For Your Eyes Only Military News

POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS:  Unrest In the Mali Islamic Republic
Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

May 18, 2012:  Mali still has a shaky interim government that ends its 40 day rule on May 22nd.  ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) wants the temporary rule extended 12 months so new elections can be held.

The March 22 coup leaders still exist, along with hundreds of armed followers. These guys threaten to take power again or at least try to. They are held back, in part, by being blamed for the northern two-thirds of the country seceding to form a separate, Tuareg and Islamic radical controlled country. ECOWAS wants to send peacekeepers to deal with the situation in northern Mali, as well as disarm the coup members. Naturally, the coup group and the armed rebels in the north object to this. ECOWAS is still talking about sending peacekeepers to Mali, but it may be a month or more before these troops actually arrive in Mali.

In the north, the MNLA, (Liberation Army of Azawad) which represents the most militant and heavily armed Tuareg rebels is losing ground to Islamic radical groups. The smaller, less well equipped ally is Ansar Dine, an Islamic radical group containing many former (or current) al Qaeda members and technically an ally of MNLA has been growing rapidly. Islamic terrorists from Algeria, Nigeria and other areas are coming to northern Mali. A growing number of Tuareg see this as an invasion and the MNLA is breaking into factions over this issue. Islamic terrorist control in the north is spotty, because they do not have as many followers (armed and unarmed) as MNLA (who comprise most of the northern population). The north contains only about 12 percent of Mali’s population and is largely barren desert. The Islamic terror groups are making themselves unpopular in the north by forcing everyone to live a strict (no tobacco, alcohol, music, video, shaved men and unveiled women) Islamic lifestyle rules. The Islamic radicals have also damaged some non-Islamic cultural sites. There are a growing number of anti-Ansar Dine demonstrations. This has caused the Ansar Dine to back off a bit, because many of the Tuareg men in the north have weapons. While most of these guys did not join the MNLA rebellion, they still back the idea of a Tuareg controlled northern Mali and increasingly see outsiders (as most of the Islamic terrorists are) as invaders rather than allies. The Tuareg population is also suffering from increased banditry. Before the MNLA uprising, the soldiers and police controlled crime, and at least kept the main roads safe. MNLA has not established that kind of security and food and other goods, which have to be trucked in, are in short supply.

May 15, 2012: Islamic terrorists stopped a food aid convoy from entering the northern city of Timbuktu, because women were involved in the aid effort. After hours of negotiations, and threats by the people in the city, the convoy was allowed in.

May 3, 2012: Several days of fighting between army rebels (who ran the March 22nd coup) and the Presidential Guard. The rebels won and the attempt to reinstate the elected government was defeated. In the wake of this incident there are several armed militias in the capital, all ready to fight if they see a chance for victory.

YEMEN: Al Qaeda Penetrated And Pushed Around

May 18, 2012:  In the last week, an army offensive has driven al Qaeda forces away from the key town of Loder and pushed Islamic terrorist forces away from other contested towns in Abyan province. The fighting has left over 150 dead and more than 500 wounded. That’s over a hundred casualties a day. Abyan province has been a center of al Qaeda (and allied Islamic radical groups) activity for years. The army concentrated 20,000 troops in Abyan for this operation. The army received assistance from American UAVs (most of them armed with missiles) and the air force. Two-thirds of the dead were Islamic radicals and their tribal allies.  Most of the remainder were soldiers or pro-government tribesmen.

The new government is still a mess and the country remains divided. There are still anti-government demonstrations in the capital, and other cities. The economic situation has gotten worse, as has the water and food situation. There are over 100,000 internal refugees, most of them destitute and completely dependent on foreign aid to survive.

May 17, 2012: Many of the troops who drove Islamic terrorist forces from the town of Loder are moving south. Loder is 150 kilometers northeast of Zinjibar, the provincial capital. In Zinjibar, where is where the troops are headed, to join the force attacking Islamic radicals who have been holding parts of Zinjibar for most of a year.

May 13, 2012: For the second time this month, tribal separatists blew a hole in a natural gas pipeline in the southeast. In retaliation the air force bombed separatist camps in Abyan province.

May 12, 2012: American UAVs killed 11 Islamic terrorists in the east. There were two attacks and one hit a meeting of al Qaeda leaders, who were planning how to proceed with the battles in Abyan province.

The Bulgarian ambassador escaped a kidnapping attempt in the capital. His eye was injured, so he will return home for treatment after only a week on the job.
May 10, 2012: Two air strikes in Abyan province left seven al Qaeda dead, including two leaders.

May 7, 2012: American media revealed that an al Qaeda airliner terrorism plot, organized in Yemen, had been disrupted. The plot planned to use an improved version of the “underwear bomb” that failed in 2009. The new plot was foiled because of the work of American, British and Saudi Arabian intelligence agencies. The Saudis have been very active at infiltrating al Qaeda in Yemen. The Saudis have lost several agents down there but have managed to infiltrate many terrorist cells and maintain relationships with numerous tribal leaders. The recent effort succeeded because the Saudis discovered that the al Qaeda plotters wanted someone with a Western passport to carry out the underwear bomb suicide attack. Britain has some Arab agents, who were British citizens, and provided one who had a British passport and an Anglo-Arab background. The U.S. was providing electronic intercepts and aerial surveillance of the plotters. The U.S. government is upset that the details of the operation were first leaked in the United States. The leak put other agents in Yemen in danger. The British Mi-6 agent who infiltrated al Qaeda and was assigned to wear the underwear bomb had already managed to get to Saudi Arabia with the bomb and turn it over for analysis. But his identity and possibly those of other agents are now known to al Qaeda.

COMBAT SUPPORT: China Simulates As Well As Anyone

May 18, 2012:  In the last decade China has introduced a growing number of flight simulators for its combat pilots. While some were bought from Russia, China has managed to rapidly acquire the technology and expertise to design and manufacture its own. Given the amount of Western technical data stolen by Chinese hackers in the last decade, China is believed to have made this rapid progress partly due to stolen technology. China has also been a major customer for Western commercial aircraft simulators, which use a lot of the same technology found in military sims. That said, China has a lot of talented programmers and engineers, which is key to building modern military flight sims and reverse-engineering any Western tech they have access to.

Since 2002, Chinese military pilots have spent over 15,000 hours in Chinese built simulators. The new simulators are particularly useful to train pilots for the high-performance Su-27s and Su-30s. A big money saver here is the ability to practice firing missiles in the simulators. This saves a lot by not having pilots do it with actual missiles. In the past, pilots rarely fired an air-to-air missile until their first time in combat. It was simply too expensive for the low-budget Chinese air force.
China now has about a hundred of these simulators, although many are crude by Western standards. That is, they are, for the most part, not full motion simulators (with electrical motors realistically moving the cockpit around and a dome over the replica cockpit, showing other aircraft and the terrain below.) China already has many of these high-end models for commercial aircraft. But these can also provide training for pilots of military transports. Simulator training for military pilots was seen as critical for the future success of Chinese warplanes. Now the Chinese are building full-motion military simulators that match Western models in every way.

The biggest threat to American air superiority is not Russia selling high performance combat aircraft to countries like China, but the development of really inexpensive flight simulators. Over the last decade, computers have become a lot cheaper, and the graphics capability of these machines has skyrocketed. That’s important in bringing the cost of realistic flight simulators down to a level that any country can afford.

Until the late 1990s, a realistic combat flight simulator cost about as much as the aircraft it was simulating. While that did reduce the cost (per “flying” hour) of pilots practicing, it was not enough of a savings to make it practical for less wealthy countries to get these simulators and use them heavily. Thus there was a continuation of the situation where countries could scrape together enough money to buy high performance aircraft, but not have enough to pay for all that flight time needed to make their pilots good enough to face the Americans.

The new generation of simulators cost up to a tenth of the price of the aircraft they simulate. Suddenly, countries like China can (and is) buy many of these simulators, and give their pilots enough realistic training to make them a threat in the air (at least to Western pilots).

Each of these simulators can be run about 6,000 hours a year. While a hundred hours a year in a simulator isn’t a complete replacement for actual air time, it’s close enough if the training scenarios are well thought out. And another 40-50 hours of actual air time gives you a competent pilot. Add another few hundred hours using commercial (game store bought) flight simulators (especially when played in groups via a LAN), and you have some deadly pilots. The Chinese have, since the 1990s, stressed the use of PCs as a foundation for cheaper and more powerful simulators. Now they have an opportunity to really cash in on this insight.

MORALE: Chinese SAC Blends In

May 18, 2012:  The Chinese Second Artillery Corps (SAC) is getting new camouflage uniforms. Rather than wear the same camo the rest of the army does, SAC is getting custom pattern designed for maximum effect in the mountain forests where this mobile missile force operates. SAC controls many of China’s ballistic missiles.

SAC is spread over several provinces and has been expanding over the last decade. SAC recently added two brigades apparently armed with the long rumored Chinese anti-ship ballistic missile, the DF-21D. This gives the Second Artillery Corps ten DF-21 brigades, plus brigades with several other types of missiles. Each of the DF-21 missile brigades has six missile battalions (with two mobile launchers each), two maintenance and repair battalions, a site management battalion, a signal battalion and an electronic countermeasures (ECM) battalion. The DF-21D is mainly intended for use against the USN (U.S. Navy), particularly the aircraft carriers.

The other eight DF-21 brigades in the Second Artillery Corps are the older models. The basic DF-21 is a 15 ton, two stage, solid fuel missile that is 10.7 meters (35 feet) long and 140cm (4.6 feet) in diameter. Range varies (from 1,700-3,000 kilometers) depending on model. While the 500-2,000 kg (.5-2 ton) warhead usually contains a nuclear weapon, it is believed that China also has a conventional warhead. This would be used against targets in Taiwan, since the DF-21, as a longer range ballistic missile, comes down on the target faster than the thousand or so shorter range ballistic missiles aimed at Taiwan. That means that the DS-21 is too fast for the Pac-3 anti-missile missiles Taiwan is installing around crucial installations.

Meanwhile, as far as anyone knows, or will admit, the complete DF-21D system has not yet been tested. There may have been some tests over the last two years, and all the components of the system are apparently present and working. There are photos of DF-21Ds on TELs (transporter erector launcher vehicles), and announcements of new units activated two years ago.

Many Chinese ballistic missiles are operated from TELs, which are often moved from location to location randomly, to make it more difficult for an enemy to attack the missiles before they can be launched. This is the justification for special camo for the SAC troops. But the special camo also identified those wearing it as members of the elite SAC, and thus also provides a morale boost.

SUBMARINES: Women Join The Crews Of U.S. Boats

May 18, 2012:  The U.S. Navy is half way through its program to begin adding women to submarine crews. After two years, twelve female officers are serving on two subs, with female contingents for another two subs being trained. The current drill is to have one more experienced (on a sub) female officer (usually a lieutenant, or O-3) serve as a mentor for two ensigns (O-1). The second dozen female officers will be integrated to sub life the same way.

Three years ago, the Naval Academy was asked to survey its female midshipmen and see how many would want to join the submarine service. About two dozen said they were interested for one of the seven slots the academy has been told would be available. The navy is initially assigning the women to SSBNs (ballistic missile carrying nuclear subs) and SSGNs (four SSBNs converted to carry cruise missiles), mainly because these larger boats have sufficient room to provide separate quarters for women. The Ohio class SSBNs also have hatches large enough to easily get in the equipment needed to build the separate quarters. SSBNs also have two crews, which alternate running this boats on their 77 day cruises. In between each cruise, the boats are in port for about 35 days for maintenance and resupply.

One compelling reason for allowing women to serve is a growing shortage of men willing to do so. Four years ago, the Naval Academy produced only 92 male officers for submarine duty that required 120. Submariners must be volunteers, and satisfy strict physical, psychological and academic qualifications.

This would not be the first time female naval officers have served on American subs. There were already twelve submarine qualified female officers in the navy when the navy decided to go forward with putting women on regular crew duty. That is, these twelve had taken all the training required for someone to serve on a submarine. There is a lot more training on the boat before you become part of a crew, but these women are qualified to serve for short periods. These women were technical specialists, and do serve for short periods on submarines, sharing a two person stateroom. The Other navies (Australia, Canada, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Norway) allow women to serve on subs, but not all of these countries have had many, if any, women actually volunteer for the service.

The U.S. Navy has a unique situation, however, mainly the length of the cruises (even the SSNs, or attack boats, go out for a month or more per cruise). The nations that already allow women on subs, have non-nuclear boats that spend far less time at sea, each time they go out. The women on these sub crews have got used to the lack of privacy, and both genders have adapted, as has been the case with mixed crews on surface warships.

But the wives of American submariners have been openly hostile to the idea of mixed male/female crews, and have not been reluctant to make their concerns known. What the wives worry about is well, sex. They know that this takes place on surface ships with mixed crews, and it has caused a few marriages to break up. Service on subs is even more claustrophobic and stressful. And there are far fewer places, compared to surface ships, for a couple to have some clandestine sex. But this sexual activity, even though banned on all USN warships, does happen.

The berthing problem seems to be overrated, as other navies have simply put a curtain or two up to separate the male and female berthing. The officers and senior NCOs have shared rooms, and if women are allowed to serve on American subs, it will be women officers at first, because that’s where the greatest shortage is. Not a lot of men are willing to go through all the training and tests to qualify for a job as an enlisted sailor on a nuclear sub, and probably fewer women are interested.

PROCUREMENT:  Indian Choppers For Namibia

May 18, 2012:  Three years after announcing the sale, India has delivered two of their Chetak and one Cheetah helicopters to Namibia, for a total price of $10 million. The Chetak is a license built (and improved) version of the French Alouette III. It is a 2.1 ton helicopter that seats seven. It can be armed with a machine-gun and rockets. Max speed is 210 kilometers an hour. Endurance is 2.5 hours and range is 290 kilometers.
The Cheetah is a license built version of the French Alouette II. It’s a 1.6 ton helicopter that seats four, has a max speed of 185 kilometers an hour and range of 565 kilometers. Endurance is six hours.

So far, India has produced 350 Chetaks and 250 Cheetahs, mostly for internal use. Chetak is being replaced by the locally designed Dhruv. India is trying to export more military equipment, and is competing mainly on price. The sale to Namibia also included training of Namibian pilots and maintenance personnel.

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