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Hypersonic Weapons Hype?

Michael Unbehauen

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If one is to believe the countless recent articles about hypersonic weapons, then Russia and China have invented a revolutionary weapon fundamentally challenging U.S. missile defense and the security of the American people. Fittingly, one particular op-ed in the New York Times is actually titled “Hypersonic Missiles are a Game Changer” [1]. The New York Times op-ed, like so many others, reminds us that “no existing defenses can stop such weapons” and that hypersonic velocity is “something no missile can currently achieve, aside from an ICBM during re-entry” [1]. According to another article, America’s missile defense needs to “be like Sparta” because we “are staring at a critical gap in our nation’s missile defense” [2]. Both articles, representative of many others, claim that U.S. missile defense “effectively provided protection from intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) through the most sophisticated multilayered ballistic missile defense capabilities known to man. Now, next-generation foreign threats are creating near term vulnerability, the gap if you will, that challenges our defensive capabilities” [2].

But are these alarming messages actually true? The short answer is no. Contrary to the notion promulgated in the articles, there is currently no multilayered ballistic missile defense against ICBMs. There are no layers of different systems to engage an incoming ICBM. There is only one limited system: Ground-based Midcourse Defense (GMD). GMD has currently 44 interceptors available in Fort Greely, Alaska and Vandenberg Air Force Base, California to engage incoming ICBMs. The task of the GMD system is only to defend against a limited ICBM threat that could emerge from North Korea and potentially from Iran in the future. GMD was never intended to be used against the vast ICBM arsenals of Russia or China with hundreds of ICBMs and thousands of nuclear warheads. Defending against a massive ICBM attack from either of these countries has always been impossible. Therefore, hypersonic weapons are not a new threat that suddenly give Russia or China the capability to attack North America with nuclear warheads. This capability has existed since the development of ICBMs. Russia and China possess the capacity to attack the United States with ICBMs just as the United States has the ability to attack those countries. However, it is worth noting that neither Russia nor China possess any defense against ICBMs that is comparable to the U.S. GMD system. 

It is worrying that the aforementioned op-eds were written by experienced individuals who should know of their inaccuracies. The authors include a former member of the National Security Council and a former Member of Congress who served on the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee and the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence.

On the other side of the discussion, several articles completely contradict the notion of an emerging threat and downplay the dangers and capabilities of the new hypersonic weapons. The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS), indicative of the broader critical opinion, paint the mainstream view about hypersonic weapons as a “fantastical depiction” [3]. This depiction, according to the UCS, is aimed to support an arms race among the major military powers to develop these weapons and “is part of a long pattern of media hype” [3]. Further, the critics also correctly address that “current U.S. defenses are not designed to defend against Russia and China, the nations currently deploying hypersonic weapons. The United States will therefore remain vulnerable to missile attack regardless of whether or not hypersonic weapons are deployed” [3].

The UCS (and other like-minded critics) have valid points against much of the sensational and often fundamentally wrong reporting on hypersonic weapons in the media. However, these critics often base their arguments’ assumptions on theory and lack important operational considerations that should be part of the discussion.

The Threat

The speed of hypersonic weapons is typically the key focus in most discussions of them as a dangerous new weapon system. This is understandable, as their speed is certainly significant and poses a strong technical challenge in designing a system to counter their employment. However, it must be understood that speed is only one consideration for successful intercept. The ability for hypersonic missiles, or glide vehicles, to significantly maneuver and avoid a predictable trajectory is the critical feature that will be the biggest challenge to overcome. Existing air and missile defenses are designed against ballistic missiles, which travel along a predictable trajectory with very limited ability to maneuver. Hypersonic weapons will negate current defense capabilities due to their greater speed and maneuverability relative to ICBMs.

To qualify as a hypersonic weapon, the weapon must be able to travel at least five times the speed of sound. The Russian Avangard hypersonic glide vehicle, the first operational hypersonic weapon, has the ability to achieve speeds between 20 to 27 times the speed of sound, according to the Russian government. In comparison, a traditional ICBM changes speeds throughout its parabolic flight (between boost, exo-atmospheric midcourse, and terminal phases) and achieves speeds averaging 20 times the speed of sound during re-entry into the atmosphere. By this definition, current ICBMs would also technically be hypersonic missiles. Therefore, according to the critics of the hypersonic weapons hype, the speed and flight time of hypersonics, even if they were faster than ballistic missiles, is immaterial. However, that argument is incorrect. Missile flight time makes a significant difference because it directly influences decision space, the time that human operators have to react to an incoming threat, and potential engagement windows, the time defense systems need to successfully counteract a missile threat.

A threat missile may undergo a 15-20-minute flight time until target impact, during which defenders have an approximately five-minute engagement window in which to react. This window varies depending on where the threat originates relative to the interceptor location; therefore, one or two minutes within this cycle is a significant amount of time, representing twenty to forty percent of the total engagement window. If one was only focusing on theoretical concerns, one or two minutes may seem inconsequential. However, from the perspective of military operations, it may be critical. Precise flight timing impacts equipment and software requirements, defense crew processes, and other operational considerations with significant impact on achieving success. The UCS, in their criticism, appear to ignore established missile defense tactics. Air and missile defenders generally attempt multiple shots against an incoming threat to increase the probability of successful intercept. Under such scenarios, every minute counts in order to have as many shot opportunities as possible. This is particularly important when dealing with nuclear warheads with unimaginable consequences if not intercepted.

Critics also tend to address the low flying flight path of hypersonic glide vehicles. In their eyes, taking advantage of the curvature of the earth to fly beneath missile defense radars is overstated. But here too, there is a more than what meets the eye. The UCS state that total reliance on ground-based radar for early warning of missile attacks is a relic of the past for technologically-advanced nations like the United States or Russia [3]. According to them, both nations have operated early warning satellites since the 1970s. It is true that space-based infrared sensors would detect a hypersonic missile launch just as easily as an attack with traditional ballistic missiles due to the infrared emissions. However, what is missing in this assessment is the fact that detection alone will not help in the actual intercept of the threat. Detection alone would only give the opportunity to warn people of incoming strategic missiles that will impact in approximately 20 minutes, which is hardly any time to prepare a metropolitan area for an impact. In order to engage an incoming missile, radars are required, which are more precise than the data obtained from infrared satellites. These satellites do not produce an exact real-time accurate picture. Even if they did, discrimination of the warhead from space would be nearly impossible. Discrimination, the ability for a radar to discern which object is the lethal warhead and needs to be intercepted, is critical for a successful engagement. When an ICBM is launched, a so-called ‘missile event’ could produce a flying cloud or cluster of several hundreds of parts and debris, with one of them being the actual warhead. In addition, there are decoys that are made to look like the lethal warhead to confuse defense systems. Hypersonic weapons could, just like ballistic missiles, be equipped with such decoys. Therefore, ground-based radars are essential for effective missile defense to discriminate and destroy the warhead.

Despite the flaws in their theoretical approach, critics are correct in stating that hypersonic weapons are being inaccurately presented as new and insurmountable urgent threats. Hypersonic glide vehicles, although new, are not strategic game changers that pose a new threat by enabling Russia and China to attack the United States with nuclear warheads. Hypersonic weapons are not a new advantage for China, Russia, or for the United States. The United States does not need hypersonic weapons to attack Russia, China, or any other nation to overwhelm any sort of missile defense system. Contrary to the United States, no other country has even a limited capability to engage ICBMs.

However, to claim that hypersonic weapons are simply ‘hype’ to justify increased military spending, is only telling half the story. Hypersonic weapons do represent a basic capability that is revolutionary in the field of missile defense. Missile defense is currently grounded in math to calculate and predict, based upon a missile’s trajectory, where an incoming missile will be at a certain time in order to engage and destroy that it. With the development of new hypersonic weapons that have the ability to maneuver and therefore don’t follow a predictable trajectory, the very basis of missile defense is called into question. Therefore, it is necessary to research methods and technology to counter this threat because it could potentially make traditional missile defense as we currently know it obsolete.

The Impact

The question of why the United States appears to lag behind Russia and China regarding hypersonic weapon systems as well as why defense against such systems was not part of earlier U.S. military planning must be addressed as part of the hypersonic discussion.

Russia’s announcement of its first operational hypersonic weapon seems to have been a ‘Sputnik moment’ for the U.S. military. By 1957, the Soviet Union “had acquired the world’s first ICBM, which also placed the first artificial satellite, Sputnik, in space. For the United States, this presented a substantial threat and challenge, amplifying fears about American weakness against a Soviet ICBM attack. This shaped the political support for the creation of an American anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system” [4]. Similar to what we are seeing now with hypersonic weapons, the first American ICBM was declared operational two years after the Soviet Union already had ICBMs. The reason for the American delay during the Cold War was due to a different strategic focus and military leadership that was not adaptive in its approach. With overwhelming air superiority and capable intercontinental bombers, the U.S. Air Force did not take the development of ICBM technology seriously in the 1950s. Within the Air Force, many fighter and bomber pilots, the elite of the hierarchy in the Air Force and the main pool from which decision makers came, were opposed to the notion of American ICBMs, since they saw their traditional roles in danger and could not conceptualize a new form of warfare.

Today’s U.S. military lags behind Russian and Chinese developments in the field of hypersonic weapons and is pressed to find a quick solution for the defense against such weapons because of similar reasons. Completely focused on nearly two decades of counter insurgency warfare, the U.S. military neglected strategic planning, air and missile defense, and the military and technological modernization of Russia and the emergence of China. The U.S. Army, responsible for land-based air and missile defense marginalized its Air Defense Artillery formations. Similar to the Air Force’s pilots, the Army’s top decision-makers tend to come from the infantry or maneuver forces. The notion that the United States would always maintain air superiority because insurgents do not have air forces became ingrained in these decision-makers’ minds. Under this pretext, short-range air defense (SHORAD) was practically abandoned and anti-drone warfare not developed. Now, the U.S. Army is playing catch-up in these very disciplines. While the United States was consumed with fighting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Russia and China developed their anti-access/area denial (A2/AD) capabilities and hypersonic weapons programs. 

However, it is also important to understand that the current hypersonic weapons of U.S. adversaries cannot deliver what their operators want the public to believe. A warhead of a traditional ballistic missile only spends a relatively short time exposed to air resistance when it re-enters the atmosphere at high speed in its terminal flight. Hypersonic weapons on the other hand, traveling at hypersonic speed within the atmosphere, experience air friction throughout their entire flight and thus experience much higher levels of heat buildup. This could have dire consequences for the performance of those weapons. It is currently unknown what the effect of this amount of heat will be on hypersonic warheads and if their accuracy is compromised.

An examination of hypersonic weapons must be factual and not driven by political goals or emotion. Obviously, there is hardly any operational knowledge when it comes to this new type of weapon. However, the discourse on missile defense cannot be held solely based on theoretical knowledge and unrealistic assumptions when there are decades of operational knowledge regarding missile defense and its tactics and true capabilities. Are hypersonics a game changer when it comes to the security and defense of the American people from a nuclear attack? Definitely not. The American people have lived in the crosshairs of hundreds of ICBMs equipped with nuclear warheads for decades. The 44 Ground-based interceptors of the GMD system do not stand a chance against the hundreds of ICBMs that Russia and China have, not to mention that these ICBMs are equipped with multiple warheads.

In the future, hypersonic weapons may be a game changer in the field of weapons technology since they require a completely new approach for defense. Of course, research is needed to develop ways to defend against these hypersonic weapons as soon as possible. Despite this, one must remember that current hypersonic weapon capabilities are by far nowhere close to giving their operators a clear military advantage. 

[1] S. Simon, “Hypersonic Missiles Are a Game Changer”, New York Times, Jan. 2, 2020. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/02/opinion/hypersonic-missiles.html

[2] T. Tiahrt, “How to Improve America’s Missile Defense, Be Like Sparta, The National Interest, March 2, 2020. https://nationalinterest.org/blog/buzz/how-improve-americas-missile-defense-be-sparta-128467

[3] C. Tracy, “Setting the Record Straight on Hypersonic Weapons”, Union of Concerned Scientists, February 03, 2020. https://allthingsnuclear.org/ctracy/setting-the-record-straight-on-hypersonic-weapons


[4] M. Unbehauen, G. Sloan, A. Squatrito,”The U.S. Missile Defense Shield and Global Security Destabilization: An Inconclusive Link”, International Journal of Business, Human and Social Sciences, Zenodo, May 1, 2019. https://zenodo.org/record/3299365#.Xm6JNI7Yqzz

Michael Unbehauen, is the founder and president of Acamar Analysis and Consulting, an independent U.S.-based think tank and consulting firm. During his military career, he supported U.S. Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM ) in the fields of strategy, policy, and plans for global integrated missile defense, was the lead planner for Air and Missile Defense Theater Security Cooperation in Europe, as well as the commander of a strategic U.S. missile defense radar station in Israel. He further served as a crew member on a GMD crew and as the Planning Officer of the 100th Missile Defense Brigade (GMD).

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Erdogan Slapped On The Wrist In Libya -Is More To Follow?

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A series of successes by Turkey-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya came to a sudden halt July 4th when the Al-Watiya airbase recently captured by the GNA factions was struck by unknown jets. Forces loyal to GNA entered Al-Watiya just a few weeks ago after a rapid offensive supported by Turkish drones. Back then, the GNA fighters took selfies with the Pantsir S-1 systems abandoned by the Libyan National Army (LNA). Instead of Russian-made Pantsirs Turkish MIM-23 HAWK systems were positioned at the base.

The latest satellite pictures of Al-Watia make it clear that these very systems were damaged or possibly destroyed in the attack. These developments surely dealt a huge blow to the pride of the Turkish leadership, all the more so because the attack happened just hours after Turkish defense minister Hulusi Akar concluded his visit to Tripoli.

Spokesman for the Volcano of Rage operation carried out by GNA units Abdul-Malik al-Madani claimed that Al-Watiya was attacked by Dassault Mirage 2000-9 multi-role fighters of the United Arab Emirates Air Force that used the Egyptian Sidi-Barrani airbase located closed to the Libyan border. The UAE did not comment on the statement.

The incident did not come as a complete surprise. Recep Erdogan’s aggressive policy in Libya has long been a concern for quite a few regional and global powers who could have deemed it necessary to slap the Turkish president on the wrist.

First, Turkey’s provocative actions endanger the interest of Libya’s closest neighbor, Egypt. The Egyptian leader Abdelfattah al-Sisi has already declared his readiness to conduct a full-scale military operation in Libya. Second, Turkish intervention in Libya is frown upon in the United Arab Emirates, one of the Egypt’s allies. Third, France has been consistently critical of Erdogan’s Libyan policy. Evidently, all of Paris, Abu-Dhabi and Cairo support the LNA leader Khalifa Hafter.

Probably the most thorough analysis up to date of the possible identity of the culprits behind the Al-Watiya attack was conducted by an independent researcher Akram Kharif. The analyst concluded that Russian involvement is least likely, as Russia lacks necessary military assets in Libya and is wary of damaging the relation with Turkey. Besides, Libya is off limits for the Russian spacial intelligence and targeting systems. Kharif argues that the operation was likely carried out by the UAE jets from Egypt’s soil with information support provided by France. If we accept this conclusion, the attack should be viewed as a “red line” drawn for the Turkish authorities.

Turkey and the GNA did not disclose the scale of casualties suffered in the attack, but it is of little relevance really. What’s more important is the symbolic meaning behind the attack that gave Ankara’s ambitious plans for capturing strategic areas of Sirte port and Jufra airbase a reality check. The future of the Libyan conflict now depends on the ability of the Turkish authorities to decipher this message.

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Three Turning Points of China’s Military Strategic Thoughts

Chan Kung

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The Chinese army is long known for its experience in the ways of strategic and tactical warfare. Being a country that boasts a large population, it has an endless supply of troops. Having adopted the core values of Western military warfare, Chinese strategists like Mao Zedong and many others came up with unique political and military ideological systems to suit China. These days, most of its military school of thought have been successfully passed down. Despite China’s somewhat extensive military ideological system, the core of its system boils down to two values, namely highly mobile operations, and a highly self-sacrificial spirit. For instance, the Chinese army, known for its Guerrilla Warfare, which is a part of mobile operations, is itself an understanding and application of the knowledge. Military strength on the other hand, is a manifestation of the country’s strong self-sacrificial spirit, a trait that is observed in political warfare too. These two attributes are what make up the core of China’s military strategic thinking and served as a catalyst to propel the Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) to greater heights.

Both core values are largely related to China’s long years of warfare. The guerrilla warfare in the region of Jinggang Mountains during the 1920s allowed Chinese army leaders to realize that mobile operations were key to surviving and coming out on top. Meanwhile, the war against Japan during the 1930s to 1940s taught the then highly illiterate and disorganized Chinese army, the importance of sacrificial spirit. Consequently, China’s military leaders began emphasizing the importance of practical knowledge and downplayed the importance of military ideology and theory, whichthey were known to blindly uphold, owing to their military tradition and long years of wars.

Following decades of peace, China eventually entered a political stalemate. Though when the Cultural Revolution swept over the country, and politics took a turn for the extreme, it affected the Chinese military and strategic ideology and caused the systems to be expressed in an abstract and overly simplified multi-faceted manner. To cite some examples, these were the words spoken by Lin Biao, then marshal of China.“First of all, you must fear no hardships. Second, you must fear no death”. To which PLA General Xu Shiyou added, “There is only death in failure”. Given China’s political environment then, the Chinese army turned into a political organization and its military power fell.

Even in that political environment, the Chinese commanders’ speeches varied based on the context. For example, while most of Lin Biao’s publicized speeches were political, in some unique occasions, however, they were spoken with foresight and showed Lin Biao’s true capability. During the meeting at the Military Commission on February 27, 1960, he was reported saying, “(1) In the future, wars are determined by the press of a button. (2) The most urgent, most important, and largest priority in our preparation for war is to revolutionize cutting-edge weapons. (3) Future wars will not only rely on infantry, but the air force and missiles too. Air forces will play a greater role on the battlefield, it may even determine the outcome of the war at some point, and we need to prioritize its development.” Lin Biao’s speech gave China the wake-up call that it needed to revamp its military, though it was ultimately three major events that truly allowed the country’s military to break away from politics and begin redefining their objectives.

The first major event took place in 1979.

Between February 17 to March 16, 1979, a brief but large-scale, heavy casualty war broke out between China and Vietnam. China had invested in a total of 9 infantry and 29 army division of alarming sizes in the east and west lines, namely the 11th Army, 13th Army, 14th Army, 41st Army, 42nd Army, 43rd Army, The 50th Army, 54th Army, 55th Army and 20th Army 58th Division, Guangxi Military Region Independent Division, Yunnan Provincial Military Region Independent Division, 2 Guangxi Military Region Frontier Regiments & 1 Frontier Battalion, 4 Yunnan Provincial Military Region Frontier Regiments and 3 border defence battalions, 2 artillery divisions (1st artillery, 4th artillery), 3 anti-aircraft artillery divisions (65th artillery division, 70th artillery division, 72th artillery division), and finally, military units such as railway, engineering, and communication troops. The troop size was estimated to be 220,000, rivalling the military strength of the Korean War at one point, though with further and better technical equipment. The Vietnamese troops confronted China with 6 infantry divisions (3rd, 345, 346, 316A, 338, 325B divisions), more than 10 local regiments & 20 independent battalions, and 4 artillery regiments. Later, they were joined by the infantry 327, 337 divisions and several independent regiments, independent battalions, special battalions, artillery, engineering, communications among many other units. About 100,000 people joined Vietnamese’s army forces, which depended on local troops and large numbers of armed militias to coordinate assaults. The entire battle stretched up to hundreds of kilometers and the Chinese army seized more than 20 small and medium-sized cities, and rural counties in northern Vietnam within a month.

Many officers’ account and battle records about the war were declassified from 2018 to 2020 and made public. Unlike most conventional news or qualitative reports, the records detailed the brutalities of the war and the Chinese PLA’s actual combat capabilities at the time. This includes blind commands issued by senior generals and plans revealing the detachment strategy formulated based on the battlefield. To quote an example, during the Cao Bang Campaign, the Chinese army deployed 6 troops and 11 divisions against 1 division (15,000 troops) from the Vietnamese army. They employed large-scale penetration manoeuvre to surround and annihilate the Vietnamese forces. Originally, the campaign was meant to last for 3 to 5 days only, yet it dragged on for 28 days, and continued to persist even as the Vietnamese army had retreated. The Chinese commanders ordered the annihilation of all oppressing forces, though after passing through several ranks of officers, the order was misinterpreted as an attempt to defend the site at all costs, even as the Vietnamese forces had successfully penetrated into Chinese territories following a surprise attack. Since many grassroots officers lacked the cartographical concept, most senior officers within the division were demoted, and were made to replace the grassroots officers to assume command over the troops instead, veteran commanders included. Chaos broke out among the grassroots officers, soldiers were openly holding senior officers at gunpoint for food, discarding many weapons and equipment at random, regiment-level cadres faked injuries to return to China. The Chinese battalion cadres relinquished their controls over the troops, resulting in large casualties and an eventual surrender. The sight of a few Vietnamese agents was enough to send the Chinese army into panic, causing them to shoot and kill one another, resulting in hundreds of deaths and the loss all supplies.

The Sino-Vietnamese war was led by second-line generals who had experienced wars. They were pick from the best veteran generals possible who were battle-hardened and could still be called to arms. In terms of high-level strategic command, the Chinese army was commanded by Yang Dezhi during the early stages, followed by Zhang Quanxiu later at the west line, while the east was commanded by Xu Shiyou. For advanced strategic command, Wang Shangrong, head of the War Department of the General Staff, was tasked with overseeing all preparations and decision-making concerning the operation. A week before launching the counterattack, Wang Shangrong mobilized the command team into the command center. The counterattack lasted for a month. For tens of days, he did not leave his post. Looking at the Sino-Vietnamese War in the grander scheme of things, even the Western media who chose to side with China then remarked that the country relied heavily on infantry assaults in dense formations, and that it employed warfare tactics similar to the Korean War in the 1950s. The Indian army, who were closely observing the war, too found that the Chinese army was far different from the 1962 Sino-Indian War.

The tragic reality and the outcome of the Sino-Vietnamese war caused China’s military community to realize old-fashioned strategies, traditional means and conventional military school of thoughts no longer work in modern wars. Following the war, Xu Shiyou, who was infamous for his mediocrity and excessive use of brute force to resolve matters, was immediately relieved of any substantial military command post after the war. Concurrently, the issue of military reform was finally brought to attention due to the impact of the war, and the country began unifying its military school of thought, with Deng Xiaoping launching a massive disarmament eventually. That said, while the Sino-Vietnamese war served as a critical turning point for China’s strategic thought, the major problems that plagued the Chinese military remained. How should the Chinese military fight and how should modern warfare be fought? Conventional strategic thought continued to be super controversial. Be it to enhance and strengthen the original military system and strategic thought, or to carry out reforms on a larger scale, many disputes concerning these major issues could not be resolved. However, these issues were finally addressed during the second major event.

The second major turning point came in 1990.

A major event that shocked the world in 1990 was the outbreak of the Gulf War. The Gulf War refers to the war between the U.S.-led coalition consisting of 34 countries and Iraq during the period of August 2, 1990,to February 28, 1991, which was also known as Operation Desert Storm. On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait, overthrew the Kuwaiti government, and declared the “return” of Kuwait and the “unity” of Greater Iraq. After obtaining the authorization of the United Nations, the multinational force led by the United States launched a military offensive against the Iraqi forces in Kuwait and Iraq on January 17, 1991. The main combat consisted of 42 days of air strikes and 100 hours of ground combat on the borders of Iraq, Kuwait, and Saudi Arabia.

The Gulf War was the first large-scale war led by the U.S. forces since the Vietnam War, and also the first war between United Nations member states. In the war, the US military put a large number of high-tech weapons into actual combat for the first time. In particular, the U.S. Air Force used various guided bombs to attack from aircraft carriers, showing overwhelming superiority in air and electronic control. The new modern war and the first live broadcast by satellite left a deep impression on the whole world and China. The U.S. Air Force conducts thousands of sorties a day, using guided bombs, cluster bombs, air-fuel bombs, and cruise missiles. The primary objective of the U.S. forces was to destroy the Iraqi air force and air defenses, a task that was quickly accomplished, and allied air forces were virtually unimpeded throughout the rest of the war. Although Iraq’s air defenses were better than expected, U.S. Air Force only lost one F/A-18C fighter (AA403) on the first day of the war.

In the ground warfare, the 1st and 2nd Marine Divisions, in coordination with the 1st brigade of the 2nd Armored Division, attacked Kuwait from the east and quickly liberated Kuwait. The main American forces consist of five units of the 7th Infantry Division, including the 1st Infantry Division, 1st Cavalry Division, 1st Armored Division, 3rd Armored Division and 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment, with the 1st Armored Division of the British Army in Germany. It carried out a roundabout attack in the southern part of Iraq, bypassing the key defense areas of the Iraqi army and directly entering the western desert of Iraq. This unit quickly annihilated the Iraqi Republican Guard, which was far better equipped than the Chinese army and experienced in combat after the Iran-Iraq war. At the same time, the U.S. XVIII Airborne Corps completed a spectacular detour, cutting off the main Iraqi forces and closing in. A long line of Iraqi army convoys and equipment formed on the highway leading from Kuwait to Iraq in front of live television cameras. The long convoy was so heavily bombed by U.S. aircraft that it earned the nickname “The Highway of Death”.

Within 100 hours of the ground warfare, then-President Bush declared victory and a multinational cease-fire. To the astonishment of the Chinese generals who commented on TV, the casualties of the U.S.-led allied forces in such a large-scale war were very small, with only 148 American soldiers killed, 47 British and only 2 French. On the Iraqi side, nearly all of its main forces, including the elite Republican Guard, have been hit hard. Most scholars believe that the number of Iraqi troops killed in war is between 25,000 and 75,000,and the number of wounded is unclear. In addition, the number of Iraqi troops captured by the Americans alone stands at 71,000.

Such a sharp contrast caused the war to have a subversive impact on China’s military strategic thinking. When Zhang Zhaozhong, an expert on Chinese military studies, and others commented on the progress of the war on CCTV, they were struck dumb by these scenes. Their error-prone comments even caused CCTV hosts to show dissatisfaction and questioning on the spot. It should be said that the modern mode of warfare demonstrated in the Gulf War deeply stimulated the whole Chinese army and completely overturned their conventional cognition. In the face of the war footage, it was not just a few television commentators who were stunned. In fact, it was the objective reflection of China’s military strategic thinking at that time. Judging from the results of the Gulf War, China’s conventional military strategic thinking, in fact, has been completely turned into “historical rubbish”, which has prompted China to reflect on its military thinking deeply. Because the objective fact is that China knows very well that it cannot defeat Vietnam in guerrilla warfare; it is no match for a modern military power like the United States in regular warfare. The practical conclusion is clear: the modern mode of warfare in the world has been completely changed, and China must carry out major reforms in military thinking and system to adapt to future wars.

Of course, the origin of China’s military reform is a long story, but it actually began after the 1990 Gulf War. It is worth noting that even with the emergence of modern war such as the Gulf War, the military reforms of that period only addressed a small number of minor issues. If the Chinese military system including the military is regarded as a person, the post-1990 reform, which involved merely the reform of the “limbs”. However, the reform of the military-strategic thinking and the military system, that is, the reform of “head of the armed forces” and the strategic thinking, were almost entirely left untouched. If there was any progress at all, it was slow and minimal. In fact, it was not until the military reform after 2012 that this problem was truly solved.

The third major turning point occurred in 2015.

Since China entered the 21st century, its national conditions have undergone major changes. First of all, population decline has become an unshakable reality. There is a widespread one-child policy throughout the country. The supply of soldiers is highly limited. The cost of recruiting is rising rapidly, andeven RMB 200,000 subsidies are required for every soldier recruited in developed regions and cities.Secondly, China’s economic growth has developed rapidly during the golden decade, with great improvement in the economic foundation and great progress in the military industry and equipment industry. The third is that after “China Can Say No” and “Peaceful Rise” thoughts, a more assertive China has moved towards the world and the vast ocean with “Belt and Road Initiative”.

In March 2014, the Central Military Commission (CMC) leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces was established, headed by President Xi Jinping, and the first plenary meeting was held, marking the beginning of the substantive progress of the reform. In January 2015, the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces held the second plenary meeting and made arrangements for the proposed reform plan. In July of the same year, at the third plenary meeting of the leading group for deepening reform on national defense and the armed forces, the overall planning for deepening the reform of national defense and armed forces were reviewed and adopted in principle. Later, Xi presided over a meeting of the Standing Committee of the Political Bureau of the CPC Central Committee and the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting to review the overall plan. On September 3, 2015, at the conference marking the 70th Anniversary of The Victory of the Chinese People’s War of Resistance Against Japanese Aggression and The World Anti-Fascist War, Xi Announced that China would cut its troop levels by 300,000. The following month, the Standing Committee of Central Military Commission meeting deliberated and adopted the “Implementation Plan for the PLA Leadership and Command System Reform”.On November 24-26 of the same year, the Central Military Commission Reform Work Conference was held. On November 28, the Central Military Commission issued the “Opinions on Deepening Reforms on National Defense and Armed Forces”, marking the official launch of military reform.

The national defense and military reform plan are based on the principle that the CMC is in charge of the chief command, the war zone and the services, including the adjustment of military headquarters system, implement CMC multi-sectoral system, establish army leading institutions and improve the services and arms lead management system, readjust the delimited war zone, establish joint operations command structures in commands, and improve the military commission agency and other measures. With the reform of the armed forces, the “The Fourth Department of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army”, the “seven military regions” and the “continental army” were all dismissed. The “Second Artillery Corps” was replaced by the “Rocket Force”, and the strategic support force was introduced. In addition, five major war zones were established, including major streamlining, major optimization, major readjustment, and major relocation of military forces. This is the most significant military reform in the history of the Chinese armed forces. Different from previous military reforms, this reform is real reform of the organizational system of the head of the armed forces. It represents and reflects the beginning of the construction and formation of a modern strategic ideological system in the Chinese armed forces.

As the Chinese army was initially formed by guerrilla warfare, then decades of war formed the ideological system of the “Continental Army” in the Chinese army, and its progress since then is more on the basis of Rudolf’s concept of “total war”. In 2015, after the first two major transitions, China finally entered the stage of joint campaign development in the third one. The so-called joint campaign refers to the campaign carried out jointly by two or more military service groups under the unified command of the joint command. This is where the Chinese military will be after the third major turn. Such a definition can also be proved in the “Vostok-2018” strategic exercise. The large-scale strategic exercise held by China and Russia after China’s military reform was a joint campaign exercise, which showed a certain degree of confidence.

To sum up, although the Chinese army has advanced to the stage of the joint campaign in terms of modernization after the three major transitions, it still has a long way to go before it becomes a powerful military force in the modern sense. Because the strategic thinking of modern world war lays the most emphasis on the ideas of the precision strike and war efficiency, the main progress of the world army is reflected in these aspects, while the Chinese army is still in the stage of the joint campaign, and the gap is still obvious. It is worth noting that since the massive Sino-Vietnamese war in 1979, China’s military is actually the only peaceful army among the world’s major powers, and it has not waged a real war for as long as 40 years. So, even though the Chinese army has undergone three major military changes, it is still military in a theoretical sense.

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Defense

Does Turkey Plan Revenge for Al-Watiya Attack?

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On Monday, July 6th, Turkish Defense Ministry declared that it plans to conduct large-scale military exercises. The Turkish Air Force’s F-16 fighter jets and KC-135 Stratotankers will perform in-flight refueling over the Mediterranean Sea, the statement published by the ministry said.

The statement was followed by a sudden announcement of NAVTEX drills by the Turkish Naval Forces that are also supposed to take place in the Mediterranean. The maritime exercises will be conducted off the Libyan coast in three different regions and are designated to prepare the navy forces for a potential war and to “prove Turkey’s ability to control the region by air and sea.” Eight naval vessels and 17 warplanes will participate in the drills.

The goal, the location, and the timing of the Turkish exercises bear particular importance in regards to the recent incident at the Al-Watiya air base in Libya. Unidentified planes targeted the Turkish troops deployed to Al-Watiya on the night of July 4, damaging and destroying a number of the Turkish air defense systems positioned at the base. Officials of the Government of National Accord (GNA) blamed the allies of the Libyan National Army (LNA) for the attack. Spokesman for the Volcano of Rage operation carried out by the GNA forces Abdul-Malek Al-Madini claimed that the air strikes were executed by Dassault Mirage fighters belonging to the United Arab Emirates, a major ally of the LNA. The attack evidently caught Ankara by surprise and made the Turkish authorities consider an option of resorting to the use of force against the LNA and its allies.

The timing and the location of the drills provide Turkey with an opportunity to strike the LNA military assets of strategical importance in the area. Turkey wants to send a message to its adversaries and to demonstrate its resolve to use force to protect its troops in Libya, believes Egyptian military analyst Samir Ragheb. Indeed, during his recent visit to Tripoli Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar met GNA officials and signed an agreement that granted Ankara the right of initiating direct military intervention in Libya and establishing military bases in the North African country.

Such provocative actions and statements are clear evidence of Turkey’s firm intent to use military force to achieve its goals in Libya. Should Ankara decide to strike the LNA, it will inevitably result in a new escalation of violence and will further exacerbate the already deteriorating security situation in the region.

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