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Would a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent Have Prevented the Crisis?, Continued

By Taylor Marvin

Returning to the question of whether Ukraine should have kept the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union, John Mueller raises an interesting point in his book Atomic ObsessionAlong with Belarus and Kazakhstan, following the breakup of the USSR the new state of Ukraine found itself in possession of a formidable tactical and strategic nuclear arsenal. Under international pressure, all three of these new countries returned their weapons to Russia. Mueller highlights an interesting influence on this decision:

From the beginning, the leaders the new countries seemed to grasp that the weapons would be of little value to them. In considerable part, their patterns of thinking traced those of the many other technically capable states that have been content to follow a nonnuclear path … In Ukraine, and particularly Belarus, the experience with enhanced radiation levels that followed the meltdown of the Chernobyl reactor in 1986 generated a special hostility toward—or wariness about—the weapons, something like a “nuclear allergy.”* [p. 123]

The costs and difficulties associated with the weak, newly-formed Ukrainian state retaining Soviet nuclear weapons has been highlighted in recent discussions sparked by the Russian invasion of Crimea, as has the challenges of safeguarding the nuclear weapons of up to four Soviet successor states rather than only one. However, I have not heard the influence of the Chernobyl disaster — which, remember, occurred less than half a decade before the disintegration of the USSR — mentioned in these discussions. I suppose this is odd, because Japan’s experience as the only target of nuclear weapons use is frequently highlighted as a reason why the country has not elected to actually acquire its own nuclear deterrent, though it has the technical capabilities to quickly do so. If Ukraine’s experience with Chernobyl, which was located on Ukrainian soil though much of the fallout from the disaster fell on the then Byelorussian SSR, informed its decision to give up nuclear weapons, it is a powerful reminder of the impact of emotions and memories on foreign policy decision-making.

*Mueller cites Mitchell Reiss’ Bridled Ambition: Why Countries Constrain Their Nuclear Capabilities here, which I have not read.


Would a Ukrainian Nuclear Deterrent Have Prevented the Crisis?

By Taylor Marvin

A Ukrainian Tu-22M is scrapped in 2002. DTRA photo, via Wikimedia.

A Ukrainian Tu-22M is scrapped in 2002. DTRA photo, via Wikimedia.

Could Ukraine have forestalled the Russian Federation’s invasion of Crimea if it had kept the nuclear weapons it inherited from the Soviet Union? Writing in the National InterestTed Galen Carpenter returns to this argument. Noting the “undercurrent of worry that the Crimea intervention may be just the first move in a campaign by Vladimir Putin either to detach much of eastern Ukraine from Kiev’s control or to oust the new Ukrainian government and bring all of the country firmly into Moscow’s orbit,” Carpenter places blame for Moscow’s action on the early-1990s push to ensure that Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan gave up the nuclear weapons the breakup of the USSR orphaned in their territory and returned them to Russia, the designated Soviet inheritor. Again citing John Mearsheimer’s 1993 Foreign Affairs piece that argued in favor Ukraine retaining nuclear weapons, the argument follows that given the power imbalance between Ukraine and its eastern neighbor, nuclear weapons would have been the Eastern European country’s best hope of resisting Russian revanchism.

As I wrote last week, even if Russia had allowed a former SSR to retain Soviet nuclear weapons (and handwaving away two decades of divergent Ukrainian-Russian relations) it is unclear if a Ukrainian nuclear deterrent would have prevented the Russian seizure of Crimea, the immediate site of the current confrontation. After all, the same strategies Russia employed to forestall a conventional Ukrainian military and international diplomatic response to the invasion would have made a nuclear response unlikely, as well. Russia initially infiltrated deniable troops to seize key strategic points in Crimea, and then brought a large number of soldiers to the peninsula. Before the wider world realized that Russia had indeed invaded and started discussing how to respond Russian Federation forces had already dug in, and would be extremely difficult for the Ukrainian military to dislodge. In addition, while the upcoming referendum will not be a free and fair reflection of the will of the Crimean people, annexation by Russia appears to enjoy some genuine support in the ethnic-Russian-majority autonomous republic, complicating both Ukrainian and international condemnation of the invasion.

By the time a nuclear-armed Ukraine had realized that Russia had indeed violated its territorial integrity, a nuclear threat would have lost what little teeth it ever had. Compelling Russia to leave Crimea would be even more difficult that deterring it from entering. Given the bloodless Russian invasion, Russia’s historic ties to the peninsula, and the pro-Russian outlook of the Crimean people, even an enraged government in Kiev could not credible threaten to use nuclear weapons against military targets in Russia in an attempt to compel Russia to leave. Importantly, by exposing itself to a Ukrainian strike Russia would place the heavy burden of actually making the decision to escalate to nuclear warfare on the Ukrainians, and thus likely ensure that they would not actually play their nuclear card. Even handwaving away Russia’s far superior conventional and nuclear forces, a Ukraine that actually used nuclear weapons against Russia, avoided a response in kind, and successfully forced its withdrawal from Crimea would be far worse off — a pariah politically, diplomatically, and economically — than one that lost Crimea.

Moscow’s calculus would be far riskier in a world where Ukraine possessed nuclear weapons. But again, it is unclear in my mind if this risk would have deterred seizing Crimea, especially given the status Putin has invested in Ukraine, status that necessitated some form of face-saving. What is true is that a crisis would be far, far more dangerous in a world where both Ukraine and Russia field nuclear weapons but Ukraine cannot credibly threaten to respond to the permanent loss of Crimea with a nuclear attack on Russian targets, a point Carpenter acknowledges.

Sure, Ukraine’s ability to deter Russian aggression is important, as is upholding the general “no annexation” norm of the post-war international order. A Ukrainian nuclear force would also largely put to rest fears that Russia intends to peel off Ukrainian territory beyond Crimea. But by writing that Ukraine and the United States are paying the price for the “myopia” of encouraging Ukrainian nuclear disarmament, advocates of a nuclear-armed Ukraine are placing greater value on these considerations than avoiding the — admittedly unlikely — prospect of a Russia-Ukraine nuclear war that would likely kill millions of people.

Would this risk be worthwhile?

A Thought Experiment on the Nuclear Triad

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber, via Wikimedia.

US Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class James Kimber, via Wikimedia.

By Taylor Marvin

The strategic nuclear forces of the United States and Russia are divided between what is termed a triad of nuclear-armed aircraft, ballistic missile submarines, and intercontinental ballistic missiles. As I noted earlier this week, many argue that the triad system is an expensive and redundant relic, and that one or more of its legs could be eliminated with no risk to the credibility of America’s nuclear deterrence.

The Air Force’s intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) are most often singled out as the least essential leg of the triad, for numerous reasons. The fixed locations of ICBM silos tempt an enemy to strike first in an attempt to destroy them on the ground, a destabilizing incentive towards a nuclear first strike; the threat of missiles being destroyed before they can be fired pressures decision-makers to “use them or lose them” and fire on just the warning of an imminent attack, increasing the risk of accidental war; and ICBMs encourage arms races, because the number of nuclear warheads necessary to destroy an opponent’s missiles in their hardened silos is far higher than needed to end civilization. Indeed, the entire concept of the nuclear triad is an after the fact justification of a three-branched strategic nuclear force that owes more to interservice rivalry than any sound strategic concept.

One of the most common arguments against eliminating ICBMs — or any one element of the triad — is the need to hedge against technological advancements that suddenly defang one means of delivering nuclear weapons. It is possible, triad proponents argue, that a revolution in undersea detection could make it much easier to find and destroy the Navy’s ballistic missile submarines (SSBNs). These fears are overstated. As Benjamin H. Friedman, Christopher A. Preble and Matt Fay note in their paper “The End of Overkill? Reassessing US Nuclear Weapons Policy,” despite similar warnings during the Cold War after the dissolution of the USSR the US government learned that it had over, not underestimated the Soviets’ ability to detect US submarines. This will likely hold true in the future as ballistic missile submarines — which are termed “boomers” in US service — continue to grow quieter. “Remember that hawks have been warning about future US SSBNs’ vulnerability to enemy forces since the 1960s, and it has not yet arrived,” Friedman, Preble, and Fay write. “Moreover, the effort needed to achieve such technological progress is unlikely to be instant or unknown to US intelligence.”

In any case, a sudden technological advance that makes ballistic missile submarines much less survivable is no more likely than an extremely unlikely revolution that makes iron-clad ballistic missile defense possible and negates the entire concept of ballistic missiles.

But even if boomers suddenly became much more detectable, would this fatally threaten the deterrence value of a submarine and aircraft nuclear dyad? Imagine a world where, for what ever reason, submarines do not exist (say humans of this alternative reality are literally paralyzed with innate fear of the ocean’s deep).* In this world the naval leg of the nuclear triad are “ballistic missile cruisers” armed with 24 Trident II nuclear missiles, each carrying up to a dozen independent nuclear warheads. Besides being launched from the ocean’s surface rather than underneath it, these missiles are identical to those carried by US and UK SSBNs in our world. Perhaps these cruisers are also nuclear powered, again like SSBNs (the USN has operated CGNs in the past). Strategic deterrent patrols consist of a “cruiser strike group” composed of a ballistic missile cruiser, an air-defense cruiser, and two destroyers. As ballistic missile cruisers would be more affordable than a SSBN, the US Navy fields, say, twenty of them, with two thirds at sea at any given time.

A US nuclear-powered cruiser. Via Wikimedia.

A US nuclear-powered cruiser. Via Wikimedia.

Needless to say, these surface ships would be far more vulnerable than ballistic missile submarines, and in this world America’s nuclear deterrent is less robust. Ships can be tracked from the air or space, and destroyed with anti-ship missiles or other military weapons. The vulnerability of surface ships would create the same “use it or lose it” incentive towards a destabilizing launch on warning stance as land-based ICBMs. These cruisers would also be unable to sneak close to enemy shores to reduce missile flight times, one of the key advantages — or disadvantages, from a global stability perspective — of ballistic missile submarines. Cruisers would also share one of the same trip-wire problem of SSBNs, namely that a counterforce attack on submarines at sea does not carry the same weight (and hands-tying motivation for nuclear response) as one targeting ICBMs based on US territory.**

But would a fleet of ballistic missile cruisers alone constitute a credible deterrence? While far from ideal, I think that it would be. After all, destroying this “surface” leg of a triad would require killing at least a dozen heavily defended ships scattered across the globe, all before the US realized that a coordinated attack on its nuclear forces was underway and responded in kind. After all, the difficulty of pulling this off would be roughly comparable to sinking every US supercarrier more or less simultaneously, something that no one is worried about today. Even for a future adversary armed with intercontinental-range anti-ship ballistic missiles, this would be a difficult task. Certainly one not worth betting millions of lives on.

The point is that even after a sudden revolution in undersea detection that makes US boomers much more vulnerable they would still be more survivable than the ballistic missile cruisers of this alternative world. There will always be an undersea arms race between offense and defense. But this isn’t any reason to fear that submarines will suddenly become more vulnerable, and it certainly isn’t an argument against drawing down the Air Force’s ICBMs.

*Though perhaps in a world without submarines German unrestricted submarine warfare never prompts US entry into World War I, which Germany then wins, an isolated United States is not the first to develop nuclear weapons, and our ballistic missile cruisers belong to the imperial Hochseeflotte…

**This citation specifically references a comment by Tom Nichols; the format of the blog does not allow me to permalink to it directly.

Yes, America Should Eliminate Land-Based ICBMs

By Taylor Marvin

Minuteman III test launch, 2013. USAF photo by Lt. Col. Andy Wulfestieg.

Minuteman III test launch, 2013. USAF photo by Lt. Col. Andy Wulfestieg.

Once again, US Air Force nuclear missile officers are embroiled in scandal. In mid January news — emerging after an investigation into illegal drug use — broke of mid-level launch officers in the 341st Missile Wing cheating, or failing to report cheating, on monthly proficiency exams. These exams test officers’ ability to operate the service’s Minuteman III nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), which are a major component of the United States’ nuclear deterrent. As of January 30th more than half of the nuclear missile crew members at Malmstrom Air Force Base and 20 percent of the Air Force’s nuclear weapons corps were implicated in the scandal though, importantly, the cheating appears driven by a desire to achieve perfect scores amidst a climate of workplace “stress and fear” and not by an actual inability to operate the launch systems. The cheating scandal came in the wake of the October sacking of top “missileer” Maj. Gen. Michael J. Carey, commander the 20th Air Force, after an official trip to Moscow that saw Carey drunkly incoherent in public, flirting with Russian women, and publicly boasting about how he was “saving the world.” Carey also reportedly complained that members of the 20th Air Force, which is responsible for USAF ICBMs, “have the worst morale of any airmen in the Air Force.”

In late January Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel ordered a review of the nuclear force, stressing investigation into “those issues that affect the morale, professionalism, performance, and leadership of the people who make up that force.” Following the scandal Air Force Secretary Deborah Lee James claimed that nuclear missile operations suffer from “systemic problems within the force.” Last year embarrassing reports of failed safety inspections in multiple Missile Wings surfaced, attracting wide media attention.

Those familiar with the Air Force nuclear missile corps allege that it suffers from endemic morale and professionalism problems. While the USAF officer corps has always been famous for an unofficial hierarchy that put first bomber and later fighter pilots at the head of the pack, since the end of the Cold War nuclear launch officers have been near the bottom. With the dissolution of the USSR the threat of nuclear war grew much more distant, and urgency and perceived importance of the USAF nuclear mission diminished. On top of the inherent boredom and hardship of serving on the Air Force’s remote ICBM bases, the less-relevant nuclear missile corps became a dead-end duty for unlucky officers, with many opportunities to fail and few to be rewarded for success.

After this scandal the Air Force will reform its nuclear missile operations, and officers involved will be punished. However, it is unlikely that these reforms will lead to any real change, because this isn’t the first time the standards of the Air Force’s nuclear forces have been called into question. In 2007 an Air Force B-52 bomber flying between North Dakota and Louisiana was accidentally loaded with six live nuclear cruise missiles, with the weapons unaccounted for and unprotected for 36 hours. A later investigation revealed serious problems with the service’s handling of nuclear weapons, with then-Secretary of Defense Robert Gates identifying “structural, procedural, and cultural problems” within the force. In 2008 Secretary of the Air Force Michael Wynne and Chief of Staff of the Air Force General T. Michael Moseley were both asked to resign, and a new Air Force nuclear command was later created. However, the creation of the Air Force Global Strike Command in the wake of the 2007 incident was evidently not enough to ensure the level of professionalism and safety operating nuclear weapons requires.

Secretary Hagel has ordered exploring ways to improve morale and incentivize success within the nuclear forces. Reforms will certainly help, but it is unlikely that this current scandal will permanently change the way the USAF nuclear weapons corps operates because reprisals and reforms do not address the core problem facing the service’s nuclear forces. In the post-Cold War era officers will still see the nuclear weapons corps as an unattractive posting ignored by the wider service and with little opportunity to distinguish themselves outside of exams, breeding complacency and carelessness. Of course, there will always be unpopular duties within the military. But the repeated, systematic failures of the USAF’s approach to nuclear weapons suggests that this is a tough problem, and one that will defy easy solutions.

In fact, these scandals are another good reason to eliminate the Air Force’s ICBM force entirely. ICBMs compose one leg of the US nuclear triad; nuclear bombs and cruise missiles dropped from aircraft and submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) the others. The advantage of SLBMs is that they are the ultimate in second-strike capability — because nuclear ballistic missile submarines (often referred to in US service as “boomers”) are incredibly difficult to detect and destroy, states that field SLBMs (or submarine-launched nuclear-tipped cruise missiles) are guaranteed to be able to respond in kind to, and thus deter, a nuclear attack. During the Cold War it was hoped that the triad, with nuclear missiles split between the Navy’s missile submarines and the Air Force’s hardened ICBM bunkers, would present a more effective deterrent than a two or one-legged nuclear force.

But the entire concept of the nuclear triad owes just as much to interservice rivalries as anything else — the Navy pursued SLBMs in part to ensure they, and not just the Air Force, had a hand in the United States nuclear forces — and after the end of the Cold War many have argued that fielding a full nuclear triad is no longer necessary. Maintaing a massively-redundant nuclear deterrence force is no longer seen as necessary to ensure peace as it once was, and distributing a shrinking number of nuclear warheads across the same three delivery components is an expensive anachronism.

Nuclear weapons launched from aircraft are more flexible than ballistic missiles, and land-based ICBMs will never be nearly as invulnerable as missiles carried on the Navy’s boomers. The counterforce mission Air Force ICBMs were assigned in the late Cold War — launching waves of nuclear warheads at Soviet missile bases in the hopes of destroying their weapons on the ground — is less relevant today, if it ever was at all. If one leg of the triad is to be done away with, the Air Force’s ICBMs are the logical choice.

By all accounts the Navy ballistic missile submarine force does not have the same systematic issues as the Air Force’s nuclear weapons corps. This is likely partially due to institutional factors, but also the nature of operating a nuclear missile submarine — with more to do, boomer crews are apparently more motivated and perceived as more prestigious that the USAF nuclear corps. Institutions can be changed, and institutional rot within the 20th Air Force is not in and of itself a reason to draw down US ICBMs. But when there is already a strong argument for ending the United States’ outdated commitment to an expensive and redundant nuclear triad, well, a string of scandals among those responsible for the planet’s most destructive weaponry doesn’t exactly help.

Note: I should clarify that questions about the “relevance” of the counterforce mission relate to uncertainty about the plausibility of limited or “winnable” nuclear war, and is debatable.

Update: As of February 4th, the Navy is reportedly suffering its own cheating scandal involving its school for nuclear reactor operations. As Sydney J. Freedburg Jr. and Colin Clark report:

Regardless of how much the two service’s experiences may differ, the fact remains that this provides more evidence of what appear to be serious problems in some elements of America’s nuclear forces. While the Air Force’s failings involved those who would fire nuclear weapons and the Navy involves those who deal with reactors, they both involve personnel with intimate knowledge of and access to nuclear materials.

While this scandal appears very distinct from the USAF’s, this news is something to keep an eye on.

Why Does Brazil Operate an Aircraft Carrier?

By Taylor Marvin

Former president Lula aboard the São Paulo. Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/Presidência da República, via Wikimedia.

Then President Lula aboard the São Paulo. Photo by Ricardo Stuckert/Presidência da República, via Wikimedia.

Brazil enjoys the unique position as the only Latin American state to operate an aircraft carrier. The South American giant currently operates a single aircraft carrier, the NAe São Paulo, which is not currently fully operational.* Its fleet of A-4 attack aircraft is antiquated and the ship suffered a major fire in 2012. The Marinha do Brasil hopes to replace the São Paulo, which will likely be retired sometime in the next decade, with two indigenously developed and more capable aircraft carriers, but this effort is only in the preliminary planning stages. Given the budgetary challenges Brazil faces, the general low priority the country assigns its military, and difficulty inherent to developing and building aircraft carriers, it will be at the very least a decade before a new carrier enters service, if the project is approved at all.

At first glance Brazil’s ambition to develop and operate an indigenous aircraft carrier is a puzzle. Fixed-wing aviation carriers are enormously expensive to build and operate. Brazil’s most pressing security concern is policing its vast interior, the country enjoys friendly relations with all of its neighbors, and South America is one of the world’s most stable and democratic regions. Brazil’s defense outlook has historically reflected this enviable situation — while the country has the highest defense spending in absolute terms in the region, at 1.5 percent Brazil’s spending as a percentage of GDP is lower than its BRIC peers. Military spending also comes at the expense of Brazil’s much more serious domestic challenges, like development and infrastructure modernization. So why does Brazil operate the São Paulo, and why does it seek to build at least one future carrier to one day fill its role?

First, Brazil does have some real need for an aircraft carrier. At over 7,000 kilometers Brazil has one of the most extensive coastlines in the world, and with its drive towards offshore energy substantial maritime interests. While the only partially-operation São Paulo’s and its ancient aircraft barely contribute to defending these interests, a future, more capable carrier could operate more capable fighter and anti-submarine aircraft. In addition to projecting power and sea control, carriers’ multipurpose nature and size make them valuable platforms for humanitarian assistance and disaster relief efforts as well.

Secondly, carrier operation is very path dependent; that is, the decision to operate a carrier in the future is highly influenced by whether a navy has and does field one. Brazil acquired its first aircraft carrier, the World War II-era British HMS Vengeance, renamed the NAeL Minas Gerais in Brazilian service, in 1960. The Minas Gerais was retired in 2001, after the larger and more capable São Paulo was commissioned in 2000. It is far easier to naval officers and other interests to successfully lobby for retaining, rather than acquiring, carrier operations. Similarly, retiring a lone carrier without replacement, as Argentina, Australia and others have, is perceived as a greater loss of status than never operating one at all — notably, when Brazil acquired the São Paulo President Fernando Henrique Cardoso stressed the importance of Brazil ‘continuing’ to field a capable blue-water navy. More practically, building the institutional and technical resources required to fly fixed-wing aircraft off a carrier is an enormous investment. Retiring carrier operations means losing this sunk investment as well, since these skills and institutional experience must be constantly maintained. Since Brazil would like to operate at least one carrier in the future, it must operate one today to retain these resources to some degree.

Service of Public Relations of the Navy, via Wikipedia.

Service of Public Relations of the Navy, via Wikipedia.

Most importantly, the “powerful imagery and symbolism of carriers” makes them potent status symbols. In an earlier era nuclear weapons were the ultimate symbol of a state’s global power, and this symbolic draw was expected to drive widespread nuclear proliferation. However, this has largely not occurred. The diplomatic and repetitional costs of acquiring often-unpopular nuclear weapons are so high that many countries capable of developing them have opted not to — including Brazil. Free from these enormous diplomatic costs, today aircraft carriers have in many ways replaced nuclear weapons as the marker of global power, just as dreadnought battleships once were. In addition to the purely symbolic value of the “carrier club,” aircraft carriers allow states to directly participate in multilateral military or humanitarian missions, a practical “buy-in” that gives them greater influence over international bodies and policy. Even for navies unable to routinely operate their carriers, the powerful symbolism of global reach remains.

Of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, all but the UK operate carriers embarking fixed-wing aircraft (the UK will shortly regain this capability). China has gone to considerable trouble to acquire its own former-Soviet carrier, and has begun construction of indigenous flattops. Russia, for its part, has kept its own Admiral Kuznetsov in service, primarily as a status symbol. Of the G4 countries, a mutually-supporting pact by Brazil, Germany, India, and Japan aimed at securing permanent seats on the UN Security Council, only pacifistic Germany does not operate any form of aircraft carrier. In addition to its outdated INS Viraat, India recently commissioned its INS Vikramaditya — based on an extensively refit former Soviet Kiev class aviation cruiser — and hopes to develop indigenous carriers in the future. While reactions to Japan’s helicopter-carriers-in-all-but-name are overblown, the type is a powerful statement of Japan’s commitment to maintaining its preeminent status in a region witnessing a naval arms race.

Finally, fixed-wing carriers are also a military status symbol that among South American countries only Brazil has a hope of operating. While Chile fields the most professional and capable military force in the region and Venezuela operates extremely formidable Russian-manufactured Sukhoi Su-30MK fighter aircraft, only Brazil possesses an aircraft carrier and has the potential to acquire another in the near future. Argentina’s ARA Veinticinco de Mayo, which together with the country’s earlier ARA Independencia were the only carriers operated by another South American country, was largely unseaworthy by the mid-1980s and decommissioned in 1997. Argentina’s economic woes and erratic governance means that it will be uninterested in acquiring another carrier in the foreseeable future, and all other South American states are either too small or too poor to acquire a carrier of their own. For a country interested in cementing its leading position in South America, this uniqueness certainly plays an important role in Brazil’s decision to field its own aircraft carrier.

* Along with the United States and France Brazil is unique in operating a Catapult Assisted Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) carrier, which uses a powerful steam catapult to launch heavy aircraft. All other navies that operate fixed-wing carriers can only fly Short Takeoff Vertical Landing (STOVL) or Short Takeoff But Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) aircraft, which without being flung by a catapult can only takeoff lightly loaded, making STOVL or STOBAR carriers less expensive but also less capable.

Update [8/2/14]: Added the link to John Mueller’s book.  

Gripens to Brazil, Con’t.

By Taylor Marvin

Last week Brazil made the surprise announcement that it would purchase the Saab Gripen NG as part of its FX-2 acquisition program. Defense Industry Daily has a good rundown of the program and the three finalist aircraft involved.

The decision to buy the Swedish aircraft came at the expense of the two other fighters under consideration, the French Dassault Rafale and the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet, and is a major blow to Boeing. Brazilian officials partially attributed the decision to reject the Super Hornet — which was thought the most likely to be adopted — to the revelations by NSA leaker Edward Snowden that the intelligence agency had been intercepting communications by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, high officials, and the Brazilian partially-state-owned energy giant Petrobras. Numerous news outlets repeated the claims, with Foreign Policy writing that “Edward Snowden just cost defense contractor Boeing” “about $4 billion.” The New York Times termed the decision a “snub.”

As I wrote at the time, I doubt that the Brazilian government’s real anger over US espionage played a major role in the decision. First, at $4.5 billion for 36 aircraft the Saab bid was far cheaper than Boeing or Dassault’s, which totaled $7.5 and $8 billion, respectively. Secondly, Brazilian officials also highlighted the importance of technology transfer for both the overall FX-2 program and the decision to purchase the Gripen. In addition to building Brazilian Gripens in Brazil and a possible future profit-sharing partnership with Brazilian aircraft conglomerate Embraer, the single-engine Gripen has far more in common than its rivals with both the Dassault Mirage 2000s Brazil is retiring this month and the class of fighter the country hopes to indigenously develop and market in the future, increasing the practical value of the knowledge and experience gained from operating the Swedish jet. “When the development phase is finished we will have intellectual property about this aircraft, that is, access to everything,” commented the head of the Brazilian Air Force about the Gripen [my translation]. This technology transfer is far more important in Brazil, home to a developed civil and military aircraft industry, than in other countries acquiring foreign aircraft.

Finally, while the Gripen is an advanced and capable aircraft — it was reportedly the favorite of Brazilian pilots — it is not in the same class as the twin-engined Rafale or Super Hornet. The Gripen is roughly half the empty weight of both and can carry less ordnance. This isn’t to say that Brazil’s choice was not justified — it is entirely possible that the country judged the less expensive and less capable Gripen as sufficient for its defense needs. This theory is particularly likely given that before last week’s surprise announcement the FX-2 program’s final selection was thought most likely to be delayed until at least 2015, partially due to the high cost of the Brazilian government’s 2016 Olympics infrastructure spending. If tensions between the US and Brazil had little impact on the decision to select the Gripen, then Brazilian officials are taking the opportunity to make their complaints about US spying carry greater weight by linking them to a costly loss by a US defense contractor.

Additionally, cost isn’t the only reason for Brazil’s selection. A piece by Deutsche Welle Portuguese also suggested that the Gripen’s small size is better suited to future efforts to replace the Brazilian Navy’s outdated A-4 Skyhawk aircraft. “If a different option was chosen, we would not be able to land neither with the F-18 nor the Rafale on our aircraft carrier without major changes… In the case of the Saab, it can be developed with a view on the needs of the existing platform,” said Antonio Jorge Ramalho da Rocha, a Brazilian professor of international relations [my translation]. Indeed, the ability of the Brazilian government to participate in the design of a future Sea Gripen naval variant reportedly influenced the purchase. However, this is still a risky choice. The Brazilian carrier São Paulo is old and not fully operational, and a new, future Brazilian carrier at least over a decade off. Similarly, while operating the same type would offer the Brazilian Força Aerea and Marinha obvious logistical benefits, unlike the Super Hornet and Rafale there is no guarantee that a Sea Gripen variant will ever fly, even — due to the need for multinational funding — if Brazil is enthusiastic about flying Gripens off carriers.

Again, the Saab Gripen NG is an excellent fighter. But Brazilian enthusiasm for the lightweight fighter shouldn’t obscure that the country has made a deliberate choice towards the lowest cost, lower capability option among the FX-2 program’s three finalists. Since Brazil’s most urgent defense needs are internal and sea policing, the country has no pressing foreign security threats, and the Brazilian government faces serious budgetary pressures this choice is a valid one — especially if it contributes to Brazil one day developing and marketing a fighter of its own.

Gripens to Brazil – What Role Did Snowden Play?

By Taylor Marvin

The Saab Gripen NG will be Brazil’s next fast jet. The decision to adopt the Swedish multirole fighter was first reported by the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S.Paulo this morning, and was later confirmed by an official afternoon press conference in the capital. Saab’s victory, which involves “an extensive technology transfer package, a financing package as well as long term bi-lateral collaboration between the Brazilian and Swedish Governments,” comes at the expense of the other two competitors in Brazil’s FX-2 acquisition program, the French Dassault Rafale and the American Boeing F/A-18E/F Super Hornet. Citing the aircraft’s performance, the deal’s technology transfer, and costs, Brazil is now expected to purchase 36 Gripens by 2020, replacing the venerable Dassault Mirage 2000 in the Southern hemisphere’s largest air force.

The selection is big news for Brazilian military aviation, whose FX-2 program has been plagued by delays and missteps. During the 2003-2010 administration of President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva the Gripen’s “Euro-Canard” peer was the favored choice — rare positive news for the Dassualt Rafale, which has struggled to find export sales — before falling from favor due to high costs. After Lula’s successor Dilma Rousseff took office in 2011 the Super Hornet became the apparent favorite, making today’s rejection somewhat of a surprise.

For its part the Brazilian choice of the Gripen instead of the Super Hornet is reportedly due in part to this year’s revelations by Edward Snowden that the National Security Agency had spied on communications by President Rousseff and Brazilian high-level officials and corporations. Brazilian outrage over US espionage has led to tensions unprecedented in the two countries’ recent history and “the NSA problem ruined it for the Americans,” according to an anonymous Reuters source. But how credible are the Brazilian claims that Snowden’s disclosures played a major role in the decision to reject the Super Hornet?

Besides Russia, Brazil has perhaps been the key foreign player in the ongoing Snowden story. Journalist Glenn Greenwald, who published Snowden’s leaks of classified information, is based in Rio de Janeiro and Snowden has requested asylum in Brazil, this week writing an “open letter” to the Brazilian people and offering to help Brazilian counter-espionage efforts. NSA eavesdropping on Rousseff attracted major attention in the Brazilian press and spurred outrage in Brazil, with Rousseff herself canceling a trip to Washington in September. In the highly political world of high-profile defense acquisitions, it is entirely possible that Brazil rejected the American aircraft both as a deliberate snub and to keep its distance from reliance on the American defense industry.

But it is important to take the Brazilian claim that its post-Snowden tensions with the United States are responsible for the rejection of the Boeing bid with a grain of salt. While former President Lula’s administration had favored the Rafale, the Rousseff government cited Dassault’s high price tag — $8 billion overall — as prohibitive. The Saab bid, by contrast, totals $4.5 billion. This reflects the lower capabilities of the single-engine Gripen, which has a 31,000 lb maximum takeoff weight compared to the twin-engine Rafale and Super Bug’s 54,000 lb and 66,000 lb, respectively. While an advanced aircraft, the Gripen is not in the same class as the Rafale or Super Hornet.

Given that the Boeing deal was priced at $7.5 billion for an aircraft far more similar to the Rafale than the Gripen, this suggests that the Super Hornet was rejected for cost or technology transfer issues rather than simply political reasons. Brazil faces no major external threats and enjoys good relations with its neighbors, which is reflected in its erratic and at 1.5 percent of GDP comparatively-low defense spending, lower than its BRIC peers (Brazilian defense spending as a percentage of GDP is neither high nor low by South American standards, though it is far higher in absolute terms). With limited resources and this mild defense outlook, it is entirely plausible that Brazil judged the smaller, lighter, and more affordable Saab Gripen as sufficient for its needs. If this is the case, then comments that Brazilian anger over the Snowden revelations influenced the decision are most likely an opportune jab at America.

Regional Powers, Carriers, and “State Yachts”

By Taylor Marvin

Photo by Flickr user Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias, via Wikimedia.

Photo by Flickr user Jose Luis Cernadas Iglesias, via Wikimedia.

Does Angola want to purchase the former Spanish aircraft carrier Príncipe de Asturias? A recent piece by veteran defense reporter David Axe suggests that Angola may be interested in acquiring the STOVL carrier decommissioned from Spanish service early this year, but the rumors are probably untrue. Axe concludes that “no, this does not make a lot of sense,” and notes that the carrier would require nearly all of the Angolan Navy’s manpower to operate. The piece is sourced to the Portuguese-language defense blog Pássaro de Ferrowhich in turn cites a report in the Spanish newspaper El ConfidencialPássaro de Ferro claims that the carrier — which would otherwise be scrapped — may be sold to Angola as part of an acquisition that would also include four Spanish patrol vessels and would be refitted in Spain, though the piece admits that the news has not been confirmed by official sources. El Confidencial bases the story on the reported visit by two Angolan admirals to Spain to inspect the ship, but also acknowledges that Spanish Navy spokespeople have not commented on any potential sale.

However, Axe does point out that the overly-ambitious acquisition by Angola — a country of 20 million — would be “consistent with the country’s ongoing re-armament, which also includes a squadron of Russian-made heavy jet fighters formerly used by India.”

Robert Farley dismisses the story as “too crazy to be true,” but admits that “watching Angola build not only a navy but also a naval aviation branch from scratch would be remarkably interesting.” In the comments on Farley’s piece many note that the Angolan government is flush with oil revenue, which may lead it to judge itself capable of operating a carrier. In particular, commenter LFC of the IR blog Howl at Pluto writes that “this acquisition (if the story is accurate) is not as insane or unlikely as R. Farley suggests … Rulers and [governments] care about status, and weapons — even if operated on a somewhat token basis due to shortage of trained personnel etc. — continue to confer status.” While given the story’s uncertainty I agree that Angola is unlikely to actually acquire and operate the Príncipe de Asturias, LFC has a point. Aircraft carriers are potent status symbols, and for many regional powers — especially those not operating within a capable military alliance — the draw of acquiring a carrier is this symbolic value, rather than any real capability gain. If these countries are interested in defending their maritime interests, it makes far more sense to invest in submarines rather than second-hand Western carriers, which are optimized towards power projection. But submarines are — literally — far less visible than carriers. For governments seeking to solidify their status as widely-recognized emerging powers, this visibility is very important.

Several countries have acquired aircraft carriers despite lacking the financial and institutional resources to operate them effectively. As Axe cites in his piece, since the late 1990s Thailand has struggled to routinely operate its carrier flagship Chakri Naruebet, itself based on the Príncipe de Asturias. Similarly, in 2000 Brazil acquired the former French carrier Foch, renamed in Brazilian service the São Paulo. However, as another piece by Axe notes, Brazil has found the São Paulo challenging to operate. After two major fires, the ship’s “effectiveness is extremely limited,” according to Warships International Fleet Review — mirroring Brazil’s experience with its previous carrier Minas Gerais, which was unable to operate fixed-wing aircraft for a significant period of its later career.  (It is worth noting that with a GDP comparable to both the UK and France, Brazil likely could invest in gaining the institutional skills to effectively operate a more capable carrier, if it chose to do so. However, Brazil’s defense spending is lower than both the UK and France, both in total spending and as a percentage of GDP, and indeed lower than other BRIC countries.)

Like the Russian Admiral Kuznetsov, both Thailand and Brazil’s aircraft carriers are far more important as status symbols than as practical military assets. In Brazil and Thailand’s case, neither of these countries are interested in actually projecting power, and Thailand’s carrier is often disparaged as a “royal yacht” due to its frequent duties transporting the Thai royal family. While this purpose is less blatantly visible elsewhere, other regional powers’ carrier aspirations are similarly best thought of as “state yachts” — expensive, high profile status symbols whose prestige is far greater than their military capabilities. While Angola may or may not be interested in acquiring the Príncipe de Asturias, I think it is reasonable to assume that many navies in the developing world will seek to acquire and operate carriers in the years to come, if for prestige alone. Given the challenges of naval aviation, this is likely to be a bloody process.

Bureaucratic Barriers and Local Knowledge

510px-CIA.svgBy Taylor Marvin

Writing in The American Conservative, former CIA officer Philip Giraldi strongly criticizes the “cultural ignorance” hampering US foreign policy and security agencies. Rotating assignments and an obsession with leakers and “insider threats” that discourages hiring first or second-generation Americans with foreign language and cultural skills have left American foreign policy, Giraldi writes, bereft of local knowledge and an understanding of alien societies. While American-born practitioners with deep local knowledge do exist “they are largely absent from government,” and counterproductively “organizations like the Foreign Service and the Central Intelligence Agency have a deep institutional prejudice against their employees ‘going native,’ rotating officers every two or three years to avoid someone’s becoming too identified with local interests and cultures.”

Giraldi’s argument is reminiscent of Rory Stewart’s essay “The Plane to Kabul” in the book Can Intervention Work?, co-written with Gerald Knaus. In the essay Steward, like Giraldi, argues that Western governments are unable to effectively carry out state-building and counterinsurgency missions because they lack the number of dedicated specialists necessary to truly understand the cultures these missions operate within. Steward even draws the same comparison to British Imperial administration as Giraldi; as both note, British colonial administrators were, in Giraldi’s words “expected to go out to foreign posts for extended periods, to learn the local language, and to acquire an understanding of the indigenous culture.” Today, this is not the case. As Steward extensively argues, few administrators involved in the multinational mission in Afghanistan can match the local knowledge British colonial officials once commanded. Casualty aversion restricts aid workers, diplomats, and administrators’ ability to travel through Afghanistan and meaningfully interact with locals, and few practitioners are fluent in Afghanistan’s languages. Unlike the British colonial administrators who would spend their entire career in the colonies, today’s practitioners in Afghanistan typically spend little time in the country and rotate out frequently, creating a “lack of continuity” that, quoting Stewart, makes political work difficult “because it stopped the development of trusting relationships with Afghan leaders.”

Both Giraldi and Stewart stress that many US governmental agencies and Western NGOs minimize the career value of acquiring regionally-specific knowledge and languages. The consulting culture embraced by both American governmental agencies and development NGOs, Stewart argues, emphasizes universal principles like conflict resolution, developmental economics, or public administration rather than specific knowledge grounded in local realities. Similarly, Giraldi notes that the CIA officers often do not possess advanced language and cultural skills due to the likelihood that they will soon be tasked with work on another region. “Senior Agency officers, who are disproportionately minimally language capable, generally excuse themselves by arguing ‘an op is an op is an op,’ meaning that spying is not culture specific.” But while this institutional generalist focus might be counterproductive, it is also somewhat understandable: individual practitioners and the organizations they work for have an incentive to stress universal skills that remain in demand when attention moves on from one crisis region to another.

9780393342246_CanInterventionWork_PB.inddIn a reaction to Stewart’s essay, I challenged the idea that the lack of local knowledge Stewart rightly sees as hampering the effort in Afghanistan can be remedied by future “smart” interventions benchmarked around preexisting country-specific knowledge. The British colonial administrators both Stewart and Giraldi approvingly cite could commit themselves to acquiring a career’s worth of local knowledge because they had good reason to believe that the British Empire, and perhaps more importantly the job they’d spent decades training for, would exist by the end of their career. This logic is no longer the case. Indeed, the modern strain of liberal intervention is explicitly benchmarked around the idea that crisis areas can be stabilized by the application of military force and subsequent state-building efforts, again explicitly establishing that, if successful, intervention does not create permanent employment for specialists. Of course, this does not mean that there will not always be a need for dedicated regional specialists — but successfully prosecuting limited-term military interventions obviously requires a temporarily larger cadre of these specialists. There’s simply no way to avoid this surge problem in anything but the most-limited military interventions. While Arabic is a major global language and the Middle East will remain a focus for American foreign policy, there is already a perception among career-minded students that learning Arabic is no longer as useful as it was a decade ago.

Given the time horizon inherent in liberal interventionism, military officers, State Department staffers, and NGO workers have less incentive to heavily invest themselves in acquiring the local skills that will be in less demand in the future. While acquiring these skills will not hurt young practitioners’ future prospects per se, they do carry heavy opportunity costs. Unless an individual practitioner or organization is very dedicated to a specific region, and can count on being promoted on that dedication, it is better to invest in more universal skills without a built-in shelf life — those that justify the believe that ‘an op is an op is an op.’

The problem is that there is no obvious means of addressing the institutional cultural ignorance that both Giraldi and Stewart detail. Of course, Giraldi’s smaller-scale focus on the lack of local skills within American intelligence agencies and the Foreign Service can be in part remedied by focusing less on insider threats and overcoming the so-called institutional prejudice against “going native”. But as long as the American government is tasked with operating in nearly all world regions, it will have trouble finding enough specialists to support ramping up intelligence, military, or even development activity in any given one. Even if practitioners within intelligence agencies or — no less importantly — the wider foreign policy industry are not rotated from specialization to specialization, in-demand regions will shift. Again, it isn’t unreasonable to suspect that the US foreign policy establishment will require less Arabic speakers in the future than in the 2000s, and people make decisions about which skills to acquire based on these expectations.

The problem isn’t only that bureaucratic disincentives make it difficult for organizations to acquire the locally-knowledgable practitioners necessary for state-building or counterinsurgency to work. Stewart stresses that decisions in favor of military interventions should be based on “detailed, country-specific arguments” that do or do not suggest that a successful intervention is possible. But while military interventions may be wars of choice, their locations are not. The United States did not choose to strike Afghanistan in 2001; it was forced to take action by an unprovoked and largely unpredictable attack. While it was not forced to embark on a state-building mission or even to invade Afghanistan, again it is not clear that this was a really a choice at all — as many have noted, the United States cannot realistically smash foreign government and then entirely absolve itself of the unpleasant consequences. While other examples of military interventions may be less dramatic and less costly, the same logic applies. France may have lobbied for military action in Libya and later Mali, but it did not “choose” the events that prompted calls to intervene. This inherent uncertainty about where calls for military interventions will occur makes it difficult to preserve the deep institutional bench of country specialists required to wisely implement policy — and “smart” strategies that rely on their availability problematic. Even when potential crises are suspected, this knowledge is often not enough to prompt bureaucracies to foster the relevant language and cultural skills: as I previously relayed, while the UK knew through the 1970s that Argentina aspired to take the Falkland Islands (though they did not deem it likely), during the war British forces included very few Spanish speakers.

Of course the decision to militarily intervene should be based on specific local knowledge, and an honest assessment about whether military and civil organizations can acquire skilled practitioners quickly enough and in sufficient quantities to be effective. But given the bureaucratic barriers to maintaining a deep bench of specialized practitioners, many potential intervention efforts will not be able to leverage the human capital effectively prosecuting them requires.

Update: Edited for clarity. 

Review: The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate

By Taylor Marvin

The A-10 Thunderbolt II is one of the world’s most fascinating combat aircraft. Dubbed the “Warthog”, both lovingly and disparagingly, for its unique appearance, the A-10 was designed as a purpose-built aircraft uncompromisingly dedicated to Close Air Support (CAS), or supporting ground troops in direct contact with enemy forces. CAS has a controversial history within the US military because the mission can arguably be best performed by either the Air Force or the Army; while the Air Force is traditionally tasked with land-based fixed-wing aviation, effective close air support required close coordination with the Army’s ground troops. The Air Force has traditionally been accused of neglecting CAS in favor of the more glamourous air superiority and strategic bombing missions, and the service’s A-10 grew out of a complicated and protracted late-1960s bureaucratic struggle over the future of CAS pitting the Air Force against the Army’s claim that advanced helicopter gunships could fill the hole left by the service’s — in their minds — obvious neglect in the mission. This interservice rivalry and the increasingly-dangerous projected Cold War battlefield resulted in the A-10, a slow, heavily armed and armored aircraft armed with a massive, devastating gun.

51R1Q29YPVL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Douglas N. Campbell’s 2003 book The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate (which I read after the book was noted by Robert Farley) is an excellent history of the A-10, and more broadly the postwar American debate over the best means of providing CAS and which service should fill the role. Campbell takes time to lay out the history of American CAS, beginning with the enormously successful WWII-era P-47, designed as an air-to-air fighter, that convinced the soon-to-be US Air Force that multirole aircraft were the best answer to the CAS mission. This perception was only strengthened by the Eisenhower-era “New Look” defense outlook, which stressed nuclear deterrence and the high-tech, high-flying strategic bombers and air-superiority fighters that the Air Force brass favored. During the Vietnam War relations between the Army and Air Force became more and more strained as the Air Force’s favored fast jets’ high speed, lack of maneuverability, and high fuel consumption made them unsuitable for the CAS mission. As helicopter gunships came into their own, the Army — prohibited from operating most fixed-wing aircraft — came to believe that its advanced AH-56 Cheyenne helicopter concept could provide the answer to the CAS question.

The A-10 was the Air Forces answer to criticisms that it was unprepared to fulfill the need for CAS. Recalling some aspects of contemporary procurement, the A-X program, the forerunner of the A-10, began as a Vietnam-influenced concept primarily dedicated to counterinsurgency, but as the war in Southeast Asia wound down and the US military refocused on the European theater the A-X’s mission shifted to killing Soviet tanks. Unlike previous efforts to realize the CAS role through multirole aircraft also capable of air-to-air combat or bombing missions, the A-10 was entirely dedicated to CAS. Its straight wings and engines made it slow, but also gave it superb low-speed maneuverability and the ability to loiter above battlefields for extended periods, abilities appreciated by ground forces that fast jets were incapable of. Heavily armored and designed to be as survivable as possible, the A-10 could take hits that would kill other aircraft.

But in the 1980s the A-10’s role was once again called into question. The Army, freshly armed with the AH-64 Apache attack helicopter that replaced the cancelled Cheyenne, now felt that the A-10 was less necessary, and the Air Force had decided that multirole F-16 could be a more versatile — and, importantly in some eyes, more glamourous — replacement for the Warthog. While most modern observers now dismiss proposals that the fast, multirole F-16 could replace the specialized A-10, it is important to remember that the Air Force had real concerns over the slow A-10’s ability to survive in the face of increasingly-capable air defense systems, and folding the CAS mission into the F-16 fleet would simplify the service’s maintenance, logistics, and training. As Greg Goebel notes in his excellent history of the A-10:

“While the military has its fair share of dumb SOBs, it also has its fair share of sensible and competent people, and the CAS issue was one in which good people could differ: What you see depends on where you stand.”

The Air Force has a long history of favoring multirole aircraft that ultimately proved unsuited to the CAS mission. But the argument that the A-10 would not survive the European war Air Force officers of the late-1980s were preparing for is not in and of itself unreasonable, and importantly it’s a question we’ll never know the answer to. However, the Air Force’s “A-16” proposal never progressed, and the A-10 famously served through the Gulf War and into the 21st century.

Image via Wikimedia.

Image via Wikimedia.

The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate focuses on the aircraft’s procurement, rather than combat, history, and contains relatively little description of the aircraft itself. But Campbell’s book is a fascinating look at the politics of military procurement and interservice rivalries, as well as how individual aircraft influence institutional behavior. Campbell’s most important insight is that the A-10’s dedicated single-role mission, rather than the aircraft itself, is its most important feature. Even if the Air Force could somehow adopt a multirole fighter as perfectly suited to the CAS mission as the A-10, pilots would inevitably spend less time training for close air support as other missions competed for their time and attention, an argument with particular relevance to discussions over the ability of the multirole F-35 to replace the A-10 in the CAS role.

Campbell includes many amusing anecdotes as well, including a McNamara Office of the Secretary of Defense staffer (Pierre Sprey, who bizarrely seems to have recorded the chorus sampled in the Kanye West song Jesus Walks) who left a short stint at Grumman Aircraft because “it would be twenty years before they let me design an aileron” and then played a pivotal role in the early A-X program: in Campbell’s words, “as a brilliant and energetic participant who helped ensure that the plane’s design remained practical, he influenced more than an airplane aileron’s construction.” Referencing the Army’s perception that the A-10 existed only to kill their beloved Cheyenne attack helicopter concept, Campbell relays an 1968 Armed Forces Journal cartoon showing

“a winged tank sitting behind a ‘Tactical Air Command’ sign. An Air Force general glares at the craft, while a subordinate says to him, ‘No sir General it won’t fly, but it will sure scare the hell out of the Army!”

The A-10’s unconventional appearance and slow speed also inspired its share of jokes: “What’s the speed indicator on an A-10? A calendar.”

Also mentioned is fascinating obscure trivia from the A-X program. Early in the program mounting a recoilless rifle was studied — which if adopted would have produced a far different aircraft — the A-X program was one of the first to be decided in a competitive flyoff since the 1950s, and the Army consistently referred to helicopter CAS as “direct fire support” to keep its options open by preserving the rational for the Cheyenne while also acknowledging that improved USAF CAS capability would be nice.

The book’s main shortcoming is its brevity. Campbell covers the flyoff between the Northrop A-9 and the winning Fairchild Republic A-10 in only a few pages, and in particular devotes little time to the engineering decisions led to each prototype’s differing design schemes. While Campbell briefly discusses foreign CAS, notably the IDF’s experience, more information would be valuable to contextualizing the American CAS debate. Additionally, the book’s scope is limited by its 2003 publication date: Campbell covers the post-Gulf War period only in the book’s conclusion. Today the debate over the future of CAS is dominated by questions over drones, the ability of advanced precision-guided munitions to allow non-tradition aircraft to fly CAS, and the real-world capabilities of the F-35, which is intended to fill the A-10s CAS shoes. Given The Warthog’s publication date, Campbell is unable to discuss these questions. Despite this, The Warthog and the Close Air Support Debate is a fascinating book, and is recommended for anyone interested in the A-10, military procurement, and interservice politics.