Saturday, June 29, 2019

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Of Interest: The Global Hawk Shoot Down: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

By Dr. John T. Kuehn | June 24, 2019

On 20 June (Iran time) an expensive U.S. unmanned aerial reconnaissance system (UARS) known as Global Hawk was shot down in the Strait of Hormuz not far from the major Iranian naval base at Bandar Abbas. Immediately, the war cries of “havoc” went up from the jingoistic U.S. national security establishment and pundits for a retaliatory strike against Iran. 

The Good. On Sunday, we learned that President Donald Trump turned these strikes off (temporarily) with the aircraft and ships literally in the air and at the ready at sea with guarded missile switches up and ready at the 11th hour—maybe the 11th hour and 59th minute. He thus possibly averted, for the time being ,an unnecessary and new “undeclared” war with the Islamic Republic of Iran. This is the same Iran that lost an Airbus full of civilians more than 30 years ago in the same location to a U.S. missile from an U.S. Navy Aegis cruiser in a tragic accident during another “undeclared war.” The story circulating is that the President asked how many Iranians would be killed in the 6/25/2019 2/2 strikes and when told about “100” balked because the United States had not lost a single life in the Global Hawk shoot down. The United States “only” lost $220 million of the cost of that platform and possibly the compromise of any technology in the debris that the Iranians might have recovered. 

The Bad. You might think that last sentence in the good is the “bad,” but it’s worse than that. The speculation is that the Iranians used a Russian-built BUK 2 type missile to shoot down the Global Hawk, which means it was either an SA-6 system or the newer SA-17 surface-to-air missile (SAM) system. Under the best of circumstances this means the Russians and their allies and buyers for that system now know it works against the Global Hawk, at the cost of what, $10,000–20,000 for the SAM interceptor? Or worse, it might have been the older and much more ubiquitous SA-6 system, which means even more people know their system can shoot this down. 

We provided a free operational test for our adversaries and competitors—great. 

Even if the cost was more it certainly was a fraction of $220 MILLION. As taxpayers, citizens in the United States should be offended. Who put that kind of money and technology at risk so cavalierly? Ultimately that would be Commander of U.S. Central Command, Marine Corps General Kenneth F. McKenzie, Jr. Nice job, general. The new American militarism hard at work for Joe and Jane on main street USA. 

The Ugly. But wait, it gets worse. How can the United States claim transit or innocent passage for a UARS on a spy mission against Iranian facilities in the Strait of Hormuz or the various islands (such as Abu Musa) in that part of the strait near Iran . . . and what are the littoral baselines? Are those baselines disputed between Iran, Oman, the UAE, to say nothing of the international community? Even if the Global Hawk was in international airspace, its mission was not a simple transit to relocate but an actual surveillance mission —nothing innocent about that. Thus under international law it might be argued the UARS was not due the protections of international airspace. 

In summary, the United States has a very poor case for any sort of action against Iran. The entire crisis, now and ever since the Trump administration withdrew from the nuclear deal with Iran (the JCPOA), is entirely a manufactured series of “crises.” We must ask, why all this smoke and heat over an area of the world that holds no real vital interest for the United States anymore (since it became energy independent)? Are we being manipulated by allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel, and the UAE for their own security purposes? If so, shame on them and shame on us.

Good strategy involves all the elements of national power, not just the military options. It is time for diplomacy, not missiles.

Dr. John T. Kuehn

Dr. Kuehn is Professor of Military History at the U.S. Army Command and General Staff College (CGSC). He retired from the U.S. Navy 2004 at the rank of commander, serving as a naval flight officer (NFO) flying land and carrier-based surveillance aircraft including over the Strait of Hormuz, Iraq, Gulf of Oman, and Persian Gulf. He authored Agents of Innovation (2008), A Military History of Japan: From the Age of the Samurai to the 21st Century (2014), Napoleonic Warfare: The Operational Art of the Great Campaigns (2015), and co-authored Eyewitness Pacific Theater (2008) with D.M. Giangreco as well as numerous articles and editorials and was awarded a Moncado Prize from the Society for Military History in 2011. His latest book from Naval Institute Press is America’s First General Staff: A Short History of the Rise and Fall of the General Board of the Navy, 1900-1950 (Fall 2017).

Tuesday, June 11, 2019