Taiwan adds another stealthy ‘carrier killer’ corvette as it strengthens its defenses against China

Taiwan navy corvette
A Tuo Chiang-class corvette during an official ceremony in Yilan, Taiwan, December 15, 2020.

  • A second Tuo Chiang-class corvette has entered service with Taiwan’s Navy.
  • They are fast, multi-mission ships armed with anti-ship and anti-aircraft missiles, close-in weapon systems, torpedoes, and a deck gun.
  • Their speed, design, and armament lead some to call them “carrier-killers”
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The new Tuo Chiang-class corvettes are swift, stealthy, and deadly.

A threat to the PLAN?

During a christening event that saw Taiwan’s second Tuo Chiang-class corvette enter service with the Republic of China Navy, Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen said that the corvette “proves that on the path to becoming independent in national defense, no matter what difficulties arise, we can overcome them one by one.”

The Tuo Chiang-class corvette, represented by just two vessels, offers several capabilities that Taiwan believes could help the small island nation on China’s doorstep fend off an amphibious assault from Beijing.

Tuo Chiang-class corvette

The class are fast, multi-mission ships that have several features that help in mitigating their radar signature.

Capable of sprinting at 45 knots thanks to a wave-piercing catamaran hull design, the two ships would rely on hit-and-run tactics to harry Chinese ships headed toward Taiwan rather than take on a Chinese armada face-on.

The ship’s structure is quite rounded and smooth compared to other similar corvettes and helps minimize radar-bounceback. In addition, the ship’s exhaust is cooled to reduce their infrared signature and the threat posed by heat-seeking munitions. As a result, it is unlikely that the ships would be undetectable.

However, these design considerations would greatly help blend into background “chatter” or movement detected by radar and help the ships blend into their surroundings.

Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen waves her hand as she boards the nation's first domestically built stealth-missile 500-ton Tuo Jiang twin-hull corvette at Suao Naval Base in Yilan, Taiwan June 4, 2016. REUTERS/Tyrone Siu
President Tsai Ing-wen aboard Taiwan’s first domestically built Tuo Jiang corvette at Suao Naval Base in Yilan, Taiwan, June 4, 2016.

The ships are heavily armed and sport several indigenously-made anti-ship missiles, anti-air missiles, close-in weapon systems, torpedo launchers, and a 3-inch deck gun.

Aft, both corvettes also have a small landing pad, presumably for a helicopter of some kind. As a result, some have called them carrier-killers, capable of taking down the largest warships in existence.

If reports hold true, Taiwan will be able to field five more of the Tuo Chiang corvettes by 2023, bringing the total hulls to 7.

Although China considers Taiwan a renegade Chinese province, the two countries have functioned independently since 1949 and the end of the Chinese Civil War. Still, China officially claims that it would like to reunify with Taiwan peacefully.

However, rhetoric from the Chinese leadership and the clear goal of recent Chinese military exercises point to a willingness to use force if necessary.

Postscript

Tuo Chiang-class corvettes are not invincible; there are, after all, only two of them.

On their own, they would clearly not be able to stop a Chinese invasion fleet from sailing right up to Taiwan’s beaches; the odds are just too lopsided in China’s favor.

However, what they would do is raise the cost to China and alter the calculus of an invasion. And with five more on the way, China may take serious note of the Tuo Chiang-class corvette.

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How Russia’s plans to use its Su-33s as carrier-based fighters fell apart

Russia Su-33 fighter takeoff Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
A Sukhoi Su-33 takes off of Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, January 10, 2017.

  • The Sukhoi Su-33 distinguished itself in the early 2000s as Russia’s most capable carrier-based fighter.
  • But it fell into naval aviation limbo after being eclipsed by a smaller and more versatile competitor.
  • The Su-33 may get a reboot, but its fate also depends on the future of Russia’s sole aircraft carrier.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Sukhoi Su-33 distinguished itself in the early 2000s as Russia’s most capable carrier-based air superiority fighter but fell into naval aviation limbo after being eclipsed by a smaller and more versatile competitor.

In the latter stages of the Cold War, Soviet strategists conceived a new power projection platform to secure the USSR’s vast Eurasian frontiers and compete with NATO’s carrier strike groups: “heavy aviation cruisers,” or a hybrid cross between an aircraft carrier and heavily armed battleship.

In their earliest implementation, these heavy cruisers carried Yak-38 VTOL fighters; however, the Yak-38 was promptly retired for its anemic performance and crippling technical problems.

The Soviet Navy sought a more robust carrier-based solution, boasting a longer range and greater payload capacity for high-intensity missions.

Here comes the Su-33:

Russia Su-33 fighter landing on Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
An Su-33 aircraft lands on Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, November 21, 2016.

Toward the late 1970s, the decision was made to develop a carrier-based variant of the prolific Su-27 Flanker. Initially labeled the “Su-27K,” the fighter was rebranded as the Su-33 after its introduction in the summer of 1998.

Despite their outward similarity, the Su-33 features a series of practical changes over its Su-27 counterpart: a reinforced undercarriage, rugged landing gear, canards, folding wings, noticeably larger wing area, and slightly more powerful AL-31F3 engines.

These design features are specifically meant to accommodate the tighter layouts and smaller runways of aircraft carriers. The Su-33 also features two additional payload hardpoints for a total of 12, and – despite widely overlapping with the Su-27 in weapon choices – is compatible with Kh-41/Kh-31 anti-ship missiles.

But the Su-33 proved slightly too big for comfortable mass-operation on Russia’s Admiral Kuznetsov carrier. More importantly, it lacked the full range of payload delivery features necessary to fulfill its purpose within Soviet naval aviation. Despite haphazard attempts to outfit it with anti-ship missiles, the Su-33 unmistakably remains an air superiority fighter.

Russia aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
An Su-33, left, and a MiG 29K, right, on Admiral Kuznetsov in the Mediterranean Sea off of Syria, January 8, 2017.

As with its Su-27 cousin, the fact that it cannot effectively fulfill ground-attack roles makes the Su-33 inherently unviable as a dedicated tool of littoral power projection and markedly reduces its operational value as Admiral Kuznetsov’s primary carrier-based fighter.

It doesn’t help that the Su-33 comes with an archaic avionics package that cannot be meaningfully upgraded without a comprehensive refit plan.

In 2009, the Russian navy decided to replace the 30-35 Su-33s that are currently in service with the competing, cheaper MiG-29K. In some ways, the transition from the Su-33 to the MiG-29K marks a technical downgrade: notably, the Su-33 boasts a significantly higher operating range and maneuverability.

However, the MiG-29K is much more capable as a ground-strike and multirole fighter – it boasts an expanded selection of standoff missiles and guided bombs.

No less crucially, the MiG-29K is outfitted with electronic countermeasures (ECM) features, low observability technology, and a comparatively sophisticated Zhuk-M multifunction radar for significantly more robust ground-strike capabilities.

A reboot?:

Russia Su-33 fighters on Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier
Admiral Kuznetsov with Su-33 fighters at a ship-repair yard, October 14, 2016.

Some Su-33 fighters are reportedly in the process of being updated with a better engine, “improved detection system,” and other, unspecified changes to make it more viable as a multi-role fighter.

The extent and timeline of that upgrade package remain unclear. The service future of the Su-33 – and Russia’s naval aviation more broadly – is inextricably linked with Russia’s sole aircraft carrier, Admiral Kuznetsov, which is undergoing repairs and a deep refit on the heels of two catastrophic accidents over the past several years.

Kuznetsov’s refit reportedly involves an improved and more reliable flight deck, capable of fielding the latest Su-33 and MiG-29K variants.

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How the British navy used improvised aircraft carriers to recapture remote South Atlantic territory

British aircraft carrier HMS Invincible during the Falklands War
Royal Navy aircraft carrier HMS Invincible leaving Portsmouth for the Falkland Islands, April 5, 1982.

  • After Argentina captured the Falkland Islands in 1982, the British navy sailed south to retake them.
  • But the British navy lacked enough aircraft carriers for all the missions it needed to do to recover the islands.
  • So the British turned to impromptu carriers laden with helicopters and jump jets that didn’t need a long deck.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The Royal Navy in 1982 faced a galling problem as it prepared to take back the Falkland Islands from Argentinian forces that had seized it that March: not enough aircraft carriers.

These were needed to launch air strikes on Argentinian forces on the islands, to deploy helicopters to patrol for Argentinian submarines and land troops and supplies, and launch jets to intercept attack by the Argentinian land-based fighters certain to swarm the British task force.

The Royal Navy could muster only eight Sea Harrier jump jets and 12 Sea King helicopters on the carrier Invincible – which had been on the verge of being sold to Australia! – and another 12 Sea Harriers and 20 Sea Kings on the larger Hermes.

As hostilities broke out late in April, the Harriers rapidly proved immensely valuable, shooting down 20 Argentine attack jets, but also sustained losses from ground fire and accidents.

However, on April 14 the Royal Navy had commandeered a 15,000-ton G2-class roll-on-roll-off container ship named Atlantic Conveyor that measured longer than two football field as a Ships-Taken-Up-From-Trade (STUFT).

Just as early US and British escort carriers during World War II were converted from civilian ships, the Conveyor was to be converted into impromptu aircraft carriers laden with helicopters and Harrier jump jets that didn’t require a long carrier deck.

Sea Harrier approaches the container ship and aircraft carrier Atlantic Conveyor
A Sea Harrier approaches the container ship Atlantic Conveyor to test its recently installed flight deck, at Devonport, June 1982.

The Conveyor received only limited modifications, as she was intended more for delivery rather than sustained flight operation. Just as World War II carriers were often employed to transport land-based fighters across oceans, the Conveyor’s main job was to ferry Royal Air Force ground-based Harriers for delivery to the Hermes and Invincible.

In any case, after undergoing nine days of conversion at Devonport, Atlantic Conveyor put out to sea on April 25 under her snowy-bearded Capt. Ian North. From Ascension Island she took on eight Royal Navy Sea Harriers from 809 Squadron and six usually ground-based Royal Air Force Harrier GR.3s hastily modified to carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles to serve in air-defense roles.

She also carried six Wessex helicopters and four RAF HC-1 Chinook helicopters recently imported from the United States. Her hold was also stuffed full of missiles, cluster bombs, mortar shells and aviation fuel, as well as vital generators and aviation fueling systems.

Most of her aircraft were sealed in plastic “banana wraps” for protection from the elements, but at least one Harrier was kept on alert for takeoff to respond to intercept any approaching Argentine aircraft.

Meanwhile, on May 5 sistership Atlantic Causeway was also commandeered and more extensively modified with an aviation refueling system and hangar structure built on her deck.

Both impromptu carriers lacked a critical feature: an aircraft carrier’s extensive air-search radars and long- and short-range air defense systems. Fitting these onto either vessel was apparently considered inappropriate due to their theoretically civilian status, and might have imposed significant delays.

British marines train on aircraft carrier Hermes
British Marines of 40 Royal Marine Commando on the flight deck of HMS Hermes while sailing to the Falklands, April 10, 1982

The Atlantic Conveyor arrived near the Falklands on May 19 and delivered her 14 Harriers to reinforce the Hermes and Invincible, while taking on a Lynx anti-submarine helicopter.

The Conveyor’s helicopters were being readied to join ground forces on May 26. Her Chinooks, in particular, were considered a key element for a planned airborne landing by British commandoes. Their detached rotor blades had been assembled at sea in preparation for the mission.

However, on May 25 two Argentinian Super Etendard jets came skimming at low altitude towards the British task force from the northwest after having been refueled by a KC-130 tanker.

Closing within 23 miles, the pilots popped up to a higher altitude and turned on their Agave targeting radars only to pick up the British fleet. They hastily launched their Exocet anti-ship missiles and then belted for home.

The Ambuscade picked up the missile launch and hastily launched a cloud chaff to decoy the missile away from its position. These mis-directed missiles were programmed to home in on the largest nearby target available upon losing contact, and they did – the humongous Conveyor.

Though Capt. North tried maneuvering to present the ship’s less vulnerable stern as target, there was little more he could do lacking radar-warning systems or close-defense weapons. At least one – but most likely two – missiles slammed into her port side C deck.

The explosion caused ammunition and fuel stores to detonate, causing an uncontrollable fire to break out, killing at least three crew members. Prince Andrew, flying a Sea King helicopter at the time from Hermes, recalled seeing “splashes in the water about a quarter of a mile away” caused by flying debris.

Sea Harrier jump jets on British aircraft carrier HMS Hermes
Sea Harrier jump jets aboard HMS Hermes in the South Atlantic, May 1, 1982.

Not being a warship, the Conveyor lacked the elaborate architecture and damage-control resources to survive that kind of damage. A half-hour later Capt. North signaled the abandon ship.

A massive three-hour-long rescue effort involving multiple helicopters and the destroyer HMS Alacrity managed to evacuate 137 civilian and military personnel. One of the Sea King helicopters to respond was flown by Prince Andrew. Tragically, North and eight others perished at sea before they could be rescued.

The utterly scorched Conveyer remained afloat, and an effort was undertaken to tow the zombified vessel. However, on May 28, she finally succumbed to her structural damage and sank beneath the waves.

Of the Conveyor’s embarked helicopters, only a single Wessex and Chinook named Bravo November remained, having been aloft during the air attack. A planned airborne landing at Mount Kent was canceled, and British troops were forced to advance on foot instead.

Bravo November, meanwhile, remained heavily employed transporting over 2,100 troops and prisoners during the campaign, and transporting up to three 105-mm howitzers at time for the troops on the island. The Chinook sole-survivor would retain its legendary status for future combat actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, and remains in service to this day.

The Conveyor’s fate did not deter her sistership Atlantic Causeway from entering the theater on May 27.

While she transferred her helicopters ashore the following day, she remained in theater and was soon landing choppers bearing wounded personnel from Round Table-class landing ships Tristram and Galahad after they were struck by Argentinian bombs. Though supposedly a delivery vessel, the Causeway ended up receiving more than four thousand helicopters landings.

Causeway finally retired from the theater June 17 and was returned to civilian service, before being scrapped four years later.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

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How a secretive, expansive force of ‘aggressors’ keeps US fighter pilots ready for combat

Air Force 64th Aggressor Squadron soviet emblem
The 64th Aggressor Squadron debuts a new paint scheme for the F-16 Aggressors, August 5, 2016.

  • A few years ago, the US Air Force awarded a multibillion-dollar contract to seven companies for aggressor air combat training.
  • That huge sum is for one goal: sharpening the skills of US fighter pilots through realistic air battles with foreign jet fighters.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

A few years ago, the US Air Force awarded a $6.4 to $7.5 billion contract to seven private companies to provide aggressor air combat training services to the Air Force through 2024.

That huge sum is all dedicated to one goal: sharpening the skills of Air Force fighter pilots by putting them in realistic air battles against foreign jet fighters.

The US military introduced aggressor squadrons back in the 1960s after learning in air combat over Vietnam that fighter jocks needed to practice fighting dissimilar aircraft using dissimilar tactics.

Just because those aircraft might be deemed technologically inferior didn’t mean their pilots couldn’t cleverly employ them in ways that exploited weaknesses in American fighters and pilot training.

For example, the supersonic American F-4 Phantom had sophisticated radar and Sparrow missiles that allowed them to engage subsonic, cannon-armed MiG-17 fighters from miles away. But the North Vietnamese naturally didn’t go along with the American playbook.

F 4 shadowing Russian bomber
An F-4 shadowing a Russian bomber.

Their controllers devised tactics that minimized their exposure to long-range attacks, allowing them to engage in close-range dogfights American pilots hadn’t trained for and the more primitive Soviet jet’s maneuverability and cannons gave it an advantage.

Learning from this, the Air Force and Navy formed “aggressor” training squadrons using aircraft like the F-5 Freedom Fighter and A-4 Skyhawk to simulate the performance profile of various Soviet jets.

But despite its immense value, the Air Force is now struggling to afford the costs of operating Aggressor units – particularly those equipped with modern US fighters which cost tens of thousands of dollars per flight hour. Nor can it easily spare the personnel due to the heavy operational demands placed on Air Force squadrons.

Thus, in 2015, the Air Force turned to a novel new solution: It began hiring private companies operating fleets of old, cheap-to-fly foreign jet fighters to serve as the aggressors for training.

The latest huge contract shows that the Air Force considers that initiative to be a success, and is broadly committing to the privately operated model of aggressor training. Furthermore, its dispersing funding amongst over a half-dozen companies operating a wide variety of aircraft.

Let’s take a look at some of the higher-performing fighters the Air Force is excited to have its pilots tangle with.

IAI F-21 Kfir (‘Lion Cub’)

Navy aircraft carrier Gerald R. Ford F-21 Kfir fighter jet
An F-21 Kfir fighter jet conducts a fly-by of USS Gerald R. Ford.

The French Mirage III was the iconic delta-winged Cold War fighter known for its Mach 2 speeds – though that strength was balanced by low maneuverability and lack of radar. The Mirage saw plenty of combat on both sides of the Arab-Israeli wars, where it earned a respectable reputation.

Later, Israel ordered 50 superior Mirage V multi-role fighters, but the export was blocked by an embargo. Nonetheless, Mirage 5 components and schematics were smuggled into Israel and assembled there as the IAI Nesher.

IAI then set about devising a domestic “super” version of the Mirage V: the Kfir, powered by the J-79 turbojet used in the F-4 Phantom, and featuring small canards (a second pair of small wings near the nose of the plane) to improve maneuverability and low-speed handling – an area of weakness for delta-wing aircraft like the Mirage.

The Kfir served in Israel and was exported and saw combat with Columbia, Ecuador and Sri Lanka. In the 1980s, the Marine Corps obtained early-model Kfirs, designated F-21A Lions, to serve as aggressors. Their combination of high-speed but relatively poor maneuverability made them a good platform to emulate the third-generation Soviet MiG-23.

Who operates them? Textron’s Airborne Tactical Advantage Company (ATAC) has six Kfirs. In 2012, a seventh crashed in a fatal accident at Naval Air Station Fallon.

Atlas Cheetah

South African Cheetah fighter jet over US destroyer
A South African Air Force Cheetah fighter jet over US Navy guided-missile destroyer USS Forrest Sherman in Cape Town, October 5, 2007.

South Africa was also a major Mirage III operator, but in the 1980s sought an upgraded variant to counter MiG-23s fighter entering Cuban and Angolan service capable of beyond-visual-range engagement. (South Africa supported rebels opposing Angola’s Cuban-backed Communist government.)

Due to its racist Apartheid policies, South Africa couldn’t import arms from anywhere except Israel, which provided tech from its Kfir fighter.

South African company Atlas Aviation ripped out 50% of the Mirage III’s components, adding in fixed canards to improve maneuverability, aerial refueling probes, electronic warfare systems improved radar, missile warning devices, and a revolutionary helmet-mounted sight that allowed short-ranged missiles to be targets with a flick of the pilot’s head.

The Cheetahs don’t appear to have seen action but were upgraded several more times before being retired in favor of modern Swedish Gripen fighters imported in the post-Apartheid era.

Who operates them? Draken International has 12 of the Mach 2 fighters, which are considered sufficiently upgraded to nearly emulate the capabilities of fourth-generation fighters.

Dassault Mirage F1

Qatar Mirage F1
A Qatar air force pilot does a preflight check on his Mirage F1EDA aircraft during Operation Desert Storm, February 2, 1991.

The F1 improved on the Mirage 5 by featuring a higher, more swept wing that greatly improved maneuverability and takeoff performance while maintaining Mach 2 capability. It also saw a major avionic upgrade with the introduction of a Cyrano-IV radar with multi-mode capabilities.

Armed with 30-mm cannons and R550 Magic missiles (comparable to the US Sidewinder), the F1 was extensively exported, and saw extensive combat service, particularly in the Iraqi Air Force’s duels with Iranian F-4 Phantoms, F-5 F-5E Tiger IIs and F-14 Tomcats.

Iraq lost 33 F1s, which in turned claimed 35 kills. During the 1991 Gulf War, at least eight more were destroyed in the air, while two dozen fled to Iran where they remain in Iranian service.

The F1s are fuel-efficient and durable, yet advanced enough to reasonably emulate fourth-generation aircraft using radars, electronic warfare systems and beyond-visual-range missiles.

Who operates them? ATAC has 61 Mirage F1Bs, Cs and CRs (two-seat, interceptor and recon variants respectively). Draken has 21 ex-Spanish F1Ms and two two-seat F1Bs modernized in the 1990s with new cockpit displays, HUDs, GPS, communication devices and improved radars.

AERO L-159E ‘Honey Badger’

Czech L-159 fighter jet in Iraq
A Czech L-159 fighter jet at Balad air base in Saladin, Iraq, November 5, 2015.

The L-159 is a post-Soviet-era Czech evolution of the widely-operated L-39 Albatross jet trainer, fitted to carry Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and various ground-attack munitions on seven hardpoints.

As well as serving in the Czech Air Force, the L-159 has been used in combat against ISIS by the Iraqi Air Force.

Though comparatively a subsonic slow-poke, the Honey Badger is agile and has an Italian Grifo-L doppler multi-mode radar which can be used to simulate a variety of enemy systems.

Thus the Honey Badger has served as useful opponents in Air Force training exercises.

Who operates them? Red Draken has 21 L-159Es. Note that the L-39 and L-59 Super Albatross are also operated by ATAC Draken, Air USA and Coastal Defense.

Mikoyan-i-Gurevich MiG-21bis

North Vietnam MiG-21 fighter jet
North Vietnamese Air Force pilots in front of a MiG-21, January 18, 1972.

There is arguably no Soviet fighter which has carved out quite as iconic a reputation as the MiG-21, distinguished by its small stubby wings, its open mouth jet-intake and the pointy radar nose cone poking through it.

Pitted against the far beefier twin-engine F-4 Phantom in the Vietnam War, the more agile single-engine MiG-21 held its own despite its shorter range and much smaller weapons load.

Today, hundreds of MiG-21s and J-7s (a Chinese clone) upgraded with more powerful radars and longer missiles continue to serve in large numbers in the Air Forces of China, India and in smaller number throughout Africa, Asia and Europe.

Who operates them: Draken International has twenty-five MiG-21bis (Fishbed-L), the late production interceptor model with more powerful engines and upgraded avionics.

Other supersonic jets that may be in the mix are two-seat MiG-29UBs tactical fighter flown by Air USA, F-5AT Tiger IIs flown by TacAir, and early-model American F-16A fighters ordered by Canadian company Top Aces.

To practice against subsonic dogfighters, several companies operate various versions of the venerable A-4 Skyhawk attack jet and the 1950s-era Hawker Hunter fighter, both of which saw extensive air combat during the Cold War, as well as light attack trainers like the Alpha Jet, BAe Hawk, Jet Provost, MB-339 and Strikemaster.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

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America’s military bases are slowly falling apart

An aircraft hangar damaged by Hurricane Michael is seen at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida, U.S. October 11, 2018.
An aircraft hangar damaged by Hurricane Michael at Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, October 11, 2018.

  • Deteriorating facilities are contributing to maintenance delays and limited availability of ships, aircraft, and vehicles across the US military.
  • Commanders are already feeling the consequences, and Congress will eventually have to pay to repair or rebuild those bases.
  • Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Military bases help generate combat power, and they are falling apart. Deteriorating facilities are contributing to maintenance delays and limiting the operational availability of ships, aircraft and vehicles across the armed forces.

While the US Senate voted down an effort to update numerous military facilities and infrastructure, the problems are not going away.

Take the Air Force as an example. Airbases are confronting a $30 billion backlog for repair, even as these same facilities are a “determining factor in the success of air operations. The two-legged stool of men and planes would topple over without this equally important third leg,” said Gen. Henry “Hap” Arnold in 1941.

The service’s hefty pricetag in deferred maintenance and recapitalization will triple in the next 30 years. This trajectory essentially guarantees “readiness and lethality risks due to continued and increasingly rapid degradation of infrastructure.”

US Marine Corps Camp Lejeune Hurricane Florence damage
Marines at Marine Corps Air Station New River, which was damaged by Hurricane Florence nearly four months prior, on January 16, 2019.

Just over two years ago, Air Force leaders admitted infrastructure had repeatedly been short-changed and was the favorite piggy bank to raid when other priorities popped up.

The problem, they wrote, was “Air Force decisions to take risk in infrastructure over the past two decades have eroded its power projection platforms and, left unchecked, will ultimately disrupt combat readiness and lethality.”

The Navy is not faring any better when it comes to deferred maintenance and repair of shipyards and infrastructure. Many naval facilities have “degraded significantly from reduced investments” during the past decade – to the point where some are not worth saving.

The Navy’s drydocks are on average over 100 years old and have been “neglected for too long,” the chief of naval operations said recently.

Not only are they old, they are in short supply – causing maintenance delays that ripple through the fleet. The Navy’s four public shipyards have reported this unacceptable situation in the face of China’s sprawling Navy and shipbuilding capacity.

Navy aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy
The upper bow unit is lowered onto the aircraft carrier John F. Kennedy at Huntington Ingalls Industries Newport News Shipbuilding, July 10, 2019.

Dreams of a bigger Navy cannot be achieved without corresponding increases in resources and capacity to service the larger fleet as rightfully noted by Jerry Hendrix.

At Naval Air Station Oceana in Virginia, a safety commission “entered a hangar by passing under steel letters that were falling off the wall above the hanger’s doors. Broken doors forced Sailors to use aircraft tugs to pull the massive doors open and closed, one time accidentally hitting an F/A-18 [Super Hornet] and causing substantial damage.”

Those same commissioners “stepped around buckled drain gratings marked in yellow as a warning to keep aircraft away. The fire suppression system was inoperable, and only two of eight bays had working power for aircraft maintenance.”

According to the GAO, one-third of the Navy’s aviation depot square footage was built in the 1940s. So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that at least two naval aviation depot maintenance facilities are maintaining fifth-generation fighter jets with advanced avionics in World War II-era aviation maintenance facilities. But it should conjure up dismay, along with more resources.

Offutt Air Force Base flooding
Offutt Air Force Base and the surrounding areas affected by flood waters, March 16, 2019.

Unfortunately, Congress left military facilities out of its bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill. The proposal led by Sen. Richard Shelby (R-AL) aimed to provide long-overdue relief to chronically underfunded shipyards, depots, test ranges, and more.

Military infrastructure has been neglected for decades. The defense infrastructure deficit stands at $135 billion today, driven by decades of underinvestment and missteps such as diverting $8 billion in facilities sustainment and military construction funds to build the southern border wall.

This chronic malnourishment of defense infrastructure has consequences. It is a challenge for depots and yards to maintain complex, modern weapon systems inside facilities that were designed for less complex equipment.

According to Hendrix, only one of the Navy’s drydocks is big enough to hold the new Ford-class aircraft carrier. Even worse, he writes, “more than 50 ships need to be retired in the next few years, largely because the Navy has been unable to maintain them sufficiently over the past two decades.”

A soldier stands guard at the damaged entrance to Tyndall Air Force Base in Panama City, Fla., Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018
A soldier stands guard at the damaged entrance to Tyndall Air Force Base in Florida, October 11, 2018.

Poor facilities, suboptimal layouts of old buildings and bases, and a lack of equipment on hand delay maintenance. This, in turn, limits the operational availability through reduced mission-capable rates of ships, planes and vehicles.

But there remains more demand than capacity across the military. Back at NAS Oceana, when only two of eight hanger bays can be used to power an aircraft during maintenance, “maintainers must spend hours moving aircraft from one bay to the next.”

A Marine aircraft wing commander estimated his maintainers put in 1,000 miles of towing per year, “and we tell them not to have a tow accident.'”

Congress will eventually have to pay the growing tab when it comes to ancient military facilities and infrastructure. Commanders are already feeling the consequences with not enough supply to meet global needs.

Not including defense facilities in the bipartisan $1 trillion infrastructure bill was a major missed opportunity. The backlog will only grow and get more expensive the longer Congress waits to act.

A new 1945 contributing editor, Mackenzie Eaglen is a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute (AEI), where she works on defense strategy, defense budgets, and military readiness. She is also a regular guest lecturer at universities, a member of the board of advisers of the Alexander Hamilton Society, and a member of the steering committee of the Leadership Council for Women in National Security.

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How Russia plans to reboot its air force into a fighting machine

Su-30
A Russian Su-30 fighter jet at the MAKS 2007 Air Show at Zhukovsky airfield outside Moscow, August 26, 2007.

  • The Russian Aerospace Forces continue to operate many aircraft that are as old as the pilots in the cockpits.
  • But Moscow plans to significantly modernize its aerial fleet with dozens of brand new and hundreds of modernized aircraft.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Russian Aerospace Forces continue to operate many aircraft that are as old as the pilots seated in the cockpits, while many of the designs can be traced back to the Soviet era – and likely could have been flown by the parents and even grandparents of today’s younger pilots.

The same is of course true with the United States Air Force that also has an aging bomber force.

In the case of the United States, many of the fighters are much newer – and in the case of the F-22 Raptor and F-35 Lightning II, much more advanced.

Now Russia has stepped up efforts to significantly modernize its aerial fleet and that could include upward of more than five dozen brand new and some 200 modernized aircraft that will be delivered by late 2021.

A Sukhoi Su-34 fighter bomber
A Sukhoi Su-34 fighter-bomber.

“By the end of the year, the delivery of over 60 new aviation products is scheduled, including advanced multirole Su-30SM, Su-35S, Su-57 aircraft and Su-34 medium-range fighter-bombers, heavy Il-76MD90A military transport planes, Mi-28NM and Ka-52 combat helicopters and Mi-8AMTSh-VN special operations helicopters,” Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Russia’s Aerospace Forces Lt. Gen. Sergei Dronov said in an interview with the Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper on August 11, according to a report from Tass.

The Russian air force chief added that the service will receive more than 200 modernized aircraft – which will receive upgraded avionics, weapons systems, and other hardware to keep those planes in the air for years, and perhaps decades to come.

Dronov also said that all of the upgraded or updated aircraft have been tested in “combat conditions” in the Syrian Arab Republic, while adjustments are made if necessary. It isn’t clear whether he meant the new systems or each aircraft, but given the numbers, it is unlikely the Russian military is rotating in each individual plane.

Modernization efforts: slow but steady

A prototype of Russia's new Checkmate stealth fighter jet
A prototype of Russia’s new fighter jet at the MAKS 2021 air show outside Moscow, July 20, 2021.

The acquisition of 60 aircraft may not seem significant, but Moscow has taken on a number of ambitious programs in its military modernization efforts – upgrading many of its aging warships, including its only operational aircraft carrier; increasing its submarine force; developing an entirely new armored vehicle program that includes a new main battle tank; and most notably an emphasis on hypersonic weapons.

For a nation that was still seriously cash strapped just a couple of decades ago, Russia has only so many resources to go around. Clearly, a more powerful air force is now being seen as a priority.

According to a December 2020 Center for Naval Analyses report, Russia’s modern air force is smaller yet far more capable. It is significantly smaller than the combined air forces of NATO, and Russia does not have the allies that the Soviet Union had to help it in a war, but it is still able to maintain a considerable number of aircraft to protect its borders – and in some cases, even spread its wings enough to show that it can reach American territorial waters near Alaska and Hawaii.

In addition to building up its air force for defense, Moscow may also press forward with efforts to be a major exporter of military hardware. Those 60 new aircraft entering service could be a good selling tactic to entice foreign buyers.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on Amazon.com.

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China’s ‘old-fashioned’ fighter-bomber can still be a terror on modern battlefields

China JH-7 fighter-bomber
A Chinese JH-7 fighter-bomber over Hangzhou, February 5, 2020.

  • Two years ago, China unveiled a new variant of its JH-7A maritime strike jet, which has been in use since the late 1980s.
  • Despite seeming old-fashioned compared to modern strike jets, the JH-7’s ability launch powerful long-range weapons means it still poses a threat.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On August 8, 2019 Chinese media reported that the People’s Liberation Army Air Force had unveiled a new variant of its JH-7A maritime strike jet at the Russian Aviadarts aviation competition.

The new model, called the JH-7AII, was not visibly different from the base model, but is believed to possess improved radar and cockpit avionics.

The JH-7 “Flying Leopard” – codenamed “Flounder” by NATO – is an old-school design conceived before the advent of stealth technology.

The bomber manufacturer Xi’an Aircraft Industrial Corporation began working on a two-seat supersonic H-7 bomber in the early 1970s inspired by the fast and powerful American F-111 Aardvark.

Over time, the concept was reworked into a fast-anti-ship fighter bomber, (resulting in the “JH” designation), with a pilot and weapons systems officer seated in a tandem arrangement.

The resulting jet – the first in China designed using computer software – somewhat resembled an enlarged version of European Tornado and Jaguar attack jets.

Chinese J-10B and JH-7A fighter jets
A Chinese JH-7A fighter jet at the 12th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai city, November 6, 2018.

During a decade-long phase of Chinese defense cooperation with the West, Xi’an licensed and imported British Rolls-Royce Spey 202 turbofan engines, also used on British F-4 Phantom fighters. Two Speys helped propel the hulking jet to supersonic speeds, though they still proved underpowered for the 16-ton fighter bomber.

Having studied British naval losses in the Falkland War caused by anti-ship missiles fired by Super Etendard attack jets, the PLA Naval Airforce decided to adopt the bomber into a dedicated maritime strike platform lugging large anti-ship missiles linked to Type 243 radar capable of detecting large warships over 100 miles ahead.

The Flying Leopard made its first flight in 1988, and a small number of pre-production aircraft entered service with the PLA in the early 1990s. It wasn’t until 2004, however, that an improved JH-7A full-scale production model enter service and China had mastered license-production of the WS-9.

The new JH-7A boasted additional hardpoints, lighter composite structure, a JL-10A Condor pulse-doppler multimode radars, and modernized avionics including two LCD cockpit displays. The radar reportedly is used to give the JH-7A low-altitude terrain-following capability similar to that on the F-111.

Out of 270 JH-7s built, around 215 to 240 JH-7As remain in service today split evenly between the PLA Naval Air Force and PLA Air Force. The jets have frequently deployed abroad for joint exercises with Russia.

Twelve JH-7s have been lost in accidents since 1991, including one that infamously crashed into a ball of fire at a Shanghai airshow in 2011 and two in 2019: On March 12, a JH-7A experienced a mishap during a low-altitude training flight over Hainan island.

Reportedly, Lt. Col. Ren Yangtao delayed ejecting to avoid crashing into a densely populated residential area, and he and a back-seater perished when their plane hit a water tower. A second JH-7A crashed on May 18 in Shandong province, but this time both crew members safely ejected.

The Flying Leopard today

JH-7 fighter-bombers
JH-7 fighter-bombers during a parade over Beijing, September 3, 2015.

The Flying Leopards have a combat radius ranging from 800 miles on internal fuel to 1,100 miles with external tanks.

For armament, it has an internal twin-barrel GsH-23 cannon and can mount over 7 tons of bombs, missiles and rocket pods. It can also mount an under-fuselage laser targeting pod to direct laser guided bombs carried underwing.

The JH-7 can also defend itself from enemy fighters to a limited degree with short-range PL-5 and PL-8 heat-seeking air-to-air missiles (based on the US Sidewinder and Israeli Python III respectively) carried on its wingtips, which can be interfaced with a helmet-mounted sight on the JH-7A model.

The Flying Leopard might also potentially carry long-range radar-guided PL-11 or -12 air-to-air missiles underwing as these are reportedly compatible with its radar.

However, thought capable of sprinting to up to nearly twice the speed of sound at Mach 1.75 using its afterburners, the JH-7 is undoubtedly indiscrete on radar and would struggle to survive interception from modern fighters and the Aegis air defense system used on warships operated by the United States and its allies.

The Flying Leopard has two cards it can play to carry its weight in modern warfare.

The first comes in the form of the four KD-88 or YJ-83 subsonic anti-ship missiles it can carry underwing that can attack ships over 100 miles away, using an active radar-seeker to home in on the terminal phase. This means it doesn’t have to penetrate too deep into an air defense umbrella to accomplish its mission.

The second lies in the use of powerful KG600 jamming pods to suppress the radars on board enemy warships, decreasing detection range and accuracy. These could not only help a JH-7 evade interception, but increase the likelihood of its missiles piercing the multiple layers of defenses possessed by modern warships.

The jamming pods are often coupled with LD-10 and YJ-91 anti-radiation missile designed to home in on radars from up to 60 miles away, making such jets a nasty threat for air-defense vessels. Some JH-7s have also been seen carrying sensor pods designed to spy on enemy signals (ELINT).

The PLANAF also operates J-16D and carrier-based J-15D electronic attack fighters which could team up with Flying Leopard to enable such attacks.

A next generation Flying Leopard?

China JH-7A fighter
A Chinese JH-7A fighter-bomber at Shagol Airfield in Russia during an international anti-terrorism exercise, August 27, 2018.

Long-range missiles only work if their long-range sensors that can “see” targets from far away – and that can also see through the interference of a JH-7’s own jammers.

This may explain why Jane’s reports that the JH-7AII upgrade may be principally focused on improving the radars computerized post-processing to achieve better integration with the jammer.

The jammers themselves may have been updated to a more powerful KG800 model pictured here.

There is some suspicion how substantial this update is, due to a lack of prior publicity. In the early 2010s, there was talk of an improved JH-7B variant which never materialized. The Flying Leopard has also been offered for export as the FBC-1, and in 2018 as the JH-7E – without any takers.

However, proposed upgrades for the aforementioned aircraft may wind their way to the JH-7, such as improved WS-9A turbofans generating roughly 10%-15% more thrust.

Another useful upgrade would be inflight-refueling capability, which would greatly increase the JH-7’s range.

China JH-7A fighter
Chinese ordnancemen near JH-7A fighter-bombers during an international anti-terrorism exercise in Russia, August 27, 2018.

China has also been developing a supersonic YJ-12 anti-ship missile, which it claims the JH-7 will carry. This would prove much more difficult to defend against than the YJ-83, as it would be able to race up to four times the speed of sound and attack vessels up to 250 miles away.

However, while the YJ-12 has been tested on an H-6 bomber and deployed on firing platforms on the Spratly Islands, there have yet to be photos of any mounted on Flying Leopards.

Despite seeming old-fashioned compared to modern strike jets like China’s Su-30MKK Flanker-G maritime strike fighters, the Flying Leopard’s ability to dart quickly into range to launch powerful long-range weapons means it still poses a threat.

As confrontations between Chinese aircraft and the warships of other navies in the Pacific increase in frequency, aircraft like the JH-7 would seem to have a place in China’s security strategy.

It will therefore be interesting to see if China continues to modernize the beefy maritime strike jet or retires it early to shift resources to more modern designs like the J-16 Red Eagle, the forthcoming H-20 stealth bomber, or even the rumored JH-XX regional stealth bomber.

News of the latest upgrade suggests China might still see a use for its Flying Leopards.

Sébastien Roblin holds a master’s degree in conflict resolution from Georgetown University and served as a university instructor for the Peace Corps in China. He has also worked in education, editing, and refugee resettlement in France and the United States. He currently writes on security and military history for War Is Boring.

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How the US’s and Russia’s newest attack submarines stack up

Russian Navy Yasen submarine Kazan
Russian Project 885 Yasen-class nuclear-powered sub Kazan arrives at its permanent base in Severomorsk, on Russia’s Arctic coast, June 1, 2021.

  • Russia’s effort to rebuild its navy has focused on submarines, fielding ever more advanced boats.
  • The US Navy is also building more advanced submarines to counter a variety of threats.
  • Here’s how Russia’s new Yasen-M submarines compare to the US Navy’s latest Virginia-class subs.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

As the United States has once again shifted its focus to great-power competition with near-peer adversaries, there is now a greater emphasis to “keep up with the Joneses,” and while the United States Navy continues to operate the largest number of aircraft carriers, it is in submarines where Russia could have an edge.

Moscow goes all-in on subs

Russian Navy Yasen-class submarine Kazan
Russian Yasen-class nuclear-powered sub Kazan arrives in Severomorsk, June 1, 2021.

During the Cold War, the Soviet Union was unable to match the surface fleet of the United States; however, the Soviet Navy maintained a significantly larger force of submarines.

Now, as Moscow has put renewed emphasis on its underwater cruisers, the question has been asked how Russia’s latest submarines compared to those in service with the US Navy.

Writing for Naval News, H I Sutton compared the Russian Navy’s advanced Project 885M (Yasen-M) nuclear-powered submarines with the US Navy’s Block-V Virginia-class submarines.

While the two classes of boats are similar – Sutton noted that the larger Yasen-M are essentially “cruise missile submarines” and thus are given the special vessel classification “SSGN” instead of the “SSN.”

Russia’s Project 885M

Russian Navy Yasen submarine Kazan
Russian Project 885 Yasen-class nuclear-powered sub Kazan arrives at its home base in Severomorsk, June 1, 2021.

Developed in the late 1980s, the Yasen class was initially intended to replace Russia’s aging Akula-class nuclear-powered attack submarines.

Upgraded after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Project 885M was heavily updated with design tweaks and performance upgrades. The submarines feature a submerged displacement of 13,800 tons and can reach a maximum speed of up to 35 knots.

The Yasen-M also features revamped onboard electronics, a slightly reduced overall length, and reportedly a new KTP-6 rector that is believed to reduce the submarine’s noise levels.

The nuclear-powered submarines are armed with 3M14K Kalibr-PL (NATO Reporting name SS-N-30A Sizzler) and P-800 (3M55) Oniks (NATO Reporting name SS-N-26 Strobile) cruise missiles as their basic strike weapons, while the Yasen­-M has 32 vertical tubes that can accommodate three missile types. Additionally, the boats could soon be armed with the 3M22 Tsirkon (Zircon) hypersonic anti-ship missile.

Currently, there are seven Project 885M submarines in various stages of construction at the Sevmash Shipyard in northwest Russia, and the newly floated out Krasnoyarsk is now on track to be commissioned into the Pacific Fleet sometime next year.

That follows the acceptance of the Project 885M lead nuclear-powered submarine Kazan, which was handed over to the Russian Navy on May 7. She is now in active service with the Northern Fleet.

US Navy’s Block-V Virginia-class

USS Virginia, Virginia Class submarine
USS Virginia returns to the shipyard after its first voyage in open seas, called “alpha” sea trials, July 30, 2004.

The US Navy’s Virginia-class nuclear-powered cruise-missile fast-attack submarines (SSNs) were developed to replace the more expensive Seawolf-class while still providing a capable boat to address nautical threats from near-peer adversaries in the 21st century.

The boats were designed to operate in both the open-ocean and for littoral missions, including anti-submarine warfare (ASW) and intelligence gathering operations.

The Block V variants are larger than the previous versions of the Virginia-class, with the length increased from 377 feet to 460 feet, and with greater displacement from 7,800 tons to 10,200 tons. As a result, the Block V versions of the Virginia-class are the second-largest US submarines produced behind only the Ohio-class.

This included the addition of an 83-foot section, which increased the number of missile launch tubes – increasing the number from 12 to 40, which in essence could triple the capacity of short targets for each boat. The boats can carry a total of 66 weapons.

To date, 19 of the planned 66 Virginia-class submarines have been completed, while 11 more are now under construction. Ten of those are from the Block IV, while one is from the latest Block V – and that latter boat will feature key improvements that enhance the capabilities of the fast-attack subs.

Which is better?

Navy sailors stand on sail of Virginia-class attack submarine USS Virginia surrounded by an American flag and periscope equipment
Sailors stand among the masts on the sail of USS Virginia as it arrives at Her Majesty’s Naval Base Clyde, March 22, 2016.

For now, it may be difficult to know which is truly the superior sub.

As Sutton noted, “aspects such as sonar, sensors and stealth are harder to compare given the sensitive nature of these topics.”

However, each of the classes is believed to be difficult to counter, and each has arsenals of weapons that should be seen as truly deadly.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on Amazon.com.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The battleship USS North Carolina is back in the water

US Navy battleship USS North Carolina
US Navy battleship USS North Carolina at sea off New York City, June 3, 1946.

  • USS North Carolina is back in the water of the Cape Fear River for the first time since May 2018.
  • The battleship has been undergoing its most significant restoration work in more than five decades.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Last month, a major milestone in the repair efforts of the World War II “fast battleship” USS North Carolina (BB-55), which has been undergoing the most significant restoration work in more than five decades.

Last week, the floodgates to the cofferdam were opened, and for the first time since May 2018 the majestic warship is back in the water of the Cape Fear River.

The $11 million project to preserve the ship included the construction of the cofferdam, which began in August 2016 to allow work crews to drain the water from around the hull and address repairs.

Atlantic Coast Industrial Marine Construction, a Wilmington, North Carolina-based company then spent the last three years cutting and replacing the brittle steel on the bow – while the entirety of the hull was repainted to help preserve it.

Since 1961 the ship has called Wilmington home, and the warship is the center attraction of the Battleship North Carolina Museum.

Hull restorations completed

Battleship USS North Carolina on Cape Fear River North Carolina
USS North Carolina and the downtown area of Wilmington, North Carolina, along the Cape Fear River on February 26, 2016.

On July 19, Battleship North Carolina officials held a ceremony as the cofferdam was refilled.

“The Battleship North Carolina will be preserved for decades … so in the next century, when most of the ships from the second World War and the first World War, will have been lost to corrosion and [inability to raise funds for repairs], the Battleship North Carolina will be here representing the state as the state’s memorial to the 10,000 North Carolinians who served and died during World War II,” said Capt. Terry Bragg, the executive director of the battleship, to reporters, WECT TV reported.

Bragg also noted that the USS North Carolina hadn’t actually been out of the water for nearly 70 years and had last been fully repaired back in 1953. The Navy recommends that warships undergo maintenance every 20 years.

“We literally had holes in the hull,” Bragg told WRAL.com. “And we had a number of interior spaces that were flooded to the overhead.”

History of the showboat

Navy battleship USS North Carolina
USS North Carolina, seen from the battleship’s bow, May 1941.

Laid down in 1937, the USS North Carolina was completed in April 1941 and at the time of her commissioning, she was considered to be among the world’s greatest sea weapons.

As the lead ship of a new class of battleships, North Carolina was also the first battleship to join the US fleet in 16 years. She was a new design of “fast battleships,” which under the Washington Naval Treaty system limited her displacement and armament, but it resulted in a vessel that could keep up with the faster-moving aircraft carriers.

As part of a clause in the Second London Navy Treaty, her armament was increased from the original nine 14-inch guns to nine 16-inch guns. She also was armed with 20 5-inch/38-caliber guns in 10 twin mounts. USS North Carolina’s wartime complement consisted of 144 commissioned officers and 2,195 enlisted men, including 86 Marines.

The battlewagon took part in the Guadalcanal campaign, screening aircraft carriers engaged in the campaign, and she took part in the Battle of the Eastern Solomons in late August 1942.

While damaged by a Japanese submarine, the warship later returned to take part in the campaigns across the Pacific including the Gilberts and the Marshall Islands, and later took part in the Battle of the Philippine Sea. After undergoing a refit, she took part in offensive operations in support of the Battles of Iwo Jima and Okinawa and later carried home American personnel after the war as part of Operation Magic Carpet.

Since April 1962 the fast battleship has served as a floating museum in Wilmington, North Carolina, and was declared a National Historic Landmark in November 1982 – in part because the application noted that the ship was in excellent condition and had remained largely in its wartime configuration.

Navy battleship USS North Carolina
USS North Carolina firing its main armament in 1944.

However, retirement hasn’t been kind to the ship. Time and the elements have taken a toll, one that even threatened her future.

In 1998 the museum’s operators even launched Operation Ship Shape, a donation drive to secure funds to make repairs. Yet, the damage had been so great that in 2009, the US Navy gave two directives. The ship would either be scrapped or restored.

Fortunately, the latter was decided upon, and that resulted in a multi-year Generations Campaign to fund work on the aging vessel. To date, more than $23 million in public and private funds have been raised to save the aging battle wagon.

While North Carolina will never actually sail again, the point of the still ongoing repairs is to preserve the warship so that future generations can appreciate the sacrifices made by the “greatest generation,” and to highlight the industrial proficiency of the “Arsenal of Democracy.”

That is a fitting role that the warship, nicknamed “Showboat,” will hopefully fill for decades to come.

Peter Suciu is a Michigan-based writer who has contributed to more than four dozen magazines, newspapers and websites. He regularly writes about military small arms, and is the author of several books on military headgear including “A Gallery of Military Headdress,” which is available on Amazon.com.

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Russia’s new stealth fighter has the same big problem as its first stealth fighter

A prototype of Russia's new Checkmate stealth fighter jet
A prototype of Russia’s prospective Checkmate fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 airshow, July 20, 2021.

  • Russia has officially unveiled its new fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 air show in Moscow.
  • The new jet appears oriented toward the foreign export market, reflecting an ongoing challenge for Russia’s stealth program.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Earlier this week, Russia officially unveiled amid much media attention its secret new fighter jet named “Checkmate,” or sometimes referred to now as the Su-75, at the MAKS-2021 air show in Moscow.

Checkmate indeed possesses all of the hallmarks of an impressive next-generation aircraft that can potentially hunt down the US Air Force’s F-22 and F-35 stealth fighters. But is that really the endgame?

Foreign export market

Checkmate, new Sukhoi fifth-generation stealth fighter jet is seen during an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show in Zhukovsky, outside Moscow, Russia, July 20, 2021
Russia’s new Checkmate fighter at an opening ceremony of the MAKS-2021 air show, July 20, 2021

According to defense writer David Axe at Forbes, Rostec, the parent company of Russian plane manufacturer Sukhoi, will likely make Sukhoi’s new Checkmate fighter jet available to the foreign market.

In fact, Rostec’s recent teaser video for the jet “features actors portraying pilots from Vietnam, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates.”

He continued: “It’s obvious why Russia would want a fighter like Checkmate that can shoot down the United States’ own top fighters. It’s less clear that Vietnam, India, Argentina and the United Arab Emirates want the same thing. Here’s the rub. Without financing from foreign countries, there’s probably no way Checkmate gets built. But the fighter’s design might not appeal to the very buyers Moscow needs to make the project viable. And that would leave in the cold the one customer – the Russian air force – that might actually have a requirement for a fighter like Checkmate.”

Axe also cited Tom Cooper, an aviation expert and author, who described the Checkmate as “a pig in a poke.”

“The actual question is who is going to buy that pig in a poke?” he asked.

Impressive specs

A prototype of Russia's new Checkmate stealth fighter jet
A prototype of Russia’s prospective Checkmate fighter jet at the MAKS-2021 airshow, July 20, 2021.

As reported in Popular Mechanics, the Checkmate comes with an “unusually pointy nose and an engine intake below the cockpit,” in addition to an “internal weapons bay designed to preserve its anti-radar shaping and can carry both air-to-air and air-to-ground ordnance, including both infrared- and radar-guided air-to-air missiles, air-to-ground and anti-ship missiles, guided and unguided bombs, and unguided rockets.”

Boasting a hefty price tag of $25 million to $30 million, the first Checkmate is expected to take flight in 2023, and the actual deliveries of combat-ready planes could start as early as 2026.

A big problem

Russia's new "Checkmate" stealth fighter at its unveiling
Russia’s Checkmate fighter at the MAKS-2021 airshow, July 20, 2021

Another reason to fast-track the new jet to the foreign export market is the fact that Russia can barely afford to finance the Su-57 program, which, all said and done, could potentially end up costing tens of billions of dollars.

“This Checkmate is facing exactly the same obstacles as the Su-57,” Cooper said.

“The Russian government … has no money to complete its development and get it into series production,” he continued.

Sukhoi Su-57 is a stealth-capable fighter jet that is the outcome of the Russian Air Force’s PAK FA fifth-generation fighter jet program. The single-seat, twin-engine aircraft offers a supersonic range of more than 1,500 kilometers, which is more than two times the range of the Su-27 fighter.

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

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