India unveiled its indigenous Aircraft carrier few days back raising hackles in the neighbourhood, not in Pakistan, but in China. Chinese media is claiming that now it will be easier for India to project its power in the Chinese area of interests like Strait of Malacca, South China Sea and the Pacific. However, these concerns are slightly exaggerated as this aircraft carrier may not be ready by 2020 and that India never moved its earlier aircraft carriers away from Indian region ever.
Nevertheless, one thing is for sure, if the upcoming sea trials would be successful, India can reduce its dependence on other countries for import of costly arms and weapons. It might make Russia, India’s top arm supplier, a bit uncomfortable, but looks like it is not so! Helping India achieve self-reliance was one of Russia’s calculated aim, which is why it ventured in many joint development and production of sophisticated weapons. Two friendly countries developing technology is always better than one country developing and other buying it.
|INS Vikrant, credits on the image|
The new air craft carrier would give India further self-reliance in defence sector, which can reduce the import of costly arms and weapons. An aircraft carrier along with nuclear submarine is necessary for a navy to be called as a true blue navy. India is among the elite group of ten countries who possess an aircraft carrier in service at the moment. These countries are: US (10), Italy (2), UK (1), France (1), Russia (1), India (1), Spain (1), Brazil (1), China (1), and Thailand (1).
Last year China became third country in Asia to possess an operational aircraft carrier. It is a bit surprising that China, who loves to project its military power got its first aircraft carrier so late. China shared the same mentality of Soviet Union that a missile worth $1 million can sink a carrier worth $1 billion. Today when China’s economy is impressive, it doesn’t mind to roll out its own carrier in the blue waters.
In 1998, Ukrainian Trade Minister Roman Shpek announced that a Hong Kong based travel agency Chong Lot Travel Agency Ltd. has won the bidding of their retired aircraft carrier Varyag with $20 million. The idea was to convert the ship into a floating hotel and gambling parlour. However, China had bigger ambitions, it transferred the ship to a major Chinese Naval shipyard where it was renovated into an operational Aircraft Carrier. The ship initially lacked engines, a rudder and software.
In this article we will be comparing India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier and China’s first aircraft carrier Liaoning. Although the fair comparison would be between Liaoning and Vikramaditya as both belong to Soviet Era from their planning and that both will be operational after few months, we will be coming up with an article on that soon. Nevertheless, almost all of the development and construction of INS Vikrant was with India and most of the construction and development of Liaoning was with China. This makes it interesting to compare the technology and equipment incorporated by both.
Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning (16)
Liaoning (16) became People Liberation Army’s Navy’s first commissioned aircraft carrier on September 25, 2012. Originally laid down as Riga on December 6, 1985 in Mykolaiv, USSR (present Ukraine), the ship was launched on December 4, 1988. In late 1990 it was renamed as Varyag. After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the ownership of the vessel was given to newly formed Ukraine. Since then the work on the ship had stopped. Varyag was structurally completed and had to be equipped with electronics. However, Ukraine considered holding the work and stripping the ship off important parts. In just seven years, in 1998 ship was put for auction without its engine, rudder and electronics.
In April 1998, Ukrainian trade minister confirmed the selling of Varyag aircraft carrier to China. After having huge political drama with Turkey for getting transit right from Black sea to Mediterranean sea through Turkish waters, the ship finally arrived in Chinese water after four years on February 20, 2002 taking a big round of Africa via Strait of Gibraltar, Cape of Good Hope and Strait of Malacca sailing with an average speed of mere 6 knots (11Km/h) completing a 28,200KM distance avoiding Suez Canal which doesn’t allow passage of dead ship and Indian waters which is full of diplomatic and political activities as India takes any Chinese action as alarming.
Varyag was docked in a dry dock in Dalian in June 2005. After six years on 10th August 2011, the ship began sea trials. The Ship was commissioned on 25th September 2012 as Liaoning. China claims it is a training ship and not operational however, sources declare that there are aircrafts in the hangar ready to fly and launch a mission.
|Infograph – Chinese Aircraft Carrier Liaoning, credits on the image itself.|
Liaoning is equipped with AESA and Sea Eagle (Type 381) 3D Radar developed in China. It has a range of 100 Km (62 mi) and Altitude of 8000m. The radar has the capability to track 10 targets simultaneously. Like almost all modern ships which have CIWS, Liaoning is equipped with three Chinese Type 1030 CIWS which has 10 barrels that can fire 30mm ammunition at the rate of 10,000 rounds/min. The Ship is equipped with Chinese FL-3000N SAM having maximum range of 9KM for subsonic targets and 6KM for supersonic targets. To protect itself from the submarines, it is equipped with ASW (Anti-Submarine Warfare) 12 tube rocket launchers.
INS Vikrant is equipped with Israeli ELTA MF Star Radar and Italian Selex RAN-40L radar. MF Star has the range greater than 25KM for low flying attacking missile and greater than 250KM for high flying aircrafts. Selex RAN-40L on the other hand has a maximum range of 400KM and minimum rang of 180m. In the area of early warning and enemy detection INS Vikrant has an upper hand. CIWS and LR SAM used in INS Vikrant is not known yet, once the information is available we will update soon. INS Vikrant is equipped with four Otobreda 76 mm Italian made compact cannon which has the capability to fire 120 rounds/min up to 20KM. Westland Sea King Helicopter will be primarily responsible for providing ASW capabilities to the Indian indigenous aircraft carrier. India has not declared yet if it has ASW rocket launchers on board INS Vikrant
1) Liaoning can carry thirty Su-33 design based indigenous Shenyang J-15 Carrier based Multirole fighter aircrafts. The fighter is still in the testing phase and on 25th November 2012, two J-15 aircraft successfully made arrested landing on Liaoning.
2) Changhe Z-8 based on French Aérospatiale SA 321 Super Frelon helicopters will be used for Search and Rescue and Anti-Submarine Warfare operations. It is equipped with a surface search radar and a French HS-12 dipping sonar and carries a Whitehead A244S torpedo under the starboard side of the fuselage.
- Max. Speed: 249 km/h (135 kn (155 mph))
- Range: 1,020 km (549 nmi (632 mi))
- Rate of climb: 6.7 m/s (1,312 ft/min)
3) Ka 31 Helicopters will be used for airborne early warning
INS Vikrant on the other hand will carry twelve Mig 29K on board. The aircraft completed sea trials for the Indian Navy in November 2012.
Apart from Mig 29K, the ship will carry another eight naval version of India’s indigenous HAL LCA Tejas delta wing aircrafts. Which might take another many years to become operational.
Like China, INS Vikrant will also be carrying Ka 31 Helicopters for airborne early warning operations.
British Westland Sea King helicopters will be used for launching Anti-Submarine and Anti-Ship operations.
- Maximum speed: 129 mph (112 knots, 208 km/h) (max cruise at sea level)
- Range: 764 mi (664 nmi, 1,230 km)
- Rate of climb: 2,020 ft/min (10.3 m/s)
If the jets and helicopters of Chinese ship is compared with the Indian ones, India lacks considerably in this department. Chinese aircraft Carrier can carry 30 Aircrafts and 24 Helicopters Compared to 20 Aircrafts and 10 Helicopters by Indian carrier. It gives a good advantage to the Chinese over Indians especially when their primary jet J-15 outsmarts Indian Mig 29K.
However, at the moment, neither J-15 nor HAL Tejas is ready, Mig 29K is operational and will find place in Vikramaditya aircraft carrier as soon as it is delivered to Indian Navy.
Liaoning with its 2200 crew and 67500 tons displacement can sail with the speed of 30 Kn (55.56 Km/hr) whereas INS Vikrant with its 1,400 crew and 40,000 tons displacement can sail with the speed of 28 Kn (52 Km/hr)
The Chinese aircraft carrier appears to be a great giant with slightly more advanced fleet in front of INS Vikrant as well as INS Vikramaditya. J-15 is yet to prove its capabilities while Mig 29K still finds trust among Indians and Russians. 4++ generation MiG-29K is a combat hardened aircraft, which has the unique ability to even find and chase stealth aircrafts. It is only used by India and Russia and no other country. It is a carrier specific combat aircraft and Russian Naval Aviation has placed an order to get 24 more Mig29K/KUB between 2013 and 2015.
Unlike other ships, aircraft carrier requires much more skilled and experienced crew to take full advantage of its capability and when it comes to experience, India enjoys experience of operating many since 1961, which is more than 50 years. India even has a wartime experience during 1971 Indo Pakistan war when INS Vikrant (not to be confused with the latest one) helped Indian Navy form a naval blockade against Pakistan and bomb ports of Cox Bazar, Chittagong, Khulna and Port of Mongla as Pakistan Navy was trying to break through the Indian Naval blockade using camouflaged merchant ships. A PTI report of 4 December 1971 read, “Chittagong harbour ablaze as ships and aircraft of the Eastern Naval Fleet bombed and rocketed. Not a single vessel can be put to sea from Chittagong.”
China has declared that it will use Liaoning only for training purpose and as a model to develop new indigenous aircraft carriers. However, it sounds little tricky as China, which had not included any aircraft carrier before in its fleet because of cost issues, has now made a complete, full-fledged advanced ready to launch mission carrier. Another thing that strengthens the doubt is that Liaoning was supposed to be a floating casino and today it is allowing J-15 to make landings. It could be a training ship until J-15 becomes operational after that nobody knows what is China’s plan. Claiming it to be a training ship might be just a move to calm down the rest of the world, and save its image that it actually didn’t buy Varyag aircraft carrier from Ukraine to make its own functional and ready to launch mission carrier.
Both Indian and Chinese aircraft carrier are using the technology used in former Soviet aircraft carriers for take-off. They rely on Short Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (STOBAR) system for launching and recovering aircraft. Latest Aircraft carriers are using Catapult-Assisted Takeoff but Arrested Recovery (CATOBAR) system. STOBAR is easy to use, but limits the use of heavier aircraft and their payload. It is also difficult to operate bulky airborne early warning (AEW) aircraft using this system which can make the carrier very vulnerable during wartime. CATOBAR on the other hand is more advanced but needs precise designing and construction for it to function efficiently.
Indian Navy has taken the challenge to incorporate this latest technology in its second indigenous aircraft carrier, INS Vishal. For this, US based Northrop Grumman has offered to help India with the implementation of a steam catapult for CATOBAR on upcoming INS Vishal. Northrop Grumman expects if India develops and implements this technology on its aircraft carrier then it can become a good market for their E-2C Hawkeye AEW aircraft as CATOBAR system is ideal for launching bulky AEW aircrafts.
Now that both India and China have the capability to possess a true blue water navy. It would be interesting to see how both of them use their best assets to project their power and send warning. When Liaoning will be ready with J-15, it will be interesting to see whether China will send it first to deep Pacific or Indian Ocean.
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How Weaker Nations Are Taking Cyber Warfare Advantage
Cyber offensive technology (a malware that is employed for military use) gives clear asymmetric advantage which favours weaker states and non-state actors. They may pursue cyber technology in order to gain strength in pursuit of broader goal. This asymmetry is not something new and presents to be an effective tool to level the imbalance of power.
The entry for weaker actors is easier, cheaper, and it does not require much efforts. Presumably, one may need some computers and technical assistance. Offensive capability can also be procured through online criminal market, so that even high-skilled IT personnel may not be required. Furthermore, attribution problem is not yet solved, so it gives an advantage in staying anonymous, therefore, escaping failure costs.
Asymmetric tactics is pursued by actors that do not have constraints on their own concept of morality and war-fighting. Terrorists or insurgents might not have the same reservations about killing civilians or bringing high level of destruction in the event of a cyberattack than state countries. Similarly, those desperate enough but with a strong will to fight, may employ cyber method regardless of high costs.
Terrorists, for example, target innocents indiscriminately. Their goal is to inflict the threat of terror and violence in order to achieve a strategic goal. This consequently poses great challenges for deterrence. As weak actors are becoming stronger, others become more vulnerable.
Nevertheless, gaining cyber capability is not that easy as it may seem. The case of Stuxnet (a malware that attacked a nuclear facility in Iran) does not seem to prove asymmetric advantage, because the attack was apparently conducted by stronger parties with substantial funding and resources. Detailed intelligence on the target, access to the computer network of an opponent, finding vulnerabilities and then employment of cyber capability (all present in Stuxnet case) further complicate an argument about asymmetry. Moreover, the development of Stuxnet code required some high-skilled expertise that may be difficult and inaccessible by non-state actors or weak states.
Additionally, it would take time and financial support to plan, manage, and monitor the development of the code. Therefore, it would require more personnel than just IT specialists. Moreover, considering the target of Stuxnet, nuclear expertise would be required as well. Similarly, knowledgeable experts in other areas would also come in handy: there should be people skilled in how these infrastructures work to cause actual damage. So in case of a lone hacker with radical views, the use of cyber appears to be doubtful, as there are cheaper and easier ways to inflict damage.
At the same time, there are risks of failure and they are too faced by weak actors. If such mission was compromised, and/or a code behaved differently than expected and/or backfired, it would only increase the costs without ringing actual benefits. In this sense, stronger states are more prepared to minimize them than weaker ones.
If a cyberattack fails to reach the end result, weaker actors may have spent substantial amount of money in vain and have not reached the desirable effect. This, in turn, reduces the probability of using cyber in the first place. Weak states may want to invest in other ventures, rather than cyber, to be sure that they can reach the desirable end result. So the true costs of such attack have a high level uncertainty for weak actors as well, however they may not be prepared to bear the failure costs and may not have enough resources to mitigate them.
Another advantage of cyber technology is that the nature of cyberspace and cyberattacks favour an attacker. Offense is becoming easier than defense and guarantees anonymity. The Internet was designed to make connections easy and reliable, plus security was not in the original thinking of creators. Thus, an attacker has an upper hand to reach its target, while staying anonymous and inflicting damage through cyber means.
Today cyber defense is not perfected and has vulnerabilities that can be exploited. Although it has been greatly improved for the last decade, vulnerabilities still remain, especially in the sector of industrial facilities that proved to be slow in adjusting to current cyber threats. For instance there is increased complexity of integrated information systems, hardware devices and component software produced which only increase cyber risks. Moreover, security considerations are left aside because of the demand to design measures in accordance to CIA requirements and other specifications.
Meanwhile, the percentage of industrial computers targeted by cyber perpetrators has grown for more than 7% between July and December 2016 (Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT, 2016). In the first half of 2017, Kaspersky Lab blocked 37.6% attempts on ICS computers. Fortunately, no dedicated malware that affected industrial processes were found (Kaspersky Lab ICS CERT, 2017). Moreover, the Internet remains the main source of infection for computers that are part of industrial infrastructure.
As for anonymity factor, attribution remains a technical problem up to date. In case of Stuxnet, it is believed that it was initiated by the Unites States of America and Israel which both were interested in impairing Iran’s nuclear program. According to Sanger, one of the journalists who intensively covered the topic of Stuxnet as a US cyber weapon, Stuxnet has been a part of a highly covert US operation, code-named “Olympic Games”, which had already begun under the Bush administration. In any case, attribution is still lacking and Stuxnet was not attributed, so it is hard to speculate about the particular parties involved.
Asymmetric threat does not seem to be supported by Stuxnet case as there were substantial resources and financial capabilities involved to plan this operation. However, the possibility of employing cyberattacks in the future by non-state actors and weaker states cannot be ruled out as one case study is not sufficient enough to generalize. In case of cyberattacks by non-states, the damage may be limited, but cyber could be still used to compliment other weapons. In any case, this asymmetric threat does impede final deterrence on the world stage and should be taken in consideration in future security affairs.
After all, Stuxnet – the first use of offensive computer program – might have been an imperfect test-run of cyber means and more advanced are yet to come. One always fails before achieving success; this is what happened to pretty much any other weapon in history. More dangerous attacks may be mounted in the future, but for now these are all speculations.
 Sanger, D. (2012). Obama Ordered Wave of Cyberattacks Against Iran. The Ney York Times, [online] Available at: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/06/01/world/middleeast/obama-ordered-wave-of-cyberattacks-against-iran.html [Accessed on 17.02.2018].
Food for Thought: A Cyber Pearl Harbour
To begin with, the notion that a state can be vulnerable to a strategic surprise attack is one of the main discourses in cyber debate. A former US Defense Secretary, Leon Panetta warned¹ of the Cyber Pearl Harbour in 2012, highlighting the dangers of cyberattacks on critical infrastructure. However, this term has appeared in the beginning of the 90s.
The Pearl Harbour analogy appeared to characterize a “bolt-from-the-blue” surprise attack and originated in America. Strategic surprise attacks can temporarily suspend an enemy, thus giving an advantage to the attacker to achieve its goal. It can also be employed by weaker actors to gain a strategic advantage.
Cyberattacks can be launched against critical infrastructures in order to stun and freeze the opponent. It can render an enemy unable to execute their normal operations, leaving them outnumbered and vulnerable to future offence. At the same time, a state can recover from this (depending on the capabilities), overcome the compromised systems and retaliate even with stronger force, preventing an attacker to reach the desirable result. Still, there are certain strategic and operational advantages.
The specifics of cyber Pearl Harbour cannot be known in advance, as something like this has not yet happened, however there are a lot of speculations in regards to the disastrous consequences. Such an attack, coupled with conventional military support, can give obvious benefits to the attacker.
At the same time, more powerful states (like United States of America, England, Japan) would be more vulnerable to such attacks, as they are heavily interconnected and reliant on the network connections. Nonetheless, they should be resilient and ready to mitigate the costs of the attack, yet it is not clear how much time they might need to recover from a massive incident that affects critical infrastructure.
As president Obama once said²,“It doesn’t take much to imagine the consequences of a successful cyberattack. In a future conflict, an adversary unable to match our military supremacy on the battlefield might seek to exploit our computer vulnerabilities here at home. Taking down vital banking systems could trigger a financial crisis. The lack of clean water or functioning hospitals could spark a public health emergency. And as we’ve seen in past blackouts, the loss of electricity can bring businesses, cities and entire regions to a standstill.”
That being said, today cyber defense is still not perfect and this Cyber Pearl Harbour scenario cannot be ruled out. Increased complexity of integrated information systems, hardware devices and component software comes with increased cyber risks. Although cyber defense has been greatly improved for the last decade, vulnerabilities still remain, especially in the sector of industrial facilities that proved to be slow in adjusting to current cyber threats.
BBC News. (2012). Leon Panetta warns of ‘cyber Pearl Harbour’. [online] Available at: http://www.bbc.com/news/av/technology-19923046/leon-panetta-warns-of-cyber-pearl-harbour [Accessed on 20.02.2018].
President Obama, B. (2012). Taking the Cyberattack Threat Seriously. The White House, [online] Available at: https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/blog/2012/07/23/taking-cyberattack-threat-seriously [Accessed on 20.02.2018].
Wars: From Weapons to Cyberattacks
Historically war focused on public contests which involve arms, e.g. Gentili’s concept of war. The main goal of such contests is to inflict damage to soldiers of an opposing side. Through this lens, cyberwar may be seen as a contest which perhaps involves certain arms. But it should be noted that these contests are very seldom public, mostly due to attribution problem. Even more, cyberattacks do not kill or wound soldiers; instead they aim to disrupt a property. It is, however, somewhat debatable, because such disruption of a system (like meddling with the nuclear facilities of Iran) may have an effect on both, civilians and combatants in a longer run. However, these secondary consequences are not the primary goal of a cyberattack, thus, there should be a difference between a cyberwar and a war.
The element of war being public is very important, as war is always openly declared. Additionally, an opposing side is given a chance to respond to the enemy by whatever means it deems necessary. In the context of cyberwar, this is more complicated. In case of cyberattacks, it is very difficult to determine the source and the initial attacker (more precisely, an attribution problem which is to be addressed further). Moreover, many attackers prefer to remain silent. This argument is further exacerbated by the lack of evidence. At this date the best example of cyber warfare, going somewhat public, is Stuxnet – not attributed to and officially admitted.
In the end, the attack became public but it was hidden for a year before its discovery. The specialists did notice the Iranian centrifuges malfunctioning but they failed to identify the source of problems. This cyberattack was new because it did not hijack a computer or extort money; it was specifically designed to sabotage an industrial facility, uranium enrichment plant in Natanz.
However, attribution still falls behind. U.S and Israel are believed to launch Stuxnet, however they denied their involvement. Moreover, not any other country as officially admitted that. Based on the previous argument, for war to happen it has to be public. The case of Stuxnet or its similar computer programs does not therefore prove the case of cyberwar.
Moreover, if war is seen as a repeated series of contests and battles, pursued for a common cause and reason (for example, to change the behavior of the adversary), then there should be more attacks than just one. Nothing seems to preclude that one state may attempt launching a series of cyberattacks against an enemy in the future, which consequently be named a war. However, the adversary should be able to respond to the attacks.
Another view argues that the just war tradition can accommodate cyberwar; however there are also some questions to take into consideration. In cyberwar, a cyber tool is just means which is used by military or the government to achieve a certain goal. This fits the just war tradition very well, because the just war tradition does not say much about means used in war. It is more focused on effects and intentions (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online).
The example of cyberweapons and the debate around them prove that they are discussed in the same way as any other evolving technology. If agents, effects, and intentions are identified, cyberwar should supposedly apply to the just war tradition similarly to any other types of war. However, cyber means has unique characteristics: ubiquity, uncontrollability of cyberspace and its growing importance in everyday life. These characteristics make cyberwar more dangerous, and therefore it increases the threat in relation to cyberwar.
Another useful concept of war to which cyber is being applied is the concept of war by the Prussian general Carl von Clausewitz. It presents the trinity of war: violence, instrumental role, and political nature (Clausewitz, 1832). Any offensive action which is considered as an act of war has to meet all three elements.
Firstly, any war is violent where the use of force compels the opponent to do the will of the attacker (Ibid., 1). It is lethal and has casualties. Secondly, an act of war has a goal which may be achieved in the end of the war (or failed to achieve in case the attacker is defeated). The end of war, in this sense, happens when the opponent surrenders or cannot sustain any more damage. The third element represents political character. As Clausewitz puts it, “war is a mere continuation of politics by other means” (Ibid., p. 29). A state has a will that it wants to enforce on another (or other) states through the use of force. When applying this model to cyber, there are some complications.
Cyber activities may be effective without violence and do not need to be instrumental to work. According to Rid, even if they have any political motivation, they are likely to be interested in avoiding attribution for some period of time. That is why, he highlights, cybercrime has been thriving and was more successful that acts of war (Rid, 2012, p.16). However, in all three aspects, the use of force is essential.
In the case of war, the damage is inflicted through the use of force. It may be a bomb, dropped on the city; or a drone-strike that destroys its target. In any case, the use of force is followed by casualties: buildings destroyed, or people killed. However, in cyberspace the situation is different. The actual use of force in cyberspace is a more complicated notion.
 International Atomic Energy Agency (2010). IAEA statement on Iranian Enrichment Announcement. [online] Available at: https://www.iaea.org/newscenter/pressreleases/iaea-statement-iranian-enrichment-announcement [Accessed on 28.12.2017].
 Jus bellum iustum (Lat.) – sometimes referred both as “just war tradition” and “just war theory”. Just war theory explains justifications for how and why wars are fought. The historical approach is concerned with historical rules or agreements applied to different wars (e.g. Hague convention). The theory deals with the military ethics and describes the forms that a war may take. Ethics is divided into two groups: jus ad bellum (the right to go to war) and jus in bello (right conduct of war). (See Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy Online). In the text Cook applies cyberwar to the just war tradition, rather than theory. In his belief, “tradition” describes something which evolves as the product of culture (In Ohlin, Govern and Finkelstein, 2015, p. 16).
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