For Russia, the military developments and strategies of the United States recreate those challenges and threats that the USSR associated with President Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI). Adopted in 1984, the SDI programme involved deploying several echelons of space strike weapons that would intercept and destroy ballistic missiles and their re-entry vehicles in all flight segments. The purpose of the SDI was to ensure that the whole of North America was protected by an anti-missile shield.
American developments today are aimed at ensuring the global military dominance and strategic invulnerability of the United States and include strategic non-nuclear weapons, missile defence, high-precision weapons, SM-6 universal anti-air and strike missiles, space strike systems (space interceptors), laser weapons, autonomous air, surface and undersea vehicles and means of conducting cyber warfare.
Essentially, the United States is systematically moving towards re-creating the state of affairs of 1945, when it was the only country that had nuclear weapons, could impose its will on the entire world, and remained beyond the reach of the armed forces of other countries. The processes that are taking place today, which could be termed a revolution in warfare, give the U.S. administration grounds to believe that cutting-edge weapons can neutralize or devalue Russia’s nuclear weapons.
The structure of U.S. military spending shows that the country is stepping up its investment in military R&D. Military spending increased by 3 per cent in 2020 to USD 750 billion. Meanwhile, the military R&D budget grew by nearly 10 per cent to USD 104.3 billion.
The SDI programme was scrapped in 1993. There were several reasons for this, including political and financial motivations. However, the programme was mostly abandoned because the projects were not technically feasible. Back in 1987, the American Physical Society published a paper concluding it would take at least 10 years to understand which of the technologies being developed could have a future . Even though the SDI was officially closed, some projects were continued as part of the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization, which was renamed the Missile Defense Agency in 2002, and led to the creation of anti-missile systems such as Patriot PAC-3, Aegis BMD, THAAD and the Ground-Based Midcourse Defense system.
Work continues on a number of projects that use active weapons based on new physical principles such as beam, electromagnetic, kinetic and super-high-frequency weapons, chemical lasers, railguns and neutral particle beams, and traditional missile weapons such as new-generation surface-to-space and air-to-space missiles, kinetic energy missiles and kinetic energy interceptors.
Current U.S. views of the prospects of the national defence rest on several fundamental doctrines that are being adjusted or detailed in new concepts as new technologies emerge.
The concept of a weapons “system of systems” was first put forward in an article written by Admiral William Owens and published by the Institute for National Security Studies in 1996. In 1998, the idea was transformed into a separate concept of “network-centric warfare” in a paper by Vice Admiral Arthur K. Cebrowski and John J. Garstka. The concept envisaged integrating intelligence systems, command and control systems, and high-precision weapons systems in order to ensure rapid situational awareness, identify targets and assign combat missions. The concept was intended to free military leaders of the famous “fog of war” problem, when commanding officers have to make decisions based on incomplete or unreliable data.
The development of information technologies and computer networks in the 1990s provided the tools for increasing combat capabilities by achieving information and communication superiority, combining combatants into a single network. In addition to information systems, the “network-centric warfare” concept also came to rely on developing cutting-edge reconnaissance systems, military command and control systems and high-precision weapons. By effectively connecting units and detachments in a battlespace, the system translated information superiority into combat power. In 2019, the United States Army held war games demonstrating that the combat power of an infantry platoon enhanced with artificial intelligence capabilities increases tenfold. That is, AI renders the old formula that claims the attacking side can only achieve victory if it outguns the opponent by at least three times obsolete.
It would appear that the network-centric warfare strategy performed poorly in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, where the military methods failed to produce the expected results. However, we should keep in mind that this strategy is not intended to fight guerrilla units but was rather conceived as a way to achieve a quick victory over a relatively equal military opponent. Additionally, some important components of the newly created architecture — such as the military internet of things and military cloud storage — are only now being created.
The internet of things is closely tied to 5G data transmission technology. The American version of 5G is currently being tested on four military bases. 5G technology has been the subject of a major dispute between the United States and its NATO allies, who decided to use available technology from China’s Huawei.
New technologies allow frontline units to track and identify a far larger number of targets on a larger territory within shorter periods of time and to strike these targets with previously impossible precision.
A number of military operations in the 1990s — the 1991 Gulf War, Operation Desert Strike in Iraq in 1996, Operation Infinite Reach in 1998 that delivered strikes against targets in Sudan and Afghanistan, and NATO’s 1999 operation in Yugoslavia — demonstrated that the United States and its allies were right to turn their attention to the development of remote (non-contact) warfare tactics.
Non-contact warfare is a trend that will last for decades. It is the path that all the resource-rich militaries around the world are following. However, the United States is virtually the only country that has the necessary funds, research base and scientific potential (including that of private companies) to pull it off.
In 1996, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff used the idea of “network-centric warfare” to develop and publish the Joint Vision 2010 concept, which introduced the military Full-Spectrum Dominance strategy. Once again, the strategy envisaged achieving combat superiority in everything from peace-making operations to the direct use of military force through information superiority.
The same objectives are reflected in the Joint Vision 2020 concept published in 2000, which subsequently formed the basis of the U.S. military doctrine: full-range dominance; information superiority; innovations; interoperability; multinational operations; interagency operations; dominant manoeuvre; precision engagement; focused logistics; full dimensional protection; information operations; joint command and control.
For a decade, U.S. experts debated the future military information architecture. One key issue was where to store and process the information obtained: on-board a combat platform, in a command centre, or in cloud storage. In recent years, the architecture has begun to take a definite shape. In October 2019, Microsoft signed a contract with the U.S. Department of Defense to develop cloud technologies worth USD 10 billion.
Various U.S. military branches are testing pilot projects that connect platforms into a single command and control network. For instance, in October 2018, the U.S. Navy established the Information Warfare Research Project to develop technologies for cyber warfare, cloud computing and reconnaissance.
In 2019, the U.S. Navy experimented with transferring the Navy’s Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP), which had previously been stored in governmental data processing centres, to cloud storage. The flexible command and information architecture produced three positive effects: it ensured reliable command, increased battlespace awareness, and allowed various units to conduct integrated fire. Sixty-four per cent of U.S. Navy ships are equipped with this tool. The Consolidated Afloat Networks and Enterprise Services (CANES) is being installed on ships to protect the system from cyber threats.
The U.S. Air Force is developing similar software called Kessel Run to provide information exchange and data analysis. In particular, software for refuelling aerial tankers was developed as part of the project. The software is being constantly improved and features new platforms and functions.
The U.S. Air Force actively uses Link 16 terminals to provide communication between U.S. fighter jets and a number of of allied countries as part of the MIDS programme that is being jointly developed by the United States, France, Germany, Italy and Spain. By using Link 16, military aircraft, ships, and ground forces can exchange tactical images almost in real time.
As part of Project Missouri, the U.S. Air Force has set up an information link between fifth-generation F-22 and F-35 fighters. The additional Project Iguana, made it possible to input data from U2 reconnaissance aircraft and space satellites into the system. In 2019, the Air Force experimented with connecting military transport aircraft and maritime and ground military equipment to the project. Currently, the Valkyrie unmanned combat aerial vehicle is being integrated in the network.
Another NATO states are implementing similar information integration projects for their militaries; Germany, in particular, finances the “Glass Battlefield” (gläsernes Gefechtsfeld) project.
Network-centric warfare rests on several basic principles: distribution, connectedness, separation of functions, remote command, use of artificial intelligence and use of high-precision weapons.
The information component of the network-centric warfare includes the following tools:
- The military internet of things
- Cloud storage and cloud computing
- Autonomous systems
- Space communications echelon
The network-centric warfare concept pays particular attention to reconnaissance and collecting and analysing information by using autonomous systems. To deliver high-precision long-distance strikes, the Pentagon considers it necessary to have reconnaissance capabilities for a range of up to 1000 miles.
For that purpose, the United States is currently developing three sets of reconnaissance systems that make it possible to discover, identify and locate the adversary’s radars and communication systems. These systems can be installed on the MQ-1C Gray Eagle drone. Optical and radio intelligence data is supported by cyber space reconnaissance capabilities.
In April 2017, Lieutenant General John N.T. “Jack” Shanahan, Director of the Joint Artificial Intelligence Center, developed the “algorithmic warfare” strategy that envisaged using artificial intelligence to analyse the information collected. Google was involved in implementing the project, codenamed MAVEN. As part of the project, AI-based algorithms process gigantic arrays of photographic and video information collected by drones in Iraq and Afghanistan. The project’s impressive results led to dozens of new projects being established. In 2018, under public pressure, Google withdrew from Project MAVEN, but the Pentagon contracted Booz Allen for the job, after which the project’s budget grew almost tenfold.
For 50 years, American military strategists have been searching for a solution to the A2/AD (anti-access/area-denial) problem. By “area,” the Pentagon means the territory where the U.S. military is within reach of the adversary’s weapons and cannot operate in full force. The A2/AD problem forced the Pentagon to conduct remote warfare from areas beyond the reach of the adversary’s air defence systems, tactical ballistic missile systems and anti-ship ballistic missile systems. For decades, high-precision weapons were used to handle the A2/AD problem.
In 2014, U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel approved the Defense Innovation Initiative (also called the “Third Offset Strategy”) developed by the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments (CSBA). The strategy included creating a new long-term R&D planning programme that emphasized robotics, autonomous systems, miniaturization, big data and cutting-edge manufacturing, including 3D printing. The programme focused on drone operations, which entailed the development low-observable forward-looking long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (including sea-based UAVs), and a family of various unmanned combat aerial systems.
The current U.S. military strategy envisages increasing the significance of operations involving strike drones and surface and undersea drones.
Autonomous refuelling aircraft make it possible to double the safe distance for U.S. aircraft carriers to deliver strikes against enemy territory. According to the U.S. Naval Air Force’s MQ-25 Stingray programme, by the mid-2020s, unmanned refuelling aircraft will have assumed the functions of aerial refuelling for the aircraft carrier’s air wing.
Another area for developing unmanned aerial vehicles is “wingman” drones. As part of the Low Cost Attritable Aviation Technologies (LCAAT) project, a U.S. Air Force laboratory is developing the XQ-58 Valkyrie drone as a “wingman” for F-22 or F-35 fighter jets. In combat, the drone will carry the surveillance, electronic warfare (EW) and communications systems, as well as weapons. “Partner drones” are intended to become the “expendables” in warfare, taking on some of the functions of the pilots and, if necessary, bearing the brunt of an attack.
Another projected, called Gremlins, developed under the auspices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), focuses on developing the technology for using a transport aircraft to deliver a drone swarm to an area where they will perform a series of strike, reconnaissance or other missions. Upon completion of the mission in question, the drones will be brought back aboard the aircraft and prepared for another mission within 24 hours. A fighter, bomber or even an unmanned mother aircraft can be used to deliver Gremlins to the combat area. Like many other unmanned aerial vehicles, Gremlins will be deployed as part of a unit or swarm and will independently distribute functions for optimal mission performance.
However, the most significant reforms have been saved for the U.S. Navy. In 2017, the Ghost Fleet concept, a continuation of the “network-centric warfare” concept, was adopted. Under this concept, ground, aerial and underwater unmanned vehicles will interact simultaneously and perform a wide range of combat missions without risking the lives of ship crews and marines. To further develop the concept, the U.S. Navy has ordered a group of experts to submit the Concept for “the organization, manning, training, equipping, sustaining, and the introduction and operational integration of the Medium Unmanned Surface Vehicle and Large Unmanned Surface Vessel with individual afloat units as well as with Carrier Strike Groups, Expeditionary Strike Groups, and Surface Action Groups” to Congress by September 2020.
The adoption of this concept will signify major changes in the plans for building the fleet and in its operational strategies, where autonomous underwater and surface vehicles will be integrated with carrier and expeditionary strike groups.
According to preliminary reports, the U.S. Navy will receive robotic surface ships of four different classes: large unmanned surface vehicles that can distribute large sensors and fires; medium-sized unmanned surface vehicles with smaller sensors and electronic warfare equipment; small unmanned surface vehicles that can tow mine-hunting equipment and work to relay communications; and even smaller unmanned surface vehicles.
Over the next decade or two, the U.S. Navy may change its architecture in favour of unmanned vessels spread over a larger area and combined into a global network operated from remote and mobile control centres. According to the report on the Navy’s large unmanned surface and underwater vehicles that has been submitted to Congress, the wartime tactic of using large unmanned vehicles may include spreading the fleet, letting the unmanned vehicles bear the brunt of the attack, and then delivering rapid retaliatory strikes.
The first component of the system is the Sea Hunter, an autonomous unmanned surface vessel that has already entered service. The ship was built as part of the DARPA Anti-Submarine Warfare Continuous Trail Unmanned Vessel programme. The unmanned vessel is designed to operate as part of a swarm searching for and hunting submarines. Testing has showed the vessel’s high efficiency: travelling at a speed of 12 knots, the ship can cover 19,000 kilometres in 70 days of autonomous sailing.
The Navy is also developing another project for secret undersea operations, called CLAWS. According to the U.S. Navy’s recently adopted R&D budget, the Orca XLUUV, a 50-tonne, 25-metre-long undersea vehicle developed by the Boeing Corporation, will carry 12 torpedoes and have both strike and anti-surface warfare capabilities. The autonomous submarine with AI and weapons is designed to operate partially without human control. The Orca XLUUV will enter service in 2023 and, together with the Sea Hunter, will pose a threat to the naval component of Russia’s nuclear triad since it puts a question mark over its principal advantage: stealth.
To communicate with unmanned vessels and command autonomous missions, the U.S. Navy created the CARACaS (Control Architecture for Robotic Agent Command and Sensing) command architecture that allows drones to analyse dynamic operational situations when on a search mission, or when protecting harbours, carrying out surveillance, conducting EW or landing missions, and even when attacking as a swarm.
The most significant manifestations of the revolution in warfare may take place in the U.S. space sector. On February 20, 2019, President of the United States Donald Trump signed a law establishing the U.S. Space Force, with approximately USD 72 million earmarked for the purpose. The objectives of the Space Force include protecting U.S. interests in space, deterring aggression and protecting the country, as well as projecting military power in space, from space and into space.
A total of USD 11.9 billion was allocated in 2020 for R&D in space systems, which is USD 2.6 billion more than in 2019.
The Missile Defense Agency will receive USD 10.4 billion, including USD 108 million for the creation of a space sensor system to track hypersonic and ballistic missiles and the development of a “sensor array” to counteract the hypersonic missile systems of Russia and China.
The spending on militarized space will total USD 14.1 billion, which is 15 per cent more than in 2019. The Pentagon’s space programmes are classified, which creates additional risks for strategic stability. It is known that projects are under way in the United States to develop reusable space hypersonic systems and micro spacecraft, intercept spacecraft with “inspector” satellites, and carry out kinetic and non-kinetic attacks on satellites. Projects for directed-energy impact on nuclear weapons command systems are particularly dangerous. There is a trend for ensuring the interoperability of anti-missile and anti-satellite weapons. American assets in space are becoming more integrated and more interoperable.
One of the ways that the United States plans on winning the arms race is by involving its allies in joint projects to pool resources and technologies. Aligning weapons and combining data feeds should save funds. For example, in addition to the so-called Five Eyes states, Japan’s operations centre is also joining the space projects.
In the foreseeable future, space-, air- and ground-based lasers are seen as the most promising means of neutralizing ballistic and hypersonic missiles. The Pentagon and American industry are working on a technology that could reach the necessary level in a few years. The Pentagon is considering deploying combat lasers in orbit, as well as on UAVs patrolling the upper boundaries of the atmosphere, on ships and on anti-missile defence platforms. The Indirect Fires Protection Capability-High Energy Laser (IFPC-HEL) which can reach up to 300 kilowatts in power, will presumably have entered the Pentagon’s service by 2024. It will be powerful enough to intercept not only UAVs, but also incoming cruise missiles.
Other NATO states are conducting similar R&D. For instance, France has officially admitted it is making laser-armed satellites that it intends to use against enemy satellites that threaten the country’s space forces.
Forward-looking American military technologies are intended to devalue Russia’s nuclear weapons:
- Maritime unmanned hunters can compromise the stealth of Russia’s strategic undersea cruisers. Unmanned vessels and undersea drones can autonomously track SSBNs for protracted periods of time and neutralize them in case of danger.
- Space tracking and targeting systems will make mobile ground-based missile systems vulnerable.
- In a few years, laser weapons and neutral particle beams will become powerful enough to plan the interception of ballistic and hypersonic missiles.
Today, the United States is withdrawing from arms control agreements that might tie its hands and undermine its technological leadership. This confirms that Washington hopes to ride the wave of the revolution in warfare to ensure its global military dominance and protect its national security from virtually any threat.
1. APS Study Group Participants; Bloembergen, N.; Patel, C. K. N.; Avizonis, P.; Clem, R. G.; Hertzberg, A.; Johnson, T. H.; Marshall, T.; Miller, R. B.; Morrow, W. E.; Salpeter, E. E.; Sessler, A. M.; Sullivan, J. D.; Wyant, J. C.; Yariv, A.; Zare, R. N.; Glass, A. J.; Hebel, L. C.; APS Council Review Committee; Pake, G. E.; May, M. M.; Panofsky, W. K.; Schawlow, A. L.; Townes, C. H.; York, H. (July 1, 1987). “Report to The American Physical Society of the Study Group on Science and Technology of Directed Energy Weapons.” Reviews of Modern Physics. 59 (3): S1–S201. Bibcode:1987RvMP…59….1B. doi:10.1103/RevModPhys.59.S1.
From our partner RIAC
Nagorno-Karabakh: Will the Landscape Change following the Latest Unrest?
The situation surrounding Nagorno-Karabakh, which has deteriorated dramatically in recent days, has clearly demonstrated that it is becoming increasingly impossible to maintain the status quo. An urgent solution to the conflict is needed in order to avert a serious crisis.
External factors that have contributed to the escalation of the Nagorno-Karabakh include: 1) Russia finding itself hemmed in from all sides by the seemingly unbreakable transatlantic coalition which has given the West considerable room for manoeuvre with regard to the Nagorno-Karabakh issue; 2) Turkey’s exponentially growing ambitions to build a new Islamic Empire, which are bolstered by the country’s strong alliance with the United States; and 3) the complete ineptitude of the OSCE Minsk Group (Russia, the United States and France), which has been working towards the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict for three decades now without a single major breakthrough.
One thing is clear — the conflict needs to be resolved, and now is the time to do it. One thing is clear — the conflict needs to be resolved, and now is the time to do it. Meanwhile, the entire world is calling for the two sides to abandon the hostilities and sit down at the negotiating table. The conflict needs to end now.
All the attempts to resolve the conflict — the Madrid Principles, the Zurich Protocols, the renewed Madrid Principles and the talks in Kazan on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict — have looked more like possible ways out of the crisis than roadmaps for concrete actions. This is why they have all remained on paper, as none of the sides has been prepared to make even the smallest of compromises.
While the two central players in this geopolitical puzzle, Turkey and the United States (which is keen to see a settlement), may disagree profoundly on a number of issues, Ankara has always been viewed by Washington as a country of indisputable geostrategic importance and its key partner in the region, and this will not change. It is thus no coincidence that the “Turkey–U.S. Defense Cooperation: Prospects and Challenges” report for the United States Congress notes that “Turkey is a more significant ally for the United States at present than during the Cold War” given U.S. interests in the region. Turkey’s attitude towards NATO will not undergo any major changes either. According to President of Turkey Recep Erdogan, Ankara “has no intention of giving up its NATO membership or its allies.” This is something that Russia must keep in mind when developing its South Caucasus policy.
Turkey and the United States have a number of common interests in the South Caucasus that allow the two countries to work together. These interests include joint projects in the Black Sea region and call for strengthening security cooperation there, an issue that is becoming increasingly important. This state of affairs can be partly explained by the fact that the signing of the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea effectively blocked access to the Caspian Sea for non-regional players, at least for the time being, which only makes their desire to be involved in the Black Sea region even stronger.
Both the warring sides and the United States and Turkey have long expressed the desire to find a way out of this impasse, and Washington and Ankara will work together to try and ensure a quick settlement to the conflict.
As far as the strategists in Washington see it, Azerbaijan is far more invested in finding a solution than Armenia is. This is why we have seen significant changes in the U.S. policy towards Yerevan, including insisting that the latter make certain concessions in order to bring the conflict to an end. The arrival of Nikol Pashinyan as Prime Minister of Armenia brought with it a noticeable shift in Armenia’s foreign policy towards the United States, which should make this strategy successful.
Consequently, Washington’s policy in this area will focus, first of all, on normalizing relations between Turkey and Armenia, and then on opening the border between the two countries. After all, it is of strategic importance for Washington to find a solution to this problem, especially when U.S.–Iran relations are likely to deteriorate even further moving forward. This could also help speed up the settlement process, as well as promote cooperation not only between Baku and Yerevan, but also with Ankara, which should lead to Turkey and Azerbaijan lifting the land blockade against Armenia that was established during the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict.
What is more, Washington has started to openly demonstrate its intention over the past few years to resolve the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict independently in the context of implementing its policy in the South Caucasus.
This was initially reflected in a statement given by former U.S. ambassador to Armenia Richard Mills, where he claimed that the status quo is unacceptable and cannot last forever, adding that “any settlement of the Karabakh conflict is going to require the return of some portion of the occupied territories,” although events like the 2016 April War make this even more difficult for the Armenian people. And things have gone from bad to worse since then. A series of resolutions passed by the 115th United States Congress — Resolution 573 “calling on the President to work toward equitable, constructive, stable and durable Armenian–Turkish relations,” and Resolution 190 of the 116th United States Congress “supporting visits and communication between the United States and the Republic of Artsakh” (the new name of the Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh following a 2017 referendum) — prove that Washington intends to change the situation in the conflict zone and become the main moderator in the disagreement. In this regard, it is worth paying special attention to the main areas of Washington’s policy towards Armenia, which has been thought-out particularly well, taking into account both the need to repair relations between Turkey and Armenia, giving Yerevan access to the rest of the world, and to improve relations with the Republic of Artsakh, which could become the main stumbling block in the way of Armenia’s drift towards the West.
The U.S. approach to Armenia could thus change completely as it develops its new policy in the South Caucasus. This state of affairs also meets the interests of Turkey, which, as a key player in the South Caucasus, will welcome any positive change in Yerevan’s foreign policy towards the West. With this being the case, it could be argued that Ankara not only pursues its own geopolitical interests in the region, but also acts as an instrument through which the United States can further its policies there. This could lead to a change in the configuration of the South Caucasus as a whole, which is unacceptable for Moscow in terms of preserving and promoting its interests in the region given the fact that Armenia is key to Russia’s plans for maintaining its strategic interests in the Caucasus, as well as in the context of the “Iranian problem.”
Right now, Armenia is Russia’s only strategic ally in the South Caucasus, and ensuring the country’s security is its number one problem. Russia has always played an important role in the Nagorno-Karabakh settlement process, and this will not change. It thus needs to take stock of the opportunities it has to influence the resolution of the problem, which, it would seem, neither Baku nor Yerevan, nor indeed the West, fully appreciate. Moscow believes that the only way to put an end to the confrontation, which has been going on for some 30 years or so, is through political means. It would thus be fair to assume that military intervention “from the outside” is extremely unlikely, because Moscow’s main task here is to maintain at least a shaky balance between Yerevan and Baku. In other words, Moscow believes that “freezing” the conflict is more acceptable in the current climate, where neither Azerbaijan nor Armenia, which are involved in an intense ethnopolitical confrontation, have any intention of making compromises or concessions, than actually working for a final resolution to the long-standing conflict — although this approach has not yet led to peace.
However, given the escalation of the conflict, it would seem that Moscow, for which the two warring sides are of great importance, is in a position to launch the renewed Madrid Principles, which be the first step towards resolving the conflict. Both Azerbaijan and Armenia were prepared to negotiate under these principles and saw it as a blueprint for achieving a peaceful solution. However, the renewed Madrid Principles touch upon issues that are extremely sensitive for Armenia, primarily regarding the international legal status of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan has stood firm on its position that a settlement can only be reached if its territorial integrity is preserved, which means restoring its jurisdiction over Nagorno-Karabakh. This condition has been the main obstacle to the settlement of the conflict. Another important issue is the return by Yerevan of seven regions that neighbour Nagorno-Karabakh and are controlled by Armenian forces. Nevertheless, the renewed Madrid Principles project needs to be launched as soon as possible — after all, the main obstacle is the unwillingness of the parties to make concessions. Beyond that, where there’s a will, there’s a way.
From our partner RIAC
Could a maritime chain hub between US-Japan-Viet Nam-India to tackle China?
The rise of China in the last few years has been a cause of concern and as China grew economically, it strengthened its claws in the realm of defense and has been expanding its paws into the territories of other countries which is a violation of a country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Chinese aggressiveness has become the bone of contention and this is a serious matter of concern for all the countries who are facing the China threat. China’s need to dominant certain trade routes; sea-lanes of navigation and communication jeopardizes the concept of a free and open navigable sea route which is unacceptable as no one country completely owns any sea-lanes and routes of trade and communication. Therefore, in order to protect the national interest and freedom of navigation of many countries, this article tries to build an argument on could there be a possibility for a formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.
Guam, a former Spanish colony and now one of the 17 non-self-governing territories of the United States of America. Guam has been a military asset since the World War II as the U.S. moved its military aircraft. Also, during the Viet Nam War, Guam was a major asset in the Pacific as it was a base used by the Americans. Presently, it serves as a major military base for America and has the U.S. Air Force and Navy installations and is also a major hub for the submarine communications cables between the western United States of America, Hawaii, Australia and Asia. There is a huge military presence in Guam and the United States of America moves its military assets and personnel to Okinawa, the Japanese island. Guam as a naval base port plays a rather important part as it is home to the four nuclear-powered fast attack submarines and two submarine tenders. Also, Guam has the Andersen Air Force Base which hosts the Navy helicopter squadron and Air Force bombers and along with this has two-three kilometers runways and also caters as a storage facility for fueling purposes.
In June 2020, the U.S. Naval Base Guam has been designated as a ‘safe haven liberty port’ and the U.S 7th Fleet flagship USS Blue Ridge(LCC 19) and the USS Bunker Hill(CG 52) have been placed here and eventually, on 24 June 2020, the Nimitz Carrier Strike group which consists of the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz (CVN68), Ticonderoga-class guided-missile cruiser USS Princeton (CG 59) and the Arleigh Burke-class guided missile destroyers USS Sterett (DDG 104) and the USS Ralph Johnson (DDG 114) all placed in the safe haven liberty port in Guam. This move to make Guam a safe heaven liberty port should be seen from the perspective of a potential logistical re-supply, possible repairs and a safe place where the sailors could rest and rejuvenate themselves amidst the global Coronavirus pandemic. One needs to understand that Guam needs to be militarized to ensure that North Korea doesn’t attempt any form of attack on Japan which is under the Security umbrella of the U.S. and also, Guam which is an American territory needs to protect itself from North Korea it is in a feasible striking distance and so, this military buildup in Guam by the United States of America is justified.
Japan’s Okinawa is strategically very important for the United States of America as it is a vital component in America’s grand strategy towards the region of East Asia. Also, the geographical location of Okinawa has a greater meaning as Okinawa is placed between the Philippines, East China Sea and the South China Sea and also the neighbourhood consists of China, Taiwan, the Korean Peninsula and of course the mainland Japan which is a sure game-changer. Okinawa makes an important military outpost, protects the freedom of navigation and the American national cum security interests which inevitably help in the stability of this region. The bases at Okinawa are of geostrategic value as it deals with a fairly flexible range of positions to counter any potential threat and so, help keep interests of Japan safe especially with regard to the Senkaku Islands and the presence of America at Okinawa is a clear deterrent for China incase it tries to create any provocation. Also, South Korea is in an alliance with the United States of America and so, Okinawa also acts as a critical component in dealing with North Korea and in order to maintain peace in this region, the American marines plays a vital role as protectors. Also, for Taiwan, the presence of American forces at Okinawa helps Taiwan from China’s threats. Therefore, Okinawa plays the role of a major game-changer in the region of East Asia.
Viet Nam’s Cam Ranh Bay has always been a melting point of strategic interest since the 19th century as it was a hub of continuous positing of countries like France, Russia, Japan and the United States of America where their navies were stationed well as the Cam Ranh Bay acted as an excellent protected natural harbour along with being a refueling station. The geostrategic location of Cam Ranh Bay is near the South China Sea and this is therefore called the ‘Apple of the Eye of the East’ as it can help contain Chinese aggressiveness in the region. Also, the Japan-Guam-Australia Fiber-Optic Submarine Cable System Project is being developed with the help of Japan and the United States of America. Cam Ranh Bay if redeveloped could the most valuable asset that Viet Nam has.
India’s Andaman and Nicobar Islands is as of today one of the most sort after strategic hub of islands as it is being developed into a maritime and startup hub and the recent inauguration of the submarine optic fiber cable between Chennai and these islands would change the face of digital connectivity. India has also proposed transhipment hub in the Andamans helping these group of islands become a major centre for blue economy and maritime cum startup hub. Also since 2019, the Indian Naval Air Station-INS Kohassa has been developing the island in full swing and this could well become a vital strategic outpost for India and can easier watch and monitor the rival navies activities along with set an integrated surveillance network.
The question is how does Guam-Okinawa-Cam Ranh Bay-Andaman and Nicobar Islands form a strategic maritime chain hub?
First, Guam is an American territory, Okinawa, a Japanese territory, Cam Ranh Bay, a Vietnamese port and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian group of islands and so, all these countries are a part of the Quad and this Quad grouping is believed to tackle China’s aggressiveness.
Second, all these countries have excellent relations with another and aim for stronger strategic relations. Japan is in a Security Alliance with the United States of America and Japan is India’s all-weather friend. Due to Japan as a common friend between India and the U.S, they too have excellent strategic partnership with one another. Viet Nam and the United States have been developing relations and are working towards becoming strategic partner. Japan’s relations with Viet Nam has been a major part of their ASEAN relations and separately too, Japan has been working on strengthening stronger relations with Viet Nam and in fact, the first visit of Prime Minister Suga is to Viet Nam which highlights Viet Nam’s importance for Japan. India also has wonderful relations with Viet Nam and Viet Nam being the ASEAN Chair in the times of pandemic has played a vital role in medicine, rice and mask diplomacy and has created its niche as a vital and understanding partner in the ASEAN along with evolving as a regional and a global partner in the Indo-Pacific region.
Third, all these four countries are facing security concerns with China. China has off late made several advances in the East China Sea, South China Sea and the Indian Ocean and all this has impacted the United States of America, Japan, India and Viet Nam as their geostrategic locations are of prime importance to these countries. China has been making aggressive claims in these waters is a violation of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the US, Japan, India and Viet Nam.
Fourth, Japan has been the pioneer of the Free and Open Indo-Pacific region aiming for a rules-based order so as to have the freedom of navigation and access to sea-lanes and routes to all the nations. After Prime Minister Shinzo Abe announced the Free and Open Indo-Pacific Strategy at the 196thSession of the Diet in January 2018, this strategy was soon adopted by the United States of America and India. ASEAN too adopted this strategy which meant that Viet Nam too has accepted this strategy. Many believe that this Indo-Pacific Strategy is to tackle China’s aggressiveness.
Fifth, Japan’s initiative of the Expanded Partnership for Quality Infrastructure is aimed to promote infrastructure and development cooperation among the countries could also pave the way for port infrastructural development among thee US, India and Viet Nam.
Therefore, keeping in mind, the above-mentioned arguments could well pave the way for a possible formation of a maritime chain hub consisting of Guam, Okinawa, Cam Ranh Bay and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands which could tackle China’s maritime aggressiveness.
The views expressed are personal
Hidden Traces in the Armenia-Azerbaijan Сonflict
From a geographical perspective, the location of the Azerbaijani city of Tovuz, which witnessed penultimate clashes between Azerbaijan and Armenia in July, proves that the recent clashes had nothing to do with the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh region, as it is far from the Azerbaijani territories occupied by Armenia.
The city of Tovuz is located near the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan oil pipeline, the Baku-Tbilisi-Erzurum natural gas pipeline, both of which are gates for Azerbaijan to transport its oil and natural gas, the so-called “Caspian Sea wealth,” to Turkey, Europe and other global markets.
A Blow to Russian Interests
The location of the attack or the clashes indicates that they were against Turkish-Western and Turkish-Azerbaijani interests. Nonetheless, they are also a blow against Russia’s interests and role in a region of great geopolitical importance for Moscow and other international and regional players who are worried by the state of consensus emerging Between Ankara and Moscow in Syria. Attempts are being made to repeat such consensus in Libya, with foreign media having reported headlines addressing the new “front” between Moscow and Ankara in this context.
Paris believes that the missile attack (in the first months of 2018) launched by the U.S., Britain and France in Syria created a rift between Russia and Turkey, who have different views on some issues, especially in Syria. French President Emmanuel Macron said this in a televised interview.
It is no secret that the Western attacks in Syria at that time sought, among other things, to cause a rift in relations between Russia and Turkey. Thus any disagreement between Moscow and Ankara is in the interest of the West, so the West will continue to exert pressure on the points of difference between them.
Barely hours after Moscow and Ankara announced the beginning of a Russian-Turkish agreement regarding Libya weeks ago, Macron told reporters on July 23 that “in this part of the Mediterranean, which is vital for our countries, energy and security issues are essential…The issue is related to a struggle for influence, especially by Turkey and Russia, which are asserting their presence more and more, and in the face of this, the European Union has so far done little.” He continued, “It would be a grave mistake to leave our security in the Mediterranean in the hands of other parties. This is not an option for Europe, and this is something France will not let happen.”
The rapprochement with Turkey was a positive event for Russia, especially in light of the sanctions imposed by the West on Moscow after the Ukraine crisis. The Astana process was a kind of compromise, a success for both Moscow and Ankara, and Syria turned into a stage for an exciting reconciliation between the two. This coincided with the coldness of their relationship with the West.
The increased economic cooperation and growth of trade volume are beneficial for both Ankara and Moscow, which both need it. The deals signed, including a nuclear plant and a gas pipeline that will allow Moscow to gain independence from Ukraine and export its gas to Europe via the Black Sea and Turkey, all are steps of good cooperation.
The handover of the Russian S-400 system to Turkey is also a matter of pride and sovereignty for the latter, which feels the West’s betrayal of it on several issues. This includes membership in the European Union, Washington’s support for the Syrian extension of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) (classified on NATO’s terrorist lists), and the extradition of Gulen.
However, all of the above does not mean Ankara has turned its back on the West, as the strategic partnership continues, despite the current rapprochement with Russia imposed by geopolitics and economy.
Trying to Feel For a Pulse
Amid the exchange of accusations between Baku and Yerevan about igniting the recent clashes, whoever started it is targeting Moscow first, and secondly, torpedoing the rapprochement that is likely to develop between Russia and Turkey. It may be in the context of an attempt to feel for a pulse, see if Moscow will adopt a new position on this conflict that has extended since the end of the last century. This is especially after the recent political developments, with the new government taking office in Armenia maintaining a Western policy.
Moscow is aware that Armenia needs Russia more than Russia needs Armenia, yet a fallout would mean losing one of its back gardens in the former Soviet yard. This may affect Russia’s long-term influence and ability to manoeuvre, imposing its opinion as an international power in the global arena in general, and in the former Soviet space in particular.
Russia needs Armenia, a traditional ally, in the Collective Security Organization and other regional economic alliances, as well as in light of the Georgia-Russia conflict. Moscow also needs Azerbaijan, a country that occupies an important geopolitical position.
Moscow and Baku are linked in many areas of joint cooperation, from cross-border security and energy to the exploitation of Caspian Sea resources and transport projects. The Kremlin does not want to turn Azerbaijan or Armenia into Georgia or Ukraine again, so Moscow will not push Baku away, thus allowing foreign powers to push Russia out of the region.
In fact, one would find that Russia is allied with Armenia, and there is a state of partnership with Azerbaijan, with Moscow playing a mediating role (acceptable to both sides) in settling the Armenia-Azerbaijan conflict.
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