Ukraine Update: 1 June, 2023

Russia is blaming Ukraine for the shelling of its territory in the Belgorod oblast area close to the border. The Russian government also claims a number of attempted cross-border raids in the area by Ukrainian soldiers were defeated. There were also reports of an explosion inside the city of Belgorod, likely caused by a drone. There were casualties in that incident, but none were fatal. The violence near the border is being affected by the fog of war, as well as the blanket of disinformation. Despite Russia blaming Ukraine for the shelling and raids, pro-Ukraine paramilitary groups are claiming responsibility for the latest attacks. It remains unclear if Russia truly knows which party is responsible for the attacks and is simply attempting to save face, or if Moscow is still uncertain.

Kiev suffered yet another volley of Russian missiles launched in the pre-dawn hours today. These were SS-26 Stone short range ballistic missiles (often identified by their Russian name Iskander by amateurs in social media). Three people were killed and according to the Ukrainian government, Apartment buildings, hospitals and schools were damaged by missile fragments according to the Ukrainian government. Probably a line of propaganda, but there is no sense talking publicly about military and government targets that might’ve been struck.

In Moldova at a meeting of the European Political Community, British PM Rishi Sunak said Ukraine’s “rightful place” is within NATO. There is increasing pressure, on the surface at least, for NATO to admit Ukraine as a full member despite the realities of the moment. Quite honestly, Sunak and Great Britain are bending over backwards to supply Ukraine with as many average-quality British weapons as possible. In the meantime they continue to strip British military supplies from armor to artillery ammunition. God forbid the Brits find themselves faced with sudden crisis, they could find themselves in need of weapons and ammunition. The same holds true for many other NATO members.

This has not deterred Ukraine from pleading for more weapons, ammunition and money. Volodymyr ‘Oliver Twist’ Zelenskiy was also in Moldova begging for more and chastising the EU and NATO for not doing more. The set of balls on that man is astounding.

I still despise Putin and Russia more than Zelenskiy, but not by as comfortable of a margin as I’d like. Ukraine’s leader is a huckster. NATO should buy him a suit instead of sending him more war supplies and money.

The South China Sea Remains A Probable Flashpoint

Taiwan or the South China Sea. Which is more likely to become the world’s next flashpoint? Debate has raged heatedly since the spike in Taiwan Strait tensions in the summer of 2022. Over the last month a number of thought-provoking editorials have surfaced in an assortment of publications from around the world. The range extends from traditional newspapers to think-tank sponsored quarterly reports. In short, most articles and reports point to Taiwan as the next flashpoint containing enough powder to spark a major war.

Taiwan has garnered the world’s attention. Many experts, real and imagined, believe a Sino-US conflict will erupt from an incident of some sort originating in Taiwan Strait. With focus set on Taiwan, expectations of a conflict breaking out in the South China Sea remain surprisingly low. Considering the value of the SCS to the global economy and the growing number of close encounters taking place within its confines, the chances of a military conflict there are very real. US and allied warships deploy to the sea regularly in an effort to challenge China’s claims of sovereignty in the region from the Nine-Dash Line to the Paracel Islands.

The prospect of a close encounter between Chinese and US naval or air units taking place and spiraling into an armed conflict is on the minds of government officials and military officers from Vietnam to Singapore. In fact, last week Singapore Defense Minister Ng Eng Hen called on regional leaders to renew their commitment to a rules-based order to guide interactions in the South China Sea. Of course, most nation-states around the SCS already abide by guidelines put forward by a rules-based order. Except for China, of course. Beijing plays by its own set of rules in this region and it is evident that Xi Jinping is playing for keeps.

From Pearl Harbor To The Western Pacific: Is The US Navy Sleepwalking Into The Future? (Intro)

History never repeats, as Mark Twain once said, but it does often rhyme. Even more significant, history can offer crumbs and clues about what the future may hold. Provided an observer is adept enough to separate the wheat from the chaff and draw the proper conclusion. I cannot help but look at the current Sino-US relationship and draw a comparison to Japan-US relations in the spring or summer of 1941. The parallels are there for certain. From an ascendant Asian naval power to a distracted US government and population either unable or unwilling to read the writing on the wall.  

In the spring of 1941, the world was at war. Germany had conquered most of continental Europe and had new offensives underway in Yugoslavia and Greece. Preparations were also underway for the invasion of the Soviet Union which would commence in June, 1941. In Southeast Asia, Germany’s successes in Europe prompted Japan to put pressure on European governments. The Dutch agreed to provide Japan with oil from the Dutch East Indies, but nowhere near the amount Japan needed. When Japan sent large numbers of troops into Indochina and threatened British, French and Dutch territories in the Far East, Western nations retaliated with economic sanctions. Namely an oil embargo. Negotiations between the US and Japan to ease the strain on their relations continued on, but were going nowhere. Although US, British and Dutch officials were discussing plans for a joint defense of their Pacific territories, the US and its service branches were not making serious preparations for war. The Japanese, on the other hand, were.

 The state of the US Navy by summer of 1941 was regrettable. The Pacific Fleet was making plans to fight a naval war in the Pacific centered on the fleet’s battleships, not its aircraft carriers. It was clear by this point, however, that the future of naval warfare would revolve around the carrier and not the battleship. US doctrine being developed at the time supported this and at the Naval War College in Newport, officers were developing the tactics and training to fight this new carrier war. It is useful to remember, though, that even though the NWC had the correct idea about how naval warfare would pan out in the coming war, the US Navy was hardly prepared in summer of 1941 to take on the Imperial Japanese Navy.

Fast forward to the present day. China has assumed the role of ascendant Asian power and its navy is reaping the benefits. The People’s Liberation Army Navy is now the largest navy in the world. Shipbuilding is nothing short of a national priority. Every month new warships join the fleet in ever-increasing numbers. Curiously, China’s naval ascent has not raised alarms within the US Navy or the United States government. A sense of complacency seems to have settled over Washington. US military leaders and politicians are convinced the qualitative edge of the US Navy will be more than sufficient to neutralize China’s quantitative advantage in the event of a war in the Western Pacific. Therefore, US admirals and politicians continue to wage budget battles and strive to lay the groundwork for less-than-substantial naval buildup and modernization that may not be completed before the shooting starts.

Author’s Note: This was the introductory post of a 2-3 part series on the US Navy’s preparations ..or lack thereof…to fight and win a potential naval war against China in the next 5-10 years. The next entry will be posted on Easter Monday.  

Ukraine Update: 16 March, 2023

China’s foreign minister conducted a phone conversation with his Ukrainian counterpart and expressed the Chinese government’s growing concern with the continuing war between Russia and China. Beijing is anxious over the prospect of the war escalating and is urging Kiev to discuss a political resolution with Moscow. Coming from the Chinese, a request for negotiations at this point appears self-serving. The discussion between foreign ministers comes amid reports that a Chinese-made drone was shot down last weekend. The United States has led the charge in accusing China of moving closer to supplying Russia with weapons. It would make sense for China to urge a negotiated settlement to try and divert attention away from the discovery of a Chinese-made drone on the battlefield. Pushing this tact is even more sensible considering that Xi Jinping is expected to visit Moscow in the near future and there is widespread speculation concerning what Xi’s arrival in Russia might bring about.

Unfortunately for the West, the warnings put forward about China potentially supplying Russia with weapons and war material is an instance of the pot calling the kettle black. Led by the United States, NATO has provided Ukraine with a continuous stream of weapons since the start of the war. Most recently, a limited number of main battle tanks have entered the pipeline. In the next few days four Polish MiG-29s will arrive in Ukraine. These will be the first combat aircraft provided by a NATO member-state, representing a sizeable escalation in military support. Other alliance members could follow suit, opening the prospect of combat aircraft being made available to Ukraine’s air arm.

This could produce two significant actions. First, Russia might commit a sizeable portion of its air force to the war. So far, the Russian Air Force has played a limited role with the majority of its available combat aircraft kept out of the fighting. Second, an increase in NATO military support could prompt China to begin providing copious amounts of war material to keep Russia afloat. Time will tell which of these two prospects takes shape.

China’s Intelligence Balloon Is Stirring Up Trouble

China’s foreign ministry came released a statement earlier today in an attempt to explain the balloon seen flying over the northern states of the US in recent days. According to the foreign ministry, Yes, the balloon is of Chinese origin. However,  it is a ‘civilian airship’ used for meteorologic research not intelligence gathering. The balloon strayed from its intended course and mysteriously ended up overflying sensitive US military sites including Malmstrom AFB and the dozens of ICBM silos around the installation. China ‘regrets’ the intrusion of the balloon into US airspace, regards the incident as an ‘unexpected situation’ and Chinese government will remain in touch with the US on the matter.

US defense officials, on the other hand, believe the balloon is a high-altitude surveillance device and the facts support the US position. A balloon does not circle the sky and remain in one area at a consistent altitude for an extended period of time. There has to be a steering mechanism for it, otherwise the device would’ve kept going with the upper air flow. Airspace restrictions have been established over Montana and fighters were staged on the ground in case the order is given to shoot down the balloon. So far, the US government has not done so, citing the possibility of debris causing harm to people on the ground.

This balloon incident has also forced an indefinite postponement to US Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s scheduled trip to Beijing next week. The State Department made the announcement a short time ago, specifically pointing to the Chinese intelligence-gathering balloon’s operations in US airspace as the reason for the postponement. It does not appear that this matter is anywhere near being resolved and certainly holds the potential to make Sino-US tensions worse in the coming days and weeks.