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Discretion is the better part of valour

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“Joshua son of Nun sent two spies out from Shittim secretly with orders to reconnoitre the country. The two men came to Jericho and went to the house of a prostitute named Rahab..”

Discretion is certainly a quality prized by both the first and the second oldest professions in the world.

Nobody who uses either of these services wants that fact broadcast across the community, and both the provider and the user understand the mutual protection provided, even in these days of legal prostitution and advertising thereof.

Speaking of the CIA and its friends, they’ve been leaking to their favoured MSM sources, starting with the NYT, that they’ve provided intelligence to the Ukrainians that has enabled them to:

  1. Kill some of Moscow’s generals,
  2. Down a plane carrying Russian soldiers (at the start of the war near Kyiv International Airport)
  3. Sink one of Putin’s warships (the Moskva)

Now I doubt that anybody, least of all the Russian FSB and GRU, has ever doubted that US intelligence has been helping the Ukrainians from day one and earlier, using satellite and drone observation, plus signals intelligence of all types. And I don’t have a problem with that because I want Putin to lose.

But it’s long been understood that all this is done on the down low. Aside from anything else you don’t want to show your cards to the enemy as to how you’re getting all this information. Let them guess. And in this case you also don’t want to start a larger war by pushing the Russians to start taking more direct actions against specific US intelligence platforms and generally pushing Putin into a corner he can’t get out of. For once I’ll quote the Democrat-supporting moron NYT opinionater, Tom Friedman:

“Boasting about killing his generals and sinking his ships, or falling in love with Ukraine in ways that will get us enmeshed there forever, is the height of folly.”

Which leads into one of those classic spycraft, “you know that I know that you know…” things. Surely the US intelligence agencies are not so stupid as to run such risks, in which case the question is why they would be blabbing about this.

The rather frightening theory I have is that elements of US intelligence have concluded that since the Russian military has proven to be a bit of a paper tiger and Putin has been revealed as not so smart as was claimed, that the US can start rubbing his nose in this stuff; “Yeah, we did all this! Watcha gonna do tough guy? Huh? Huh?”

Before anybody says that the CIA and company could not be that arrogant, hubristic and stupid let me remind you of the rather long list of hubristic failures they’ve had over the decades, from missing the fall of the Shah of Iran, to missing the fall of the Warsaw Pact and then the USSR, to the 9/11 attacks and Iraqi WMD’s. Yes, they’ve had spectacular successes, including greatly contributing to the fall of the USSR. But there’s enough failure and mistakes in that history to put the brakes on when it comes to confronting a nuclear power, one still with some 6000 warheads.

Incidentally that second claim about the downed transport plane is likely to be bullshit, as detailed here in Red State where the reporter (a former US Army officer) tears it apart and wonders why the CIA is trying to take credit for something that does not appear to have happened. The details of the claim are fascinating in themselves, like no wreckage spotted for such a shoot down; but in light of the other stuff about killing Russian Generals and the Moskva it’s this I find fascinating:

The lead reporter on the story was the Intelligence Community’s and FusionGPS’s go-to guy, Ken Delanian. Delanian is basically a stenographer for the IC who, in the past, has submitted his reporting to the CIA for pre-publication review and correction. The story goes on to sing the praises of the intelligence community’s work in keeping Ukraine in the fight.

Why did the IC “officials” who fed stuff to Delanian push this story out, and why Delanian and his co-authors didn’t attempt a fact check?

Actually he answered that question with that earlier paragraph. He goes on to point out that the sources probably have little to do with with Ukraine and are just passing along water cooler gossip.

But that’s still rather reckless in this situation. Another writer points out that the Pentagon is pushing back on such claims, and that this leads to a speculation only a little less worse than the deliberate goading of Putin:

Now, however, identifiable Pentagon officials—people with names, like, “John Kirby”—are walking back the claims of the anonymous “senior American officials” and “US officials”.

That the US government is so divided on the core issue of war or peace with a nuclear power is disturbing in and of itself. That one faction in the government is attempting to go over the heads of the Pentagon on the issue of a war of choice adds to the concern. The fact that the sources are identified so vaguely is further cause for concern, since it suggests a lack of military expertise. That this semi-public debate is taking place with essentially no significant input from the one constitutional institution of the American republic which has the authority to declare a war—the legislative branch—or meaningful public debate should raise our concerns to the level of alarm.

Then there’s “The Ukraine Democracy Defense Lend-Lease Act of 2022”, which is being touted as a way of expediting the delivery of weapons and munitions to Ukraine. Lend-Lease? I don’t object to the actions but the choice of name, with its quite deliberate echo of World War II history, is another marker of Washington arrogance and hubris, on both the Democrat and GOP sides.

And that’s apart from the $40 billion Ukraine aid bill passed by the House, amazingly an increase from the $33 billion requested by Biden, so you know how hot a bipartisan Congress is for this stuff, even when it contains shit like this:

  • $54 million goes to the Center for Disease Control.
  • $67 million is given to the DOJ for salaries and expenses.
  • $110 million is marked for embassy security in other countries
  • $4 billion is delegated to Joe Biden for “foreign military assistance” with essentially no stipulations.
  • $17.6 billion goes to the Department of Defense for stuff that may or may not have anything to do with Ukraine.

Chip Roy of Texas summed it up very well.

None of this is smart, from the leaks to the spending, all of which may be nudging the US to something more than a proxy war, which is why it’s even led to speculation about other reasons that may lie behind all this:

Abraham Lincoln arrested opposition journalists and publishers during the War between the States.  WWI saw the passage of the Espionage Act of 1917 and the Sedition Act of 1918, the latter of which absolutely infringed upon freedom of speech.  And Franklin Roosevelt is notorious for having interned U.S. citizens of Japanese and also of German descent and for persecuting some Italian-heritage Americans.

Civil rights’ trampling would surely be worse under a major-war scenario today.  Not only are we much farther down the rabbit hole of moral nihilism and wanton constitutional trespass, but Americans who even question our Ukraine policy are already labeled “stooges of Putin.”  Moreover, Democrats have already made crystal-clear what they want: complete power — by any means necessary.

I don’t think the Democrats are either smart enough or courageous enough to pull that off.

Lastly from the world of Smart People In Charge, I’ll leave you with this video of some Ukrainian “soldier” supposedly doing a training video on how to operate a mortar. It’s not just the Russian military that have training problems. Here’s the snapshot from near the end in case you don’t want to watch two minutes of video.

I’ve never fired a mortar or even been near one, but I’ve watched enough war movies to know that that is not the end you stick in the mortar tube first.

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 3

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The Mystery of the Sunken Ship Salvage

Three weeks ago the flagship of Russia’s Black Sea fleet, the Moskva, sank.

In a storm while being towed to port.

After an ammunition bunker exploded.

And it was not, I repeat NOT, anything to do with the Ukranians firing land-based anti-ship missiles at it. In the same way that when reports first broke of it being towed after being damaged by … something… that was denied too – until it could no longer be denied.

As was acknowledged about two weeks later by the US DOD and others, a missile strike is exactly what happened to the ship, but they probably knew from day one, given the electronic coverage they have of the area.

However, things got ever murkier when Russia sent a salvage ship, the Kommuna, to the location, complete with deep diving submersible. (cool side note: the Kommuna was commissioned during the time of the last Russian Czar)

Why would they do such a thing?

I think everyone could agree that the largest warship sunk since 1945 — 600-feet long and displacing 11,490 tons in 300 feet of water — isn’t going to be raised. Then the question is, what is worth the effort of deploying a submersible and possibly divers to recover. It is difficult to imagine that there are surviving electronics or crypto gear that just have to be salvaged. The idea that conventional munitions or missile tubes would be worth this level of effort strikes me as ludicrous. Just as silly is the theory that the Russians are trying to recover bodies from the wreckage. The Black Sea is a closed environment; ships entering have to pass through The Straits, and Moskva’s wreck is a very short distance from the major Russian naval base at Sebastopol. Physical monitoring of vessels entering the Black Sea and the wreck site could provide eternal security. There is no danger of a repeat of the Glomar Explorer going after the wreck of the K-129 in the open Pacific.

Well there could be one reason and it’s related to a propaganda claim that the Ukrainians threw out after they sunk the ship – that it was carrying nuclear weapons. None other than the US DOD jumped on that, saying they’d seen no indications of such. But the Russian reaction was interesting, as this writer said:

What aroused suspicion was Russia ignored the allegation. If you’ve been following the progress of Putin’s War, you know any time Russia is accused of something egregious or criminal, they have three sequential responses:
a) we didn’t do it;
b) you faked it to create a “provocation”;
c) you do it all the time.

All of this, of course, is speculation except for one thing. There is a marine salvage vessel with a submersible at the site of the Moskva, and there are no logical reasons that don’t involve nuclear weapons.

Readers are invited to contribute suggested reasons – logical and otherwise.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 9, 2022 at 11:00 am

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 2

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The Mystery of the Russian Fires

It seems that the Russians are having an awful run of bad luck with fires in major installations recently.

On Thursday [April 21], a catastrophic fire ripped through the building housing the Russian Ministry of Defense’s 2nd Central Scientific-Research Institute in Tver, some 80 miles northeast of Moscow. This “scientific-research institute” is actually the design bureau responsible for creating Russia’s ballistic missiles and anti-aircraft missiles.

Later that same day one of the largest chemical plants in Russia caught fire.

Dmitrievsky Chemical Plant is the largest producer of butyl acetate and industrial solvents in Russia and Eastern Europe, as well as a supplier of a wide range of chemical and petrochemical products in Russia and in the world. Which means a lot of military applications also in Russia.

Then the next day, Friday, April 23, there was this.

The fire wasn’t just any location. It was at a massive plant owned by Korolev Rocket and Space Corporation Energia, or RKK Energia, Russia’s primary manufacturer of ballistic missile, spacecraft, and space station components.

But wait! There’s more! Early Monday morning (local time), explosions rocked two oil tank farms in Bryansk, Russia.  Bryansk is about 250 miles northeast of the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, and less than 70 miles from the Ukrainian border.

One tank farm catching fire is careless; two flaming up is rather extravagant. Two tank farms, geographically separated, going Zippo on the same night pushes the laws of probabilities.

So let’s count them up. A missile design bureau building, a major chemical plant, a place that builds missiles, and not one but two massive oil tank farms. I think these are what’s called strategic targets.

I’m sensing another one of those “Three Five times is enemy action” situations – in a nation at war.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 8, 2022 at 7:00 am

Mysteries of the Special Military Operation – Part 1

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The Mystery of The Dead Russian Oligarchs.

I never did much like the classic British crime story, where a murder occurs in some small, obscure English village, filled with quirky characters, unusual methods of killing and unusual motives; stories crafted by very English writers like Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Ellis Peters. To date there have been at least 132 murderous episodes of Midsomer Murders, which makes that fictional English county seem awfully dangerous.

No, in the face of the drive-by murders that happened in Chicago (and are happening more than ever now), where people are hardly ever even arrested, let alone convicted, the sheer randomness and frequency of modern murders made those English tales just too quaint, one even might say twee, to bear watching.

But there are times when such stories are worth looking at, as with The Mystery of The Dead Russian Oligarchs.

It seems that since January of this year six such people have committed suicide. This seems rather a high rate of death for people who seemingly have everything. I admit I didn’t notice any of this until this story broke a few days ago:

On April 18, former vice-president of Gazprombank Vladislav Avaev was found dead in his multi-million apartment on Universitetsky Prospekt in Moscow, together with his wife and daughter.

Murder-Suicide, and the murder of his own family no less. Unusual. Even amazing.

But it gets more amazing. Another two of those six oligarchs, Sergey Protosenya and Vasily Melnikov, also committed suicide after murdering their families.

[Protosenya], the 55-year-old millionaire was found hanged in the garden of the villa in Lloret de Mar by Catalonian police, Spanish media reported, while his wife and daughter were found in their beds with stab wounds on their bodies.

According to police investigations mentioned by Kommersant, Melnikov—who reportedly worked for the medical firm MedStom—was found dead in the apartment together with his wife Galina and two sons. They had all died from stab wounds and the knives used for the murders were found at the crime scene.

What a coincidence. As a famous writer once put it.

Mr Bond, they have a saying in Chicago: ‘Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action’”

No shit Sherlock. I wonder if the Wagner Group are involved in helping the Police with their inquiries?

Wagner is Russia’s most famous private military company, and is reportedly named after its commander, Dmitry Utkin, a former Russian military intelligence (GRU) officer who used the nom de guerre Wagner during his service in Chechnya.

Wagner is active in eastern Ukraine, Syria, and several countries in Africa and Latin America.

The Russian oligarch, under whose business empire Wagner sits, is a solid pal of Putin’s, naturally. He actually got his toe in the door via catering:

Today, his official business is a sprawling catering consortium that provides meals to millions of Russian soldiers, policemen, prosecutors, hospital patients and schoolchildren in return for hefty tax-funded payments estimated at at least $3 billion since 2011. 

Normally I’d be very surprised if such a man committed suicide. On the other hand he’s leveraged this business into other things to help out President Putin, which may put him at risk when a scapegoat is needed:

During this period, Prigozhin spoke or texted with practically the entire leadership of the Presidential Administration Office, along with a number of senior figures at the FSB, in the Federal Protective Service (FSO) and the Ministry of Defense. In particular, he called and texted Dmitry Peskov – President Putin’s adviser and spokesperson – a total of 144 times. He also called – or was called by – Anton Vayno, Putin’s chief of staff, a total of 99 times.

As well as similar numbers of calls and texts with a lot of other higher ups that would not appear to be connected with catering, even to the Russian Army. At the link (from the Bellingcat investigative site) is a clickable chart for all this with more detail. In case you’re wondering about them being “a CIA-backed venture”, well let’s just say that although their focus has been Russia in Syria and Ukraine, the Dutch-based outfit doesn’t express a lot of warmth to the USA either, given their uncovering of the use of Croatia as a front for shipping MANPAD missiles to Jihadi fighters in Syria.

How they got hold of Prigozhin’s information is a story in itself:

This investigation is based on a review of leaked email archives belonging to employees working for Prigozhin’s group of companies. Some of these archives have already been subject of investigations by independent Russian media while others have been obtained exclusively by the investigative team. We have validated the authenticity of the messages and contained documents through interviews with several former and current employees of Prigozhin’s overseas influencing operations.

Bellingcat has analyzed Prigozhin’s telephone records for an eight-month period spanning late 2013 and early 2014. The records were obtained from hacked emails of Prigozhin’s personal assistant leaked in 2015 by the Russian hacking collective Shaltai Boltay. The emails contained telephone billing records for his company Concord Consulting & Management, and we were able to identify Prigozhin’s personal number among the list of corporate numbers based on a reverse-phone-number-search app.

You may have heard that name before if you follow US politics. Concord is the troll farm that bombarded Facebook and Twitter with about $100,000 worth of adverts and bots (fake accounts) during the 2016 US election. To be fair it should be pointed out that while this was claimed to be “Russian interference” in the election by the Mueller Trump-Russian Collusion Investigative team, leading to Concord and a bunch of other Russians being indicted in 2018, the entire case collapsed when Concord’s lawyers unexpectedly turned up in court demanding to see the evidence, only for the Mueller team to squeal about how they needed more time or that it was “sensitive” information. The judge, aware that when an indictment is made it means you’re ready to go to trial, promptly threw the whole thing out.

Even so, Prigozhin is clearly one of Putin’s right hand men and is up to his armpits with Concord, the Wagner Group and a lot of other business. I’d say he’s playing with fire:

When you combine this with stories of a purge within the Russian domestic security service (150 FSB Foreign Intelligence Agents and Putin’s Domestic Policy Advisor Purged for Ukraine Fiasco), the head of Putin’s personal paramilitary force being placed under arrest (Top General in Putin’s Personal Army Is Arrested by FSB), the firing of eight senior generals, and a fresh purge underway in the Ukraine theater, one is not left with the view of a healthy government.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 7, 2022 at 7:00 am

Legitimate security concerns

with 31 comments

The other day on my post, The Battle of Evermore, which briefly covered general and humorous topics, the comments section jumped straight on the subject of Russia and never left it.

Among the many comments was one from a regular, Andrei, which contained this rather striking assertion:

Ukraine soon will be no more, it is an artificial country…”

That’s damned cold. It reminded me of the vox pop interviews with Russian people on the street, covered here, which show the same sentiments:

My response is that Ukraine might have been an artificial country during the time of the USSR, but since that rotten structure collapsed Ukraine has looked vary much like an independent nation, no more artificial than Belgium was after the Napoleonic Wars, Germany after 1860 or – more ominously – Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia after the Cold War.

Yugoslavia’s Dissolution – 1989-1992

In other words, most countries are artificial in the beginning; only with the passage of time do they become unified states – usually. After three decades I think Ukraine deserves that title, whatever internal problems it might have.

But if you’re still mystified as to where these attitudes of ordinary Russians to Ukraine are coming from , you really can’t go past one of Putin’s mouthpieces, RIA Novosti, which published a lengthy piece in early April titled What Russia should do with Ukraine”. It explains in detail what Russia understands by ‘denazification’. If you wondered why our commentator, Andrei produced the phrase, Ukraine soon will be no more, it is an artificial country”, well wonder no more:

The special operation revealed that not only the political leadership in Ukraine is Nazi, but also the majority of the population. All Ukrainians who have taken up arms must be eliminated – because they are responsible for the genocide of the Russian people.

Ukrainians disguise their Nazism by calling it a “desire for independence” and a “European way of development”. Ukraine doesn’t have a Nazi party, a Führer or racial laws, but because of its flexibility, Ukrainian Nazism is far more dangerous to the world than Hitler’s Nazism.

Denazification means de-Ukrainianisation. Ukrainians are an artificial anti-Russian construct. They should no longer have a national identity. Denazification of Ukraine also means its inevitable de-Europeanisation.

Ukraine’s political elite must be eliminated as it cannot be re-educated. Ordinary Ukrainians must experience all the horrors of war and absorb the experience as a historical lesson and atonement for their guilt.

The liberated and denazified territory of the Ukrainian state should no longer be called Ukraine. Denazification should last at least one generation – 25 years.

Chilling. This was never about NATO or Russia’s ‘legitimate security concerns’.

Written by Tom Hunter

May 6, 2022 at 7:00 am

An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 2

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Could an ANZAC solution be the way forward and how could it work?

Op Ed by Ueda Station

In Part One I proposed that a workable solution to revive a Kiwi Air Combat Capability was for New Zealand to acquire and then integrate an air combat component into the RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. I prefaced this by noting that New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as grey zone threats (“The grey zone includes cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns and falls short of an actual shooting war”) and geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific and that a tactical air combat capability is becoming increasingly an imperative for New Zealand.

Of the current RAAF multi-role strike platforms, namely the F-35A, the EA-18G Growler, and the twin seat Boeing F/A-18F Super Hornet – it is my view that the logical solution is the Super Hornet. It has the best overall fit with what the RNZAF needs to generate an air combat component in terms of its affordability and our required employment contexts in the years ahead. Principally this is long-range maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance and airborne electronic warfare. Nevertheless as the Super Hornet is a multi-role combat aircraft it can be called upon to conduct a wide range of other missions as directed by the New Zealand Government. Since the Super Hornet uses the probe and drogue air to air refueling system it could quickly become interoperable with our new C-130J-30 Hercules. By retrofitting Cobham re-fuelling kits on the Hercules they can act as an air-tanker for a Kiwi Super Hornet mission package. That is something that its F-35A or F-16V brethren cannot do. Fitted with conformal and drop tanks, plus this air-tanker support, we would possess a strike platform that can then project out to a significant volume of airspace within our South Pacific and Southern Ocean areas of immediate strategic interest. All together as a package the Super Hornet is a very formidable multi-role force enabler and force projection capability – particularly within the cross-domain air-maritime context.

A Kiwi Super Hornet component that is integrated into the RAAF air combat fleet fleet solves the complexity and cost of trying to rebuild a tactical air combat capability from scratch. The synergies of learning and building up a new platform capability like the Super Hornet alongside a mature system operator like the RAAF, will greatly truncate the time, complexity and cost that the RNZAF will spend rebuilding the capability. It would be embedding into an established operational fleet, with existing training, support and sustainment structures in place and New Zealand would simply be paying our fair share of the bills to the contracted firms providing this – principally Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon. New Zealand would also be expanding the operational synergies and strategic weight to the combined Anzac force structure and achieve economy of scale advantages to boot.

Though I do not have the latest annual cost of operations for RAAF 1 SQN’s Super Hornets the best projected estimate using Australian National Audit Office and Australian Budget figures are that the full extracted cost to operate their 24 F/A-18F capability is AU$245m per annum. A simple extrapolation of those figures means that if New Zealand were to contribute to the operation and sustainment of 12 additional aircraft to the existing 24 RAAF Super Hornet would it cost a further AU$122.5m p.a (NZ$135m) on top of this. Of that amount around $50 million would go towards the contracted support providers, the remainder is the cost of direct operational costs such as fuel, expended weapons, salaries, and administration.

However the clock is ticking if we want brand new Super Hornet aircraft. An incoming New Zealand government in 2023 would need to immediately start a dialogue with the Australian and United States governments to offer a proposal that focuses on the win-win aspect for all three nations in how a Kiwi component towards a joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet squadron would work. It will have to move quickly to secure what might be the final production slots on the Super Hornet line at the Boeing St Louis plant. The US Navy wants to start redirecting money away from new-build Super Hornets and squirrel it towards its future NGAD (Next Generation Air Dominance) project as well as buy more carrier based F-35C’s. The House and Senate are not so convinced. A US$900 million budget extension in FY 2022 for the production of 12 new-build Super Hornets was a late inclusion in the revised 2022 National Defense Authorization Act unveiled by the House and Senate Armed Services committees on Dec. 7 last year following pressure from Mid-West based Senate and Congress members. But that was in extremis, and only for 12 further aircraft, to keep the St Louis production line busy through to Christmas 2024. Maybe another production block of 12 aircraft forced through in FY23 by House and Senate Armed Services committees could happen but that is as yet highly uncertain.

Like what happened with the final run of C-17’s these final 12 Super Hornets will possibly end up being “Whitetails”, meaning they are unlikely to be assigned USN serial numbers and will eventually become available on the open market as a commercial sale. So a narrow window of opportunity exists for New Zealand to take advantage of these final production aircraft – the worry would be if oil rich Kuwaiti grabs them first as they, along with the RAAF, are the only other operators of this aircraft type.

If the circumstances and timing were such that New Zealand could acquire these final dozen Super Hornets we should seize the opportunity. A Kiwi squadron of 10 operational aircraft and a training flight contribution of 2 aircraft embedded within the RAAF force structure would cost us US$900 million (NZD$1.33B). This is the “Gross Weapon System” (GWS) cost for the latest Block III Advanced Super Hornet variant, based on the US Department of Defence contract last December with Boeing for delivery in late 2024. Though the actual fly-away build cost of the Advanced Super Hornet is US$67.161 million per unit – the higher GWS cost is the true cost in that it allows for initial support, spares, training etc.

If new build Block III F/A-18F’s were not available there is the alternative option of acquiring used ex USN F/A-18E/F Block II Super Hornets that have all gone through the same spiral upgrades as the RAAF aircraft. To give you an idea of the cost of a used Super Hornet, the value of ex US military aircraft is based on a US Government Accounting Office calculation of current airframe hours deducted from the US Navy Specification SD-565-3-2 structural fatigue safe life standard, which in the case of the Super Hornet is 6000 flying hours. This is calculated by a percentage value that corresponds to the original GWS cost of the aircraft when delivered new to the US Navy. For example if the GWS cost was originally US$77.3 million per unit (the historical GWS average cost) and the aircraft in USN service had flown circa 4500 hours of its 6000 hour limit, then its present value would be 25% of its original GWS cost when new. In other words that Super Hornet would be now worth US$19.3 million dollars if sold to New Zealand as an US Excess Defence Article.

However, all these aircraft would require undergoing Boeing’s Super Hornet Service Life Modification (SLM) program. The first phase is an 18-month process of inspection, modification, repair and restoration that will extend the service life of the aircraft from its current 6000 flight hour (SD-565-3-2 limitation) to 7500 flight hours. During this phase, each Super Hornet is extensively disassembled, thoroughly inspected, and undergoes a restoration and repair process that takes 5000 man-hours at a cost of US$11.45 million per aircraft. At the end of this first phase the aircraft would be technically the same as the RAAF Block II but with an additional 2000 hours on their airframes. Nevertheless, an airframe that had 4500 hours prior to Phase 1 of the SLM would be able to fly for a further 15 years or around another 3000 flying hours in USN service flying off their Carriers. The reality though is that the refreshed Super Hornets would now be using military runways like RAAF Amberley and RNZAF Ohakea where the structural load stresses on the airframe are far less than the undulating short deck of a Carrier with catapults and arrestor gear. This alone can extend their structural fatigue safe life by a further 1000 flying hours (based on fatigue testing difference between carrier and non carrier airframes), which would give enough annual flying hours to see these ‘refreshed’ Super Hornets through to the late 2040’s.

For around NZD$46-50m per aircraft this “refreshed airframe” approach is a reasonable option. The only foreseeable issue is that the majority of them available would be the single seat F/A-18E model as they have numerically been the dominant variant of the USN Super Hornet fleet. This does have some repercussions in that the tactical reconnaissance role won’t have the same level of capability output or situational awareness due to the loss of the back seat role. It still can be done, but the pilot workload increases. If the decision is made to go down the cheaper “refreshed airframe” route it may be worth considering slightly increasing the number of airframes from 12 to 15, to allow for 12 single seat E models for operational tasking and 3 additional twin seat F models for training based at Amberley. These 15 airframes could be delivered in annual tranches of 3, starting with the 3 F models for training and the subsequent E models over the next four years. With the 2-year delay between ordering these “refreshed” aircraft and the Phase 1 upgrade process and delivery, prospective aircrew could start their training process. The expectation that 15 “refreshed” ex USN Block II Super Hornets would cost circa NZD$700-750 million to acquire. This compares to NZ$1.33 Billion for 12 new build Advanced Block III aircraft.

The future second phase of the SLM program, which can eventually run concurrently but over a further 12-month process, will see extensive additional modifications where the aircraft is effectively remanufactured to Advanced Super Hornet Block III standard like the most recent new-build aircraft now coming off the St Louis line. It is very likely that the RAAF Super Hornet and Growler fleet will be upgraded to Block III Advanced status within the next ten years. This Block III service life + upgrade which will roll out across the USN’s Block II fleet over the next 15 years adds another layer of utility and capability to the platform.

Some significant points stand out. Each airframe is essentially remanufactured to ensure a SD-565-3-2 airframe life of over 10,000 flying hours. Engine upgrades will see a 20% increase in thrust and fuel economy and combat range is extended by 20%. There is a 10% reduction in radar cross-section (RCS), and a further drop in RCS is achieved by use of ‘Have Glass IV’ like external stealth coating and a conformal fuel tank option is available increasing range even further. On the avionics side the mission computer, cockpit, and sensors have capabilities nearly on par with the F-35A. As yet there is no reported costing estimate available for the Block III upgrade as the Phase 2 SLM wont be given an allocated budget appropriation until FY24. Nevertheless consideration must be made for this future upgrade package, as it would seemingly be a wise synergetic circumstance in the context of the RAAF’s future F/A-18F and EA-18G developmental pathway.

But an air combat capability for New Zealand is not all about high level threats against the PLA(N) and PLA(AF) conducted under the umbrella of a joint Anzac air task force. Eventually, an Ohakea based squadron of 10-12 aircraft would also enable the RNZAF to conduct what is known as the Tactical Air Support for Joint Defence Operational Training role and thus provide the NZDF with greater integrated training across the land and maritime domains. These are tactical support and training roles that were a routine aspect of the former Air Combat Wing, which disappeared when the A-4K capability was disbanded.

Tactical Air Support (TAS) to Joint Defence Operational Training, are force enabler activities, which assist wider Defence Force elements in generating their readiness and training. TAS encompasses:

  • Air Defence training for RNZN and RAN Frigates,
  • Land-Air Integration Training for NZ Army Battalion Group Exercises,
  • JTAC/FAC training for 1 NZSAS and 1 RNZIR,
  • DACT for RAAF and other Pacific Forces,
  • OpFor(Air) for ADF/NZDF Exercises.

The TAS role is expanding now to include tactical support missions at the lower end of the threat spectrum such as Low Intensity Close Air Support for SASO (Stability and Support Operations) missions, Rapid Tactical Reconnaissance in HADR (Humanitarian Aid and Disaster Relief) situations, Maritime Enforcement Support in our Economic Exclusion Zone (EEZ – think the Kin Nan incident) and would give New Zealand a baseline domestic Air Security & Response capability for our AIDZ (Air Defense Identification Zone). Therefore just on these wider joint operational training and direct security benefits alone, bringing back a squadron sized tactical air combat component is not just a smart and prudent strategic hedge, but adds real depth to our wider force training competency and security posture. This is irrespective of it being primarily a deployable frontline kinetic combat asset within a Joint RNZAF-RAAF air strike package.

Building up to a 12-15 aircraft Kiwi air combat contribution would expand the joint RAAF-RNZAF Super Hornet fleet to 36-39 airframes, allowing for the eventual generation of two expeditionary squadrons each with 12 operationally tasked aircraft. The remaining element of 12-15 training aircraft based at RAAF Amberley would remain as the core pipeline for RNZAF and RAAF aircrew training as well as high level depot support and sustainment. If for any reason the Australian Government wanted to independently deploy its own “expeditionary” squadron and the New Zealand Government had reservations about such a move, the Australians are still free to do so within the context of their own existing airframe numbers. New Zealand would not detract from them being able to operationally uncouple and pursue its own defence needs. The core training structure would be intact. Likewise, if New Zealand noted a rise in direct grey zone security challenges, for example in the eastern South Pacific, to provide a presence and deterrence tasking, and Australia likewise did not feel it was in a position to commit its own assets towards this, New Zealand would still be in a position to do so with our own assets. Since both countries will always possess their claims of an independent foreign policy when push comes to shove, being integrated as per the above force structure does not restrict or force both countries to go against their independent stances on particular issues.

An incoming New Zealand government, as part of its air combat capability proposal to Australia, would also need to work with the RAAF in establishing a pipeline for Kiwi aircrew for Fast Jet Pilot (FJP), Air Warfare Officer (AWO) and ground technician courses – to prepare aircrew for that leap from our 14 SQN T-6C Texan II’s into the Super Hornet. The creation of a separate new LIFT (Lead In Fighter Trainer) capability like we had with the Aermacchi MB-339C is unnecessary and costly for the small size of our future air component. Obviously the New Zealand government would have to pay their way for each aircrew candidate seat on each FJP, AWO and Ground Support Technician courses. The competency of the RNZAF T-6C Texan is such that Phase 1 of the 14 week Introductory Fighter Course, can be carried out at Ohakea, before aircrew move to Phase 2 LIFT training on the BAE Hawk with RAAF 79 SQN at Pierce. Following Phase 2 of the LIFT course aircrew progress to a 20 week advanced air-to-air and air-to-ground weapons course with RAAF 76 SQN at Williamtown.

Fortunately there is some spare annual flying hours capacity within the RAAF Hawk fleet to train 2-3 Kiwi aircrew per annum, through both the Phase 2 LIFT course and advanced weapons courses as the RAAF are flying just 4050 annual flying hours on the Hawk fleet, which has the latent capacity to fly well over 6000 annual hours. Obviously, the New Zealand government will need to pay a pro-rata percentage of the AU$180m annual cost of the RAAF Hawk trainer capability for each candidate FJP and AWO. There are no current RAAF figures at hand regarding the cost per student pilot, however the closest comparison would be the Hawk T-2 at RAF Valley, which has a cost per student of £2.7m or NZ$5.2m through the Phase 2 LIFT and advanced weapons courses. The Canadian and RAF Phase 2 LIFT and Weapons courses possibly are alternate training options – if for any reason an RAAF course has a capacity issue.

Only once those two phases on the BAE Hawk are completed could Kiwi aircrew progress through to type conversion on the F/A-18F Super Hornet with 1 SQN’s training flight at RAAF Base Amberley. This eight-month long operational conversion course covers all facets of F/A-18F flight operations from the basics of flying the aircraft through to conducting complex tactical sorties including electronic warfare, tactical reconnaissance and maritime strike. From start to finish following around 3 years and 6 months of training on the Texan, Hawk and Super Hornet would the newly minted Kiwi aircrew will be considered operational.

There is also a way to truncate this length of time on the aircrew training front and kick-start a locally based capability faster. This can be achieved by the use of qualified FJP’s and AWO’s who are eligible for a lateral transfer into the RNZAF from Australia, Canada, United Kingdom and the United States of America. The NZDF already has a number of slots for personnel from our FVEY (Five Eyes) partner nations in highly specialist war-fighting roles who are eligible to serve as they either hold a Permanent Residence Visa with indefinite stay or following consideration from the Minister under s72 of the Immigration Act in light of their critical skills. This could be a way forward in that we would start with a mix of established experienced aircrew from our FVEY partner nations on short-service commissions, along with RNZAF graduate aircrew selected for the Super Hornet assignment. Of particular note this may be very useful with respect to getting hold of experienced Qualified Weapons Instructors, Qualified Flying Instructors and Qualified Air Warfare Instructors with Fast Air backgrounds.

When capacity is built up on the training and personnel side and sufficient New Zealand owned Super Hornets are in service, eventually we would begin to transfer operational aircraft and crew back home across the Tasman (leaving a permanent joint training attachment at RAAF Amberley for our ongoing training requirements). Working with Boeing Australia, who is the prime support and sustainability contractor to the RAAF fleet, a small Ohakea based operational maintenance and unscheduled repairable item replacement facility similar to what exists within RAAF 1 SQN would be required. This would include provision for hangar space, considerations for weapons storage, test and support equipment, administration, line maintenance facilities and potentially a flight simulator. A budget for this would have to be further investigated. However as an example of the size and scope of this facility, it possibly would be similar to RNZAF 3 SQN’s $43 million aircraft maintenance facility at Ohakea. Under this proposed integrated (though partially distributed) basing model our higher levels of depot level maintenance, engine sustainment, and general fleet support on the aircraft would still remain under the existing Boeing Australia, GE and Raytheon sustainment and support contracts that have already been in place for 12 years.

So there you have it folks, a pathway to a redux of the RNZAF air combat capability. One that can affordably provide New Zealand what it requires to cover our own direct air power needs, but also deliver a timely and appropriate force enabler to our closest and officially only defence ally – Australia. One that can get that 7th and vital Anzac expeditionary air combat squadron over the line in just about the time we and our other regional partners are going to need it. Without it the 2030’s could be very bleak.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 25, 2022 at 1:00 pm

An RNZAF Air Combat Capability Redux – Part 1

with 15 comments

Could an ANZAC solution be the way forward and how could it work?

Op Ed by Ueda Station

The strategic context we are now moving into is not benign and represents significant challenges for New Zealand. The South Pacific is now the soft underbelly of the Indo-Pacific region and the merged air-maritime domain is where we are likely to be increasingly threatened. China has now breached the first island chain with its defence ‘relationship’ with the Solomon Islands and this strategic foothold for Beijing will see it will begin to further engage in the use of sharp power tactics. China will increase the tempo of naval and air tasking deep into the South Pacific and indeed the foothold in Honiara will permit the opportunity for it to disrupt and coerce defence and civilian operations of both New Zealand and Australia from its newly acquired sphere of influence. Over time China will translate this advantage into an Anti-access and Area denial (A2AD) strategy. Simply put, freedom of access into the South Pacific as we know it will simply get much more harder, which will effect – trade, travel, communities, families, resources, the economy – indeed the South Pacific the way it wants to be. It is a modus operandi that is classic Sun Tzu as seen in the South China Sea over the last 15 years.

This is a radical change of circumstances for us in comparison to the context of how we as Kiwi’s saw the Pacific 10 – 20 – 30 years ago, when rational though naive decisions were made to let go of our core defence capabilities that possessed strategic projection and resilient deterrence. We seemingly believed that we did not need them at the time, nor ever would. Our political discourse made a ‘soft power’ approach to defence a more virtuous direction of travel. This introversion by New Zealand has created a strategic vacuum, particularly in our South Pacific front yard. One that is wide open to exploitation from state actors, like China and potentially Russia, who have a completely different set of value judgments concerning the environment, societal cohesion, free markets, human rights, rule of law and the positive role of liberal democracy in bringing about equity and prosperity.

Though our benign strategic environment is now dead, the issue our Defence Force faces, hindered by the Helen Clark era acquisition blunders, is that we are woefully unprepared for the challenges ahead. Furthermore, New Zealand must explicitly understand, as we have failed to do for the last 25 years, that Australia as the regional ‘smart power’ possessing actual combat capabilities – cannot alone do all the heavy lifting on behalf of us in the South Pacific. We as Kiwi’s need to share this responsibility and be proactive about it, because as a nation we could quickly lose favour with Canberra, Washington, Brussels, London, Tokyo, Singapore and other ASEAN nations to our economic detriment. Tokyo learnt the hard way in 1991 during the first Gulf War that being “content to benefit from the efforts of the rest of the international community while avoiding taking direct responsibility” had its costs. (Freedman and Karsh 1993, p121). Democratic Leader of the House Richard Gephardt sent a letter to Prime Minister Kaifu threatening major export restraints on Japanese automobiles into the United States if Japan failed to make what U.S. policy makers deemed to be a sufficient contribution to the war effort. Gephardt’s letter was reiterated by US Secretary of State James Baker and later by US Treasury Secretary Nicholas Brady. In the end the US, UK, the Gulf States and France forced Japan to pay for 20% of the costs of the first Gulf War, some US$22 Billion and Bush 41 then vomited all over the Japanese PM as a thank you. Don’t think for a minute that any of the above Capitals in our wider region will let a laggard New Zealand off lightly if things go pear shape and we prevaricate or want to virtue signal off our own song sheet.

In light of this strategic upheaval the reality is that it is not possible go back 25 years to a 40 aircraft, 3 Squadron, Air Combat Wing anytime soon. To build back an air combat capability at the level as we previously had is too hard, too time consuming and too expensive. Any future Kiwi air combat capability needs to address our existing capability gaps with respect to maritime strike, airborne electronic warfare and tactical airborne reconnaissance. To maximise and future proof the capability any platform will need to also have the fullest possible utility to deal with the spectrum of issues that are coming down the pipeline over the next 20 years. It will need to deal with grey zone disruptors and A2AD tactics. The employment context required is very different from the time of the A-4 Skyhawk. A re-hash of the traditional close air support role of the A-4 Skyhawk with a bit of maritime strike on the side is not what this capability is about in the 21st Century. In fact the cancelled F-16 was going to take the RNZAF air combat capability fully into the 21st century by the time it had been upgraded to Block 50 Falcon Up standard at the end of its 10 Year lease. These future employment contexts for the F-16 were known within air staff planners, but somehow those critics commentating from outside the acquisition team thought that the F-16 capability was simply just a faster A-4.

A modern multi-role air combat platform allows for air power to be distributed across not just the air domain, but also the maritime and land domains to achieve certain kinetic effects or assist another platform, like a P-8A or special forces element, in achieving those kinetic effects. These kinetic effects can be lethal or non-lethal, offensive or defensive in application. Due to their agility and pace within a hostile threat environment air combat assets are cornerstone force enablers to get things done – a flexible, fast way to deliver support at the tactical level, through a multitude of payload packages. The flexibility is such that these can be maritime strike, tactical reconnaissance, electronic warfare (EW), combat air patrols (CAP), close air support (CAS), interdiction, air security, air superiority, or suppression of enemy air defence (SEAD) – all on the single platform. It is not a silo capability but a combat capability that integrates the air domain with the land and maritime domains like no other. Air combat platforms have now become highly versatile and reconfigurable, allowing adaptation to a wide range of roles generating an even greater combat efficacy. Boyd’s loop of Observe, Orient, Decide, Act (OODA) is a key part of this cross-domain synergy and an air combat capability is a core determinant in connecting this loop.

It is becoming obvious that we as a country need to do something and fairly quickly, because the strategic context is now very different from when Helen Clark was on the 9th floor of the Beehive. So if rehashing the past approach we took with the former air combat wing is not viable and having no air combat capability is potentially an even worse state of affairs – what do we do now? How do we solve the problem?

The solution to the Kiwi air combat dilemma lies with New Zealand seeking capability integration with the RAAF. The overarching driver to make this happen is the 1991 Closer Defence Relations Agreement (CDR) between New Zealand and Australia, which exists to seek an evolutionary process of examining the practical possibilities of cooperation in aspects of training, doctrine and equipment procurement. Such mutual defence cooperation could be a transitional situation like the current RAF-Qatar Eurofighter/Hawk joint squadron set up, or could be a permanent RNZAF-RAAF joint force operation. Personally, I think a hybrid of the two would work best, where the sustainment, support, training and doctrinal development remains within the RAAF structure, but New Zealand is able to eventually generate an independent Ohakea-based expeditionary sized squadron.

The idea of a integrating our air combat capability within the RAAF force structure is not a new one. Back in 1991 our fellow No Minister contributor Wayne Mapp first suggested the idea in an article he published in the Spring edition of Policy titled Restructuring New Zealand’s Defence Force as one of the future options. Thirty years on as Cold War 1.0 ended and we are now well along the way inside Cold War 2.0 Wayne’s suggestion may have found its time and place.

The RAAF themselves are now taking a whole-of-force approach to airpower application where the capabilities of individual platforms are enhanced by networking across their joint force. This produces sophisticated cooperative engagement effects by linking their distributed sensor platforms with their effector platforms through the sharing of critical mission data and situational awareness to circle the Boyd OODA loop. Their air power strategy focuses on effects, including deterrence, denial, influence, counter-influence, counter-coercion and cost imposition. Through Project Jericho they have begun to arrange this strategy to ensure that their new sophisticated platforms, like the P-8A, MQ-4C, F-35A, KC-30, EA-18G Growler, E-7A, E-55 and F/A-18F all have relevance in the emerging cross-domain grey-zone scenarios and can then provide the Australian government with flexible options. Within that strategic air power context – and there really is no escaping it now whatever wishful conceits some may have here – New Zealand has to find its place in this reality and proactively contribute.

By 2023 the RAAF will fly 72 F-35A, 12 EA-18G Growlers and 24 F/A-18F Super Hornets, across five operational squadrons. They will also retain a residual number of 24 F-35A aircraft pooled in 2 OCU for training and fleet replacement reserve. They have future acquisition options under Phase 7 of Project AIR 6000, (link is to Phase 2A/B) which will consider an additional purchase of 28 further airframes to form a fourth and potentially fifth operational squadron at RAAF Base Amberley, generating a total of around 100 F-35A’s. The F/A-18F Super Hornet is tasked as their main maritime strike platform and is crewed by a Pilot and Air Warfare Operator in the back seat. The fleet of 24 aircraft usually average 4800 hours per annum, which is around 200 annual flying hours per aircraft. Finally the EA-18G Growler, which is an evolved F/A-18F is the main electronic attack platform with an Electronic Warfare Operator in the rear.

In the second part of this commentary I will offer my suggestion as to which of these RAAF aircraft is the platform that would work best for New Zealand in re-establishing an integrated air combat capability with Australia. Affordability is always going to be an issue, and people will ask why not the F-16’s as they are potentially cheaper? In reply I would say that a similar new capability of 12 F-16V Block 70’s, even though it is an absolutely cracker of a strike platform, would see New Zealand spend in the ballpark of twice the cost with respect to real acquisition costs. We would also have to spend a lot more time and money rebuilding such a capability, as we would lack the advantage of partnership integration with the RAAF. Going down that route will take twice as long and twice as much, unless the Singaporeans or Yanks help us big time.

By 2026 according to Treasury’s December 2021 HYEFU New Zealand is going to have a projected GDP of $413.7 Billion and core crown debt of $137.9 Billion, some 30.2% of GDP. Since New Zealand loves to benchmark Scandinavian countries in public policy, if we want to use them as a guide to where they are going with respect to defence spending, Norway and Denmark have set a target of 2% of GDP by 2028 and neutral Sweden and Finland are almost begging to be let into NATO, which also has a 2% target. If we take out the P-8A and C-130J projects New Zealand is still only spending around 1.2% of GDP. The bounce up to 1.4% and 1.5% over the last couple of years is entirely down to these two projects almost running simultaneously, once they’re delivered we will likely drift back to an underwhelming 1.2%, which will not gain influence and keep friends in a deteriorating Indo-Pacific region.

If New Zealand’s defence spending was held above 1.75% of GDP benchmark through the second half of the decade and through the first half of the 2030’s New Zealand would not only be able to afford all of its Future 2035 Defence Plan that came out of the 2015 Defence White Paper, but three or more capable frigates and the joint air combat capability (as Part 2 will detail), plus add an extra P-8A and a couple more C-130J’s above the bare bones minimums we have recently acquired. There are programmes within the United States Defense Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) that could assist New Zealand as it is a NATO+5 nation and under the Biden administration the DSCA is looking to be more creative in assisting countries in the Indo-Pacific region who, are struggling to acquire new capabilities. With the clout of Australia in Washington backing us, we should be able to strike a deal to get a modest, yet effective air combat capability over the line. New Zealand would be helping the Anzac nations get that 7th and vital expeditionary air combat squadron just about the time we and our regional partners will very much need it.

New Zealand is likely to be seriously tested as not just as grey zone threats rise, but as geo-strategic competition ramps up across all relevant domains. Possessing combat capabilities in all of these key domains is becoming increasingly an imperative – especially in the merged air-maritime context of the South Pacific. The continuation of a piecemeal force structure approach that treats an air combat capability as a silo output, one that we can pick and chose to have or not to have is long gone. Time, tactics and technology have marched on – along with the deteriorating strategic environment. New Zealand cannot sit by and do nothing with respect to redeveloping an air combat capability, yet we are hindered by the fact that the cost of attempting to rebuild the previous air combat capability model from 25 years ago is too expensive and too hard to do by ourselves.

In my opinion the practical solution is the development of a squadron sized air combat component integrated within the current RAAF Air Combat Wing structure. This can affordably provide New Zealand what it requires to cover our own direct air power needs, but also deliver a timely and appropriate force enabler to our closest and officially only defence ally – Australia. In Part 2 of this opinion piece I will explain in greater detail how it could work. Nevertheless, a redux of a Kiwi air combat component that is integrated into an RAAF strike wing will send a message to all our regional partners from Washington DC to Singapore, from Tokyo and Canberra, that we are once again serious about playing our part in building genuine deterrence capabilities as our contribution to the regional security architecture during this time of increasing geo-political challenges. That we Kiwi’s are becoming self reliant in partnership again and are going to step up and take responsibility in helping to address the strategic vacuum in the South Pacific with a force for good. That we are moving on from being a fading regional ‘soft power’ and looking towards a future as an emerging ‘smart power’ that, upholds the liberal democratic values, fair and free trade, and the rules based global order.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 24, 2022 at 11:35 pm

China and its problems – two videos

with 7 comments

We hear the phrase about the 21st century being the Chinese Century that it can come as a bit of shock when this is not just questioned but attacked on it’s fundamental premises.

There are some negative projections of the nation that have not aged well, of which my well-thumbed copy of Gordon Chang’s, The Coming Collapse of China, published in 2001, is one. Like The Great Depression of 1990, Chang nailed a lot of China’s problems but extrapolated them too far. However, there have been many more books pushing equally silly boosterisms of China and they’re not looking too good either.

The current negative takes are not a shock to me because I’ve adhered to the phrase first coined by Mark Steyn (who takes a great interest in demographics) around 2005 that, “China will get old before it gets rich”.

However, there are always new surprises coming out about this and they’re explored in the following video from geopolitical analyst Peter Zeihan. You can find a bullet point synopsis of it at the Battleswarm blog, of which the following three points are worth quoting:

  • They were going shrink in half by 2100. “Then they realized that they had been overcounting people for some time.” Then new data moved the date moved up to 2070. And now they’re saying it will be 2050. “For that to be true, the Chinese would have overcounted the population by 100 million.” And all of those missing people are of childbearing age. Their population actually peaked 15 years ago.
  • Xi’s instituted a cult of personality, and silenced anyone capable of independent thought. “He knows that the country’s current economic model has failed. And he knows he can’t guarantee economic growth, and he knows he can’t keep the lights on, and he knows he can’t win a war with the Americans.”
  • Xi’s solution? “Naked, blatant, ultra nationalism. Ethnocentric ultranationalism of the Nazi style.”

I don’t agree with all his points (I’ve always thought Stratfor, his former employer, is over-rated) but they’re interesting, and the increasingly extreme nationalism has been noted by everybody.

This second video focuses on that nationalism, especially in how China’s approach to the outside world has changed so dramatically from the 2008 Beijing Olympic Gamers to today. One of the strangest aspects has been Chinese diplomats the world over, hurling insults at their host countries, from Brazil, Canada, France, India and (of course) the USA. This is the exact opposite of what diplomats are supposed to do.

The video thinks it knows why and it’s summed up in three words, “Wolf Warrior Diplomacy”, designed to stir up nationalism as a way to control internal security problems. At the end it refers to the demographic problem – but also makes references to two other problems I was not aware of:



Based on comments, and as a balance to the above there’s also this book mentioned in the latter video, China: The bubble that never pops.

The Chinese economy appears destined for failure, the financial bubble forever in peril of popping, the real estate sector doomed to collapse, the factories fated for bankruptcy.

Banks drowning in bad loans. An urban landscape littered with ghost towns of empty property. Industrial zones stalked by zombie firms. Trade tariffs blocking the path to global markets.

And yet, against the odds and against expectations, growth continues, wealth rises, international influence expands. The coming collapse of China is always coming, never arriving.

There’s also an interview with him on this subject:

Written by Tom Hunter

April 21, 2022 at 6:39 pm

The taste of metal in the air

with 16 comments

Like the author of this article (“Allahpundit”, a truly far-gone TDS sufferer), when I first heard about Russian troops digging trenches in the soil around Chernobyl after capturing the complex I thought it was just propagandistic bullshit from the Ukranians.

After all, the whole world knows about Chernobyl, right? It’s very much a part of my lifetime, and the superb mini-series of the same name in 2019 brought it to the attention of later generations; Millennials and Gen-Z’s like my kids.

Certainly the military and political leaders of Russia would know, and hence would give special instructions to the military units they wanted to take over Chernobyl, right?

Experts scoffed. Yes, they said, Russians (and Ukrainians) in the vicinity would have been exposed to higher than normal levels of radiation as movement in the area kicked radioactive dust up into the air. And yes, if the reports were true that the Russians had spent time in the no-go zone known as the “Red Forest,” then they might expect to walk away with a higher long-term risk of cancer than the average person. But radiation sickness requires a truly massive dose. And besides, why the hell would they be digging trenches in the Red Forest? Surely they’d know better than to surround themselves with Chernobyl’s most toxic soil.

The “Red Forest” is so-called because the trees there turned red and died as the radiation burned them from the inside. They were then bulldozed into the soil, covered with sand, and more trees planted over the top. Apparently the forest got something like 400 times the Hiroshima dosage, which is why no Ukrainians go there.

The link has drone video showing that the Russian soldiers did go there, and dug trenches, and that video matches satellite pictures of the area.

As the Mayor of the nearby town of Slavutych said in an interview (it’s a town built to relocate residents of Pripyat, the now-radioactive town near the reactors):

It’s one thing when you’re [exposed to] external radiation. [When] there’s a source of radiation, you’re exposed, you leave, and then the body copes with it. When you’ve inhaled radioactive dust it’s a completely different story. Today, there’s even a saying that’s caught on here — I’ve adopted it myself: Russian troops left Chernobyl, but Chernobyl will never leave them. They’ve given their own soldiers a kiss of death.

It’s one more insight into the Russian military’s performance in their invasion: troops who don’t know much and just follow orders from leaders who don’t care about them. As one source who works at the plant told Reuters a few weeks ago about his conversation with Russian soldiers occupying the site:

“When they were asked if they knew about the 1986 catastrophe, the explosion of the fourth block (of the Chernobyl plant), they did not have a clue. They had no idea what kind of a facility they were at,” he said, claiming they were merely told that it was “critically important infrastructure.”

While it might seem crazy that young Russians in their twenties wouldn’t have heard of it it’s notable that the 2019 mini-series was not well-received in Russia at the time, with talk of a Russian alternative being made that would pin the blame for the disaster on the CIA. Nothing further has been heard of this series.

But given that mentality it’s entirely possible that such episodes probably aren’t spoken of in history class or on state television. So how would they know?

About the only good news is that the radiation perhaps is not as bad as thought because it’s been observed that wildlife in the area has filled the forest with even a European Bison spotted for the first time in 300 years in the area. Still, those animals don’t dig trenches into the soil.

Written by Tom Hunter

April 10, 2022 at 5:37 pm

The Replacement of the RNZN Anzac Frigates.

with 26 comments

What are the Requirements? Who are the Contenders? 

An Opinion Editorial by Udea Station

A frigate is essentially a class of defensive vessel, which provides a protective screen for merchant ships plying their trade through our sea lanes and for our deployed naval support ships with embarked personnel, against a range of threats above, below and on the ocean. Their employment context is very different to a fast attack missile boat or an Arleigh Burke destroyer launching long-range Tomahawk missiles. Frigates are more of a guardian within our maritime domain and less an aggressor. So, if you get the opportunity to gently explain that to your neighbour Karen, please do so.

The Anzac replacement will likely be sourced from the current FVEY (Five Eyes) nations supplier base. There are capable Korean and Japanese options, but they won’t be any cheaper and may have some significant ITARS (International Traffic in Arms Regulartions), IP sharing, and integration hurdles which would need to be addressed. European frigates are also capable, however a directly sourced European Frigate often possesses combat and sensor systems which are European-centric and often are not as seamlessly integrated into the US-Australian maritime networked architecture which we have historically used. There are also questions about the level of sustainment support from EU defence suppliers. Furthermore, there is often no tangible advantage regarding acquisition costs compared to our traditional FVEY frigate suppliers. 

Because of our long SLOC (Sea Lines of Communications), broad area of maritime interest and that the chosen platform will have a 35 year operational lifespan, it is important that room for capability growth in the platform is accounted for in terms of sensors, weapons and machinery. Therefore any future RNZN frigate will have to be comfortably over 5500 tonnes full load and possess long range and extended endurance characteristics suitable for Trans-Pacific operations. Furthermore, with the present crew restraints in operating a small Navy, each Frigate must sail with less than 150 embarked personnel and be highly automated. Neither the cheapest nor the most expensive options are the best. There is more to the cost-capability spectrum than meets the eye. 

The Type 26

The Canadian variant is likely to be the most compelling of the Type 26 class in terms of its overall capability package for the RNZN. However, it is a whopping NZD$5.3 billion per hull. The RAN (Royal Australian Navy) variant is slightly cheaper and the RN (Royal Navy) variant, though the cheapest, is less capable than the other variants. Yet it is still too expensive for the capability it possesses.

There is a massive cost penalty to be paid in purchasing the Type 26 as all variants are part of a local naval shipbuilding programme, which is just as much about creating local industrial capacity and local jobs, as they are about their role as surface combatants. The Type 26 for the RNZN is basically dead on arrival because of its huge sticker price.

The Type 31

The Type 31 option referred to in a previous thread by Dr. Wayne Mapp, seems at first glance an acceptable solution. It is substantially cheaper than the Type 26. It is a design variant of the Danish Iver Huitfeld Class, which is an AW (Air Warfare) frigate evolved from the earlier Absalon Class flexible support ship. However, in its cut price RN configuration, the Type 31 has only an austere level of CMS (Combat Management System), sensor and weapons fit-out. It actually offers a capability slightly less than what the upgraded ANZAC Class will be. Its ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) abilities are, in my opinion, weak. I suspect that Wayne, based on the estimated final cost he provided, has cost-factored in all the likely additional capabilities per CMS, sensors and weapons that would be required so that it is able to conduct ASW, EW (Electronic Warfare) and AD (Air Defence) and actually be survivable as both a SLOC escort and submarine hunter, or being able to be tasked on independent operations at long range even within the periphery of the intensive maritime shatter zones that will be a feature of the Indo-Pacific post 2030. In its RN specification it only has an AD capability that would enable it to survive attacks as they would be expected in constabulary type operations.

I am not sure though if Wayne has included in his upgrade estimates the acoustic rafting of engine room machinery required for an ASW platform, where quietness is paramount. In my view the Type 31 is hindered by its diesel-only propulsion and the lack of an electric drive mode. The vessel will require further adaptation to include a towed array, which is a fundamental component that an ASW frigate must have. All these required must-haves will blow out the acquisition cost. The vessel would require a further design review to get it at a capability level we would require. The warning I give is that the so-called cheap Type 31 may not be so cheap in the end. 

Any future Kiwi frigate will have to be extremely competent against a capability peer rival in the context of the Indo-Pacific. If New Zealand were in the Caribbean or South Atlantic where the Type 31 is likely to be deployed then fine. However, for a Type 31 to work in the context of the Indo-Pacific post 2030, it will need to be fully interoperable within the Air-Space-Maritime domain architecture of our close partners – principally Australia, the USN (US Navy), Canada and possibly the JMSDF (Japan). This means the essential inclusion of Cooperative Engagement Capability (CEC), Aegis Baseline 10 software, a very capable AESA (Active Electronically Scanned Array) radar and a solid EW (Electronic Warfare) capability.

A Type 31 frigate will not do the job that we or our partners require a RNZN frigate to do, if it is going to have a level of capability that the Royal Navy is acquiring. To get it right for the kind of operations that it will be expected to be tasked on will require the virtual evolution of a new ship. It is possible to build such an evolved and improved vessel, but there will be delays and in my view there is in existence an ideal turnkey solution that offers a better way forward. The Type 31 and Type 26 programmes are not the only frigate options to focus on. 

The Constellation Class

The only alternative left is the new USN FFG-62 or ‘Constellation Class’, based on the proven FREMM design. This vessel is the peer of the Type 26 in a combat capability sense, but at only slightly more money than what a Type 31 would end up costing following all the additional and complex changes required for it to be able to safely operate independently in the Indo-Pacific of post-2030. The USN’s proposed FY2022 budget requested US$1,087.9 million (NZD$1565m) for the procurement of the third FFG-62, which includes all the essential government furnished equipment (GFE). It is a true multi-role surface combatant, able to conduct the required spectrum of ASW, ASuW (Anti-Surface Warfare), EW and AD roles.

The USN was able to get costs down because they started with a set of tightly prescribed requirements to get the frigate fit-out configuration they required. They drew upon existing machinery, propulsion, combat and sensor systems that were already in hot production or within supply chains across the USN fleet. Another aspect the USN used in getting cost processes under control was by selecting a prime builder (Fincantieri Marinette Marine) who had an existing design (the FREMM) and a prime systems integrator (Lockheed Martin), who has a considerable supplier and product line depth to draw upon and at scale. 

A future RNZN frigate programme could tack on to a planned USN production block order for the Constellation Class and thus be able to tap into the long lead-line bulk buyer advantages that the USN can achieve through their supplier pool depth and weight of purchasing scale across the build programme. New Zealand was able to take advantage of this kind of economies of scale recently with respect to the P-8A and C-130J acquisitions because of our FVEY privileges within the US DSCA (Defense Security Cooperation Agency) regime. There is also the potential for further cost savings as some items from the current Anzac Class (following a refresh or block upgrade) can be cross-decked over into a Kiwi Constellation Class as they are already pre-integrated into the vessels combat management systems software. For example the Phalanx 1B CIWS, the Mod-5 127mm main gun, the Sea Ceptor missiles and decoy systems. 

The ‘keep it simple’ approach in going down the Constellation Class route is definitely worth serious consideration in what will be the biggest defence procurement project in NZ history. It is the most de-risked option in my view. The US support and sustainment chain is the gold standard (both the Brits and Europeans are pretty rubbish at that) and as a platform has been been conceived principally for Indo-Pacific operations. In terms of combat survivability it is better than the Type 31 as it is being built to full US Naval warship construction standards where as the Type 31 is planned to be built to Lloyds Register Naval Ship Rules. The Constellation Class will possess full interoperability with our close regional partners in terms of being able to tap into the full networked architecture of the air-maritime-space domain well as with other synergetic NZDF assets such as the P-8A, the WGS-9 (Wideband Global SATCOM system) and the likely Sea Sprite maritime helicopter replacement, the MH-60R

Finally, the Washington DC welcome mat is much bigger for New Zealand, opportunity wise, than Number 10 Downing Street. If New Zealand were placing a Constellation Class order, it would be prudent to leverage FTA (Free Trade Agreement access with the US as a complementary MFAT initiative with negotiations running in parallel. Defence-Diplomacy-Intelligence-Trade are not silo’s in themselves, but interdependent with each other and it may well be the final puzzle that gets NZ the US FTA bi-lateral it has desired for the last 25 years. I have never been able to understand why that golden penny hadn’t dropped in Wellington much earlier. Washington, when the right buttons are pressed, looks more favourably upon trade access into their markets when security considerations utilising their defence export industries enter the FTA quantum. 

As for numbers, three hulls are the absolute minimum number of Frigates the Kiwi Navy requires for the next 30 years – a fourth hull, though optimal, can be ordered later. Nevertheless, the RNZN must also have what is called a “Zero Ship”; in other words a land based frigate training centre that replicates onshore all functional competency tasks required thus allowing the 3-vessel frigate fleet to spend more time at sea conducting security operations.

This means far less sea-days devoted to onboard training and a shorter timeframe conducting pre-deployment work-ups. This means the generation of a 4th crew rotating through the ‘Zero Ship’ under training whilst the other frigates are deployed. Moreover, the plug and play nature of modern modular frigate designs and advanced shore maintenance management and sustainment support systems, also mean that 9 month long refits every 5 years can be greatly reduced getting the ship and crew out on the ocean with greater frequency. In many respects that ‘Zero Ship’ is the “Fourth Frigate” of the fleet.

My final word is that – all going well – it takes 6 years to build a frigate from the time an order is placed with the ship yard if it is a vessel currently in hot production, until it finally gets commissioned into a Naval service. If it is a first of type for a Navy to get to grips with, it can take further time for the crew to fully introduce the capability. This means that the incoming government in 2023 will have to make its decision within that three-year term to lock into a frigate build programme like the Constellation Class and have the first new vessel in the water before the first Anzac Class is decommissioned. We must not find ourselves again in the situation whereby we have a lengthy period of time when there was actually no frigate capability like what happened recently. The risk is too great considering the level of strategic uncertainty in the Indo-Pacific region from now on, which includes a push by a super power using ‘sharp power’ tactics right into our South Pacific neighborhood. 

Written by Tom Hunter

April 4, 2022 at 6:42 pm

Posted in Military, New Zealand

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