25 December 2023

Israel in the shadow of American decline


And the word of the Lord came unto me the second time, saying, What seest thou? And I said, I see a seething pot; and the face thereof is toward the north.

Then the Lord said unto me, Out of the north an evil shall break forth upon all the inhabitants of the land. – Jeremiah 1:13-14

Strictly speaking, Israel’s Gaza war is not a tragedy, but rather a hideous accident. Many wars wait for years to happen until they can’t be stopped. Those are the tragedies.

This one never should have happened. Israeli intelligence had the plans for the October 7 Hamas attack a year in advance, as well as urgent warnings from lower-echelon officers just before the event. But the top military and political leadership brushed them off.

This fits a venerable pattern. Stalin had the plans for Operation Barbarossa from his spy Victor Sorge; US Naval Intelligence had warnings about the attack on Pearl Harbor; and the FBI had the jigsaw puzzle pieces of 9/11, but failed to fit them together.

Intelligence services are not rewarded for timely warnings, but for serving their masters’ political agendas, and Israel’s fabled spies turned out to be no different than their counterparts in other countries. Believing that US$40 million a month in subsidies from Qatar and other economic concessions would keep Hamas quiet, the Israeli government refused to consider anything else.

There simply is no contest between 300,000 regular troops from the Israel Defense Forces and 30,000 to 40,000 lightly armed Hamas irregulars, any more than there was a contest between ISIS and the American army and its proxies. Whether Hamas is entirely or largely extirpated from Gaza depends on the extent to which Israel can resist American pressure to vitiate its operations.

Chinese Submarines ‘Sneak’ Into India’s Backyard; Set To Dock Warships Right Under Indian Nose In Bangladesh

Ritu Sharma

Chinese submarines and warships will dock right under India’s nose very soon. In place of supplying submarines to the Bangladesh Navy, China is constructing a port in Cox’s Bazar, which was inaugurated earlier this year.

Satellite imagery suggests that China has made significant progress on the naval base, and the size of the base indicates that PLA-Navy will soon gain “logistical access” to the base.

In other words, the Chinese submarines will call and dock at the Bangladesh port for refurbishment and servicing. The experts are calling it China’s “submarine diplomacy”.

“Gaining a foothold in the Bay of Bengal would significantly level up the PLA’s ability to operate farther from China’s shores and create new challenges for India, as well as the United States and its allies,” a recent analysis of satellite imagery of the under-construction naval base in Bangladesh revealed.

Bangladesh ordered its first two submarines from China in 2013 for the meagre price of just US$203 million as a part of its military modernization under the Forces Goal 2030. The submarines are Type 035G diesel-electric attack submarines, a Ming-class variant first commissioned into the PLA Navy (PLAN) in 1990.

China refitted and upgraded the two vessels before handing them over to Bangladesh in 2016, but their capabilities still lag behind any modern attack submarine. A year after delivering the submarines, the Chinese state-owned defense contractor Poly Technologies secured a US$1.2-billion contract with Bangladesh to build a new submarine support facility on the country’s south-eastern coast.

Christened the BNS Sheikh Hasina Naval Base, after the incumbent Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the base is constructed on a sprawling 1.75 square kilometer. The construction began in 2020, and the base was inaugurated in March 2023 by PM Sheikh Hasina, who called it “ultra-modern.” Several Chinese officials, including at least two senior PLA-N officers, attended the ceremony.

China, America, and Vietnam’s Diplomatic Blitz in 2023

Sebastian Strangio

2023 was a busy year for Vietnam’s foreign relations. Last month, Chinese leader Xi Jinping visited the country, where he and his hosts announced that Vietnam was joining Beijing’s “community of common destiny.” This came less than three months after U.S. President Joe Biden visited Hanoi, announcing a similarly significant upgrade in the diplomatic ties between the United States and Vietnam. Vietnam has also announced significant upgrades in its relations with other major partners, including Australia, Japan, and South Korea.

What lies behind this rash of diplomatic activity, and what does it say about how Vietnam is seeking to position itself in a world of growing superpower competition?

The Diplomat’s Sebastian Strangio interviews Khang Vu, a doctoral candidate in the Department of Political Science at Boston College and a Hans J. Morgenthau pre-doctoral fellow at the University of Notre Dame, about Vietnam’s diplomatic strategy and great power competition.

Taiwan’s Ability to Defend Against China Invasion Thrown Into Question

Cindy Wang and Peter Martin

When former US National Security Advisor Robert O’Brien visited Taipei earlier this year, he suggested that one million AK47-wielding Taiwanese “around every corner” and “in every apartment block” would be an effective deterrent to any Chinese invasion plans.

It didn’t go down well.

“Arming citizens is not the answer,” ran the headline in the Taipei Times, over an op-ed responding to his proposal to make the assault rifle widely available in a territory with one of the world’s lowest crime rates. “Ludicrous and unimaginable” was former President Ma Ying-jeou’s verdict, condemning what he called the island’s “weaponization” and a “tendency to turn Taiwan into a second Ukraine.”

The outcry over a remark by a straight-talking former US official points to the challenge of preparing Taiwanese society for the worst-case scenario with China. For all the support given by Washington, the reality is that when it comes to both civil and military defense, the democratically governed island still has a lot to do.

“Taiwan is far from ready,” former Chief of the General Staff Lee Hsi-min said in an interview, citing “lots of improvements” that are needed in areas from weapons acquisition to civilian training. Deterrence is key, and equipment can of course help, he said, “but the most important thing is whether you have the will to defend yourself.”

Conversations with US-based security analysts and former administration officials, as well as with members of the government in Taipei, cast doubt on Taiwan’s ability to deter, let alone resist China — with some even questioning the will to do so.

The US sees important progress being made by the government in Taipei, “but the administration is also concerned that the threat facing Taiwan is significant and growing, and as a result more is needed to ensure Taiwan is keeping pace with that threat,” said Jennifer Welch, chief geo-economics analyst with Bloomberg Economics, who served as director for China and Taiwan on the US National Security Council until this year.

Taiwan Is Not Ready for a War With China

Alan Crawford

Welcome to Balance of Power, bringing you the latest in global politics. If you haven’t yet, sign up here.

Walk through central Taipei in the evening and the malls are full, designer shops crowded, and teenagers with boom boxes perform K-pop dance routines in the street.

There’s little outward sign that Taiwan is an island at the nexus of global tensions between the US and China.

Presidential elections next month will go a long way to determining just how acute those strains become.

For all the outward calm, the threat of conflict is real.

China is “expanding military capabilities at scale,” according to Taiwan’s annual defense report. That includes constructing airfields along its eastern and southern coastline and stationing new fighters and drones there to “seize air superiority” in any engagement across the Taiwan Strait.

China claims Taiwan as its territory, although President Xi Jinping has said Beijing isn’t preparing for war.

For his part, President Joe Biden has repeatedly said that the US would come to Taiwan’s aid in the event of Chinese aggression. In addition, Taiwan’s world-leading chip industry makes it vital to global industry and society, enabling everything from iPhones to AI.

Another Launch for China’s Reusable Space Plane

Rajeswari Pillai Rajagopalan

Outer space continues to be drawn into both technological advancements and geopolitical competition. On December 14, China launched a reusable space plane for the third time on a Long March 2F rocket from the Jiuquan Satellite Launch Center. A Xinhua News report said that the space plane was launched in order to run various space science experiments, in addition to validation of the reusable technology as well as “to provide technical support for the peaceful use of space.”

Interestingly, the timeline for such space plane launches is getting shorter, a sign of the maturity of the reusable technology and Beijing’s confidence in its growing space prowess. China’s first space plane made its debut mission in September 2020, and a second mission followed in August 2022, with a gap of one year and 11 months between the two missions. That the third mission came slightly more than seven months after the last made its return to Earth, after a 276-day mission, reflects the advances that the China Aerospace Science and Technology Corporation (CASC), the agency that developed the space plane, has achieved with regard to “reusability of the spacecraft.”

China is yet to release any information on the spacecraft or the mission itself, but given that it was launched from a Long March 2F rocket, which has a payload capacity of around eight metric tons to Low Earth Orbit, it may be similar to the U.S. Air Force’s X-37B space plane in terms of both its size and payload capacity.

However, what is more interesting is that the reusable space plane, Shenlong or “Divine Dragon,” reportedly released six unidentified objects in Earth’s orbit. The objects are being observed by both the U.S. Space Force and amateur astronomers alike. The objects, designated as OBJECT A, B, C, D, E, and F by the U.S. Department of Defense, are still emitting signals. The U.S. official NORAD TLE designations for these objects are 585573 through 585577 and 585581.

War in Ukraine Has China Cashing In

Keith Bradsher

On China’s snowy border with Russia, a dealership that sells trucks has seen its sales double in the past year thanks to Russian customers. China’s exports to its neighbor are so strong that Chinese construction workers built warehouses and 20-story office towers at the border this summer.

The border town Heihe is a microcosm of China’s ever closer economic relationship with Russia. China is profiting from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has led Russia to switch from the West to China for purchases of everything from cars to computer chips.

Russia, in turn, has sold oil and natural gas to China at deep discounts. Russian chocolates, sausages and other consumer goods have become plentiful in Chinese supermarkets. Trade between Russia and China surpassed $200 billion in the first 11 months of this year, a level the countries had not expected to reach until 2024.

Russia’s war in Ukraine has also gotten an image boost from China. State media disseminates a steady diet of Russian propaganda in China and around the world. Russia is so popular in China that social media influencers flock to Harbin, the capital of China’s northernmost province in the east, Heilongjiang, to pose in Russian garb in front of a former Russian cathedral there.

Xi Jinping, China’s top leader, and Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, have made numerous public demonstrations of the nations’ close ties. Mr. Xi visited Harbin in early September and declared Heilongjiang to be China’s “gateway to the north.” China’s exports to Russia soared 69 percent in the first 11 months of this year compared with the same period in 2021, before the invasion of Ukraine.

“Maintaining and developing China-Russian relations well is a strategic choice made by both sides on the basis of the fundamental interests of the two peoples,” Mr. Xi said as he met in Beijing on Wednesday with the Russian prime minister, Mikhail Mishustin.

China’s decades-long cyber theft could finally pay off in the Age of AI


China’s decades-long cyber theft could finally pay off in the Age of Artificial Intelligence. China has long stolen American data ranging from trade secrets to manufacturing knowhow and sensitive research. But few of those assets have appeared on black markets, and China has not overtly used the majority of data it has so aggressively acquired. That’s because effectively appropriating so many stolen secrets was a heavy lift, severely limited by personnel capacity, language skill, and individual expertise.

AI changes that equation, which will have serious implications for America’s economic and security interests.

China can now leverage stockpiles of proprietary data to train models that spot patterns no human would ever see, identify novel opportunities, and even generate new products across industry, science and defense. Strong “training data” make AI-driven insights more robust and actionable. But few have raised alarm over the ways AI makes hacked corporate data exponentially more valuable for strategic competitors, especially China, which reportedly outpaces the globe in 37 of 44 technology areas.

Last year, just weeks before ChatGPT showed the world what generative AI can do, the Biden administration’s National Security Strategy affirmed the oft-cited maxim that economic security is national security. Emergent AI tools now offer the Chinese Communist Party an unprecedented opportunity to derive economic benefit from secrets stockpiled over years, posing a substantial risk to American national security interests.

China’s windfall is not shared by the United States. American trade secrets are necessarily non-public and siloed across thousands of private corporations. No single U.S.-based entity holds all corporate data, much less feeds that data into AI models to identify new market opportunities. Simply put, China has built an enormous collection of AI training data lifted from innumerable non-public sources, all in addition to the vast pool of domestic data China collects on its citizens and companies.

The West’s 3 Options to Combat the Houthi Attacks

Bruce Jones

The Red Sea might just be history’s most contested body of water. It has been the site of imperial or great-power competition for at least 500 years, from the Portuguese search for the sea route to Asia all the way to the Cold War. It remains the most important trade link between Asia and Europe. The Suez Canal at its northern egress has been displaced by the Singapore Strait as the world’s most important chokepoint, but it’s still the second-most vital; 30 percent of global container ship traffic moves through that canal. Container ships are to globalization what eighteen-wheelers are to the United States—the workhorses of trade. And there are important energy flows here: 7.1 million barrels of oil and 4.5 billion cubic feet of natural gas transit the Bab el-Mandeb (the southern entrance to the Red Sea) every day, per the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

U.S. Troops Warned of Imminent Attack

Anna Skinner

A Houthi rebel leader has warned of retaliatory efforts against American warships if the Yemeni group is targeted by the U.S. as part of a newly launched operation to counter attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea.

The warning comes a day after Houthi rebels based in Yemen attacked two commercial shipping vessels south of the Red Sea. A spokesperson for the Houthi rebels said on Monday they had attacked two vessels that had alleged links to Israel, Newsweek reported.

In response, the U.S. is leading a new international force, Operation Prosperity Guardian, to ensure that the region remains safe for commercial shipping, despite the Houthi rebel attacks.

Houthis and Iranian militia groups have launched rockets at Israel since the war in the region began following Hamas' surprise attack on the country on October 7, Reuters reported. The Yemeni group has also increased its attacks on commercial shipping vessels in the Red Sea and has urged ships to avoid traveling to or from Israeli ports.

A number of companies have said in recent days that they are halting passage through the Red Sea amid fears of Houthi attacks, which can add days or weeks to shipping times.

A Houthi leader warned the Washington against escalating the situation in the region. The U.S. will conduct joint patrols in the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden alongside Britain, Bahrain, Canada, France, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, the Seychelles and Spain.

Enduring Shield completes tests for US missile defence

Andrew Salerno-Garthwaite

Leidos announced on 19 December 2023, the completion of the Risk Reduction Flight Demonstration (RRFD) for its Enduring Shield Weapon System.

Following the successful completion the system is progressing to the next stage of its development, including an initial shipment of launchers as part of the Department of Defence’s multi-layered defence strategy.

The Enduring Shield system is a ground-based, mobile defence system designed to counter cruise missiles and unmanned aircraft systems and safeguard key civilian and military infrastructure. The system also serves as a link between tactical short-range air defence systems and strategic defence mechanisms, such as the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) and Patriot forces.

Leidos subsidiary Dynetics received a contract for $237m in September 2021 to manufacture the Enduring Shield mobile ground-based weapon system, beating out competition from Rafael’s Iron Dome during US Army testing according to a Congressional Research Service report. The 2.5-year contract was awarded for the Enduring Indirect Fires Protection Capability (IFPC) by the US Army Program Executive Office Missiles and Space, to provide 16 field-able launcher prototypes, 60 interceptors and related all-up round magazines (AUR-M).

MARSOC, Navy SEALs, and Army Rangers: SOF by the numbers


The U.S. military’s special operations forces (SOF) are home to some of the most highly trained soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen in the world. They must undergo grueling assessments and selections before they make it into one of the prestigious SOF units under the umbrella of the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM).

But exactly how big is a SEAL team? Are Army Rangers the largest unit in SOCOM? How does MARSOC, a relative newcomer to the SOF world, compare in size? Cold, hard numbers aren’t easy to come by, but they do exist.

Each unit’s assessment and selection allows only the best to serve within their ranks, so only a few graduate out of the many that try out. That’s why there are not hundreds of thousands of service members in each SOF unit, but numbers alone don’t explain why they are elite. Special operations units are masters of the fundamentals of warfare, and they generally have better funding, better training, fewer restrictions, and a near carte blanche to select the very best while getting rid of anyone who no longer maintains the standard.

We aren’t discussing the number of personnel in units that fall under the secretive Joint Special Operations Command, as that information is still a close-held secret. But almost everyone else? We got you.

How many Navy SEALs are in a SEAL team?

The U.S. Navy’s Navy Special Warfare Command (NSW) is staffed by both SEALs and their sister unit, the Special Warfare Combatant-Craft Crewmen. As of Nov. 2023, there are over 10,000 people assigned to NSW, comprised of SEALs, SWCC, civilian employees, and Navy Reserve personnel.

What Do Climate Change, DEI, and Integrity Have in Common?

Joe Arbuckle

Climate change has become a quasi-religion with cult-like followers across the globe. Children are being indoctrinated in schools to believe they will die in the not too distant future if people do not take drastic steps to combat runaway climate change. This climate change paranoia is pushed by the globalists who use climate change fear as a tool to unite nations into world-wide programs to control resources and budgets. Underpinning the climate change movement are groups advocating for a One World Government including the WHO, the WEF, and the UN.

The climate change cult-like movement has sunk deep roots into our education system and government. It is especially harmful when forced into our military where climate change is now called a “crisis” and being identified as a “national security threat”; the Secretary of Defense called the climate crisis an "existential threat.” A large and costly bureaucratic structure has developed within the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop a strategy, plans and policies to deal with the "climate crisis” and “national security threat.”

The DoD has not defined what constitutes a climate “crisis.” Our nation has had a military since 1775 that has trained, operated, and fought in all kinds of extreme climate conditions around the world beginning at Valley Forge during a terrible winter. What suddenly constitutes an existential climate crisis? Answer: politics. Leftist politicians have labeled it as a crisis and our military is pressured into supporting the climate change agenda and accompanying hysteria.

If climate change is indeed a crisis and a threat to national security, then logically we should marshal military forces to combat the climate change threat. Obviously, that is not happening and is not possible. The climate has been changing in fairly predictable cycles for billions of years and will continue to change with or without mankind. The actions listed in the DoD climate change plans deal with reacting and adapting to climate change, which we have done successfully for 248 years. The only thing in the DoD plans to possibly influence climate change is the reduction of fossil fuel use in favor of electric powered vehicles which, at best, will have only a minuscule effect on the climate.

Into the Cold: Special Operations in the Arctic

Joshua C. Huminski and Ethan Brown

Strategic competition has superseded the Global War on Terrorism as the central organizing principle for America’s military. Conflict has returned to the European continent with Russia’s expanded invasion of Ukraine. The accession of Finland to NATO, and hopefully Sweden soon, the Arctic environment has taken on new importance in strategic calculus. As the defence enterprise writ large shifts to this new environment, so must Special Operations Forces (SOF).

Here, the unavoidable truth is that SOF, American and allied, will not have a primary role in the arctic theatre. These forces must return to a more traditional supporting role as ‘force multipliers,’ ending the primacy they enjoyed in the War on Terror as the supported entity. This means rethinking SOF missions, a re-orientation toward maritime and littoral operations and away from counterinsurgency and counterterrorism.

Russia and China are placing increased emphasis on the polar regions in their strategic calculus and future planning. Russia, prior to its expanded invasion of Ukraine, undertook demonstrative military exercises in the Arctic, and was building up its forces in the High North. In its 2018 arctic policy, China declared itself a ‘near-arctic state’, seeking to assert its regional interests. While much of this activity from Moscow and Russia is predicated on securing economic and commercial interests, military interests and strategic competition-related power projection are clearly not far behind.

Putin’s dead end

Carl Bildt

In his annual press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin made it clear that he will be ready for a peace settlement with Ukraine only after he has achieved his goals, which haven’t changed since he launched his full-scale invasion on 24 February 2022. He wants Ukraine to be demilitarised, meaning subjected to Russian military and security control of its territory; and he wants ‘denazification’, meaning Ukraine would be put under Russian political control. In other words, Russia would absorb Ukraine so that the latter ceases to exist as an independent nation-state.

Time and again, Putin has declared that there’s no historical justification for Ukraine, since it comprises territories that were long held by the Russian Empire. But something similar can be said of countries across Europe today. Many previously fell under the yoke of the Ottoman, Austro-Hungarian, Wilhelmine or Russian empires. And globally, the vast majority of the 193 countries that make up the United Nations became independent only in the aftermath of World War II. In the historical period that preoccupies Putin, many of today’s countries didn’t exist even in people’s imaginations.

The problem, for Putin, is that the age of empires is long gone. He stubbornly refuses to accept that we now live in the age of nation-states, with an international order organised around the UN charter’s principle of territorial integrity, which prohibits any redrawing of national borders by force. Instead, he fantasises about recreating the Russian Empire by swallowing up Ukraine and Belarus (followed, perhaps, by many other neighbouring countries).

Rethinking the US strategic triad: When it comes to nuclear platforms, how many are enough?

Stephen J. Cimbala, Lawrence J. Korb

US armed forces have undergone a virtual revolution in military technology over the past several decades, along with a rethinking of a number of concepts about military strategy. The conceptualization of the US nuclear strategic military force structure, however, is still very much on autopilot. The traditional “triad” of strategic launch systems—intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs), and heavy bombers—dates from the 1960s. The Obama, Trump, and Biden administrations all endorsed modernization plans for the triad that replaced each category of launchers with an updated version of its predecessor.[1] As a recent report by the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of this nation pointed out, the United States is still on course to spend more than a trillion dollars rebooting the strategic nuclear triad and supporting command, control, and communications systems and infrastructure.

By all accounts, it seems clear that political and bureaucratic inertia have as much to do with nuclear modernization as does any master strategy for nuclear deterrence. The assumption behind the present triad of nuclear delivery systems is that a three-sided force structure of land-based, sea-based, and airborne launch systems has a synergistic complexity and diversity that complicates the calculations of any prospective nuclear adversary. And to some extent, this is so. But present modernization plans for the US strategic nuclear triad may not have sufficiently interrogated the range of available options made possible by new technology, or adequately considered whether a more streamlined and less expensive force structure would suffice for deterrence.

For example, the present American ICBM force is based in silos that are potentially first-strike vulnerable, unless the missiles are launched on warning of attack. The growing interest of nuclear weapons states in hypersonic attack weapons only adds to the time pressures on those who must make a launch decision. Unless more effective antimissile defenses can be developed, fast-flying attackers equipped with defense-avoidance technology can plausibly threaten prompt destruction of most or all US land-based missiles. Under these conditions, the United States effectively operates with a nuclear dyad instead of a triad, unless it makes the fateful decision to become more reliant on nuclear preemption in a crisis, even if a warning of attack is ambiguous.

Ukraine's Cheap FPV Drones 'More Efficient' Than Prized Artillery

Ellie Cook

First-person view (FPV) drones are now becoming more useful to Ukraine's front-line fighters than artillery, according to Kyiv's drone tsar, as Kyiv ploughs on with efforts to put more and more of the vital machines in the air.

The FPV uncrewed vehicles have quickly become "a game-changer" on the Ukrainian battlefield, taking out masses of Russian hardware, said Mykhailo Fedorov, Kyiv's Minister of Digital Transformation, who is at the helm of Ukraine's drone efforts against Russia.

"They work sometimes even more efficiently than artillery," he told Newsweek. "So, FPV drones are indeed a tech revolution, even though the tech itself is quite easy. But it turned out to be very efficient."

FPV drones quickly became almost emblematic of Ukraine's efforts with unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs). They can be used to record dramatic battlefield footage where the drone careens towards Russian vehicles before exploding, or deployed as reconnaissance tools to guide artillery strikes.

Artillery has also been a staple of the war effort, and a constant feature of Western military aid packages destined for Kyiv's troops.

FPV drones certainly have appeared to work better in some instances than artillery for Ukraine, agreed U.K-based drone expert, Steve Wright.

"In many ways, using battlefield FPV drones is a continuation of a trend, particularly by the West, of moving to more and more tight targeting of explosives," he told Newsweek.

What do Red Sea assaults mean for global trade?

Michael Race

Global supply chains could face severe disruption as a result of the world's biggest shipping companies diverting journeys away from the Red Sea.

Attacks by Houthi rebels in Yemen on commercial vessels in recent weeks have resulted in many firms deciding to avoid one of the world's busiest shipping lanes.

The Houthi group has declared its support for Hamas and has said it is targeting ships travelling to Israel, though it is not clear if all the ships that have been attacked were actually heading to Israel.

What has happened?

The Houthis have been stepping up their attacks since the start of the Israel-Hamas war in October.

The group, which is backed by Iran, has been using drones and rockets against foreign-owned vessels transporting goods through the strait of Bab al-Mandab - a 20-mile wide channel that splits Eritrea and Djibouti on the African side and Yemen on the Arabian Peninsula.

Ships usually take this route from the south to reach Egypt's Suez Canal further north.

But because of the attacks and the threat of future assaults, several of the world's largest shipping firms, including Mediterranean Shipping Company and Maersk, have diverted vessels away to a much longer route around Africa's Cape of Good Hope and then up the west side of the continent.

US Adopts a Cautious Posture in Persian Gulf

Kaize Zhu


Recent developments in the Persian Gulf, involving a provocative encounter between Iranian drones and the US Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group, have highlighted the complexity of naval operations in geopolitically sensitive regions. This commentary delves into the incident reported by The Defense Post, examining the implications of the United States’ restrained response. By opting for de-escalation, the US demonstrates a nuanced approach to regional tensions, reflecting a strategic balance between assertiveness and conflict avoidance in a landscape marked by historical rivalries and modern geopolitical challenges.

The Persian Gulf, a region of immense strategic significance and a hotspot of international tensions, recently witnessed a notable incident that encapsulates the delicate balance of power and the nuanced diplomacy required in modern naval operations. According to Naval Forces Central Command, on 27 November, Iranian drones flew over the US Eisenhower Carrier Strike Group as it navigated through the Persian Gulf. As per the Iranian naval commander’s statement, drones were deployed to surveil and subsequently challenge the US naval group, leading to a situation where American helicopters were reportedly instructed to land on the carrier deck. This move by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps Navy, a provocative yet calculated gesture, tested the US reaction to a direct yet non-lethal confrontation. The US Navy’s response reflects strategic restraint, and the decision speaks volumes about the current state of US foreign policy and military strategy in a region riddled with historical complexities and contemporary geopolitical rivalries.

Who is an AI worker? The Pentagon needs a better definition, GAO says


The Pentagon “has invested billions of dollars to integrate artificial intelligence into its operations,” according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office, but has not taken the necessary steps to determine the full scope of the AI workforce needed to operate the new tools.

GAO’s report — published on Dec. 14 — found that the Department of Defense “has made efforts to define and identify its AI workforce,” but still “can't fully identify who is part of its AI workforce or which positions require personnel with AI skills.”

“As a result, DOD can't effectively assess the state of its AI workforce or forecast future AI workforce needs,” GAO warned.

The study — which was requested in a House report accompanying the fiscal year 2022 National Defense Authorization Act — noted that DOD has taken some steps to prioritize internal AI workforce concerns, including determining in 2018 that “cultivating a workforce with AI expertise” was a strategic focus area for the department.

But the National Security Commission on Artificial Intelligence concluded in a 2021 report that DOD’s “AI talent deficit is one of the greatest impediments” to the commission’s goal of having the Pentagon and U.S. intelligence community be “AI-ready” by 2025.

GAO said DOD has developed AI work roles — defined as “the specialized sets of tasks and functions requiring specific knowledge, skills and abilities” — for department personnel and “identified some military and civilian occupations” that conduct AI work.

Andrew Ng: ‘Do we think the world is better off with more or less intelligence?’

Ryan McMorrow

Just over a decade ago, Andrew Ng was part of a Google Brain project that showed the power of deep learning technology. 

For three days, Ng’s team fed a neural network millions of unlabelled images from YouTube videos. After training, the system could identify features such as cats in images it had not encountered before — even though it had not been explicitly taught how. This research became known informally as the “Cat Paper” and laid the groundwork for future advances in artificial intelligence. 

At around the same time, from his perch as a Stanford professor, Ng pushed into online teaching, making a course on machine learning available to anyone with an internet connection. Its popularity, along with that of other “massive open online courses”, or Moocs, at the time, led Ng and his colleague Daphne Koller to found online education provider Coursera. 

A few years later Ng moved to Baidu, the Chinese search giant, to help deepen its autonomous driving and AI research efforts. Today he invests in and builds an array of AI start-ups, runs one of his own, and continues to teach courses on AI. 

When the FT visited Ng’s Palo Alto offices, he pulled out a laptop and turned off its WiFi to demonstrate how an open-source large language model (LLM) from French AI start-up Mistral can run without needing to send data to the cloud. 

“The model is saved on my hard disc and then it’s using the GPU and CPU [graphics processing unit and central processing unit] on my laptop to just run inference,” he said. When it was given the question of what a reporter should ask Andrew Ng about AI, the background it delivered on Ng and his work looked like the kind of response one would get from ChatGPT, OpenAI’s hit LLM-powered chatbot. 

Pentagon 6th-Gen Stealth NGAD Fighter Goes "Digital" Design


The Next Generation Air Dominance (NGAD) program, a pivotal 6th-generation fighter initiative by the U.S. Air Force, is not just about crafting a new fighter jet to replace the venerable F-22 Raptor. It represents a fundamental shift in how military aircraft are conceptualized, developed, and sustained, marking a significant leap in air combat capabilities and technological innovation. At the core of the NGAD program is the adoption of digital materiel management. This approach dramatically streamlines the design, creation, and sustenance of aircraft throughout their lifecycles, utilizing digital methods from inception to retirement. The emphasis on predictive maintenance under this regime is revolutionary, offering the potential to track parts' longevity and replace them proactively, reducing unplanned maintenance and associated costs.

The NGAD program is determined to avoid the pitfalls experienced in the F-35 program. One critical lesson is the need for the Air Force to have complete access to sustainment data from the contractors, preventing the creation of monopolies over aircraft lifecycles. This strategy ensures more flexibility and control in maintenance and upgrades over the aircraft's lifetime. Additionally, the program is designed to avoid excessive concurrency - a challenge in the F-35’s development - to minimize risks and allow for timely rectification of issues during testing phases.

Army to field new rifle, machine gun and optic in 2024

Todd South

The Army’s newest rifle and automatic rifle are already in the hands of soldiers for testing and will officially field to its first unit in 2024.

The service delivered the Next Generation Squad Weapon rifle and automatic rifle, known as the XM7 and XM250, respectively, along with its advanced optic, the XM157 fire control, to a platoon in the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky in late September.

That platoon, along with a squad from the 75th Ranger Regiment, conducted user tests over the subsequent months as the Army ramped up for full fielding to a not yet identified unit in the 101st by the second quarter of fiscal year 2024, officials told Army Times.

The XM7 will replace the M4 for close combat units such as infantry, scouts, combat engineers and special operations forces. The XM250 will replace the M249 Squad Automatic Weapon for the same units.

The weapons and optics will drop the “X” in their names once fielded.

The Next Generation Squad Weapon-Automatic Rifle. (Army)

Non-close combat forces will continue to carry the M4 and M249 for the foreseeable future.

The legacy M4 and M249 fire the 5.56mm round while the XM7 and XM250 fire the recently developed 6.8mm cartridge.

Why Hypersonic Missiles’ Greatest Strength Also Makes Them Vulnerable

David Roza

A recent think tank report warns that a wave of emerging weapons such as hypersonic glide vehicles, scramjet cruise missiles, and maneuvering reentry vehicles could evade today’s missile defenses due to their high speed and unpredictable maneuvers. But unique phenomena at hypersonic speeds (about 3,800 miles per hour or faster) could also make those weapons easier to detect and track for certain sensors.

“Hypersonic weapons, the things that make them so dangerous are also what make them so vulnerable,” said Masao Dahlgren, a Missile Defense Project fellow at the Center for Strategic & International Studies and author of a new report on hypersonic missile defense, during a panel discussion Dec. 18.

“There’s a lot of work being done right now, for example, on the wakes and the plumes left by hypersonic weapons,” Dahlgren said. “These things are flying at extreme speeds through the air. The plasma that surrounds them rips molecules off of the vehicle surface. There are chemical reactions that may release novel wavelengths of light.”

Tools for detecting those wavelengths could be helpful additions to the military’s growing network of space-based sensors for missile warning (detecting missile launches), tracking (tracking missile trajectories), and fire control (guiding interceptors to a threat).

Today, the U.S. uses a mix of space- and ground-based sensors to detect and track missiles. The Space Based Infrared System (SBIRS) and Defense Support Program (DSP) satellites provide initial missile warning and early tracking, which kicks off “a sophisticated network of ground and maritime radars to determine the positions, trajectories, and signatures of ballistic missiles,” Dahlgren wrote.

Navy receives first Orca unmanned submarine from Boeing


Boeing delivered the first Orca underwater drone to the Navy this month after a series of tests at sea, the company announced Wednesday.

The service is pursuing extra-large unmanned undersea vessels (XLUUV) that can travel long distances and lay mines without putting sailors in harm’s way. The initiative is part of a broader push to acquire new robotic platforms for the fleet. The Navy is also acquiring and deploying a variety of unmanned surface vessels and unmanned aerial systems.

In a press release, Boeing described Orca as “a new class of autonomous submarine that can perform long duration critical missions to achieve undersea maritime dominance in changing environments and contested waters.”

“This is the culmination of more than a decade of pioneering work, developing a long-range, fully autonomous undersea vehicle with a large payload capacity that can operate completely independently of a host vehicle,” Ann Stevens, vice president of maritime and intelligence systems at Boeing, said in a statement. “I’ve had the distinct pleasure of witnessing our team bring this first-of-its-kind capability to life, and I’m proud of their innovation, perseverance and unwavering commitment which has yielded the most advanced and capable UUV in the world. With the Navy’s partnership, we look forward to continuing to deliver this game-changing vehicle to the fleet.”