present, yet not impossible. Although China has strengthened its position to such a degree in the South China Sea that no other nation, including the United States can change the strategic realities that exist there today, increasing interaction between PLAN and U.S. warships may lead to a tragic encounter. U.S. freedom of navigation patrols are largely symbolic in nature and do not present any real threat to Chinese interests in the region, yet they do require a response Such a situation could lead to a confrontation where an accident occurs, or an overzealous vessel commander makes a decision that leads to a military engagement which could escalate in a very short window of time.

It is most probable that China will do everything possible to avoid such a situation at present. This may not be the case after 2025, when the PLAN enjoys a much stronger position relative to the U.S. Navy and its allies in the Asia Pacific. China will occupy the central position, enjoy regional guided ballistic missile supremacy and be able to take advantage of land-based air assets in support of its navy. Surveillance and early warning facilities established on various artificial island and atolls will by then be fully operational.

If fire was exchanged between a U.S. warship and PLAN warship in the South China Sea, and the incident was not immediately deescalated, the U.S. vessel would inevitably be destroyed. The PLAN would suffer significant casualties in the exchange without doubt. China would immediately move to deny all access to the region through its already robust Anti-Access/Area Denial (A2/AD) capabilities. The United States would then have to decide what level of sacrifice would be acceptable to the state and the American public in rapidly deciding upon its level of military response. The authoritarian Chinese state would find this decision much easier to make.

The U.S. seventh fleet would be hard pressed to mount any immediate military response, beyond mounting a retaliatory attack via attack submarines forward deployed in the region. Any large effort mounted to attack Chinese island garrisons in either the Spratly or Paracel islands would be met with overwhelming force by a combination of anti-ship guided ballistic missiles, submarine, surface and air attack. It is hard to see any such scenario taking place, without the confrontation elevating to a full-spectrum war of global proportions. Most regional allies of the United States would calculate that such an outcome would render overwhelmingly negative results and would not outweigh the tragic loss of one or two U.S. warships and their crews.

Assuming that a hot war could be avoided, a new cold war would inevitable result between an ascendant China and a U.S. in decline. If current military, economic and political trends continue from the present through 2025, China will only strengthen its strategic position both regionally and globally, while the opposite will likely be the case for the United States. It is important to note that the leadership of both nations see such a conflict as undesirable and not inevitable, yet miscalculations, mistakes and poor judgement can scuttle any grand plans. History is unequivocal in this regard and must be analyzed and understood to avoid repeating disaster. We ignore the lessons of history at our peril, yet a current period bereft of insightful, measured and reasonable leadership in Washington, does not bode well for avoiding what may prove to be an unavoidable conflict between two global superpowers.

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