Do Recent US Naval Disasters Confirm Russia’s Electronic Weapons Claims

Two recent collisions in the South China Sea involving US warships and merchant vessels operating legitimately in the area have led to the US Navy cancelling all operations and standing down its fleet. What could have caused such a dramatic action, you might well ask. We wish we had a definitive answer but governments tend to remain tight lipped on such embarrassing stories.

When the USS John S McCain limped into Singapore, holed on the waterline after colliding with a tanker however, we were reminded of a story that resurfaced concerning a strange incident in 2014 involving a United States warship.

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USS John McCain after collision (Image source: worpress)

The most disturbing part of this story for US military strategy was not the fact that ten American sailors were lost, although that is what grabbed the headlines. More sinister was that the incident came only two months after the US Destroyer The Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship off Japan, with seven deaths resulting from the accident. And in May 2017 the cruiser Lake Champlain crashed into a South Korean fishing boat, fortunately no lives were lost on that occasion.

So what is going on. US Navy ships should have the most advanced naval technology in the world – apart from the British Navy of course 🙂 – and ought to have been aware of other vessels in the area in ample time to take evasive action.

According to a report first published in 2014, the USS Donald Cook experienced a total failure of its electronics systems, disabling weapons, tracking technology and navigation equipment after being buzzed by two Russian air force Sukhoi Su24 aircraft. Now the Su24 is an old design and by today’s standards not a sophisticated warplane. According to Russian sources however, the attack jets carry electronic weapons that can cripple the US Navy’s missile defence system.

Russia-1 television’s Vesti programme claimed an electronic warfare device called “Khibiny” was used by a Russian pilot to completely deactivate the defence systems of the USS Donald Cook in a 2014 encounter in the Black Sea. In the past this blog has reported that we learned from an Iranian nuclear scientist who is a friend of one of our contributors that Iran had jointly developed with Russia and China, a range of Electronic Weapons based on technologies first proposed by the scientist Nikolai Tesla, after whom the Tesla car company was named, whose work was sidelined in the west because of the threat it posed to commercial interests.

Reports coming out of the weapons and military technology industry more recently have suggested there was substance to that claim.

The US’ Aegis system, manufactured by Lockheed Martin, and carried by most modern American ships, is designed to protect a fleet against attacks by aircraft, and cruise and ballistic missiles. Other systems are in place to protect ships against less sophisticated weapons such as a boat pack with explosives being set on course to ram them.

But the Vesti broadcast (on Russian state controlled TV it should be noted) claimed the pilot of a Sukhoi Su-24 jet was able to deactivate “the whole ship’s systems” with “powerful radio-electronic waves” during the fly-by incident three years ago, around the time of Russia’s annexation of Crimea.

“You don’t need to have expensive weapons to win [a war], powerful radio-electronic jamming is enough,” the report concluded. At the time this was dismissed as kremlin propaganda in response to Obama’s boasts about US technical superiority.

At the time the US military confirmed the Donald Cook, a guided missile destroyer, had encountered a pair of Su-24s that repeatedly flew near it in the Black Sea. But a spokesman, Army Col Steve Warren, said then: “The Donald Cook is more than capable of defending itself against two Su-24s.”

Both President Donald Trump and his Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, have hinted that relations between the countries hitting a low point may be in some way connected to these incidents.

During a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, earlier this month, Tillerson said the world’s “two foremost nuclear powers cannot have this kind of relationship”.

And before an off-camera meeting with Tillerson, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin commented in an interview that “one could say that the level of trust on a working level, especially on the military level, has not improved, but rather has deteriorated”.

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Can Britain Dodge Being Dragged Into N. Korean War?

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Fat Boy Kim makes his favourite kind of music (picture source)

Britain has been America’s principle ally and shared the role of global peacekeeper since the end of World War Two. With the major powers of east and west closer to open conflict than at any time since the 1960s as US provocation of Russia in the middle east and Ukraine and of China in South East Asia has raised tension to the point at which a small error could trigger some very big bangs, once more there is a strong possibility the USA will call on Britain to legitimize another regime change adventure.

Could Britain’s government formally refuse Donald Trump’s call for help in waging war against North Korea, so long as Kim Jong-un does not strike Hawaii or the US mainland. It is after all not our fight, we have recently responded to calls for support in Syria, Libya, Iraq and South Sudan, even though that support has often taken the form of deploying a token force.

Britain’s membership of NATO does not automatically oblige us to participate in a conflict between Trump’s America and Kim’s North Korea, even if the latter attacks US military bases in the Pacific. Although Article 5 of the North Atlantic Treaty states that an attack on one NATO member is an act of aggression against the entire military alliance, the application of this provision is limited only to attacks on member states’ territories in North America, Europe and the Atlantic.

Consequently, if Kim’s warheads strike US military bases in the Pacific, the US could ask for Britain’s assistance, but cannot formally compel the UK and other NATO allies to join the military efforts against North Korea.

There is a precedent of course. When asked to support the war in Vietnam, the then Prime Minister Harold Wilson refused, saying he had doubts about the legitimacy of the war that the North Vietnamese had not posed any threat to the USA and under the terms of the United Nations Charter the North Vietnamese had a right to self determination, even if that meant a communist regime taking power, an outcome that was anathema to Washington.

Britain itself suffered from the limited scope of Article 5 in the early 1980s, when the caveat prevented then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher from invoking NATO’s collective self-defense provision over the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands.

Article 5 has only been invoked on one occasion: after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington on 9/11, 2001.

The US, however, may exercise informal pressure to ensure Britain’s support in the military confrontation with Kim’s regime.

The UK’s impending withdrawal from the EU will, according to some foreign policy pundits,  make Britain more dependent for on its transatlantic partner, as evidenced by British PM Theresa May’s plans for an extensive trade treaty with the US, which may mitigate the negative economic effects of Brexit. However, once unconstrained by suffocating EU bureaucracy, Britain will be free to negotiate trade deals with anybody and many nations including China and India are eager to trade with us. Bullying on trade might not give Washington as much leverage as they would like.

Consequently, Britain may be unwilling to permanently damage the so-called “special relationship” with the US by failing to back up its key ally in the war against North Korea, especially if the latter acts as an aggressor. We can only hope that as previously reported, the intervention of Russia and China may once again avert an escalation of the crisis into full scale conflict.