China’s growing military is going to face a much bigger problem than the US

Liaoning China Aircraft Carrier
The Liaoning, China’s first aircraft carrier, sails into Hong Kong, July 7, 2017.

  • US military leaders frequently cited China’s growing military as challenge that’s only going to grow in the coming decades.
  • Those coming decades are also set to see intensifying climate change wreaking havoc around the world.
  • Those effects – flooding, wildfires, heatwaves, and much more – will keep the US and Chinese militaries much busier at home.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

In recent months, Washington has had a lot to say about China’s ever-expanding air, naval, and missile power.

But when Pentagon officials address the topic, they generally speak less about that country’s current capabilities, which remain vastly inferior to those of the US, than the world they foresee in the 2030s and 2040s, when Beijing is expected to have acquired far more sophisticated weaponry.

“China has invested heavily in new technologies, with a stated intent to complete the modernization of its forces by 2035 and to field a ‘world-class military’ by 2049,” Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin testified in June.

The United States, he assured the Senate Armed Services Committee, continues to possess “the best joint fighting force on Earth.” But only by spending countless additional billions of dollars annually, he added, can this country hope to “outpace” China’s projected advances in the decades to come.

As it happens, however, there’s a significant flaw in such reasoning. In fact, consider this a guarantee: By 2049, the Chinese military (or what’s left of it) will be so busy coping with a burning, flooding, churning world of climate change – threatening the country’s very survival – that it will possess scant capacity, no less the will, to launch a war with the United States or any of its allies.

It’s normal, of course, for American military officials to focus on the standard measures of military power when discussing the supposed Chinese threat, including rising military budgets, bigger navies, and the like. Such figures are then extrapolated years into the future to an imagined moment when, by such customary measures, Beijing might overtake Washington.

China Chinese PLA tanks
Chinese Type 96 tanks at the Vostok 2018 military exercise held by Russia and China, September 13, 2018.

None of these assessments, however, take into account the impact of climate change on China’s security. In reality, as global temperatures rise, that country will be ravaged by the severe effects of the never-ending climate emergency and forced to deploy every instrument of government, including the People’s Liberation Army (PLA), to defend the nation against ever more disastrous floods, famines, droughts, wildfires, sandstorms, and encroaching oceans.

China will hardly be alone in this. Already, the increasingly severe effects of the climate crisis are forcing governments to commit military and paramilitary forces to firefighting, flood prevention, disaster relief, population resettlement, and sometimes the simple maintenance of basic governmental functions.

In fact, during this summer of extreme climate events, military forces from numerous countries, including Algeria, Germany, Greece, Russia, Turkey, and – yes – the United States, have found themselves engaged in just such activities, as has the PLA.

And count on one thing: that’s just the barest of beginnings. According to a recent report from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), extreme climate events, occurring with ever more frightening frequency, will prove ever more destructive and devastating to societies around the world, which, in turn, will ensure that military forces just about everywhere will be consigned a growing role in dealing with climate-related disasters.

“If global warming increases,” the report noted, “there will be a higher likelihood that [extreme climate] events with increased intensities, durations and/or spatial extents unprecedented in the observational record will occur.”

In other words, what we’ve been witnessing in the summer of 2021, devastating as it might now seem, will be magnified many times over in the decades to come. And China, a large country with multiple climate vulnerabilities, will clearly require more assistance than most.

The Zhengzhou precedent

Vehicles are stranded in floodwater near Zhengzhou Railway Station, July 20, 2021.
Vehicles are stranded in floodwater near Zhengzhou Railway Station, July 20, 2021.

To grasp the severity of the climate crisis China will face, look no further than the recent flooding of Zhengzhou, a city of 6.7 million people and the capital of Henan Province.

Over a 72-hour period between July 20 and July 22, Zhengzhou was deluged with what, once upon a time, would have been a normal year’s supply of rainfall. The result – and think of it as watching China’s future in action – was flooding on an unprecedented scale and, under the weight of that water, the collapse of local infrastructure.

At least 100 people died in Zhengzhou itself – including 14 who were trapped in a subway tunnel that flooded to the ceiling – and another 200 in surrounding towns and cities. Along with widespread damage to bridges, roads, and tunnels, the flooding inundated an estimated 2.6 million acres of farmland and damaged important food crops.

In response, President Xi Jinping called for a government-wide mobilization to assist the flooding victims and protect vital infrastructure.

“Xi called for officials and Party members at all levels to assume responsibilities and go to the frontline to guide flood control work,” according to CGTN, a government-owned TV network. “The Chinese People’s Liberation Army and armed police force troops should actively coordinate local rescue and relief work,” Xi told senior officials.

The PLA responded with alacrity. As early as July 21, reported the government-owned China Daily, more than 3,000 officers, soldiers, and militiamen from the PLA’s Central Theater Command had been deployed in and around Zhengzhou to aid in disaster relief.

Among those so dispatched was a parachute brigade from the PLA Air Force assigned to reinforce two hazardous dam breaches along the Jialu River in the Kaifeng area. According to China Daily, the brigade built a one-mile-long, three-foot-high wall of sandbags to bolster the dam.

These units were soon supplemented by others, and eventually some 46,000 soldiers from the PLA and the People’s Armed Police were deployed in Henan to assist in relief efforts, along with 61,000 militia members. Significantly, those included at least several hundred personnel from the PLA Rocket Forces, the military branch responsible for maintaining and firing China’s nuclear-armed intercontinental ballistic missiles, or ICBMs.

People wade across a flooded street following heavy rains which caused flooding and claimed the lives of at least 33 people earlier in the week, in the city of Zhengzhou in China's Henan province on July 23, 2021.
People wade across a flooded street in Zhengzhou, China, July 23, 2021.

The Zhengzhou disaster was significant in many respects.

To begin with, it demonstrated global warming’s capacity to inflict severe damage on a modern city virtually overnight and without advance warning. Like the devastating torrential rainfall that saturated rivers in Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands two weeks earlier, the downpour in Henan was caused in part by a warming atmosphere’s increased capacity to absorb moisture and linger in one place, discharging all that stored water in a mammoth cascade.

Such events are now seen as a distinctive outcome of climate change, but their timing and location can rarely be predicted. As a result, while Chinese meteorological officials warned of a heavy rainfall event in Henan, nobody imagined its intensity and no precautions were taken to avoid its extreme consequences.

Ominously, that event also exposed significant flaws in the design and construction of China’s many “new cities,” which sprouted in recent years as the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has worked to relocate impoverished rural workers to modern, highly industrialized metropolises.

Typically, these urban centers – the country now has 91 cities with more than a million people each – prove to be vast conglomerations of highways, factories, malls, office towers, and high-rise apartment buildings. During their construction, much of the original countryside gets covered in asphalt and concrete.

Accordingly, when heavy downfalls occur, there are few streams or brooks left for the resulting runoff to drain into and, as a result, any nearby tunnels, subways, or low-built highways are often flooded, threatening human life in a devastating fashion.

The Henan flooding also exposed another climate-related threat to China’s future security: the vulnerability of many of the country’s dams and reservoirs to heavy rainfall and overflowing rivers. Low-lying areas of eastern China, where most of its population is concentrated, have always suffered from flooding and, historically, one dynasty after another – the most recent being the CCP – has had to build dams and embankments to control river systems.

Many of these have not been properly maintained and were never designed for the sort of extreme events now being experienced. During the Henan flooding in July, for example, the 61-year-old Changzhuang Reservoir near Zhengzhou filled to dangerous levels and nearly collapsed, which would have inflicted a second catastrophe upon that city.

In fact, other dams in the surrounding area did collapse, resulting in widespread crop damage. At least some of the PLA forces rushed to Henan were put to work building sandbag walls to repair dam breaches on the Jialu River.

China’s perilous climate future

Coal plant china

The Zhengzhou flooding was but a single incident, consuming the Chinese leadership’s attention for a relatively brief moment. But it was also an unmistakable harbinger of what China – now, the world’s greatest emitter of greenhouse gases – is going to endure with ever-increasing frequency as global temperatures rise.

It will prove particularly vulnerable to the severe impacts of climate change. That, in turn, means the central government will have to devote state resources on an as-yet-unimaginable scale, again and again, to emergency actions like those witnessed in Zhengzhou – until they become seamless events with no time off for good behavior.

In the decades to come, every nation will, of course, be ravaged by the extreme effects of global warming. But because of its geography and topography, China is at particular risk. Many of its largest cities and most productive industrial zones, including, for example, Guangzhou, Shanghai, Shenzhen, and Tianjin, are located in low-lying coastal areas along the Pacific Ocean and so will be exposed to increasingly severe typhoons, coastal flooding, and sea-level rise.

According to a 2013 World Bank report, of any city on the planet, Guangzhou, in the Pearl River Delta near Hong Kong, faces the highest risk of damage, financially speaking, from sea-level rise and associated flooding; its neighbor Shenzhen was described as facing the 10th highest risk.

Other parts of China face equally daunting threats from climate change. The country’s densely populated central regions, including major cities like Wuhan and Zhengzhou as well as its vital farming areas, are crisscrossed by a massive web of rivers and canals that often flood following heavy rainfall.

Wuhan, China flooding
A man rides his bicycle on a flooded street after heavy rainfall hit Wuhan, Hubei province, China, July 23, 2015.

Much of China’s west and northwest is covered by desert, and a combination of deforestation and declining rainfall there has resulted in the further spread of such desertification. Similarly, a study in 2018 suggested that the heavily populated North China Plain could become the deadliest place on Earth for devastating heat waves by century’s end and could, by then, prove uninhabitable; we’re talking, that is, about almost unimaginable future disasters.

China’s distinct climate risks were brought to the fore in the IPCC’s new report, “Climate Change 2021.” Among its most worrisome findings:

  • Sea-level rise along China’s coasts is occurring at a faster rate than the global average, with resulting coastal area loss and shoreline retreat.
  • The number of ever-more-powerful and destructive typhoons striking China is destined to increase.
  • Heavy precipitation events and associated flooding will become more frequent and widespread.
  • Prolonged droughts will become more frequent, especially in northern and western China.
  • Extreme heatwaves will occur more frequently, and persist for longer periods.

Such onrushing realities will result in massive urban flooding, widespread coastal inundation, dam and infrastructure collapses, ever more severe wildfires, disastrous crop failures, and the increasing possibility of widespread famine.

All of this, in turn, could lead to civic unrest, economic dislocation, the uncontrolled movements of populations, and even inter-regional strife (especially if water and other vital resources from one area of the country are diverted to others for political reasons). All this, in turn, will test the responsiveness and durability of the central government in Beijing.

Facing global warming’s mounting fury

china farmer desert sandstorm

We Americans tend to assume that Chinese leaders spend all their time thinking about how to catch up with and overtake the United States as the world’s number one superpower.

In reality, the single greatest priority of the Communist Party is simply to remain in power – and for the past quarter-century that has meant maintaining sufficient economic growth each year to ensure the loyalty (or at least acquiescence) of a preponderance of the population. Anything that might threaten growth or endanger the well-being of the urban middle-class – think: climate-related disasters – is viewed as a vital threat to the survival of the CCP.

This was evident in Zhengzhou. In the immediate aftermath of the flooding, some foreign journalists reported, residents began criticizing local government officials for failing to provide adequate warning of the impending disaster and for not taking the necessary precautionary measures.

The CCP censorship machine quickly silenced such voices, while pro-government media agents castigated foreign journalists for broadcasting such complaints. Similarly, government-owned news agencies lauded President Xi for taking personal command of the relief effort and for ordering an “all-of-government” response, including the deployment of those PLA forces.

Chinese President Xi Jinping
Chinese President Xi Jinping walks near a guard of honor at a welcome ceremony for Myanmar President Thein Sein in Beijing, China.

That Xi felt the need to step in, however, sends a message. With urban disasters guaranteed to become more frequent, inflicting harm on media-savvy middle-class residents, the country’s leadership believes it must demonstrate vigor and resourcefulness, lest its aura of competency – and so its mandate to govern – disappear.

In other words, every time China experiences such a catastrophe, the central government will be ready to assume leadership of the relief effort and to dispatch the PLA to oversee it.

No doubt senior PLA officials are fully aware of the climate threats to China’s security and the ever-increasing role they’ll be forced to play in dealing with them.

However, the most recent edition of China’s “white paper” on defense, released in 2019, didn’t even mention climate change as a threat to the nation’s security. Nor, for that matter, did its closest US equivalent, the Pentagon’s 2018 National Defense Strategy, despite the fact that senior commanders here were well aware of, even riveted by, such growing perils.

Having been directed to provide emergency relief operations in response to a series of increasingly severe hurricanes in recent years, American military commanders have become intimately familiar with global warming’s potentially devastating impact on the United States. The still-ongoing mammoth wildfires in the American West have only further reinforced this understanding.

Like their counterparts in China, they recognize that the armed forces will be obliged to play an ever-increasing role in defending the country not from enemy missiles or other forces but from global warming’s mounting fury.

At this moment, the Department of Defense is preparing a new edition of its National Defense Strategy and this time climate change will finally be officially identified as a major threat to American security. In an executive order signed on January 27, his first full day in office, President Joe Biden directed the secretary of defense to “consider the risks of climate change” in that new edition.

Marines with Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune help push a car out of a flooded area during Hurricane Florence, on Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, Sept. 15, 2018.
US Marines help push a car out of a flooded area in North Carolina during Hurricane Florence, September 15, 2018.

There can be no doubt that the Chinese military leadership will translate that new National Defense Strategy as soon as it’s released, probably later this year.

After all, a lot of it will be focused on the sort of US military moves to counter China’s rise in Asia that have been emphasized by both the Trump and Biden administrations. But it will be interesting to see what they make of the language on climate change and if similar language begins to appear in Chinese military documents.

Here’s my dream: that American and Chinese military leaders – committed, after all, to “defend” the two leading producers of greenhouses gases – will jointly acknowledge the overriding climate threat to national and international security and announce common efforts to mitigate it through advances in energy, transportation, and materials technology.

One way or another, however, we can be reasonably certain of one thing: As the term makes all too clear, the old Cold War format for military policy no longer holds, not on such an overheating planet.

As a result, expect Chinese soldiers to be spending far more time filling sandbags to defend their country’s coastline from rising seas in 2049 than manning weaponry to fight American soldiers.

Michael T. Klare, a TomDispatch regular, is the five-college professor emeritus of peace and world security studies at Hampshire College and a senior visiting fellow at the Arms Control Association. He is the author of 15 books, the latest of which is “All Hell Breaking Loose: The Pentagon’s Perspective on Climate Change.” He is a founder of the Committee for a Sane US-China Policy.

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13 years after retirement, stealthy F-117s popped up again to train against US Air Force fighter jets

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft
An F-117 Nighthawk over Death Valley, California, February 27, 2019.

  • The F-117 was the world’s first operational stealth aircraft, but it officially retired in 2008.
  • Despite that retirement, F-117s have regularly appeared over the southwest US.
  • F-117s appeared again this week in California, where they may be about to square off against F-15s.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

The world’s first operational stealth aircraft, the F-117 Nighthawk, made a surprise appearance in Fresno, California this week, despite being officially retired since 2008.

The Nighthawks, which were spotted alongside F-15 Eagles from the 144th Fighter Wing, made the trip to square off against the air-superiority jets in what are expected to be training missions meant to prepare the Air National Guard’s F-15s and their pilots for the threat posed by stealthy foreign fighters like China’s J-20 and Russia’s Su-57.

For years now, the long-retired F-117 Nighthawk has been spotted in the skies over the southwest United States, serving as largely un-acknowledged aggressor platforms in training flights against America’s fighters.

Despite the somewhat frequent reports of these aircraft, often spotted flying in what look like mock dogfights against other fighters, the Air Force has largely opted not to formally acknowledge their roles, or even their presence, in these flights.

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft
An F-117 over the Nevada desert.

This week’s surprise F-117 arrival in Fresno, California then marks what may be the first time Air Force officials have gone on record regarding the use of these unusual aircraft who are likely operated by contractors, rather than active-duty Air Force pilots.

The 144th Fighter Wing of California’s Air National Guard, which once operated F-16 Fighting Falcons, transitioned to flying only F-15Cs and F-15Ds in 2013. America’s F-15s are air-superiority fighters, meaning that although they’re capable of air-to-ground operations, they specialize in air-to-air combat.

As such, it seems likely that the F-117s spotted in Fresno will be squaring off with the Eagles in the sky, rather than training side-by-side as air support for a strike operation.

However, it’s important to note that despite air-to-air training being the most logical explanation for the F-117 Nighthawks’ arrival in Fresno, the Air National Guard has not confirmed that assertion.

Sandboxx News received permission from Instagram user corryismigratoryman to post this picture he snapped of one of the F-117 Nighthawks flying alongside two local F-15s.

A post shared by Corry (@corryismigratoryman)

What is an aggressor aircraft?

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft
A crowd around an F-117 at an airshow at Van Nuys Airport.

Aggressor (sometimes called adversary) aircraft serve as the opposing force in air combat training operations and military war games. In effect, they play the bad guys when America’s fighter pilots and air-defense service personnel are training for a near-peer conflict with a nation like China or Russia.

Aggressor aircraft can sometimes be the very same platforms operated by opposing forces, like America’s now-famed Red Eagles aggressor squadron that once operated Soviet MiGs of varying types from 1977 to 1988.

Of course, that’s not always the case, and often aggressor pilots fly in American or allied jets while mirroring the tactics and sometimes the flight characteristics of opponent forces. Often, these aircraft will even be painted to match the paint schemes found on enemy aircraft, to make the experience that much more realistic for the pilots in training.

You may not realize it, but you’re probably already quite familiar with that approach thanks to the 1988 movie, “Top Gun.” The seemingly terrifying MiG-28 Maverick and Goose found themselves flying against never actually existed at all. The Soviet Union never developed a MiG-28-the aircraft was played by the American-made Northrop F-5 Tiger II.

Why use the F-117 Nighthawk as an aggressor?

F-117 Nighthawk stealth aircraft
An F-117 takes off from Palmdale Airport, home to Lockheed Martin Corps Skunk Works, April 22, 2008.

Despite recent reports that the F-117 Nighthawk did carry air-to-air weapons, the truth is, the famed “stealth fighter” was never a fighter at all. The F-117 was an attack aircraft, meaning it specialized in air-to-ground engagements and possessed no onboard radar, guns, or air-to-air missiles.

In fact, the Nighthawk could carry a maximum payload of two 2,000-pound bombs and really not much else. Lockheed Martin did propose an air-to-air capable iteration of the Nighthawk in the F-117N Seahawk that would have served on the Navy’s carriers, but the effort never came to fruition. You can read our full feature on that proposal here.

So why would you use the F-117 as an aggressor for air-combat drills if it has no air-to-air capabilities?

Well, to put it simply, it doesn’t really matter if the Nighthawk could actually shoot an opponent down for these types of exercises. The real point behind leveraging the now 40-year-old stealth jet as an aggressor is almost certainly all about training to locate and target stealth platforms in the sky.

Stealth does not make an aircraft invisible to radar, nor is radar the only way aircraft are targetted. The truth is, stealth is an overlapping series of technologies, production methodologies, and combat tactics that are all intended to delay detection and inhibit air defense systems from getting what’s called a “weapons-grade lock” – or a sufficient lock to really shoot an aircraft down.

Low-frequency radar has long been able to spot stealth aircraft in the sky, but isn’t accurate enough to actually target one.

Nonetheless, infrared-guided (heat-seeking) missiles can still sniff out the masked jet exhaust pouring out of the back of these aircraft, and of course, pilots can see them with their naked eye if they find themselves within visual range.

As the folks over at The Warzone have pointed out in the past, many of America’s 4th-generation fighters, non-stealth jets like the F-15, have already been equipped with active electronically scanned array (AESA) radars designed specifically to aid in targeting the tiny radar cross-sections common to stealth aircraft and even cruise missiles.

In other words, these pilots have the gear – and now they’re getting the training.

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How the Air Force gave a wrecked F-35 a second life after a $176 million crash

Parts of damaged F-35 repurposed for training
US airmen cut off the wing of a condemned F-35A Lightning II and prep it for transport at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

  • A botched landing in May 2020 left an F-35 a mess of scorched metal that would never fly again.
  • Rather than scrap the burnt remains, the Air Force decided to give the F-35 a second life.
  • Airmen with the 372nd Training Squadron at Hill Air Force Base have repurposed the jet to train maintainers.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Last year, it was an F-35A Lightning II fighter jet – one of the most advanced aircraft the world has ever seen. Now, after a crash that cost an estimated $176 million, it’s being cut into pieces for training aids.

The Air Force jet was left a mess of scorched metal that would never fly again after a botched landing at Eglin Air Force Base, Florida, in May 2020. The pilot ejected safely.

Rather than toss the burnt remains on the scrap pile, the service decided on a second life for the F-35 parts as practice for military aircraft maintainers.

The aircraft crashed when a pilot instructor attempted a landing during night training. The Accident Investigation Board found the jet came in about 50 knots too fast and at too shallow an angle for its speed, causing it to bounce and roll. A problem with the aircraft’s flight systems also caused the tail not to respond to the pilot.

The F-35 caught fire and was completely destroyed.

Parts of damaged F-35 repurposed for training
A crew loads the fuselage of a condemned F-35A onto a flatbed trailer at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida for transport to Hill Air Force Base in Utah.

Part of the most costly weapons program in Pentagon history, the jet originally was slated to be scrapped and destroyed. But airmen at the 372nd Training Squadron at Hill Air Force Base in Utah saw an opportunity.

They wondered whether inside the “damaged crust,” as the squadron’s Master Sgt. Andrew Wilkow put it in a September 7 press release, some parts such as the avionics, fuel cell and gun systems still might be relatively intact and salvageable for training.

Until now, the Air Force has used operational aircraft for F-35 maintenance training, Tech Sgt. Dennis Corcoran of the 372nd said in the release. But that’s not always ideal: Squadrons have missions to carry out, so there’s always pressure to get the jets back up and running as quickly as possible.

But with a trashed F-35, maintainers can take as long as they want to poke around inside and hone their skills without an operational squadron growing impatient to get its jet back.

Parts of damaged F-35 repurposed for training
US airmen work on decontamination and surface sanding a condemned F-35A at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, July 20, 2021.

A team from Hill Air Force Base went to Eglin to take a look, confirming that the major components they would need for training were still in usable shape.

They struck a deal to share with a Navy unit, which was also interested in using the components for its own test and evaluation purposes, and got ready to move the fighter’s remains back to Hill. The wings were cut off to prepare it for transport on a flatbed trailer.

But a burned-up F-35 includes a lot of hazardous contaminants, so the 388th Maintenance Squadron at Hill began cleaning it so it can be safely used. That involved sanding its surface and removing carbon fiber that became exposed in the wreck.

Parts of damaged F-35 repurposed for training
The fuselage of a condemned F-35A that has been decontaminated, painted, and made safe for further handling, at Hill Air Force Base in Utah, August 23, 2021.

“Our shop is involved with removing contaminants, cleaning up any fluid or chemical residue, trimming off exposed burnt composites and removing sharp edges or metal damage,” Tech. Sgt. Kevin Browning, the noncommissioned officer in charge of corrosion control at the 388th, said in the release. “Then we prep and paint the components, so that they are safe to handle.”

Next, the F-35 will be cut into pieces, first lengthwise across the fuselage, and then into individual component sections that will be mounted on stands to give maintainers better access. The Air Force expects that will be finished next year.

“Obviously, accidents are unfortunate, but when it comes to aircraft involved in a mishap, I have always found that there is a silver lining and something to be gained,” Dan Santos, the heavy maintenance manager for the F-35 Joint Program Office, said in the release.

– Stephen Losey can be reached at Follow him on Twitter @StephenLosey.

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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.


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.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The F-16 pilot who was ready sacrifice her life to bring down Flight 93 on September 11

F-16 fly-by
An F-16 performs a fly-by over Buckley Air Force Base in Colorado, March 31, 2020.

  • On September 11, 2001, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and her wingman were airborne over Washington DC in unarmed F-16s.
  • The plan was to sacrifice themselves to bring down Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 headed for the nation’s Capitol.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

On the morning of September 11, 2001, as Americans everywhere were shocked by the terror attack that would change the world, Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney and her wingman were airborne in their unarmed F-16 Fighting Falcons over Washington DC.

The plan was to sacrifice themselves to bring down Flight 93, the hijacked Boeing 757 headed for the nation’s Capitol.

Born to be a fighter pilot

Heather Penney
Heather Penney.

Heather Penney was born on Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near the tail end of the Vietnam War. Her father, Col. John Penney, was a pilot with multiple combat missions at the stick of America’s A-7 Corsair II under his belt.

The A-7 was a subsonic attack aircraft originally developed as a replacement for the U.S. Navy’s A-4 Skyhawk, but eventually found its way into Air Force hangers as their own A-1 Skyraider attack aircraft aged out of relevance. The A-7 wasn’t a fast and nimble fighter jet, so much as a reliable long-range bruiser that could deliver ordnance to ground targets with incredible precision compared to other platforms of its day.

Because of their role providing close air support in the unforgiving jungles of Southeast Asia, A-7 pilots had to be comfortable in the fray, literally flying their aircraft straight at enemy positions and opening fire with its M61A1 Vulcan 20mm rotary cannon, or using its first-of-its-kind Heads Up Display (HUD) to drop unguided bombs with near-pinpoint accuracy.

Young Heather Penney grew up seeing her father in uniform and listening in as he and his friends told stories about their combat tours over Vietnam. In that environment, it may come as little surprise that she was drawn to aviation from an early age – particularly the powerful new generation of fighter jets that were just beginning to emerge at the time.

By the time Penney was 18 years old, she already had her private pilot’s license, but at the time, the United States didn’t allow women in combat roles. She knew that, regardless of her skill in an aircraft, following in her father’s footsteps simply wasn’t an option, so she enrolled at Purdue University. She chose to major in Literature, aiming for a career in education, rather than one 30,000 feet above a combat zone.

But shortly before Penney enrolled in graduate school, Congress reconsidered America’s position on women in combat. With bureaucracy no longer barring her from getting behind the stick of one of America’s top-tier jets, Penney headed straight for the local Air National Guard recruiting office when she heard.

“I signed up immediately,” Penney recalled. “I wanted to be a fighter pilot like my dad.”

The first female F-16 pilot in the 121st Fighter Squadron

Heather Penney
Heather Penney, director of US Air Force Systems at Lockheed Martin, at a panel at the Air Space, Cyber Conference in National Harbor, Maryland, September 19, 2017.

Penney took to the F-16 just like she always knew she would, and before long, she was checking in at the 121st Fighter Squadron of the DC Air National Guard as the first female Viper pilot in the wing’s history.

On the morning of Tuesday, September 11, 2001, now-1st Lt. Penney arrived at work, grabbing a seat around the briefing table. She was just returning from two weeks of air combat training in Nevada, but in a very real way, Penney was still a rookie without much experience in the supersonic fighter.

And as luck would have it, that morning, “Lucky” wasn’t scheduled to fly at all.

“I could tell it’d be a gorgeous flying day, but I wasn’t going to be flying that morning,” Penney later recalled.

“I had called the tape the night before – we had an answering machine that had the next day’s flying schedule on it – and I wasn’t.”

America was a different place leading up to the attacks of September 11th. The Soviet Union had fallen a decade prior, and shortly thereafter the United States and its coalition allies had dominated the Iraqi military in the Gulf War. With the threat from a rising China still years away, America found itself an unmatched power in a historically stable world.

That stability was to be short-lived. At 8:46 a.m., American Airlines Flight 11, a nearly 160-foot long Boeing 767 with 87 people on board, collided with the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.

While today, there are always armed aircraft standing by for exactly such an attack, in a pre-9/11 world, that wasn’t the case at Andrews Air Force Base. There were no armed fighters, and no jets standing by to take off on short notice.

From peace to war in just 17 minutes

September 11 9/11 attacks

Everyone was immediately aware of the World Trade Center crash, but like most Americans at the time, they assumed it was nothing more than a tragic accident.

In fact many dismissed the story, assuming it had been a personal plane, like a small Cessna, that likely hit the building. But 17 minutes after the first aircraft hit the North Tower, another Boeing 767, this time United Airlines Flight 175, hit the South Tower. Most of the nation didn’t know it yet, but the pilots at Andrews Air Force Base did; America was at war.

“There was no perceived threat at the time, especially one coming from the homeland like that,” explained Col. George Degnon, former vice commander of the 113th Wing at Andrews Air Force Base.

“It was a little bit of a helpless feeling, but we did everything humanly possible to get the aircraft armed and in the air. It was amazing to see people react.”

‘Lucky, you’re coming with me’

Pentagon 9/11
Damage to the Southwest E-ring of the Pentagon building after the September 11 attacks.

At 9:37 a.m., a third hijacked aircraft, this time American Airlines Flight 77, crashed into the Pentagon, just a 30-minute drive from the briefing room where Penney sat.

Almost simultaneously, another message came through the pipeline: there was another hijacked aircraft in the air and it was heading for Washington DC.

Air Force personnel sprang into action, but despite their professionalism, confusion swelled within the ranks. No one had anticipated such an attack, and there were no standing procedures to follow. Penney knew the hijacked aircraft would have to be intercepted and shot down before it could reach a target like the Capitol building, but there were no armed F-16s standing by for the job.

Every Fighting Falcon on the tarmac was equipped with dummy rounds and fake munitions meant to mimic real ordnance for training. It would take at least an hour to get the ammunition changed out and have missiles mounted on the aircraft’s hardpoints.

“We know we have to get airborne. We know we have to protect. I was so eager, so impatient, and yet so frustrated and angry, because we couldn’t,” Penney said.

“As I said, we’re with the DC Guard. We’re not part of our nation’s alert squadron.”

But waiting an hour wasn’t an option. The United States was under attack and the men and women of Andrews Air Force Base may have been the only thing standing between the American Capitol and what was now a 250,000-pound missile full of innocent people heading straight for it.

Penney was too junior in rank to do anything about it, but just then, she caught the eye of Col. Marc “Sass” Sasseville.

He was scrambling to put on his flight suit, having just received the go-ahead from Vice President Dick Cheney to put fighters in the air and start searching for the hijacked airliner.

“Lucky, you’re coming with me,” the colonel shouted.

No time for checklists, let alone missiles

Air Force F-16 fighter jets
F-16 Fighting Falcons, May 3, 1999.

Jumping at the opportunity to get into the fight, Penney took off behind Sass, running to their respective F-16s. But the junior pilot had never had to scramble a fighter in combat conditions before.

Like any pilot, she deferred to her training, hurriedly beginning the checklist required to safely start an F-16 and get it ready to fly.

“Lucky, what are you doing? Get your butt up there and let’s go!” Sasseville shouted.

So Penney jumped into the cockpit, fired up her engines, and screamed to her ground crew to yank out the wheel chalks keeping the aircraft from rolling.

As she began to taxi down the runway, her crew chief still had his headphones plugged into the fuselage, allowing the two of them to communicate directly. He was still pulling safety pins out of the fighter as it rolled down the tarmac.

By the time her crew chief unplugged, Sass was already in the air. Penney whispered to herself, “God, don’t let me [expletive] up” and followed right behind. They had made it into the sky, and only then did the gravity of the situation begin to set in.

A one-way trip

9/11 Pentagon Emergency Response

Now airborne and on the hunt, Sasseville and Penney began to form a plan.

As they flew low over the smoldering Pentagon at over 400 mph, the senior pilot considered their options. He already knew that with no munitions on board, they were on a suicide mission. That wasn’t the part troubling him. It was the aerodynamic design of their target that gave him pause.

“We don’t train to bring down airliners,” said Sasseville in an interview in 2011.

“If you just hit the engine, it could still glide and you could guide it to a target. My thought was the cockpit or the wing.”

Penney did her best not to let the situation at the Pentagon affect her thinking.

“There was no way to avoid seeing the smoke that was billowing out of the building,” she said.

“I didn’t dwell on that because we had more important things to do. It was a completely surreal experience.”

While Sass will tell you that his plan was to eject just as his F-16 made contact with the Boeing 757, potentially giving him a small chance at surviving, Penney had done the same arithmetic in her head.

But with the stakes so high and her limited experience, she calmly decided that saving her own life simply wasn’t as important as stopping the airliner from hitting its target. She told herself that she wouldn’t bother trying to eject.

“I genuinely believed that was going to be the last time I took off,” she told the Washington Post. “If we did it right, this would be it.”

Both pilots scanned the skies for Flight 93, solemn in their determination to stop it from destroying America’s Capitol even at the cost of their own lives … But despite their heroic efforts, it was a different group of heroes that would stop the 757 from making it to Washington; the passengers on board.

‘The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes’

Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville Pennsylvania
An American flag flies from a makeshift altar overlooking the investigation of the United Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, September 16, 2001.

Penney and Sasseville may have been willing to give their lives to save others, but it was the passengers of Flight 93 who would make ultimately make that sacrifice.

As the two pilots scoured the skies over Washington DC, the people on board the Boeing 757 were getting word of other terrorist hijackings that had been crashed into the World Trade Center and Pentagon. In order to prevent their own flight from becoming another such attack, a group of passengers decided to attempt to retake the plane.

A struggle ensued, and as the brave men and women of Flight 93 fought to retake the plane, the hijackers deliberately crashed it into the ground, killing everyone on board.

As Penney and Sasseville searched for their target, they wouldn’t know about the heroic last stand of the passengers of Flight 93 for hours to come.

“The passengers on Flight 93 are the true heroes. In the years since that bright, blue morning, I’ve come to realize that heroism isn’t something unique or possessed by only a chosen few,” Penney said.

Despite the tragedy of that day, Penney points out that Flight 93 stands as a shining example of what Americans will do to help one another, to save one another, when thrust into incredible circumstances.

“I still get really frustrated with the failures of the command and control and all of that, but what I now see that gives me tremendous hope is that they were willing to do what was unimaginable, and what they had not had time to think of,” she said.

“When you take that oath of office, when you choose and enter the military, you use that time to sort of meditate on what that might require. And they had to make that decision.”

You can read biographies of each person who died on Flight 93 here.

Penney would go on to serve two combat tours in Iraq during the Global War on Terror that would follow, eventually finding her way to Lockheed Martin as the director of T-50A and Aviation Training Systems, where she worked until 2018.

Today, she’s a senior resident fellow at the Mitchell Institute for Aerospace Studies. She remained in uniform for the Air National Guard until 2020.

You can watch Heather “Lucky” Penney discuss her experiences in the video below:

Read the original article on Business Insider

El Salvador president’s unprecedented bitcoin experiment overshadows a more conventional power-grab

El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in February.
El Salvador President Nayib Bukele in February.

  • El Salvador has introduced Bitcoin as an official currency as part of a plan by President Nayib Bukele.
  • Despite Bukele’s strong approval, more than two-thirds of Salvadorans don’t like the Bitcoin plan.
  • The plan also comes amid a power-grab by Bukele that legal scholars have called unconstitutional and other countries, including the US, have criticized.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Nayib Bukele, El Salvador’s millennial president, is used to making decisions that ring alarm bells among democracy advocates while triggering little concern at home, where he remains wildly popular.

But El Salvador’s dramatic moves of the past few days have had the unprecedented effect of producing sharp rebukes across multiple sectors in and out of the country, while generating great excitement in the world of Bitcoin devotees. They were thrilled to see the iconoclastic leader make El Salvador the world’s first country to make the cryptocurrency legal tender.

Starting Tuesday, Bitcoin became an official currency in El Salvador, along with the US dollar, whose adoption two decades ago crushed inflation and brought a measure of stability to a country that had suffered wild economic swings.

More on the digital currency in a moment. But first, it’s important to note the context, in terms of what else is happening in El Salvador.

Just days before Bitcoin’s introduction, the country’s top court issued a ruling that essentially overrode the constitution, allowing a president to seek consecutive reelection and thus opening a path for Bukele to extend his presidency.

Earlier, the Bukele-controlled legislature had fired five key members of the Supreme Court and the attorney general, in a power-grab legal scholars called unconstitutional and several democratic countries, including the United States, sharply criticized. The replacement judges, loyal to Bukele, were the ones who opened the door to a consecutive second term in office for him.

Bitcoin El Salvador protest
Many in El Salvador oppose the introduction of bitcoin as legal tender.

Separately, just days ago, Bukele’s party passed a series of legal reform bills that, among other things, would remove hundreds of judges and prosecutors, cementing his hold on the judiciary. Enfeebled opposition parties cried foul, while the U.S. Embassy again decried the mounting evidence of “democracy in decline in El Salvador,” comparing Bukele to the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Against this backdrop, Bukele, the former public relations executive, was no doubt happy to see world headlines and local attention turn instead to the introduction of Bitcoin and his role as the cutting-edge visionary bringing digital currency to prime time.

Bukele had announced his plan to make Bitcoin legal tender in June, in an English-language video address to a gathering of Bitcoin proselytizers in Miami, where it was greeted with rapturous applause. Within three days of the announcement, the National Assembly approved the controversial plan without any meaningful debate.

Despite the president’s approval rating, which according to most polls remains firmly above 80%, some 68% of Salvadorans don’t like the Bitcoin plan.

The idea has never been tried before, and it’s possible it will bring great benefits to El Salvador’s impoverished people. But the negative reaction from financial analysts and development specialists shows that, at the very least, it deserved more scrutiny.

The World Bank and the International Monetary Fund opposed it. The credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded El Salvador’s rating because of it, and others issued warnings.

Making the case for Bitcoin, Bukele says it will save Salvadorans hundreds of millions of dollars in transaction fees. Remittances from Salvadorans working abroad make up more than 20% of the country’s GDP. Most people don’t have bank accounts and work in the informal, cash economy, so they have to pay steep fees to cash the checks from relatives abroad.

Bukele says the Bitcoin economy will also attract foreign investment and bring a wave of growth and development.

A demonstrator holds up a sign against the government's Bitcoin law during a LGBT community Pride parade on June 26, 2021 in San Salvador, El Salvador
A demonstrator protests the government’s bitcoin law during a LGBT community Pride parade in San Salvador, June 26, 2021.

Critics point to some of the obvious risks of his plan. On Tuesday morning, the day of the cryptocurrency’s introduction, Bitcoin’s price plummeted 17% before recovering some of its losses.

The notoriously volatile currency can swing in hours more than most currencies move in a year. In a country where the per capita GDP amounts to less than $300 per month, that could be devastating for individuals who put their savings into Bitcoin. It could also be catastrophic for the economy and for the treasury, which could see the value of its tax collections sharply eroded, making reliable planning all but impossible.

Just as disturbing is the one characteristic of cryptocurrencies that has made them a favorite for criminals: their lack of transparency. By making El Salvador the first country on Earth where everyone – including the president, judges and police officers – will have a Bitcoin account, Bukele is throwing gasoline on the destructive flames of corruption.

He may well turn his country into a global epicenter for money laundering. The influx of dirty money could propel a deceptive wave of prosperity, one that is accompanied by a surge of criminality whose harm will ultimately outweigh any benefits.

One thing is certain: Bukele’s introduction of untraceable Bitcoin is good news for drug cartels and other criminal enterprises.

The law requires that “every economic agent must accept Bitcoin as payment,” a mandate that has alarmed some economists and students of totalitarianism. Bukele later softened the mandate, saying the use of Bitcoin is optional. But it remains unclear whether penalties will be imposed against businesses that refuse to accept it.

El Salvador's President Nayib Bukele addresses the nation during a live broadcast to speak about his bitcoin legal tender plan, at the Presidential House in San Salvador, El Salvador June 24, 2021
Bukele during an address about his bitcoin legal tender plan, at the Presidential House in San Salvador, June 24, 2021

The World Bank rejected Bukele’s request for assistance in introducing the currency, arguing that it would be harmful to macroeconomic stability and noting the high environmental cost of Bitcoin “mining,” which requires enormous amounts of electricity to power the server farms that “create” new coins.

The introduction of Bitcoin has also complicated the country’s path forward with the IMF. Officials were negotiating a $1.3 billion aid package, but El Salvador’s financial footing now looks uncertain.

Although the 2001 dollarization program – which phased out the old currency, the colon – limited the government’s ability to control monetary policy, it brought a measure of fiscal discipline and predictability whose absence had previously crippled the economy.

Despite this week’s rocky rollout, Bitcoin will in all likelihood eventually make its way through the economy. Bukele has launched a grand experiment, turning his country, and its people, into the digital currency lab that many Bitcoin faithful had long hoped to see.

If El Salvador’s Bitcoin experiment is unprecedented, the same can’t be said for the other measures Bukele is taking, like dismantling judicial independence, taking full control of all the branches of government and installing a personality-driven government in which institutions gradually become beholden to one man.

We have no historical experience to turn to for guidance on how the cryptocurrency experiment will end. Unfortunately, we’ve seen the other experiment many times before, especially in Latin America. It does not end well, and it can take a very long time before it does.

Frida Ghitis is a world affairs columnist. A former CNN producer and correspondent, she is a regular contributor to CNN and The Washington Post. Her WPR column appears every Thursday. Follow her on Twitter at @fridaghitis.

Read the original article on Business Insider

F-22 vs. F-35: How the US Air Force’s 5th-generation fighter jets stack up

An F-22 and an F-35
An F-22 and an F-35.

  • The F-22 and F-35 are both highly capable, highly advanced stealth fighter jets.
  • They were designed and built at different times to meet different needs and future projections.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Conceived in the ’80s, born in the ’90s, is the F-22 that millennial kid who can’t get a job because of the recession?

On the other hand, the F-35 is that Gen Z kid who has never used a hand-crank to roll up a window but tells you how things ought to be done.

So will the millennial or the Gen Z kid come out on top in this F-22 vs F-35 showdown?

The F-22 Raptor

F-22 Raptor
An F-22 Raptor.

When the idea for an advanced tactical fighter was conceived, Jimmy Carter was still in the White House, East and West Germany were a thing, and al-Qaeda had not been created. Back in 1981, the Air Force was already looking to replace the F-16 and F-15, both children of the ’70s.

In 1985, a request for proposal was issued for an advanced tactical fighter to counter emerging Soviet threats. Stealth and supercruise speed were the emphasized characteristics, and Lockheed and Northrop were the two companies chosen to compete. In 1990, the first YF-22 flew, and Lockheed’s design was chosen in 1991.

The first F-22s and their problems

It wasn’t until 1997 that the first actual F-22 was delivered to the Air Force. Flight testing began at Edwards AFB, CA, and the Combined Test Force received, in total, eight more F-22s to wring out.

After the wring-out phase, Nellis AFB, NV received the first of what were supposed to be 750 Advanced Tactical Fighters (ATFs). In the end, however, only 187 ATFs were delivered.

The biggest problem faced by the F-22 program was not deficiencies in the design or emerging threats: It was the money. The original price for 750 new F-22s was projected to be around $44 billion in 1985 dollars. When production ended in 2011, the estimated cost for 187 of the jets was around $67 billion.

I am not smart enough to figure out that math, but $44 billion for 750 sounds a lot better than a 50% increase in cost for a quarter of the jets.

Oxygen deprivation

F-22 internal weapons bay missile
An Air Force maintainer checks an F-22 at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, August 10, 2020.

The F-22 has been plagued with problems related to its life support systems. Over the life of the program, in at least 25 incidents, pilots have reported hypoxia-like symptoms.

After a fatal 2010 crash was associated with the oxygen system, the aircraft was grounded to determine the cause, and starting in 2012 began being retrofitted with emergency backup oxygen systems.

There were myriad problems that caused the issue, but they culminated in a “hard-to-operate” oxygen backup.

The good things

The F-22 is fast. And maneuverable. Without externally-mounted munitions, its supercruise speed is around Mach 1.8, and more than Mach 2 when using afterburners.

Supercruise is the ability of an aircraft to reach or exceed Mach 1 without the use of afterburners. By reaching a cruise altitude that allows for faster-than-sound travel without afterburners, the F-22 can reach targets faster and with less need for fuel.

With internal weapons bays, the F-22 can maintain aerodynamics and stealth without sacrificing payload. With vectoring engine nozzles (think all-wheel steering in a Formula 1 car), the F-22 is super maneuverable, making it an ideal air-to-air platform, which is why it was originally built. But without solid aerial threats from our adversaries, it fulfills an air-to-ground role.

F-22 Raptor in combat

In 2014, in its first combat role, five years after the Senate voted to kill off the program, F-22s dropped some of the first bombs on the burgeoning ISIS threat in Syria.

The reason an air-superiority fighter was dropping bombs is that there was nothing in the air to counter it. We’re not at war with Russia or China, so the F-22 has no dogfighting adversaries.

Even without dogfighting to do, the F-22 has been involved in the air-to-air interception of Russian bombers and fighters off the Alaskan coast.

The F-35 Lightning II

Air Force F-35 Lakenheath
An F-35 takes off from RAF Lakenheath, April 25, 2017.

The F-35 came out of a desire to create a Joint Strike Fighter (JSF) in the ’80s and ’90s and consolidate combat aircraft requirements into one neat package.

The Marines wanted a jet to replace the Harrier jump jet, and the Air Force and Navy wanted a multi-role attack/fighter replacement for the F-16, F-14, and A-6. When all the requirements were rolled into one, in 1997 Lockheed and Boeing were chosen to produce concepts.

As a joint strike fighter, the F-35 was developed in cooperation with allied nations. Americans, British, Italians, Australians, and others all had a hand in the F-35. After a review of Lockheed and Boeing’s prototypes, Lockheed was chosen to develop the JSF.

The first F-35s

Because the F-35 was to fill a JSF role, it had to meet requirements from a multitude of users rather than a single one.

The F-35A was to be the Air Force variant, optimized for conventional takeoff and landing. The F-35B was the Marines’ short takeoff and vertical landing variant, and the F-35C was meant for the Navy’s carrier operations.

The first F-35A rolled off the line in February of 2006 and was flown in December that same year. The F-35B followed in 2008, and the C followed suit in 2010. Nine F-35s were delivered to the Integrated Test Force at Edwards AFB, where the services worked together to wring out the Lightning II and its variants.

Numerous issues were identified in the testing that led to structure and software redesigns, and some of those problems continue to plague the jet.

Operational F-35

F 35
An F-35.

Both the A and B variants were released for operational training in 2012. The USAF and USMC began training pilots and maintainers soon after, and the F-35 went into service.

Early software deficiencies placed flight restrictions on the jets, but subsequent upgrades have alleviated concerns. In particular, the interconnected mission systems on the aircraft are some of the most complex avionics available.

The Lightning II has a “glass cockpit,” meaning sensors and gauges are displayed on computer screens rather than individual analog instruments. The pilot’s helmet integrates with the aircraft’s avionics suite to provide heads-up display data directly to the helmet.

Using built-in sensors, the helmet can be used to “see through” the aircraft, giving pilots helmet views that would normally only be available on cockpit screens.

The Lightning II in combat

In 2018, Marine aviators carried out the first US combat strikes in the F-35B, successfully destroying ground targets in Afghanistan.

The USAF followed suit in 2019, using two F-35As to destroy an ISIS tunnel network and a weapons cache.

When the F-35C will be used in combat is unknown, but the Navy declared them carrier-ready in early 2021.

The F-22 Raptor vs. the F-35 Lightning II

F-35 and F-22
Two F-35s and two F-22s.

While both aircraft have futuristic shapes and stealth technology, they were built for two distinct roles.

The Raptor is the air-superiority fighter made to out-maneuver and out-perform in a dogfight. The Lightning II is a strike-fighter, meant to strike ground targets hard and fast, and clear the way for advancing forces.

The roles they fulfill are complementary, and the F-22 could even act as an escort for the F-35, ensuring enemy fighters stay off its back.

With close to 2,500 F-35A/B/C planned for the US, the need for F-22 escorts would go unfulfilled. There are only 187 operational F-22s out there, meaning the F-22 vs. F-35 scenario is moot. The Air Force plans to buy 1,763 F-35A, the Marines plan for 353 F-35Bs and 67 F-35Cs, and the Navy has plans for 273 of the F-35C.

In the end, it does not matter which is better, the F-22 or F-35, because they fill different roles. They were designed and built at different times in history, for different needs and future projections. The F-22 program is over; and the F-35 is just beginning.

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Chinese troops tested out new weapons in a drill near disputed border with India

China Chinese troops soldiers Tibet training
Chinese soldiers from the Tibet Military Region train on a snowy plateau in Tibet, June 11, 2018.

  • Video posted by China’s military shows a joint operation and new weaponry in action at an altitude of 4,700 metres.
  • “India is a big trading partner of China, and China needs the Indian market. So the drill is just a warning to the Indian side,” one military analyst said.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Chinese fighter jets dropped missiles, troops brought down drones and ground force howitzers made precision strikes during a high-altitude drill by the Tibet Military District intended as a warning to India, according to military observers.

In footage of the drill posted on the PLA Daily website on Monday, several units from the People’s Liberation Army’s Tibet Military District were shown occupying an enemy’s key command centre at an altitude of 4,700 metres (15,400 feet).

The drill involved infantry, artillery, army aviation, special operation forces, electronic warfare, engineers and chemical defence units, the video stated, without saying when it was conducted.

It was designed to test the ability of the various units to work together, as well as use new weapons systems deployed to the region in recent months.

In the footage, PLA air defence artillery troops bring down drones similar to Indian reconnaissance devices, air force fighter jets drop missiles to paralyse an enemy command centre, and ground force artillery target a field with precision strikes.

The enemy in the exercise was not specified but Song Zhongping, a former PLA instructor, said it was obvious.

China Chinese troops soldiers Tibet training
Chinese soldiers from the Tibet Military Region train on a snowy plateau in Tibet, June 11, 2018.

“It’s very clear that the PLA’s simulated enemy in these multi-unit joint drills is their Indian counterpart in the Himalayas, with the goal of the training aimed at testing the high-altitude air defence and offence of the Tibet Military District,” Song said.

“In the video clip, the Tibetan artillery troops showed that they are able to use long-range rocket launchers to stage precision strikes, while air defence missile systems could knock down incoming cruise missiles from the hostile side.”

Zhou Chenming, a researcher from the Yuan Wang military science and technology institute in Beijing, said the Indian military used spy drones for reconnaissance over Chinese territory so exercises to simulate such incursions were incorporated into regular training in Tibet.

“The PLA has a military advantage when facing the challenges from their Indian counterpart, but the PLA doesn’t want to fight with India,” Zhou said. “India is a big trading partner of China, and China needs the Indian market. So the drill is just a warning to the Indian side.”

The footage showed new weapons, including the Type PHL-03 multiple launch rocket system, and PCL-181 vehicle-mounted howitzers. It also showed PLA airborne troops rapidly occupying the enemy’s main command centre under the protection and support from artillery, intelligence, air force and other combat units.

Zhao Xianfu, a Tibet Military District brigade commander, said in the video: “We want to test our new equipment, and the rapid response, mobility and integration in joint cooperation among different fighting units in real combat.

“Our next step is to explore new approaches for fighting under extreme conditions in the high-altitude areas, to further boost the military region’s transformation and development.”

The Tibet Military District, the combat unit in the Himalayas, was once seen as lagging in the PLA’s decades-long modernisation drive. But border conflicts with India in recent years – including a deadly clash in the Galwan Valley in June last year – have prompted hardware upgrades in the remote region.

More than 30 new weapon systems have been deployed by the PLA to the area in recent years, according to a PLA Daily report in January. It said the military area had designed at least 10 air defence and offence combat scenarios to help troops to integrate with the sophisticated equipment and the extreme climate during regular training.

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The US withdrawal from Afghanistan is a test for Russia’s plans in Central Asia

  • Russia has gloated about the failure of the US’s two-decade campaign to reshape Afghanistan.
  • But the collapse of Afghanistan’s US-backed government has put Russia in a challenging position.
  • The potential for violence on its borders has given Russia greater responsibility for regional security at a time when Moscow faces mounting domestic difficulties.
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While the failure of the United States’ two-decade campaign to reshape Afghanistan was a source of no little schadenfreude in Moscow, the collapse of Ashraf Ghani’s US-backed government has thrust Russia into a challenging position.

Even as President Vladimir Putin confirmed that Russia has no intention of deploying troops to Afghanistan itself, the potential for radicalization and violence around Russia’s borders is foisting greater responsibility for regional security on Moscow at a time of mounting domestic difficulties.

The Ghani government’s collapse and the departure of US forces from central Eurasia, seemingly for good, also offers Russia a window of opportunity to bolster its role as a powerbroker both within and around Afghanistan, advance a vision of regional connectivity that boosts its own interests, and consolidate its political-military influence in neighboring Central Asia.

All of these steps, however, would require more resources than Russia’s leadership has thus far been willing to invest, and greater risk than it has been willing to take on.

Russian President Vladimir Putin at video conference
Russian President Vladimir Putin at a virtual meeting of the Collective Security Treaty Organization council at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, December 2, 2020.

Russia’s interest in Afghanistan centers above all on its concerns about the impact on neighboring Central Asia. Since the Soviet collapse, Moscow has looked to Central Asia as a strategic buffer against instability further south, and Russia remains the region’s dominant security provider – notwithstanding the enormous growth of Chinese trade and investment in recent years.

The Central Asian states today are on the whole more stable and effective than they were in the 1990s, which is one reason Moscow has been more sanguine about the Taliban returning to power. But Central Asia’s mostly Soviet-trained elites still see Russia as the region’s principal security guarantor and are turning to Moscow for help as Afghanistan’s future descends further into uncertainty.

Russia has long demanded recognition of its “privileged interests” throughout the post-Soviet region. Now that Washington has ceded the field in Afghanistan and central Eurasia more broadly, it remains to be seen whether Moscow can actually play the role of regional pivot to which it has long aspired, securing itself and its neighbors without provoking a backlash, while simultaneously managing the impacts on its wider competition with the United States.

Moscow’s immediate aims center on ensuring that any instability and chaos from Afghanistan does not spread north.

According to National Security Council Chair Nikolay Patrushev, Russia is focused on “securing control over migration flows,” particularly when it comes to “defending the region from terrorists’ crossing borders under the guise of refugees.” Moscow also seeks to prevent “the spread of radical ideology, contraband weapons, and drug trafficking.”

Because Russia maintains a visa-free regime with most of its Central Asian neighbors, it worries that terrorists or traffickers who cross from Afghanistan could easily make their way to Russia. Perhaps more concerning is the potential for refugee flows to destabilize the Central Asian states themselves, touching off a cascade of Central Asians fleeing to Russia and forcing Moscow to intervene more directly in the region.

For that reason, Russian and Central Asian authorities worry about the breakdown of order, especially in northern Afghanistan, where most of the ethnic Tajik and Uzbek population lives.

Tajikistan soldiers
Tajik troops before the start of joint military drills with Russia and Uzbekistan at Tajikistan’s Harb-Maidon firing range about about 12 miles north of the border with Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.

Tajik and Uzbek militias formed the nucleus of the Northern Alliance that fought against the Pashtun-dominated Taliban in the 1990s. After the Taliban takeover of Kabul in mid-August, the Tajik commander Ahmad Massoud and Ghani’s former vice president, the Tajik Amrullah Saleh, organized anti-Taliban forces in the northern Panjshir Valley; although the Taliban now claim to have defeated them and taken control of the valley, there is still the potential for continued unrest and fighting there.

Abdul Rashid Dostum, another former Afghan vice president and ethnic Uzbek, heads an Uzbek militia that is currently in negotiations with the Taliban, and could also play an important role in Afghanistan’s political future.

Both Moscow and the Central Asian governments have long maintained ties to northern Afghanistan’s Tajiks and Uzbeks and to figures like Dostum.

In the absence of a unified opposition platform like the Northern Alliance, however, Russian officials fear that today, anti-Taliban fighters in the north could also turn to more extreme groups like al-Qaida; the Islamic State, whose regional affiliate, the Islamic State Khorasan or IS-K, claimed responsibility for the Aug. 26 bombing outside the Kabul airport; or Jamaat Ansarullah, whose founder has called for establishing an Islamic emirate in Tajikistan.

The jihadists’ ranks could also be supplemented by some of the several thousand Russians and Russian-speaking Central Asians who went to Syria to fight for the Islamic State, who could be galvanized to return to Afghanistan by the US departure and worsening conditions in Syria.

As the Russian scholar Andrey Kazantsev notes, even if the Taliban has pledged to deny sanctuary to such transnational groups, it has tended to leave them alone in the northern regions, because it sees non-Islamist rivals, including the militias that formerly comprised the Northern Alliance, as a greater threat.

Governments in Moscow and the Central Asian capitals fear that jihadists based in northern Afghanistan could carry out cross-border attacks, as the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, or IMU, did in the late 1990s. But they also worry that the instability these groups could cause in Afghanistan could touch off an influx of refugees and encourage the spread of jihadist ideology among Central Asians disillusioned with corruption, repression and lack of opportunity at home.

Russia, like Central Asia, is thus reluctant to take in Afghan refugees, fearing their ranks could include members of al-Qaida, IS-K or other extremist groups.

Uzbekistan troops at exercise in Tajikistan
Uzbek troops at joint military drills with Russia and Tajikistan at Harb-Maidon firing range about 20 kilometers (about 12 miles) north of the Tajik border with Afghanistan, August 10, 2021.

If the Central Asian states’ fears of disorder are pulling Russia into the region, Moscow’s own geopolitical ambitions are pushing it in the same direction.

The US departure gives Moscow an opportunity to boost its security presence and strengthen regional organizations, above all the Collective Security Treaty Organization, or CSTO, which would strengthen its claims to a sphere of “privileged interests.”

Doing so, however, would require Moscow to take on additional responsibilities that Russia’s leadership – never mind the Central Asian governments – may not be prepared to countenance.

Russia already maintains a significant troop presence in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, whose 1992-1997 civil war intersected with the conflict next door in Afghanistan.

Moscow is the driving force behind the CSTO, a regional security bloc aiming to secure “peace, international and regional security and stability, protection of [members’] independence on a collective basis, territorial integrity and sovereignty.” And Russia has also helped strengthen the region’s borders through training, equipment sales and deployments, some under CSTO auspices.

As Taliban forces began approaching Kabul, Russian troops conducted joint exercises with the military and security forces of Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

After the fall of Kabul to the Taliban, Moscow agreed to a request from Tajikistan’s government for an extraordinary meeting of the CSTO security council and authorized additional arms sales.

Afghanistan’s collapse will be a major test for the CSTO. In past crises, including last fall’s conflict between Azerbaijan and CSTO member Armenia, the organization has sought to minimize its involvement. Moscow favors a stronger CSTO as an element of regional integration but has been content to paper over the real differences between member states – and their concerns about ceding sovereignty to a Russian-dominated bloc.

The CSTO maintains a 5,000-person rapid response force focused on Central Asia, but deploying CSTO personnel operationally would be a major departure and could impose some difficult choices, given disagreements among member states – including Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, who fought a brief border war this spring – and concern about Russian power projection.

Destroyed armored vehicle on Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border
A Kyrgyz policeman next to a burnt armored personnel carrier near the Kyrgyzstan-Tajikistan border in southwestern Kyrgyzstan, May 5, 2021.

Particularly notable is Russia’s increasing security cooperation with regional heavyweight Uzbekistan, which withdrew from the CSTO in 2012 and has subsequently maintained balanced relations with Moscow, Washington and Beijing.

In April, Moscow and Tashkent signed a new strategic partnership agreement. Some Russian observers point to the current crisis as an opportunity to bring Uzbekistan back into the CSTO fold. Though Tashkent has firmly rejected this suggestion, the US withdrawal is forcing Uzbekistan, like its neighbors, to look more to Russia for support in an uncertain environment, strengthening Russia’s role as a security provider for the region.

Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also confirmed that Russia is prepared to relaunch talks under the so-called Moscow Format, bringing together Afghanistan’s neighbors to seek a regional framework for ending the conflict there.

In the process, Moscow aims to position itself as a regional powerbroker, while advancing its interest in economic integration, including building new links among Central Asia, Afghanistan and Pakistan. As neighboring Uzbekistan and Tajikistan also support this approach, its success could benefit Russia not just in Afghanistan, but in the wider region.

As Moscow pursues greater regional responsibility, US President Joe Biden has justified the withdrawal of US forces by pointing to the need to focus Washington’s energy and resources on competition with “an increasingly assertive China and [a] destabilizing Russia.”

The US withdrawal, of course, will result in a larger Russian presence in and around Afghanistan. Whether this larger presence helps or hinders the US strategy of competition remains an open question.

The framing of US-Russian relations around the notion of great power competition suggests that Russia’s advance into central Eurasia will emphasize not only containing potential spillover from Afghanistan, but also further minimizing US and Western influence in the region – and rebuilding elements of Russian domination across post-Soviet Central Asia.

Of course, the more resources and attention Moscow devotes to a region Washington has determined to be a strategic backwater, the less it will be able to devote to more critical regions like Central and Eastern Europe. And in the unlikely event the Kremlin decides to wade back into Afghanistan militarily, it will almost certainly find itself just as frustrated and flustered as both the US and the Soviet Union, which occupied Afghanistan for a decade after 1979, were before it.

Jeffrey Mankoff is a distinguished research fellow at the US National Defense University’s Institute for National Strategic Studies and the author of the forthcoming book, “Empires of Eurasia: How Imperial Legacies Shape International Security.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and are not an official policy or position of the National Defense University, the Department of Defense or the U.S. government.

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