David Axe

David Axe


Daniel Bressner (Facebook):
Media sources cited unnamed Obama administration officials in August who reported that Pakistan provided China with the remnants of the U.S. stealth helicopter used in the Abbottabad raid on Osama Bin Laden’s compound. Do you think Beijing successfully retrieved any stealth technology from this transfer? If so, what are the implications of this for the complex triangle of U.S-Pakistani-Chinese relations?

China has a history of acquiring the wreckage of crashed U.S. aircraft. They grabbed bits of the F-117 stealth fighter that went down in Serbia in 1999. So, yes, it;s possible they got their hands on the stealth helicopter wreckage. But the technology in that particular aircraft wasn’t terribly advanced. Mostly, the so-called “Silent Hawk” or “Airwolf,” as it might be known, was stealthy by virtue of its shape – and the principles of stealth shaping are widely understood around the world. The big secret in the stealth chopper was not its technology, it’s that the U.S. Army bothered to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in hand-crafting them. U.S.-Pakistani-Chinese relations were strained before the helicopter wreckage was possibly transferred; they remain strained today.

Michal Thim (Facebook):
How would you assess Taiwan’s capabilities to defend itself against all sorts of Chinese attacks? Do you agree with James Holmes and Toshi Yoshihara that by including more A2AD measures in its arsenal and abandoning attempts to achieve sea control (thereby channeling limited resources to more needed platforms), Taiwan will have a sound chance to succeed if things in the Strait turn ugly?

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I do agree with Holmes and Toshi. To preserve its independence, Taiwan doesn’t need to beat China. Taiwan only needs to prevent China from beating Taiwan, if that makes sense. Taiwan has the defensive advantage – amplified by the fact that capturing a large, heavily-defended island is one of the hardest military tasks. In the 1990s and more recently, Taiwan attempted to create “defense in depth” by equipping itself with large naval vessels, advanced jet fighters and long-range missiles capable of destroying Chinese forces at a distance. As China acquired more high-tech weaponry and Taiwan became increasingly paralyzed politically, the defense in depth has all but collapsed. But that doesn’t mean Taiwan is incapable of defending itself. At the end of the day, Chinese forces will still have to literally storm ashore and overcome tens of thousands of Taiwanese forces firing guns and missiles – not to mention Taiwanese tanks, artillery, gunship helicopters, etc. Tough job.

It’s far more likely that China will “conquer” Taiwan through political and economic means, rather than risk a bloodbath with a high chance of failure. And all that ignores potential U.S. intervention. Add U.S. forces to the equation, and Taiwan’s “defendability” improves even more.

Eddie Walsh (LinkedIn):
In your recent article on the F-22, you wrote at length about the oxygen problems facing the F-22 program. However, General Schwartz specifically addressed the Alaska incident at the AFA conference, saying that the incident definitively was not hypoxia related. Your recent article did not address this claim. If the Alaska event was not hypoxia-related, does this bring into question the severity of the F-22 hypoxia issue? And, do you think the USAF is misleading the public on the Alaska incident?

Yes, the Air Force said the F-22 crash in Alaska last year had nothing to do with hypoxia. I haven’t seen the accident report. But I do take everything the Air Force says regarding aircraft incidents with a grain of salt, particularly when the aircraft in question is one the Air Force has a strong interest in portraying positively. When a CV-22 Osprey tilt-rotor crashed in Afghanistan in 2010, the Air Force general in charge of the investigation, Don Harvel, reported that engine power-loss might have been a factor – a problem that points to a design flaw. But that general’s bosses at Air Force Special Operations Command reportedly overrode Harvel and denied any engine problem, without sound data to back up their position. It was a purely political move. Cover-ups still happen.

Andrew Brown (Linkedin):
What is your opinion on the U.S. military move towards an ever greater emphasis (in procurement and planning) on unmanned aircraft across the spectrum of missions? Will the development of such platforms allow U.S. air power to leapfrog developments by potential rival states of more advanced manned aircraft? What benefits/drawbacks do you see in this move on the part of the U.S.?

Unmanned aircraft offer enormous benefits in cost, range and performance. We’re right on the cusp of drones being capable of replacing manned fighter-bombers, which could help break the slow death spiral of increasing cost that has forced the Pentagon to steadily slash its fighter force. Yes, there’s great potential for the U.S. to leapfrog over competitors. It will all happen within the next ten years, as the Navy completes development of the X-47B and related combat drones, and the Air Force finally moves to replace today’s rudimentary Predator and Reaper drones with something bigger and more powerful, perhaps a derivative of Boeing’s Phantom Ray or General Atomics’ Avenger. The big drawback is bandwidth and connectivity! Unmanned warplanes will always require some connection to controllers on the ground – and that requires secure, high-rate communications. That’s the real challenge in drone development.

Brian Patrick Murphy (Facebook):
I have been reading more and more media related to Iran and its nuclear capabilities. It seems that the media is trying to send us a clear message, is Israel headed for War with Iran? If so what is the most probable scenario?

I don’t believe Israel would be so foolish as to attack Iran any time soon. Sanctions are working to isolate and weaken the Iranian regime, and to forestall nuclear development. The blowback against an Iranian strike would be enormous. That said, if it happens, it will be in the form of an air strike supported by cyber warfare and Special Forces on the ground. A network attack will shut down Iranian defenses; drones and commandos will gather intelligence; F-16s and F-15s will drop precision-guided, bunker-busting munitions. Iran can’t hope to defeat such an attack militarily, though the risk to Israeli forces is not insignificant.

Min Goo Lee (Facebook):
Will the increase in China’s hard and soft power culminate in an open arms race in Asia, as well as stronger strategic relationships in the Asia-Pacific? Also, is it likely that institutions, like the now-defunct SEATO, will be formed to counterbalance China, perhaps in the form of a more empowered ASEAN?

I would argue that arms race is already underway – as is the U.S.-led effort to build an alliance against China. Japan, Vietnam, Australia and even Indonesia are all increasingly aligning with the U.S., though not necessarily with each other. Militarily, China is increasingly isolated by the U.S. and its allies, Russia and India. Usually, analysts make military comparisons between just the U.S. and China. But it’s more useful to weigh Chinese capabilities against all the nations on China’s borders. The People’s Liberation Army is badly outgunned compared to all the other forces in the region. And with the U.S. moving quickly to acquire new submarines, long-range anti-ship missiles and armed drones, the imbalance could grow.

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