Military Defense News: Russia’s Lethal New Kalina Class Submarine


Russia is set to start construction of its new Kalina-class diesel-electric submarine after the last two Lada-class vessels are completed. The Project 677 Lada-class—which Moscow is terminating after three units are completed—has proven to be a disappointment.

“The two Lada-class Project 677 submarines will be delivered as scheduled — in 2018 and 2019,” a spokesman for United Shipbuilding Corporation told RIA Novosti. “Then the construction of the new non-nuclear Kalina-class submarines will be launched.”

Separately, deputy Russian Navy commander Vice Adm. Alexander Fedotenkov told Rossiya 24 that construction of the new submarines would start shortly. “These are new-generation submarines. They are currently being developed,” Fedotenkov said. “The construction of these submarines will start in the imminent future.”

Not much is known about the Kalina-class except that Moscow intends to equip the new vessels with an air independent propulsion (AIP) system. Russia’s current Kilo and sole Lada-class vessels do not currently incorporate an AIP—which has already become standard on Western diesel boats.

Moscow had planned to equip the Lada-class with an AIP, but those plans seem to have been dropped. The TASS new agency notes that while Russia has been working on an AIP for years, plans to equip the Lada with the new system have come to naught.

Read the Original Article at National Interest

Military History: The Russo-Japanese War Brought Rapid Fire Weapons to the World


The 1904 conflict foreshadowed bloodier events

The Russo-Japanese War commenced 112 years ago this February, lasting 18 months before a U.S.-brokered truce mercifully put it to rest. The war killed upwards of 125,000 people, and sharply limited Russian influence in Northeast Asia. Japan gained control of Korea and a long-term foothold for influencing events in Manchuria and China.

Writers have ascribed many legacies to the conflict, some of which we can set aside. Victory against Japan probably would not have prevented the collapse of Imperial Russia and the founding of the Soviet Union; the revolution happened for other reasons.

Moreover, the conflict did not give the Central Powers a “window of opportunity” for defeating Russia in Europe; we now know that Vienna and Berlin over-estimated, rather than under-estimated, Russian power in 1914.

Defeat might conceivably have broken Japanese militarism for a time, but the weakness of China and of the European colonial empires would likely have proven too tempting for Tokyo in any case.

Still, the Russo-Japanese War may indeed have been a “regional” conflict, but Northeast Asia is a remarkably important region, home to three of the largest economies of the 21st century. The war set the terms upon which Russia, China, Korea and Japan would contest control of the region over the course of the 20th century.

The conflict also had important legacies for the conduct of war. The power of conscripts and rapid-fire weapons would prefigure the experience of 20th century land combat, while fighting between “castles of steel,” would lend key lessons for naval planners in both world wars.


The politics of Northeast Asia

The waning power of the Qing dynasty in the 19th century set the state for Russo-Japanese conflict in Northeast Asia. Although Japanese success at sea was not replicated to the same extent on land, the Japanese victory did place stark limits on the extent of Russian power in the Pacific.

Even after the Soviets won a decisive victory over Japan at Khalkin Gol, and crushed the Kwantung Army in the waning days of World War II, circumstances prevented permanent territorial aggrandizement. Had the Russians maintained their position in Asia in 1905, this might have turned out much differently.

With the collapse of the Qing Dynasty in 1911, and the ensuing collapse of the Chinese state, China was unable to resist foreign encroachments upon its territory. Fortunately for China, Russia remained in such disorder that it could not take advantage to its own territorial aggrandizement, and in any case Japanese power held Russia in check.

Japan, however, took advantage of Chinese disorder.

In 1931 the Japanese Kwantung Army occupied Manchuria and declared it independent of China, installing the last emperor of the Qing dynasty in what became Manchukuo. Neither Communist nor Nationalist Chinese forces had the strength the contest this move, but the Soviet invasion of August 1945 quickly annihilated the Kwantung Army.

Rather than maintain Manchukuo as a Soviet satellite, the Russians looted it, then used it to bolster the position of the People’s Liberation Army. In 1949, the Chinese Communist Party took control of most of China, including Manchuria but not including either Taiwan or Mongolia.

Had Russia prevailed in 1905, then either Russia or the Soviet Union, instead of Japan, might well have detached Manchuria, just as the Soviets detached Mongolia. Under such circumstances, it’s unlikely that any Chinese government would have been able to recover the territory; the Soviet Union was in no mood for reparations in 1945.

Whether incorporated directly into Russia or simply into the Soviet sphere, Manchuria might now remain politically separated from the rest of China. Conversely, a Korea more capable of playing Russian influence off Japanese might have been able to retain its independence.

Of course, much remains unknowable. A defeated Japan might have taken advantage of the opportunity provided by the collapse of the Russian Empire in 1918 to seize what it could not take in 1904. Even this, however, might have produced a different configuration of power in Northeast Asia than eventually held.

VladimirMonomakh&Pamyat'Azova1895ZhifuThe Russian cruisers Vladimir Monomakh and Pamyat’ Azova. Wikimedia photos

Decisive naval battle

Fought in late May, 1905, the Battle of Tsushima remains the great battle of annihilation of the steam age, and possibly the single greatest naval victory of all time.

Adm. Heihachiro Togo’s decision to offer battle at Tsushima remains an unremarked-upon curiosity. The Russian fleet was, in numbers, considerably superior to the Japanese, and in the technology of its most advanced ships qualitatively equal. The first rate Russian battleships were of modern design, and the Russian 12-inch gun well regarded, even at long ranges.

To be sure, Togo had major advantages. His ships were well drilled, and his sailors in top condition. The Russian squadron had endured a series of traumatic adventures in its interminable journey around Eurasia, and wasn’t in fighting shape. Nevertheless, offering battle represented a real risk. A single well-placed shot could have destroyed one of Togo’s battleships, probably tipping the result inexorably in the Russian favor.

Moreover, it’s unclear what precisely the Russian fleet could have done to change the verdict of the war.

The geographic situation strongly favored Japan, as the Russian fleet could only disrupt communications if it deployed in force. Otherwise, Togo could destroy it piecemeal. The Russians could have raided Japan or harassed the Japanese fishing fleet, but without a proximate base could neither have forced battle nor prevented Japan from supplying and augmenting its fielded forces on the mainland.

Nevertheless, Togo forced battle on the exhausted Russian fleet, and used two major advantages to great effect.

The speed and coherence of the Japanese line allowed it to conduct what has become known as the “Togo Turn,” a maneuver which crossed the Russian “T” and effectively allowed the Japanese to double up on the lead Russian warships. The most powerful Russian battleships were destroyed in echelon, while the Japanese tracked down most of the escapees the next day.

In addition to its military impact, the victory had a great morale effect, serving as an international signal of Japan’s prowess, and Russia’s decay. The defeated Russian admiral was treated as a hero by opponents of the Czar, who argued that the corrupt, incompetent Russian government had needlessly sent thousands of brave young men to their deaths.

Whatever its effect on the war, Tsushima was enormously influential abroad.

In the short term, this accelerated the trend towards fast, all-big-gun battleships. In the longer term, it helped ensconce the idea of a single, decisive battle in the minds of naval theorists and practitioners. A concentrated Japanese fleet had prevailed over a concentrated Russian fleet through superior tactics and training, completely destroying the latter in the process. The victory left Russia effectively without maritime recourse, no longer in a position to threaten Japanese communications with the mainland.

This is the victory that Jellicoe and Scheer sought at Jutland, and the victory that the admirals of the IJN wanted to inflict on the battleships of the U.S. Navy in the Second World War. Conversely, it was the defeat that the Italians desperately wanted to avoid in the central Mediterranean, and that the British feared off the Falklands.

Tsushima, combined with a bastardized form of Mahanianism, influenced naval thought for generations, and remains important today.

The_Russo-Japanese_war_fully_illustrated_-_v._1-3_(no._1-10),_Apr._1904-Sept._1905_(1904)_(14803599943)Russian cavalry during the war. Via ‘The Russo-Japanese War Fully Illustrated,’ 1904

Ground combat

Most historical analysis of the Russo-Japanese War has focused on naval heroics, with the Battle of Tsushima taking a central place. In many ways, however, the legacy of the land war has proven more enduring.

The transformative effect of military technology on the land warfare slowly became apparent across the 19th century. The Crimean War, the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War were all “transitional” wars, progressive steps from the (graduated) plateau of 18th century infantry combat to the plateau of “modern system” combat.

Land combat between Russian and Japanese forces in 1904 and 1905 was recognizably modern. Although the airplane would not have an impact until the next decade, most of the pieces associated with the 20th century “Revolution in Military Affairs” were set in place. Most notably, this included the combination of mass, conscript armies with the advent of modern, rapid-fire weapons that could effectively clear the field, leading to the phenomenon of the “empty battlefield.”

Armies have struggled to solve the problem of the empty battlefield since 1905, developing a cascade of innovations, from trenches, to tanks, to sophisticated artillery barrages, to storm troopers, to (in their own way) strategic bombers.

The Battle of Yalu River, the Siege of Port Arthur, and the Battle of Sendepu differ from 20th century land combat only in emphasis. Both Japanese and Russian forces suffered enormous casualties in efforts to take prepared defenses. The Battle of Mukden, fought in March 1905, produced a total of nearly 150,000 casualties.

To be sure, much has changed. The advent of aircraft and the widespread use of the radio would change the means of land combat within 15 years of the Russo-Japanese War. Still, the forms of battle are essentially recognizable, in a way that the battles of the American Civil War are not.

World War I and World War II so transformed the maps of both Europe and Asia that discerning the influence of antecedent conflicts like the Russo-Japanese War can be hard. Still, the setback that the Japanese dealt to the Russians in 1904-05 helped shape the contours of Asian politics for a century.

Surprisingly, given the relative backwardness of the Russian and Japanese economies in 1905, it also served as the world’s first taste of modern, industrial warfare.

This article originally appeared at The National Interest.

Read the Article as it Appears Here at War is Boring

Military History: Top 5 Worst Submarine Disasters



North Korea’s apparent loss of one its submarines this week is a stark reminder that operating in the undersea domain is fraught with danger.

Since the Second World War, the United States, Russia and China—and a host of other nations—have lost vessels and their crews to accidents. Operating submarines is a risky business under the best of circumstances—and will likely remain so. Even the highest technology nuclear submarines can end up on the ocean floor if the crew isn’t careful or the technology fails.

Here are some of the worst submarine disasters of the past several decades.

Kursk, 2000

Perhaps the worst submarine disaster in recent memory was Russia’s loss of K-141Kursk, which was a Project 949A Antey-class (Oscar II) nuclear-powered guided missile submarine.  The massive 16,000-ton submarine was destroyed in a massive explosion on August 12, 2000—which killed all 118 members of its crew.

Kursk’s wreckage was eventually recovered and the accident was ultimately traced to the Type-65-76A torpedo. Though the weapon is powerful enough to destroy an aircraft carrier with a single hit, the Soviet Union inexplicably designed the torpedo to run on hydrogen peroxide fuel, which is highly volatile and requires careful handling. Unfortunately for Kursk’s crew, they apparently had neither the training nor the experience to handle those weapons.

After the Kursk disaster, the Russian Navy removed hydrogen peroxide-fuelled torpedoes from service.


Komsomolets, 1989

K-278 Komsomolets was the only boat of the Project 685 Plavnik-class (NATO: Mike) ever completed. Designed primarily as a testbed for new technologies, the 8,000-ton Komsomolets was one of the highest performance submarines ever built—it had an operating depth greater than 3000ft. Like the Papa-class, Project 685 Plavnik was designed to test automation technologies and perfect the Soviet Union’s ability to built titanium pressure hulls.

The submarine sank on April 7, 1989, after a fire broke out onboard. The fire set off a chain of events that ultimately caused the boat to sink. Despite the heroic efforts of the crew, 42 of the 69 crewmembers were killed during the accident. However, only four people died as a direct result of the fire—the rest died from exposure. More of the crew might have been saved if the Soviet navy had acted more quickly to mount a rescue operation.

Meanwhile, Komsomolets’s nuclear reactor and its two nuclear warheads remain onboard the stricken hull under 5,500ft of water in the Barents Sea—a disaster waiting to happen again.


K-8, 1970

K-8 was a Project 627A Kit-class (NATO: November) nuclear-powered attack submarine that sank after a fire in April 12, 1970. (K-8 didn’t have a name, the Soviet Union only rarely named its submarines)

The submarine had originally caught fire on April 8, 1970, during an exercise in two separate compartments. The fire apparently started as a result of oil coming into contact with the air regeneration system. After the fire spread throughout the boat via the air conditioning system—and the reactors shut down—the captain ordered the crew to abandon ship. The crew boarded the submarine again after a rescue vessel arrived. But eventually the submarine sank in heavy seas while undertow—with 52 members of its crew.

The Russians have had multiple incidents with fire onboard their submarines. Indeed, Russia’s first nuclear-powered attack submarine— K-3 Leninsky Komsomol —was nearly destroyed due to fire caused by a jury-rigged repair in September, 1967. “A non-standard gasket from. . . a beer bottle was installed in the ballast tank,” a former crewmember told Pravda last year. “Naturally it was displaced, the hydraulic fluid leaked under the pressure of 100 atmospheres and got sprayed onto the lamp, which had a broken protective cap. Inflammation occurred immediately.”


USS Scorpion (SSN-589), 1969

While Russia and the Soviet Union have had their fair share of submarine disasters, the United States Navy has lost submarines too. On May 22, 1969, the USS Scorpion, a Skipjack-class attack submarine. was lost with all hands 400 miles southwest of the Azores islands. There were 99 sailors onboard.

It is still a mystery as to what exactly happened to Scorpion—the boat simply failed to return to port on May 27 that year. The Navy launched a search, but eventually declared it lost on June 5. Eventually, Scorpion was located under 10,000ft of water by a Navy research ship later that year.

U.S. Navy source tell me they have a good idea about what probably happened to Scorpion—but didn’t provide any details. Most public sources, suggest that the most likely cause was an inadvertent activation of the battery of a Mark 37 torpedos or a torpedo explosion.

USS Thresher (SSN-593), 1963

USS Thresher sank on April 10, 1963, with 129 sailors onboard. It was the first nuclear submarine disaster, and to this day, has the highest death toll. Unlike with Scorpion, the U.S. Navy has reported exactly what caused Thresher to sink—poor quality control.

The submarine sank while it was conducting a dive to its test depth of about 1,300ft. Five minutes prior to losing contact with the vessel, the submarine rescue ship Skylark received a garbled UQC transmission (an underwater radio of sorts) that said Thresher was having some minor technical difficult. Skylark continued to receive garbled messages until the sonar picked up the sound of Thresher imploding.

A Navy court of inquiry found that a piping failure probably caused the accident.

As the boat’s engine room flooded as a result, salt-water spray shut down the nuclear reactor.  Subsequently, Thresher’s main ballast tank failed to blow after ice formed in its piping. The crew was unable to access the equipment needed to stop the flooding.

As a direct result of the Thresher disaster, the Navy instituted the SUBSAFEprogram to ensure that there is a thoroughly documented system of checks and re-checks on all critical components of a nuclear submarine.

Read the Original Article at National Interest

Cold War Files: The Rise and Fall of the Soviet ‘Death Star’


The ambitions of the United States and the Soviet Union, late in the Cold War, to launch massive weapons into outer space sounds like a fever dream today. Few however know just how serious it got, with the USSR making impressive progress on plans for a so-called “Red Death Star” to be launched into orbit.

Despite signing a 1972 anti–ballistic missile treaty with the United States, the USSR continued research into missile defense well into the 1970s. When President Ronald Reagan announced his “Star Wars” concept in March 1983—a moonshot-like missile shield that would render ICBMs obsolete—the Soviets were ready with a response.

Had it worked our world might be a different place. But the Red Death Star crashed and burned, the victim of a crash program undertaken by a failing power. Nonetheless, the project’s purpose and technology lived on, and may darken the skies again.


How War From Space Began

In the early glory days of spaceflight, both the Kremlin and the Pentagon sought military spacecraft able to engage and attack each others’ space assets. The triumph of the Apollo moon project eclipsed the American Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL). By 1975, when astronauts and cosmonauts met in space for the first time, space stations seemed the path to cooperation rather than competition in space.

But the Soviets saw in space stations a chance to surpass the Americans in one important field. The first Soviet space stations, the Salyuts, were in fact disguised military satellites. One mission even tested an anti-satellite cannon.

A year after the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, the Soviets began serious research into orbiting ABM weapons: the Skif-D laser and the anti-missile missile Kaskad. The massive vehicle designed for these weapons was called “Polyus,” or “[North] Pole.”

Why did the USSR plunge into space war in the middle of the era of detente?In part because of the Space Shuttle.

The U.S. Air Force had a large, if largely quiet, hand in the Shuttle’s design and intended to fly classified payloads aboard the space plane. As the winged spaceship grew bigger and more complicated to meet the Pentagon’s planned needs, Soviet observers saw it as a major space weapons system.

Space historian Asif Siddiqi has noted, “The shuttle really scared the Soviets big-time because they couldn’t figure why you would need a vehicle like that, one that made no economic sense. So they figured that there must be some unstated military rationale for the vehicle—for example, to deliver and recover large space-based weapons platforms, or to bomb Moscow.”

Meanwhile, Soviet success with space stations and experiments with laser weapons raised alarm bells among American defense hawks. Shortly after Ronald Reagan became president in 1981, a number of American weaponeers—chief among them Dr. Edward Teller—brought to the President’s attention both the Soviet research effort and potential American Countermeasures.

Pole Star

Ironically, Polyus began much the way as the Yankee Star Wars idea: a weapon to shoot down American ICBMs during their boost phase as they climbed into space on their journey of death. Like the MOL and the Salyuts, it was to be manned, until the Salyut missions proved definitively that a man in the loop added little but expense and complications.

Reagan’s 1983 Star Wars speech electrified the Soviet leadership. As early as June 1984, the Kremlin determined to match the Americans and authorized the Polyus-Skif project. In 1986—the year the vast American R&D effort topped out at over $3 billion—the USSR launched a crash program to put their own battle station in orbit.

First intended as a Star Wars anti-missile weapon, the Red Death Star became instead a Jedi-killer, armed to the teeth and cloaked in secrecy. Its targets were the yet-to-be American battle stations that Soviet fears had created.

The USSR hid Polyus within its space station program, because Polyus was essentially a repurposed space station. It was huge: 187 feet long, over 16 feet in diameter and 80 tons, about the size of America’s Skylab space station.

Polyus’s “functional cargo block,” or FGB—a repurposed spare of the Mir-2 space station’s core—contained maneuvering rockets, solar panels and a power system. Its “purposeful module” contained a one-megawatt infrared laser, its fuel tanks and its turbogenerators.

The big laser proved too big for even the Proton rocket to lift, but the USSR’s mighty new booster, the Energia, could loft both the weapon and its orbital platform. Delays in the Buran space shuttle program opened a slot for Polyus to ride the Energia rocket as its first payload.

Launch was set for early 1987. The crash Death Star testbed project ransacked much of the Soviet space program for parts. Engineers replaced the laser module, nowhere near ready for flight testing, with a boilerplate dummy. A lower-power laser designed to blind enemy satellites would test the targeting system.

The Soviets went to great lengths to hide Polyus in plain sight. Photos of Polyus on its Energia booster show it sheathed in a black low-visibility (possibly radar-absorptive) covering. A large laser reflector would permit ground sources to track the spacecraft without it transmitting.

Read the Remainder at National Interest

Military History: Napoleon, the First Modern Politican

I have read several Biographies on the military exploits of Napoleon, but this article explores a side of the man rarely discussed: The Political agenda. -SF


David A. Bell, Napoleon: A Concise Biography (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2015), 152 pp., $18.95.

Michael Broers, Napoleon: Soldier of Destiny (New York: Pegasus, 2015), 608 pp., $35.00.


The most famous statement from Richard Nixon’s opening to China in the early 1970s emerged from an interaction between Chinese premier Zhou Enlai and Henry Kissinger. The historically minded Secretary of State asked Zhou for his views on the French Revolution. “It’s too early to tell,” replied Zhou. The answer was taken as evidence of Chinese leaders’ supposed ability to take a long-term perspective on political events and is regularly generalized to serve as a warning against swift interpretations of historical occurrences.

In fact, the diplomat who served as the interpreter for the meeting, Charles Freeman, has revealed that Zhou thought Kissinger was talking about the 1968French uprisings, which occurred just a few years before their discussion, not the events in 1789. “I cannot explain the confusion about Zhou’s comment except in terms of the extent to which it conveniently bolstered a stereotype (as usual with all stereotypes, partly perceptive) about Chinese statesmen as far-sighted individuals who think in longer terms than their Western counterparts,” Freeman said.

But Zhou’s remarks could only be mistaken because he was thought to be speaking about the French Revolution generally. If, instead, it had been reported that he was asked his thoughts on Napoleon Bonaparte and responded with such an ambiguous perspective, few would believe it. Nobody lacks a firm opinion on the man who his soldiers affectionately nicknamed “the little corporal.” The subtitle of one of the most respected books on Napoleon, written by the Dutch scholar Pieter Geyl and translated into English in 1949, isFor And Against—Geyl surveyed a century and a half of opinion on Bonaparte and showed that historians usually lined up like lawyers, either prosecuting or defending the French general-turned-leader. Neutrality and ambivalence were unpopular paths. “Throughout the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries they mostly fell, all too simplistically, into two camps: supporters and opponents,” writes the Princeton historian David A. Bell in his new book,Napoleon: A Concise Biography. “Despite uncovering great masses of source material, most of the historical works generally spent too much time refighting old battles to provide much genuine illumination.” Those works are astonishingly numerous: it has been said that no other human being has had more books written about him or her, except for Jesus Christ—more than 220,000 books and articles as of 1980 alone. Historian Charles Esdaile has claimed that Napoleon is second only to Christ in appearances in cinema, as well, a testament to his popularity in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

Read the Remainder at National Interest