Welcome to another issue of SEA STATE,
NEWS THIS WEEK:
“Hypersonic Weapons” (CRS):The last edition of SEA STATE included a short article on the revelation that China launched a hypersonic missile back in August, which was first reported by the Financial Times. Since that news came to light, the Financial Times has amended its assessment: in fact, China launched two hypersonic missiles this summer with one in late July and another in August. The furor following these disclosures warrants a closer look at the basics of hypersonic missile technology, why it matters, and how the U.S. is responding.”
The term “hypersonic” means that these missiles can travel over five times the speed of sound. Most are designed as glide vehicles, rather than relying on propulsion used with cruise missiles. This means that the missile is launched into orbit using a rocket, and then glides to its target without following the typical arched trajectory of other missiles.
The speed at which these missiles travel and the difficulty of detecting them is what makes them more lethal than past weapons technology. They could approach from any direction, possibly evading the U.S.’s early warning and defensive systems which focus on the most likely paths of intercontinental ballistic missiles. Given that such a missile could be weaponized with a nuclear warhead, it is easy to see why this technology poses a threat.
While the threat of hypersonic missiles might not affect junior officers’ day jobs any time soon, this is an important news item to follow as part of the changing strategic landscape. Some experts disagree on whether this technology truly changes the challenging calculus of missile defense and officials within the Department of Defense have declined to characterize it as a full-on ‘Sputnik moment’ -- but Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Milley did acknowledge lastThursday that China’s rapidly developing military capabilities are “very concerning.”
NEWS THIS WEEK
“Calls for Ceasefire in Ethiopia Grow Amid Deepening Conflict” (Reuters): On Tuesday, Ethiopia declared a six-month state of emergency after Tigrayan forces advanced towards the capital city, Addis Ababa. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed urged Ethiopians to defend themselves against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and told Addis Ababa residents to register their arms and prepare to defend their neighborhoods. Numerous African and Western nations called for an immediate ceasefire in Ethiopia as the U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres spoke with the Ethiopian Prime Minister and offered to help create conditions for a dialogue between the government and TPLF. The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa authorized the voluntary departure of some staff and family members due to the intensifying hostilities in the yearlong conflict which has killed thousands of civilians, forced over 2.5 million residents to flee their homes, and plunged 400,000 people in Tigray into famine.
“US Blacklists Israli Firm NSO Group Over Spyware” (NYT): One of Israel’s most successful technology firms, the NSO Group, has been blacklisted by the Biden administration. The firm is accused of supplying spyware, specifically one called Pegasus, to foreign governments which target dissenters, journalists, and human rights activists among others. The company, whose sales must be approved by the Israeli Defense Ministry, has said it is revoking licenses from nations acting in a malicious manner, but it appears its word did not satisfy the U.S. Commerce Department. The American government considers the sale of this software to be against national security interests. This report indicates the NSO Group and Israeli Defense Ministry were surprised by the decision. It is not yet clear if the decision will impact bilateral relations.
IN DEFENSE NEWS
“U.S. Military Jury Condemns Terrorist’s Torture and Urges Clemency” (The New York Times): Seven out of eight senior military officers serving on a jury to sentence terrorist Majid Khan wrote a letter urging clemency and condemning the torture Khan endured, calling it “a stain on the moral fiber of America.” Khan, who worked as an al Qaeda courier, was held without access to services from the International Red Cross or a lawyer and was subjected to isolation and sexual abuse. The panel also wrote, “This abuse was of no practical value in terms of intelligence, or any other tangible benefit to U.S. interests.” The treatment of Khan, who has made a deal with prosecutors that will end his sentence by 2025 at the latest, provides important lessons for intelligence officers about the ineffectiveness and moral repugnance of torture as an interrogation technique.
“Navy sets up mobile hospital with 150 beds in Norwegian caves” (NavyTimes): A U.S. Navy mobile hospital has been set up in Norwegian caves in an effort to streamline processes and procedures with NATO allies. Mirroring concerns over both military and civilian supply chains and potential geopolitical disruptions to them, the move is part of larger developments in resilient medical and logistics networks for the allied militaries. Even as the U.S. Navy continues to focus on the Indo-Pacific region, distributing capabilities across the globe, especially around and near potential flashpoints like the Arctic are thought to help drive down the risk of offensive behavior by near-peer competitors. In addition, the integration reinforces the importance of alliances in achieving common goals.
Missionaries by Phil Klay (2020)
Journalist and author Phil Klay examines the human experience of war through four interwoven narratives: a Colombian insurgent seeking to avenge his family’s death, an American journalist documenting the horrors of war, a patriotic Colombian Lieutenant Colonel committed to defend his nation, and a U.S. Army veteran whose experiences in Afghanistan inform his role as a consultant to the Colombian military. These four disparate lenses on modern warfare reveal that while technology changes over time, war remains a shared human experience that encompasses the full spectrum of human emotions.
Klay’s novel bounces between characters and time periods, which can be confusing to follow until the four storylines begin to integrate into one. This disjointed approach is useful in portraying war from various perspectives. The novel’s focal point is on the long-running strife in Columbia, although American involvement in Afghanistan is incorporated as a necessary prologue for the American characters in this story. Klay captures the intricacies of the factional fighting in Columbia as well as the complex nature of America’s involvement, even as the American public was fixated on the Middle East. But rather than functioning as yet another commentary on America’s “forever wars”,” the true value of Missionaries is the timeless insights it shares on the impact that wars have on individuals.
Most junior officers in the fleet today have not experienced full-fledged combat. In addition to learning from the experiences of mentors, reading realistic, well-researched fiction can help JOs prepare their minds for the kinds of stresses that conflict can bring. In particular, Klay focuses on the interactions that the characters have with family and their struggles to convey their wartime experiences to those they love. For those who are part of the “warfighting” profession but yet to experience war itself, this is a useful book to mentally prepare for the emotional toll war takes on both warfighters and loved ones.
PODCAST EPISODE OF THE WEEK
“Inside China’s Nuclear Strategy” - Deep Dish, The Chicago Council on Global Affairs
Tong Zhao, a senior fellow at Carnegie’s Nuclear Policy Program, is featured on this episode of the Deep Dish podcast to explain China’s recent nuclear expansion, to include hypersonic missiles, submarines, and land-based launch silos. He explains the strategic reasons behind China’s desire to establish its own nuclear triad and speculates how the United States and its allies might prevent a Cold War-esque arms race with the emerging global power. While China’s arsenal is growing, Zhao emphasizes the immense size of the United States’ and Russia’s respective arms inventories. Although policymakers and diplomats should continue to consider the implications of China as a growing player in the field of nuclear weapons, he concludes that the global balance has yet to be upset. As Junior Officers, it is easy to get caught up in the headlines regarding competition with China. This podcast provides a clear-eyed analysis and makes a positive contribution to today’s dialogue.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The Stone Age did not end for lack of stone, and the Oil Age will end long before the world runs out of oil.”
— Sheikh Zaki Yamani, Former Saudi Arabian Minister of Oil, The Guardian, September 2000 in address to OPEC
If you are enjoying SEA STATE, please subscribe below and share with your friends on social media! If you have any questions, comments, tips, or feedback for the SEA STATE team, please email us at the link below.
We’ll see you next week.
This issue of SEA STATE was written and edited by Christian Hoffman, Emma Quinn, Viraj Patel, Lauren Hickey, Madison Sargeant, Yash Khatavkar, Johnathan Falcone, Jeremy Gerstein, Nick Romanow, Sarah Claudy, and Thomas Krasnican.
SEA STATE is not affiliated with the U.S. Navy, Marine Corps, or the Department of Defense. All views expressed or shared in this newsletter are the authors’ own and not necessarily endorsed by the U.S. government or any military entity.