For Your Eyes Only Military News

RWANDA & BURUNDI:  Mass Murder Revives The Revolution

September 25, 2011: Fear of renewed civil war is gripping Burundi. In the wake of an attack that left nearly 40 people dead, the government and several opposition groups acknowledge the peace deal is in trouble. Opposition politicians complain that attacks on their constituents have increased since January. The government points to increased agitation and violent threats by former Forces for National Liberation (FNL) guerrillas. Since the FNL signed a truce in 2005, the largest political parties have hedged their bets. The youth groups associated with the parties are stacked with militants. The youth groups could easily become armed militias, and everyone knows it. Human rights organizations claim that approximately 125 members of the opposition were slain during the May-August time frame.  Opposition parties call the murder extra-judicial killings.
September 20, 2011: The U.S. State Department urged the Burundian government to quickly bring the perpetrators of the massacre in Gatumba to justice. America is worried that the attack could start another civil war.

September 19, 2011: In a terror attack vaguely reminiscent of the Mexican drug cartel assault on a Monterrey, Mexico casino, Burundian gunmen dressed as policemen attacked a bar in the town of Gatumba (about 15 kilometers west of the capital, Bujumbura). At least three-dozen people were slain. The gunmen pushed people in the bar to the floor and then shot them, one by one. Witnesses said the attackers also carried knives (likely machetes). The attack was designed to be an outrage and to exacerbate tensions in the country.  The bar was the favorite local watering hole for supporters of the governing National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy (CNDD-FDD). Though no political group took credit for the attack, the big worry is that radical Hutus in the FNL are responsible for the attack

September 9, 2011: Rwanda and France are making diplomatic efforts to improve ties. The presidents met in Paris to discuss mutual relations. Rwandan president Paul Kagame has accused the French of favoring the Hutus who committed the 1994 genocide.  Kagame had long demanded an apology. It appears Kagame has dropped that demand. France denied Kagame’s accusation.

French investigators have accused Kagame of being involved in the shooting down of the airplane carrying Rwanda’s president in 1994. Kagame denies that accusation.

September 7, 2011: A Burundian human rights group claimed that the government is sponsoring death squads which are attacking political opponents.

September 6, 2011: Burundian police reported they killed two gunmen in a heavy firefight that broke out in the capital, Bujumbura. One of the gunmen turned out to be a former security guard of an FNL leader, Agathom Rwasa, who is allegedly in hiding in the Congo.

September 2, 2011: Five former FNL rebels are seeking asylum. They claim they have been targeted for death by government assassins.

August 29, 2011: Rwandan officials and UN observers in the Congo now estimate the Democratic Forces for the Liberation of Rwanda (FDLR, a Hutu extremist militia operating in the Congo) now has approximately 2,500 fighters. It had 6,500 in 2008. The UN credits its demobilization and reintegration program which has encouraged FDLR defections. Rwanda also operates a demobilization and reintegration camp in its territory

August 26, 2011: The Rwandan government asked the African Union (AU) to recognize Libya’s rebel movement, the Transitional National Council (TNC). The government said that dictator Muammar Gadhafi is no longer capable of running the country. Rwanda is recognizing the TNC as the official Libyan government.

August 10, 2011:  A Burundian government report noted that land disputes are increasing. Some of the disputes are due to refugees returning to their former village areas.

July 20, 2011: The Burundian Army engaged a group of gunmen who ambushed two vehicles in western Burundi, near the Congo border. The government reported that two Burundian Army soldiers, a policeman, and five gunmen died in the firefight.

July 12, 2011: A grenade attack in the town of Kamembe (southwestern Rwanda, near the Congo border) injured 21 people. Opposition politicians accuse the government of undermining the democratic process and repressing minority Hutus.

MORALE:  All At Sea

September 25, 2011: The U.S. Navy recently notified 60,000 sailors (about 16 percent of navy strength) that they will be spending more time on sea duty (assigned to a ship).  When the ship is in port, the married sailors, and many of the unmarried ones, live in homes or barracks ashore. But when on sea duty, they can expect to spend at least 20 percent of their time living on the ship while it is at sea. While many sailors prefer sea duty, others avoid it. Married sailors are usually under some pressure to stay ashore most of the time.

This change comes after years of complaints about sailors who never seemed to get assigned to a ship (and thus risk spending up to six months, or more, at sea during a single voyage.) Meanwhile, other sailors seemed to spend most of their time assigned to a ship. So the navy finally combed through their personnel records to find who had been a landlubber too often, and changed their personnel software to avoid sailors spending too much time away from sea duty.

The navy was able to implement this unpopular (to those getting more sea duty) policy because the U.S. Navy has been downsizing (reducing the number of sailors on active duty) for the last eight years. At the same time, a growing percentage of sailors want to stay in the navy. Currently, the biggest reason to stay in uniform is the desire to stay employed. The global recession has pushed unemployment rates in the U.S. to over nine percent, double what they were four years ago. That said, new sailors have always wanted to stay in the navy. Currently, 72 percent of sailors finishing their first enlistment want to stay in, but it was 61 percent eight years ago.

This higher retention (people deciding to stay in uniform) rate has provided the navy with a rare opportunity to significantly increase the quality of their troops. This is being done in two ways. First, there are higher standards for those being recruited. Even with more people wanting to stay in, the military has to replace about 13 percent of its strength each year (due to retirements and first-termers who leave). Secondly, people who want to stay are being screened, in order to decide who can stay. This is done by finding out who isn’t meeting the higher standards.

In some cases, the higher standards mean little more than agreeing to train for a new job. The last decade has seen a major shift in job skills needed. There is a bigger demand for people with computer and electronics skills. The navy is going through a technological reformation, which is, for example, reducing the need for clerical workers (more automation) and aircraft maintainers (fewer aircraft, and the new ones need fewer hours of maintenance), and increasing demand for computer, intelligence and electronics experts.

But perhaps most importantly, this is an opportunity to increase the quality of the leadership. Many NCOs (Petty Officers) and officers who just get by, are finding out that this is no longer good enough. Retiring, or not renewing contracts on these sailors makes it possible for more capable leaders to get promoted. Many of these hotshot NCOs and officers believe that there is not enough pressure to get rid of the deadwood. Despite the fact that better quality leaders save lives in wartime, and get the fighting over with more quickly, there is a traditional resistance to getting rid of a lot of older leaders. The military always has a hard time dismissing officers and NCOs who have given years of loyal and diligent service, often at the risk of their lives, and almost always at great cost to their families.

Throughout the last decade, navy recruiters have been able to keep raising standards for new recruits (high school diploma, college and other studies, physical condition and test scores). In 2003, 94.3 percent of recruits had a high school diploma, versus only 90 percent two years earlier. It kept rising. The higher re-enlistment rates meant fewer new sailors have to be recruited and fewer went to sea with just classroom training. Of the nine enlisted ranks (E-1 to E-9), the first three are considered sailors still in training. That percentage keeps falling, and is currently about 25 percent. For most navies, the figure is 40 percent or more. A higher proportion of trained sailors on board makes for more effective, and content, crews.

The constantly improving retention and recruit quality is the result of several factors. First, there’s a war on, and patriotism does play a role in this. The three year recession also played a part, as recession always does. But the navy has also been doing more to make life at sea more bearable. “Habitability” (quality of life on the ship) improvements are constantly made to existing ships, and the designs for new ones. The next generation of ships, which will start to appear at the end of the decade, will have major increases in habitability (as well as much smaller crews). Better training, better living conditions for families and pay increases (including re-enlistment bonuses) also play a role. All the positives tend to work together, especially the steadily rising quality among the leadership (officers and petty officers). This has been going on for over a decade, and is paying off. On the negative side, there is the increased time at sea, especially during the Afghanistan and Iraq campaigns. But then the navy changed its policy on regular (non-combat) time at sea, keeping the ships in port more. This also makes it easier to get a lot more ships to sea for a combat situation. This was a major change in how the navy operates, and was well received by the crews. You can tell by the re-enlistment rates.

While the navy keeps having a difficult time designing and building new ships that it can afford, and do what they are supposed to, the quality of its sailors have never been higher. Moreover, the constant downsizing, and desire of sailors to stay in the navy, makes it easier to get people to switch to new jobs (something that requires months, or years, of training, and slows down promotions). And now, with sea-time more equitably distributed, morale has been bumped higher.

LOGISTICS:  Germans Run Out Of Fuel Off Somalia

September 25, 2011: A trade union dispute in Germany has led to reduced German participation in the anti-piracy patrol off Somalia. The problem arose when the union that represented the civilians sailors who manned the navy’s four tankers, refused to renew a deal while allowed tanker sailors to work 65 hours a week while off the Somali coast. This amount of hours was needed to run the tankers while on the high seas, and the tanker sailors received extra paid leave, when they returned home, for the hours above the 48 a week their basic contract calls for.

Without the 65 hour week, the tankers cannot operate off Somalia, so German warships there have to pull into a port to refuel, which reduces their time at sea by up to 30 percent (depending on how much time they spend moving at high speed in the pursuit of pirates.) The navy continues to negotiate with the union, but does not have much room to maneuver, as budgets are being cut. Refueling at sea requires specially trained tanker crews, and these tankers are always in short supply. German warships can depend on navy tankers from other countries in an emergency, but not for regular refueling.

WEAPONS OF THE WORLD:  Autonomous Kill Bots Continue A Trend

September 25, 2011: An American team has developed software that enables an armed UAV to seek out, identify and attack (with a missile) targets, without any human intervention. While this created some alarming headlines, this capability is nothing new and first appeared during World War II. Work on these robotic weapons has continued since then, much to the joy of journalists looking for a scary story.

Two years ago the U.S. Air Force released a report (Unmanned Aircraft Systems Flight Plan 2009-2047) in which they predicted the eventual availability of flight control software that would enable UAVs to seek out and attack targets without human intervention. This alarmed many people, especially those that didn’t realize this kind of software has been in service for decades.

It all began towards the end of World War II, when “smart torpedoes” first appeared. These weapons had sensors that homed in on sound of surface ships.

This torpedo followed the target until the magnetic fuze detected that the torpedo was underneath the ship, and detonated the warhead. The acoustic homing torpedoes saw use before the war ended, and even deadlier wake homing torpedoes were perfected and put into service (by Russia) in the 1960s.

Another post-war development was the “smart mine.” This was a naval mine that lay on the bottom, in shallow coastal waters. The mine has sensors that detect noise, pressure and metal. With these three sensors, the mine can be programmed to only detonate when certain types of ships pass overhead. Thus with both the smart mines and torpedoes, once you deploy them, the weapons are on their own, to seek out and destroy a target. These weapons were not alarming to the general public, but aircraft that do the same thing are.

However, smart airborne weapons have also been in use for decades. The most common is the cruise missile, which is given a target location, and then flies off to find and destroy the target. Again, not too scary. But a UAV that uses the same technology as smart mines (sensors that find and software that selects, a target to attack) is alarming. What scares people is that they don’t trust software. Given the experience most of us have with software, that’s a reasonable fear.

But the military operates in a unique environment. Death is an ever-present danger. Friendly fire occurs far more than people realize (or even the military will admit). Combat troops were reluctant to talk about friendly fire (mainly because of guilt and PTSD/combat stress), even among themselves, and the military had a hard time collecting data on the subject. After making a considerable effort (several times after World War II), it was concluded that up to 20 percent of American casualties were from friendly fire. So military people and civilians have a different attitude towards robotic killing machines. If these smart UAVs bring victory more quickly, then fewer friendly troops will be killed (by friendly or hostile fire). Civilians are more concerned about the unintentional death of civilians, or friendly troops. Civilians don’t appreciate, as much as the troops do, the need to use “maximum violence” (a military term) to win the battle as quickly as possible.

The air force has good reason to believe that they can develop reliable software for autonomous armed UAVs. The air force and the aviation industry in general, has already developed highly complex, and reliable software for operating aircraft. For example, there has been automatic landing software in use for over a decade. Flight control software handles many more mundane functions, like dealing with common in-flight problems. This kind of software makes it possible for difficult (impossible, in the case of the F-117) to fly military aircraft to be controlled by a pilot. Weapons guidance systems have long used target recognition systems that work with a pattern recognition library that enables many different targets to be identified, and certain ones to be attacked. To air force developers, autonomous armed UAVs that can be trusted to kill enemy troops, and not civilians or friendly ones, are not extraordinary, but the next stop in a long line of software developments.


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