Turkey Isn’t Nearly Advanced Enough to Develop a 5th Gen Fighter: Don’t Expect Much From the TF-X

On November 23 the first images of prototypes in production for Turkey’s TF-X fighter program were released, raising questions regarding the future of development and resurfacing longstanding concerns regarding its viability. Developed by Turkish Aerospace Industries, a firm with no experience in fighter development, the TF-X is being marketed as a fifth generation fighter – a degree of sophistication which only China and the United States have so far reached with full squadrons of aircraft in service. The ambitions of the program are highly contradictory to both Turkey’s geopolitical position and, more significantly, its very small tech sector and relatively minuscule scale of research and development. While China and the United States consistently lead the world in science and technology, from AI to material sciences, Turkey does not appear on any of the major ranks for tech patents, top research institutions, research and development or any metrics, with even its ability to produce competitive fourth generation aircraft being highly questionable. 

South Korea by contrast, which flew its own fifth generation fighter prototype for the first time in July, generally ranks with the top three or top five as one of the world’s most high tech economies. Even for Korea, however, a genuine fifth generation fighter remains difficult to develop with the KF-21 fighter dubbed ‘5 minus’ and relying on significant support from Lockheed Martin in the United States. What South Korea struggles to do, Turkey is extremely unlikely to come close to achieving. Indeed, even Russian and Indian fifth generation programs are likely to have significantly more promise than the TF-X, as although both countries’ ability to develop fifth generation fighters has been seriously questioned both remain in significantly stronger positions than Turkey. Russian programs have also benefitted greatly from research and development done for Soviet fifth generation fighter programs, at a time when the USSR was a world leader in high tech and one of the world’s two largest economies, while India is expected to continue to benefit from Russian technology transfers for its own program.

A further major factor limiting the prospects for Turkey’s fighter is that the country has burned bridges with potential partners on all sides over the past decades. Tense relations with the Western Bloc over a wide range of issues, most recently Ankara’s failure to take a hard line against Russian during the Russian-Ukrainian War, means that even sales of Cold War era F-16 fighters has been blocked in the United States. After Turkey’s eviction from the F-35 program – the only Western fifth generation fighter currently in production – meaningful technology transfers to produce a genuine fifth generation fighter are unlikely too materialise. Turkey’s ongoing illegal airstrikes against Russian-aligned Syria, its support for Al Qaeda linked factions who launch attacks on Russian forces, and its membership of NATO, mean transfers of sensitive technologies from Russia or China remain unlikely. Turkey’s status as a longstanding hub of operations and supporter of Al Qaeda affiliates operating in western China, which have been responsible for terror attacks across the country as well as in Thailand and Central Asia, means Beijing will reman cautious in its security partnerships with the country. 

Turkey’s lack of even a middle tier tech sector effectively rules out the possibility of developing a high performance fighter without overseas support from more advanced economies, with its ability to acquire such support remaining in question. While the TF-X program may yet succeed, its competitiveness even against ‘4+ generation’ Chinese and American aircraft is likely to be questionable, and will depend heavily on whether Ankara can improve its standing either with its traditional partners in the West or with its emerging ones in the East. Until then significant delays are expected with an operational fighter before the 2030s remaining unlikely, while the sheer size of the aircraft are expected to translate into high operational costs that will limit its competitiveness among less advanced aircraft. 

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Russian Tu-160 Strategic Bombers Conduct 13 Hour Flight Along NATO’s Northern Frontier: MiG-31s Fly Escort

On November 25 two Russian Air Force Tu-160 intercontinental range strategic bombers were reported to have been deployed for a 13 hour flight over international waters over the Barents and Norwegian Seas, with the Defence Ministry reporting: “Two Tu-160 long-range strategic bombers carried out a planned flight over the neutral waters of the Barents and Norwegian Seas. They were accompanied by MiG-31 fighters of the Northern Fleet’s Air Force and Air Defense group.” The flight comes at a time of high tensions between Moscow and the Western Bloc due primarily to the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War. The Tu-160 is the most capable strategic bomber in Russian service, although only a single squadron of 16 bombers is currently in service as the original planned production run of 100 aircraft was cut short when the Soviet Union disintegrated in 1991. This has meant that the aircraft have been often reserved for high profile shows of force, and have frequently been used to signal Russia’s adversaries at times of high tensions. 

The Tu-160 is prized for its unrivalled maximum speeds exceeding Mach 2, as well as its large arsenal of Kh-101 radar evading cruise missiles. 50 new Tu-160s are expected to enter service by the mid 2030s, with the decision to restart production being partly a result of slow progress developing a successor to the aircraft under the PAK DA program. The first post Soviet Tu-160 to be built made its maiden flight in January 2022. Older airframes have also been modernised with 21st century avionics, with those brought up to the latest standards designated as Tu-160M. The Tu-160 is widely considered the world’s most capable intercontinental range bomber, although this title is expected to be lost by the mid 2020s as the Chinese H-20 and American B-21 are set to enter service. The MiG-31 Foxhound interceptor has frequently served as an escort for Tu-160s, and is the heaviest and fastest fighter/interceptor in the world with a capacity to carry six oversized air to air missiles – the massive and very long ranged R-37M which can engage targets 400km away. The MiG-31 has no peers in terms of extreme range engagement capabilities largely due to its very high carrying capacity, although it too is long overdue to for replacement with its successor the PAK DP interceptor, much like the PAK DA strategic bomber, facing significant delays due to the post Soviet slowdown in Russia’s combat aviation sector. 

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China’s J-16 Heavyweight Fighter Continues to Dwarf Russian Cousin Su-35 in Production: Tenth Brigade Now Operational

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Air Force has inducted its tenth batch of J-16 heavyweight fighter jets into frontline service, with the first clear images of aircraft with Batch 10 construction numbers appearing in the final week of November – namely fighter no. 1013. The tenth batch appears to have been used to equip the 6th Air Brigade based at Suixi, Guangdong Province, which operates under the Southern Theatre Command responsible for operations in the South China Sea. Beyond the tenth batch, the fifth production fighter from the eleventh production batch of J-16s was first seen at the Zhuhai Air Show on November 5, which indicated a fleet size of approximately 300 J-16s in service. Although only third among Chinese fighters in terms of production scale, the J-16 is being produced at a very significantly higher rate than any Western or Russian fighter other than the American F-35.

The J-16 is a derivative of the Soviet Su-27 Flanker which China first acquired in 1991 and began to produce under license shortly afterwards, with the revolutionary design considered the most capable for air to air combat in the Cold War era. While Flanker derivatives have made up over 95 percent of fighter acquisitions by the Russian Air Force over the past quarter century, the much greater size of China’s air force and greater sophistication of its industrial base and tech sector have allowed the J-16 to be acquired on a scale dwarfing that of any Russian Flanker variant. This has been a particularly notable achievement when considering that the J-16 forms only a fraction of Chinese fighter acquisitions, in contrast to Flankers’ overwhelming dominance of Russia spending on fighter acquisitions. 

With approximately 300 J-16s in service, this figure contrasts sharply with the top Russian Flanker variant the Su-35S of which only around 100 are thought to be operational. Both fighters are estimated to have entered service in 2014, and with approximately 150 Su-35s having been built, 48 of them for export, this means the Su-35 has been built on only half the scale of the J-16 despite its much more important position in the Russian fleet than the J-16 has in the Chinese. The J-16 comes in a standard twin seat configuration and is not specialised in any particular role, in contrast to the purely single seat Su-35 which is heavily oriented towards air to air engagements. The J-16 is thought to be less costly largely due to economies of scale and the greater efficiency of China’s defence sector, and uses superior composite materials and stealth coatings, a more sophisticated radar and  more advanced avionics and weapons, while the Su-35 benefits from use of triple rather than a single radar, a higher endurance and more powerful engines. Although the two fighters are considered well matched, the J-16’s scale of production highlights the vast discrepancy between the Chinese and Russian defence sectors which began to emerge in the 1990s after the latter contracted to a fraction of its Soviet era size. The fact that China has fielded the much more capable next generation J-20 since 2017, which forms the PLA Air Force’s elite, further serves to highlight the discrepancy between the two countries since Russia is not expected to field any next generation fighter in numbers comparable to China’s current J-20 fleet until at least the mid 2030s.

The Su-35 was initially expected to be produced exclusively for export, and was heavily based on the Su-37 and Su-27M designs which were both considered ready for serial production in the 1990s but were not financed due to economic crisis in Russia. The fighter was belatedly financed in 2009, albeit domestically rather than with export revenues, with plans initially stipulating that 200 aircraft be built – 100 for the Russian Air Force and 100 for export. The lack of Chinese demand, and Western pressure on other potential clients, undermined export prospects and led the Russian Defence Ministry to place more orders, with very serious delays to the more ambitious Su-57 fighter program also being a factor in this decision. More recently, however, Iranian interest in the Su-35 has raised the possibility of much needed major export contracts finally materialising for the fighter. The J-16 by contrast has not been and is unlikely to ever by exported, as the Soviet origin of the Flanker design has resulted in the prohibition of such sales to directly compete with Russian platforms. 

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Latest Iteration of the F-16 Unveiled: But the Pentagon Doesn’t Want Any

On November 22 the first F-16 Block 70/72 was unveiled by its manufacturer Lockheed Martin, the world’s largest defence industrial firm, which has for decades held a duopoly on the American fighter market alongside Boeing which produces the F-15 and F-18. The aircraft is a notable improvement over prior F-16 variants, and benefits from integration of the APG-83 active electronically scanned array radar, new cockpit displays, and compatibility with a range of new weapons such as the AIM-120D air to air missile. Key to making the program viable was a large $8.2 order for 66 aircraft placed for the Republic of China (ROC) Air Force, which although not representing the air arm of a UN member state was assent to by the Donald Trump administration at a time of high tensions with the Chinese mainland (People’s Republic of China). The two rival Chinese governments remain technically at war, with rapid advances fuelling ROC interest in higher end American fighters before the F-16 was settled on. As the second oldest fighter still in production anywhere in the world, other than the heavier F-15, the F-16 has gained little attention from the Pentagon which ceased acquisitions 17 years ago in 2005, meaning new production batches will be funded exclusively by export orders. As the cheapest Western fighter in production, the aircraft has been looked to by many Third World and Eastern European countries as well as by the ROC due to its inability for political reasons to acquire higher end aircraft. 

The latest F-16s were notably the first ever built in South Carolina, with a small plant set up by Lockheed Martin in Greenville as the firm focuses larger facilities, such as that at Fort Worth Texas, on the F-35 fifth generation fighter program. Unlike the F-22 program, which effectively failed to provide a viable fifth generation successor to the F-15, the less troubled F-35 program has seriously limited demand for F-16s worldwide despite significant efforts by Washington to promote the aircraft abroad often with considerable political pressure. The small line in Greenville is expected to produce primarily for the ROC, but also to meet small orders from Bahrain, Slovakia and Bulgaria with with small Moroccan and Jordanian orders also expected. The only major client other than the ROC which is expected to potentially materialise is Turkey, due to the country’s inability to purchase the F-35 for political reasons, although the state of relations between Ankara and Washington has resulted in resistance on the American side to provision of even these older jets. Continued production of the F-16 has allowed the United States to remain in the low end fighter market despite a lack of interest in the aircraft for its own fleet, mirroring how Russia has continued to invest in upgrades for its own counterpart to the F-16 the MiG-29 despite placing negligible orders for the class since 1991.

F-16s will remain customisable depending on client demand, with the Block 70 and 72 variants using different engines – the General Electric F110 and Pratt & Whitney F100 respectively. The future of the F-16, and whether foreign orders will be sufficient to continue production past the early 2030s, remains uncertain, although by that time it would likely be the oldest production fighter in the world. The low rate of production will allow production to be dragged out over a significantly longer period. Of four fighter classes currently in production in the U.S., only the F-35 is expected to continue production far into the 2030s with the futures of the F-15, F-16 and F-18 all uncertain as the viability of modernised Cold War era designs remains in question. The U.S. is second only to China in the number of fighter classes in production, but ahead of Russia which produces the MiG-29/35, Su-30/34/35 and Su-57 for a total of three. All other producers have just a single class in production. 

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America’s $9 Billion Zumwalt Destroyer Completes First Operational Deployment: Costly New Upgrades Proposed

The U.S. Navy’s sole operational Zumwalt Class destroyer, the USS Zumwalt, has completed its first operational deployment with the Pacific Fleet. The deployment concluded on November 10 three months after its departure on August 1. The destroyer is one of just three of its class to have been built, with costs per unit of over $9 billion making them by far the most expensive surface combatants in the world and several times as costly as originally projected when the program was initiated. A total of 32 warships were originally planned with the other 29 cut due to issues with the design, including the fact that the destroyers’ main armaments their 155 millimetre guns had to be removed and the number of vertical launch cells had to be cut to a very conservative 80. The USS Zumwalt first joined the navy’s combat fleet in April 2020, although its attention of combat readiness was  six years behind schedule. Propulsion systems and sensors have been other primary sources of performance issues. 

The future of the Zumwalt Class destroyer program remains uncertain, with proposals made to equip the three ships with Conventional Prompt Global Strike intercontinental range ballistic missiles. The missile is intended to bring the range and speed of a nuclear ICBM to a conventional attack, allowing it to be used against non-nuclear adversaries and to neutralise targets across the world without escalation to nuclear war. The Zumwalt’s stealth capabilities have been seen to make it a perfect launch platform for such missiles, and each destroyer is expected to be able to carry 12 ICBMs. More recently, closely coinciding with the conclusion of the USS Zumwalt’s first deployment, the possibility of a major upgrade package has again been raised including developing a new vertical launch system for the ship to accommodate strategic hypersonic missiles. The Zumwalt was conceptualised primarily for land attack roles from the outset, with development of the Conventional Prompt Global Strike system allowing the ships to strike ground targets from much greater ranges than originally envisioned for their primarily armament of 155mm guns. 

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China’s J-15 Carrier Based Fighters Dump Russian Engines For Indigenous WS-10: Joining Broad Fleetwide Trend

The Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) Navy’s prime carrier based fighter class the J-15 Flying Shark has been seen for the first time integrating indigenous WS-10B engines. The development marks a major milestone in both China’s aircraft carrier programs and in the development of the country’s aircraft engine industry, and follows a broader trends towards Chinese fighter units phasing out their Russian built AL-31 powerplants in favour of the WS-10. The J-15 first entered service in 2012 as a carrier based derivative of the land based J-11B heavyweight air superiority fighter, and while both classes used Russian engines at the time the first J-11 unit was confirmed to have transitioned from the AL-31 to the WS-10B in January 2022. This was followed by reports earlier in November than lightweight single engine J-10B fighter units had also begun to retire their AL-31s and integrate the WS-10B, doing so long before the Russian engines’ service lives had expired.

The J-15’s requirements for carrier based operations, often in weather where corrosion risks are high, were likely key factors in making it the last fighter the WS-10 was certified for. The WS-10 is considered to offer a superior performance and greater reliability than the AL-31, with engines considered the final area in which China’s combat aviation sector belatedly bridged the gap with that of Russia. Over 70 J-15s are thought to be in service making it the most widely used carrier based fighter class outside the United States Military, although numbers are expected to continue to grow as the carrier fleet rapidly expands. An enhanced variant of the J-15, the J-15B, has begun production in China’s Shenyang province and is expected to form the backbone of the air wing of the Navy’s Type 003 Class supercarriers – the first of which was launched in June 2022.

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Top Four Fighters Which Could Revolutionise Ukraine’s Air Force: Assessing Strengths and Drawbacks of Each

As the United States and its Western allies sustain their massive material support for the Ukrainian Military, which since the outbreak of the Russian-Ukrainian War in February has amounted to tens of billions of dollars worth of equipment, the possibility of equipping Ukraine with modern combat aircraft has increasingly be raised. A training program for Ukrainian personnel which would allow them country’s air force to more quickly integrate American F-16 fighters in future was confirmed to in July, while in August details were revealed regarding a secretive effort to train pilots to operate American A-10 ground attack jets. In early November the prominent British security think tank the Royal United Services Institute assessed that the Swedish Gripen lightweight fighter could be the most suitable candidate to equip the Ukrainian Air Force. Other possibilities, such as heavyweight F-15 fighters and even Soviet built MiG-29s, have also been raised. An evaluation of four of the leading potential candidates to form the next generation of the Ukrainian fighter fleet is given below. 

MiG-29/MiG-29M

The MiG-29 fourth generation medium weight fighter has formed the backbone of the Ukrainian fighter fleet since the outbreak of war in February. The Soviet built jets are highly prized for their low maintenance needs and their ability to operate from short makeshift runways, and have extreme levels of manoeuvrability making them ideal for short range air defence duties. This has made the MiGs a more valued asset than higher end heavyweight Su-27 and Su-24 aircraft which need considerable more maintenance to operate, and which are not operated by allied states meaning spare parts cannot be easily procured. An issue with the MiG-29, however, as with all current Ukrainian fighters, is their obsolete weaponry and avionics which leaves them in a poor position to seriously threaten Russia’s far more modern force in the air. Their use of mechanically scanned radars and semi active rather than active radar guided air to air missiles are a particular hindrance. This would also be an issue should MiG-29s be delivered from NATO states such as Poland and Slovakia, which received the aircraft in the 1980s when formerly part of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact.

Perhaps Ukraine’s best option, which was raised by Western analysts as early as April, was that Western countries press Egypt to sell its fleet of 46 MiG-29M fighters to Ukraine. The MiG-29M is the most capable variant of the MiG-29 anywhere in the world, with those in Egyptian service equipped with modern R-77-1 air to air missiles and Kh-35 cruise missiles among other sophisticated armaments, as well as electronically scanned array radars. The MiGs are better equipped than most fighters in the Russian Air Force itself, and inherit the low maintenance needs and suitability for austere airfield operations of the original MiG-29 while being relatively easy for existing Ukrainian units to convert to. The fighters also avoid the risks that come from allowing Russia to study the capabilities of NATO aircraft since they are Russian made. They are also far less costly than Western aircraft equipped with similarly advanced radars and weapons. The MiG-29M is likely the ideal option for the Ukrainian Air Force, although it remains unlikely that Egypt would agree to supply them despite Western pressure. Although the Egyptian government of Anwar Al Sadat in the 1970s illegally supplied top end Soviet fighters to the United States, the current administration has taken a far more neutral position in the conflict between Russia and the West and is unlikely to assets to a move that would devastate its emerging security partnership with Moscow. 

F-16

The F-16 is the most widely used fighter of the fourth generation, with over 550 forming the backbone of the U.S. Air Force and a small number of naval aviation units, and was developed during the Cold War as a low cost and low maintenance asset to serve as a lighter counterpart to the high end F-15 Eagle. The very large surpluses of several hundred F-16s in the United States has led the class to be raised as a leading candidate to equip Ukraine’s air force, although questions remain regarding the viability of such an arms transfer. Current F-16s in storage and the large majority of those in service in NATO use obsolete mechanically scanned array radars, which are far more prone to jamming and which the Soviet tactical combat fleet began to move away from as early as 1981. Unmodernised F-16s also lack high off boresight targeting capabilities providing by the new AIM-9X air to air missile and helmet mounted sights, leaving them at an overwhelming disadvantage against modern Russian fighters – or even Ukraine’s current MiG-29s and Su-27s which were among the first fighter classes in the world with such capabilities. As a result, should the F-16 be made viable for war in Ukraine, significant investments would need to be made to either built new units, which cost significantly more than any Russian fighter class, or modernising old airframes to the ‘F-16V’ standard with up to date avionics and weaponry. Supplying modernised F-16s nevertheless presents its own risks, including discrediting the class in the eyes of export clients should they take heavy losses, and the compromising of sensitive technologies by providing Russian forces with the opportunity to study the aircraft in action. The F-16 is also far less well suited to austere airfield operations than the MiG-29.

F-18/F-18E

The medium weight F-18 Hornet and F-18E/F Super Hornet have been raised repeatedly as candidates to form Ukraine’s new generation of fighters. The aircraft require more maintenance than F-16s, but are considered low maintenance relative to their sizes. Although Hornets and Super Hornets have a number of performance advantages over F-16s, including significantly higher endurances and engine redundancy, they are not considered as cost effective and will likely be less well suited to the requirements of the Ukrainian theatre. The aircraft are significantly more costly, have fewer numbers from reserve units available, and are far slower and less manoeuvrable than the F-16 – let alone the MiG-29 – leaving their suitability to counter the Russian Air Force in question. 

Gripen 

The Swedish Gripen fighter comes from a category of very light aircraft smaller even than the F-16, and comparable to the Sino-Pakistani JF-17 or the Indian Tejas. The aircraft is prized for its very low operational costs and maintenance needs, with little ground support equipment required and a design optimised for operations from dispersed bases. The Gripen was thus designed for a mode of operation similar to the MiG-29, albeit with approximately half the engine thrust and a very modest flight performance where the MiG remains among the world’s most manoeuvrable jets. Among Western fighter classes the Gripen is the best suited to austere airfield operations with the exception of the new F-35B – which was designed for the U.S. Marine Corps and is currently the most expensive production fighter in the world. The Gripen is far better suited than other Western fighter classes to being adopted to Ukraine’s current mode of operations, which combined with its low cost makes it potentially ideal. Availability of the fighter, however, remains a serious issue, with under 300 having been built in more than 30 years since its first flight and no country fielding large reserves as the U.S. does for the F-16 and F-18.

The majority of Gripen operators have taken neutral positions in the ongoing war, with only Sweden itself as well as the Czech Republic having strongly sided with Kiev – as well as Britain which operates a small number of trainer variants. Like the F-16, the large majority of Gripens use obsolete avionics and mechanically scanned radars, while the modern Gripen E/F variant has been produced in very limited numbers. With the Gripen having fared very poorly on export markets in recently years, seeing no sales at all since 2014, the possibility of Gripens and particularly the Gripen E/F taking heavy losses in combat with the Russian Air Force could further seriously diminish the aircraft’s appeal and lead to hesitancy in Sweden to supply Kiev. 

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Ukraine is a ‘Warm Up’ for Fighting China: Why the Head of America’s Nuclear Forces Just Warned of an Imminent ‘Very Long’ War

The head of the U.S. Strategic Command Admiral Charles A. Richard has warned that a great power war “is coming,” claiming that the ongoing Russian-Ukrainian War in which U.S. personnel and equipment have played a central role is a “warm up.” The Department of Defence published the admiral’s remarks that were made at the Naval Submarine League’s 2022 Annual Symposium & Industry Update’s Awards Luncheon, where he stressed: “This Ukraine crisis that we’re in right now, this is just the warmup,” Richard said. “The big one is coming. And it isn’t going to be very long before we’re going to get tested in ways that we haven’t been tested in a long time.” Richard highlighted China specifically as the adversary of the next conflict, stating: 

“We have to do some rapid, fundamental change in the way we approach the defence of this nation… As I assess our level of deterrence against China, the ship is slowly sinking. It is sinking slowly, but it is sinking, as fundamentally they (China) are putting capability in the field faster than we are. As those curves keep going, it isn’t going to matter how good our (operating plan) is or how good our commanders are, or how good our horses are — we’re not going to have enough of them. And that is a very near-term problem.”

Admiral Richard’s statement comes as the future of funding for the Strategic Command’s key assets remains uncertain, with its sole ICBM class in service the Minuteman III being by far the oldest and most obsolete in the world and potentially being retired without replacement to avoid the expense of doing so. The American bomber fleet, too, is seeing its two newer models the B-1B and B-2 retired in the near future with the former having already begun to be decommissioned due to extremely low availability rates, while their successor the B-21 faces delays and is considered unlikely to be supplied in the numbers currently hoped for. China’s armed forces overtook the United States in spending on defence acquisitions in 2020, and the country is fast modernising its strategic forces with a much more diverse and sophisticated ICBM arsenal, a range of new bomber classes, and a H-20 program to rival the B-21 which may well enter service first and could potentially outperform it.

China’s upcoming ballistic missile submarines, using magnetic drives among other revolutionary technologies, are expected to be by far the stealthiest in the world. China has also beaten the U.S. by several years to actively field missiles with hypersonic glide vehicles, which can be integrated across its nuclear triad. Thus the Strategic Command chief’s warning may well have been intended to highlight issues the American strategic arsenal is facing, its importance in a potential new conflict with China, and as a result the need for more funding. Overstating the urgency of a need for funding and potential imminence of war remains a practice far from uncommon in the U.S. military leadership. 

Regarding how a new Sino-U.S. great power war could break out, Admiral Richard stated that a war in the Taiwan Strait as the likely cause. Although the United States and all other UN member states recognise Taiwan as part of China, the Chinese Civil War which technically remains ongoing means that the island 130km off the Chinese mainland is under a separate but unrecognised Western aligned authority claiming to rule China – the Republic of China (RoC). Both the RoC government in Taipei and the People’s Republic of China based in Beijing claim to be the sole rulers of the Chinese nation. Although the former has no recognition at the United Nations and a status comparable to a non-state actor, it has continued to receive significant quantities of military equipment and support from the Western world to sustain its separation. The Taiwan Strait thus remains a major hotspot, although the balance of power in the area has continued to very quickly shift to favour the Chinese mainland as the capabilities of RoC forces and nearby American assets have fast become more limited by comparison.

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Mercenaries or Ideologues? Examining the Most Famous Foreign Militia in Ukraine the Georgian National Legion

Since the outbreak of large scale hostilities between Russia and Ukraine in February the participation of foreign fighters from across the Western world on the side of the Ukrainian government has been well publicised internationally, with assessments of their numbers, roles and effectiveness varying widely. Although Russian sources persistently sought in the war’s initial stages to broadly portray all foreign combatants as mercenaries on the payroll of NATO member states, the accuracy of this coverage has been very widely questioned with combatants generally falling into three categories all of which are very different from one another including how they recruit and the kinds of roles they play.

The first category are active members of foreign militaries and intelligence services, referred to by the New York Times as a CIA ‘stealth network’ with a very extensive role in the war effort, which are on the payroles of various Western governments and were dispatched to Ukraine under orders. The second are mercenary fighters, primarily from Eastern European states and particularly from Poland, who are not officially members of the militaries of NATO member states but who have shouldered a large burden of the fighting and taken thousands of casualties in the process. Such personnel are sent in by various contractor organisations, which themselves have often shadowy ties to Western governments. Such units are a more ‘deniable’ kind of asset than members of NATO militaries meaning they can be sent to frontline positions and openly engage Russian forces without the risk of causing international incidents that active duty NATO personnel would.Thirdly there have been a large number of volunteers from across the Western world who have joined the war for ideological reasons, at times with the encouragement of their governments. Some volunteers have been retired servicemen from NATO militaries with combat experience, while others have had none. Portrayals of the war as a collective struggle for the Western world and its ideology on the frontier between the West and non-West, emphasising Russia as a partially Asiatic ‘other,’ has been key to gaining support for the effort.

One of the best known foreign units to have participated in the Russian-Ukrainian War is the Georgian National Legion, which has been active since 2014 and was comprised largely of Western nationals. Seen as being particularly effective at recruiting Americans, and having participated in nine of the conflict’s most major battles since February, the Legion is an elite paramilitary unit of approximately 1000 personnel. Its composition, although primarily Georgian, currently also includes 50 British personnel and an unknown number of other Westerners. Sky News referred to the Georgian Legion as operating “with one aim, the destruction of Vladimir Putin.” 

Sky interviews with the Georgian Legion’s members revealed significant new details regarding their operations, including investigating the longstanding uncertainty surrounding their motivations and whether it was a mercenary group or an ideological volunteer unit. When the leader of the Georgian Legion Mamuka Mamulashvili was asked to clarify whether his personnel were mercenaries, he stated: “It is not about having a salary, it’s about an idea to be free. Civilised people will understand this.” Mamulashvili was himself a veteran of the Abkhaz–Georgian conflict, fought alongside the Islamist Mujahideen in the First Chechen War, and finally participated in the Russo-Georgian War in 2008 before taking his fight to Ukraine. The Sky report in conclusion referred to the unit’s motivations as follows: “The head of the legion sees the war in Ukraine as a life-or-death struggle, a battle for Western ideals like democracy and personal freedom.” 

Sky’s interviews with Georgian Legion personnel provided further indications as to their motivations and perceptions. “Russians aren’t human,” a member of the unit told a Sky reporter, while another asserted that “Russia is a terrorist state.” “We have fewer of them here, it means less to kill at home,” one Georgian militiaman stated in reference to the need to maximise Russian casualties on the Ukrainian front to strength Georgia’s position further east. Potentially most concerning, although far from isolated to the Georgian Legion itself, was a perception of all Russians including civilians as adversaries and potential targets. The group’s leader Mamulashvili stressed, despite dissuasion from his interviewers, that when fighting Russians “there is no difference between so-called civilians and the government, they are the same occupiers.” Far from out of line with the views expressed in recent interviews, the Georgian unit has been accused of war crimes in the theatre, with one such incident evidenced by video footage showing captured Russian personnel being executed. Nevertheless, despite claims by Russian sources, the Georgian Legion appears to be a primarily ideologically motivated volunteer force with its ability to draw volunteers from higher income countries, and its very multinational nature, being indicators of this.  

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Russia’s Most Dangerous Tactical Combat Jet Now in Action Over Ukraine: MiG-31BM Foxhound Dominating the Skies

The Russian Air Force has begun to deploy its heaviest class of tactical combat jet for operations against Ukrainian targets, according to reports from number of Western media outlets, with the MiG-31BM/BSM Foxhound making its debut in the eight month long war. These reports claim that the Foxhound has been deployed to neutralise Ukrainian Air Force assets, with a study by the British Royal United Services Institute claiming that the aircraft “have proven highly effective against Ukrainian attack aircraft and fighters, with the MiG-31BM and R-37M long-range air to air missile being especially problematic.” Regarding the R-37M in particular, it noted that “the extremely high speed of the weapon, coupled with very long effective range and a seeker designed for engaging low-altitude targets, makes it particularly difficult to evade.” Other reports indicate that some MiG-31s from the 712th Regiment have been forward deployed to facilities on Crimea, and in late October shot down a Ukrainian Su-24M strike fighter. 

The MiG-31 has for decades been seen as the uncontested top Russian asset for air to air combat, with the induction of a fraction of a unit of Su-57 fifth generation fighters only recently having challenged this title. The Foxhound is an oversized aircraft capable of flying much higher and faster, carrying much larger sensors, and deploying more firepower, than even other Russian heavyweights such as the Su-30 and Su-35 which form the backbone of its fleet. Its R-37M missile is a close contender for the title of the most dangerous in the world, with a 400km engagement range, Mach 6 speed and 60kg warhead which no other missile outside China comes close to matching. The MiG-31 was the first fighter or interceptor in the world capable of firing all its weapons at extreme altitudes in space, providing missiles such as the R-37 with much more energy than if it were employed by other aircraft, and was also the first with a phased array radar and the ability to cruise supersonically for very extended periods. The Foxhound fleet has been prioritised for upgrades since the early 2010s, including the integration of new weapons and avionics, and has increasingly been deployed to the Arctic as tensions with NATO rise in the theatre due to its high performance and suitability for operations in extreme weather.

Although Ukraine’s fighter fleet, unlike its air defences, has posed little challenge for the Russian Air Force due to the obsolete nature of its inventory, deployment of MiG-31s provides a valuable opportunity to test the aircraft and their missiles under combat conditions. Russian fighters, and the Su-35 in particular, have gained extensive air to air combat experience since the outbreak of the war and multiple air to air kills, which is something no 21st century fighter from any other country have benefitted from. The Su-57, too, alongside its deployments for strike and air defence suppression missions, was reported but not confirmed to have been involved in a single air to air engagement in which it shot down a Ukrainian Su-27.

While MiG-31BM/BSM interceptors have only recently begun to play a significant role in the Russian-Ukrainian War, a strike variant the MiG-31K was forward deployed against NATO states shortly before the conflict began as a deterrent, while one carried out a major strike on Ukrainian positions near the Polish border in March. Like the R-37M missile, the Kh-47M2 hypersonic ballistic missile carried by the MiG-31K is an oversized weapon which other classes of Russian tactical combat aircraft would be unable to employ as effectively. The missile’s cost and scarcity, however, means it has not played a large role in strikes against Ukrainian targets neither ha the MiG-31K. Russia is currently developing a successor to the MiG-31 under the PAK DP program, although whether this will be an ambitious space flying near hypersonic aircraft as some sources claim, or a conservative enhanced derivative of the current MiG-31, remains uncertain. 

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