Allies on the High Frontier

English: Backdropped by a blue and white part ...

The unpiloted Japanese H-II Transfer Vehicle (HTV) approaches the International Space Station. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Strategic Imperatives for US–Japan Outer Space Cooperation
Crystal Pryor
East-West Center

December 7, 2012

The irony of publishing an essay advocating closer cooperation between the U.S. and Japan in the military sphere on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor is palpable, to the point where you wonder if the wags at the East-West Center did this on purpose.

Regardless of intent, Crystal Pryor brings up an issue that is easy to forget in these fraught times in the East China Sea: space. China is on a tear in space, accelerating its manned orbital program and beginning the long effort that will take taikonauts to the Moon. And let’s not forget – China has proven it can take out just about any satellite it pleases.

Pryor calls for closer peaceful cooperation between the U.S. and Japan in space, and little wonder: experience on the International Space Station revealed some avenues for cooperation. But Japan could be forgiven for having a hidden agenda. Space, even unmanned, is increasingly important to national security and economic growth, and Japan cannot defend its orbital interests alone. Overt military cooperation with the U.S. in space would be an outright provocation. Civilian partnerships, though, could lead to deeper ties if events develop.

Japan’s problem, though, is that NASA is in a torpor. It will have to either rouse the beast, or it will need to find ways to build alliances with the growing bevy of private space companies. Near term, bet on the latter.

Viewing the Pivot from the Air

 

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission o...

A B-2 Spirit soars after a refueling mission over the Pacific Ocean on Tuesday, May 30, 2006. (U.S. Air Force photo/Staff Sgt. Bennie J. Davis III) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Summer 2013 issue of the Strategic Studies Quarterly is out, and the Air Force publication spends most of its space this quarter on Asia, China, and the Pivot. Starting with an excellent essay by David Shambaugh (“Assessing the US Pivot to Asia,”) the publication amounts to a quiet announcement that the Air Force Research Institute (AFRI) is now focused on China.

No surprise. But what is disappointing is the AFRI’s failure to ask the most difficult political question: does the USAF have the wherewithal – in doctrine, in training, in force structure, and (most critically) in equipment – to credibly face off against China in even the coldest of conflicts? Of all the services, this is most important to the Air Force, which was guided in its formative years by leaders who were shaped in the crucible of European wars and hardened during the Cold War face-off with the USSR in Europe. Tactical warfare over vast distances is not in the USAF’s DNA, and it is not in the DNA of the aircraft upon which it has chosen to bet its future.

What one can hope, however, is that the AFRI is leading the Air Force by its nose into a future that demands a different kind of air service by compelling the organization to contemplate its challenges and look itself in the mirror. The odds are long: the AFRI sits under the Air Force, and as such depends on the kindness of the very leaders it should be criticizing.

The USAF lacks what the Navy has in the Naval Institute, an independent forum of officers and senior enlisted people who can have an unimpeded conversation about the future of the service. That’s bad. There are Air Force officers with vision who understand that the future of the USAF as an independent service is on the line. That they must depend on an in-house organ to make their case makes it too easy to pull punches, to step back from the brink of saying what needs to be said.

Pick up the new edition of SSQ. If nothing else, it marks and important beginning of a conversation too long delayed.

Reign in the Drones

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR...

IAI Heron 1 UAV in flight. Location: NAVAL AIR STATION, FALLON, NEVADA (NV) UNITED STATES OF AMERICA (USA) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reforming U.S. Drone Strike Policies
Micah Zenko

Council on Foreign Relations
January, 2013

Have drones become the hammer that has turned every U.S. foreign policy challenge into a nail? Micah Zenko isn’t ready to go quite that far, but he does suggest that the lack of a policy framework to regulate their use hurts the U.S., and that we are best served long-term by helping to promulgate a set of international rules and norms to govern their use.

The piece is not directly China related, but given China’s active effort to develop its own unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) force, Zenko’s calls for international norms should bring China immediately to mind.

Perspective on China’s New Senior Services

“China’s Navy and Air Force: Advancing Capabilities and Missions
Greg Chaffin interviews Andrew S. Erickson
National Bureau of Asian Research
September 27, 2012

With the most recent changes in the Central Military Commission, the Chinese Navy and Air Force now have a degree of prominence denied them for the past six decades. With the growing importance of global trade and far-flung interests, these services look to be the focus of defense policy during Xi Jinping’s first term.

Andrew S. Erickson of the U.S. Naval War College and Harvard University offers his perspective on why this is the case and what it will mean for the world in a thoughtful interview with Greg Chaffin of the NBR.

On the Rack: Strategic Studies Quarterly

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea

Demilitarized Zone, North Korea (Photo credit: yeowatzup)

Strategic Studies Quarterly
Winter 2012

The SSQ for Winter 2012 is out and on the racks. There is nothing specific about China in this edition, but a couple of articles might capture the imagination of China hands.

USAF Colonel Vincent Alcazar offers some thinking about how to counter “anti-access/area denial” strategies pursued by potential adversaries, including China, Iran, North Korea, and Russia. Interesting to note that Russia is back on the boogey-man board.

RAND’s Bruce Bennett offers some ideas on deterring North Korea from using WMD. What is fascinating about the article is its underlying assumption: deterrence depends on the actions of the U.S. and the Republic of Korea. The hint is clear: US planners no longer feel they can count on China’s help in addressing the Korean nuclear threat.

As always, a half dozen excellent reads. It is telling, though, that most of the contributors in this Air Force publication are not serving or former USAF officers. One wonders if there is a brain drain sapping the formerly deep intellectual pool of America’s air service.

 

Defending China from the Air

English: Navy Army Air Force fight the enemy p...

English: Navy Army Air Force fight the enemy poster (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

“China’s Aerospace Power Trajectory in the Near Seas”
Daniel J. Kostecka
Naval War College Review
Summer 2012

Over the past four years, a growing meme within the U.S. Naval and Air Force communities has been China’s growing air and space capabilities, especially in the coastal seas of the Western Pacific. That meme has turned into a formative doctrine called “Air-Sea Battle” that the Navy and Air Force are promulgating as a means of demonstrating their continued relevance to U.S. defense.

No surprise, then, that writing on China’s air and sea capabilities has been increasing, and that the tone of the professional writing is starting to get shrill. Naval analyst Dan Kostecka offers a more measured analysis, concluding that while China has made impressive strides in capabilities, the less glamorous but essential doctrine, training, and hardware that would make for a truly invincible shield is not there.

Kostecka identifies several vulnerabilities that weaken China’s efforts in the region. While he does not come out and say it, the Air Force and the Navy would do well in their early Air Sea Battle concepts to focus on exploiting those weaknesses rather than countering the strengths. It’s a thoughtful, smart piece and one that offers a long-overdue counter to the Write Bigger Checks approach to national defense.