Tag Archives: military

MOAB’s and Afghanistan – Another Day, Another Munition Dropped

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By William Reynolds, a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William has worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENA).

The recent deployment of a GBU-34 Massive Ordinance Air Blast (MOAB) munition over ISIS territory in Afghanistan has grabbed headlines and sparked debate on President Trump’s strategy. Many attribute this deployment to a more muscular approach and possible signalling to both Syria and North Korea that the current administration is not messing around. This, of course, is reliant on one massive assumption: That Trump gave the order for the strike.

The MOAB is indeed one of the largest non-nuclear weapons that the US possesses in their inventory. However, the GBU-43 (MOAB) that was deployed has been incorrectly labelled as the most powerful in the US armoury. That honour falls to the GBU-57A/B Massive Ordinance Penetrator (MOP) at 30,000 lb (or 14,000 kg). Nevertheless, the MOAB cannot be considered to be in a ‘special category’ such as that which nuclear weapons inhabit. To the planners on the ground, the MOAB is simply another tool for the job. Indeed, during the Vietnam campaign is was not uncommon for the MOAB’s predecessor, the BLU-82 ‘Daisy Cutter’ to be deployed regularly against the National Liberation Front (NLF) and North Vietnamese Army (NVA). The MOAB simply falls into the same category as a Hellfire missile or 2,000 lb JDAM.

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It is with this in mind that we must question whether Trump explicitly ordered the deployment of such a munition. In general terms, an air strike is called in through a Forward Air Controller (FAC) who is deployed forward with the combat troops. FAC’s don’t necessarily control what ordinance is dropped. Close Air Support (CAS) strikes are not tailored fit for the platoon’s on the ground, rather they make do with whatever assets are assigned to that area of operations. Now a MOAB is most certainly not a munition deployed in the CAS role. Thus, there was pre-planning involved, possibly placed as a useable asset for the push into the ISIS-held region. Such munitions have proved valuable in the past when clearing out insurgents from rough terrain. The Tora Bora mountains in Afghanistan and Ho Chi Minh trail in Vietnam springing to mind.

Ultimately, the buck could have theoretically stopped anywhere along the chain of command. It could have gone as far as CENTCOM Commander Votel, the regional commander in Afghanistan or simply the acting commander of the occurring operation. Whoever did indeed give the go ahead, it does not signal a clear change in strategy. The US has always been focused on killing the insurgent. Whilst not particularly favourable in population-centric warfare, they are certainly good at it.

What commentators on the Afghan war should be looking at was the recent deployment of US Marines back into Helmand province. Whilst numbering only 300, the deployment of Marines usually signals an urge to regain the initiative and go on the offensive. Marines are shock troops first and foremost. Their deployment may signal a change in strategy in the region. Indeed, the deployment to Helmand in itself is a signal of sorts. Helmand has always been the stronghold of the Taliban post-2004, with multiple British, American and Dutch offensives turning up little in terms of major gains for ISAF. The deployment of Marines in the region can only mean the focus shifting away from the maintenance of Kabul’s security.

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This possible change in strategy has further intrigued commentators who note that as of today (09/05/17) NATO has requested additional troops from the UK to be deployed in Afghanistan. This will not mean another British Battle Group will place their feet on the tarmac of Camp Bastion again. But it does signal a possible resurgence of military power into the graveyard of empires.

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Bibliography:

https://www.mca-marines.org/site/styles/gallery_photo_image/public/importedFiles/files/1_461.jpg?tok=ONvy9loy-USMC

https://ichef-1.bbci.co.uk/news/624/media/images/78130000/jpg/_amoc-cct-2014-151-062.jpg-CampBastionMemorial

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Are they MAD to deploy THAAD?

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By William Reynolds, a 2nd year undergraduate studying War Studies. From a British Armed Forces background, William follows the military capabilities of the West and the security issues in the Middle East with great interest, placing special emphasis on COIN and the experiences of individuals on the ground. William has worked as a Research Fellow for Dr Whetham in the Centre of Military Ethics and is a spammer of many articles on the King’s Middle East and North Africa Forum (MENA).

East Asia has seen a significant deployment of military hardware by the US and its allies in response to increasing military activity on the part of the Chinese. The deployment of Terminal High-Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) systems in South Korea and the planned deployment of the Japanese Izumo class Helicopter Destroyer in disputed regions have certainly raised the ire of the Chinese. Whilst one could speculate what the Chinese response to such activities will be, this piece will simply focus on why said deployments have taken place, and what about them has provoked the PRC.

THAAD

THAAD is one of the most modern Ballistic Missile Defence (BMD) systems available to the US in the short to intermediate ranges. The system operates by destroying an incoming missile via the kinetic energy of its own missile system. However, the drawback to the device is that it can only target the incoming weapon system once it is in its terminal phase of the flight. Essentially, the incoming missile is on its final approach when THAAD is finally able to identify, lock on and attempt to destroy the target.

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Therefore, its deployment in South Korea (it should be operational by April according to PACOM sources) is clearly a result of North Korean missile testing. Assuming Mr Kim finally decided to watch the peninsula burn, THAAD would operate as South Korea’s very best hope of knocking out any incoming North Korean nukes.

So with THAAD only able to knock out intermediate missiles, and therefore unable to touch China’s ICBM’s, why does China view the deployment as a threat? There are two possible theories at this time. The X-band radar, which tracks targets for THAAD, is a powerful piece of kit. If it were to be turned westwards and pointed at Mainland China it could penetrate deep into Chinese territory. Naturally China is not particularly keen on US SIGINT monitoring Chinese airspace, where their own missile tests could be at risk. However, this assumes that the radar will be pointed that way. As the diagram highlights, pointing X-band westwards completely neutralises its primary task of watching North Korea for possible threats. It would be easier for USPACOM (United States Pacific Command) to deploy submarines or additional ISTAR (Information, Surveillance, Targeting Acquisition, and Reconnaissance) assets to watch the Chinese rather than waste expensive BMD systems on simple surveillance.

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The second, and far more likely, possibility is Chinese fear of containment. China has always viewed the Korean peninsula a vital security interest and the threat of a US, RoK and Japanese integrated missile defence system is intolerable. Regional missile defence complicates much of China’s military planning and security interests as THAAD operates as an area denial system for much of China’s hardware. A common phrase in any military is ‘move to live’. Area denial weapons hamper and restrict options for the Chinese military if the region did indeed come to blows. Just as NATO worries about the A2/AD (Anti-Access/Area Denial) systems in Kaliningrad, so does China worry about such systems on the Korean Peninsula.

This fear of containment influences much of China’s actions in the region. If one were to stand in Beijing, they would see the RoK and Japan to the East, Taiwan to the south and an increasingly US friendly Vietnam to the southwest. Whilst none of these countries operate as one single unit, the real possibility that these states, with US backing, could act to prevent Chinese movement clearly permeates Chinese policy. THAAD, as of this time, cannot be deployed on such a regional scale under one system. However, technology improves and the Americans have become quite adept at innovation when it comes to war.

This is not to say that China is justified in its opposition. Unable or unwilling to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions, China has little right to interfere in the sovereign security decisions of the RoK. Indeed, it was China’s own policies that brought THAAD closer to the RoK. One cannot also help but view said opposition to a Korean BMD as hypocritical. After all, China is developing its own BMD system.

The Izumo

The JS Izumo represented a significant maritime development for the JMSDF (Japanese Maritime Self-Defence Force). In the same class as the United Kingdom’s Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible, the ‘helicopter destroyer’ Izumo allows Japan to project power with both its helicopter detachment and on-board marines. Indeed, the designation ‘helicopter destroyer’ (DDH) is a somewhat new concept. Most destroyers in fleets around the world have the capacity to house one or two helicopters in order to conduct anti-submarine warfare or stop and searches. However, no known destroyers have the capacity to house such a vast quantity of aircraft. It is simply safer to ditch the political narrative and refer to the Izumo as what it truly is: a light aircraft carrier.

It is this designation that concerns China. Aircraft carriers are the offensive weapons of the fleet. Able to deploy air assets over large areas, carriers can project the power of its nation right into your city. Even if they have no airbases nearby. Thus, the deployment of one into the South China Sea, where Japan has no stakes or claims, is a worrying turn of events for China. Officially, the deployment is to test the ship on long duration operations. But it’s list of visits: Singapore, Indonesia, the Philippines and Sri Lanka, infer a different story. One could argue that this is a statement from the Japanese. That they are willing to leave their own waters and interests in order to support other Asian states in their quarrels. With the Izumo, they now have the capacity to do so.

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Conclusion

China’s concerns with recent military activity are indeed justifiable. The deployment of THAAD and the Izumo show a significant jump in the ‘West’ orientated states security policies and manoeuvring. However, what China fails to realise is that it was through its own actions that such policies were brought about. A muscular belligerence concerning the ‘Nine-Dash’ line and the Senkaku Islands has forced states to respond in kind. To many it may be viewed as the US asserting its hegemony in what should clearly be China’s region. However, China has failed to pick its fights well and has done more to unite the East-Asian states than anything the US could come up with. With President Trump we cannot be sure what US policy will continue to be. But Japan, and many other states in the region, has taken up the baton. We may very well see a more assertive collection of East Asian states on the horizon.

Bibliography:

http://www.lockheedmartin.com/content/dam/lockheed/data/mfc/photo/thaad/hr/mfc-thaad-info-web-page-intercepting-hr.jp

 

 

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Dear Hillary

by Jackson Webster, a Los Angeles native, currently in his final year of International Relations in the King’s College London Department of War Studies.

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Dear Hillary,

 

Congratulations. The Democratic nomination is all but yours, and the GOP faces an existential crisis which has caused its voters to choose a loud-mouthed human toupee as their nominee. You’re likely to take the reigns of power next January, and then it’ll be out with the campaigning and in with the governing. Here’s a few humble observations from yours truly about our broken yet salvageable national security strategy and how best to fix it. Let’s get down to business.

 

  1. Ok, so here’s what you have to do:
    1. maintain American pre-eminence through cooperation with new mid-level allies,
    2. establish connectivity with the global economy as our top national security priority,
    3. use of American military power to back the norms of the liberal world order when institutions fail to do so.
  2. And here’s why:
    1. unquestioned US dominance is fading, and this power is transferring to mid-level states,
    2. the global economy is increasingly interconnected,
    3. hundreds of thousands have died in Syria and territory has been annexed by force in Ukraine, and the UN Security Council has done essentially nothing about it.

 

OUR NEW PARTNERS

 

The unipolar global system created at the end of the Cold War, where the US’ power stood unchallenged, is no longer a realistic worldview upon which to base our strategy in the 21st century. Equally, American strategy has been bastardized over the past two decades into dealing with old rivals and old allies. We’d best heed Washington’s warnings against unconditional alliances, and revaluate the costs and benefits of our partnerships. Moreover, we have become distracted by threats which do not pose serious existential danger to the US or its interests, such as locally-focused religious extremism in Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen, and Iraq. We have dangerously overplayed the importance of combating terrorism. This calculus must change to recognize the dynamic nature of power distribution in the 21st century.

 

American power projection is based in strong alliances backed up by material assistance. The US can be a regional kingmaker. This power is unique in political history. This ability of US patronage was used to create the regional powers of West Germany, Japan, and Israel during the Cold War. The US must be prepared once again to double-down on mid-level allies in this century, though the allies we must court differ from those of the last century. Such states include Poland, Turkey, Malaysia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Argentina. Each of these states faces serious internal issues which would be best combatted with our assistance. Patronage for Poland can be used as leverage over the current government, which has spent its time in office thus far flouting the rule-of-law. Turkey faces a serious separatist and terrorist threat in its Kurdish southeast. Malaysia faces slow growth from falling oil prices and multiple regional refugee crises. Mexico is fighting well-armed and well-financed drug cartels. Nigeria faces an Islamist insurgency in its northern provinces, with spillover effects into the territories of other US partners like Mali and Chad. Argentina continues to face serious national debt problems. All these countries need assistance, and with our patronage comes an integration of American interests with these states’ interests. Through our aid, and through closer cooperation and inclusion in the liberal international order, we can ensure these states’ partnership for decades to come, just as Marshall reconstruction at the end of the Second World War solidified US partnerships with West Germany and with our East Asian allies.

 

While Russia has previously presented a geopolitical challenge to the US, and Moscow has successfully countered our interests in Syria and Ukraine, Russia does not present a serious long-term threat to American pre-eminence due to Russia’s own internal weaknesses. A kleptocratic political system centred around President Putin himself, combined with a gas-dependent and sluggish economy, do not provide strong nor stable bases for Russian power. In the short-term, Russian power can be best countered through existing alliances, namely with increased NATO armoured deployments in the Baltic States. A return to conventional deterrence is prudent in this instance. Indecisive acquiescence to Moscow is not. A strengthened American commitment to our allies in Eastern Europe will amply halt Russian ambitions in that region. Russia today is not what the Soviet Union once was: it is not a great power competitor on-par with the depth or breath of American power, despite Mr. Putin’s ego often arguing the opposite.

 

China, however, provides a direct revisionist threat to the liberal world order. The strength and diversity of the Chinese economy, combined with a decade of robust Chinese diplomacy in their near abroad and in Africa, have lead to extensive gains in Chinese economic and diplomatic influence. This influence is shown in the popularity of the Chinese-lead Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank. However China, too, is best contained through existing institutions. China’s willingness to work within the international system allows its rise to be less conflictual than historical revisionist powers. China is not a rogue state. It seeks legitimacy as a member of the international community. The US must continue to place resources and faith into our alliances with Japan, Australia, and South Korea as the best regional counterbalances to Chinese ambitions, and must work to increase cooperation with and amongst these allies. Equally, the maritime stability provided by the US Navy will remain crucial to all East Asian export-based economies well into this century, including China’s.

 

IT’S THE GLOBAL ECONOMY, STUPID

 

At the creation of the American Republic, the only permanently standing element of the Federal military was the Navy. The Department of the Navy was created to maintain daily connectivity to the global economy, a lifeline the new Republic desperately needed. The US needs this lifeline today more than ever. Freedom of navigation maintains both current global order and US primacy, which are synonymous. The American Navy’s unquestioned dominance underwrites American hard power more than any other branch of the military. Equally, it ensures that American power can be projected anywhere in the globe within hours of a crisis.

 

Bill was right, when we’re talking about the bedrock of global order, “it’s the economy, stupid.”  The world’s economy is more interconnected than ever before, and it’s only getting more so thanks to the Internet. Global free trade remains the central priority of US national security strategy. For this reason, the US Navy will be the key branch of the armed forces into the 21st century in terms of power projection. Whereas investment in land-based counterinsurgency techniques and equipment has characterized the last decade, investment in naval technology, basing, and logistics must be the central priority of the national security budget in the coming decades. The American population no longer has the political will to launch large land-based occupations, and these kinds of actions can often be a poor long-term investment with very little stability produced in return. Investment in our Navy will ensure American dominance of the seas into the next half-century, will counterbalance China’s new blue-water navy, and will guarantee that global chokepoints of trade remain open to our nation’s imports and exports.

 

UNDERWRITING THE LIBERAL ORDER

 

America is not as all-powerful as she was when your husband took office, however the depth and breadth of US power still must not be underestimated. The American military outclasses all our competitors and our allies combined in every measure of strength, the American economy is still the largest in the world despite our relatively small population, and the US possesses a geographically advantageous location: we are literal oceans away from threats to the homeland.

 

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The US must use its power projection to be the guarantor of the liberal world order. This rules-based order is beneficial to the US economy, to our allies, to our continued primacy, and to our values. Supporting norms, weapons prohibitions, international treaties, free trade, and institutions of due-process upholds the liberal world order. As the US is the creator and natural leader of the liberal world order, the maintenance of this system is of paramount interest to the US. Even if this support comes at a cost and forces restraint on American actions abroad, the long-term benefits outweigh the short term shortcomings.

 

As was done in the Persian Gulf in 1991, the US must use our power to punish states who do not play by the rules. We must continue to use our overseas military deployments as guarantees to our allies, who must have no doubt we will defend their sovereignty. When states break international norms or violate the sovereignty of our allies, the US must have a credible threat of the use of force against these rogue actors. While not every violation of the system alone constitutes a direct threat to US national security, the maintenance of the global system of norms and institutions is a central priority of US national security. Therefore, a violation of these norms or a defiance of these institutions constitutes a credible threat to US national security and thus warrants decisive action.

 

Mrs. President, I wish you the best of luck in the next four (let’s be honest, with the current state of the GOP, probably eight) years. Here’s to hoping for an easy end to what was an excruciatingly long —though certainly unique— election cycle. I hope Bill doesn’t get into too much trouble as our nation’s first First Dude.

 

Respectfully yours,

 

Jackson Webster

Proud member of the California Democratic Party

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