EDITOR’S BUNKER BRIEFING (27 February 2023, No.84)

UN General Assembly voting on condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
UN General Assembly voting on condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.


Dear Readers,

On the eve of the first anniversary of Russia’s illegal and brutal invasion of Ukraine, a UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia was backed by 141 nations, with 32 abstentions and only seven countries voting against. Aside from Russia, the other nay-sayers included North Korea (no surprise), Belarus (in Putin’s pocket), Eritrea, Mali, Nicaragua and Syria (President Bashar al Assad’s brutal supporter). China abstained.

Bracing for an Russian offensive to begin on this day it was somewhat surprising that no large scale attack was made on 24th February, either by land or air. Maybe this is an indicator that the Russian planning had not yet been completed – although there must have been pressure from President Putin to mark the anniversary – or perhaps the toll on Russia’s armed forces so far is making cohesive multiple faceted operations more difficult than before.

As discussed in Briefing 83, the promised foreign armour is coming to Ukraine – when crews are trained and supply lines are established – but the more difficult proposition of supplying Ukraine with addition modern air power still remains a thorny issue at time of writing. The dilemma of how long supporting nations can keep up the flow of military hardware is only set to grow.

While commentators have been wrong about how this war is likely to end – from the very first day in fact – the majority now think that President Putin will look to prosecute a long campaign, hoping to wear down Ukraine’s supporters in terms of the cost of arms supply and their citizens getting weary of the implications the war is having – especially the rise in the cost of living being experienced and energy/food shortages. The governments of those nation’s most committed to supporting Ukraine need to carefully manage the expectations of their citizens, particularly regarding the twists and turns of the conflict yet to come. Financing the continual flow of arms and other support over the long term will be questioned, especially in countries such as the United Kingdom which is suffering high inflation, a host of strikes and other economic downturns, some of which have been brought on by Brexit.

The pressure for a peace agreement, although unpalatable for most, may grow, although any deal that effectively results in Russia retaining Crimea and large parts of the Donbas would almost give a ‘green light’ to future actions by Russia (and perhaps China) that such military campaigns can ultimately be successful.


Andrew Drwiega

PS. Two of my freelance colleague join me in providing interesting stories in this issue of Bunker Briefing.


(with a glance across to all those Russians who suddenly ‘commit suicide’ or suffer fatal ‘accidents ‘ when dismissed by President Putin)

Death is the solution to all problems. No man no problem.

– Joseph Stalin


F-22 Raptor firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. (DoD library)
F-22 Raptor firing an AIM-9X Sidewinder missile. (DoD library)

Jon Lake – As is now well known, a Chinese surveillance balloon entered the United States’ Alaska Joint Operation Area north of the Aleutian Islands on 28 January this year and Canadian airspace on 30 January, before re-entering US airspace on 31 January, appearing above northern Idaho. The balloon was first sighted by the public over Billings, Montana, on 1 February.

Chinese officials eventually admitted that the balloon was theirs, but insisted that it was a runaway weather balloon that had been blown off course. The US government contradicted this version of events, insisting that: “This was a People’s Republic of China surveillance balloon,” that had “purposely traversed the United States and Canada,” and that it had been “seeking to monitor sensitive military sites.”

In recent years, Chinese balloons have been detected operating over five continents, violating their sovereignty, operating at the direction of the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). The US authorities revealed that three similar balloons had transited US airspace during the Trump Administration, and one more in the early stage of the Biden Administration, and that THE North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) had failed to detect those threats at the time, though none had penetrated US airspace for such a long duration.

Another Chinese surveillance balloon was observed transiting Central and South America soon afterwards.

While there was a theoretical ‘shot window’ over Montana, this was felt to pose an unacceptable risk to those on the ground, and President Biden directed that the balloon should be downed once there was no undue risk to civilians. The US Air Force therefore worked up an option to shoot down the balloon once it was over water, but before it crossed the 12-mile boundary where international airspace begins.

The balloon was finally shot down at 2.39pm local time (1939 Zulu) on 4 February as soon as it crossed the US East Coast near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. This did not put civilians on the ground at risk and ensured that the wreckage would fall into the shallow coastal waters, and would keep the resulting debris field within US territorial waters, making recovery more likely.

Before the shoot-down, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) ordered a ground stop at three airports in the Carolinas—Charleston International Airport, Myrtle Beach International Airport, and Wilmington International Airport, and imposed a temporary flight restriction (TFR) for a block of airspace off the coast.

Two Lockheed Martin F-22A Raptors from the 1st Fighter Wing at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia were launched to dispatch the Chinese balloon. These operated using FRANK callsigns – selected to honour 1st Lt Frank Luke, the First World War ‘Arizona balloon-buster’.

The lead F-22A, flying at Mach 1.3 at 58,000ft, fired a single AIM-9X Sidewinder at the balloon (flying at between 60,000 and 65,000 feet), from a range of about five miles. This punctured the balloon envelope and caused it to fall rapidly to the surface. The AIM-9X was used because its focal-plane array seeker is better suited to locking onto a balloon than the radar seeker of the AIM-120 AMRAAM, while its laser fuse was also felt to be better suited to the target.

The F-22s were supported by two KC-135R Stratotanker tankers, a US Navy P-8A, a US Coast Guard HC-130J, and two F-15Cs from Barnes ANGB, Massachusetts. The Eagles backed-up the F-22s and used their SNIPER targeting pods to record the shoot down and mark areas of debris for later recovery.

This was one of the highest air-to-air shootdowns in history and was the first air-to-air kill scored by the F-22.


US Navy
The US Navy’s (USN’s) Arleigh Burke-class destroyer USS Rafael Peralta (foreground), the USN’s Ticonderoga-class cruiser USS Chancellorsville, and the Japan Maritime Self-Defense Force (JMSDF) Atago-class destroyer JS Ashigara sail in the Philippine Sea in January 2023. Western navies like the USN, and partner navies like the JMSDF, are responding to growing threats at sea due to naval rearmament around the world. (US Navy)

Dr. Lee Willett – Western navies and their international partners are adjusting capability and operational postures to offset what naval leaders see as strategic threats from naval re-armament. Across the Euro-Atlantic and Indo-Pacific theatres, these navies are countering the impact of adversaries’ long-term growth in shipbuilding and near-term focus on technology and capability development.

In shipbuilding terms, since the 2000s international navies of all sizes and structures have been steadily increasing force levels. In technology terms, conflicts including Syria and – especially – Ukraine have seen increased use of capabilities like sea-launched cruise missiles and maritime unmanned systems.

“This is the age of naval rearmament,” Admiral Michael Gilday, the US Navy’s Chief of Naval Operations (CNO), told the inaugural, French Navy-hosted Paris Naval Conference, held at IFRI (the French institute for international relations) on 18 January.

“After two decades of land wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, where … countering violent extremist organisation was at the fore for our countries, I think it’s fair to say we under-invested in our navies,” said CNO.

Navies have enduring importance because national prosperity is heavily dependent on unimpeded access to markets and free trade routes, Adm Gilday explained. However, CNO continued, “Our national leaders have recognised that we need to re-arm our navies.” This is “[a] vector we all seem to be on right now,” he added.

“For our own navy, we’ve come to the realisation that the trends we see, going forward, are more submarines; less larger surface combatants, more smaller surface combatants; more auxiliary ships; and definitely more unmanned [systems] under the sea, on the sea, and in the air,” said Adm Gilday.

Admiral Pierre Vandier, the French Navy’s Chief of Staff, mirrored CNO’s perspective, noting that the world has seen “a vast naval re-armament” since the beginning of the century. Moreover, he added, this is a global trend, and not just limited to China and Asia more widely. “China constructs and deploys the equivalent of the entire French fleet every four years. Closer to home in the Mediterranean, in terms of tonnage many fleets will double in size between 2008 and 2030,” said Adm Vandier.

Alongside the quantity of tonnage is the issue of quality in technology and its operational impact. Globally, there is a “a proliferation of high-end means”, including unmanned systems, cruise missiles, submarines, and aircraft carriers, said Adm Vandier. “There is a levelling effect caused by the provision of new technologies.”

Of critical importance, Adm Vandier continued, “is the intensity of the naval rearmament we see everywhere”.

Central to the naval rearmament trend has been the return of naval combat, Dr Elie Tenenbaum, Director of IFRI’s Security Studies Center, told the conference. The global build-up in naval forces over the last 20 years was set against a parallel Western naval focus on maritime security operations in support of expeditionary power projection. “Combat – and warfighting, especially – has not been considered as the most urgent and probable mission …. The navies we have today in a way reflect this era of peace at sea that we are coming out of.”

However, Tenenbaum continued, “There are various reasons to think that the couple of decades ahead won’t look like the 30 years before.”

“The first reason is redistribution – if not of seapower, then at least of naval capabilities and capacities. The technological and economic rebalancing that has been in place since the start of the 21st century is now translating into massive naval rearmament – mostly, non-Western navies.”

Second, Tenenbaum continued, “We have a worrying combination now of both intent and capability, which make if not aggression then at least confrontation more likely.”

US MAJOR ARMS SALES (Defence Security Cooperation Agency – DSCA).


The State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of the Netherlands of High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers and related equipment for an estimated cost of $670 million.

The Netherlands has requested a possible purchase of twenty (20) M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers; thirty-nine (39) M30A2 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System (GMLRS) Alternative Warhead (AW) Missile Pods with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS); thirty-eight (38) M31A2 GMLRS Unitary (GMLRS-U) High Explosive (HE) Missile Pods with IMPS; eighty (80) M57 Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) Missile Pods; and seventeen (17) M1152A1 High Mobility Multipurpose Wheeled Vehicles (HMMWVs) and other equipment.


The State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Kuwait of planning, integration, implementation, and maintenance of a Medical Information System for its Kuwait Military Medical Command (KMMC) for an estimated cost of $250 million.

Kuwait has requested to buy planning, integration, implementation, and maintenance of a Medical Information System for its Kuwait Military Medical Command (KMMC) that consists of: Health Information Systems Information Technology (IT) hardware and software, IT infrastructure, implementation of life-cycle management practices, training, maintenance, support and warranty services, along with U.S. Government and contractor engineering, technical and logistics support services; and other related elements of logistical and programme support.


The State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Singapore of air-to-ground munitions kits, and related equipment and services for an estimated cost of $55 million.

Singapore has requested to buy one hundred (100) KMU-556 Tail Kits for Joint Direct-Attack Munition (JDAM) GBU-31; nine hundred (900) KMU-572 Tail Kits for JDAM GBU-38 and Laser JDAM GBU-54; two hundred fifty (250) MAU-169 Computer Control Group for 500lb Paveway-II (PWII) GBU-12; and two hundred fifty (250) MXU-650 Air Foil Group for 500lb PWII GBU-12.


The State Department has approved a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Poland of M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers and related equipment for an estimated cost of $10 billion.

Poland has requested to buy eighteen (18) M142 High Mobility Artillery Rocket System (HIMARS) launchers; four hundred sixty-eight (468) HIMARS Launcher Loader Module kits; forty-five (45) M57 Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS); four hundred sixty-one (461) M30A2 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Alternative Warhead (GMLRS-AW) pods with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS); five hundred twenty-one (521) M31A2 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Unitary (GMLRS-U) pods with Insensitive Munitions Propulsion System (IMPS); and five hundred thirty-two (532) XM403 Guided Multiple Launch Rocket System Extended Range Alternative Warhead (GMLRS-ER AW) pods.


Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition
28 February – 5 March
Avalon Airport, Geelong, Victoria, Australia

Australian International Airshow and Aerospace & Defence Exposition
15-17 March
Makuhari Messe, Tokyo, Japan 

The 16th Langkawi International Maritime and Aerospace Exhibition
23-27 May
Langkawi, Malaysia

Thanks for reading, 

Andrew Drwiega

Armada International / Asian Military Review