Saturday, May 30, 2020

Build Up To War: 'There Is No Off-Ramp'

At a moment a US Navy destroyer just rolled up on China's doorstep in the South China Sea near the contested Paracel Islands, the People's Liberation Army (PLA) Navy has taken the country's first domestically-made aircraft to sea trials. 
Bloomberg noted of the sea trials that Beijing and Washington are locked in an escalating tit-for-tat on multiple fronts only set to get worse, for which "there is no off ramp".
It marks the Shandong's first sea exercises since being commissioned late last year in what was a major launch ceremony attended by President Xi. The ongoing trails in an unknown location are being focused on weapons systems testing, including aircraft launch and landing. 

"The purpose of this training is to test weapons and equipment efficiency, improve the aircraft carrier's training capability and further elevate its ability to carry out future missions," a PLA Navy statement said.
Interestingly, regional media has admitted its sea trial schedule had been disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic:
Normal exercises have been disrupted by the Covid-19 outbreak and this was the first time the Shandong took to sea for training exercises since it was commissioned late last year.
China’s state broadcaster CCTV did not disclose the exact location of the sea trial, but a notice from the Dalian Maritime Safety Administration said it was in the northern part of the Yellow Sea.
State media on Friday featured J-15 takeoff footage from the deck of the Shandong, hailing the sea trials as a 'success': 
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV aired footage showing at least seven J-15 fighter jets conducting take-off and landing practice. 
A statement from the Chinese Defense Ministry days ago also described, “The purpose of this training is to test the performance of weapons and equipment, improve the level of aircraft carrier training, and further enhance the troops’ ability to perform missions and tasks.”
Last December's commissioning of the new aircraft carrier, China's second one total and first locally made, was a significant milestone for China as it expands its efforts to become a dominant superpower in the Indo-Pacific region, and as the PLA Navy increasingly rubs up against US presence in disputed waters near China's coast, especially around Taiwan. 
Shandong has a displacement of 40,000-60,000 tons with a ski-jump flight deck similar to China's first carrier, Liaoning, which had originally been purchased from Ukraine and refurbished. Significant improvements in layout design allow the new aircraft carrier to carry 36 J-15 fighter jets, compared to the Liaoning's 24. 

Russia's Arctic Empire

Lawrence Franklin via The Gatestone Institute,

Moscow sent a spectacular message last month to the world's other Arctic powers: Russia is determined to dominate the region. Russian transport aircraft, breaking the record for the highest altitude jump ever, parachuted a group of their Spetsnaz (Special Forces) over the Arctic. from a height of almost 33,000 feet (Mt. Everest is 29,000 feet). Russian paratroops then executed a military exercise operation before reassembling at the Nagurskoye base, the northernmost military facility in Russia.

Any rival's attempt to catch up and surpass Moscow's head start in the Arctic is unlikely to succeed. Russia has a geopolitical advantage in that its sovereign land abuts over half of the Arctic's territorial waters. Historically, Russia's czars and commissars were frustrated in their attempts to secure warm-water ports, which would have benefited commerce and military force projection. 

This waterway will unite Russian Europe with Russia's Far East provinces adjacent to Pacific waters. The "Northeast Passage" could shorten the transshipment of goods from Asian countries to Europe by two weeks, rather than shipping goods through the Suez Canal route.

Russia's northwestern Arctic territory of the Kola Peninsula accounts for large portions of the country's nickel and copper output, as does Norilsk in East Siberia. The Arctic region also accounts for most of Russia's tin extraction. Russian mining centers within the Arctic Circle produce valuable minerals, such as diamonds in the Yakutia Republic in Russia's Far East, as well as palladium, platinum, selenium and cobalt. Probably the most famous minerals are the area's legendary gold deposits in the Kolyma area.
Russia's claim of exclusivity, or at least its special ties, to the Arctic are of long-standing. Moscow first claimed sovereignty over all the islands in the Arctic Sea north of its Eurasian land mass as early as 1926, and repeated this claim in 1928 and again in 1950. Russia's claim of sovereign control of these islands, along with its nearly 25,000 kilometers of Arctic coastline, is considered part of the country's historical patrimony and, therefore, its ownership supposedly non-negotiable.
The Kremlin continues integrating its industrial and military infrastructure in its Far North project, begun over a century ago. Pointedly, between 2015 and 2016, Moscow constructed six new military bases, at Aleksandra Land, Novaya Zemlya, Sredny Island, Wrangel Island, Kotelny Island, and Camp Schmidt. Russia maintains strict vigilance of the skies over its Arctic realm, and stations medium-range surface-to-air missile systems to assure control of its airspace. Russia's military has also deployed a polar-capable version of its latest air defense weapon, the S-400. Lessons learned from the Red Army's World War II winter combat against Germany's invading forces guarantees that all Russian military weapons systems are operable at -50 degrees Celsius.

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