Archive for the ‘Military News’ Category

For Your Eyes Only Military News

November 5, 2012

ISRAEL: The Quiet War

November 5, 2012: While the rockets and air attacks grab all the headlines, Israel is fighting a less violent war against Palestinian terrorist groups. This includes arresting Palestinian businessmen who smuggle cash and goods to Hamas (in Gaza) and Palestinian terrorists in the West Bank that are recruited (or sometimes hired with that cash) in the West Bank. Israel has an extensive informant network in the West Bank, and some cooperation from the Fatah security forces in the West Bank. This enables Israeli police to spot new terrorist cells in the West Bank and make arrests. As a result there have been very few Palestinian terrorist attacks in Israel over the last seven years. This despite the heated rhetoric from Palestinian media calling for more of these attacks.
The new Israeli security fence on the Egyptian border has halted the flow of illegal African immigrants. Some 60,000 Africans have sneaked into Israel in the last few years, but last month only 54 got across the border and all were caught. Before the fence was built as many as 2,000 a month got in.

In Lebanon Hezbollah continues to support the pro-Iranian Assad government in Syria. Hezbollah men have been seen fighting rebels in Syria. This has caused a loss of political support in Lebanon where most people hate Assad and support the rebels. The increased economic sanctions on Iran have meant less money for Hezbollah. All this has distracted Hezbollah from its plans for another war against Israel. Hezbollah is still strong in southern Lebanon, but if the Syrian rebels win, Hezbollah will lose a major supporter. This would strengthen anti-Hezbollah groups in Lebanon and lead to curbing Hezbollah’s power.

November 4, 2012: A mentally Palestinian man ignored Israeli warnings to stay away from the Gaza border fence and was shot dead. Palestinian terrorists are constantly trying to cross the fence or plant bombs on it.

November 3, 2012: For the first time in four decades, Syrian tanks entered the demilitarized zone on the Israel border. The three armored vehicles were apparently fighting rebels and soon withdrew. Israel complained to the UN, which is in charge of the zone.

October 31, 2012: In the West Bank Israeli police arrested five men and charged them with terrorism.

October 30, 2012: Israeli police entered the West Bank and arrested thirty members of a Hamas terror cell. Hamas has not been able to launch terror attacks into Israel from Gaza, and has been trying to establish terrorist cells in the West Bank. Israeli police and intelligence, with help from Fatah (that controls the West Bank) have so far prevented this.

October 29, 2012:  Gaza terrorists, including Hamas, fired 18 rockets at Israel. Most of these rockets were longer range factory made models and aimed towards Be’er Sheva.

In Sudan, two Iranian warships arrived for a visit. This was seen as a gesture of support after an Israeli air raid a week ago in Sudan that destroyed an Iranian financed weapons factory. Israel will not admit to the air raid and Iran will not admit to owning the factory but both countries are involved in a low key war along the Iranian weapons smuggling route through Sudan and into Egypt.

October 28, 2012: Two more factory made rockets (longer range 122mm models) were fired at Be’er Sheva and were not intercepted by Iron Dome missiles because the computer predicted the missiles would land in an unpopulated area. Israel air raids on Gaza killed a Hamas leader and Hamas promised retaliation

October 27, 2012: Israel aircraft attacked terrorist targets in Gaza in retaliation for rocket attacks on Israel. One of the targets was a rocket being set up for firing, which exploded on the ground instead.
In the West Bank Israeli police arrested a local Hamas politician and accused him of terrorism.

In Syria two senior Hamas officials were killed by Syrian troops in a Palestinian refugee camp. This was south of Damascus, in the largest Syrian refugee camps (Yarmouk, population 150,000, about 30 percent of the Palestinians in Syria). Hamas has gotten involved in the fighting between Palestinians loyal to the camp leadership (a Palestinian terrorist organization, which has long enjoyed the support of the Assads) and Palestinians who support the Syrian rebels.

Palestinians realize that if the rebels win, and it looks like they will, they will be driven out unless pro-rebel Palestinians take control of Palestinian refugee camps (which are actually separate towns or neighborhoods occupied and run by Palestinians.) Hamas had long received support from the Assads. But under pressure from major donors (oil-rich Sunni Arabs) Hamas turned on the Iran-backed Assads. Earlier this year Hamas moved its headquarters out of Syria and openly denounced the Assaads. Hamas apparently also told the Syrian Palestinians to oppose Assad if they wanted Hamas and other Arab states to persuade the new rebel government to allow “loyal” Palestinians to remain and avoid retribution. The 600,000 Palestinians in Syria are 1.7 percent of the Syrian population.

October 26, 2012: Terrorists in Gaza have fired over a hundred rockets into Israel in the past week and were warned that Israel would send in ground troops if the attacks did not stop. The smaller terrorist groups in Gaza ignored a ceasefire negotiated by Egypt, which Hamas refused to enforce (for fear of triggering a civil war with the more radical terrorists).

AFGHANISTAN: China Begins Pumping Lots Of Oil

November 5, 2012: The government is seeing more instances of soldiers or police killing their comrades. Some of these attacks appear to be the result of personal disputes. Men from different tribes, clans and ethnic groups will stick together in a police or army unit and this will sometimes lead to disputes between groups that have led to shootings. Afghanistan is a very violent place and “outsiders” can be other Afghans from a different tribe or part of the country.

This sort of violence has led some NATO officials to question if the current government can remain in power after NATO troops leave. It’s been noted by foreigners (and admitted by many Afghans) that each of the 34 provinces have three leaders. One is the governor appointed by the central government. The second is the strongest warlord or tribal leader, who is sometimes more powerful than the governor. Third, there is the Taliban “governor”. These Taliban leaders only have real clout in about a dozen provinces. When NATO troops leave the appointed governor loses quite a bit of power. But most of these men know how to adapt and form a better alliance with local warlords and tribal chiefs. The Taliban are always the outsiders, because they are allied with drug gangs in at least six provinces and the drug gangs are very unpopular with most Afghans.

American and Afghan officials are trying to locate two Afghan intelligence officials (a captain and a major) who disappeared in the United States when it came time for them to return to Afghanistan. The two were in the United States for a ten week training course and, like many other Afghans sent abroad for training, apparently decided to stay and quietly blend into the local Afghan community. Despite American fears, none of these illegal migrants has ever been found to actually be a terrorist.

A NATO sponsored amnesty program has caused several hundred Taliban a week to surrender over the last three months. The amnesty terms include free health care (especially of existing combat wounds), temporary housing and a free plot of land. Those taking the deal have to undergo an interrogation, if only to eliminate those who are pretending to be Taliban just to get the benefits.

This is especially the case for those who do not turn in weapons when they give up. Some of those taking the amnesty are men who were with the Taliban but already left. There is a lot of turnover in the Taliban, with many men joining for only a few months. The Taliban often pays their men monthly, but sometimes cannot. The Taliban leaders are paid better and more regularly and if killed their families get a larger payment.

The government insists its police force (146,000 strong) and army are ready to maintain peace after NATO troops leave. While the police are not as competent or honest as their Western counterparts they have proved capable to foiling terror attacks and patrolling large areas of the country. There is no problem attracting sufficient recruits. But because of low literacy, training them is a big problem. A greater problem is the shortage of experienced police commanders. Afghanistan has never had a national police force and there are simply not enough men around who can supervise police effectively.

In many parts of Afghanistan, including the south, the security forces are not needed to deal with the Taliban. Local militias are driving out the Islamic terrorists, whose attacks against schools and uncooperative civilians have caused a lot of popular anger. Because the Taliban are allied with the drug gangs (who have a lot more local support because of the jobs and cash the gangs spread around) this local resistance is most effective outside Kandahar and Helmand, the provinces were most of the opium and heroin is produced.
There is also fear that the Afghan Army will not be as aggressive or as competent without the NATO troops that often accompany them into action.

There will still be NATO advisors, but this is often no more than a dozen or so men working with a battalion of over 700 Afghans. The army has fared better than the police because many men have served in army units. Unlike the police, an army is a familiar concept to most Afghans and NATO has adapted its military training to quickly turn tribal warriors into effective soldiers. Again, trained and experienced senior commanders are few. While training for these senior (brigade and higher) commanders can be provided, experience takes time.

The governor of Kunar province, on the eastern border with Pakistan, has asked for artillery or rockets so that he can reply to the continued mortar, artillery and rocket attacks from Pakistan. He won’t get artillery, since this could start a war with Pakistan. Negotiations with Pakistan continue over Pakistani sanctuaries for terrorists who operate in Afghanistan.

In western Afghanistan there is growing evidence of Iran trying to buy more influence. This is done by via Iranian charities, financing new businesses or simply bribing local officials to be pro-Iranian. The main interest here is seeking ways to halt the drug smuggling into Iran, where all that Afghan opium and heroin have caused millions to be addicted. This is a big social problem.
NATO casualties continue to decline. For the last two months, foreign troop casualties were about half what they were last year. Violence is also declining in areas where Afghan forces have taken over all security responsibilities. But some of that is believed the result of drug gangs bribing the police, and even army troops, to ignore drug-related activities.

American politicians are upset about a video showing U.S. security contractors intoxicated (with alcohol or drugs) while off-duty. Intoxicants are banned for troops and contract personnel in Afghanistan. But enterprising Afghans will provide imported or locally made booze. Opium and heroin are cheap in Afghanistan, and other drugs are smuggled in from Pakistan.

A Chinese firm has begun pumping oil from a well in northwest (the Amu Darya basin). This is a first for Afghanistan and the Chinese expect get 2,000 barrels a day from this well and is drilling others. The Chinese contract was signed ten months ago. China is building a refinery in the north as well, which could make Afghanistan able to eliminate nearly all fuel imports. Last year the government made a deal with China to allow Chinese oil companies to explore for oil up there. The government had to send 300 police to guard the Chinese as a local warlord was demanding payments to allow the exploration. Potential foreign investors are trying to convince Afghan leaders to get the corruption and violence under control, at least in areas where lots of minerals, oil and natural gas are found. Exporting these raw materials (mostly via the northern routes) would be a major boost to the Afghan economy. Too often, local warlords and greedy government officials steal so much (in bribes and outright theft) that foreign investors quit or simply won’t come in. A lot of senior Afghan leaders realize how this has to work, but will that be enough to make it work?

November 3, 2012: Several days of sweeps in the southeast yielded nearly a ton of explosives along with several Taliban and Haqqani Network leaders. Dozens of lower ranking terrorists were captured or killed.
In the south (Kandahar) a district police chief was killed by a roadside bomb.
October 31, 2012: In the south (Helmand) two roadside bombs killed 11 civilians. The Taliban denied responsibility and have been increasingly denying that they are causing most of the civilian deaths. But most Afghans know better.

October 26, 2012: In the north (Faryab province) the Taliban attempted to kill some senior officers and local officials inside a mosque. The bomb exploded outside the mosque, killing over 40 people, but no one inside was killed or badly injured.

October 19, 2012: Some 450 kilometers northwest of the capital a roadside bomb killed 19 civilians.

AIR TRANSPORT: Russia Revives Its Fleet

November 5, 2012: The Russian Air Force recently announced ambitious plans to invigorate their aging force of air transports. This is to be accomplished by ordering 170 new aircraft by the end of the decade. These include 20 An-124s, 39 Il-476s, 11 An-140s, 30 L-410s, 50 Il-214s and 20 An-148s. Currently the air force depends on a lot of Cold War era transports (An-124s, An-22s, Il-76s and An-12, An-72, An-24 and An-26s). A lot of the older transports cannot be used because of age, or cannot be used much because of the high cost of maintenance. Some of the older aircraft (An-124s and Il-76s) will be refurbished, but most of the remainder will be scrapped as they become too old to be used (too expensive to maintain or simply too unreliable).

The An-124 is the world’s largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of 120 tons. Russia has been trying to get it back into production for over a decade. The Il-476 can carry up to 60 tons and is an update of the older Il-76 (which was similar to the recently retired U.S. C-141, which was replaced by the C-17.) The An-140 is a twin turboprop transport from Ukraine that can carry up to five tons of cargo or 52 passengers. The L-410 is similar to the An-140 but smaller (it carries about 1.5 tons or 19 passengers).  The Il-214 is a twin-jet transport, still in development, that can carry 20 tons. The An-148 is a twin jet passenger aircraft that can carry up to 80 people, or nine tons. This one is often used as a “VIP transport” for hauling generals and senior government officials around.
The new aircraft are more reliable and cheaper to operate. If the new aircraft are not purchased (at a cost of nearly $10 billion) the Russian Air Force will have very little transport capability at all in a decade or so.

WARPLANES:  And Now, The AH-64E

November 5, 2012: A year after the U.S. Army began receiving the first of 51 “low rate initial production” Block III models of the AH-64D Apache helicopter gunship they have decided to rename the new model the AH-64E. This is the latest version of the AH-64 which had its first flight four years ago. It was decided that the Block III improvements were so numerous and dramatic that it made more sense to go to a simpler and more descriptive AH-64E designation.
The AH-64A was the initial model, entering service in 1986. The last AH-64A was taken out of service earlier this year for upgrade to the AH-64D standard. The AH-64B was an upgrade proposed for the early 1990s, but cancelled, as was a similar “C” model upgrade. Some of these cancelled improvements were in great demand. Thus the “B” and “C” model upgrades were incorporated in the AH-64D Block I (1997). The AH-64D Longbow (because of the radar mast, making it possible to see ground targets, and flying obstacles in all weather) models began appearing five years later. By 2006 over 500 American AH-64As had been upgraded to AH-64Ds.
By the end of the decade, 634 army AH-64s will be upgraded to the new AH-64E standard. The first AH-64Es are entering service now, and will be heavily used to reveal any design or manufacturing flaws. These will be fixed before mass production and conversion begins.
AH-64Es have more powerful and fuel efficient engines as well as much improved electronics. AH-64Es will also have Internet like capabilities enabling these gunships to quickly exchange images, video and so on with other aircraft and ground troops. AH-64Es will be able to control several UAVs, and launch missiles at targets spotted by these UAVs. The AH-64E III radar will have longer range and onboard computers will be much more powerful. The electronics will be easier to upgrade and maintain. The combination of improved fire control and Internet capabilities is expected to greatly increase the capabilities of the AH-64.
The 10 ton AH-64E carries a pilot and a weapons officer, as well as up to 16 Hellfire missiles (plus the 30mm automatic cannon). Sorties average three hours. The AH-64 can operate at night and has a top speed of 260 kilometers an hour.
In addition to the U.S. Army, the AH-64E the UAE (United Arab Emirates) is buying 60. Neighboring Saudi Arabia recently ordered 70, as well as upgrades for its existing twelve AH-64s, to the “E” standard. Many more of the existing 1,100 AH-64s (American and foreign) may be upgraded as well.

INFANTRY: Happy Trails

November 5, 2012: Over the last decade, terrorists have increasingly used mines and trailside bombs to attack foot patrols. The troops have been asking for lightweight tools to deal with this threat. Now they have another one. Weighing 16 kg (35 pounds) the MPLC (Man Portable Line Charge) is right because it’s light. It’s a simple device to use. A 24.2 meter (75 foot) rope, coated in plastic explosives, is propelled by a rocket in the desired direction from a small stand. When detonated, the “explosive rope” clears a lane of mines and IEDs (improvised explosive devices) wide enough got infantry to get through. MPLC is much lighter than the existing 57 kg (126 pound) APOBS (Anti-Personnel Obstacle Breaching System) system. MPLC arrived in Afghanistan earlier this year and has already been used nearly a hundred times in combat.

Many of the patrols in Afghanistan, especially those likely to meet the enemy, are carried out on foot. For years these troops have demanded a lighter system (that can be carried by one man) and now they have it. In addition to MPLC the troops have also received several generations of portable jammers (to prevent the use of cell phones to detonate bombs), lightweight UAVs (Raven) and dogs who can smell explosives.

It was only a decade ago that the U.S. Army began replacing the century old Bangalore Torpedo mine clearing system with the lighter and more effective APOBS device, and it became a crucial bit of equipment in the face of growing Taliban use of landmines and tail side bombs.  APOBS first appeared in 2002, after eight years of development. Weighing a quarter as much as the older 205 kg (451 pounds) Bangalore Torpedo, the APOBS could be carried by two men, as opposed to the older system that required ten or more. APOBS can be set up in under two minutes. It uses a rocket system that carries a cable with explosives attached. The explosion clears (mines and bombs) from a 45 meter (106 foot) long and one meter (3 feet) wide path. MPLC does the same thing, but with a shorter cable (rope). MPLC took less than a year to develop once the military put out a call for new designs.

Britain has something similar to APOBS, called Python, but it is not light enough to be carried by troops (important in many combat situations.) Britain used Python for the first time two years ago in Afghanistan. Python uses a rocket that carries a 228 meter (700 foot) flexible tube filled with 1.4 tons of explosives. When the tube lands, the explosives go off, destroying over 90 percent of mines, or other explosive devices, in an area 180 meters (558 feet) long and 7 meters (22 feet) wide. The cleared area has to be double checked for mines or devices that survived Python, but this can be done quickly, and troops and vehicles can rush through the cleared lane if they are under fire.

The Python is basically an update of a similar system developed in the 1950s (Giant Viper). The U.S. has a similar system (the Mk 154 Mine Clearance System), which used rockets to propel a cable (stuffed with explosives) down a road. The explosives were detonated, and all mines, and roadside bombs, are detonated or disabled over an area of 14 by 100 meters. The Mk 154 was originally designed to quickly clear mines during combat. But it turned out to work against booby traps and roadside bombs as well.

All these systems were developed from the bangalore torpedo. This system used explosives filled tubes that had to be pushed into position. The original bangalore torpedo was developed before World War I, for quickly clearing booby traps. A few years later, it was found very capable for clearing barbed wire barriers during World War I, and continued during World War II (when landmines were widely used for the first time).
APOBS received an upgrade in 2006 (Mod 2). Each APOBS system costs about $52,000. The army and marines have ordered over 10,000, and used most of those in combat and training. MPLC is cheaper ($3,600 each), as well as lighter and is replacing APOBS in many situations. So far, 3,000 MPLC systems have been ordered.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

October 24, 2012

Syria: Iran Prepares For The End

October 23, 2012: The rebels are getting anti-aircraft missiles and as these weapons show up in one area after another the Syrian Air Force must bomb from a higher altitude. This means much less accurate attacks since the government does not have smart bombs. Fewer rebel fighters and more civilians are being hit.
The army still has several bases that are cut off from ground supply and surrounded by rebels. The soldiers under siege are demoralized and many surrender the first chance they get (away from officers who might shoot them). Losing these bases is bad for morale, as is the fact that the army keeps losing everywhere, while getting more and more bad publicity for air force attacks that kill mostly civilians. While most Alawites are still determined to fight to the end no matter what, a growing number are seeking another way out of this mess.

While Sunni Arabs from many nations have come to fight for the rebels, many Shia Arabs are being encountered fighting for the government. These include Hezbollah men from Lebanon and Iraqi Shia from pro-Iranian militias in Iraq. Hezbollah has been firing rockets across the border into rebel held Syrian villages. Rebels claim that thousands of Hezbollah gunmen have moved into Syria to fight for the Assad dictatorship. Meanwhile Iranians are taking over the task of providing bodyguards for senior members of the Assad government. Too many Syrians, including a growing number of Shia, want the Assads gone and the Iranian bodyguards give the Iranians some more leverage on the Assads. But Iran is basically tied to a lost cause.

Turkish artillery continues to fire a few shells into Syria each day, to discourage more Syrian fire into Turkey, including five killed on the 3rd. So far this month over a dozen Turkish civilians have been killed or wounded by this Syrian Army fire. Return fire by Turkish artillery has caused the Syrians to try real hard to not fire in the direction of Turkey (despite the many rebel bases just across the border in Turkey.)

Most Syrian rebel groups have agreed to join a new military coalition that would coordinate their efforts in taking down the Assad government. The main rebel military organization, the FSA (Free Syrian Army) is largely for supplying rebel fighters inside Syria. The FSA is based in Turkey and has less and less control over combat leaders inside Syria. Turkey and Qatar were behind this new deal, and applied lots of pressure to get many different rebels groups to agree. But the deal has not been signed yet, and many not be for another week or two. Meanwhile the FSA is constantly assuring donors that the Islamic radical groups are under control. But everyone agrees that such control is partial, and not complete. The general belief is that, once the rebellion is over, the Islamic terrorists will go back to attacking those that disagree with them (which includes almost everyone in the world.)

October 22, 2012: A Jordanian soldier was killed when his unit encountered a group of armed men trying to cross the border into Syria and a gun battle broke out. The twelve armed men were arrested. This was the first death of a soldier on the border since the Syrian civil war began. It’s increasingly common for Sunni Arabs in Jordan to join the rebels, usually after obtaining weapons in Jordan (which means they can’t cross legally.)

Elsewhere in Jordan police arrested 11 men and charged them with being Islamic terrorists planning to attack targets in Jordan. The arrested men had obtained mortars and assault rifles smuggled in from Syria. This was blamed on the growing number of Islamic terrorist groups operating in Syria, who continue to support worldwide Islamic rule. While these groups work with the rebels, they also plan to take over Syria after the rebel victory and turn Syria into a religious dictatorship. In the meantime, the Islamic terrorists support violence in neighboring countries. A lot of the aid for the rebels, coming from groups in Saudi Arabia and other oil-rich Gulf states, is earmarked for Islamic radical groups only. This is causing problems for countries bordering Syria, where Islamic terrorists are not welcome.

October 21, 2012:  A car bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood of the capital, near police headquarters, killing 13 and wounding many more. This was the first bombing directed at Christians, who are five percent of the populations and have generally sided with the Assads.

October 20, 2012: In Lebanon there was gunfire in the capital as a large anti-Syrian demonstration took place, protesting the death of an anti-Syrian security official the day before. Lebanon has long been divided over Syria. The Shia minority (about 40 percent of the population) favored the Assad dictatorship in Syria. Most Lebanese are hostile to Syria, in part because Syria occupied most of the country from 1990 to 2005, as part of the peace deal that ended the 1975-90 civil war. The Syrians used the occupation to aid Hezbollah and operate many criminal enterprises (some of which remained after Syrian troops were forced by Lebanese and Syrian pressure to leave in 2005.)

Another reason for anti-Syrian sentiments is the desire by many Syrians to make Lebanon part of Syria again. Over the last two thousand years, that was often the case. But for most of the last century Lebanon has been independent and most Lebanese want to keep it that way.

October 19, 2012: A bomb went off in a Christian neighborhood in the Lebanese capital, killing a senior security official (and seven others) who was openly anti-Assad. This angered many Lebanese who are still bitter about decades of Syrian interference in Lebanese affairs. Police arrested a former government official (Michel Samaha), long known as pro-Syria and accused him of planning the operation. Police say Michel Samaha admitted he transported explosives from Syria in his own automobile.

October 18, 2012: Warplanes bombed a residential area of Maaret Al Numan (a town near the Turkish border that the rebels captured nine days ago) and killed over 40 civilians. One bomb hit a mosque, where women and children had gone to seek shelter from the air raids. In the capital a suicide bomber detonated his explosives near the Interior Ministry, but he was the only casualty.

October 17, 2012: Syrian airliners have been banned from operating at EU (the 27 member European Union) airports. Syrian airliners can still fly through EU airspace, and can land if there is an emergency. This is yet another effort by the EU to force the Assad government to halt its attacks on Syrian civilians.
Outside the northern town of Maaret Al Numan rebels shot down a Syrian air force helicopter.

ETHIOPIA:  The Kenyan Alliance

October 23, 2012: Ethiopia continues to congratulate itself on the peaceful (so far) transition of power following the death of Meles Zenawi in August. Meles ruled Ethiopia for 21 years. Ethiopia has also had a history of very violent power transitions. The new prime minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, was Meles picked successor, so he arrived with the mantle of authority. Meles made Hailemariam his second-in-command in 2010, and in retrospect it appears Meles had a power transfer plan in mind. Ethiopia has new national elections in 2015.

October 20, 2012: The African Union peacekeeping operation Somalia (AMISOM) is touting the seizure of the Somali port of Kismayo as a victory but one that does not signal the defeat of the Somali Al Shabaab Islamist militia.

The Kenyan military performed extremely well in the latter phases of the attack on the port and Kenyans are proud of the Kenya Defense Force’s (KDF) achievements. However, diplomats in the Horn of Africa know the real victor in Somalia is Ethiopia. The Kenyans were more acceptable military interveners than the Ethiopians, because so many Somalis regard the Ethiopians as invaders, even if a large of majority of Somalis oppose Al Shabaab. Ethiopia is the geographic nexus of the horn. It borders on Sudan, South Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia, and Kenya. It is also the region’s economic powerhouse. Ethiopia’s alliance with Kenya gives it a reliable security partner in the Horn. Trouble with Islamist Sudan (northern Sudan) brought Kenya and Ethiopia together. Tribal disturbances along the Kenya-Ethiopia border forced their governments to work together on bi-lateral security issues. The Somali experience, however, has sealed that alliance. (Austin Bay)

October 18, 2012: Peace negotiations between Ethiopia and the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) have broken down again. Kenya was serving as the mediator in the newest round of talks.  The ONLF said that Ethiopia had demanded that the rebel group recognize the authority of the Ethiopian constitution as a pre-condition for talks. The ONLF said that the condition was unacceptable because the talks were supposed to begin without pre-conditions. There is a Kismayo connection to the talks. Many ethnic Ogaden Somalis live in Kismayo and surrounding areas. Kenya had hoped that positive negotiations between the ONLF and Ethiopia would help improve political cooperation among Ogaden clans in southern Somalia.

October 17, 2012: A grenade attack in Coast state wounded ten Kenyan policemen. The policemen were searching a house and had found a weapons cache. Police attributed the grenade attack to the Somali Al Shabaab. Kenyan authorities believe Al Shabaab is responsible for several grenade attacks and shootings in Coast state that have occurred this year.

October 16, 2012:  Somali government and Kenyan military forces said that they are confronting a security vacuum in the city of Kismayo. Somali forces have arrested several dozen suspected Al Shabaab fighters in the port city.
Kenya charged Sheik Mohammed Dor with inciting violence in the country. Dor is a member of parliament and represents a Muslim area. Dor denied the charges. He is also accused of supporting the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC). The MRC is a separatist organization which favors secession for the Coast province.

October 15, 2012: A Kenyan municipal leader was hacked to death in the Coast province town of Kwale.  Police called the man’s murder a revenge slaying for the arrest Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) leader, Omar Mwanbyadzi. A gunfight broke out when police arrested Mwanbyadzi and two people died in the firefight.

October 14, 2012: Kenya held ceremonies commemorating Kenya Defense Forces Day. This is also the first anniversary of Kenya’s intervention in Somalia.

October 12, 2012: Al Shabaab has threatened Kenya with further retribution for its involvement in Somalia. An Al Shabaab spokesman vowed to wage war on Kenyan soil.

October 11, 2012: Ethiopian troops in armored vehicle and trucks are reportedly massed in the Somali border town of Luq. A Somali National Army (SNA) commander reported that the Ethiopian soldiers are preparing for a major offensive on Al Shabaab controlled territory.
October 9, 2012: Kenya claimed that its military forces killed over 3,000 Al Shabaab fighters since it intervened in Somalia in October 2011.  Kenya lost 22 soldiers in Somalia.

Ethiopia released 75 Eritreans captured in March during a cross border raid on a military camp. The prisoners were Eritrean soldiers and Ethiopia held them as prisoners of war.  Seven of the released Eritrean applied for political asylum in Ethiopia.

October 2, 2012: AMISOM units extended their control over the Somali port of Kismayo. Al Shabaab fighters claimed they set off a bomb in the port. They also said they would launch further attacks on AMISOM soldiers.  The Somali government estimated the Al Shabaab still has between 4,000 and 5,000 fighters in southern Somalia.

October 1, 2012:  Kenyan naval vessels shelled Al Shabaab coastal positions in the Kismayo area as sporadic fighting continued in the area.

ATTRITION: Death By Default

October 23, 2012: It’s rare for a navy to lose a ship to lawyers, but it sometimes happens. The most recent such loss occurred in Africa, where an American financial firm (N.M.L. Capital) used a decade old bond default by Argentina to persuade a local judge to seize an Argentinian warship visiting Ghana. The three-masted ship Libertad, with 330 crew and cadets aboard was seized on October 2dn. Argentina insists that international law prohibits the seizure of warships like this, but the Ghana court points out that the Argentinian ship is for training, powered by sail unarmed and that the defaulted bonds allowed such seizures. The American bond holders are demanding $20 million from Argentina if they want their sailing ship back.

N.M.L. Capital has $370 million worth of those bonds it is trying to collect on.
Argentina defaulted on $95 billion in government bonds in 2001, and made deals with most bond holders (in order to rebuild its international credit rating) by paying about 30 percent of the value of the defaulted bonds. Not all bondholders accepted that deal and some went to American courts to sue Argentina for the full amount of about $1.6 billion in bonds. Success in those lawsuits led N.M.L. Capital to seize Argentinean government property wherever it could.

Back in Argentina the head of the navy was fired, as was the head of the national intelligence agency (which is supposed to keep an eye on those who are still trying to collect on those old bonds). Normally the Argentinian Navy does not send its ships outside the Americas, but the government is trying to encourage trade with Africa and the training ship was sent on a rare “good will” tour of African ports.

ARTILLERY: FireFinder Follow-On Fielded

October 23, 2012: The U.S. Army is finally replacing its older AN PQ-36/37 FireFinder artillery spotting radar systems with the new and improved AN/TPQ-53. Troops in Afghanistan continue to call the new version “FireFinder” or “counterfire radar” even though the new TPQ-53 is a visibly new and different looking system, each consisting of two trucks (one for the radar the other for the control center and backup generator.)

Two years ago the U.S. sent the AN/TPQ-53 to Afghanistan for final testing. Earlier this year the army ordered 51 of the AN/TPQ-53 systems. Easier to use and repair, as well as more reliable than its predecessor (the AN/TPQ-36/37), the TPQ-53 can also scan all around (360 degrees), rather than just 90 degrees (as with the older system), and is faster as well. The army wants to buy at least 180 TPQ-53s, for about $9 million each. But so far the army only has money to buy about fifty of them. The older FireFinder is cheaper and still gets the job done. This is why some countries (like Iraqi) want it. Many Iraqis have seen the older FireFinder in action. They know it works.

The older FireFinder (AN/TPQ-36/37) radar had to overcome a bad reputation it acquired when it first came to Iraq. That was often for failing to detect incoming mortar fire. These were problems that were fixed. FireFinder was developed in the 1970s, based on Vietnam experience with enemy mortar and rocket attacks, but didn’t get a real combat workout until after September 11, 2001.

Both the old and new FireFinders are radar systems which, when they spots an incoming shell, calculates where it came from and transmits the location to a nearby artillery unit, which then fires on where the mortar is (or was). This process takes 3-4 minutes (or less, for experienced troops.) FireFinder worked as advertised but got little use until U.S. troops entered Iraq. After that FireFinder was very effective and heavily used. Too heavily used. There were not a lot of spare parts stockpiled for FireFinder and several hundred million dollars-worth had to be quickly ordered. The manufacturer has also introduced new components that are more reliable and easier to maintain.

Some FireFinders failed to catch incoming fire because the enemy was using tactics that fooled the radar. For example, in Iraq, American bases were generally on higher ground than the mortars firing at them. Putting bases on the high ground enables you to watch more of the surrounding terrain. But FireFinder needs a line-of-sight to get a good fix on the firing weapon’s position. If the mortar was too far below the radar, FireFinder could not accurately spot where the fire was coming from.

Another problem was that if the mortar was too close FireFinder was much less likely to quickly determine where the fire was coming from. So the enemy mortar teams got as close as they could before firing. This still made the mortar teams vulnerable to counterattack by coalition troops but not the immediate (in a few minutes) artillery fire that FireFinder can make happen under the right conditions.

At first, the army was going to halt further upgrades on FireFinder, which, after all was developed over thirty years ago, and begin developing the TPQ-53, a new system that can better deal with the kinds of problems encountered in Iraq. But FireFinder had been so useful that new upgrades were pursued anyway, while work continued on the TPQ-53. The upgrades have also been made available to other users of FireFinder (including allies in the Middle East, Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey). FireFinders are still doing most of the work out there, and it will be several years before TPQ-53 replaces a significant number of them.


October 23, 2012: India has ordered 200 of the air-launched version of the BrahMos missile from Russia. India is already using ground and ship launched versions. Three years ago, the BrahMos block II cruise missile failed its first operational test as a ground launched weapon. The cause was a defective guidance system, which was fixed.

The Indian Army and navy have so far bought over a thousand BrahMos. The navy is arming most of its large warships with BrahMos and the army is buying 80 launchers in the next ten years. Russia has not yet ordered any BrahMos, although there are plans to obtain it for new surface ships. The recent Indian purchase was for the lighter (2.5 tons) version for use by aircraft. A similar lightweight version is being developed for submarines.

The basic 3.2 ton BrahMos has a range of 300 kilometers and a 300 kg (660 pound) warhead. Perhaps the most striking characteristic is its high speed, literally faster (at up to 1,000 meters/3,100 feet per second) than a rifle bullet. Guidance is GPS or inertial to reach the general area of the target (usually a ship or other small target), then radar that will identify the specific target and hit it. The high speed at impact causes additional damage (because of the weight of the entire missile.)

India and Russia developed the weapon together, and now offer the BrahMos for export. The high price of each missile, about $2-3 million (depending on the version), restricts the number of countries that can afford it. The weapon entered service with the Indian navy in 2005. Different versions of the PJ-10 can be fired from aircraft, ships, ground launchers or submarines. The maximum speed of 3,000 kilometers an hour makes it harder to intercept, and means it takes five minutes or less to reach its target. The air launched version weighs 2.5 tons, the others, three tons or more.

The 9.4 meter (29 foot) long, 670mm diameter missile is an upgraded version of the Russian SS-NX-26 (Yakhont) missile, which was still in development when the Cold War ended in 1991. Lacking money to finish development and begin production, the Russian manufacturer eventually made a deal with India to put up most of the $240 million needed to finally complete two decades of development. The BrahMos is being built in Russia and India, with the Russians assisting India in setting up manufacturing facilities for cruise missile components. Efforts are being made to export up to 2,000, but no one has placed an order yet. Russia and India are encouraged enough to invest in BrahMos 2, which will use a scramjet, instead of a ramjet, in the second stage.

This would double speed, and make the missile much more difficult to defend against.

India indicates it plans to make the missile a major weapon system. The BrahMos can carry a nuclear warhead, but is designed mainly to go after high value targets that require a large warhead and great accuracy. The BrahMos could take out enemy headquarters, or key weapons systems (especially those employing electronic or nuclear weapons.)

WARPLANES: F-22 Rival Revised

October 23, 2012: India is revising the terms of its deal to work with Russia to build a rival for the American F-22/F-35 “5th generation” fighters. India is insisting on building more of the new T-50 (or PAK-FA) in India, and outfit Indian T-50s with Indian or Western electronics and other equipment. As part of this change, India will buy fewer T-50s built in Russia. That order has been cut from 200 to 144. Russia says the T-50 will now enter service in 2019, but India is willing to delay its version an additional year or more in order to modify the “T-50I” to Indian specifications.

Earlier this year it was revealed that the T-50 has been delayed two years. It will now, barring more delays, be ready for mass production in 2019. India was not happy about this. India is picking up half the $6 billion dollar development cost and feels they are not having enough say in how the project proceeds. A two year delay means rising costs and the Russians have not announced any budget changes yet. Moreover, the $6 billion only covers work on the basic aircraft. All the avionics will be extra, and India is unclear of how much extra.

That’s apparently the main reason why India is now going to supply its own electronics, something the Russians are not happy about and are unable to prevent. India has had serious (and expensive) problems with Russian development cost projections before. India originally planned to buy 250 of the new T-50s, for about $100 million each. That number fell to 200 and now 144. An increasing number of Indians now see the T-50 possibly following the same cost trajectory as the F-22.

The T-50 prototype first flew two years ago and India will get its first flyable prototypes in two years. Russians and Indians have been doing a lot of tinkering with the design. While the T-50 is the stealthiest aircraft the Russians have, it is not nearly as stealthy as the F-22, or even the F-35 or B-2. The Russians are apparently going to emphasize maneuverability instead of stealth. India wants more stealth and would prefer a two-seat aircraft. There are also problems perfecting the engines for the T-50 and the defensive electronics.

This puts the T-50 at a big disadvantage against the F-22 or F-35, which try to detect enemy aircraft at long distance, without being spotted, and then fire a radar guided missile (like AMRAAM). These problems are apparently the main reason for the two year delay.

The T-50 is a 34 ton fighter that is more maneuverable than the 33 ton Su-27, has much better electronics, and is stealthy. It can cruise at above the speed of sound. It also costs more than twice as much as the Su-27. Russia is promising a fighter with a life of 6,000 flight hours and engines good for 4,000 hours. Russia promises world-class avionics, plus a very pilot-friendly cockpit. The use of many thrusters and fly-by-wire will produce an aircraft even more maneuverable than earlier Su-30s (which have been extremely agile).

The T-50 is not meant to be a direct rival for the F-22 because the Russian aircraft is not as stealthy. But if the maneuverability and advanced electronics live up to the promises, the aircraft would be more than a match for every fighter out there except the F-22. If such a T-50 was sold for well under $100 million each there would be a lot of buyers. For the moment the T-50 and the Chinese J-20/30 are the only potential competitors for the F-22. Like the F-22 development expenses are increasing, and it looks like the T-50 will cost at least $120 million each (including a share of the development cost) but only if 500 or more are manufactured. Russia hopes to build as many as a thousand.

Only 187 F-22s were built because of the high cost. American developers are now seeking to apply their stealth, and other technologies, to the development of combat UAVs. Thus by the time the T-50 enters service, in 7-10 years, it may already be made obsolete by cheaper, unmanned, stealthy fighters.

The latest American warplanes, the F-22 and F-35, are often called “5th generation” fighters. This leaves many wondering what the other generations were. The first generation of jet fighters was developed during and right after World War II (German Me-262, British Meteor, U.S. F-80, Russian MiG-15.) These aircraft were, even by the standards of the time, difficult to fly and unreliable (especially the engines). The 2nd generation (1950s) included more reliable, but still dangerous to operate, aircraft like the F-104 and MiG-21. The 3rd generation (1960s) included F-4 and MiG-23. The 4th generation (1970s) included F-16 and MiG-29. Each generation has been about twice as expensive (on average, in constant dollars) as the previous one. But each generation is also about twice as safe to fly and cheaper to operate. Naturally, each generation is more than twice as effective as the previous one. The Russians are still working on their 5th generation, although some of the derivatives of their Su-27 are at least generation 4.5. One of the reasons the Soviet Union collapsed was the realization that they could not afford to develop 5th generation warplanes to stay competitive with America. The Russians had a lot of interesting stuff on the drawing board and in development, but the bankruptcy of most of their military aviation industry during the 1990s has left them scrambling to put it back together ever since. At the moment, the Russians are thinking of making a run for the 6th generation warplanes, while will likely be unmanned and largely robotic.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

July 4, 2012

POTENTIAL HOT SPOTS:  Rebels Rebel Against Each Other In Mali
Items About Areas That Could Break Out Into War

July 4, 2012: In the African state of Mali, the Tuareg tribal rebels (MNLA, Liberation Army of Azawad) that took control of the thinly populated, largely desert northern two-thirds of the country three months ago have been defeated by their smaller, but more fanatic, Islamic radical allies, the Ansar Dine (Defenders of the Faith). The success of the two groups in chasing the largely black African Mali army out of the north three months ago encouraged Ansar Dine to call for more Islamic radicals throughout the region to come join them. Meanwhile the MNLA found that their fighters were not as willing to die for the cause as their Ansar Dine allies were.

The MNLA, (Liberation Army of Azawad) represents the most militant and heavily armed Tuareg rebels, but they have not been able to stand up to its smaller, less well equipped ally Ansar Dine, an Islamic radical group containing many former (or current) al Qaeda members. Islamic terrorists from Algeria, Nigeria and other areas are coming to northern Mali to join Ansar Dine. The leader of Ansar Dine (Iyad Ag Ghali) is a local Tuareg tribal leader who has always been active in Tuareg separatism efforts, and is adept at playing Tuareg tribal politics. Ghali has always been seen as an opportunist, and now he is making a violent attempt to establish his own Tuareg religious dictatorship in northern Mali. Most Tuaregs oppose Islamic radicals, but support an independent Tuareg state. Ghali is playing on this division to keep the more numerous Tuareg from uniting and destroying Ansar Dine. If the northern Tuareg did unite, they could turn out over 50,000 armed and angry men, if only for a short period. Ansar Dine has only a few thousand armed men, and many of those are Tuaregs who recently joined.

A growing number of Tuareg see Ansar Dine as an invasion and this caused quarrels among MNLA leaders. Islamic terrorist control in the north was spotty at first, because they did not have as many followers (armed and unarmed) as the MNLA (who comprise most of the northern population). The north contains only about 12 percent of Mali’s 15 million people and is largely barren desert. The Islamic terror groups made themselves unpopular in the north by forcing everyone to obey strict (no tobacco, alcohol, music, video, shaved men and unveiled women) Islamic lifestyle rules. This ran into a lot of resistance, and Ansar Dine backed off, for the moment, from seizing all TVs and video games. Meanwhile, Ansar Dine makes no secret of its ultimate goal, turning all of Mali into an Islamic religious dictatorship.

The Islamic radicals also damaged some cultural sites that were seen as unclean by the Sunni Islamic conservatives within Ansar Dine. There were a few anti-Ansar Dine demonstrations, which were put down with gunfire and threats of more violence. Ansar Dine may be able to control most of the north for a while, but can they maintain that control for any length of time? Aware of their weakness, Ansar Dine has appealed to Islamic terrorists throughout the world to come to northern Mali (not easy to do). Because Islamic radicals are currently being defeated in most of the world (Somalia, Yemen, Pakistan and so on), the Ansar Dine appeal is motivating a lot of Islamic terrorists to head for Mali. Will that be enough? ECOWAS is offering to make peace with Ansar Dine and MNLA if Ansar Dine will rid itself of known Islamic terrorists. This is something of a mad gambit, as the government in southern Mali will not agree to partition of their country, and Ansar Dine depends too much on the experienced Islamic terrorists in their ranks, who are the most deadly fighters and quick to kill anyone who opposes them. Then again, just the news that this sort of thing is under discussion causes some tension within Ansar Dine.
France has taken the lead in organizing international (and UN) backing for an armed intervention in northern Mali.  ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) has organized a force of 3,300 peacekeepers (from Nigeria,

Niger and Senegal), but wants UN backing, and Western cash, before these troops are sent into Mali. The UN is discussing the matter and Western nations are willing to pay up if the UN approves of the operation. But there is doubt that these 3,300 troops and a thousand or so from Mali could defeat a nearly equal number of Tuareg and Ansar Dine fighters. The Tuareg and Islamic radicals are tough fighters. Many in the UN are seeking larger troop commitments before they OK an invasion in their name. One thing the UN has agreed on is not to recognize a partition of Mali.

The MNLA is now at war with Ansar Dine and is appealing to northerners (especially Tuareg) to work with them against the “foreign invaders” (Ansar Dine). Most civilians in the area have more urgent problems, like how to get food. The unrest in the north has disrupted the movement of food and other goods into the area. People are getting hungry and Ansar Dine is often preventing foreign food aid from reaching civilians. More and more people are fleeing the north. So far, over 300,000 have fled to the south or neighboring countries. Many more are planning to do so if the food situation does not improve.

In the southern third of Mali, where 88 percent of the population lives, life is also hard. The March army coup disrupted the economy and foreign aid. The coup leaders, and many of their armed followers, are still around and able to seize control again. In the north it is worse. In addition to the loss of foreign economic aid, the tourist business has also dried up, leaving thousands of northerners jobless.

Neighboring states, especially Algeria, as well as most nations in the West, fear that if Ansar Dine is left in control of northern Mali (even if subordinate to the Tuareg majority up there), the place will become a base for Islamic terrorist operations. This is what happened in Afghanistan in the 1990s, and Iraq, Yemen and Somalia in the last decade.

July 2, 2012: Ansar Dine announced that it had planted landmines around the city of Gao and are prepared to defeat any MNLA attempt to retake the place.

June 30, 2012:  Ansar Dine gunmen in Timbuktu (population 54,000), the oldest city in the north, began destroying the dozens of ancient tombs of Moslem clerics and scholars worshipped by Sufi Moslems. To conservative Sunni Moslems, Sufis are heretics and their shrines are to be destroyed whenever possible. The destruction of the tombs was condemned by many Moslem leaders worldwide, and the ICC (International Criminal Court) declared it a war crime. This did not discourage Ansar Dine, which threatened to destroy dozens of Sufi shrines in Timbuktu. So far they have not energetically followed through on this threat.

June 29, 2012: Ansar Dine  declared that it had expelled Tuareg (MNLA) gunmen from Gao, Kidal and Timbuktu. MNLA admitted they lost control of the three cities, but insisted they still controlled 90 percent of northern Mali (which is mostly desert). The fighting between Ansar Dine and the MNLA has been escalating for weeks, and became more widespread in the last few days. The most intense fighting was outside Gao, the largest city (population 86,000) in the north. There were over a hundred casualties, and the MNLA men usually fled when they realized that the Ansar Dine  fighters would keep coming no matter what.

June 28, 2012:  Algerian al Qaeda leader Mokhtar Belmokhtar was reported killed in northern Mali while fighting for Ansar Dine against rebel Tuareg tribesmen. In Algeria Belmokhtar has earned the nickname “the untouchable” for his ability to escape many efforts to capture or kill him.

June 15, 2012: Ansar Dine and MNLA representatives arrived in Burkina Faso to hold peace talks with ECOWAS. These talks are not expected to go anywhere, but it was considered a useful way to keep in touch with the two rebel factions in the north. ECOWAS is meeting separately with the two groups, as Ansar Dine and MNLA have been increasingly at war with each other in northern Mali.
June 12, 2012:  MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen fought near Timbuktu. MNLA efforts to assert authority over their Ansar Dine allies have failed and Ansar Dine is in turn fighting to show that it is the superior military power in the north.

June 11, 2012: The AU (African Union) has asked the UN for authorization to intervene in northern Mali.

June 8, 2012:  In the town of Kidal (population 25,000) in the northeast, MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen began fighting each other after days of arguing how to handle civilians who are opposed to the Ansar Dine imposition of Islamic law.

May 26, 2012: MNLA and Ansar Dine agreed to an alliance so they can both jointly rule, and defend, the north. To achieve this compromise, Ansar Dine agreed to recognize the independent Tuareg state of Azawad in the northern two thirds of Mali. In return, the MNLA agreed to allow Ansar Dine to impose a “limited” form of Islamic law throughout Azawad. This agreement quickly fell apart as most people (Tuareg and southerners) in Azawad made it clear that they wanted nothing to do with any form of Islamic law. Ansar Dine responded by trying to impose even stricter forms of Islamic law, and the MNLA gunmen refused to let this happen to them or their families. This eventually led to fighting between groups of MNLA and Ansar Dine gunmen.

May 20, 2012: In the south, the army rebels officially returned power to the civilian government. But the coup leaders and their armed followers have not surrendered themselves or their weapons.

LOGISTICS: A Sorry Situation

July 4, 2012: Pakistan now agrees that it might allow NATO to again truck supplies from Pakistan into Afghanistan. Pakistan had closed its border to this since last November because the U.S. would not say it was sorry that 24 Pakistani soldiers were killed when they fired on American troops. The U.S. refused to say it was sorry for what was considered an incident caused by Pakistani incompetence or deception.

The Pakistanis are also demanding at least $14 million in additional bribes a month in order to open the border. The U.S. Secretary of State said she was sorry about the Pakistani soldiers being killed, but said nothing about the additional bribes. The border is still closed. The U.S. was using the Pakistani route less and less even before the closure last November.

The U.S. admits that it costs nearly three times as much ($20,000) to move a container in via Central Asia, compared to going via Pakistani roads. Pakistan wants to take advantage of this by imposing an additional fee of $4,750 per cargo container. Most of this cash would go into the pockets of senior officials.

That comes to $14 million a month in bribes. The Pakistanis consider this a good deal because it is costing NATO $38 million a month in additional transportation costs because the Pakistani route is not available. Actually, the cost is $100 million a month, but the U.S. and NATO had been shifting most cargo to the more expensive northern route even before Pakistan closed its border. Containers brought in via the Pakistani route were increasingly subject to theft and damage, which caused a shift to the northern route. While more expensive to move stuff in via Central Asia, it was believed to be cheaper in the long run because of the losses incurred using the Pakistani route.

American politicians note that the U.S. has been giving Pakistan over $80 million a month in military aid, so that aid is being withheld and may be cancelled completely if Pakistan does not open the border. The Pakistanis are also aware that the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan will involve the shipment of over 100,000 containers (and half a billion dollars in loot for Pakistani leaders, not the Pakistani people). So far, NATO and the U.S. refuse to give in to these extortionate demands, which included the U.S. taking the blame for last November’s friendly fire incident that left 26 Pakistani soldiers dead. There is a long history of Pakistani troops firing across the border at NATO and Afghan forces. Giving the Pakistanis the apology they demand would be bad for NATO morale, as American and NATO troops are still facing a lack of cooperation from Pakistani forces along the Afghan border.

Over five years ago, NATO and the U.S. began negotiating agreements with Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Russia to move all sorts of supplies and equipment over the Northern Distribution Network (NDN). Three years ago nearly all land movement of supplies came in via Pakistan. But that changed after Pakistan closed its border to NATO supplies last November 26, because of a friendly fire incident on the Afghan border that left 24 Pakistani troops dead. The plan was always to completely replace Pakistan but that has happened sooner, rather than later. Now Pakistan has to worry about losing some of the transport business for Afghan civilian goods. That’s a major industry in Pakistan because nearly all (save air freight) cargo enters and leaves Afghanistan by truck. But now Afghanistan is building its first railroad system, connecting it with the Central Asian rail network terminal on the Uzbek border. Even with the longer distances, moving cargo would eventually be competitive coming and going via rail through Central Asia, compared to going via truck through Pakistan. The NDN makes for a fundamental change in Afghan-Pakistan relations. Now Afghanistan can look north for economic, cultural, and political alliances, rather than just with Pakistan and Iran, two countries that have not always been kind to Afghanistan.

SPACE OPERATIONS: Mentor And The Chinese Surprise

July 4, 2012: On June 29th the U.S. launched its sixth (since 1995) Mentor electronic reconnaissance satellite. These six ton birds deploy the largest antenna array (over 110 meters in diameter) ever used in a satellite. Details of how Mentor satellites operate is highly classified, but they are known to pick up a large number of electronic signals from ships, aircraft and ground stations, as well as other satellites. This data undergoes some processing on the Mentor satellite, is then encrypted and transmitted to American ground stations for further analysis.

Little is said about these satellites because, more than photo satellites, these electronic listening birds can potentially pick up anything (radar, radio, whatever) that is broadcast from anywhere. This is a alarming possibility for producers and users of military electronics. Not knowing exactly what those enemy satellites are picking up is very disturbing. China, for example, has launched Cyber War type hacking attacks on American companies involved with collecting and analyzing Mentor satellite data. If the Chinese have reached the Mentor database, it has made Chinese electronics much less likely to encounter unpleasant surprises in wartime.

LEADERSHIP:  Russia Cancels Conscription

July 4, 2012: The Russian Army leadership ism at last, in nearly complete agreement that fundamental reforms are needed. For the last two decades, traditionalists have been opposing adopting Western methods of recruiting, training and leading soldiers. But the old ways of using mostly conscripts, no real NCOs and lots of officers to supervise everything, have completely failed now that Russia is no longer a police state. Russia isn’t exactly a democracy either, but the army can no longer order the population to surrender their sons for two years of military service under brutal and unhealthy conditions. Growing opposition to military service has made it extremely difficult to get anyone for the military and troop quality has plummeted. Draft dodging has reached epidemic proportions and efforts to attract more highly paid volunteers have failed as well. The basic problem is the Soviet era tradition of senior troops brutalizing new recruits. Consider the impact of this sort of thing.

For example, a third of all recruits are hospitalized at some point during their service, because of injuries or malnutrition, all the result of the bullying and incompetent leadership. Ultimately, 20 percent of recruits are discharged early because of injuries or illnesses they have endured. This sort of thing gives Russian politicians nightmares about huge crowds of Russian mothers gathering in Red Square demanding justice for their mistreated sons. Something, everyone now agrees, has to be done. While it will be expensive to eliminate conscription, it has reached the point where all the alternatives are worse.

Currently the military has 220,000 officers and 200,000 “contract personnel” (higher paid volunteers, who fill most of the NCO slots). Thus most of the troops are conscripts and it’s getting harder and harder to find enough people to coerce into uniform. The armed forces needs over 600,000 conscripts a year, but can only obtained about 400,000, and that number is declining each year. Most of the missing troops were young men who were conscripted but never showed up. The barracks are thinly populated and the situation is becoming a major national scandal. So now it is generally agreed among the generals that conscription has to go, and better troop supervision (via competent sergeants) has to be established.

Russia’s military leaders have come to understand that the key problem has always been the lack of adequate troop supervision. In other words, Russia lacked good sergeants (NCOs/non-commissioned officers). This is because during the Soviet Union period (1921-91) the communists took away NCO’s responsibilities and duties and turned these tasks over to young officers. The officers were considered more trustworthy by the communist leadership.

There was one major flaw in that plan. Without NCOs no one was maintaining order and discipline in the barracks. The young lieutenants normally assigned to run a platoon had no experience handling troops and were often intimidated by bullies in the ranks. There were not enough more experienced, but higher ranking, officers to come and back the lieutenants up. While the threat of arrest and prison (or labor camps) prevented mutiny or complete anarchy, the stronger troops picked on the weaker ones, making military service extremely unpopular for all the wrong reasons. The conscripts didn’t mind serving their country but they did not like being bullied and exploited by gangs of slightly older soldiers.

For over a decade now the generals have tried to break this cycle of “hazing.”  Taking advice from their Western counterparts they sought to develop NCOs who could take charge of the barracks. They discovered that building an effective NCO corps from scratch is not easy. For one thing, the culture of hazing is very hard to extinguish. Many of the first “professional” (carefully selected, trained, and better paid) NCOs gave up and got out of the military as soon as they could. Facing down the gangs of bullies was more trouble than it was worth.

The latest reform effort is based on increasing the number of contract troops to 425,000 over the next four years and using a special six week training and selection program, to make sure the right people are signed up. The six week course is a series of training and testing sessions that determine if candidates can handle the stress of military life and possess enough maturity to avoid hazing and also help stop those who are still bullying their fellow soldiers.

These new contract soldiers are also selected on the basis of willingness to make a career of the military and eventually take on more responsibilities (becoming NCOs or technical specialists). To meet the goal of 425,000 contract soldiers the military will have to bring in 50,000 new contract soldiers a year. If that goal is achieved most of the enlisted troops would be contract troops and professional enough to eliminate the bullying among the conscripts. If that can be done, and most of these new volunteer soldiers do indeed renounce the culture of hazing, then the bullies will be a small minority, few enough for officers and existing NCOs to take care of. Over the next decade many of the new contract soldiers will rise in the NCO ranks, never having been polluted by the culture of hazing and ready to crack down on any junior troops who try to revive the bad old ways (and many will, having heard stories from older male relatives or their friends).

The biggest problem with keeping conscription is that the number of 18 year olds is rapidly declining each year. The latest crop of draftees was born after the Soviet Union dissolved. That was when the birth rate went south. Not so much because the Soviet Union was gone but more because of the economic depression (caused by decades of communist misrule) that precipitated the collapse of the communist government. The number of available draftees went from 1.5 million a year in the early 1990s, to 800,000 today. Less than half those potential conscripts are showing up and many have criminal records (or tendencies) that help sustain the abuse of new recruits that has made military service so unsavory.

With conscripts now in for only a year now, rather than two, the military is forced to take a lot of marginal (sickly, overweight, bad attitudes, drug users) recruits in order to keep the military and Ministry of Interior units up to strength. But this means that even elite airborne and commando units are using a lot of conscripts. Most of these young guys take a year to master the skills needed to be useful and then they are discharged. Few choose to remain in uniform and become career soldiers. That’s primarily because the Russian military is seen as a crippled institution and one not likely to get better any time soon. With so many of the troops now one year conscripts, an increasing number of the best officers and NCOs get tired of coping with all the alcoholics, drug users, and petty criminals that are taken in just to make quotas. With the exodus of the best leaders, and growing number of ill-trained and unreliable conscripts, the Russian military is more of a mirage than an effective combat (or even police) organization.

The government found that, even among the contract soldiers the old abuses lived on and that most of the best contract soldiers left when their contract was up. It was because of the brutality and lack of discipline in the barracks. The hazing is most frequently committed by troops who have been in six months or so against the new recruits. But this extends to a pattern of abuse and brutality by all senior enlisted troops against junior ones. It’s long been out of control. The abuse continues to increase because of the growing animosity against troops who are not ethnic Russians.

All this is in sharp contrast to the old days. When the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, it had five million troops in its armed forces. Now it’s less than one million in just Russia (which has about half the population of the Soviet Union but most of the territory). Although the Russian armed forces lost over 80 percent of its strength in the last 18 years a disproportionate number of officers remained. A decade ago the Russian military had about 1.2 million personnel (400,000 in the army itself, the rest in paramilitary units that are largely uniformed and armed like soldiers). But there were 355,000 officers in this force. That’s more than one in three. With all that some 40,000 officer positions were still vacant. The reorganization eliminated over half of them.

Russia has tried to change public attitudes towards the armed forces by publicizing all the new changes and programs. But word got around that most of these efforts failed. Blame that on the Internet. Polls constantly show that most military age men do not want to serve in the military and the main reason is the hazing and prison-like conditions in the barracks. The new generation of NCOs and better troop living conditions are meant to provide an atmosphere that will not scare away conscripts and volunteers.

The Russian military has other problems as well. Corruption investigators believe that about 20 percent of the military budget is lost to corruption and outright theft. So just spending more money on the military is not an easy fix either. Worse, many, if not most, Russian arms manufacturers are corrupt and incompetent. This has gotten so bad that many reform minded generals and admirals prefer to buy foreign weapons. This means paying more, but the quality is much higher and you get stuff on schedule. Getting the corrupt officers out of the military may prove more difficult than eliminating the young bullies.


July 4, 2012: A group of electronic navigation researchers at a Texas university demonstrated to government officials recently how some UAVs can have their operation disrupted via manipulating the GPS signals the aircraft navigation depends on. Using about a thousand dollars’ worth of electronics gear, the researchers demonstrated how the GPS signal manipulation enables one to, in effect, take control of a UAV.

The most vulnerable UAVs are the less expensive ones, that don’t use high-end, military grade communications and navigation systems. If nothing else, the Texas researchers have forced low-end UAV manufacturers to develop more robust (to interference and hijacking) control systems.

The U.S. military has long been working on this problem. Solutions are often hard to come by, For example, two years ago the U.S. Air Force discovered that, because of a flawed (and untested) software update, 86 military systems that use a GPS jamming feature, had their GPS service greatly degraded. A software patch was quickly developed and distributed. The incident was not unique. Upgrades, even though thoroughly tested, sometimes later prove to be flawed. This sort of thing isn’t new. In the early days of World War II, most American submarine torpedoes proved to be flawed, and it took months of increasingly vociferous complaints from sub captains to even get the navy to investigate the possibility of a problem (which was very real, and took a while to fix). Two decades later, a design flaw in an American SLBM (sea launched ballistic missile) warhead, rendered most of those weapons useless until fixed.

There are many similar examples, all over the world.

GPS is different, and not in a good way. GPS has become a vital component for U.S. combat forces, and several nations have developed and sell GPS jammers.

The U.S. Air Force has equipped its GPS weapons with electronic and software features that help overcome this jamming. DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) is developing an even more powerful anti-jamming system that also solves a more common problem; weak GPS signals. When a GPS guided weapon goes after a target in a canyon, the GPS signals are often so weak that the guidance system must revert to the backup (which is much less accurate.)

The solution is the RSN (The Robust Surface Navigation) system which uses math, statistics and modified antennae to take signals (GPS and non-GPS) and create accurate estimates to make up for the lost GPS data. If this substitute is judged, by the software, as more accurate than the backup system, it uses the RSN estimate, to maximize accuracy. Other signals can come from nearby aircraft, or navigation beacons set up on the ground. The RSN system would enable the U.S. to jam GPS signals in a combat zone where the enemy was using GPS guided weapons, but does not have RSN.
The lesson being learned is that you can’t have too many backups, and protection from unexpected failures. It’s Murphy’s Law. That things fail when you least expect it, and in the worst possible way. The Texas researchers have made it clear that you cannot take anything for granted when using GPS.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

June 10, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Anger Management Issues

June 10, 2012: Earlier this month police in the north arrested 16 people and charged them with participating in several mass attacks (via poisoned water) against school girls. Police accused the Pakistani intelligence agency (ISI) and other terror groups in Pakistan of providing cash (for bribes) and technical advice on how to carry out the attacks. A major Taliban goal has always been to limit, or prohibit, education for girls. The Taliban usually attack the schools and teachers, but occasionally students are wounded or killed as well. The mass poisonings are believed to be the result of mass hysteria (common in situations like this) as no toxins have been found in the two major poisoning incidents. But since so many children have been involved, this has become a big media item inside Afghanistan. So the government has been forced to do something, anything.

The Taliban have been generally unsuccessful in getting a terror campaign going in the north, where Pushtuns are a minority. Local opposition to the Taliban is often violent, and fatal. As a result, many who have joined the Taliban (and taken drug gang money) have openly accepted amnesty and left the Taliban. This is dangerous in the south, where Taliban and drug gang gunmen are more numerous and retaliation more certain. But in the north you can go home and you heavily armed tribe will protect you from Taliban retaliation.

Pakistan, which created the Taliban two decades, is now worried that the departure of NATO forces in two years will mean more terrorist violence on the Pakistani side of the border. That’s because the Pakistani Taliban will be able to establish sanctuaries in Afghanistan, something NATO has largely prevented. With NATO gone, the Pakistani Taliban will be able to use bribes and intimidation (of the security forces and local tribes) to establish these sanctuaries, and use them for more attacks inside Pakistan. This is an issue that Pakistani officials will only discuss privately with American and other Western diplomats. The U.S. is sympathetic, but points out that Pakistan created the Taliban and continues to maintain sanctuaries for terrorist groups.

To most American military and political officials, this is all the fault of Pakistan, and now many Pakistanis are openly complaining about the situation. After the U.S. drove the Taliban out of Afghanistan in 2001, a Pakistani Taliban developed (with the help of Afghan Taliban taking refuge in Pakistan). In the last decade, the Pakistani Taliban has grown to become a major source of terrorism inside Pakistan. For the past three years, Pakistan has had over 100,000 troops in the tribal territories along the Afghan border fighting Pakistani Taliban attempts to take control of the area. This effort has been largely (but not completely) successful. The North Waziristan district, right on the Afghan border, has been left alone and serves as a refuge for Islamic terrorists (including some Pakistani Taliban factions) who will refrain from attacking the Pakistani government. Pakistan created a lot of this terrorism or sustains it, and is at a loss of how to deal with the growing threat.

Most Afghans expect more violence when the NATO troops leave. This is in recognition of the fact that the large number of NATO troops has reduced tribal feuds and a lot of banditry. Afghanistan is a very violent place, and always has been. For example, when U.S. forces arrived after September 11, 2001, the Taliban were still fighting tribes that opposed them. In addition, the Taliban were using a brigade of al Qaeda gunmen to punish unruly tribes that had already made peace with the Taliban (and had then changed their minds). With the Taliban and al Qaeda gone, Afghanistan went through several years of relative (and uncharacteristic) peace. But the drug gangs prospered, and the Taliban eventually returned from their Pakistan sanctuaries and sought to regain control of their “homeland” (Kandahar and Helmand provinces).

NATO has spent billions to build Afghan security forces and a useful Afghan government. Both efforts have been crippled by the corruption and tribalism that have long defined Afghanistan. The central government, even with all its Western gear, ideas and advisors is still just presiding over a coalition of warlords and tribal leaders in a region they all agree to call “Afghanistan”. Beyond that, it’s every man for himself.

June 8, 2012: Afghanistan has been granted observer status in the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization). This is a regional security forum founded in Shanghai in 2001 by Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Russia, and China. The main purpose of the SCO was originally fighting Islamic terrorism. Russia, however, hopes to build the SCO into a counterbalance against NATO. SCO members conduct joint military exercises, mostly for show.

They also share intel on terrorists, which is often useful. Iran, India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Mongolia and Turkey also want to join the SCO. These nations are allowed to send observers to meetings and will eventually become official observers and be allowed limited participation in SCO activities. China sponsored Afghanistan to become more active in SCO and has promised more economic and security aid for Afghanistan in return for cooperation in sharing intelligence about Chinese Islamic terrorists hiding out in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

June 7, 2012:  In the north (Sar e Pul province) a bomb was detonated at the main gate of a police compound prison and 14 prisoners escaped. In addition, guards killed three prisoners and caught others quickly. Some of the escapees were Taliban, who were believed responsible for the operation. But such attacks are sometimes carried out by criminal gangs or tribal militias.

June 6, 2012: In the east (Logar province) two NATO air strikes killed 18 civilians. The NATO commander apologized for this after Afghan and international media expressed outrage. There is less outrage over the larger number (five times more) civilian deaths caused by the Islamic terrorists (usually Taliban). This is largely because the Taliban will kill local journalists who report Islamic radical violence against civilians, or Taliban use of civilians as human shields. Civilian deaths caused by NATO forces have declined over the last few years while Taliban inflicted deaths have increased.

Some attacks are so outrageous (like mass poisonings of girls attending school) that they do get some media attention. But in general the local and international media tend to ignore the culture of violence that has always existed in Afghanistan. The level of violence against children, women and everyone is higher. There are a lot of guns and short tempers. The Pushtun in the south are the worst offenders, and are known, and feared, for their anger management issues and fondness for prompt and fatal retaliation for any real or imagined slight. So journalists in Afghanistan survive by playing up real or imagined insults by foreigners. In the south, this includes any non-Pushtuns (who make up 40 percent of Afghans, although twice as many live in Pakistan, where they are about 16 percent of the population.) Many Pushtun insist they are the majority in Afghanistan, and it’s not safe to contradict this while in Afghanistan.

In Kandahar, three Taliban suicide bombers attacked a market place, killing 22 and wounding over fifty. About a third of the casualties were Afghans involved in supplying goods to NATO bases. These were apparently the primary target as the Taliban are trying to terrorize Afghans into not working with NATO forces in any way. This works with some Afghans, but most are unwilling to give up a good business opportunity and take more precautions, including using unofficial violence against the Taliban. Most Afghans oppose the Taliban, who are seen as a Pushtun terror group. But even in the Pushtun south there are many who join together to violently oppose Taliban terror tactics.

June 3, 2012: NATO has struck deals with Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan to allow NATO to ship thousands of vehicles and cargo containers out of Afghanistan as NATO forces prepare to leave in the next two years. Similar arrangements were already made with Russia, whose railroads comprise most of the route. All four nations will see their railroads get over a hundred million dollars in additional business because of the NATO movement of weapons and equipment.

June 1, 2012: In the northeast (Badakhshan province) British commandoes freed a British citizen (and her three Afghan companions) in a night operation that left seven armed kidnappers dead. The British aid worker and four companions had been seized by bandits on May 22nd. One of the Afghan aid workers managed to escape. Local Islamic terrorists then got involved, offering the bandits protection and help with the ransom negotiations. The kidnappers demanded $4 million and the release (from prison) of a gang member. American, Afghan and British special operations forces were quickly put on the case and found where the captives were being held. It was also discovered that one of the Afghan aid workers was going to be murdered to speed the ransom negotiations, and this caused the rescue operation to take place when it did. None of the commandos or captives was injured in the operation.

ATTRITION: The Raptor Curse Gets Worse

June 10, 2012: Desperate to find out what is causing disorientation and illness among it F-22 (Raptor) fighter pilots, the U.S. Air Force has spent $20 million on automatic backup oxygen systems for 40 of its F-22s. This is a safety measure for heavily used F-22s, and an attempt to capture data from one of the rare “events” that the pilots have had with their breathing.

Meanwhile, the air force is also taking a closer look at the special vest pilots wear to help them with their breathing in the low pressure of the F-22 cockpit.

The hypothesis is that the vest automatically inflates too much during high-g (gravitational force) maneuvers, making it difficult for pilots to breathe. This would be subtle, so that the pilot would not immediately notice a problem with breathing. Anything obvious would have been noticed when the vest was tested. Pilots have complained about a “strange feeling” when breathing with the vest during high-g turns, but not in such a way that they connected it with the disorientation.

The pressure vest problems may be linked to recently reported instances of excessive coughing by F-22 pilots. It’s being called “Raptor Cough” and is actually a known condition (acceleration atelectasis) for pilots who have just completed a high speed maneuver. But it appears to be showing up more frequently among F-22 pilots. The F-22 pilots are perplexed and a bit nervous about their expensive and highly capable jets, and are reporting things they earlier thought little of.

As a precaution, pilots must now make flights at least 24 hours apart. In training, and combat, pilots would take their F-22s up two or more times a day. The theory is that the pressure vests and acceleration atelectasis will not be a problem if pilots have at least 24 hours to recover.

The air force still believes that something, as yet unknown, is getting into the pilot air supply and causing problems. Despite this the air force continues to fly its F-22s. The decision to keep flying was made because the air supply problems have not killed anyone yet and they are rare (once every 10,000 sorties).

The 14 incidents so far were all cases of F-22 pilots apparently experiencing problems. The term “apparently” is appropriate because the pilots did not black out and a thorough check of the air supply system and the aircraft found nothing wrong. There have been nearly 30 of these “dizziness or disorientation” incidents in the last four years, with only 14 of them serious enough to be called real incidents. Only one F-22 has been lost to an accident so far and while that did involve an air supply issue, it was caused by pilot error, not equipment failure.
Meanwhile the air force has spent $7 million to install commercial oxygen status sensors in the air supply systems of its F-22 fighters. This is part of a year-long effort to find out what’s causing the air supply on F-22s to get contaminated and cause pilots to become disoriented or pass out. Twice in the past year the entire F-22 fleet was grounded because of the air supply problems. The first grounding lasted 140 days and ended last September. The second grounding lasted a week and ended last December.

The F-22s comprise the most powerful component of the air force’s air combat capability and the brass are eager to find out what is wrong. The air force recently received the last of 187 F-22s that will be built. Production was limited because these aircraft were too expensive. It’s very embarrassing that their safety should be threatened by something so basic as the pilot air supply.

The air force has already found some problems with the air supply system (too much nitrogen and other contaminants). The main problem was always about something bad in the air supply. But the air does not go bad in any predictable fashion nor does it become bad enough to cause problems for the pilot. So the air force is still looking for causes. Thus F-22 pilots, for example, give blood samples after most flights and maintainers pay extra attention to the oxygen system. And now there will be all the data from all the new oxygen sensors.

The air force woes began when it appeared that the F-22 might be having a problem with its OBOG (OnBoard Oxygen Generating) system. OBOGs have been around for over half a century. It’s only in the last two decades that OBOGs have become compact, cheap, and reliable enough to replace the older compressed gases or LOX (liquid oxygen) as a source of breathable air for high flying aircrew. Each aircraft, especially the F-22 and F-35, gets an OBOG tweaked for space, weight, or other conditions specific to that warplane design. It’s this custom design that was also closely studied, to find out how the toxins got in.

One problem is that aircraft have been staying in the air longer (because of in-flight refueling) and carrying enough compressed oxygen has become untenable requiring OBOGs to solve the problem. Since the 1990s, most American military aircraft have replaced older oxygen systems with OBOGs.

Most Western nations, and Russia, have followed, at least with their latest model aircraft. Most OBOG systems work by using a chemical reaction to remove carbon dioxide from the air taken in to the OBOG and then sending out air with the proper amount of oxygen to the aircrew.

LOGISTICS:  Déjà Vu In The West Pacific

June 10, 2012: Two decades after U.S. forces left their two major bases in the Philippines (Subic Bay port/air base located 100 kilometers northwest of Manila, and Clark Air Base located 65 kilometers northwest of Manila), the Americans have been invited to return. Not to use the two facilities as exclusively American bases, as they were for over 70 years, but as needed.

Both facilities were largely converted to civilian use after 1991. The Americans left because the Filipinos were asking for a hike in rent the U.S. didn’t want to pay. In addition, the Cold War had just ended and there was a big push on to shed expensive overseas facilities. Finally, Clark Air Base had recently been heavily damaged by the eruption of a nearby volcano and the U.S. did not want to pay to rebuild a base it didn’t need and couldn’t afford the rent on.
What is bringing the Americans back is growing Chinese aggression against Filipino efforts to control coastal waters, and explore for nearby offshore oil and natural gas. The Chinese Navy has grown much larger in the last two decades, and the Philippines can gain more security, and more income by hosting American warships and aircraft once more.

These two Philippines bases were major links in the supply system that sustained American forces during the Vietnam War (1965-72). Another major logistics base in that conflict was Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam. The Vietnamese have invited the United States to use Cam Ranh Bay once more, because Vietnam, like most of China’s neighbors, wants Americans close buy as protection against growing Chinese aggression.

LEADERSHIP:  American Warships Mass Off China

June 10, 2012: The U.S. announced that it will have 60 percent of its 270 warships in the Pacific by the end of the decade. Actually, this is just a continuation of a process that began when the Cold War ended in 1991. But these changes move slowly. Largely this is the result of political problems that arise when you try to transfer the home ports (where the ships are when not at sea and where the families of the crews live, and spend their money) from one coast to another. The politicians representing states on the east coast raise a major stink when the navy tries to move the home ports. It’s taken the navy a decade to muster the political clout to make the changes happen. Meanwhile, more and more ships based in east coast ports were serving temporarily in the Pacific or Middle East. Now the big shift has been taking place officially. There have been other indicators that this was happening.

For example, six years ago the U.S. Navy eliminated the Atlantic Fleet, after a century of existence. First established in 1906, the Atlantic Fleet was the first, world class, high seas, naval force from the Americas. At the time, there was fear that Germany’s ambitious warship building program might someday endanger the United States. The Atlantic Fleet did go to war with the Germans in 1917, and again in 1941.

After 1945, the Atlantic Fleet remained a mighty force, in preparation for a potential battle with the growing naval power of the Soviet Union. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, their fleet wasted away within a decade. So the American Atlantic Fleet no longer had a major opponent. Meanwhile, China, North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan and Iran provided plenty of work for the Pacific Fleet (which normally supplied ships for Middle East and South Asian emergencies.)

The Pacific Fleet still had a full plate after 1991, so the Pacific Fleet remained. The Atlantic Fleet was actually be renamed, and reorganized, into the U.S. Fleet Forces Command, which will be responsible for the training, maintenance and operation of naval forces (ships, aircraft and land installations) on both coasts. The Pacific Fleet will still stand ready to deal with potential problems in Asia.

Actually, the Atlantic Fleet did have its name changed once before, in 1922, to “Commander Scouting Force”. It was changed back to Atlantic Fleet in 1941, just in time to fight the Germans once more. But the Russians are not expected to be a threat again, at least not any time soon.

For most of the past century, the Atlantic and Pacific Fleets were basically the two major parts of the U.S. Navy, and each developed unique customs. Sailors would often spend their entire careers in one fleet or the other. But when one was transferred, it was immediately apparent, once the transferred sailor arrived at the new location, that the two fleets were quite different. From now on, however, there will be the Pacific Fleet, and, “the rest of the navy.”

For Your Eyes Only Military News

June 6, 2012

KOREA:  The Great Hunger 2

June 6, 2012: Two decades of growing privation in North Korea has created an unprecedented catastrophe for the population. The health care system, never very good to begin with (except for ruling families) has wasted away to nothing in most parts of the country. Famine has returned to a population still weakened (stunted growth and terrifying memories) by the horrific one (over a million dead) in the 1990s. In many parts of the country rainfall is less than 20 percent of normal, imperiling essential crops (like rice) that have longer growing seasons. If this drought continues through most of June there will be major crop losses up north. The drought causes major electricity shortages because of heavy dependence on hydroelectric systems.  Because the North Korea has been so hostile for foreign aid organizations, many North Korean do not expect enough food aid to deal with a major famine. Much food aid has been halted because of North Korea’s insistence on continuing to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. Even China has refused to increase food aid unless the north agrees to resume disarmament negotiations. China is also cracking down on North Koreans escaping across the long border into China.

While this is seen as a favor for North Korea, it is also a response to the growing number of crimes committed by the desperate refugees when they reach China which, comparatively speaking, is seen as a wealthy paradise by most North Koreans. There are also a growing number of border guards who flee with their weapons, and sometimes use them for bloody crime sprees.

For those who stay behind it gets worse, for in the midst of all this privation, the frightened, and hungry, population has come to see South Korea as a paradise, one even more prosperous than China. This is despite decades of government propaganda depicting the south as an economic and cultural failure. But the growing number of pirated South Korea TV and movie videos getting into North Korea (via Chinese traders and smugglers) has changed all that. North Koreans view all this with envy and wonder, taking pride that under the right conditions, Koreans can be rich and happy. Naturally, this causes North Koreans to lose faith in their own government and its policies. The government recognizes this, and long ago established an official list of 51 social classes in North Korea. Most (29) of these classes are either hostile to the government or leaning that way. Alas for North Korea, most of the population falls into these 29 social classes, and they are getting increasingly hostile to a government that seems to do nothing but create one disaster after another.

The people are hungry, the soldiers are hungry, the secret police are stealing whatever they can get their hands on and the senior officials are planning their escape routes. The highest caste people, who have long come to regard themselves (quite accurately) as a hereditary aristocracy, are growing more corrupt and fearful. These aristocrats are aware of the outside world and feel trapped in a society that could collapse into chaos at any minute. It’s among these people that the revolution will begin, because if enough of the northern aristocrats flee or succumb to corruption, the police state will lose control.
South Korea’s official position is that, despite the unrest and economic disorder up north, the North Korean government is unlikely to collapse any time soon.

The Korean Worker’s Party may be corrupt and inefficient, but its 350,000 members (and family members) amount to nearly ten percent of the population, and have always been ruthless when it came to holding on to power, and insuring that the other 90 percent of the population did not get out of control. Much of what passes for “unrest” in the north is simply members of the Korean Worker’s Party using their connections to run some kind of scam.

The farmers markets (basically a legalized black market) have long prospered under the protection of local Korean Worker’s Party officials. Smuggling and other criminal activity prospers because members of the Korean Worker’s Party are paid off. Senior, and conservative, officials in the government try to stamp out this corruption (which they see as the party losing control for the economy), and hundreds of party members are punished each year. But the corruption persists, and grows because the economy does not improve, while the greed of party members does. Moreover, without the markets, millions of North Koreans would face starvation. While over a million starved to death in the 1990s, the belief in the north is that, this time around, many would fight, rather than just slowly die. Memories of the Great Hunger in the 1990s remains despite official attempts to make them disappear. There has always been a lot of fear in the north, but now the uncertain future has pumped the fear up to unbearable levels.

The growing number of people escaping from North Korea to South Korea has brought more clarity to the extent of the arrests and prison camps in the north.

At least 200,000 people are in police custody at any given time, with over 60 percent of them serving multi-year sentences in labor camps. Many of these inmates do not survive their sentences and hundreds each year are executed rather than being sent to camps.  It’s also been discovered that the north executes dozens of senior officials a year via staged accidents. This is to avoid the embarrassment of admitting so many senior people were caught stealing or spying for China or South Korea. But many loyal officials are doing great damage by using their powers to force thousands of North Koreans to work for weeks at a time on public works. This power is normally used to help farmers plant and then harvest their crops. But now it is increasingly used to try and repair (without adequate tools or materials) structures and roads. The infrastructure in the north is falling apart, and growing use of slave labor won’t fix it. But the effort looks good to the senior leadership, so local leaders go through the motions to increase their political standing.

The growing number of refugees is also bringing more refugees who are actually North Korea spies posing as refugees. The North Korea intelligence agencies go to great lengths to prepare these agents to survive the screening given all refugees arriving in South Korea. But many are caught, and some have been caught trying to carry out sabotage or assassination (of senior defectors from the north) missions. There’s not a lot of this, but it’s a constant threat that South Korean counter-intelligence forces have to deal with. One blowback angle to this is the South Koreans discovering that the North Korean agents often commit crimes when they reach China. One recently captured North Korea spy described to her South Korean interrogators how she came into China with several hundred thousand dollars-worth of counterfeit Chinese currency. It’s widely known that North Korea makes counterfeit American hundred dollar bills, but now the Chinese have confirmation of where all the high quality counterfeits of their own currency are coming from.

More accurate reporting of suffering in North Korea has led to public threats by North Korea to fire artillery or missiles at specific South Korea media outlets. One recent northern announcement named these outlets and their precise coordinates. The location information was not secret, but the specific threat was something new. North Korea loves to play these mind games and has been doing it for decades. South Koreans now find it annoying, or even amusing. The northerners rarely follow up on these threats, and when they do the results are miniscule compared to what was threatened.

Six years after the order was given, nearly all Japanese cars and trucks have disappeared from the streets of North Korea. The original order was one of those impulsive things the supreme leader (then Kim Jong Il) can get away with. But there was no getting away with the fact that it would take time, and a lot of money, to replace thousands of Japanese vehicles. Most were used by senior officials or for vital economic tasks. For years, North Korea had been a major market for second-hand Japanese vehicles. At first, energetic local officials made a public spectacle (often in sports stadiums) of crushing hundreds of Japanese cars. Then someone did the math and realized that these cars could be sold in China to help pay for replacements. That was a more gradual process, plus the fact that many officials delayed losing their Japanese vehicles (long noted for reliability and comfort) for as long as possible. The new leader, Kim Jong Un, ordered the process to be completed, and in the last few months it was.

June 1, 2012:  South Korean accident investigators now believe that the May 10 crash of an S-100 UAV, which killed two people on the ground, was the result of the April 28-May 15 North Korean GPS jamming campaign. The crash was caused by operator error, which would have been prevented if the S-100 GPS signal (used as a safety backup) was not being jammed.

PROCUREMENT:  Second Best Makes A Comeback

June 6, 2012: With the war in Iraq over and the one in Afghanistan ending, the U.S. Army has been ordered to decide what to do with all the weapons and equipment that was obtained via RFI (Rapid Fielding Initiative). Established in 2002, RFI recognized that the American army did not always have the best weapons and equipment available. RFI was intended to do something about that and do it quickly. During the next nine years, the army approved the purchase of 409 items immediately, which is what RFI was all about. Now the army has to decide which of these RFI items to make standard equipment and which to discard. So far, 11 percent have been made standard issue, 37 percent are being discarded (some didn’t work out as expected, others were replaced by better stuff) while the remaining 52 percent are still being fought over by the troops and procurement bureaucrats. The marines already went through this process, and found that 63 percent of their RFI items were worth keeping, and only 17 percent were to be discarded. The rest are still being watched, or being further developed.

Traditional weapons and equipment developers did not like RFI. Procurement bureaucrats like to take their time, even when there’s a war going on. This is mainly to cover everyone’s ass and try to placate all the big shots and constituencies demanding certain features. In wartime, this process is sped up somewhat but it is always slower than it has to be.

The engineers often point out that they can deliver much more quickly if they are allowed to use the old “70 percent solution” rule. This bit of engineering wisdom is based on the fact that some capabilities of a weapon or other item are not essential but take an inordinate amount of effort to create. Thus a “good enough” item can be produced very quickly, if you are willing to sacrifice 30 percent of the capabilities you thought you needed (but probably don’t). Despite official opposition, the 70 percent solution has become all the rage over the last decade.

The age of change began with the troops who, thanks to the Internet and a flood of new civilian technology, got into the habit of just buying new stuff and using it in combat. If the army had developed a lot of this gear it would have more features, be more rugged, and taken a lot longer to arrive, if it ever did at all. But for the troops, the off-the-shelf gear filled important needs, even if it was a 70 percent solution.
Troops have been finding and buying non-standard gear for decades but it had been growing more frequent since the 1990s. The army became tolerant of it, largely because this unofficial civilian gear (sleeping bags, boots, rifle cleaning kits, etc.) often was better, and even officers used the stuff. As the number of these items increased tremendously over the last decade, and more officers came back from commanding combat units with personal experience with this sort of thing, a growing number of senior commanders began demanding that the army procurement bureaucracy get rid of the traditional 10-15 years it takes to find, develop, and approve new technology for the troops. The troops have long understood this but now four star generals agreed and often did so from personal experience.

You could see RFI coming. There were three existing trends pushing it. First, there was a lot more new technology coming on the market that troops could use. Some of it came from the companies that created equipment for the hiking and camping market (boots, rucksacks, all manner of outdoor clothing). Other stuff came from hunting and police suppliers (new gun sights and other accessories). There was a flood of new electronic gear, like lighter and more reliable GPS receivers and computer gear, plus new kinds of flashlights and, eventually, smart phones.

The second trend was that the troops were all on the Internet and like never before were in touch with each other via military related message boards, listservs, Facebook pages, and chat rooms. Troops have always been coming up with new ideas about how to use civilian gear for military purposes. But before the Internet each soldier’s discovery spread slowly. Now, information about new discoveries gets spread army-wide, and world-wide, within hours.

Finally, there was SOCOM (Special Operations Command), which had long possessed its own RFI-like powers and budget to go with it. SOCOM could buy neat new weapons, as well as equipment. SOCOM could also afford to buy expensive stuff (the first night vision gear and satellite phones). SOCOM personnel were on the Internet as well. By 2001, thousands of soldiers were speculating, via the Internet, how much more effective they could be if they had SOCOM’s freedom to quickly get new stuff that allowed them to do their job better.

When American troops went into Afghanistan in October, 2001, it was several hundred SOCOM Special Forces operators that did most of the work. Once the media got to the Special Forces guys stories started coming out about the non-standard gear they were using. American infantrymen being sent to Afghanistan saw those stories, as did people in the Pentagon. Connections started to get made. Among other things, someone in the Pentagon realized that the army would not look too good if too many journalists interviewed too many troops who had bought civilian equipment with their own money, while the Special Forces was getting it paid for by the government. This was especially embarrassing if the new equipment, from a civilian supplier, was obviously superior to the stuff the government was handing out. With this kind of incentive the Rapid Fielding Initiative was quickly set up and became a big success.

The Iraq campaign gave the RFI another boost. A typical example involved all the raids troops had to make and the problems with getting through sturdy locked doors. Some troops knew of special equipment police and fire departments used to break into buildings. The proper equipment was soon in the troops’ hands and many lives, both American and Iraqi, were saved. Stories came back from Afghanistan and Iraq about how great the RFI gear was and all was well with the troops and the brass in the Pentagon.

Some generals consider the official procurement bureaucracy beyond help. It is encumbered with generations of laws and rules, which are supposed to curb fraud, enhance efficiency, or whatever, and have just contributed to the many delays that make everything take far longer than it should. You can’t mess with the laws, at least not too often, and especially not in peacetime, without getting brought up short by Congress and the courts. For the politicians, the defense budget is a principal tool for getting reelected. That procurement money means jobs for American voters and the politicians representing those voters know it. Congress will not relinquish too much control over this pot of gold.

Over a decade of war has changed a lot of things in the U.S. military but none more troublesome, to the military bureaucracy, than the new attitude of “we want it now.” Senior commanders took on the military procurement bureaucracy in order to get new technology to the troops sooner. It’s not a new fight but having so many generals involved in trying to speed things up; that is new. And often the generals were asking for some very expensive stuff. But these officers had done their homework and it was hard to say no to officers who are under fire every day. The 70 percent solution became a legitimate tool on the battlefield. But now the procurement bureaucracy wants to go back to the bad 0ld (but safer) days of taking your time and covering your ass.

SPECIAL OPERATIONS:  Russia Rebuilds Its Commando Force

June 6, 2012: Russia is trying to rebuild its special operations forces after disbanding three of twelve Spetsnaz brigades (the 67th in Berdsk, 12th in Asbest, and 3rd in Samara) three years ago. The cuts three years ago were part of an army wide reorganization and reduction of personnel strength. There were also recruiting problems, especially the inability to recruit and retain enough career Spetsnaz troops. But now one of the disbanded brigades (the 67th) is being rebuilt in Siberia. The government is concerned about growing Islamic radicalism in central Russia, and the five Central Asian nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union, but became independent in 1991. Russia has military and security agreements with these five Moslem nations, and wants another Sptsnaz brigade available in case there is a spike in Islamic terrorism.  The Russian generals have come to learn that when you need something done, nothing works better than a brigade of special operations commandos.

Despite the 2009 cutbacks, Russia’s ground forces, especially the country’s numerous special operations units, have apparently benefited greatly from the major reforms being instituted in the armed forces in the last eight years.

Airborne Forces (paratroopers) and special operations forces (Spetsnaz) historically been a major source of pride to Russians going back to the ’70s and ’80s, when 30,000 Spetsnaz and airborne troops constituted the most effective troops available during the Afghan War (1979-1989). Following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Russia’s special ops suffered the same problems as the rest of the Russia, namely corruption, low morale, low funding, and a major decline in the quality of training. Special operations soldiers were often accused of doing contract killings, and other “special tasks” for the Russian mob during the chaotic ’90s. There are only about 12,000 of these elite troops left.

The lowest point for the state of the Russian special operations forces was 1999-2004, during the height of the Second Chechen War. Spetsnaz and Airborne troops suffered major reversals and defeats at the hands of Chechen rebels, with an entire company of supposedly “elite” paratroopers being wiped out during one battle. The most embarrassing moment for Russia’s elite was the 2002 Moscow theater siege and the 2004 Beslan school siege. During the former, Spetsnaz troops, instead of executing a well-planned attack on the hostage-takers, bungled the rescue, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of hostages along with all the hostage takers. During the Beslan incident, Russian special operations forces conducted a conventional-style assault on the building, in some cases recklessly using RPO-A rocket launchers with incendiary warheads, tanks, and RPG-7V1s to blast their way into the school.

Both incidents not only damaged Russia’s reputation abroad, as it was seen as callously disregarding the lives of its own citizens, but also the reputation of the country’s best soldiers.

After the Beslan incident, Spetsnaz apparently decided to get its act together, and it’s shown in recent years. But by 2009, Russian special operations forces had expanded to a size that could not be sustained without lowering quality. The Russian military reforms did result in major improvements in the equipment and training of Russian elite forces, primarily paratroopers and special operations forces. But there was not enough money to pay what was needed to retain many elite troops. That is now changing.

For the foreseeable future, the Russians know that their elites are the most effective, reliable troops they have and can’t afford to have them spread thinly across the military in different formations. Instead, the Russians appear to be concentrating their most effective forces into specific units in order to have a lot of them ready to go and already integrated when they go into action. The same goes for the regular army, as it slowly but surely improves in quality.

The Spetsnaz brigades contain about 1,600 troops, at full strength, and the 67th brigade only had about a thousand troops when it was disbanded in 2009. Now it is being revived with 400 troops transferred from another Spetsnaz brigade. It will take several years, perhaps as many as five, to get the revived 67th brigade up to full strength.

COUNTER-TERRORISM:  Another Sanctuary Appears

June 6, 2012: In northern Mali (just south of Algeria), the MNLA, (Liberation Army of Azawad) is facing off with a former ally, Ansar Dine over whether the government of the newly established Tuareg state in northern Mali (Azawad) should be secular or Islamic. Ansar Dine is run by a Taureg tribal leader who participated in a failed uprising in 1990 and subsequently allied himself with al Qaeda and formed a small force (less than a thousand men) of Islamic radical warriors. Ansar Dine and MNLA agreed to merge on May 26th, but a week later split again when MNLA refused to allow the new state to be run by Islamic law (Sharia) and invade the south. Ansar wants to turn all of Mali into an Islamic dictatorship.

Other nations in the region, especially Algeria (which shares a 460 kilometer border with Mali) are alarmed at the appearance of a potential Islamic state, and sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. The situation is murky because several Ansar Dine and MNLA factions are operating semi-independently. There is no single, reliable voice in the north. If there is a civil war between Islamic conservatives and secular minded Tuaregs, there will be chaos for a while. Meanwhile the AU (African Union) and ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) is preparing to invade northern Mali and has already imposed economic sanctions on land-locked Mali. AFRICOM (U.S. Africa Command) has troops, aircraft  and Special Forces operators in the area.

This all began last January when thousands of Tuareg tribesmen in the north resumed their rebellion and began attacking towns and military bases. Then, in March, soldiers in the capital deposed the elected Mali government, complaining that the politicians had not sufficiently supported the military in its efforts to deal with the Tuareg uprising. That led to a collapse of army resistance in the north. This was the fourth Tuareg uprising since the first in 1963 and the most successful. By the end of April Tuareg rebels had seized the three major towns in the north (Kidal, Gao and Timbuktu) as well as military bases in the area. In effect, the Tuareg rebels had seized the entire desert north and dared the more numerous southerners to try and take it back. But first the army coup had to be undone, the army restored to some semblance of order, and then sent north to recapture the major towns and deal with the Tuareg. That has not happened yet.

The Tuareg rebels were initially assisted by several hundred Ansar Dine gunmen. Apparently deals were made to make life easier for the terrorists if the Tuareg gained control of the north. Ansar Dine gunmen soon went around shutting down places that sell alcohol or video and telling people they must act like “proper” Moslems (beards for men and covering up for women). This sort of thing is not popular among the Tuareg, and caused friction with most Tuareg leaders.
The Tuaregs have been a problem for centuries, as they are ethnically distinct from the Malian majority in the south. Mali is as large as South Africa but has less than a third the population. Most (90 percent) of the 14.5 million people live in the southern third of the country, which gets more water. The north is largely desert, and most of the population up there are Tuareg (most of them not rebelling.) Until the French arrived in the 19th century and created (for administrative purposes) a united “Mali”, the black Africans in the south (along the Niger River) prospered and generally ignored the Tuareg in the desert north. But after the French left in 1960, and Mali became independent, the more populous south was forced to deal with the Tuareg dominated north.

These ethnic differences are complicated by recent Tuareg participation in smuggling cocaine and hashish north, through Algeria, to Europe. The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through forests, then the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south. The Algerian government has long feared that the Tuareg would be tempted, by a big payday, to provide sanctuary for al Qaeda, as well as providing new recruits for Islamic terrorist operations (especially those that raise a lot of cash, like kidnapping Westerners.) While the Tuareg are not fond of Islamic terrorism, young Tuareg are allowed to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good, and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses, and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders. The mere fact that Tuareg are working for al Qaeda in southern Algeria has angered Algerian and Mali officials. Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for a long time, and made peace with most of them in 2007.  The MNLA insist that are not Islamic radicals, but many other Tuaregs (like Ansar Dine) are and there’s no denying that. On the southern border of Algeria, the Sahara desert turns into the semi-desert Sahel, a band of barely livable land stretching from the Atlantic coast to Somalia.

Ansar Dine has been growing rapidly this year. Islamic terrorists from Algeria, Nigeria and other areas came to northern Mali to “help” as soon as it was obvious that the rebels were winning. 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. A large minority of the northerners were originally from the black African south. 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 secular-minded 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.


June 6, 2012: As the U.S. Air Force has retired all of its C-130E transports, it is finding nations using even older model C-130s seeking to get the retired C-130Es for free, and then pay to refurbish them for another decade or so of service. Bangladesh is doing this, largely because its four C-130Bs are grounded most of the time because of age-related maintenance issues. The U.S. will provide four C-130Es, and then Bangladesh will pay over $30 million each to have the C-130Es made “like new” again.  Bangladesh often uses its C-130s to support the many peacekeeping missions its troops are involved in, and for domestic natural disasters.

The U.S. Air Force retired its last C-130E transport earlier this year. Over the last few years it has retired several C-130Es with over 30,000 hours in the air and over 45 years of service. One of those retired two years ago had spent 33,220 hours in the air and flew its last mission in Iraq, serving in a combat zone to the end.

Many of the C-130Es retired in the last few years had a few thousand hours left in them. These C-130s have undergone six or more refurbishments since they entered service in the 1960s. But these aircraft require more maintenance because of their age, which makes them more expensive to operate and less available for service than newer models. Some of these aircraft could be refurbished again, and fly for another decade. But the U.S. Air Force would prefer to buy the new, and much more capable, C-130Js.

The American C-130Es are not the ones with the most hours in the air. Several Canadian CC-130Es have over 50,000 hours. But these are to be retired soon. Even the Canadians found that, as their CC-130Es approached 50,000 hours in the air, maintenance became more expensive and time consuming.

On average, C-130s last about 25 years and about 20,000 hours in the air. But averages are just that, and some aircraft get lucky. If an aircraft has relatively few “high stress” (heavy load, rough weather) flights, it will fly longer. The key component in C-130 longevity is the center wing box. This component takes the most punishment, and if it suffers corrosion, as well as enough stress to cause metal fatigue, it usually means the useful life of the aircraft is much shorter.
The C-130 has been in service 53 years. So far, nearly 2,300 have been built and it is still in production. Most C-130s built are still in use, although that will change in the next decade as the large number built in the 1960s and early 70s retire.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

June 6, 2012

Syria: Killing Kids For The Cause

June 5, 2012: The Israeli government is debating how to deal with chaos in Syria and Islamic terror groups (particularly Hezbollah) getting possession of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons. Decades of “destroy Israel” propaganda by the Arab states in the region make it impossible for open cooperation with Israel to take direct action in Syria. Israel is cooperating with Turkey and Arab states with intelligence. Turkey provides sanctuary for the rebels and Arab states (particularly from the Persian Gulf) are supplying cash, weapons and other equipment. No foreign state or coalition is yet willing to openly aid the rebels. The UN is powerless as long as Russia uses its veto to block anti-Assad measures. Russia insists the violence is caused by outsiders. The growing violence against civilians has caused Russia to suggest some changes in the Assad government, but that’s it.

The Assads have too many armed rebels for their security forces to handle. The Assads must defend the cities and military bases (most of them are near cities).

If the rebels control a city, the chance of foreign intervention goes way up. If the rebels capture a military base, they gain weapons and documents embarrassing to the government (because of discussions of how to handle violence against civilians.) The UN sponsored ceasefire that began on April 12, has failed to halt the violence. That deal called for soldiers to withdraw from urban areas and for rebels to stop shooting. Neither side complied, although the army went through the motions for a while. The government cannot afford to lose control of any large city.

The government has sent more troops to guard the borders, especially the one with Lebanon, to slow down weapons and other supplies coming in for the rebels. Smuggling clans have been operating along this border for over half a century, and can switch to new routes whenever soldiers show up.

Casualties are now over 2,000 a week, with more than 500 dead. While the pro-government militias have started killing large numbers of civilians, soldiers are also doing it on a smaller scale with indiscriminate executions at checkpoints. So far, the rebels have persuaded their armed supporters to concentrate on armed (militiamen and soldiers) opponents and not unarmed civilians.

The UN, and most of the world, condemned the slaughter of civilians and many nations began expelling Syrian diplomats. The Syrian government and allies like Iran and Russia, blamed foreigners and rebels for the massacres. The government is blaming the UN and other foreign enemies for growing shortages and unemployment. The sanctions are making it difficult to legally import everything, including essential items like food. The government is losing control of real estate and its loyalists. But the decline is gradual and the Assads still believe they can outlast the rebels. That is looking more and more like a slim hope.

Starting on May 25th, pro-government militias began murdering large numbers of civilians. On the 25th, over a hundred people were killed, about half of them children. The killers believed the victims were pro-rebel and that this sort of thing would persuade the rebels to back off. The Syrian government does not have tight control over these militias, who were allowed to form so pro-government minorities (especially Alawites) could protect themselves from the growing number of armed rebels. In response to international criticism the government accused the rebels of slaughtering their own people to encourage foreign intervention. Such tactics are not unknown (there was a lot of it in the Balkans in the 1990s), but was apparently not the case here.

The Iranian security advisors are finding that what works in Iran isn’t working in Syria. In Iran, the government has the support of about a quarter of the population (mostly in rural areas). From these religious conservatives the Iranian government recruits its police, soldiers and the huge (several hundred thousand men) armed Basij militia. The Basij are often used without uniforms or firearms, as street thugs who beat up anti-government demonstrators.

Iranian opposition groups have never been able to sustain large scale opposition to the religious dictatorship. The Syrian dictatorship does not have the religious fanaticism element going for it. The Assads have maintained control by being secular and buying the loyalty of the urban population and tribal leaders with government jobs and business opportunities.  That system broke down when the Arab Spring made it obvious to most Syrians that they were living in a corrupt and mismanaged dictatorship and maybe freedom was worth fighting for. The Assads and their Iranian mentors still believe that the right amount of terrorism can calm things down.

June 4, 2012: Syrian opposition groups, including some leaders of major tribes, met in Turkey and expanded the rebel coalition.

June 3, 2012: In the last two days, rebels went on the offensive, attacking army checkpoints and convoys, leading to over 300 casualties.

In Lebanon, troops managed to stop militia fighting in Tripoli. There were over 50 casualties (and 14 dead) from several days of shooting between Sunni and Alawite militias. These two groups are backing (respectively) the rebels and Alawite government in Syria. This is the fourth outbreak of militia violence in Tripoli in the past year. While Syria has some fans in Lebanon, most Lebanese are anti-Syrian because Syrian claims Lebanon as part of “Greater Syria.”
May 30, 2012: Rebels gave the government 48 hours to comply with the UN ceasefire terms otherwise the rebels would increase their attacks. The government didn’t and the rebels did.

ETHIOPIA:  The Somali Campaign

June 5, 2012: While there has been no al Shabaab terrorism in Ethiopian cities, that’s not the case in Kenya. There, a large ethnic Somali population in urban areas provides recruits for al Shabaab terrorism. Kenya’s business community is asking their government to increase security measure to stop Al Shabaab terror attacks. Businessmen want more armed police in downtown Nairobi and they want them assigned to guard buildings. Hotels are a special concern.

Citizens of Nairobi are also concerned that Al Shabaab terrorists might use hijacked aircraft to attack buildings, like Al Qaeda did on 9-11.  Kenya has suffered numerous terror attacks on buildings and markets. In August 1998 Al Qaeda terrorists destroyed the US embassy in Nairobi using a truck bomb. An Israeli-owned hotel in the Kenyan port of Mombasa was attacked with a vehicle bomb in November 2002.

June 3, 2012:  The African Union (AU) Mission to Somalia (AMISOM) reported that a Djibouti peacekeeping unit of 100 soldiers has taken over Ethiopian Army positions in the Somalia town of (north central Somalia). The plan is that Ethiopian forces will attack Al Shabaab militiamen in new sectors and AMISOM peacekeepers will fill-in behind the Ethiopian Army, to maintain security in the liberated region.

June 2, 2012: Kenyan troops operating in Somalia have officially joined AMISOM’s peacekeeping force.  Kenyan expeditionary forces are fighting Al Shabaab militiamen in southern Somalia. Kenya launched the incursion in October 2011 after Al Shabaab fighters launched a series of attack in Kenya and kidnapped several Kenyan civilians. Kenya has indicated that it will ultimately deploy 4,631 soldiers in the AMISOM force.

June 1, 2012: Intelligence officials are warning Kenya that Al Shabaab intends to launch new terror attacks inside Kenya. Likely targets include skyscrapers in Nairobi.

May 31, 2012: The Ethiopian rebel Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) said it members ambushed two Ethiopian military convoys in the Ogaden region and killed over 50 Ethiopian Army soldiers. There was no independent confirmation of the claim.

May 30, 2012: Kenyan Army forces (Kenyan Defense Forces, KDF) have taken the town of Afmadow in Somalia. Afmadow is located north-west of the key Al Shabaab-controlled seaport of Kismayo and is the junction for several major roads connecting southern Somalia to central and western Somalia. The KDF launched an assault on the town of Hayo and killed six Al Shabaab fighters in the resulting battle. The KDF then attacked toward Afmadow and its Al Shabaab defenders fled without resisting.  Analysts now expect the KDF units in Afmadow to move toward Kismayo. Kismayo is Al Shabaab’s headquarters and its most important supply center.

May 29, 2012: Kenya reported that KDF naval vessels were fired upon by Al Shabaab forces near the port of Kismayo. The KDF vessels returned the fire and killed 11 militiamen. Al Shabaab disputed the Kenyan version of events and claimed that the Kenyan navy started shelling the port at three a.m. in the morning, then launched another gunfire attack at 6 a.m. on houses near port facilities.

May 28, 2012: A blast injured in a Nairobi, Kenya shopping mall injured 33 people. Security officials first attributed the blast to an electrical malfunction. However, police investigators that they now have evidence which indicates the blast may have been caused by a terrorist bomb. Witnesses claim they saw a bag left near the blast site.

May 22, 2012: Ethiopian officials said that Ethiopian military forces operating in Somalia intend to take more territory from Al Shabaab in southern Somalia.

For several weeks Ethiopia has indicated that its forces in central and western Somalia would turn and head south, to link up with Kenyan and pro-Somali government forces near the port of Kismayo, which remains under Al Shabaab control.

May 21, 2012: Gunfire erupted in a refugee camp near the Sudan-Eritrea border. Refugees in the camp fought with police. One policeman was wounded. The camp, located at Shagarab, houses several thousand Eritrean refugees. No one claimed to know who was responsible for the gunfire. A spokesman for an aid agency said that most of the refugees are fleeing Eritrea. Some are trying to escape the Eritrean military conscription while others are fleeing the country’s deteriorating economic conditions.

INFORMATION WARFARE: Israel and U.S. Admit Joint Cyber War Effort

June 5, 2012: American and Israeli officials have finally confirmed that the industrial grade Cyber War weapons (Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame) used against Iran in the last few years were indeed joint U.S.-Israel operations. No other details were released, although many more rumors are now circulating. The U.S. and Israel were long suspected of being responsible for these “weapons grade” computer worms. Both nations had the motive to use, means to build and opportunity to unleash these powerful Cyber War weapons against Iran and other that support terrorism.

The U.S. Department of Defense had long asked for permission to go on the offensive using Cyber War weapons. But the U.S. government regularly and publicly declined to retaliate against constant attack from China, mainly because there were fears that there could be legal repercussions and that weapons used might get out of control and cause lots of damage to innocent parties.

Iran turned out to be another matter. Although not a serious Cyber War threat to the United States, Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and apparently Israel had already been looking into using a Cyber War weapon to interfere with that. Given the nature of these weapons, which work best if the enemy doesn’t even know they exist, don’t expect many details to be released about this Cyber War program. What is known is that the Cyber War weapons unleashed on Iran were designed to concentrate only on very specific targets. So far, only three weapons that we know of have been used. One (Stuxnet) was designed to do damage to one specific facility, the plant where Iran produced nuclear fuel for power plants, and atomic weapons. That one worked. The other two (Duqu and Flame) were intelligence collection programs. They also apparently succeeded, remaining hidden for years and having lots of opportunity to collect enormous quantities of valuable data.

It was only in the last month that the latest of these Cyber War “super weapons” was uncovered. The new one is called Flame, and was designed to stay hidden and collect information from computers it got into. It apparently did both, for up to five years (or more), in Iran, Lebanon, the Palestinian West Bank, and, to a lesser extent, other Moslem countries in the region. Like the earlier Stuxnet (2009) and Duqu (2011), Flame has all the signs of being designed and created by professional programmers and software engineers. Most malware (hacker software) is created by talented and often undisciplined amateurs and often displays a lack of discipline and organization. Professional programmers create more capable and reliable software. That describes Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame.

The U.S. and Israel spent big bucks to craft these Cyber War weapons and get them to their targets. Both nations have access to the best programming talent on the planet, and already have organizations that can recruit and supervise highly secret software development.

As researchers continue studying these three software packages, they find ever more surprising features. Until the appearance of Flame, the most formidable Cyber War weapon encountered was Stuxnet, a computer worm (a computer program that constantly tries to copy itself to other computers) that showed up two years ago. It was designed as a weapons grade cyber weapon and was designed to damage Iran’s nuclear weapons manufacturing facilities. It succeeded. A year after Stuxnet was discovered (in 2010), security experts uncovered Duqu. Like Flame, Duqu was collecting information on large computer networks and apparently preparing for an even broader attack on industrial targets.

It appeared that Stuxnet and Duqu were but two of five or more Cyber War weapons developed (up to five years ago) from the same platform. Flame was not apparently related to Stuxnet and Duqu. The basic Flame platform appears to have been built to accept numerous additional software modules, giving each variant different capabilities. Some of the modules made use of specific computer features, like a microphone, wireless communication, or the camera. Flame appears to be a very different design from Stuxnet and Duqu but also spreads via a USB memory stick or the Internet.

Some infected PCs were found to contain a large number of Flame modules, amounting to up to 20 megabytes of code and data. Flame hides its presence very well and has a very effective self-destruct feature that erases all evidence of its presence. In the at least five years Flame has been around, it has gotten into a few thousand PCs and collected large quantities of data.

In contrast, Duqu was being used to probe industrial computer systems and send information back about how these systems are built and operate. When Duqu was first discovered, the server it was sending its data to was eventually found in India and disabled. Duqu appeared to shut down last December. No one knows if this is because Duqu had finished its work or was feeling cramped by all the attention. Flame is still operating.

For over two years now, hundreds of capable programmers have been taking Stuxnet and Duqu apart and openly discussing the results. While these programs are “government property”, once they are turned loose they belong to everyone. The public discussion on the Internet has provided a bonanza of useful criticism of how the programs were put together, often describing in detail how flaws could be fixed or features improved. But even when such details were not provided, the programmers picking apart these programs usually mentioned what tools or techniques were needed to make the code more effective.

On the down side, this public autopsy of this stuff makes the inner workings of the software, and all the improvements, available to anyone. Then again, security professionals now have a much clearer idea of how this kind of weapon works and this can make future attempts to use similar weapons more difficult.
Flame is much larger and more complex than Stuxnet or Duqu and will keep researchers busy for years. But now that three of these professionally crafted Cyber War weapons have appeared in the last three years, it seems likely that more will show up.

Weapons like Stuxnet and Duqu are nothing new; for nearly a decade Cyber War and criminal hackers have planted programs (“malware”) in computer networks belonging to corporations or government agencies. These programs (called “Trojan horses” or “zombies”) are under the control of the people who plant them and can later be used to steal, modify, destroy data, or shut down the computer systems the zombies are on. You infect new PCs and turn them into zombies by using freshly discovered and exploitable defects in software that runs on the Internet. These flaws enable a hacker to get into other people’s networks. Called “Zero Day Exploits” (ZDEs), in the right hands these flaws can enable criminals to pull off a large online heist or simply maintain secret control over someone’s computer. Flame was apparently using high-quality (and very expensive) ZDEs and possibly receiving new ones as well.

Stuxnet contained four ZDEs, two of them unknown, indicating that whoever built Stuxnet had considerable resources. ZDEs are difficult to find and can be sold on the black market for over $250,000. The fact that Stuxnet was built to sabotage an industrial facility spotlights another growing problem – the vulnerability of industrial facilities. The developers of systems control software have been warned about the increased attempts to penetrate their defenses. In addition to terrorists, there is the threat of criminals trying to extort money from utilities or factories with compromised systems, or simply sniff around and sell data on vulnerabilities to Cyber War organizations. But in the case of Stuxnet, the target was Iran’s nuclear weapons operation, although some hackers dissecting Stuxnet could now build software for use in blackmail schemes.

Stuxnet was designed to shut down a key part of Iran’s nuclear weapons program, by damaging the gas centrifuges used to enrich uranium to weapons grade material. Iran eventually admitted that this damage occurred and recent Western estimates of how soon Iran would have a nuclear weapon have been extended by several years. So, one can presume that Stuxnet was a success.

Duqu appears to be exploiting the success of Stuxnet in spreading to so many industrial sites and is designed to sniff out details of places it ends up in and send the data to whoever is planning on building Stuxnet 2.0. Several different versions of Duqu have been found so far, and all of them have been programmed to erase themselves after they have been in a computer for 36 days.

Stuxnet was believed to have been released in late 2009, and thousands of computers were infected as the worm sought out its Iranian target. Initial dissection of Stuxnet indicated that it was designed to interrupt the operation of the control software used in various types of industrial and utility (power, water, sanitation) plants. Eventually, further analysis revealed that Stuxnet was programmed to subtly disrupt the operation of gas centrifuges.
The Stuxnet “malware” was designed to hide itself in the control software of an industrial plant, making it very difficult to be sure you have cleaned all the malware out. This is the scariest aspect of Stuxnet and is making Iranian officials nervous about other Stuxnet-type attacks having been made on them. Although Iran eventually admitted that Stuxnet did damage, they would not reveal details of when Stuxnet got to the centrifuges nor how long the malware was doing its thing before it was discovered and removed. But all this accounts for the unexplained slowdown in Iran getting new centrifuges working. Whoever created Stuxnet probably knows the extent of the damage because Stuxnet also had a “call home” capability.

The U.S. and Israel have been successful with “software attacks” in the past.This stuff doesn’t get reported much in the general media, partly because it’s so geeky and because there are no visuals. It is computer code and arcane geekery that gets it to its target. The earlier attacks, especially Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame, spread in a very controlled fashion, sometimes via agents who got an infected USB memory stick into an enemy facility. Even if some copies of these programs get out onto  Internet connected PCs, they do not spread far. Worms and viruses designed to spread can go worldwide and infest millions of PCs within hours.

Despite all the secrecy this stuff is very real, and the pros are impressed by Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame, even if the rest of us have not got much of a clue. The demonstrated capabilities of these Cyber War weapons usher in a new age in Internet based warfare. Amateur hour is over and the big dogs are in play.

Actually, the Cyber War offensive by the U.S. and Israel appears to have been underway for years, using their stealth to remain hidden. There are probably more than three of these stealthy Cyber War applications in use, and most of us will never hear about it until, and if, other such programs are discovered and their presence made public.


June 5, 2012: Russia announced that it had developed a new device that covered the tracks (from wheels) of its TELs (Transporter Elector Launchers) that carry ballistic missiles about the countryside to make them more difficult to destroy (before they can be launched at an enemy.) Russia is aware that the United States, and other nations, can use spy satellites (that pass over the operating area for the TELs every 9o minutes) to track these TELs and their missiles. The new device can also create false tire tracks to deceive satellite reconnaissance.  The 17.4 meter (54 foot) long TEL for the 46 ton Russian RS-12/24 missiles is a 16 wheel vehicle, using a 710 horsepower diesel engine.

No details of this new deception device were released, which is to be expected. What is unusual is that the existence of the device was revealed. Usually, when the Russians come up with something like this, they keep its very existence secret. This was made quite obvious during the 1990s, when many Russian weapons and items of military equipment that had been kept secret during the Cold War (1947-91) were revealed. In the case of the new TEL device, it’s possible that the announcement is itself a deception, to force the Americans to waste a lot of time and effort investigating a device that doesn’t exist. The Russians have used that trick before.

The original Topol (RS-12M) was the first mobile ICBM and entered service in the late 1980s. It was also Russia’s first solid fuel ICBM. Two years ago Russia announced that the latest version of the Topol series, the RS-24 (Yars), had entered service. The RS-24 appears to be a slightly heavier version of the 46 ton Topol-M (or RS-12M1/M2). The RS-24 will be deployed in silos as well as on wheeled vehicles. The RS-24 carried more warheads (up to ten) than the Topol-M. The Russians developed the RS-24 to enable them to use all the additional warheads to penetrate American missile defenses.

ELECTRONIC BATTLEFIELD: Blinded By The Bright Green Light

June 5, 2012: Police in Italy have been unable, after 18 months, to catch whoever is using a laser pointer to distract (usually) or blind (potentially) pilots landing and taking off at the Aviano military airbase. This is a major NATO facility, and there have been ten of these laser incidents since January, 2011. Such incidents have occurred at airports all over the world, and the perpetrators are usually caught quickly, or scared off, if they try to blind pilots more than once. In the United States the incidence of these laser attacks at airports has been increasing sharply, from 1,527 in 2009, 2,836 in 2010 and 3,592 last year.

There is some fear that the Aviano laser incidents are part of some terrorist plot, because you could, in theory, cause enough distraction or blindness to cause a crash during a landing. That’s a long shot, but those are the kind of odds terrorists have learned to accept.

Commercial eye safe green laser pointers, used at briefings and such, have a range of about two kilometers, and cost about $70. These lasers are not completely harmless. If you get long enough exposure these lasers can cause temporary or permanent blindness. For example, eye safe green lasers have been used in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2005, to force drivers to stop at check points. While no civilians have had their eyes injured by these devices, at least two soldiers lost sight in one eye, and over fifty others have suffered temporary blindness. These incidents took place when troops were horsing around with the devices, or simply being careless, and lased another soldier at close range.

In Iraq and Afghanistan some green lasers were mounted in a weather proof, articulated enclosure, enabled troops to operate the laser remotely, to flash the laser light at oncoming drivers, to get them to stop at checkpoints, or other locations.

Anyone getting hit in the eye with these lasers will be disoriented for up to 15 minutes. When the marines began using the device, they bought a model that lowered the power when the target was too close. A laser becomes less powerful the farther away you are from it. This is one reason why troop injuries were more severe, as the victims are a lot closer to the laser. Civilians usually get hit when they are a hundred meters or more away. The navy has issued these devices to ships, to keep suspicious boats away.

PROCUREMENT:  Spain Makes It To The Big Time

June 5, 2012: In the last decade Spain has developed into a major weapons exporting nation. This year Spanish arms exports doubled (to $3.1 billion) over last year. It was only seven years ago that Spanish defense sales were only $545 million. The following year they doubled to $1.1 billion. Most of Spain’s exports are warships (surface ships and subs).

The war on terror caused a large jump in arms exports, but the 2008 worldwide economic recession put a halt to that. In 2003, international arms exports amounted to $39 billion. By 2008, it reached nearly $70 billion. By last year these exports had declined to $40 billion. Throughout this period, the U.S. accounted for about 38 percent of these exports, followed by Russia (18 percent) and West European nations (24 percent) and many others (20 percent). The top five nations were; the U.S. ($171 billion), Russia ($81 billion), France ($37 billion), Britain ($30 billion) and China ($16 billion).

Spain is now firmly in the top ten. Most of the exports were to developing nations, which do not yet have large enough arms industries to supply their own needs. The main customers for all these implements of destruction have been India, Middle Eastern oil states and China.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

June 4, 2012

ISRAEL: The Syrian Threat

June 4, 2012: The Arab Spring of 2011 is turning into a long-term problem for Israel. While the protests quickly overthrew the Mubarak dictatorship in Egypt, Mubarak’s many allies managed to save themselves by quickly siding with the rebellion. This means that many of the corrupt businessmen and officials that kept Mubarak in power are still operating. This resulted in a successful resistance to meaningful change. An example of this was the recent trial of Hosni Mubarak, who was convicted last week of failing to stop the fatal attacks on demonstrators. Yesterday he (and his son) was cleared of corruption charges and, most alarming to Egyptians; no one was found responsible for ordering police to kill over 800 demonstrators. This led to large anti-government demonstrations, which continue. As long as Mubarak’s cronies are still in power, the corrupt misrule is still in play and the revolution is not over. Israel is hoping that the rebels use their majority in parliament to enact reforms, and force out the corrupt Mubarak supporters. Success is not assured, as the Mubarak forces are wealthy and threatened with heavy losses (including jail) if the reform politicians succeed in cleaning things up. So the reformers will be subject to bribes and threats. The military is one of the most corrupt institutions, and could attempt using violence to stop reformers. This is unlikely, because most of the troops are conscripts, who identify more with their civilian family and friends. It’s the officers and career soldiers who owe their wealth to corruption. But desperate men will do desperate things.

Syria and Lebanon, both dominated by Iranian backed factions (the Assad family in Syria and Hezbollah in Lebanon) are slipping out of Iranian control.

Iran is desperate to hold on; because a loss in Syria would weaken Hezbollah (perhaps fatally) and destroy a vital toehold Iran has obtained in the Arab world. Iran is ruled by a religious dictatorship that has visions of making Shia Islam (about ten percent of Moslems) the dominant form, along with Iran becoming the leader of the Moslem world. Most Moslems (80 percent are Sunni, dominated by Arab countries) see this as mad fantasy. But Iran is powerful, persistent and developing nuclear weapons. Iran also makes no secret of the fact that another of its goals is to destroy Israel. So far, Israel has not gotten involved in Syria. But there is talk of opening their Syrian border to move humanitarian supplies. Iran responded to this with threats of military retaliation. The Syrian government is slowly losing its grip, but Iranian security and terrorism specialists are assisting the Assads in getting the population back under control. This involves more mass killings of civilians, which Iran blames on Israel. It’s not over yet in Syria. Pessimistic Israelis believe Syria will degenerate into chaos, providing a sanctuary for terrorists and a source of more weapons for Hezbollah and other terror groups. Syria has lots of ballistic missiles and chemical weapons.

Israeli firms have discovered another oil and gas field off the cost. This one contains $60 billion worth of oil and $30 billion worth of natural gas. Israel had already discovered $100 billion worth of natural gas off shore, near the Lebanese border, last year. Since Israel and Lebanon do not have diplomatic relations, and the Lebanese Hezbollah terrorist organization constantly calls for war with Israel, the negotiations must be made through the UN. Israel is determined to start pumping the natural gas by next year, and use these finds to achieve energy independence within three years. A special military force is being established to protect the offshore facilities from attack.

Over the last week American and Israeli officials have confirmed that the industrial grade Cyber War weapons (Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame) used against Iran in the last few years were indeed joint U.S.-Israel operations. No other details were released.

Israel is building closer relations with China by sharing information and techniques about dealing Islamic terrorism and civil disorder. The two countries will also increase trade and the exchange of technology.

June 3, 2012: Israeli air strikes in Gaza wounded at least six people and destroyed terrorist facilities. This was in retaliation for recent terrorist attacks along the Gaza border. Hamas and other Islamic terror groups in Gaza are openly calling for the kidnapping of Israelis so that captured terrorists could be freed in an exchange.

June 1, 2012: On the Gaza border, an armed Palestinian who had got through the security fence had an exchange of fire with Israeli troops. One soldiers and the Palestinian were killed. Later that day, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel.

May 31, 2012: In a peace gesture, Israel returned the bodies of 91 Palestinian terrorists killed while attacking Israel (and often killing Israeli civilians). The dead had been secretly buried in an Israeli cemetery. The coffins were returned to families in the West Bank and Gaza. This was a gesture to restart peace negotiations, which are stalled because official Palestinian policy is to destroy Israel and use peace negotiations to help make that happen. The negotiations take place mainly to placate foreign aid donors.

May 30, 2012:  In Egypt, there was no candidate with more than 50 percent of the vote. So the two leading candidates will compete in a run0ff election this month. Many Egyptians saw the first round elections as rigged, because the electoral commission, still dominated by Mubarak era officials, barred most leading candidates from running. One of the two men in the runoff is a retired general who was a Mubarak loyalist. He got the votes of many Egyptians who feared the Islamic conservatives who now control parliament. But the retired general only got 23.7 percent of the vote. His opponent got 24.8 percent, but most of the other voters selected several Islamic conservative candidates.

May 29, 2012:  Iran and a Russian security firm announced that a new stealthy software program, called Flame, has been infecting Iranian government and business computers for years. Iran says it has finally found a way to detect and eliminate Flame from PCs, but won’t comment on how much secret data has been lost. Flame is similar to Stuxnet and Duqu, but has been apparently been secretly doing its espionage work for years.

May 28, 2012: On the Egyptian border, soldiers encountered 24 Africans and some armed Arab smugglers. A brief exchange of fire left three of the intruders wounded. So far this year, there have been about one of these clashes a week, and many other illegal crossings that succeed. The migrants each pay several thousand dollars to the Egyptian smugglers to be led across into Israel. It’s believed that about 500 of these illegals are getting into the country each week now. Israel already has 60,000 inside the country and is trying to deport them. New laws make it possible to jail the illegals until they can be deported.

There is also a new fence going up along the Egyptian border. The growing number of crimes committed by these illegals is becoming a major issue in Israeli politics.

May 26, 2012: The majority parties in the new Egyptian parliament promised to keep the peace treaty with Israel, although they may seek some modifications. Most everyone in Egypt understands that a belligerent stance with Israel would not benefit Egypt.

PHILIPPINES: China Says We Ain’t Afraid Of Nobody

June 4, 2012: Abu Sayyaf is increasingly a bunch of bandits, rather than a terrorist threat. The group has turned to crime (extortion, kidnapping and theft) to support itself and there appears to be little personnel and resources left for terror attacks. There are a few hundred members left, mainly on Jolo and Basilan islands, and these are constantly pursued by thousands of troops. Fewer and fewer Abu Sayyaf men are being found on the larger islands, at least not many who are planning terror attacks.

The stand-off with China over who owns what in the South China Sea continues, but there are no warships facing off at each other. Now the United States has stepped up and reminded China that the Philippines has a powerful ally and that future negotiations must take that into account. China has not responded, other than the usual “we ain’t afraid of nobody” stuff. That remains to be seen.

Court proceedings move slowly against those accused in the massacre of 57 political activists and journalists in November, 2009. Many believe that the powerful clan the accused belongs to will be able to kill or intimidate witnesses to back down and there will be no convictions. So far, three witnesses have been murdered, and more are believed in danger. Some believe that the national government was under pressure to somehow not punish the well-connected among those arrested. It’s all about guys with guns. The largely Moslem south is awash in guns, as well as religious hatred. The 2009 massacre was a local dispute, and there are plenty more like it down there. But the big problem is the private armies that politicians, major businessmen and the heads of some clans, maintain. These are in addition to the MILF (which sometimes overlaps with the non-separatist private armies). There are more guys with guns in those private armies, than there are police and soldiers in the south. The government keeps the peace by paying off the leaders of most of these pro-government militias. This is usually done with government money or jobs. But it is also done with assistance when someone gets arrested. However, the 2009 massacre suspects are under a spotlight, and making the charges go away for any of these guys, will be noticed. Thus the slow movement of the courts in this matter is seen as attempt to wait out the eager press. Eventually, the reporters will have to move on to more headline worthy subjects.
The government plans more corruption prosecutions of senior (and retired) officials. The ultimate goal is to eliminate most corruption throughout the government. This is especially urgent for the national police, whose many corrupt members make it very difficult to fight crime (especially anything involving corruption).

May 29, 2012: In a major blow against corruption, the Senate voted 20-3 to dismiss the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court (for not declaring $2.4 million in income and having a lot of unexplained income.)

May 28, 2012: In the north (Camarines Norte province) NPA gunmen fought soldiers and retreated, leaving one dead rebel behind. Troops also captured a laptop and some documents.

May 27, 2012:  China has agreed to allow Filipino bananas to again enter China.  This ban was part of Chinese retaliation for Filipino standing up to Chinese aggression off the coast of the Philippines. China claims all small islands and atolls in the South China Sea, and all oil and natural has within 400 kilometers of these bits of land. These claims ignore the rights (under the 1994 Law of the Sea) and claims of other countries bordering the South China Sea. State run Chinese TV has also allowed its news readers to “accidentally” claim that the Philippines was actually part of China. Economically, the Philippines is becoming more dependent on China, which has become a major importer of Filipino goods and raw materials in the last two decades. China regularly punishes its trading partners by halting imports (and complaining if these trading partners do the same.)

May 23, 2012: A policeman was arrested for bombing a bus last year, as part of an extortion scheme. If the bus company did not pay for protection from such attacks, corrupt cops would plant bombs on busses. This particular cop planted a bomb that killed five people.

May 22, 2012:  Another retired American Coast Guard cutter was turned over to the Philippines. The ceremony took place in the United States. A Filipino crew will take the 3,000 ton ship back to the Philippines, where the disarmed (and refurbished) vessel will be fitted out with weapons and other equipment.

May 21, 2012:  Abu Sayyaf leader Sahibul Sailani was arrested on Basilan.

ATTRITION: The Taliban And The Ideal Target

June 4, 2012: The UN recently announced that Afghan civilian deaths to combat and terrorism have dropped 36 percent compared to last year. In the first four months of 2012, 578 civilians died, compared to 898 in the first four months of 2011. Taliban and other Islamic radical groups caused 79 percent of these deaths, Afghan security forces 12 percent and foreign forces nine percent.

Earlier this year the Taliban called the UN a liar after the release of a UN casualty report for 2011. The UN counted 3,021 civilians killed by combat last year, an eight percent increase over the previous year, and 77 percent were the victims of Taliban or other Islamic radical group action. The number of civilian dead has doubled since 2007. Last year the biggest increase was from suicide bombings, where civilian victims were up 80 percent, to 450. But biggest killer remained roadside bombs and locally made landmines, which killed 967 civilians.

Military action (foreign or Afghan) caused 14 percent of civilian deaths and nine percent were from situations where the source could not be determined. Foreign troops and Afghan security forces pushed the Taliban out of many areas but the Islamic terrorists simply continued to make their attacks wherever they could. This meant an increase in violence in areas along the Pakistani border, as well as contested areas in Kandahar and Helmand provinces (where most of the world’s heroin comes from). The Taliban doubled their use of roadside bombs and mines to nearly a thousand a month. But the number of these devices that exploded only went up six percent over last year. That’s because the American anti-IED (Improvised Explosive Device) technology and specialists had arrived (from Iraq) in force and acclimated to Afghan conditions. Most bombs and mines were detected and destroyed.

The Taliban had banned the use of landmines in 1998 but that, like most Taliban promises and proclamations, was a ploy, not a promise. The Taliban always claim they are fighting for the people but civilian deaths to Taliban activity were up 14 percent last year, while deaths due to the security forces (local and foreign) were down four percent. Deaths among foreign troops were 566 last year, a drop of 20 percent from 2010. Taliban deaths are not reported, but they are counted, but all NATO would admit to was capturing or killing over a thousand Taliban leaders last year. It’s believed over 10,000 other Taliban were killed or (less frequently) captured last year.

The Taliban has been shifting its tactics and in the last two years has put more emphasis on assassination of government and tribal leaders who refuse to cooperate. Last year, Taliban death squads murdered 495 people this way, a 160 percent increase over 2009.  The Taliban have also ordered their gunmen to reduce violence against civilians and stay away from foreign and Afghan troops. The Taliban believe that the foreign troops will leave within two years, and then the Islamic radical group can make its move. This is delusional, because most Afghans oppose the Taliban and drug gangs. The Taliban are not the major threat, the drug gangs are, because these groups have the cash to bribe officials and hire lots of gunmen. The Taliban are especially valued as hired guns because the religious fanatics are more reliable and determined. On a mission from God, so to speak, while other hires are just in it for the money and not keen on dying for anyone or anything.
NATO combat deaths for the first four months of the year continue to be lower (by 14 percent) than the same period last year. April was down 20 percent. The Taliban are still desperately trying to protect the vital (to their finances) opium and heroin production in Helmand and Kandahar. This provides cash to finance Taliban operations in the rest of the country. That is not working so well and Taliban everywhere have turned more often to purely criminal activities (extortion, theft, kidnapping) to hire gunmen and buy supplies. The drug gangs are not hiring enough Taliban gunmen to keep the larger number of Taliban members on the job. While there is a hard core of true believers (in making Afghanistan a religious dictatorship once more) in the Taliban, most members are in it because of the money and the opportunity to do what most Afghan young men aspire to: be a traditional warrior who can go out and terrorize people and take what he wants. This, and the association with the drug business, has made the Taliban very unpopular with most Afghans, especially in the north. But bandits, criminal gangs and warlords have always been part of Afghan life and the Taliban and drug gangs help perpetuate it.

These vile habits have been largely eliminated in most other nations, but ridding Afghanistan of these curses cannot be done immediately. While most Afghans want peace, they are inclined to take the money and let peace wait, if that’s the way things are at the moment.

WARPLANES: The Fujian Folly

June 4, 2012: China has built a new airbase on the coast of northeastern Fujian, which is opposite northern Taiwan. The new base was built on a long ridge and is guarded by S-300 anti-aircraft missiles. Su-30 and J-10 fighters have already been seen at the base. The new airbase is the closest one to the disputed (with Taiwan and Japan) Senkaku Islands near Okinawa. The new airbase enables Chinese fighters to be over those islands in less than 15 minutes.

These uninhabited islets are 167 kilometers northeast of Taiwan and 426 kilometers southeast of Japan’s Okinawa and have a total area of 6.3 square kilometers. The Senkakus were discovered by Chinese fishermen in the 16th century and taken over by Japan in 1879. They are valuable now because of the 380 kilometer economic zone nations can claim in their coastal waters. This includes fishing and possible underwater oil and gas fields.

The new Fujian air base was apparently constructed, at considerable expense, in hilly terrain where you would not expect to see an airbase. Chinese engineers had to move a lot of earth around to flatten an area atop a ridge line. Unless the Senkakus turn out to be particularly valuable (due to as yet undiscovered oil or gas), the new Fujian airbase will become an expensive folly.

ELECTRONIC BATTLEFIELD: Dead Soviet Eyes Are Replaced

June 4, 2012: This month, Russia activated its fourth Voronezh early warning radar, in Irkutsk, Siberia. This is the first of three to be built in eastern Russia. The other two will be in action by 2017. The Voronezh radars in Western Russia cost between $85 million and $128 million each, while those in eastern Russia (VP models) cost over 50 percent more because they cover a wider area. The Voronezh radar can detect incoming missiles up to 6,000 kilometers away.

Three Voronezh M/DM radars were installed in Western Russia between 2005 and 2011. One is in Kaliningrad, on the Baltic Sea. Another is on the east coast of the Black Sea (Armavir) while the third is at the eastern end of the Baltic Sea outside St Petersburg.

All this radar building activity was caused by the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and the destruction of the Russian ballistic missile early warning system. This came about because each of the fourteen new nations, carved out of the Soviet Union, got to keep whatever government property that was within the new borders. That meant many of the radar stations that formed the Soviet ICBM early warning system were now owned by foreign countries. A combination of disputes over money, and aging electronics, eventually put many of those early warning radars out of action. The two in Ukraine went off line three years ago.

The rising price of oil over the last decade provided Russia with the cash to rebuild its ballistic missile early warning radar system. The first one, outside St Petersburg, was built in 18 months (versus over ten years for the ones it replaced). The new design uses much less electricity, has a smaller staff and is more reliable. Russia has adopted much Western technology, and work practices, since the collapse of the Soviet Union, and it all showed in this radar station. The St Petersburg facility replaced one that was in Latvia, and was dismantled in 2003, after going off line in 1998. The one new radar in Armavir was built to replace defunct Soviet era radars in Azerbaijan and Ukraine.

PROCUREMENT:  Missile Mania In South Korea

June 4, 2012: The South Korean military wants to spend over $2 billion on missiles during the next five years. This is in an effort to quickly weaken the North Korean artillery and missile forces in any future war. The South Korean plan is to purchase and deploy over thousand new ballistic and cruise missiles.

These would be aimed at specific North Korea missile launchers and artillery positions. In the event of a war, the South Korean missiles would be quickly launched, and every North Korean missile or artillery weapon destroyed would mean less destruction in South Korean territory. The North Korea plan had always been to start any future war with an enormous bombardment by shells, rockets and missiles. Most would be aimed at the South Korean capital, and largest city, Seoul.

Nearly all the $2 billion will be spent on missiles made in South Korea. In the last year, the government has revealed the existence of more of these locally developed missiles. Earlier this year South Korea made public the fact that it had a new cruise missile (apparently the Hyunmoo 3) and ballistic missile ready for service. South Korea is usually secretive about its battlefield missiles.

Three years ago South Korean media reported that a new cruise missile, with a range of 1,000 kilometers, had secretly entered production in 2008. The missile, called Hyunmoo 3, has since been superseded by the Hyunmoo 3C missile which has a range of 1,500 kilometers and is being deployed along the North Korean border, aimed at ballistic missiles, nuclear weapons, and other strategic targets to the north.

For the last 30 years the United States has been discouraging South Korea from developing long range ballistic and cruise missiles. This was done to try and halt an arms race with North Korea but the north never took the hint. Meanwhile, the U.S. assured the south that America would show up for the fight if the north attacked.

Despite the U.S. refusal to help South Korea developed a 180 kilometer range ballistic missile (Hyunmoo 1) and a 300 kilometer one (Hyunmoo 2) in the 1980s. Both are about 13 meters (40 feet) long and weigh 4-5 tons. South Korea belongs to the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR) and thus agrees not to build ballistic missiles with a range of more than 300 kilometers. Hyunmoo 1 and 2 used a design based on that of the U.S. Nike-Hercules anti-aircraft missile, which South Korea used for many years.

Cruise missiles are simpler technology, and apparently the Hyunmoo 3 is made entirely with South Korean developed components. Like the Tomahawk, Hyunmoo 3 appears to be about 6 meters (19 feet) long, weighs 1.5 tons, has a half ton warhead, and is launched from hidden (in the hills facing North Korea), and probably fortified, containers. North Korea has about 600 ballistic missiles aimed at South Korea.

The longer range of the Hyunmoo 3C enables it to hit any target in North Korea and is apparently intended to knock out transportation and supply targets deep inside North Korea. With a range of 1,500 kilometers the missile could also hit targets in China and Russia.
Last year South Korea moved some of its ATACMS (Army Tactical Missile Systems) guided missiles close to the North Korean border. ATACMS is a 610mm rocket that fits in the same size container that normally holds six 227mm MLRS rockets. The ATACMS version in South Korean service has a range of 165 kilometers. That makes it capable of reaching many targets in North Korea but not the capital (Pyongyang, which is 220 kilometers north of the DMZ). There is a version of ATACMS with a range of 300 kilometers but South Korea does not have any. ATACMS is fired from the American MLRS rocket launcher. South Korea only has 220 ATACMS missiles. All of them have cluster bomb warheads. Half of them are unguided and have a range of 128 kilometers. The others have smaller warheads, GPS guidance, and a range of 165 kilometers. This is apparently the version moved close to the border, in order to make the North Koreans nervous. South Korea originally bought ATACMS in 1998 to have a weapon that could go after distant North Korean artillery and large concentrations of tanks.
Despite American opposition South Korea began developing, but not mass-producing, ballistic missiles in the 1970s. South Korea certainly has the technical expertise and manufacturing capability to produce a more modern ballistic missile with a range of 300 kilometers, as was shown in the recent video. South Korea has signed an international treaty agreeing to not build ballistic missiles with a range greater than 300 kilometers, but public opinion in the south is calling for that limit to be broken, in order to make all of North Korea vulnerable to ballistic missile attack from the south. It’s possible that some of South Koreas newly revealed ballistic missiles can actually go farther than 300 kilometers, and are only limited by restrictions programmed into the missile guidance system. This software could be quickly changed.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

June 4, 2012

ALGERIA:  The Carrot, The Stick And The Bad Memories

June 3, 2012:  The elections last month were generally seen as another successful scam by the military dictatorship to prolong their rule. The government has managed to keep the “Arab Spring” movement out of Algeria with stunts like this. So far, the “old revolutionaries” (the families that led the 1950s war against the French colonial government) continue to run Algeria, and exploit it for their own benefit. This has been going on since the French left in the early 1960s. They do this via rigged elections and a very efficient security force. Using government power to cripple opposition parties does not always work. For example, in 1992 Islamic parties won an election that would have given them control of the government. The military staged a coup to halt that, which triggered fifteen years of Islamic terrorism in response. Although the Islamic terrorists were defeated, they were not destroyed, and a few hundred terrorists and supporters keep the killing going, if just barely. While the government has the edge, as long as the nation is run by an unpopular dictatorship, there will continue to be unrest.

The government has noted how the oil-rich monarchies in the Persian Gulf remain in power and are using the same techniques. That means giving out jobs and other economic opportunities to the most ambitious and educated. These benefits can be withdrawn, a threat which discourages many from organizing violent resistance. Demonstrations are illegal, and this carrot and stick approach has kept people off the streets. Government employees have had their pay increased 50 percent in the last four years and billions have been spent on subsidies for many consumer goods. Life is better and resistance seems futile. No one wants another round of bloodshed, not yet. This sort of national trauma is not unique to Algeria. Lebanese are still leery of violent solutions because of their 1975-90 civil war. Same situation in Iran because of the 1980s war with Iraq (where people are still getting over the 2004-7 sectarian terrorism). But eventually the bad memories are overshadowed by the present persecution.

Despite all this, there is some resistance. One of the more widespread opposition activities is the illegal consumption of alcohol. To placate and undercut the Islamic parties (often Islamic terrorists who accepted amnesty over the last two decades) the government has put tighter restrictions on alcohol consumption. Production of beer, wine and harder stuff is legal, but the government has made it harder and harder to get a license to sell the stuff. This has resulted in the proliferation of illegal bars and clubs. The cops look the other way, despite complaints from Islamic politicians and activists. If the Islamic activists want to raid these places, they do so at their own risk. Most Algerians still like to have a little wine or beer regularly, and are willing to fight a gang of Islamic fanatics to defend that. All this helps keep the Islamic and secular Algerians from protesting government corruption and misrule.
Al Qaeda groups, based in the far south, are demanding $57 million in ransom for nine captives (two foreign aid workers and seven Algerian diplomats). The government is not willing to pay that kind of money, which will just encourage, and subsidize, more kidnappings.

For the last three months, several hundred members of al Qaeda (many of them Algerians) have been assisting Tuareg rebels, and local Islamic radicals, in establishing a separate Tuareg state in northern Mali. The Tuaregs have been a problem for centuries, as they are ethnically distinct from the Malian black African majority in the south. These ethnic differences are complicated by Tuareg participation in smuggling cocaine and hashish north, through Algeria, to Europe. The drug smuggling is actually handled by Arab gangsters that are not terrorists. Al Qaeda gets paid lots of money to provide security for the drugs as they make the long run through forests, then the Sahara. The Tuareg provide local knowledge of the terrain, and people, at least in the far south. The Algerian government is afraid that the Tuareg will be tempted, by a big payday, to provide sanctuary for al Qaeda, as well as providing new recruits for Islamic terrorist operations (especially those that raise a lot of cash, like kidnapping Westerners.) While the Tuareg in general are not fond of Islamic terrorism, young Tuareg are allowed to work with al Qaeda as hired guns. The pay is good, and, so far, not too dangerous. But the young Tuareg are picking up some radical ideas from their al Qaeda bosses, and that is causing some tension with tribal leaders. This is especially true now that some of these young guys have joined a local Islamic radical group (Ansar Dine) that wants to impose a religious dictatorship on Tuaregs in northern Mali. The mere fact that Tuareg are working for al Qaeda in southern Algeria has angered Algerian officials.

Most of the 1.5 million Tuareg in the region are living in nations bordering Algeria (Burkina Faso, Libya, Mali and Niger). Mali has faced rebellious Tuareg for a long time, and made peace with most of them in 2007.  The current Tuareg rebels insisted that they have no connection with al Qaeda, but many other Tuaregs do and there’s no denying that. The Tuareg Mali rebels have declared an alliance with the Islamic rebels (Ansar Dine), and an agreement to give Islamic terrorists sanctuary, but not allow the imposition of Sharia law.

June 1, 2012: East of the capital, an improvised mortar killed two soldiers.

May 21, 2012: An army patrol on the Libyan border intercepted five Islamic terrorists travelling in an all-terrain vehicle. Three of the terrorists were killed and two captured. The vehicles contained a dozen assault rifles and several RPGs. There were also documents indicating the five men were members of al Qaeda.

May 18, 2012:  A bomb went off outside a coast guard base east of the capital, killing two military men.

May 10, 2012: Parliamentary elections were held and the ruling party won 48 percent of the 462 seats. A pro-military party got 15 percent, giving the military dictatorship another lease on life. The seven Islamic parties got only 13 percent of the seats. The opposition claimed fraud, pointing out that international observers were not allowed to examine most electoral records, and that only 42 percent of eligible voters turned out.

May 6, 2012: East of the capital, a bomb killed a soldier.

May 2, 2012: Al Qaeda released a list of 58 attacks they claim to have made in the Kabyle region (about a hundred kilometers east of the capital) over the last five months (since November 26, 2011). The terrorists claim to have killed 53 policemen in these raids. The government admits some of the police deaths, and many more civilians killed in these attacks. Al Qaeda does not like to discuss civilians killed in terror attacks directed at security forces. Many of the al Qaeda “attacks” were claimed by police or soldiers as attacks on Islamic terror groups. The government also claims to have killed more than three times as many terrorists during that period. What everyone can agree on is that most of the country has been free of Islamic terrorism for years. The only remaining hot sports are the Kabyle (where al Qaeda fights to maintain bases in the mountain forests along the coast) and the far south (where the 463 kilometer long border with Mali is). Northern Mali, and the border with Algeria, is now under the control of Islamic terrorists. This is not good for Algeria.

SEA TRANSPORT:  Please Don’t Make Us Kill You

June 3, 2012: Noting that many of the Somali pirate gangs have Internet access, and are using the Internet based tracking systems for ships, shipping companies are adding, to the ship ID tag these location systems show on maps, a note indicating which ships have armed guards aboard. Since pirates have never taken a ship carrying armed guards, the new policy is expected to reduce attacks on these ships. While all the attacks on ships with armed guards failed, they do often involve pirates firing machine-guns and RPG rockets at the ships. There have been no serious injuries on the ships so far, but there is some damage, and the shipping companies are also afraid of getting sued for pirates killed or wounded by the return fire.

In the last three years more and more merchant ships, despite the high expense, have hired armed guards when travelling near the “Pirate Coast” of Somalia. It began when France put detachments of troops on tuna boats operating in the Indian Ocean and Belgium then supplied detachments of soldiers for Belgian ships that must move near the Somali coast. These armed guards are not cheap, with detachments costing up to $200,000 a week. There are now dozens of private security companies offering such services. The pirates avoid ships carrying armed guards and seek less well-defended prey.

Most Western nations have small merchant marine fleets operating under the national flag. It’s more common for shipping companies in the West to use “flags of convenience” (like Liberia and Panama) to evade laws mandating who can be hired for the crew and what they must be paid (in addition to other restrictions). Shipping companies using flags of convenience generally do not allow firearms on board, lest they be used by mutineers or a deranged sailor. There are a few mutinies each year, usually over pay or working conditions. But even if there are weapons on board you would have to train members of the crew how to use them. Moreover, the pirates often rely on stealth, sneaking up on a ship at night while the target vessel is far off the Somali coast.

To get around laws in many ports that forbid weapons aboard merchant ships, security companies operating off the Somali coast have equipped small ships to serve as floating arsenals. The security guards board in port, the merchant ships they are guarding, then meet up with the gun ship in international waters so the guards can get their weapons and ammo. The process is reversed when the merchant ships approach their destinations or leave pirate infested waters (and put the armed guards off onto the gun ship). Maritime lawyers fret that there are no proper laws to regulate these floating armories, or that if there are applicable laws everyone is not following them. It’s also feared that some enterprising lawyers will seek to represent the families of pirates shot by these armed guards. Off the Somali coast everyone is looking for a big payday.
The piracy has been a growing problem off the Somali coast for over a decade.

The problem now is that there are thousands of experienced pirates. And these guys have worked out a system that is very lucrative and not very risky. For most of the past decade the pirates preyed on foreign fishing boats and the small, often sail powered, cargo boats that move close (within a hundred kilometers) of the shore. During that time the pirates developed contacts with businessmen in the Persian Gulf who could be used to negotiate (for a percentage) the ransoms with insurance companies and shipping firms. The pirates also mastered the skills needed to put a grappling hook on the railing, 10-12 meters (30-40 feet) above the water, of a large ship. Doing this at night, and then scrambling aboard, is more dangerous if the ship has lookouts who can alert sailors trained to deploy high pressure fire hoses against the borders.

Big ships have small crews (12-30 sailors). Attacking at night finds most of the crew asleep. Until recently it was rare for these ships to have any armed security. Ships can post additional lookouts when in areas believed to have pirates. Once pirates (speedboats full of armed men) are spotted, ships can increase speed (a large ship running at full speed, about 40+ kilometers an hour, can outrun most of the current speed boats the pirates have) and have fire hoses ready to be used to repel boarders. The pirates will fire their AK-47 assault rifles and RPG grenade launchers but the sailors handling the fire hoses will stand back so the gunmen cannot get a direct shot.

Since the pirates generally take good care of their captives the anti-piracy efforts cannot risk a high body count, lest they be accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, or simply bad behavior. The pirates have access to hundreds of sea going fishing boats, which can pretend to fish by day and sneak up on merchant ships at night. The pirates often operate in teams, with one or more fishing boats acting as lookouts and alerting another boat that a large, apparently unguarded, ship is headed their way. The pirate captain can do a simple calculation to arrange meeting the oncoming merchant vessel in the middle of the night. These fishing boats can carry inflatable boats with large outboard engines or simply two speedboats towed behind it. Each of these can carry four or five pirates, their weapons, and the grappling hook projectors needed to get the pirates onto the deck of a large ship. These big ships are very automated and at night the only people on duty will be on the bridge. This is where the pirates go to seize control of the ship. The rest of the crew is then rounded up. The pirates force the captain to take the ship to an anchorage near some Somali fishing village. There, more gunmen will board and stand guard over crew and ship until the ransom is paid. Sometimes part of the crew will be sent ashore and kept captive there. The captive sailors are basically human shields for the pirates, to afford some protection from commando attacks.

INFORMATION WARFARE: Chinese Internet Police Have A New Weapon

June 3, 2012: For several years now the Chinese government has been trying to control the flow of information, especially stuff embarrassing to the government, on the Internet. The latest effort involves a system of warnings (sort of like “points” for traffic violations) to those caught using forbidden words, terms or suspected code words in their Internet communications. Anyone who gets fined more than 100 points gets visited by the police, and risks jail, or worse. This is meant to scare Internet users into submission, because the police don’t have enough space in jails or work camps for the 10 million (or more) Chinese who regularly post messages. It is believed that by targeting the most active, and annoying (to the Internet police) regular posters, the rest can be scared into shutting up. The Chinese keep getting reminded that this is a very difficult task.

These efforts to control the Internet went into overdrive last March when a senior government official, who was also outspoken and popular with the military, was removed from office for corruption. The Chinese Internet immediately lit up with rumors and speculation about what would happen next. This speculation alarmed the government more than anything that was happening (not much, in fact). The government sought to shut down web sites (especially microbloggers, who substitute for Twitter, which is banned in China) and arrested a few people. This did not slow down the spread of rumor and criticism.

The government censors were caught short once more as microbloggers adopted code words to defeat the automatic filtering software the government used. As quickly as the government figured out the code, a new one was in use.

It’s not that the government didn’t know about this, it was widely used in the 1990s when most Chinese were texting (more than talking) on their cell phones. But no solution was ever found. While the government efforts can keep many Chinese in the dark, too many find out what is really going on. The government censors keep going back to the drawing board to try and come up with new solutions, like the lastest “points” one.

This latest battle with the censors saw the government falling back on traditional media. The official Chinese military newspaper, the Liberation Army Daily, openly warned troops to disregard Internet rumors about disloyalty in the military. All this was caused by popular politician Bo Xilai being removed from office for corruption. Bo Xilai was a rare official who preached a return to communist ideals, while also delivering better government in the southwestern city of Chongqing (population 28 million). What really brought Bo Xilai down was too much publicity and the fact that the majority of the Chinese leadership has accepted that communism in China is dead in fact, if not in fiction. Bo Xilai thought his well-publicized efforts to deliver more efficient government would start a nationwide movement to restore communism, but it only united the national leadership against him. Bo Xilai was also corrupt and very self-serving, but was seen as unstable and too ambitious.

Bo Xilai was popular in the military because he spoke out against the many corrupt officers in the military. This sort of thing has been going on in the Chinese military for thousands of years, despite many attempts to stamp out the stealing and favoritism. After Bo Xilai was removed on March 12th, rumors began appearing on the Internet. One of these rumors had mutinous troops marching on Beijing to overthrow the government. In response, more restrictions were placed on what could be said on the Chinese Internet. But the incident frightened many senior officials. What also frightens officials is how leftist politicians like Bo Xilai stir up enthusiasm for failed communist movements of the past, like the Maoist “social revolution” (which killed over 10 million Chinese and accomplished nothing positive). At the same time, Chinese leaders do not hesitate to say, often and in public, that the biggest danger China faces is corrupt officials.

The number of Chinese Internet users grew by 12 percent last year to 513 million. Some 300 million also use micrblogs, mainly as readers, not posters.

As the largest national Internet on the planet China is trying to block out foreign news and activist sites and make the Chinese Internet largely separate from the rest of the world (except for trusted users). The government is also trying to control the flow of news between Chinese Internet users. The government has achieved partial success, which means the censors have failed. The most popular news is the stuff that makes the government look bad (usually for good reason). You can’t stop the signal but the government keeps trying.

PROCUREMENT:  Corrupt Counterfeiters Coddled

June 3, 2012: For over a year the U.S. government has been investigating the growing problems with counterfeit electronic components and vehicle parts coming out of China. Not only are many of those bad parts getting into American military equipment, but China refuses to shut down the manufacturers. To make matters worse, China refuses to allow many American government investigators get anywhere near these factories. It’s all about corruption in China, where the manufacturers of the counterfeit parts pay bribes to the right officials and they are protected.

Last year the U.S. government announced that it had uncovered 1,800 instances of suspected counterfeit parts (involving over a million individual components) sold to suppliers of weapons and equipment to the Department of Defense. China was the largest source of such counterfeit parts, partly because corruption in China prevents any action against the manufacturers of the fakes. Then there’s the growing number of Chinese companies that will try to improve their profits by putting more and more of the cheaper counterfeit parts in shipments of legitimate ones to customers they have established relationships with. This may seem counterproductive, but it appeals to many Chinese businessmen.

This counterfeit parts scam is not just directed at the United States. It’s a growing problem for the Russian military, and even the Chinese armed forces. Counterfeiting of luxury goods (perfume, women’s accessories, DVDs, etc.) is pretty well-known. While this poses a threat to the profits of some high-end businesses, it generally doesn’t rise to the level of a national security issue. But that has been changing. Each year, American customs officials are seizing over a billion dollars in counterfeit goods that were shipped to the United States. The amount keeps rising each year, despite energetic efforts to curb counterfeits. The stuff is just too profitable. A lot of these fakes were items the military buys. That included such diverse stuff as electronic chips and metal fasteners.

While there have been no Americans killed because of counterfeit parts, there are a growing number of maintenance problems related to the sub-standard parts (which fail sooner). Eliminating that problem is expensive, as it means spending more to inspect Chinese parts, or buying more expensive parts from more reliable non-Chinese suppliers.

Counterfeit parts have already been involved in causing accidents in civilian aviation and failures in other sectors as well. But there’s more. Counterfeit electronic parts can have components added that make it easier for someone to take control of a network the component is part of. This is the sort of thing people at the CIA have long contemplated, but with all the counterfeit electronic components, particularly networking items like routers, coming out of China, the risk of installing “infected” components is now less theoretical. But the main problem is simply substandard, counterfeit components, which will not perform as well, or for as long, as the originals.

And it’s not just the United States. Russian aviation officials were alarmed when, upon inspecting 60,000 aircraft parts, they found that nearly a third of them were counterfeits. While most of the substandard fake parts came from neighboring countries, many were made in Russia. While China wins first place when it comes to stealing technology and producing counterfeit goods, Russia is solidly in second place, turning out about a third as many counterfeit goods as China. Russia’s neighbors, many former parts of the Soviet Union, have the same bad habits. But Russia and China together produce about 80 percent of counterfeits.
Western nations would like to get both Russia and China to crack down on the counterfeiting. That has not been easy. In both countries, the counterfeiting is a multi-billion dollar a year industry, run by guys who know how to bribe the right politicians. The counterfeiters have another incentive to keep the prosecutors at bay; counterfeiting kills. Phony medicines and aircraft engine parts have both been linked to deaths in Africa and Asia, where the imitation goods are often sold. If brought to justice, Chinese and Russian counterfeiters would likely be executed.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

May 29, 2012

AFGHANISTAN: Won’t Be Fooled Yet Again

May 29, 2012: While the Taliban and terrorism in Afghanistan get the most international media coverage, it’s the corruption that weighs most heavily on the lives of most Afghans and the future of Afghanistan. International surveys identify Afghanistan and Somalia as the two most corrupt places on the planet. In Afghanistan this means that starting a business requires a powerful (and expensive) protector, who might be eliminated by a stronger rival at any time. The end result is that economic growth is stunted and the population is unhappy. No wonder so many Afghans want to get out.
In the next two years, the foreign troops will leave and any law and order will rely in the Afghan army and national police. Both organizations are, by Western standards, poorly trained and led, and very susceptible to corruption. The biggest corruption threat comes from the drug gangs, who generate enormous amounts of money. The UN believes that 15 percent of Afghanistan’s GDP comes from the production of illegal drugs (mostly opium and heroin).

Most Afghans and all nations in the world oppose the production and distribution of these drugs, but the drug gangs use their enormous drug profits to buy the assistance of the Taliban, the local media and many government officials. Nearly all the drugs are produced in two provinces; Kandahar and Helmand. This is also where most Taliban come from. In late 2001, the Taliban fled across the border to the southwest Pakistan city of Quetta, where they have enjoyed sanctuary ever since. When the Afghan government talks of a “peace deal with the Taliban” they are talking of legalizing the presence of the drug gangs. That’s because any such deal would acknowledge Taliban control of Kandahar and Helmand and leave the drug gangs to operate without impediment within Afghanistan. This is an arrangement most Afghans oppose, but could live with if there were enough pressure.

The main opposition to the drug gangs are the tribal leaders who recognize that the presence of so much opium and heroin have created over a million addicts in Afghanistan. This is a growing social problem, and most Afghans understand that the drug lords of Kandahar and Helmand are responsible for producing and distributing (mostly outside Afghanistan) these drugs. Only about ten percent of Afghans benefit from the drug income, but the adroit use of all that money (to buy weapons, cooperation from government officials and tribal leaders) enables the drug gangs to survive. For the last decade, the only real foe the drug gangs have had were the foreign troops, who could not be bribed.

With the foreign troops gone, it will ultimately be up to the Afghans to decide if they will continue to tolerate the drug gangs. There will be continued pressure (from neighboring countries, as well as the West) to shut down the opium and heroin production in Helmand and Kandahar. The hostility to drugs has been so great that efforts to expand opium production to other provinces have failed. Opium production has been driven out of other countries in the last 60 years (Burma, then Pakistan), but it takes a lot of determination. Afghanistan is the poorest nation in Eurasia, and losing all that money will be a hard sell.

The Taliban are much less of a problem than the drug gangs. The Taliban are religious conservatives from the Pushtun south. They are ruthless terrorists who are hated, and violently opposed by most Afghans. In effect, the Taliban are a minority within a minority (Pushtuns are 40 percent of the population.) There are some Islamic radicals among the other ethnic minorities, but the Pushtuns dominate the Taliban (in terms of leadership and numbers overall).

The biggest asset the Taliban have is their alliance with the drug gangs. This is because the Taliban tolerated and taxed the drug gangs in the 1990s, and continue with that policy. This gives the Taliban the cash they need to keep their terror campaign going, but this also associates the Islamic radicals with the hated drug gangs. Most Afghans will hold their nose and take a drug gang or Taliban bribe. Yet in the overall scheme of things, the majority (over 70 percent) of Afghans would prefer to see the Taliban and drug gangs dead and gone. With the foreign troops gone, that kind of civil war situation is likely to develop.

A few Taliban factions have surmised that the drug gangs would eventually be driven out, and have adopted an anti-drug policy. This is a desperation move, because without the drug gang cash, the Taliban are reduced to kidnapping, robbery and extortion to keep the organization going. These activities antagonize more of the people the Taliban are trying to convert to their retro (no entertainment, no education for women, lots more praying) way of life.

This is a hard sell in the best of circumstances. The Taliban have found that terror is the only sure way to get cooperation, and that is only temporary. The Taliban also promise they will bring law and order, and less corruption. But too many Afghans remember how that did not work out when the Taliban were running most of the country during the 1990s. The general attitude is “won’t be fooled again.”

The Taliban reinforce this popular attitude with continuing suicide bombing. While the Taliban have learned that they gain more by killing corrupt officials, and fewer civilians, it’s still the civilians who get hurt the most.

Another problem the Taliban have is the Pakistanis, who consider it their right to interfere in Afghan affairs. At the moment, Pakistan is most intent on preventing Taliban factions from making peace with the Afghan government.

The U.S. and Afghanistan have, for years, been negotiating such peace deals. For this to work on a large scale Pakistan, not the Taliban, must be the counterparty. And it’s not Pakistan the country that must negotiate, but the Pakistani Army and the ISI (the Pakistani ISI/military intelligence organization). These two organizations have been running their own foreign policy for decades. The army/ISI has gotten rich by gaining control over a large chunk of the Pakistani economy and government budget. It’s all done with coercion, corruption and constant anti-Indian/anti-American propaganda. The Pakistani Army cannot justify its privileged position unless they convince the Pakistani people that there is a major threat out there. So the army/ISI has created fearsome foes. This includes Afghanistan, which they portray as a puppet for India and America and a major threat to Pakistan. Most Afghans reject this, and see the Taliban as a Pakistani tool. While many Afghans appreciate scattered Taliban efforts to reduce corruption, they mainly want less violence. The Taliban has been the major source of violence for nearly two decades, and most Afghans want peace. The Taliban want control, above all else. But now, facing severe combat losses, lower morale and defections, increased terror attacks are believed more for internal purposes (to build Taliban morale) than to weaken the Afghan government.

May 23, 2012:  In the northeast, two foreign aid workers were kidnapped for ransom. This kind of crime has always been common in Afghanistan, especially with regard to foreigners (who do not have access to tribal organizations that can often get captives freed without ransom.)

May 21, 2012:  NATO leaders met in the United States and agreed that Afghan troops and police would take over all security duties a year from now.

Currently, this is the case in about two-thirds of the country. NATO also pledged to pay for the security forces (over 300,000 soldiers and police). This may prove difficult. The security forces are riddled with corruption, and ensuring that Western money actually gets to the soldiers and cops will be very difficult.

NIGERIA:  Much Crime, Little Punishment

May 29, 2012: The war against Boko Haram is very visible in the Moslem north.There are roadblocks everywhere and a lot more soldiers and police. This is hurting Boko Haram, which has suffered some serious losses (of leaders and bomb making supplies and technicians) in the last few months. But the Islamic terrorists retain a growing popularity among many Moslems, because of the promise to eliminate the corruption that strangles the economy and oppresses every Nigerian every day. President Johnson has been in power for a year, and was elected on the promise of making a major effort to curb corruption. There has been a lot of noise about suppressing corruption, but little result. Those corrupt officials who are indicted tend to bribe their way past judge, jury and jailers. There is still lots of crime, and not much punishment.

The police are very corrupt, and often violent. This means that sending additional police to the Moslem north is likely to cause more violence, rather than reduce it. Curbing police corruption has long been a popular cause, but no politician has ever managed to make a dent in the problem.

Decades of effort to eradicate polio are still being compromised by Islamic radicals. There are only small populations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Nigeria where polio is still found. In Nigeria Islamic conservatives up north have been preaching against polio vaccinations for years (on the assumption that the medicine is actually a Christian plot to poison Moslems). Polio can be wiped out, like smallpox was back in the 1970s, if you can vaccinate everyone in areas where the disease still exists (as polio and smallpox are diseases that can only live in human hosts). But the Islamic conservatives have been a major barrier to eliminating polio. The current wave of Islamic conservatism was only getting started back in the 1970s, and it continues to grow. The government is making yet another effort to wipe out polio in the Moslem north. It’s unclear if Boko Haram will actively oppose this. Apparently some in Boko Haram do see the polio vaccinations as part of a war against Islam.

May 28, 2012: In the northeast, Boko Haram shot dead four Christian merchants. Boko Haram wants to drive all Christians out of the Moslem north and eventually turn the north into an Islamic religious dictatorship.

May 26, 2012: In the north, Boko Haram shot dead three card players. Boko Haram considers card playing, and most forms of entertainment as sinful and punishable by death.

May 21, 2012: In the capital, police arrested a Boko Haram man trying to enter a government building carrying concealed weapons.
In the northeastern city of Maiduguri, two Boko Haram attacks left five dead.

May 19, 2012: In the central Nigerian city of Jos, a police raid uncovered a bomb making workshop. Jos has, for the last few years, been the scene of deadly violence between Moslems and Christians.

May 18, 2012:  A government study concluded that theft of oil from pipelines  (from tapping into oil pipelines) is costing the government $9 billion a year.

Since government income from oil is about $4-5 billion a month that is a major problem. Over the last decade, the government made a major effort to curb oil theft by tribal gangs in the Niger Delta. These gangs were preaching rebellion and more oil money for the locals. The government put down this movement by cracking down on the oil theft efforts of these gangs. This led to the discovery that a lot of these oil thefts are carried out under the protection of military and political leaders (who get a cut of the proceeds). All forms of oil theft are believed to account for 5-10 percent of oil production each year. Oil theft is still a major activity for the criminal gangs in Niger Delta. The theft not only reduces government income, it leaves a lot spilled oil on the ground and in the waterways of the Niger River Delta. The problem has been so bad recently that oil production was down 14 percent in April.

INFORMATION WARFARE: Iran Deploys The Photoshop Weapon

May 29, 2012: Earlier this year Iran announced that it had converted some of its An-140 passenger transports into martime patrol aircraft and equipped them with the FLIR (forward-looking infrared) Systems Ultra8500 optronic sensor. There are two things wrong with this. First, Iran produces the An-140 under license with the understanding that the aircraft only be used for civilian purposes. Second, FLIR Systems is an American firm that is forbidden, by law from selling thermal imaging systems like the Ultra8500 to Iran. FLIR Systems quickly denied that it had sold any of its Ultra8500s to Iran. Shortly after that, it was revealed (by close examination of the photos Iran had provided to the media showing the Ultra8500 optronic sensor on its An-140s) that the Iranian photos had been doctored (“photoshopped”) to make it look like the An-140s had Ultra8500s. This sort of deception is common with the Iranians, who like to boast about imaginary weapons. This is done mainly for internal consumption. The Iranian military has no illusions about keeping the truth from foreign intelligence agencies. The Iranian people, however, are another matter.

That said, some An-140 transports have been converted to serve as maritime patrol aircraft, but they are equipped with more mundane (and less capable) sensors.  Most of these twin turboprop aircraft are built in Ukraine. Since introduced in 2007, the 19 ton An-140 has been used mainly as a civilian aircraft (it can carry 52 passengers). Some An-140s sold to Russia are modified for military use. The civilian version sells for about $9 million each, but the militarized version (sturdier landing gear, more electronics, configured to carry five tons of cargo) increases the price to about $12 million. This is about half the price of a similar Western aircraft. That economy comes at a cost, as five of the 35 An-140s delivered so far have crashed. However, two of those were An-140s built under license in Iran.

The 19 ton An-140 has a range of 1,300 kilometers and a cruise speed of 460 kilometers an hour. The military version will probably be able to carry about five tons of cargo. The Russian Air Force wants to rebuild its air transport fleet and replace existing An-24s. The An-140 is a radical upgrade of the 21 ton An-24 of Cold War fame.

THE WAY THINGS REALLY WORK: Why It’s Easy To Hate Israel

May 29, 2012: A recent international poll (by BBC, involving 24,000 people worldwide) found that the nations considered to have the least positive influence on the world are Iran and Pakistan (both at 16 percent positive).

Those polled were asked to rate each nation on whether it had a positive or negative influence on the world.  North Korea had a 19 percent positive rating and Israel 21 percent. Iran and North Korea are understandable, as both are constantly calling for the destruction of other countries (Iran wants Israel destroyed, North Korea keeps threatening to attack South Korea). Pakistan openly supports terror attacks on neighboring India, and has done so for three decades. As the evidence piles up, some of which even Pakistan admits is true, Pakistan continues to deny that it is responsible.

Israel is an odd case as it has been the target of destruction by most of its neighbors for over 60 years. All that time, the Arab states have promised the Arabs who once lived next to Jews in Israel, that Israel would soon be destroyed. Many of these exiled Arabs (who came to call themselves Palestinians) were not allowed to settle in other Arab countries, but were forced to live as refuges in special camps, continue to call for the destruction of Israel. The Arabs living in the West Bank (part of Jordan until the 1967 war) and Gaza (part of Egypt until the 1967 war) refuse to make peace with Israel and instead continue to try and destroy Israel.

When Israel was founded, equal numbers of Arabs left (or were driven from) Israel as were Jews expelled from Arab countries. The expelled Jews either moved to Israel, or other nations, where they settled (and not in refugee camps). For the last 40 years, the Palestinians have waged several large-scale terror campaigns against Israel, all of which were defeated. But since the 1990s the Palestinians have repositioned themselves as victims of Israeli oppression and convinced much of the world media to go along with this. At the same time, the Palestinians continue to preach terrorism and the destruction of Israel in their own, Arab language, media. This is ignored by most media in the non-Moslem world, which results in Israel being constantly portrayed as an oppressor because it tries to defend itself.

Pakistan has tried, with less success, to portray itself as the victim of American, Israeli and Indian aggression. Internal propaganda plays up this narrative big-time. Pakistan will back off when asked too many embarrassing questions about their support for Islamic terrorism. But such retreats are usually temporary. For example, recently a long-banned anti-American group “The Defense of Pakistan Council” was revived. The group has been holding large anti-American demonstrations. This is apparently in response to U.S. threats to halt the billions of dollars in economic and military aid for Pakistan (in an attempt to get Pakistan to stop supporting terrorism). Many Pakistanis are angered by this threat and are responding with hostility.

The big recent change in Pakistan is the enormous shift in attitude against the army and intelligence services (ISI). This has been growing for years but last year’s American raid into Pakistan to kill Osama bin Laden changed everything.

The revelations that bin Laden had been living in a military town for years, despite constant army insistence that they did not know where bin Laden was, seriously damaged the reputation of the military. Years of growing hostility against military lies and corruption now had convincing confirmation. The generals and spymasters were on the defensive.

The Supreme Court, which had long backed the coups and tolerated the corruption and illegal behavior of the army and ISI, has stopped ignoring the bad behavior.  Some generals urged the army to take over the government again but the army and ISI leadership feared even more backlash. It’s not that the army might change their minds in the future but for the moment the army and ISI are on the defensive. The courts are forcing the generals and intel officials to defend bad behavior. Civilian leaders are also feeling the heat. The Supreme Court has revived corruption charges against the current president. Corruption is widespread among politicians and senior military officers.

Corruption has long been a popular complaint of voters, politicians, and the media. But now something is being done about it and everyone is waiting to see how effectively all those powerful and corrupt officials will push back. They will push back, they always do, and often they win. Meanwhile, the generally free media in Pakistan reports this for the entire world to see, and the world is scared. There is no such fear of Israel, which makes it easier call Israel names.

NAVAL AVIATION: Scan Eagle Serves On Singapore Ships

May 29, 2012: Singapore has begun operating ScanEagle UAVs from their 600 ton Victory class corvettes. A ScanEagle weighs 19 kg (40 pounds), has a 3.2 meter (ten foot) wingspan and uses day and night video cameras. This makes it easier for the UAV, flying over land or water, to spot the small speed boats, or individual vehicles.

Cruising speed is 110 kilometers an hour. The ScanEagle can stay in the air for up to 15 hours per flight, and fly as high as 5 kilometers (16,000 feet). The aircraft carries an optical system that is stabilized to keep the cameras focused on an object while the UAV moves. The UAV can operate at least a hundred kilometers from the ground controller. The ScanEagle is launched from a catapult and landed via a wing hook that catches a rope hanging from a fifty foot pole. This makes it possible to operate the UAV from the helicopter pad on the stern (rear) of a warship.

Each ScanEagle costs about $100,000, and is still widely used by commercial fishing, ocean survey and research ships, as well as military organizations in several countries. Scan Eagle has been flying for about a decade now and has been in military service since 2005.

The six Victory class corvettes entered service in the late 1980s. The crew of 49 operates navigation and search radar, as well as sonar. The ships are armed with a 76mm cannon, eight anti-ship missiles, 16 short range anti-aircraft missiles, six anti-submarine torpedoes and four 12.7mm machine-guns. Max speed is 69 kilometers an hour, while cruising speed is 33 kilometers an hour. Endurance is about nine days (at cruising speed.) Singapore is an island nation consisting of the city of Singapore. So ships with long range are not necessary.

The addition of the ScanEagle makes these corvettes even more formidable for such small ships.

AIR TRANSPORT: Ruslan Gets Respect And A Revival

May 29, 2012: The Russian Air Force is upgrading seven of its 25 An-124 “Ruslan” transports to the An-124-100M standard. This upgrade includes strengthening the air frame, installing new electronics and increasing range to 5,400 kilometers. A new type of brakes enables the aircraft to reduce its landing distance by 30 percent. This makes more airfields able to handle the aircraft. Three An-124s have already completed their upgraded, and once all seven are done, another ten air force An-124s will be upgraded. The air force has also ordered ten new An-124-300s, which will be able to carry 30 tons more (for a total of 150 tons.) Three years ago, after three years of planning, production of the An-124 was resumed. At least 70 will be produced initially, and they will sell for about $200 million each.

Designed at the end of the Cold War, only sixty were built then. But the market for aircraft that can carry oversize cargo has grown twice as fast as the air cargo market in general. The An-124, and the U.S. Air Force C-5, are the only two transports that can handle oversize material. And the An-124 is the only “jumbo” available for charter. Six years ago, it was proposed that An-124 production be resumed. Another fifty, or more, aircraft were to be produced, starting in 2008. That was delayed because there were problems raising the required cash (at least half a billion dollars.) Now the government has come up with the money, and all the resources (suppliers of components) have been organized.

The An-124 is the world’s largest production aircraft and can carry a payload of up to 150 tons. The An-124 cruises at a speed of around 800 to 850 kilometers per hour. It can carry a maximum payload around 4,500 kilometers, or carry ten tons of cargo, and more fuel, for up to 14,000 kilometers. There are around 28 An-124s doing commercial work, with another 25 in military service

In the late 1980s, a modification of the An-124, the slightly larger An-225, was built. With two extra engines and a larger wing, the An-225 can carry over 250 tons. A second An-225 was being built when the Cold War ended. Construction was halted, but demand for An-124s has been so strong, that the second An-225 is 60 percent complete and waiting for more cash. New An-225s would cost cover $250 million each. These are a bargain compared to the $225 million cost of a new American C-17 cargo aircraft. The C-17 also only carries around 79 tons of cargo. If sales of the new An-124 take off, more An-225s may be available as well.

ELECTRONIC BATTLEFIELD: Anti-Missile Lasers That Work

May 29, 2012: The U.S. Air Force has begun production of an upgraded missile warning system for its helicopters and aircraft. The NexGen Infrared missile warning system has longer detection range and fewer false alarms.

The warning system is one of two components in the DIRCM (Directional Infrared Countermeasures) that protects aircraft and helicopters from shoulder fired surface-to-air missiles. Most of these systems are shifting from flares, to those that use lasers, to disrupt the missile heat seeker and force it to miss the target.

A typical DIRCM system has two components. First, there are four ultraviolet detection sensors (weighing about 2 kg/4.4 pounds each) mounted on different parts of the aircraft to detect an approaching missile. These sensors are linked to a 3-5 kg (6.6-11 pound) computer that contains software for determining that the object is indeed a missile and where it is headed. The detection computer is hooked to a countermeasures system using either flares and chaff (strips of metal foil), or a laser, to confuse the missiles guidance system (that is homing in the heat of the aircraft, particularly the engines.) The countermeasures component weighs 13-22 kg (30-50 pounds), depending on type or model.
Complete countermeasures systems cost about two million dollars each. Laser equipped ones are about 20 percent more expensive than those using flares, although that price differential is rapidly shrinking. So far, fewer than twenty American and NATO helicopters have been hit by missiles in Iraq and Afghanistan, and many more attempts have been foiled by missile countermeasures.

For Your Eyes Only Military News

May 29, 2012

Syria: Waiting For The Turk To Decide

May 28, 2012: The Syrian government is having an increasingly hard time maintaining the façade of affluence and normalcy for its core supporters. Most of these people live in Damascus and Aleppo, but these two cities are the scene of more and more rebel attacks, anti-government demonstrators and Islamic terror bombings. This has not been good for morale, and a growing number of Assad supporters (at least those most likely to face retaliation) are planning their escapes.

Eleven Lebanese Shia, kidnapped by Sunni gunmen in Syria last week, are being held for ransom. The rebels want to get the Syrian government to release imprisoned Syrian rebels. The Lebanese were returning from a pilgrimage to Iran.

Hezbollah announced that it does not have, and never has had, gunmen in Syria. But numerous known Hezbollah men have been seen in Syria during the last year, some openly helping Syrian security forces fight rebels. Hezbollah has lied before, and is apparently reacting to the anti-Syrian government attitude in Lebanon. Hezbollah and the Assads have been allies for decades, and that history is hurting the Hezbollah image in Lebanon.

The UN believes that the 271 observers they have in Syria are reducing violence. Soon all 300 observers will be there, but some UN members want even more.  Syrian rebels are again calling for foreign air support, preferably an operation similar to the NATO one in Libya last year. NATO has again refused. NATO air support depends on what NATO member Turkey wants to do. As the strongest Moslem military power in the area, and the former imperial ruler of Syria (until 1918), the Turks have to take the lead here. At the moment the Turks are reluctant to take the heat from the Moslem world for leading a NATO intervention. Arabs do not remember the centuries of Turk rule with much fondness. Turkey is trying to rebuild its reputation and influence in the Arab world, and sees that effort damaged if Turk troops (or aircraft) are once more seen killing Arabs.

Nearly 13,000 have died since the protests began 14 months ago. Since the UN ceasefire officially went into effect April 12, at least 1,500 have died. The Assad dictatorship is getting weaker, but slowly. Iran stands ready to provide at least a billion dollars a month in cash to help the government import weapons, food and other supplies for its supporters. Russia and Iran continue to send weapons despite blockades. While major suppliers of food and other goods will no longer ship to Syria, smugglers and less scrupulous suppliers will, for an additional fee.  Even in rebel controlled areas, there is growing hunger and privation because the economy is stalled and in chaos. Moreover, the government troops can still take control of roads, blocking easy access to rebel controlled towns and villages. While some believe the Assads can’t last beyond the end of the year, others feel that Iranian and Russian support make it possible for Assad to last longer, unless the Turks make a military move. As has been the case for over six hundred years, the fate of Syria will be decided by Turkish troops.

The Syrian rebels continue to be hobbled by religious, ethnic and political differences. For decades, the Assads exploited these differences to suppress the opposition, and Iran has sent media and security experts to help the Assads to keep doing that even though the opposition is more united than it has ever been before.

The Iranian experts have their work cut out for them, because even members of the Alawite community are now supporting the rebels. These Alawites point out that for decades dissent (from whatever the Assads wanted) was not tolerated and that the Alawites have much to gain from the overthrow of the Assads. With this kind of talks, the Assads are reminded that they cannot even trust their Alawite brethren.

The FSA (Free Syrian Army) has bases in Turkey and Lebanon. FSA also has more weapons and equipment (especially radios and satellite phones, as well night vision gear) to distribute but there are still organizational and trust problems. While most FSA members served in the Syrian military, a growing number of young volunteers did not. These guys require some training otherwise they will quickly get killed. The factionalism (usually because of religion or politics) makes it difficult to know who you can trust or rely on. It’s like herding cats only these felines have assault rifles, short tempers and divided loyalties.

A growing FSA problem is the increased presence of al Qaeda (and similar organizations) in Syria. These guys are on a Mission from God and not inclined to take orders, or even advice, from the FSA. Moreover, the FSA (or at least most members) want a democracy, while al Qaeda wants a religious dictatorship.

May 27, 2012: In Iran, a military official bragged that Iranian soldiers in Syria were helping to limit the number of civilians Syrian troops were killing.

In Damascus, police conducted several raids in pro-rebel neighborhoods, after a bomber went off in a popular restaurant.

Kuwait warned its citizens to stay away from Syria, where increasing violence made it very dangerous for foreign visitors.

May 25, 2012: In Homs, security forces killed over 100 civilians, and there were plenty of witnesses with cameras. Turkey and the UN were quick to condemn the Syrian government. Turkey is calling on the international community to ensure that the Syrian officials responsible are punished. Russia used its Security Council veto to prevent the UN from making an official condemnation of Syria. In the meantime, Syria insisted that its troops had nothing to do with any killings in Homs. But the Syrians have lied so often about stuff like this, and then exposed as liars by video and witnesses (and sometimes UN observers) that few believe these denials.

YEMEN: Al Qaeda Falls Back

May 28, 2012:  For the last week, intense fighting against al Qaeda (foreigners and local tribal supporters) in the south has continued. The southern 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, along with nearly 10,000 tribal allies. The army received assistance from American UAVs (most of them armed with missiles) and the air force.

Troops have pushed al Qaeda out of Zinjibar, the provincial capital, in the last few days. There have been several hundred casualties a day most days in Abyan for most of May. Two-thirds of the dead have been Islamic radicals and their tribal allies.  Most of the remainder were soldiers or pro-government tribesmen.

In response to losses in Abyan, al Qaeda has unleashed their remaining suicide bombers in attacks that are supposed to break the will of the government forces. That has not worked, as the attacks simply make the soldiers more eager to get some payback. Most of the casualties are al Qaeda, with the rest split between soldiers and civilians (caught in the crossfire, or a terror attack).

The local al Qaeda ally is Ansar al Sharia, and their partnership with foreign Islamic terrorists gave rise to tribal militias opposing religious rule in Yemen. Over 5,000 tribal gunmen have joined with the army in the fight against the Islamic radical forces (which number less than 10,000, most of them local tribesmen). While religious differences are frequently invoked, most of the fighting in the south is over tribal politics. The national government is a coalition of tribal leaders, and the uprising last year, that eventually drove president Saleh out of power after three decades running the country, was mainly about Saleh not taking care of the more powerful tribes. The new government is redistributing the goodies, and that has brought out tribal militias to help with the fight against al Qaeda.

The prospect of al Qaeda and its allies being wiped out soon has persuaded foreign donors to pledge over $4 billion to help rebuild Yemen. That is a long-shot, because the new tribal coalition running the country is as corrupt as the old one.

May 26, 2012: Troops forced al Qaeda fighters back from long held positions in the southern city of Zinjibar.

May 25, 2012:  In the north, a suicide car bomb killed 13 Shia tribesmen. Al Qaeda is a Sunni organization, and Sunni religious conservatives tend to see Shia as heretics, subject to execution. In Yemen, the northern Shia tribes are also seen as allies of Iran, a largely Shia, and Indo-European, nation that has long been the enemy of the Arabs.

May 22, 2012:  U.S. warships came to the port of Hodeida to evacuate American personnel who had been training Yemeni coast guardsmen. Two days ago al Qaeda gunmen attacked the Americans, killing one of them.

May 21, 2012:  In the capital, a suicide bomber detonated his explosive vest and killed over a hundred soldiers who were practicing for a parade. The bomber was later revealed as a secret al Qaeda supporter who joined the army in order to spy and, if need be, carry out an attack like this. The bomber had actually been convicted of terrorism connections in 2007, but had managed to evade prison and join the army.

In the south, troops and tribal militiamen pushed al Qaeda gunmen out of the town of Jaar, a large town in Abyan province.

May 20, 2012: U.S. military trainers (civilian, ex-military, contractors) were attacked in the port of Hodeida, where the Americans were helping to train

Yemeni coast guardsmen. One American was killed in the attack.

WHO WINS:  FATA Falls To Pakistani Troops

May 28, 2012: Pakistan has declared victory in its three year battle for control of the tribal territories along the Afghan border. But the Pakistanis admit that their victory is only 90 percent complete, as the Taliban and other Islamic terror groups are still in control of North Waziristan and parts of adjacent South Waziristan. Pakistan also admits that it leaves the Taliban and other terror groups alone in North Waziristan, as well as providing another sanctuary for the Afghan Taliban in Baluchistan (just across the border from Kandahar and Helmand provinces, where most of the Afghan Taliban, and the word’s heroin supply comes from). This is in Southwest Pakistan (Baluchistan), an area where the Pakistani Taliban and Islamic terrorists do not otherwise operate.

Three years ago Pakistan went to war with the Pakistani Taliban, and some other terror groups who were making attacks against the Pakistani government. This was mainly a matter of self-defense.  The core of Taliban power in Pakistan was (and is) in a region called FATA (Federally Administered Tribal Areas). This small (27,220 square kilometers) and thinly (3.1 million) populated region has long been the lawless Wild West for Pakistan. The “tribal territories” are actually much larger (extending all along the Afghan border, and part of the Indian frontier as well), but FATA is where most of the action is. FATA not only includes North and South Waziristan (Taliban Central), but also the Khyber Pass (the main road into Afghanistan.)

In 2009, there were nearly 4,000 incidents of terrorist violence in FATA, leaving over 5,000 people dead. Over the next three years the pattern of violence (and eventually the death rate) changed. There are fewer low level (often resulting in no deaths) terrorism actions, and more battles, with high body counts. By last year, the violence had greatly declined in FATA, as the Taliban retreated to North Waziristan.

All this violence is fairly recent. Back in 2005, there were only 285 terrorism related deaths in FATA. But then it began growing, as the Afghan Taliban, flush with drug money, began building up their bases, and allies, in FATA. Terrorists got another boost in 2008, when al Qaeda, fleeing defeat in Iraq, moved men and money to FATA. This led to more Islamic terrorism throughout Pakistan, and a backlash. That involved the first ever army invasion of FATA and some of the other tribal territories. FATA was the hardest hit, and over 150,000 troops, and thousands of police and paramilitaries swarmed over the region, using helicopter gunships, artillery and smart bombs to kill rebellious tribesmen. The kill ratio was very unfavorable for the tribes, with over ten tribesmen killed for every soldier or policeman slain.

The tribal leadership has noticed this shift in power. For thousands of years, the Pushtun tribes were supreme in their mountain strongholds, and often able to invade and plunder the more populous lowlands. But now that equation has shifted, and the more astute tribal leaders are making peace, and helping the army get rid of local troublemakers. These are usually Islamic radicals, who have become very unpopular in FATA. There have always been young guys with guns and bad attitudes wandering around the hills. But now you have louts like this with a sense of spiritual superiority as well. As if being poor and illiterate were not bad enough, now you have some self-righteous maniac telling you to shut off the music and videos. The Taliban and al Qaeda won’t be missed, and remain in North Waziristan, if anyone wants a living reminder of the bad old days.


May 28, 2012: For the last six years India, South Korea, the United States and a number of other countries have been pressuring Google to “do something” about its “Google Earth” service. The security organizations in these countries are alarmed at the ease with which Google Earth enables any user to quickly get a satellite photo of just about any area on the planet. This capability is nothing new as it’s been available from commercial photo satellite firms for over a decade. But what has changed with the Google offering, is that the company gathers together the largest collection of satellite photos ever, and makes them very easy to get at, by anyone with Internet access. This is what worries counter-terrorism officials. Islamic terrorists are long on fanaticism, but short on practical skills. Anything that makes it easier for an Islamic terrorist to plan attacks, the more likely that attacks will be put together and carried out.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the United States found the enemy using Google Earth to get a better idea of what potential targets (military or civilian) looked like from above. At the same time, troops were often using Google Earth to plan their own operations. South Korea fears that poverty stricken, but heavily armed, North Korea, could use Google Earth to more effectively plan military operations against them. Then again, few North Koreans have access to the Internet, and the Google Earth views of the mansions and special facilities for the North Korean elite have been very embarrassing for the northern leadership. At the same time, North Koreans have been getting hold of cell phones (illegal in most of North Korea) and using cell towers along the Chinese border to get information into, and out of, North Korea.
India is still vexed that the Pakistani Islamic terrorists who attacked Mumbai (and killed or wounded hundreds of people) in 2009, used Google Earth to plan the attack, and cell phones to keep in touch with each other, and their boss back in Pakistan.

Many countries have managed to persuade the satellite photo providers to lower the resolution of images showing sensitive areas. But this is a tedious process, does not include the many civilian targets terrorists prefer and many security officials would like Google Earth and its growing number of competitors would to just go away. But it won’t, it’s too popular among the many users who are not terrorists, spies or common criminals. Same deal with cell phones and email.

All this is another example of how change, seemingly for the better, often has a downside. Google Earth is very useful to a lot of people. By making all this satellite photography easily available to anyone, you also make it available to those who are up to no good. The same can be said for the telegraph (invented 170 years ago), the telephone (140 years ago), radio (110 years ago), and personal computers (40 years ago.) You’ve got to take the good with the bad.

Google Earth, and similar services are not going away because they make security, intelligence and counter-terrorism officials nervous.

AIR DEFENSE: The Software Patch Iran Wants To Kill

May 28, 2012: The U.S. Navy has completed work on a new version (3.6.1) of the software for its Aegis BMD (Ballistic Missile Defense) system. A year ago, 3.6.1 was successfully tested against an IRBM (Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile), similar to those used by Iran. The IRBM was launched from Kwajalein Atoll (in the Marshall Islands) towards a patch of ocean off the Hawaiian Island, 3,700 kilometers distant. Within eleven minutes of the IRBM lift off, a long range X-Band radar on Wake Island (north of Hawaii) spotted the incoming missile, passed the data to a U.S. destroyer off Hawaii, which calculated the flight path of the target and launched a SM-3 Block 1A missile, which destroyed the IRBM. This was a test of the land based Aegis system that will be built in Europe to protect against hostile IRBMs. That system won’t work without 3.6.1.

The Aegis software upgrade (3.6.1) enables Aegis to track and intercept IRBMs (ballistic missiles with a range of 3,000-5,500 kilometers) as well as quickly share data with other radars. There are numerous other improvements, some of them classified.

This was the 21st successful test of Aegis, which now has an 84 percent success rate in tests. There are other upgrades in the works. Also last year there was a 3.6.1 test with the new SM-3 Block 1B missile. This was mostly improvements in the final stage, or warhead capabilities. While the 1B missile was not a complete success, the 3.6.1 software did what it was supposed to do.

At the moment, Aegis anti-missile systems are hot. The U.S. government, encouraged by the high success rate of Aegis SM-3 tests has been expanding the number of SM-3 equipped ships. With 27 Aegis anti-missile equipped ships in service now, there are plans to have nearly twice as many in the next few years. Nine of these ships will be upgraded to 3.6.1 over the next three years.

Converting Aegis ships to fire anti-missile missiles costs about $12 million a ship, mainly for new software and a few new hardware items. The new 3.6.1 software upgrade costs $50 million. Even with the sharp cost growth, this is seen as a safe investment. To knock down ballistic missiles, an Aegis equipped ship uses two similar models of the U.S. Navy Standard anti-aircraft missile, in addition to a modified version of the Aegis radar system, tweaked to also track incoming ballistic missiles.

The basic anti-missile missile RIM-161A, also known as the Standard Missile 3 (or SM-3) has a range of over 500 kilometers and max altitude of over 200 kilometers. The Standard 3 is based on the anti-missile version of the Standard 2 (SM-2 Block IV). This SM-2 missile turned out to be effective against ballistic missile warheads that are closer to their target. One test saw a SM-2 Block IV missile destroy a warhead that was only 19 kilometers up. An SM-3 missile can destroy a warhead that is more than ten times higher. But the SM-3 is only good for anti-missile work, while the SM-2 Block IV can be used against both ballistic missiles and aircraft. The SM-2 Block IV also costs less than half what an SM-3 costs.

The SM-3 has four stages. The first two boost the interceptor out of the atmosphere. The third stage fires twice to boost the interceptor farther beyond the earth’s atmosphere. Prior to each motor firing it takes a GPS reading to correct course for approaching the target. The fourth stage is the 20 pound LEAP kill vehicle, which uses infrared sensors to close on the target and ram it. The Aegis system was designed to operate aboard warships (cruisers and destroyers that have been equipped with the special software that enables the AEGIS radar system to detect and track incoming ballistic missiles). There is also a land based version that Israel is interested in buying, and is basically the same one that would be installed in Europe.

LEADERSHIP:  The USN Can’t Keep Its Heads On Straight

May 28, 2012: The USN (U.S. Navy) has relieved (removed from their job) ten commanders so far this year. That’s the good news. The bad news is that last year the navy broke a record when it relieved 35 senior commanders. Worse yet, 27 of them were commanding or executive officers on ships. This was higher than the previous record year, 2003, when 23 were relieved. But at the current rate, 2012 is on track to surpass 2003, and possibly match last year.

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991 the U.S. Navy has been experiencing a larger number of warship captains and other senior naval commanders getting relieved. It’s currently over five percent of ship captains a year. At the end of the Cold War, in the late 1980s, the rate was about 3-4 percent a year. So why has the rate gone up? And why hasn’t the navy been able to do anything to reverse this two decade long trend?

There appears to be a number of reasons for this, some of them new and unique, often having to do with the growth of political correctness. But most of the reliefs appear traceable to the performance rating system (where commanders evaluate their subordinates each year). Obviously, too many unqualified officers are getting promoted to commands they cannot handle.
Seeking a solution, the navy has queried commanders for new ideas for the evaluation system. One of the more interesting suggestions was to hold commanders responsible for their evaluations. Thus, when a commander was up for promotion one of the items considered would be the accuracy of their past evaluations. After all, the higher your rank, the more important it is for you to pick the right people for promotion. The navy has also looked at how corporations handle this evaluation process and discovered that it was common to poll subordinates for evaluations as well. The navy was aware that some commanders consult senior NCOs (chiefs) on evaluations. Chiefs have a lot of experience and see officers a bit differently than more senior officers.

Another problem was a major modification, in the 1990s, in which written comments on many aspects of an officer evaluation were changed to a 1-5 ranking system. The new method also forced raters to rank all their subordinates against each other. This was unfair to a bunch of high performing officers who happened to be serving together and being rated by the same commander.

Even more worrisome was the fact that only a small percentage of reliefs have to do with professional failings (a collision or serious accident, failing a major inspection, or just continued poor performance.) Most reliefs were, and still are, for adultery, drunkenness, or theft. Or, in one case, it was telling jokes that sailors enjoyed but some politicians and journalists didn’t.

With more women aboard warships there have been more reliefs for, as sailors like to put it, “zipper failure”, especially if it includes adultery. Typically, these reliefs include phrases pointing out that the disgraced officer, “acted in an unprofessional manner toward several crew members that was inappropriate, improper, and unduly familiar”. Such “familiarity” usually includes sex with subordinates and a captain who is having zipper control problems often has other shortcomings as well. Senior commanders traditionally act prudently and relieve a ship commander who demonstrates a pattern of minor problems and who they “lack confidence in”.
Most naval officers see the problem not of too many captains being relieved but of too many unqualified officers getting command of ships in the first place. Not every naval officer qualified for ship command gets one. The competition for ship commands is pretty intense, despite the fact that officers know that whatever goes wrong on the ship the captain is responsible.

It’s a hard slog for a new ensign (officer rank O-1) to make it to a ship command.  For every hundred ensigns entering service, only 11 of those ensigns will make it to O-6 (captain) and get a major seagoing command (cruiser, destroyer, squadron). Officers who do well commanding a ship will often get to do it two or three times before they retire after about 30 years of service.

With all this screening and winnowing why are more unqualified officers getting to command ships, and then getting relieved because they can’t hack it? Some point to the growing popularity of “mentoring” by senior officers (that smaller percentage that makes it to admiral). While the navy uses a board of officers to decide which officers get ship commands the enthusiastic recommendation of one or more admirals does count. Perhaps it counts too much. While the navy is still quick to relieve any ship commander that screws up (one naval “tradition” that should never be tampered with), up until that point it is prudent not to offend any admirals by implying that their judgment of “up and coming talent” is faulty. In the aftermath of these reliefs, it often becomes known that the relieved captain had a long record of problems. But because he was “blessed” by one or more admirals these infractions were overlooked. The golden boys tend to be very personable and, well, look good. The navy promotion system is organized to rise above such superficial characteristics but apparently the power, and misuse of mentoring, has increasingly corrupted the process.

And then there is the problem with the chiefs, history, and zero tolerance. Asking the chiefs (Chief Petty Officers, the senior NCOs who supervise the sailors) might provide some illumination about officer potential.

Unfortunately, over the last decade officers have been less inclined to ask their chiefs much. The “zero tolerance” atmosphere that has permeated the navy since the end of the Cold War has led officers to take direct control of supervisory duties the chiefs used to handle. The chiefs have lost a lot of their influence, responsibility, and power.

The problem is that, with “zero tolerance” one mistake can destroy a career. This was not the case in the past. Many of the outstanding admirals of World War II would have never survived in today’s navy. For example, Bill “Bull” Halsey ran his destroyer aground during World War I, but his career survived the incident. That is no longer is the case. It’s also well to remember that, once World War II began, there was a massive removal of peacetime commanders from ships. The peacetime evaluation system selected officers who were well qualified to command ships in peacetime but not in wartime. There was a similar pattern with admirals.
Another problem is that officers don’t spend as much time at sea, or in command, as in the past. A lot of time is spent going to school and away from the chiefs and sailors. For example, while the navy had more ships in the 1930s than it does today, there were fewer people in the navy. That’s because back then 80 percent of navy personnel were assigned to a ship and had plenty of time to learn how to keep it clean and operational. With that much less practical experience it’s understandable that more captains would prove unable to do the job.