Weekly Snapshot
5-11 May 2019

1. US Air Force takes a big step towards the future

According to a Pentagon release, a new ground-based laser system was able to shoot down several missiles during a training session at the White Sands Missile Range in New Mexico. The ground-based system is a part of the Self-Protect High Energy Laser Demonstrator (SHiELD) program being run by the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

SHiELD is a new weapon system designed to protect airplanes from incoming missiles. This laser was a ground-based laser and is much heavier than what will eventually go on the aircraft. However, this test was a good sign that these types of lasers have the capabilities to do the job in the future.

US Air Force has been deploying laser-based missile defense to their aircraftThis isn’t the first time the US has used lasers in missile defense — it wasn’t even the first time the military has put lasers on planes. Currently, the US military deploys ship-based and coastal lasers designed to destroy drones. And in 2010, a megawatt-class chemical laser was installed on a Boeing 747. The problem with that was that chemical lasers are unstable and produce a lot of residual heat making them dangerous in high-stress environments such as on a plane.

The laser tested last month is a solid-state laser that is far more stable, making it capable of withstanding the pressures and forces that fighter jets go through. This small step in the modernization of the military is a good sign that we are continuing to change and adapt for the future of warfare, and when it comes time for the next war, the United States military will be ready and capable of fighting on the 21st-century battlefield.


2. “China Military Strength” Report released

Each year, the Pentagon releases a report to Congress entitled “Military and Security Developments Involving the People’s Republic of China”. This report gives Congress an update as to what China is doing militarily. This year’s report was heavily focused on Chinese activities in the Arctic.

The Chinese Xuelong is the first icebreaker in the world capable of breaking 1.5 meters of ice forward or backwardDespite not being an Arctic country, China has yet been extremely active in the Arctic regions, including releasing its Arctic Strategy in 2018 and increasing military operations in the region. China has also developed the first ice breaker (the Xuelong 2) that can break up to 1.5 meters of ice going forwards or backward.

Another of the primary focuses of this report was the nuclear threat from Chinese submarines. These submarines would be able to go through the Arctic giving them a closer range to hit the United States. China has just completed six ballistic missile Jin-class submarines. These submarines are the first viable sea-based nuclear deterrence apparatus that the Chinese have, pushing them into a more stable nuclear triad.

This new advance in the Arctic is also bringing attention to their relations with the Russians. The Sino-Russian relationship has been progressing with the help of new sea lanes in the Arctic. This relationship was highlighted by China’s involvement in Russia’s Vostok war games last year that took place in the Arctic and marked the first time that China was allowed to participate.

With the growing threat from both China and Russia, especially in the Arctic regions, one has to wonder why the United States is so ill-equipped for fighting in that region. Currently, the United States has only two polar class icebreakers, both of which are nearing the end of their effective lifecycles and are in much need of repair and upgrades. In 2017, Congress did pass five fixed-price contracts to design studies and analysis of new icebreakers, however, this effort may be too little too late.

3. Strong words from Bolton on Iran

A carrier group was moved toward IranOn Sunday, national security advisor John Bolton said that the US Navy is moving a carrier group and bombers into the Middle East in order to deter Iranian forces. Bolton referenced that this was in response to troubling “indications and warnings” from Iran. It is the hope that this move will show that the United States will counter with “unrelenting force” to any attack made by Iran.

“The United States is not seeking war with the Iranian regime, but we are fully prepared to respond to any attack, whether by proxy, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps or regular Iranian forces,” said Bolton in a statement. This uptick in tensions comes after the Trump administration said it will stop waivers for countries buying Iranian oil and has designated the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps a foreign terrorist organization.

This move by the United States is likely a result of last month’s threat from Iran to close the Straits of Hormuz. This is not the first time Iran has made such a threat, despite never having acted on them. However, with the increase in sanctions and crippling of the Iranian economy, Iran is getting desperate and could very well take it out on the United States.

4. China is not interested in nuclear talks.

In a phone call last week, Presidents Trump and Putin discussed the possibility of a new accord that would limit nuclear arms. The hope was that this would eventually include China, creating a nuclear deal between the world’s three largest nuclear powers. This, however, was not taken well by China. China is rarely pleased when foreign countries speak on their behalf, especially about their national security.

President Donald Trump sitting alongside Russian President Vladimir PutinChinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang argued that China has the lowest level of nuclear weapons needed for their national security and went on to say, “China opposes any country talking out of turn about China on the issue of arms control, and will not take part in any trilateral negotiations on a nuclear disarmament agreement.”

Currently, the only agreement between the US and Russia that limits deployed strategic nuclear weapons is the 2011 New START treaty, and that is set to expire in 2021. Trust is a key component to any agreement, and with tensions continuing to heighten, any form of agreement may be hard to find.