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Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability: Implications for South Asian Stability

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The aim of this paper is to analyze the implications of Pakistan Second Strike Capability on the stability of South Asia using the lens of structural realism. This paper is divided into four main parts that are how Pakistan second strike capability will influence policies at national level within in Pakistan at government level and response of epistemic community towards this development.

Secondly, how Pakistan second strike capability will have its impact on regional dynamic especially its effects on Indian side at their government level and in terms of its effects on the epistemic community of India. Thirdly, what would be the international response with respect to Pakistan second strike capability? According to the international community, this would have the stabilizing effect on the South Asian region.

India already has a second strike capability it’s the ability of the state to strike back at the enemy through sea-based nuclear weapons as their backup. But what if Pakistan also acquires this capability it would have a stabilizing effect on this region. This would balance the power in the South Asian region. The first question that is needed to be answered is whether Pakistan has a second strike capability or not. If Pakistan has a second strike that is claimed in conference arranged by SVI in Islamabad former Defense Secretary retired Lt Gen Naeem Khalid Lodhi assured those present of Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability against India – a military term meaning that Pakistan is in a position to defend itself should its land-based nuclear Arsenal be neutralized This revelation completely changed the security dynamics of the region. However, Gen Lodhi, refrained from going into further details about what exactly constitutes Pakistan’s second strike capability or whether it was land, sea or air based, nor did he provide any clues as to whether Pakistan was any closer to achieving a submarine-based “assured second strike capability” considering that India is known to be working towards this .

Pakistani sea-based second strike capability will depend on a sea-launched alternative of the Hatf-VII Babur cruise missile. The Hatf-VII a medium-range subsonic cruise missile that is submarine-based launch system would need to operate in waters relatively close to the potential enemy’s shores (in Pakistan’s case, India). This brings up a problem for Pakistan’s plans for a sea-based deterrent that more established nuclear powers with sea-based deterrents such as the United States, Russia, and the United Kingdom haven’t faced. The credibility of a second strike capability lies in the difficulty of detecting submarines carrying submarine-launch ballistic missiles. Undersea radars and other anti-submarine warfare techniques already a major point of interest for the Indian armed forces could undermine Pakistan’s sea-based deterrent.

Pakistani Government stance on Second Strike Capability

The official stance of a government of Pakistan can be traced back in 2012 when they announced the creation of a Naval Strategic Force Command. It implied that the country now possessed a sea-based second nuclear strike capability. But there is no official stance about Pakistan second strike capability because government officials avoid giving any statement related to it. The likely chances are that Pakistan is near to acquire second strike capability. According to experts, Pakistan has a potential as they had been working on improving their Naval Strategic Force since 2012.

As per India Today, “Pakistan will build two types of submarines with Chinese assistance the Project S-26 and Project S-30. The vessels are to be built at the Submarine Rebuild Complex (SRC) facility being developed at Ormara, west of Karachi. Intelligence sources believe the S-30 submarines are based on the Chinese Qing class submarines-3,000-tonne conventional submarines which can launch three 1,500-km range nuclear-tipped cruise missiles from its conning tower. A Very Low Frequency (VLF) station at Turbat, in southern Balochistan, will communicate with these submerged strategic submarines.”

This provides evidence that Pakistan is working on building its Naval Strategic force with the help of the China. They are improving the existing capacity of their submarines that can carry a nuclear warhead over them. S-30 Submarines are replicated copy of Chinese Qing class submarines that have an ability to launch a 1,500km range of ballistic missiles. But at the official level, we have no statement that claimed that Pakistan government accepted openly that they have acquired or near to the point of achieving Second Strike Capability. Although Indian side accused Pakistani side they have Second strike capability but they are avoiding to claimed it.

Epistemic community views about Pakistani Second Strike Capability 

Pakistani epistemic community viewed Pakistani Second Strike capability critically because according to them the never-ending arms race between Pakistan and India will have the destabilizing effect on the region. According to the epistemic community of Pakistan, the second Strike capability will disturb the stability in the region. India will go further for an arms race in order to achieve arms superiority in the South Asian region. The increase of nuclear weapons within the region will have negative repercussions. It would increase the number of nuclear arsenals in the South Asian region.

The epistemic community of Pakistan viewed Pakistan Second Strike capability critically as for them it is another form of nuclear escalation between two regional players. Pakistani Second Strike Capability will not have stabilizing effect on the region. India will not accept Pakistan’s Second Strike Capability as it would undermine the power of Indian Second Strike Capacity. The balance of power as per Indian side will be disturbed because when both countries will have Second Strike capability.

The epistemic community advocated the idea of Nuclear Free Weapons Zone in South Asia because it would initially limit the number of nuclear weapons in the region and then eventually towards complete disarmament of the South Asian region. It was rejected by Indian side the epistemic community criticized the Indian role for not preventing nuclear proliferation in the region. The unnecessary arm race in South Asia is a source of concern and worry.

Indian Official Stance about Pakistan second strike capability

The Indian government openly accused Pakistan that they have Second Strike This would undermine their ability to influence Pakistan and other regional states according to their national interests. But if Pakistan acquires the Second Strike Capability it would undermine their power within the region. India has aspirations to become a regional hegemon in South Asia such developments would hurt their interests and their long-term goals in the region. India always suspects Pakistan actions because of their historical bitter legacy and history of wars between both countries.

Indian media and their government blamed Pakistan. They have Second Strike Capability and they got this technology from China. Indian observed Pak-China relations closely because for them the mutual relations between these two countries would harm their interests. India has border issues with China. The Indian government is suspicious of Pakistani policy posturing because they are major rivals in the region and compete with each other within the region. India is economically more viable than Pakistan. In terms of their nuclear capability they are more or less equal.

According to Indian side Shaheen III would suggest that Pakistan will have the ability to target Indian naval vessels in the Bay of Bengal. Pakistan would need an extremely effective and accurate terminal guidance system. This would help a missile to trace the targeted vessels movement and adjust its trajectory accordingly after flying across the entire Indian mainland. Another benefit which would make Shaheen III standout could be the multiple independently targetable re-entry vehicle (MIRV) capabilities. Pakistan would use these payloads on Shaheen II as well.

From an Indian perspective, the status-quo is highly irrational and unstable in the long-run. The Indian problems are further increased by the fact that the Pakistani state is in despair today with a multilayer of threats emerging from its domestic instability. A society which is near to collapse with serious problems of insurgency, ethnolinguistic and politico-religious clashes and a failing economy gives India an upper hand. Despite Islamabad’s statement that its atomic weapons and the related infrastructure is in safe hands with multiple layers of security but there is a deep sense of uneasiness in the Indian strategic landscape.

Views of Indian Epistemic Community

Indian epistemic community viewed Pakistani Second Strike capability critically because according to them the never-ending arms race between Pakistan and India will have the destabilizing effect on the region. According to the epistemic community of India, the second Strike capability will disturb the stability in the region because India will go further for arms race in order to achieve arms superiority in the South Asian region. The increase of nuclear weapons within the region will have negative repercussions.

The epistemic community of India viewed Pakistan Second Strike capability critically as for them it is another form of nuclear escalation between two regional players. Pakistani Second Strike Capability will not have stabilizing effect on the region. Pakistan will not accept Indian Second Strike Capability. This would undermine the power of Pakistan Second Strike Capacity and balance of power in the South Asian region.

The epistemic community advocated the idea of limiting the number of nuclear weapons especially sea-based nuclear arsenals in South Asia. It would initially limit the number of nuclear weapons in the region and then eventually towards complete disarmament of the South Asian region. It was rejected by Pakistani epistemic community as they criticized the role of Pakistan for not making this region a stable and peaceful place without nuclear weapons.

Impact of Second Strike Capability on South Asia

According to Pakistan, their Second Strike Capability will have stabilizing effects on South Asia region because it would balance the power between India and Pakistan. India and Pakistan are two major powers of this region they need to build consensus in order to get rid of unnecessary arms race within the South Asian region. The Pakistani perspective is based upon their perception of security as they feel insecure from India.

According to an epistemic community of Pakistan, it will not bring stability but instead, this would start another type of arms race between India and Pakistan. The security dilemma is the main reason why these two states can never feel secure as they suspect each other behavior and their foreign policies. The epistemic community is of the view that they should control their nuclear arms race in order to secure the peace of the South Asian region. This can only be achieved by building trust between India and Pakistan.

India on the hand is of the view that Pakistan Second Strike Capability will have a destabilizing effect on South Asia because it disturbs the balance of power. Pakistan Second Strike Capability will undermine the power of Indian superiority in terms of creating a security threat for them by challenging their abilities to launch the possible attack if they are targeted by Pakistan. In general, Indians view Pakistan Second Strike Capability as the major threat to their security. The security dilemma will cause more harm to the stability of the South Asian region.

According to Indian epistemic community, the Pakistani Second Strike Capability will cause more problems for both countries because they already feel insecure from each other. This would create more apprehensions about Pakistan. They are not willing to work for the stability of South Asian region their national interests are most vital than the regional security and harmony. The Indian epistemic community is very critical in explaining the role of Pakistan in promoting peace in the region and  ending the never-ending nuclear arms race in South Asia.

Theoretical Explanation 

According to structural or neo-realism first two concepts ‘anarchy’ and ‘structure’ are entwined. The ‘structure’ of the international system is called as ‘anarchic’. ‘Anarchy’ does not imply the presence of chaos and disorder. It simply refers to the absence of a world government (Waltz 1979, 88). With no overarching global authority that provides security and stability in international relations. The world politics is not formally and organized in hierarchical order. International politics is shaped by ‘anarchy’, in contrast to domestic politics that is structured by ‘hierarchy’. The international system is often defined in terms of an anarchic international structure.

An ‘anarchic structure’ has two main characteristics First every actor in the international system is responsible for protecting itself this interpretation the international system is “self-help system”. This system is consists of egoistic units who mainly search for to survival. National states are the only entities in international relations that have the centralized legitimate authority to use force to look after them from external threats. Sovereign states are the main units of the international system and the primary actors in world politics. Therefore, the organizing principle of the international structure is ‘anarchy’, and this ‘structure’ is defined in terms of states. Secondly, states always feel threatened by a potential attack from others.  

According to structural realism international world order is anarchic in nature as there is no centralized authority means that at international level there is no authority that regulates the behavior of states. The states are independent in their domestic dealing with people residing inside the state. Sovereignty is a power of a state to do whatever within the boundaries of the state no external power can interfere into the matters of the state. The state protects itself from threats by self-help as there is no authority that can provide security to the state.

Pakistan Second strike Capability is based upon the structural realism main assumptions that at international level there is anarchy that means there is no single authority at the international level that can ensure the security of the state. Under these circumstances, Pakistan Second Strike Capability is based upon the principle of self-help. Pakistan had to rely on its capabilities to ensure her security.

Pakistan feels insecure because India acquires Second Strike Capability and the balance of power is disturbed in the South Asian region. In order to ensure the security of Pakistan, they also acquired Second Strike Capability and try to balance the power in the South Asian region. As per structural realism, it is right of the state to ensure its security by relying on their abilities without any help from external powers or external actors to protect their vital national interests. In case of South Asia, Pakistan and India are rivals and both competing with each other to dominate the regional politics of the South Asia.

In my view, Structural realism explains the behavior of Pakistan because they feel insecure of growing non-traditional security threats emerging from India. India is far more superior in comparison to Pakistan in terms of its conventional power. Pakistan is competing with India by increasing nuclear capability and tactical weapons also called as mini-nukes. Pakistan is small state as compared to India in terms of its size and power. There is no centralized authority that can provide security to all states so they had to rely on their capacity to protect them from external threats.

Pakistan is relatively an insecure state because of the historical legacy of bitter relationships with India and they have fought numbers of wars in order to reassert their power within the South Asia. Pakistan is not as strong as India but Pakistan tried to project its power within the region. The Second Strike Capability of Pakistan is the example how they are trying to maintain a balance of power in South Asia. Although India has aspirations to become regional hegemon Pakistan is trying to maintain a balance to prevent India from dominating the whole region of South Asia. According to structural realism, anarchy is the main root cause of the conflict and insecurity that why states tend to accumulate more power in order to feel secure. The structural realism explains Pakistan Second Strike Capability in most appropriate manner because it is the international structure that is forcing Pakistan to improve their security by increasing their capacity to deal with insecurities. 

Conclusion

According to Pakistan, their Second Strike Capability will have stabilizing effects on South Asia region because it would disturb the balance the power between India and Pakistan. The Pakistani perspective is based upon their perception of security as they feel threatened from India. According to the Pakistan, their Second Strike capability will help to maintain a balance of power because India already has second strike capability if both states have this capability. It would balance the power configuration of South Asia.

Pakistan Second strike Capability is based upon the structural realism main assumptions that at international level there is anarchy which means that there is no single authority at the international level.  Under these circumstances, Pakistan is also improving its ability to protect her from potential threat emanating from the Indian side. Pakistan Second Strike Capability is based upon the principle of self-help. Every state is dependent upon their own capacity to protect them from external threats.

India on the hand is of the view that Pakistan Second Strike Capability will have the destabilizing effect on South Asia because it will disturb the balance of power in the region. Pakistan. In general, Indians view Pakistan Second Strike Capability as the main threat to their security. The security dilemma in case of South Asia will cause more harm to the stability of this region.

To conclude the stability of South Asia is dependent upon the behavior of both Pakistan and India they need to build trust and their nuclear doctrine are not very clearly stated as they have few abstract concepts within their doctrines. Pakistan and India need to remove the misunderstanding to bring peace and stability in the region. South Asia is a significant region in terms of its geostrategic location and its role in international politics is promising because they take part international negotiations on disarmament and non-proliferation.

Mehwish Akram holds masters degree in International Relations and currently doing M Phil in Political Science. Her areas of interest are Democracy, Political theory and Environmental politics .

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Will India be sanctioned over the S-400 Air Defense System?

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The Russian S-400 air defense system has emerged as a serious concern for US policymakers. Amongst other states, US allies are seen purchasing and acquiring this state-of-the-art technology despite Washington’s objections.  Earlier in 2019, Turkey received the S-400 setting aside American concerns. India, a critical strategic partner of the US, also secured a $5.4 billion deal for the system in 2018 despite US opposition.

The US administration was considerably confident that it would succeed in persuading India to abandon the deal. The Indian government was warned by the Trump administration that the purchase of S-400 may invoke sanctions under the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries through Sanctions Act’ (CAATSA). It was also communicated to the Indian government that presence of Russian S-400 is likely to increase the vulnerability of American weaponry stationed in India which could limit the extent of US-India cooperation. The threat was largely ignored and India went ahead to pay an advance of $800 million to Russia for the system which is indicative of India’s desire to maintain strategic autonomy and its reluctance to form an official military alliance with USA.

When President Biden took office in January 2021, efforts were made once again to convince India to let go of the deal. Then-Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin III discussed the air defense system with Rajnath Singh during his visit to India in March 2021. However, India showed no willingness to change its stance over its S-400 policy. 

The issue was also discussed during the three day visit of US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman on 6th October, 2021. She commented that the decision over the sanctions related to S-400 will be made by the US President and Secretary of State Antony Blinken. She further added that the US policy regarding any country that uses S-400 is considerably evident and the air defense system is not in anybody’s security interest. 

Historically, Indian air defense systems have largely comprised of Russian equipment and the Indian Air Force (IAF) predominantly operates Russian systems. India is unlikely to recede to American demands of abandoning the S-400 deal which is evident from the recent statements of two senior Indian officials. While addressing the Indian media on the 89th anniversary of IAF on 8th October, 2021, Air Chief Marshal VR Chaudhari stressed that the S-400 should be inducted during the same year. Similarly, shortly after Wendy Sherman commented on S-400, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs Spokesperson gave a statement suggesting that the government was in negotiations with the US. Responding to a question on the S-400, Arindam Bagchi stated, ‘This has been under discussion between our two countries for some time. It was raised and we have discussed it and explained our perspective. And discussions on this are ongoing.’

Noting that India may receive the systems by the end of year, the US will soon be in a position where it will have to make a decision over whether to sanction India or not. The Indian attitude towards this issue suggests that it sees itself in a position where it can get a waiver by the US administration despite disregarding the latter’s concerns. Sanctioning India will erode the bilateral relationship of India and US at a time when Washington needs New Delhi in its larger objective of containing China. This is especially relevant since India is the only QUAD member which shares a border with China. Therefore, this option is not in American interest taking into account the current geopolitical situation.

The US President has the authority to waive off CAATSA sanctions if deemed necessary for American strategic interests. However, in February 2021, US openly declared that a blanket waiver was not a possibility for India. The rationale behind not providing a blanket waiver is that such an action can motivate other states to opt for the same in the hope of a potential waiver since countries such as Saudi Arabia and Qatar have shown interest in acquiring the S-400 air defense system. This factor will also be taken into account while devising the sanctions.

It is likely that India may be sanctioned under CAATSA but the sanctions will largely be symbolic with little long-term implications. However, the Indian policy of strategic autonomy raises questions on the extent of the envisaged partnership between India and the US. Increasing dependence and use of Russian equipment will become a concern owing to the interoperability problems vis-à-vis US military systems. The role of India as an effective strategic ally against China is also questionable noting its strategic decisions which will harm American interests in the region. 

As a strategic partner, India has placed the American leadership in a difficult situation by purchasing the S-400 system. It will be interesting to see how the US articulates the sanctions against India over this purchase.  

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American submarine mangled in the South China Sea

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Tensions in the western Pacific have been simmering for the past many months. The western world led by the United States has begun to transfer more assets into the Indo-Pacific, in a bid to contain, if not restrict, the rampant rise of Chinese power in the volatile region.

The Americans have continued to expand their naval presence in the Western Pacific and the China seas. In October 2021, two carrier strike groups of the Nimitz-class supercarriers were deployed around the first island chain, led by the USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) and the USS Ronald Reagan (CVN-76). The British, in an attempt to regain lost momentum in the Indo-Pacific, deployed the HMS Queen Elizabeth (R08), which sailed through the South China Sea earlier last month. The aforementioned vessels also sailed through the Philippine Sea alongside the Japanese MSDF Hyuga-class helicopter-carrier JS Ise (DDH-182), as part of multilateral naval exercises.

These actions, however, cannot be viewed as an unprecedented act of offence against the People’s Republic of China. The mainland Chinese have since late September been upping the ante in its long-lasting dispute with Taiwan. The Taiwanese Air Defence Identification Zone (ADIZ) has been consistently violated by aircraft of the People’s Liberation Army Air Force. On 4 October 2021 for instance, 52 aircraft of the PLAAF were identified in the southwestern sector of the Taiwan ADIZ. This included 34 Shenyang J-16 multirole fighters, 12 Xian H-6 nuclear-capable bombers, 2 Sukhoi Su-30 MKK multirole fighters, 2 Shaanxi Y-8 ASW aircraft and 2 Shaanxi KJ-500 AEW&C aircraft.

Figure 2: Illustration of PLAAF incursions into Taiwanese airspace on 4 Oct 2021 (Source: Ministry of National Defense, ROC)

Actions on such a massive scale are becoming increasingly frequent and are posing a serious threat to Taiwanese sovereignty and independence. The dynamics in the region are quickly evolving into a scenario similar to that of the cold war, with the formation of two distinct blocs of power. The United States and its allies – especially Japan – are keeping their eyes peeled on the developments taking place over the airspace of Taiwan, with the Chinese completely bailing out on promises of pursuing unification through peaceful means.

This aggression emerging from the communist regime in Beijing must be met with in order to contain their expansionist objectives. In pursuit of containing Chinese aggression and expansionism, the US Navy deployed the USS Connecticut (SSN-22) – a Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine – on patrol in East and Southeast Asia. It made stops for supplies at Fleet Activities Yokosuka in Japan, and US Naval base Guam, before departing for the South China Sea. While the public announcement was made on 7 October 2021, the USS Connecticut was struck by an unknown underwater object, while submerged in the disputed region, on 2 October 2021. The incident did not affect the nuclear plant of the attack submarine, nor were there any serious injuries reported.

While the US Navy has not yet disclosed locations of where the submarine incident took place, Chinese think tank South China Sea Probing Initiative made use of satellite imagery to spot what they suspect as being the Seawolf-class submarine sailing 42.8 nm southeast off the disputed Paracel island group[1].

Figure 3: (Left) Map released by SCSPI marking claimed location of USS Connecticut on 3 October 2021 (R) Satellite imagery of suspected Seawolf-class submarine (Source: SCS Probing Initiative)

If this information is accurate, one cannot rule out the chance of this incident being in fact offensive action taken up by the Chinese against an American nuclear submarine sailing so close to a disputed group of shoals and isles over which Beijing adamantly claims sovereignty. But then again, the South China Sea is well known as being a tricky landscape for submarines to sail through submerged, with sharp ridges and a seabed scattered with shoals. Hydrographic and bathymetric failures have taken place in the past, resulting in devastating consequences. For instance, the USS San Francisco (SSN 711) collided with a seamount southeast of Guam in 2005. If one is to compare and contrast the claimed location of the USS Connecticut in Figure 3, with the bathymetric map of the South China Sea in Figure 4, it can be seen that the claimed sighting area is home to tricky geography, with steep ridges connecting waters as shallow as 1300 m to as deep as 3500 m.

Figure 4: Bathymetric of the South China Sea (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

However, given the vast improvement in the gathering of bathymetric and hydrographic data by US Navy Hydrography vessels, it can be possible to rule out the scenario of the USS Connecticut colliding with submarine features. One must then look into other possibilities and scenarios that incurred heavy damage onboard the USS Connecticut, which resulted in injuries to 11 of its sailors.

The possibility of this incident being the result of a nefarious Chinese attack on an American nuclear submarine sailing near territories claimed and occupied by Beijing must not be ruled out. The Chinese have exponentially increased their military aggression and activity over the past months and years, as can be viewed on the Indo-Sino border in the Himalayas and the cross-strait aggression in Taiwan. In the South China Sea, uninhabitable shoals have been converted into military bases supporting aerial capabilities as well as housing advanced radar systems and barracks. A submarine, warship, or any other vessel for that fact, can be considered to be ‘sailing behind enemy lines’.

Among several possibilities, one can be that the Chinese made use of unmanned underwater vehicles to counter the American submarine. In 2019, the PLA Navy put on exhibition its first autonomous underwater vehicle named HSU-001 (Figure 5). Submarine authority H I Sutton’s analysis of the paraded AUV described it as being worthy of long-range operations, with side-scanning sonar arrays and a magnetic anomaly detector to detect underwater targets. Such a vessel can be used for a vast variety of operations including marine surveying and reconnaissance, mine warfare and countermeasures, undersea cable inspection, and anti-submarine warfare.

Figure 5: Two of the HSU-001 AUVs on display in Beijing, 2019 (Source: Forbes).

The Chinese have also developed smaller underwater glider drones. In late December 2020, Indonesian fishermen fished out the ‘Sea Wing’ (Figure 6), which is an entirely different type of drone with no powerhouse to propel its movement. The Sea Wing family of underwater gliders depend upon variable-buoyancy propulsion that makes use of an inflating and deflating balloon-like device filled with pressurised oil, causing them to sink before rising to the surface again, moving along, aided by wings. Unlike the HSU-001, the Sea Wing is much smaller in size and does not support any fittings for combat missions.

Figure 6: Indonesian Fishermen caught a Chinese underwater glider drone in December 2020 (Source: The War Zone)

In July 2021, the communist regime in China in an unprecedented move declassified detailed results of an experimental project that has apparently spanned through decades. The results showcased the field test of an unmanned underwater vehicle (UUV), seemingly in the Taiwan Strait in the year 2010. Reports stated that the UUV currently operates individually, but with future upgrades could be capable of operating in packs. The document stated that the UUV pointed its sonar arrays to various sources of sound, while artificial intelligence tried to filter out ambient noise and determine the nature of the target, firing a torpedo upon verification. The ability to fire, assumably a standard-sized torpedo, would suggest that the UUV in question would be of a larger size than the Sea Wing glider. It could, perhaps, be even larger than the HSU-001, given the physical largeness of earlier technologies. Sophisticated technologies of today, however, are also being diverted to reduce the size of torpedoes without impacting their effectiveness.

UUVs are undoubtedly going to change the path of modern warfare, being used for both detecting targets and, in the future, also eliminating them. Military designers and researchers are paying an increasing amount of attention and resources into the development of advanced platforms and assets, keeping in mind the concepts of high precision, small loss and big technology. These assets will prove to be invaluable in shallow seas, and indeed the South China Sea, with all of its treacherous hydrographic features, and being easily modifiable for mission requirements.

One remote understanding of the incident that took place in the South China Sea involving the USS Connecticut can be that the Chinese made use of a UUV to attack the American SSN. Several analysts and submarine experts in the field including former American submariner Aaron Amick suggest that the bow dome of the Seawolf-class nuclear attack submarine was severely damaged. Since no explosions were reported, we can rule out the possibility of the use of torpedoes to attack the American vessel. It could also not have been a ‘dud’ torpedo fired at the American submarine since such a non-lethal thin-metal structure could barely have a major impact on the two-inches thick HY-100 steel alloy that comprises the hull of the Seawolf. This leaves us with the scenario of a drone being used to physically ram the hull of the submarine. It is unlikely that the Chinese made use of a Sea Wing glider given its small size and nature of operations. It would be more probable that if such a scenario did take place, it involved the PLAN making use of a UUV as large as the HSU-001, if not larger.

This would raise the question of what went wrong with the equipment aboard the Connecticut? How is it that the advanced sensors and sonar array could not pick up on an incoming object? Or in the case of a collision with geographical features, what went wrong with the hydrographic and bathymetric systems onboard one of the most advanced nuclear attack submarines in the world?

Submarine navigation is a highly sensitive field of expertise requiring extremely thorough and comprehensive data of the areas in the vessel’s immediate surroundings. Navies across the world maintain classified databases storing detailed hydrographic and bathymetric data that are invaluable for submarine operations. However, submariners also make use of high-frequency sonars that calculate water depths and surrounding features to verify chart data. Active sonar pulses are used to reveal nearby underwater objects including submerged objects such as mines, wrecks, other vessels, as well as geographical features.

The USS Connecticut, alongside other vessels of the Seawolf-class SSNs, began its life with the BQQ 5D sonar system. The Seawolf was refitted with AN/BQQ-10(V4) systems which is an open architecture system that includes biennial software upgrades (APBs) and quadrennial hardware upgrades. The new system, however, continues to make use of the 24 feet wide bow-mounted spherical active and passive array and wide-aperture passive flank arrays installed on the submarine. The class of vessels was also to be retrofitted with TB-29A thin-line towed array sonar systems, developed by Lockheed Martin. The successor of the Seawolf-class – the Virginia-class – has also been fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) sonar processing system, making use of a bow-mounted active and passive array, wide aperture passive array on the flank, high-frequency active arrays on keel and fin, TB 16 towed array and TB-29A thin line towed array. The Seawolf and the Virginia are both fitted with the AN/BQQ-10(V4) system and the TB-29A towed array sonar system which could become worrisome for future operations since this is a relatively newer system.

Operators of the system must look into strengthening any blind spots that the system may possess. There may also be the minute chance that the Chinese have identified such a blind spot and have attempted to exploit it. These systems have been developed by Lockheed Martin in Virginia, USA – also the developer of the F-35 Lightning II JSF. Further alleviating suspicions is the fact that the Chinese have in recent months boasted claims of having developed radar systems that are capable of detecting the most advanced and stealthy of American combat jets, including both the F-35 as well as the F-22 Raptor. This, as per the Chinese, is now possible through the use of their latest radar system – the YLC-8E – which was developed by the China Electronics Technology Group Corporation (CETC). The research team at Tsinghua University said that the platform generated an electromagnetic storm which would serve to acquire the location of incoming stealth aircraft. To engage in the highest degree of speculation, could China have managed to acquire sensitive data from one of the largest US defence contractors, enabling it to detect and even malign some of the finest American technological suites onboard various platforms?


[1] SCS Probing Initiative [@SCS_PI]. (2021, October 8). Is this USS Connecticut? Which is reported to suffer an underwater collision in the #SouthChinaSea Oct 2. Satellite image from @planet spotted a suspected Wolf-class submarine, sailing 42.8NM southeast off the Paracel Islands, Oct 3. Retrieved from Twitter.

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The Road Leading Nowhere

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lithuania nato

A few days ago, Jens Stoltenberg, NATO Secretary-General, announced the expulsion of several diplomats from the Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the Organization. The only justification NATO could muster up for this was the traditional rhetoric of Russia’s alleged “malign activities” in NATO member states. As it so usually happens, no evidence or illustrations of such activities were ever provided. It is almost as if NATO’s leadership is consistently trying to destroy everything that Moscow and Brussels have built to bolster European security architecture through joint efforts during the last two decades.

Russia launched its Permanent Mission to NATO in 2003 following the establishment of the NATO–Russia Council (NRC) on May 28, 2002 in Rome. Prior to that, Russia’s ambassador to Belgium had also acted as the nation’s non-resident ambassador to the Organization. The establishment of the NATO–Russia Council was a momentous event, which is evident by the fact that the heads of state and government of all NATO member states as well as the president of the Russian Federation gathered in Rome to sign the Declaration on “NATO–Russia Relations: a New Quality” at an official ceremony.

I happened to be present at that ceremony in Rome. The atmosphere was very spirited, and the leaders were quite optimistic about the prospects of the new mode of cooperation between Russia and the West. Those present at that memorable event unanimously welcomed the new mechanism, while U.S. President George W. Bush stressed that should Russia be left behind the alliance would fail in resolving the issues facing the world in the new century and responding to the new security challenges in the Euro-Atlantic region and beyond. Jean Chrétien, Prime Minister of Canada, noted that NATO was “opening a new chapter in strengthening our ties with Russia,” emphasizing that the surest way of responding to the challenges of the 21st century would be to coordinate the efforts of the international community at large. He concluded, “It was high time that Russia be involved in the process.”

For his part, President Vladimir Putin said that Russia expected “the Rome Declaration to be a sound solution to work in a cooperative and constructive spirit rather than a mere statement of intentions.” He went on to say that Russia and NATO have a fraught history—however, the two had made real headway, shifting the paradigm “from opposition to dialogue, from confrontation to cooperation.” The Rome Declaration, Russia’s leader argued, was only to mark the beginning of the endeavours to arrive at fundamentally different relations.

While the reason why the two parties agreed two decades ago to establish the NATO–Russia Council and the extent to which the new joint mechanism indeed proved an agent of change for the military and political situation in the Euro-Atlantic (and globally) remain subject of persistent speculation, I believe it would be hard to refute the idea that the old shibboleths of the Cold War needed to be revised amid the evolving circumstances at the dawn of the new millennium. First and foremost, this had to do with security issues. By that time, sober-minded politicians in the West came to realize that Russia was far from what posed threats to world peace and international security. The foreground now featured a new set of global challenges, such as terrorism, WMD proliferation risks, illegal migration and regional crises, with no nation—even the largest and most powerful among the powers that be—able to counter them on their own. Russia was the first to face the challenge of global terrorism. Following hard on Russia’s heels, this threat engulfed the United States and other countries in its most cruel and dramatic form.

In accordance with the Rome Declaration, Russia and NATO member states committed to cooperating as equals in areas of mutual interest. The members of the Council, acting in their national capacities and in a manner consistent with their collective commitments and obligations, agreed to take joint decisions and bear equal responsibility, individually and collectively, for the decisions to be implemented. The Council saw some 25 working groups and committees established to foster meaningful cooperation in critical areas.

Following a meeting with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson in November 2002, President Vladimir Putin offered the following vision of Russia’s relations with NATO, “Never before have we raised the question of our full-fledged participation in NATO. Nor do we raise that matter today. Should our relationship, should our cooperation develop as positively as is the case now… And if NATO as an alliance transforms in implementing institutional reforms… And as long as our cooperation is in line with Russia’s national interests, meaning that we’ll see that this framework could serve a tool to pursue our own interests… Then our cooperation with NATO will surely be changing to encompass a broader involvement and participation.”

It has been some 20 years since the NATO–Russia Council was established. Can we deem this experiment to be a success? Both a “yes” and a “no.” On the one hand, we all could see for ourselves that dialogue and cooperation were, in fact, possible. Over the years, joint working groups were offering decisions whose implementation was in line with the fundamental interests of both parties. These included combatting terrorism, engaging on the Afghanistan dossier, enhancing military and technical cooperation, addressing arms control in Europe as well as other issues.

On the other hand, we also discovered that the old stereotypes were deeply entrenched in the minds of some strategists in the West who still believe Russia to be the principal and indispensable factor to cement “Western solidarity.” Otherwise, how can we account for the fact that NATO’s leadership chose to freeze all the Council’s proceedings and contacts with Russia contrary to what is stipulated in the Rome Declaration that provides for an urgent session of the NATO–Russia Council in the events such as brutal conflicts in South Ossetia or Ukraine?

NATO’s only approach to Moscow as of today is to expel as much staff as they can from Russia’s mission in Brussels. The purpose of all this is not hard to guess. NATO is busily getting ready for its next Summit, which is due to be held in 2022 in Madrid. At that summit, NATO plans to approve a new strategy for the alliance to make it “even stronger.”

This will not be an easy task in the wake of the alliance’s disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, which is why it has been taking strides to shift attention and search for an adversary whose presence would justify the organization’s continued existence as well as another hike in military budgets of its members. Individual statements make it clear that the new conceptual framework should bring NATO back to its former rhetoric of approaching Russia (and China) as a threat.

Apparently, the alliance would rather wave a final goodbye to the NATO–Russia Council by the time of the upcoming summit. This explains why they are trying to elicit a response from Moscow, which will definitely happen in the near future, likely to affect both Russia’s mission to NATO in Brussels and NATO’s Information Office in Moscow. It seems to be obvious that the only way an international organization can be effective is if this is indeed what all the parties want—in deeds rather than in words. If NATO has for whatever reason decided that it no longer needs the NATO–Russia Council, NATO should then be responsible for dismantling it.

However short-sighted and dangerous such a step on the part of NATO could be, this does not erase from the agenda the question of what the Euro-Atlantic security architecture would look like in the future. New challenges and threats continue to undermine the entire system of international security. Therefore, the feat of building a full-fledged and equal dialogue between Moscow and the West on a whole range of strategic stability issues is more relevant than ever. Under the current circumstances, such a dialogue being absent is fraught with risks that are too high for all the parties. These problems can surely be covered up and left to fester beneath the surface. For how long, though?

From our partner RIAC

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