Wright from Washington City
September 26, 2018


The moribund U.S. Empire
Watch out:
Russia can defend itself




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PAUL CRAIG ROBERTS HAS BEEN sounding the tocsin for some time about the continuing decline of the United State. In a recent column, "The United States Is a Dead Man Walking," he rants about the feminization of America, the continuing stranglehold of the Neo-Trots and the military-industrial complex, the absolute corruption of Minitrue, and the latest attempt by Donald Trump's traitorous Neo-Trot foreign-policy aides to embroil his regime in Syria. Roberts warns about the possibility of a resulting military confrontation with Russia, and hints that things might go much worse for the U.S. in such circumstances than most Americans think:

... [T]he Russian military, if not the Russian government, understands that at this late stage in the game, Russia cannot back down without being inundated with massive provocations as the price of its rectitude. This is why there is an armada of Russian navy off the coast of Syria armed with Russia's new hypersonic missiles against which the US has no defense whatsoever. If it comes to a conflict, it is the Russian government's choice alone whether any US ship will still be afloat.

The Russian military also has its newest aircraft, far superior to the American junk, armed with the hypersonic missiles. A Russian / Washington showdown in Syria means a humiliating military defeat for Washington.

So, is he right? Could the Russians, whose military is far smaller than that of the United State, defeat U.S. forces? The answer, surprisingly, is a qualified yes. The reasons have to do with the two empires' approach to war.

First of all, the Russians obviously can't win a war against the U.S. and thus have no incentive to attack it. Their goal is to cause so much damage to the enemy that it's not worth it to attack them. Defense, in other words. But a confrontation with Russia in which the U.S. was fought to a stalemate and took substantial losses would constitute a conspicuous, humiliating defeat for an Empire that relies on bullying and intimidation to maintain its power.

Second, here's the thing about Russian weapons. They are designed and built to deal with actual threats. Unlike U.S. weapons, they are not built for "power projection" — that is, threatening and beating up on small, helpless countries — or to placate corrupt politicians and make their defense-contractor clients rich on the back of the taxpayers. Russian weapons companies are owned by the state. Weapons doctrine has always been very utilitarian: make your weapon cheap, tough, hard to break, and easy to maintain under battlefield conditions. But most of all, make it effective.

For example, the Russians do not build expensive aircraft carriers. The Soviets flirted with the idea, but wound up building a small number of ships that were more like heavily armed cruisers with a few airplanes and helicopters. They built, and the Russians still build, for defense: ships and planes that carry big and very fast cruise missiles designed to sink U.S. Navy ships from a distance. They have classes of submarines that carry large anti-ship missiles instead of torpedoes, any one of which can blow a huge hole in a warship, and any two of which could sink it. [1] Also carrying such missiles are the latest Tu 95 Bear bomber, the Tu 22M Backfire, and the Tu 160 Blackjack, which looks a little like a B-1 but is much bigger, longer-range, and more powerful.

Because of its obsession with aircraft carriers, reminiscent of 1930s navies' concentration on obsolete battleships, the United State doesn't have anything to compare to those Russian weapons. U.S. doctrine depends on aircraft based on the large, vulnerable carriers to carry out the same mission. And most other U.S. surface combat ships are designed to protect the all-important carriers. Thus U.S. anti-ship missiles are at least a generation behind, and most Navy ships carry only a few, anyway. The Russian approach is to fire so many of them at once, from different launchers on ships, planes, land, and submarines, that some of them will get through. In such a scenario, the U.S. side has to worry about taking out many relatively small attackers coming from different directions, many of which the enemy can lose and still succeed. The Russian side has only one main target, the loss of which will cripple the enemy. Think about the reaction at home if the United State lost a $10 billion Nimitz-class carrier, home to 6,000 officers and men (and, of course, women), to a missile that cost perhaps a couple of million.

That possibility became even more real with the recent deployment of the Kinzhal, an air-launched ballistic anti-ship missile that the Russians claim has a range of more than 1,200 miles, a speed of Mach 10 (nearly 8,000 mph), and high evasive maneuverability. If that's true, nothing the U.S. Navy has can defend against it. And it wouldn't need much of a warhead to do serious damage to an aircraft carrier: the kinetic energy alone would be enough to cause a huge explosion as it was converted into heat.

The missile is launched from the huge, fast MiG 31 long-range interceptor, which is equipped with a monster radar-targeting system, or from the even longer-range Tu 22M Backfire. Either plane could extend the range of the missile to the point where a carrier battle group would be unable to get close enough for its own airplanes to be effective.

The effect of both this development and the deployment by China of two land-launched anti-ship ballistic missiles, with ranges of up to 2,500 miles, is to make the Empire's 11 hugely expensive carriers (the new Ford class carrier costs $13 billion, and its airplanes another $5 to $6 billion) and their escorting ships next to useless in a confrontation with either power.

Remember: the Empire's most important, expensive, and symbolic weapon is one whose loss it cannot actually risk in battle, because the sinking of even one would be a catastrophe on the order of 9/11.

Another example of daunting weaponry is Russia's warplanes, most notably the Sukhoi Su 27 family of fighters and bombers, and the ground-attack Su 25. Unlike the latest U.S. fighters, the F-22 and the spectacularly expensive and defect-ridden F-35, the Sukhois are apparently tough, low maintenance, and effective. Their performance in Russia's efforts to support Assad's regime in Syria against ISIS and Al Qaeda insurgents (who were secretly supported by Washington) surprised Western observers: they were able to fly about three times the number of missions in a given time as expected.

Unlike their most recent Western counterparts, the Russian planes do not carry stealth technology. Russia did develop a stealth fighter, the Su 57, but has decided for the present not to spend huge amounts of money to deploy it. The reason may be Russian skepticism over the utility of costly stealth technology. They have discovered that stealth planes are not invisible to long-wave radar of the kind that they deploy. That does not mean that they can track and target stealth planes with those radars: long-wave radars offer very low resolution. But the radars do make it possible to point other means of detection and tracking, such as infra-red detectors, in the right direction. [2] And the same coating that helps make the planes stealthy also tends to heat up much more than regular paint in flight, making them into infra-red beacons. Refinements to radar technology by the Russians and Chinese may also be making stealth technology much less stealthy.

The latest U.S. fighters depend on their stealth to allow them to see their enemies before they are seen, and engage them from a distance. Russian fighters are able to engage at long distances, too, and their air-to-air missiles are considered the best. At closer quarters, the odds turn to the Russians. Shaping an aircraft for stealth compromises its flying characteristics. The Sukhoi 27, 33, and 35 fighters are much more agile and heavily armed than the U.S. stealth planes, and more agile even than the earlier conventional F-15, F-18, and F-16 still operated in substantial numbers. If stealth is not all it's cracked up to be, the U.S. planes may be at a big disadvantage, especially if they are unable to stay in the air for many missions because of comparative fragility or high maintenance requirements.

In any case, Russia has been marshaling its limited resources where it thinks they will do the most good. Its anti-aircraft technology is considered far superior to that of the West; its latest ground-to-air missiles may be able to deny the use of the skies to U.S. planes. And in March 2018 Vladimir Putin announced a new generation of six high-tech weapons specifically designed to counter U.S. capabilities. One was the above-mentioned Kinzhal missile. Others were a nuclear-powered hypersonic cruise missile of unlimited range — meaning it can fly around the world for days before hitting its target from any direction — and a highly advanced nuclear-armed ICBM. Another is a maneuverable hypersonic warhead for that ICBM that promises to defeat any attempts to shoot it down. Russia already has a 200-mph rocket-powered long-range torpedo that can carry a nuclear warhead, and is reported to be working on one even more formidable. Moreover, it and China are both reputedly developing anti-AWACS missiles specifically designed to knock out the radar surveillance and control aircraft the U.S. Navy and Air Force depend on to direct fighter aircraft to their targets. These guys really don't fool around.

Meanwhile, the U.S. is wasting money on disasters such as the F-35 and other expensive weapons that don't work and/or require high levels of maintenance, but make contractors rich and congressorganisms happy. The Russians say that their weapons are designed to work and keep working under combat conditions, not to be fancy boutique items like U.S. weapons.

To complicate matters, morale in the Russian armed forces is apparently excellent. Putin has presided over a national recovery from the collapse of the Yeltsin years, and national pride is very high, as is Putin's popularity. The armed forces, much like those of the Germans after the Great War, seem to have embraced the flexibility and inventiveness that can result from starting over from scratch. And facing an obviously implacable enemy in the U.S.'s Neo-Trot-controlled foreign policy has apparently proven highly motivating to the Russian military.

Russia continues to insist on going its own way, refusing to knuckle under to U.S. bullying. Its frustration of the U.S. effort to bring down Syria's Assad is one example. Along with China, which promises become the dominant superpower in the next 40 years or so, it is quietly building a network of diplomatic, finance, and trade relationships with a world that is becoming fed up with the arrogant domination of the United State. It is developing a financial clearing system independent of SWIFT, the U.S.-controlled one that makes it possible for the Empire to freeze or confiscate Russian funds. It is hoped that it will one day make Russia and other countries immune to U.S. financial blackmail. Furthermore, Russia is participating in China's Belt and Road Initiative, also known as the Iron Silk Road, which seeks to tie Asia and Europe together with a continuous rail network, opening up overland trade to the interior and tying Europe to Russia and China. Such a network would be unsusceptible to interference from the U.S. Navy, and its implications for continued U.S. dominance in Europe are ominous.

All this hardly touches on the rise of China, which, despite massive state corruption and financial abuses, continues to develop at an alarming rate. Its determination not to be pushed around by the U.S. Empire is, if anything, even stronger than that of Russia: it is beginning to push back, most notably against U.S. interference in the South China Sea. And it is using its growing wealth to finance a huge expansion of its armed forces, especially its navy.

Roberts is right: the writing is on the wall for the United State. The best it can hope for is a slow, peaceful decline. But our rulers appear to have other plans. Ω

September 26, 2018

© 2018 David T. Wright
Published in 2018 by WTM Enterprises.

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1. The U.S. Navy finally got around to deploying cruise-missile submarines in 2004 when they converted some older Ohio-class doomsday ballistic missile subs to carry Tomahawk cruise missiles instead. Those are formidable vessels, very quiet and hard to kill, but the Tomahawks are inferior in performance to the Russian cruise missiles, and easier to shoot down.

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2. The Russians have apparently been spending a lot of resources on developing infra-red detection and tracking capabilities: their latest MiGs and Sukhois have large, conspicuous IR tracking devices installed. Infra-red devices have limitations, however. Their angle of view is very narrow; thus they require some kind of general vector information to point them in the right direction (long-wave radar, perhaps?). They can be "spoofed" with flares, and clouds, rain, and other factors can reduce their range substantially. So they are definitely not a perfect solution. (On the other hand, rain substantially reduces the extravagantly costly B-2 "stealth" bomber's radar stealthiness, to the point that it cannot carry out its mission.)

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