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Diplomacy & Crisis News

Know This: Presidential Primaries Are Old, Complicated, And Unfair

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 15:17

David Smith


So why do Americans still do them?

While political parties in both Australia and Britain have recently moved towards leadership contests that give more say to ordinary party members, nothing matches the democratic scale of the American process to nominate presidential candidates.

The Democratic nomination contest, which begins on Monday with the Iowa caucuses and then continues with the New Hampshire primary on February 11, looks and feels a lot like the presidential election that will be held in November.

In 2016, 57.6 million voters participated in the primaries or caucuses to choose the Republican and Democratic candidates, which was just shy of the record turnout in the 2008 contests.

The amount of money now invested in these nominating contests is staggering, as is the attention focused on them by the media.

When did primary voting begin?

Americans have not always chosen presidential candidates this way. Throughout the early days of US politics, state party leaders chose candidates at the national conventions in a deal-making process mostly hidden from ordinary citizens.

A few states adopted primaries early in the 20th century as part of the progressive revolt against elite control of all institutions. Party leaders still made the final choice, but primaries served as a useful “beauty contest” to test a candidate’s viability in the presidential election.

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Nazi Germany's Arado Ar-234 Was The Bomber The Allies Never Saw Coming

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 15:11

Warfare History Network


Germany’s Arado Ar-234 proved a great surprise for Allied airmen in the skies.

When the Arado Ar-234 Blitz jet bomber first appeared in the skies of Europe, most Allied airmen did not know what it was. Many had never heard of jet engines, let alone a jet bomber. Fewer still knew that the Ar-234 was a shining star in Adolf Hitler’s constellation of wonder weapons, the super-secret and super-technology arsenal that the Führer hoped would reverse the Reich’s declining fortunes.

The Allies First Glimpse at the Arado 234 Blitz

Hitler certainly never asked for an opinion from Don Bryan. At high altitude east of the Rhine bridgehead on March 14, 1945, American fighter pilot Captain Bryan was on his way home from a bomber escort mission when he spotted an Ar-234 making a bombing run on the pontoon bridge at Remagen.

At this juncture, the American fighter pilot may have known more about Hitler’s secret jet than anyone else on the Allied side. While most Allied pilots never even glimpsed one, this was Bryan’s fourth encounter with an Arado. In December 1944, he became, he asserted, the first Allied pilot ever to see one in the air.

After studying drawings of the jet in a Group Intelligence document, Bryan spotted Ar-234s on two more occasions later that month. During his third sighting, the Luftwaffe warplane crossed his flight path beneath him, flying from left to right. Bryan went after the Arado, but it pulled away. That was when he realized that while his North American P-51 Mustang fighter was fast, the Ar-234 was almost 100 miles per hour faster.

“I’m not letting one get away from me again,” Bryan thought out loud.

The Bluenosed Bastards of Bodney

The usual soup over Germany has been transformed into brilliant sunshine on March 14. Eleven of the German jet bombers from flying unit KG 76 (Kampfgeschwader 76) were attacking the newly constructed floating engineer bridge south of the Ludendorff Bridge, which was the last traditional bridge standing on the Rhine when it was captured by soldiers of the U.S. 9th Armored Division on March 7, 1945.

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Millions Dead: Here Are the Deadliest Wars Ever Fought in Asia

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 15:05

Kyle Mizokami

History, Asia


Key point: History is full of bloody wars and Asia is no exception. These are just some of the worst conflicts ever to occur.

Today, Asia is in one of its most peaceful periods in modern history. All current political posturing aside, Asia today is a peaceful place where economic growth continues at a largely brisk pace. Hundreds of millions have been lifted out of poverty in the last four decades, and in China alone, the new middle class is larger than the entire population of the United States.

It hasn’t always been this way. As late as the 1970s, war raged across Southeast Asia, and virtually every country in the region has been touched by war since 1945.

China’s Civil Wars

One of the great triumphs of modern China—on par with China’s economic success—is its apparent political stability. In the past two thousand years, China has endured many civil wars. China’s three most lethal civil wars alone collectively killed roughly 176,000,000 people.

The Three Kingdoms War (220-280 AD) was a struggle between the Han dynasty states of Wei, Shu and Wu, the net result of which was the triumph of the Jin dynasty. Fighting between the kingdoms, plus disease and famine cost an estimated 40,000,000 lives.

The An Lushan Rebellion (755-763 AD) occurred when An Lushan, a general in Northern China, declared himself emperor of the new Yan Dynasty and in doing so challenged the existing Tang Dynasty. Despite numerous successes, the Yan dynasty was eventually weakened from within, and the rebellion ended eight years later. Regional censuses taken before and after the rebellion imply that up to 36,000,000 people were killed.

The Taiping Rebellion was started in 1850 by Hong Xiuquan, a religious fanatic who led the revolt against the Qing Dynasty. The revolt started in southern China and spread as far north as Nanjing, before it was stopped in 1864 by a Qing army led by Western military officers. The rebellion was eventually put down, but not before anywhere from 20,000,000 to 100,000,000 people lost their lives.

World War II: Japan against Asia

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Here's the Other Epidemic Coming Out of Coronavirus

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 15:01

Ilan Noy

Security, Asia

It's all about the economy.

One way to count the cost of the Wuhan coronavirus is by how many people catch it, and then how many die. Another is the direct financial costs of public health measures to treat those infected and contain its spread.

Yet another is the wider economic cost. But how to calculate this?

Some suggest a neglible impact on the global economy if the death toll is less or similar to the SARS outbreak in 2002-03.

But the economic impact is not directly tied to the number of people who get sick (morbidity) or die (mortality). It almost wholly depends on the indirect effects of the decisions that many millions of individuals make to minimise their chance of catching the virus, and the decision of governments on how to react to the threat.

This means the Wuhan outbreak could directly affect relatively few people, compared to past pandemics, yet still pack an intense punch in a more interconnected global economy.

Learning from SARS

We can draw lessons from the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) experience, the first epidemic of the 21st century.

SARS was another coronavirus. As the Wuhan virus emerged in late December from an animal market, SARS originated from animal markets in the southern Chinese province of Guangdong in November 2002.

Zoonotic epidemics – diseases emerging from animal hosts – are not new. But they are becoming more common with closer proximity between wild animals, domesticated animals and people; and they spread more rapidly due to increased movements of people within and between countries. Their economic risk is also likely to increase.

SARS spread to infect individuals across 26 countries in a matter of weeks. Fortunately it was then contained relatively rapidly. Ultimately about 8,500 people caught it. The mortality rate was about 11% with fewer than a thousand deaths.

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Meet The Man Who Designed Germany's Unstoppable World War II Blitzkrieg

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 15:00

Warfare History Network


General Heinz Guderian led German armored formations and fell in and out of favor with Hitler.

Hitler was enraged as he stalked his way around the room during the waning months of World War II. Heinz Guderian, his acting chief of the general staff, was again speaking out, again opposing the Führer’s plans for dealing with the Soviet Red Army, which was steadily approaching Berlin.

This man, whom Hitler had earlier promoted to inspector general of the armored troops, had advocated in early February 1945 that German troops be evacuated from the Balkans, Italy, Norway, and especially Courland along the Baltic to bolster the defense of the Fatherland in the wake of the failed Ardennes offensive in the West and dogged, determined Soviet advances in the East.

According to Guderian’s account, Hitler raged, shaking his fists so close to Guderian’s face that his assistant pulled the general backward by the bottom of his uniformed jacket to prevent him from being struck by the furious Führer. The result of the confrontation was not the withdrawal and reassignment of the much-needed troops but rather a limited attack on the Arnswalde area in the hope of defeating the Soviets north of the Warthe River and thus retaining Pomerania and the link with Guderian’s native Prussia.

“Hurrying Heinz” vs Adolf Hitler

Matters heated up even more dramatically in a February 13, 1945, meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin. Guderian noted that intelligence showed the Soviets could increase their forces on the River Oder by some four divisions per day, necessitating the launch of an attack within two days. Heinrich Himmler, leader of the dreaded SS, who was charged with defending that area, argued against the attack, contending that additional fuel and ammunition would be needed beforehand.

Guderian, true to his early war nickname of “Hurrying Heinz,” strongly advocated immediate action and insisted that General Walther Wenck be attached to Himmler’s army group staff. He contended the SS leader had “neither the requisite experience nor a sufficiently competent staff to control the attack singlehanded.”

Hitler took offense at Guderian’s comments, saying he would not permit him to state that Himmler was incapable of performing his military duties. The confrontation raged for two hours, with the Führer hurling accusations, his veins standing out on his temples and his eyes seemingly ready to pop out of his head.

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Kobe Bryant and the Legacy Question

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:57

Nicole Kraft


Should NBA players be made to go to college?

Less than a decade after 18-year-old Kobe Bryant got drafted into the NBA in 1996, the league made all players spend at least one year in college or playing overseas before they could enter the professional basketball league.

That rule may be about to be rescinded, paving the way for today’s star high school players to follow in Kobe’s footsteps. I have seen both professional and college athletics up close, first working for the Philadelphia 76ers in the mid-1980s, then as a sportswriter, and now as a professor of sports media and the director of Ohio State’s Sports and Society Initiative. Each summer I teach a course to help prepare freshmen for the demands of college, so I see both opportunities and challenges associated with the NBA’s collegiate attendance requirement.

The early days

When the National Basketball Association first formed in 1946, it didn’t let anyone join a team until four years after their high school class graduated. That restriction lasted until a player named Spencer Hayward sued the NBA in 1971.

Ultimately, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the rule in 1971. The league soon welcomed Moses Malone in 1974. Malone proved the poster child for skipping college and heading to the pros as he led the Houston Rockets and then the Philadelphia 76ers to NBA titles. He ultimately earned a spot as one of the top 50 basketball players of all time.

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Everything You Wanted to Know About the Role of Prince Harry as the "Spare Heir" to the Crown

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:55

Jonathan Spangler

Politics, Europe

We've got a history lesson.

There are a lot of remarkable comparisons to be made between the expectations and career choices of Prince Harry and those of his predecessors. The common thread is always that the second son is expected to both behave in a manner one might expect of a future ruler (the media scrutiny of Harry is no less than that his elder brother receives), but also be seen as something else, something not threatening to the position of the “heir”.

The life choices of Prince Philippe of France, Duke of Orléans (1640-1701) may interest Harry as he negotiates the next step in his royal career. Like many of the “spare princes”, Philippe was always compared to his elder brother, Louis XIV. But Philippe (who has garnered some modern day “fame” due to his depiction in the television series Versailles) managed to use the arts to carve out a name for himself.

The history of the ‘reserve’ king

As soon as hereditary systems were established in human societies, monarchs recognised that to create continuity of power for their family – as well as stability for society more generally – it was necessary to have at least one healthy male heir and one in reserve should the eldest son perish.

In a brutal pre-modern world, the death of the eldest son was common. Several well-known monarchs in British history were in fact second sons due to inadequacies of early modern medicine, notably Henry VIII and Charles I. This was true even more recently in the case of King George V who succeeded his elder brother, Prince Albert Victor (or “Eddie”), as heir in 1892, after he succumbed to pneumonia.

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Here's How Close Two Satellites Came To Crashing Last Week

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:53

Gregory Cohen

Security, Space

Can it be stopped next time?

It appears we have missed another close call between two satellites – but how close did we really come to a catastrophic event in space?

It all began with a series of tweets from LeoLabs, a company that uses radar to track satellites and debris in space. It predicted that two obsolete satellites orbiting Earth had a 1 in 100 chance of an almost direct head-on collision at 9:39am AEST on 30 January, with potentially devastating consequences.

1/ We are monitoring a close approach event involving IRAS (13777), the decommissioned space telescope launched in 1983, and GGSE-4 (2828), an experimental US payload launched in 1967.

(IRAS image credit: NASA)

— LeoLabs, Inc. (@LeoLabs_Space) January 27, 2020

LeoLabs estimated that the satellites could pass within 15-30m of one another. Neither satellite could be controlled or moved. All we could do was watch whatever unfolded above us.

Collisions in space can be disastrous and can send high-speed debris in all directions. This endangers other satellites, future launches, and especially crewed space missions.

As a point of reference, NASA often moves the International Space Station when the risk of collision is just 1 in 100,000. Last year the European Space Agency moved one of its satellites when the likelihood of collision with a SpaceX satellite was estimated at 1 in 50,000. However, this increased to 1 in 1,000 when the US Air Force, which maintains perhaps the most comprehensive catalogue of satellites, provided more detailed information.

Following LeoLabs’ warning, other organisations such as the Aerospace Corporation began to provide similarly worrying predictions. In contrast, calculations based on publicly available data were far more optimistic. Neither the US Air Force nor NASA issued any warning.

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How Big of a Screen? What Hard Drive Size? How to Buy a Great Laptop

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:53

Sebastien Roblin

Technology, United States

That will last.

There’s a bewildering array of hardware specifications to evaluate whenever your browsing options for your next laptop. However, it’s possible to focus on a half-dozen key qualities to make sure you get the right combination of convenience and computing power to meet your needs.

A companion article goes over how to make some basic decisions on your next laptop: are you looking for just basic use, power use, or a gaming computer, a PC or Mac, and so forth. Here, we’ll delve into greater detail on key hardware specifications you should keep in mind when selecting a new laptop.

Portability versus Screen Size

One of the more straightforward tradeoffs you must consider is whether you’d rather have a bigger screen with which you can better enjoy movies, photos, and video games. Or would you prefer a smaller, lower-weight laptop handier for carrying around and using in public spaces like the tray table of an airliner?

Screen size is measured diagonally from one corner of the monitor to the opposite corner. Laptops with 17” or 19” options are quite hefty, while 13” or 11” monitors are highly compact. (For a genuinely portable-feeling laptop, you should aim for more than two or three pounds.) Thus, 14” or 15” screens occupy a handy middle ground. 

My advice? Get a medium or large screen if you intend to play lots of games or watch a lot of media, if you do visually intensive work on it (photo editing, lots of open windows), or if you don’t expect to move the laptop around very frequently.

Get a smaller screen if you intend to carry a laptop around with you a great deal, and don’t need great graphical fidelity for whatever you’re doing.

And if you’re a college student or business person who revels in the ability to whip out a lightweight laptop anywhere at a moment's notice, make sure you're getting a model with at least four to five hours of battery life if not more. After all, being able to carry your laptop anywhere isn’t so useful if you can’t use it away from its charger for a significant length of time.

Hard Drive and Disk Space

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How Do Stealth Destroyers Sail the Seven Seas (And Not Sink?)

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:39

Kris Osborn

Technology, Americas

A vital function.

(Washington, D.C.) When faced with high winds, up to 20-foot waves and dangerously rough seas -- which Navy ships can survive? … and continue to wage war on the open sea?

Would the new stealthy USS Zumwalt destroyer capsize or suffer extreme damage if its wave-piercing Tumblehome hull were subject to massively dangerous stormy sea conditions?

Such questions, often put to the test with new ships during “sea-trials,” were of particular relevance with the Zumwalt, as it is a first-in-class high-tech warship built with a sleek, more linear, stealthy hull. There have been persistent questions as to whether the ship might have stability problems in dangerous sea states, given that it does not have a standard “flare” shaped ship hull used by most destroyers and carriers. Rather, it has a thinner, sharper, smaller wave-piercing hull intended to increase stealth, maneuverability and speed.

The answer, according to the Commanding Officer of the USS Zumwalt Capt. Andrew Carlson, is that the ship has remarkable, if even somewhat surprising, stability.

“We took advantage of a Gulf of Alaska storm which reached Sea State 6 conditions. We were able to drive around in that at full power,” (Sea State 6: A world Meteorological Organization Standard specifying 13 - to 20 foot waves and rough seas). I had some hesitations and I knew the ship rode differently, but I would rather ride this ship in heavy seas,” Carlson said recently during a presentation at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, Arlington.

Carlson explained that, while the rough seas were as always nerve-racking, the ship seemed to “come back” from a roll caused by extremely rough seas. He said that during the heavy storm, “green water waves were coming up on the bow.”

“You get used to the roll period. It is short. If you are working on top on a cruiser in rough seas, you wonder if you are going to come back (roll back flat in rough seas). With Zumwalt, we don’t experience that. You get used to finer oscillations,” Carlson said.

Carlson, who said the Navy still has work to do assessing and preparing the ship for war, said “these sorts of lessons quiet the anxiety.”

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Will China Produce Another Coronavirus?

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:36

Roger Bate

Security, Asia

The conditions for an epidemic are still there.

As we settle down to the inevitable spread — but relatively minor impact — of the coronavirus, it is worth thinking about the causes of the disease’s spread and whether any of them are likely to change.

Will Beijing clamp down on wet markets, where live wildlife is killed there and sold to consumers? Part of the reason these markets are popular is that the Chinese consumer is so distrustful of Chinese government-run entities (not just limited to the many state-run businesses), that they do not trust they are getting what they demand unless they see it with their own eyes. This concern is widespread across China. I’ve encountered it with medicines, pet foods, and milk. I recall speaking to Chinese mothers who refused to buy Chinese milk formula because they were so worried about Chinese manufacturing and knew (not just suspected) that Beijing didn’t care about oversight.

The only way to improve matters is for Beijing to actually regulate its businesses properly, not just turn a blind eye to politically-favored companies, or execute anyone out of favor in grand style to demonstrate they’re serious about matters. This isn’t likely to happen soon. Even if the public wet markets are closed, I doubt the practice of paying to see your food killed will go away until distrust is removed.

What chance is there that the media will improve in China? And by this I mean: Will media be able to report more widely and do the job western media does? China has improved markedly in this regard in the past decade, so there is some hope here. But the institutional power systems mean that if regional and local leaders fear blowback from Beijing far more than media exposure, then the kinds of early stage cover-ups we’ve seen with coronavirus are likely to continue.

China hawks and protectionists are already using the coronavirus as a way to pull back from business engagement with the country. The problem is that when “the big one” happens — when a highly infectious disease with a fairly long (over two weeks) incubation period and high mortality rate occurs, most likely emanating from China — a pullback of engagement won’t really protect us. We should instead be encouraging China to change. Only then will a future pandemic be merely painful, rather than disastrous.

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A $5,000 Gun? Meet the Laugo Alien

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:30

Charlie Gao


One of the more notable pistols to come out in recent years, the Laugo Alien incorporates a variety of rare pistol features into a single, sleek package.

The Laugo Alien is one of the more notable pistols to come out in recent years. Designed to give the shooter a maximum mechanical advantage when shooting, the Alien incorporates a variety of rare pistol features into a single, sleek package. However, the cost of all of that is an extremely high price tag: the Alien is estimated to cost around $5,000.

But are the mechanical features worth it? Does the Alien stand a chance at being successful?

Everything about the Alien seems to be aimed at making the pistol shoot flat, fast, and with low recoil. The barrel is placed on the lower half of the pistol’s long end to absolutely minimize the bore axis. This is atypical, most pistols, including Glocks, Sig Sauers, and H&Ks place the barrel on the top half of the slide, with the recoil spring underneath the barrel. On the Alien, the recoil spring is above the barrel. The barrel is also fixed to the frame; the Alien relies on a gas-delayed blowback system similar to the H&K P7 to reduce the velocity at which the slide travels rearward. The fixed barrel allows it to be “free floated” in the frame for better accuracy.

The Alien’s “slide” itself is also reduced significantly in mass. Unlike most pistols, the slide only encompasses the sides and rear of the pistol. This allows the top to remain static during the firing cycle, making tracking the sights during a shot. The reduced slide profile also reduces reciprocating mass, making the recoil impulse smaller and smoother. The fixed upper frame also has benefits for red dots, which undergo far less stress on the Alien than on other pistols. The partial slide design is reminiscent of the Wolf Ultramatic SV, another similar pistol with fixed sights and a limited roller-locked reciprocating slide.

The rest of the pistol is fairly standard. The frame is shaped similar to other modern raceguns, with a similar grip angle, large undercut behind the trigger guard, and a readily reachable thumb mag release and slide catch. The pistol is striker fired, likely due to the less mechanical complexity required to make a striker fired pistol with an ultra-low bore axis. Safety is maintained via the use of internal safeties and a Glock-style trigger safety.

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See This Stealth Fighter? Iran Could Shoot It Down in a War

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:11

TNI Staff


But it wouldn't be easy.

Key Point: If by some bizarre circumstance the F-22 is embroiled in a dogfight with the F-14, the chances are the Raptor will kill the Tomcat unless the American pilot suffers from extremely bad luck or makes a serious error.

A full-scale military campaign against Iran would require the United States to destroy the Iranian air force—which to this day flies American-built warplanes. The best of Iran’s decrepit fighter aircraft fleet is the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. The Imperial Iranian Air Force purchased 80 of the powerful fourth generation fighters before the 1979 Islamic revolution, but deliveries were halted at 79 aircraft. Additionally, Iran had purchased 714 Hughes (now Raytheon) AIM-54A Phoenix long-range semi-active/active radar guided air-to-air missiles, which have a range of roughly 100 nautical miles.

When the F-14A was developed, it was amongst the most capable fighters developed by the United States during the late 1960s. The jet entered service with the U.S. Navy in 1974 equipped with the AWG-9 long-range pulse Doppler radar, which had a range of over 115 nautical miles and was the first American radar set to incorporate a track while scan mode to allow for a multiple shot capability. Coupled with the AIM-54, the AWG-9 could target six enemy bombers simultaneously. On paper, the Tomcat provided the fleet with a potent capability—though the reality did not quite meet the Navy’s public relations hype.

Iran has upgraded its Tomcats with new avionics and potentially new weapons, but only a handful of Tehran’s F-14s are in flyable condition—perhaps as few as 20 aircraft. However, other than perhaps 20 Russian-made Mikoyan MiG-29 Fulcrums, the venerable Tomcat is the Islamic Iranian Air Force’s most capable fighter. In the event of a war, the F-14 would be Iran’s first line of defense against an American onslaught.

The stealthy Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptor air superiority fighter would almost certainly lead an American attack. Compared to the antiquated F-14, the Raptor is a technological marvel and is equipped with some of the most sophisticated sensors ever developed for a military aircraft.

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Was Famous British Leader Winston Churchill Really a Hero?

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:01

Sam Edwards

Politics, Europe

We break it down. Winston Churchill is again the subject of a row over reputation: is the man once voted the greatest Briton in a BBC poll still a “hero”? Or is he, as shadow chancellor John McDonnell claimed when asked to choose recently, a “villain”?

To be clear, McDonnell was referring specifically to Churchill’s actions during the Tonypandy riots of 1910, in which he deployed troops to control striking miners, a decision which led to the death of one man. But such a nuance has largely been lost in the ongoing furore as members of parliament from both sides of the chamber have lined up to make their stance known. Even some of McDonnell’s own Labour Party have indicated their disapproval, with MP Ian Austin declaring that Churchill was indeed “a real British hero, the greatest-ever Briton”.

In part, the angry response is connected to the fact that Churchill the war leader – always a high-profile figure in Britain – has recently been back in the public eye. In 2017, he was the subject of two films, Jonathan Teplitzky’s Churchill and Joe Wright’s Darkest Hour. And he has also featured with some prominence in Netflix’s popular series about Elizabeth II, The Crown (played with relish by John Lithgow).

These have each offered varying visions of Churchill. In Teplitzky’s take – rather different to the usual fare – we see a pre-D-Day Churchill increasingly in disagreement with his Generals and haunted by history (especially his role in the disaster at Gallipoli in 1915).

But for all such interesting complexities in Teplitzky’s film, it is surely telling that the more successful of the two 2017 films was the one which provided a far more familiar view of “Winnie the war hero”. For just as the chaos of Brexit broke, Darkest Hour took audiences back to the crisis moment of 1940, as the Wehrmacht crashed through the French Army and as Europe fell to Nazi tyranny. Enter Churchill, played by Gary Oldman, to rally the troops, a job which even sees him – in a rather preposterous scene – talking with the common folk on the London tube.

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The Pentagon is Testing Flying Aircraft Carriers That Can Launch Swarms of Gremlins (Here’s How it Would Work)

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 14:00

Sebastien Roblin


These expendable but reusable short-range drones can operate in defended airspace and possibly overwhelm enemies with swarming attacks.

In November 2019, an old C-130A transport plane took to the skies near Salt Lake City, Utah bearing what appeared to be a hi-tech cruise missile slung under a pylon on one wing.

The Hercules released the missile-like X-61A Gremlin Air Vehicle (GAV), which abruptly rotated stubby wings that had been tucked under its belly into lit-generating flight position. A turbojet engine came to life with a flash and began trailing a plume of smoke. 

Over the next 101 minutes, both air- and ground-side controllers took turns operating the 1,500-pound Gremlin’s flight control system—the drone maneuvers by tilting its X-shaped tail fins—and recording telemetry transmitted by the drone’s onboard datalink.

Finally, the Gremlin engaged a drogue parachute to begin a landing and recovery cycle. But then the second main parachute failed to engage, and the X-61 slammed into the ground at high speed, destroying the prototype.

Despite not quite sticking the landing, Gremlin program officials maintain they were satisfied with the prototype’s performance in every other stage of the flight and that they were confident that the final malfunction wouldn’t impede future tests. 

In fact, the next flight test due the spring of 2020 will see the Gremlin attempt a more difficult task: docking with its C-130A mothership for in-flight recovery. The program eventually aims to demonstrate the capability for a Hercules to recover four Gremlins in less than thirty minutes. Fortunately, four Gremlins prototypes remain after the accident.

To recover a Gremlin, the mothership first deploys a “bullet” capture probe towed from the cargo bay, a system similar to the flexible mid-flight refueling probes used by the U.S. Navy. The probe latches onto a hook that flips up from the Gremlin’s spine.

Once the X-61 has docked onto the probe, it rotates it tucks its stub wings laterally back into its belly. Then operators reel the Gremlin towards the Hercule, where they will eventually be plucked into the cargo bay by the pincers of an extendible mechanical arm.

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The Allies World War II Battle Of Savo Island Was A True Naval Disaster

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 13:56

Warfare History Network


Defeat in the Battle of Savo Island was a stunning blow to Allied naval forces off Guadalcanal.

Amid rain, lightning, and dark, the British admiral and American general picked their way through choppy seas to the transport USS McCawley, off the coast of Guadalcanal. Maj. Gen. Archibald Vandegrift of the U.S. Marine Corps was exhausted. Britain’s Rear Admiral Victor Alexander Crutchley, commanding the Allied Screening Force, an Australian-American mix of six heavy cruisers, two light cruisers, and eight destroyers, looked “ready to pass out.”

So did the senior officer on McCawley they were going to see, Rear Admiral Richmond Kelly Turner, who commanded the American amphibious assault forces that were riding waves off the invaded islands of Guadalcanal and Tulagi that evening.

There was good reason for all three men to be fatigued. In the three days since they had led the invasion, none had been able to sleep. Now the three officers were losing their carrier-based air cover, and the transports would have to pull out without fully unloading their supplies. This was a grave issue, but their crisis was about to become far worse—in minutes, they would be helpless spectators to the greatest defeat at sea in the history of the United States and Royal Australian Navies.

Operation Watchtower was the first Allied Pacific offensive of World War II. In early 1942, Fleet Admiral Ernest J. King was determined to drive the Japanese north through the Solomon Islands chain and up that jungle road to Tokyo.

The task was given to Vice Admiral Robert Ghormley, and the plan called for an invasion of two islands in the Solomons, the capital at Tulagi and Guadalcanal, a larger island south of Tulagi. Between them sat Savo Island, a dead volcano.

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Dead in the Dark: How Good is Chinese Miltiary Grade Night Vision Gear?

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 13:45

Charlie Gao


Because wars don't stop at 5 pm.

Recently, various Chinese military night vision units have been showing up on the Chinese domestic market. This provides an interesting opportunity to evaluate the capability of such units, as manufacturers publish the specifications and characteristics of these units. However, as with most night vision technology, there are caveats. Typically a night vision unit consists of two basic elements, the image intensifier (I2) tube, and the housing. The tube generally is the largest determinant of the quality and resolution of the image, while the housing affects how the unit is mounted, how durable it is, and its other ergonomic properties. While the housings available on the civilian market are fairly representative of Chinese military stock, the I2 tubes in the housings may not be representative of what’s actually issued to the Chinese military.

The BBG-011A is an interesting example of a Chinese military night vision unit on the civilian market. The unit is clearly a clone of the Thales LUCIE night vision goggles, a popular European NVG that has seen use with the German Bundeswehr and French Army. The LUCIE is notable for being relatively “flat”, having the form factor of a rectangular box with a lens in the upper right corner. The offset lens is controversial among users of the LUCIE, with users often complaining that the offset lens makes “close up” work unintuitive and clumsy. However, it’s possible that the lens is offset to interface well with carryhandle mounted optics on the FAMAS rifle, which makes sense given that the Chinese QBZ-95 is set up in a similar way.

The BBG-011A on the civilian market comes with one of three I2 tubes, the NT-3, CNT-4, and DNT-6. NT-3s have figures of merit (FOMs) of around 1200, CNT-4s have FOMs of around 1440, and DNT-6s have FOMs of around 1960. DNT-6 tubes also have autogating technology, which helps preserve tube life when bright light sources are viewed through the tube. All of the I2 tubes the BBG-011A is available with are Gen 2+, which is behind the Gen 3 tubes commonly used by the US military. Most US military NVGs have FOMs of over 2000, with some even going above 2500. Modern Generation 3 military-used Chinese tubes are probably over 2000 FOM, but are not seen on civilian-available examples, and would probably not be used in the BBG-011A, as it is an older design.

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Cut off the Cash: How to Crush Mexico's Drug Cartels Once and For All

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 13:41

Andrés Martínez-Fernández


The U.S. and Mexico can debilitate the illicit financial networks of cartels. Here is how to do it. 

2019 closed out another violent year in Mexico with a record 34,582 murders, largely driven by organized crime. High-profile killings, including an October massacre by drug cartels targeting women and children, have brought renewed attention to the deteriorating security situation in Mexico under President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO). Events such as the failed capture of the son of notorious kingpin El Chapo Guzmán also highlight the continued capacity of cartels to overwhelm Mexico’s security forces. To reduce the overwhelming capacity of organized crime, the U.S. and Mexico should boost cooperation against organized crime with a particular emphasis on debilitating illicit financial structures to choke off vital funds to criminal organizations.

According to the State Department, billions of dollars are laundered through the Mexican financial system each year, primarily linked to drug trafficking and organized crime. This money is used to purchase high-powered weapons, pay hitmen, bribe government officials, and finance other activities that empower criminal organizations to keep security forces at bay.

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How the Mad Scientists at DARPA are Turning Cargo Planes Into Flying Drone Bases

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 13:30

Michael Peck


Drone aircraft carriers in the sky?

Current drones, like the Reaper and Global Hawk, are true unmanned aircraft: they must operate from an airfield, just like manned aircraft have done for more than a century.

But what if the airfield was actually an airplane?

DARPA, the Pentagon’s pet research agency, has successfully conducted tested launching and recovering a drone by a manned aircraft in mid-air. A C-130 transport became a mothership to an X-61A Gremlin drone.

“The test in late November at the U.S. Army’s Dugway Proving Ground in Utah included one captive-carry mission aboard a C-130A and an airborne launch and free flight lasting just over an hour-and-a-half,” according to a DARPA announcement.

The idea of the Gremlins program is to demonstrate a manned aircraft can dispatch drones toward a target and then recover them, all while staying out of range of enemy air defenses. “Once Gremlins complete their mission, the transport aircraft would retrieve them in the air and carry them home, where ground crews would prepare them for their next use within 24 hours,” said DARPA.

DARPA provided few details about the November test, other than saying that it met all objectives, including gathering launch and recovery, gathering flight data and testing air- and ground-based command systems. “The vehicle performed well, giving us confidence we are on the right path and can expect success in our follow-on efforts,” said Gremlins program manager Scott Wierzbanowski. “We got a closer look at vehicle performance for launch, rate capture, engine start, and transition to free flight. We had simulated the performance on the ground, and have now fully tested them in the air. We also demonstrated a variety of vehicle maneuvers that helped validate our aerodynamic data.”

Kratos, one of the subcontractors on the development team, said the one hour and 41 minute test flight included “deploying the GAV [Gremlins Air Vehicle] docking arm.” The test also included a parachute recovery of a Gremlin as part of the test: the drone would normally be recovered in flight.

Ironically, the dictionary defines “gremlin” as “an imaginary mischievous sprite regarded as responsible for an unexplained problem or fault, especially a mechanical or electronic one.” Indeed, a fault did occur during the test, DARPA admitted.

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What Will North Korea Do If Coronavirus Comes to Its Shores?

The National Interest - Sat, 01/02/2020 - 13:25

Robert E. Kelly

Security, Asia

Pyongyang has neither the resources nor the administrative culture – transparency, empiricism divorced from ideology, technocracy – to respond to a genuine epidemic. Sustained foreign assistance and, failing that, brutal repression would almost certainly be necessary to prevent a local plague.

As the coronavirus spreads, especially in east Asia, the response of states with weak healthcare systems and low transparency will come into question. The United Nations has already identified this as its major administrative concern in its global response. Rumors are already circulating that China has far more cases than it has admitted, and there is gross inequality in the Chinese health care system. The Chinese Communist Party is hyper-sensitive to the regime’s portrayal in foreign media, and we know that the Soviet Union’s first impulse after the Chernobyl incident was to deny it.

North Korea obviously falls into this category. The regime notoriously lies and dissembles. If corona makes it there, the regime’s first inclination will be to deny it. Similarly, the health care system has been broken for decades. Much necessary care in North Korea beyond basic necessities is either not provided at all or comes from foreign humanitarianism. And now fears of corona’s potency has driven off those foreign workers.

This is likely why the regime has called the struggle against corona a ‘fight for national survival.’ Pyongyang has neither the resources nor the administrative culture – transparency, empiricism divorced from ideology, technocracy – to respond to a genuine epidemic. Sustained foreign assistance and, failing that, brutal repression would almost certainly be necessary to prevent a local plague.

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