23 December 2008

Russian Paranoia... Part II, er... XII, uh,... XLVII, or so

So the Russians are claiming that the US is trying to expand into Central Asia:
Russia's top military officer warned that Moscow felt threatened by U.S. policy in ex-Soviet Central Asia and claimed that Washington was attempting to establish new military bases there, news agencies reported Tuesday.
Gen. Nikolai Makarov, the chief of the Russian military's general staff, said Washington planned to establish a foothold in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan, Interfax and ITAR-Tass reported. U.S. officials denied there were plans.
Makarov also said U.S. support for bids by Georgia and Ukraine to join NATO made Russia feel threatened. He cast doubt that relations between the countries would improve under Barack Obama.

Of course, why would they need to, when we're just sending mercenaries over there in street clothes:
Russian investigators on Tuesday charged that volunteers from the United States and a number of other countries fought on the side of Georgia in its war against Russia.
Russian news agencies reported that Aleksandr Bastyrkin, chairman of an investigative committee with the Russian prosecutor's office, said the mercenaries included nationals of the U.S., Ukraine, the Czech Republic and Turkey.
Russian officials have previously accused the U.S. and Ukraine of sending servicemen to take part in the fighting in August — claims both countries have denied.
The war over the separatist province of South Ossetia devastated Georgia, crippled its military, destroyed much of the key infrastructure and uprooted more than 160,000 people. The Kremlin recognized South Ossetia and another rebel region, Abkhazia, as independent, drawing strong condemnation from the West.

By: Brant

Shrink the military? Again?

Given the decentralized nature fo the current wars being fought, it's no real surprise that there are advocates of decentralizing below the brigade level:
There are indications that some states are disbanding heavy-armor units to create small anti-armor hunter-killer teams that adopt guerrilla style hit and run tactics, Wood said. The successes Chechen rebels had in their battles during the 1990s against Russian armored units and those of Hezbollah fighters in their clashes with Israeli ground forces in Lebanon in 2006 demonstrated the effectiveness of such units and tactics. Non-state and state supported fighters have ready access to affordable, advanced anti-armor and anti-air weaponry, night and thermal imaging devices and digital communications, making small units much more lethal. The increased lethality of modern weapons results in the need for greater dispersion.
Wood’s argument is aimed at the Marines, as he envisions the need for smaller – company, platoon enhanced squads – sized naval infantry units to go aboard the Navy’s Littoral Combat Ships, and other ships, that will operate in littoral waters or as distributed elements of the navy’s new maritime strategy that puts heavy emphasis on partnering with foreign nations. That would mean fewer battle groups steaming around together and more individual ships putting in at distant ports for humanitarian visits, carrying out training exercises with foreign ships and policing pirate infested waterways; hence the need for more, and smaller Marine units able to operate independently of a larger MAGTF.

By: Brant

Russia's coming arms buildup

Maybe it's retaliation for the pending missile defense shield, or maybe it's trying to keep NATO from intervening in the inevitable reconquest of Georgia, but either way, the Russians are stockpiling missiles:
The Russian military will commission 70 strategic nuclear missiles over the next three years, a senior government official said Monday, according to Russian news agencies.
The statement by Vladislav Putilin, a deputy head of the Cabinet's military-industrial commission in charge of weapons industries, indicates the government's intention to significantly increase the tempo of rearming Russia's Strategic Missile Forces.
Since the late 1990s, Russia has commissioned more than 50 new Topol-M intercontinental ballistic missiles at a pace of several missiles a year. Soviet-built nuclear missiles continue to account for the bulk of Russia's strategic nuclear forces, and the military has repeatedly extended their designated lifetime to maintain the nation's nuclear deterrent.

The Russians are building up other forces, too.
The Russians are building up other forces, too.:
Russia plans a massive increase in its weapons procurement for three years beginning in 2009, with 300 tanks, 14 warships and almost 50 airplanes on the shopping list, a senior government official said on Monday.
Vladislav Putilin, deputy head of the military-industrial commission, told journalists after a cabinet meeting the government planned to allocate 4 trillion roubles ($141.5 billion)in 2009-11 to bankroll equipment purchases to modernize its army.

By: Brant

Brits not thrilled with the way their withdrawal from Iraq

At least one editorial in the UK is sharply critical of its execution:
Britain's managed withdrawal from Iraq, announced by the prime minister in Baghdad and Basra last week, is a much more fragile thing than the government chooses to admit. At least three factors could throw it off course: a sudden outbreak of violence in Basra, perhaps linked to the provincial elections in February; growing dispute with the US, which fears Britain lacks the will or ability to maintain order, and is sending forces of its own to fill the boots of British troops; and, most pressingly of all, the collapse of a deal to give legal status to the British military presence after 31 December when the current UN mandate expires. Without this agreement, British personnel in Iraq will effectively become intruders in 10 days' time and the controlled six-month withdrawal announced by Gordon Brown would turn into a humiliating new year scuttle across the border into Kuwait. Privately, British forces have been planning for this extreme contingency for some time. They still expect to avoid it, although the deadline is now frighteningly close.

By: Brant

Combat Aviation en route to Afghanistan

The whirlybirds are on their way to the Hindu Kush:
The first troops for the temporary U.S. “surge” in Iraq came from the Fort Bragg-based 82nd Airborne Division, and now the storied unit is among the first to be tapped for a similar buildup in Afghanistan.
The Pentagon announced Monday that the 2,800 soldiers of 82nd Combat Aviation Brigade and their helicopters would be sent there this spring.

By: Brant

Nukes on the subcontinent; eventually lead to trouble?

When you don't have nukes, you don't have these problems:
Islamabad says should war break out with New Delhi, the option of using nuclear weapons would not even be on the table in Pakistan.
Pakistani Defense Minister Chaudhary Ahmed Mukhtar said on Monday that Islamabad wants peace with India but would defend itself if New Delhi thrusts war.
'The Indians would never want war because if war breaks out, then God forbid the situation might develop into a nuclear war,' Mukhtar claimed.
The minister was reacting in response to Indian threats to wage war if the soil of neighboring Pakistan is used for promoting terrorism in India.
On Sunday, Indian Congress Chief Sonia Gandhi said New Delhi is capable of giving a 'befitting reply' to those using Pakistani soil to promote terrorism in her country.

By: Brant

Imminent shooting in sub-Saharan Africa? You can't be surprised...

There appears to be an imminent shooting war in Mali, as the war of words heats up:
Mali's President Amadou Toumani Toure on Monday warned of a tougher government line against Tuareg rebels following a raid on an army base in which at least 20 people were killed, press reports said.
'Enough is enough. We cannot continue to suffer, we cannot keep counting our dead ... We cannot keep searching for peace,' Toure said Sunday during a visit to the Kayes region.
'They are firing on anything that moves. They are firing on soldiers, they're firing on civilians, what does all this mean?' the president added in comments that analysts said could mean a harder line.
An attack by rebels on an army base at Nampala, 500 kilometres (300 miles) northeast of of the capital Bamako, left at least nine troops and 11 rebels dead, according to the defence ministry.
A source close to rebel chief Abrahim Ag Bahanga told AFP at least 20 soldiers were killed and and an international aid official said at least five civilians were also killed in the fighting.

View Larger Map

By: Brant

22 December 2008

Lord of War hoping for the best

The arms merchant who supposedly inspired the movie Lord of War is fighting extradition to the US:
A Russian businessman dubbed the "Merchant of Death" for allegedly arming dictators and guerrillas sought Monday to prevent his extradition to the U.S., telling a Thai court he was not involved in a scheme to sell weapons to Colombian rebels.
Viktor Bout, a former Soviet air force officer, has long been linked to some of Africa's most notorious conflicts, allegedly supplying arms to former Liberian dictator Charles Taylor and Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi.
He has repeatedly denied any involvement in illicit activities and has never been prosecuted, despite being the subject of U.N. sanctions and a travel ban.

By: Brant

Terrorists guilty in Fort Dix case

The Fort Dix Five are guilty:
A federal jury on Monday found five Muslim immigrants guilty of conspiring to kill U.S. soldiers at Fort Dix.

The five foreign-born defendants were charged with conspiring to kill military personnel and attempted murder. The men were acquitted on the attempted murder charges. They all face life in prison.

Fuck 'em. Drop 'em off a cliff.

By: Brant

Where's Santa?


By: Brant

21 December 2008

Blackwater firing in self-defense after all?

So now there's logs being released from the day of the Blackwater shooting in Nisoor Square:
Radio logs from a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad cast doubt on U.S. government assertions that Blackwater Worldwide security guards were unprovoked when they killed 14 Iraqi civilians.
The transcripts of Blackwater radio reports, obtained by the Associated Press, describe a hectic eight minutes in which the guards repeatedly reported incoming gunfire from insurgents and Iraqi police.
Five guards face manslaughter and weapons charges for their roles in the shootings. A sixth has pleaded guilty. Prosecutors said the men unleashed an attack on unarmed Iraqis, including women, children and people trying to escape.
But the radio logs from the Sept. 16, 2007, shooting suggest otherwise. Copies of the logs were turned over to prosecutors by Blackwater.

So were they faking logs after-the-fact to try and get their buddies off the hook? Not bloody likely.

By: Brant

19 December 2008

$4 Billion - yes Billion - to someone you've never heard of

No idea who SupplyCore is, but you've never heard of them, either... Apparently, DoD gave 'em $4 billion for logistics work:
The Pentagon announced it has awarded a maximum 4.4-billion-dollar contract over ten years to SupplyCore, a small American logistics company.
SupplyCore, based in Rockford, Illinois, was provided an 'indefinite quantity contract for support of tactical and non-tactical wheeled vehicle fleets' for the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps, a Pentagon statement said Thursday.

By: Brant

Russia Wants to Trade Arms Deals Again

You have to wonder if the Russian offer to cut their strategic arms in return for the US lowering the European missile defense shield is motivated by true desires for world peace, or the memories of 1980s bankruptcy brought on by trying to keep up with Reagan-era defense spending:
A senior Russian general said Friday the military will cut some weapons programs if the United States drops its missile defense plans, a news agency reported.
The Interfax news agency quoted Col.-Gen. Nikolai Solovtsov as saying that the Russian armed forces wouldn't need some prospective strategic weapons if the new U.S. administration changes its mind about deploying missile defense sites in Europe.
'Several expensive programs will simply become unnecessary for us,' said Solovtsov, the chief of Russia's Strategic Missile Forces.
Solovtsov didn't elaborate, but he has said earlier that Russia plans to modernize its intercontinental ballistic missiles to protect them from space-based components of the U.S. missile defense system.
Other Russian officials have previously boasted about prospective new warheads capable of making sharp maneuvers to dodge missile defense systems.

By: Brant

18 December 2008

Nukes for everyone!

Seems like there's some traction for the theory that the next nuclear regime may be the straw that breaks the camel's back:
The development of nuclear arsenals by both Iran and North Korea could lead to 'a cascade of proliferation,' making it more probable that terrorists could get their hands on an atomic weapon, a congressionally chartered commission warned yesterday.

'It appears that we are at a 'tipping point' in proliferation,' the Congressional Commission on the Strategic Posture of the United States said in an interim report to lawmakers that was released yesterday.

The bipartisan panel, led by former defense secretaries William J. Perry and James R. Schlesinger, added that actions by Tehran and Pyongyang could lead other countries to follow, 'and as each nuclear power is added, the probability of a terror group getting a nuclear bomb increases.'

By: Brant

Even Heroes Do Dumb Stuff Sometimes

Buried in this report about a shootout in the mountains of Afghanistan is a fantastic nugget about the morbidly humorous mistakes that can be made under fire.

As Ford and Staff Sgt. John Wayne Walding returned fire, Walding was hit below his right knee. Ford turned and saw that the bullet "basically amputated his right leg right there on the battlefield."

Walding, of Groesbeck, Tex., recalled: "I literally grabbed my boot and put it in my crotch, then got the boot laces and tied it to my thigh, so it would not flop around. There was about two inches of meat holding my leg on." He put on a tourniquet, watching the blood flow out the stump to see when it was tight enough.

Then Walding tried to inject himself with morphine but accidentally used the wrong tip of the syringe and put the needle in this thumb, he later recalled. "My thumb felt great," he said wryly, noting that throughout the incident he never lost consciousness. "My name is John Wayne," he said.

My thumb felt great - awesome.

By: Brant

When in doubt, blame Rumsfeld!

A recent bi-partisan Congressional report was released that lays blame for Abu Ghraib (among others) on Rumsfeld:
Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and other senior U.S. officials share much of the blame for detainee abuse at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, and Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, according to portions of a report released on Thursday by the Senate Armed Services Committee.
The report's executive summary, made public by the committee's Democratic chairman Sen. Carl Levin of Michigan and its top Republican Sen. John McCain of Arizona, said Rumsfeld contributed to the abuse by authorizing aggressive interrogation techniques at Guantanamo Bay on December 2, 2002.
He rescinded the authorization six weeks later. But the report said word of his approval continued to spread within U.S. military circles and encouraged the use of harsh techniques as far away as Iraq and Afghanistan.
The report concluded that Rumsfeld's actions were 'a direct cause of detainee abuse' at Guantanamo and 'influenced and contributed to the use of abusive techniques ... in Afghanistan and Iraq.'

Is it piling on? Maybe. No doubt Rumsfeld shares blame here, but it would be interesting to know who else gets blamed (or not) in this report. Unlikely that there are any bigger names than Rummy, or they'd've been mentioned in the news about the report.

By: Brant

17 December 2008

How to 'fix' Afghanistan?

This isn't the first account you'll hear about the lack of good governance in Afghanistan. But it sure isn't a pretty one:
Nurallah strode into our workshop shaking with rage. His mood shattered ours. 'This is no government,' he stormed. 'The police are like animals.'
The story gushed out of him: There'd been a fender-bender in the Kandahar bazaar, a taxi and a bicycle among wooden-wheeled vegetable carts. Wrenching around to avoid the knot, another cart touched one of the green open-backed trucks the police drive. In seconds, the officers were dragging the man to the chalky dust, beating him -- blow after blow to the head, neck, hips, kidneys. Shopkeepers in the nearby stalls began shouting, 'What do you want to do, kill him?' The police slung the man into the back of their truck and roared away."

By: Brant

Hey! An actual wargame link!

Here's the website for one of the coolest university courses you could take... I mean really, a college class in wargaming? How do you top that?

By: Brant

Belgians Bust Bomb-Building Bearded Baddies

So the Belgians have apparently busted up a terror plot:
Agence France Presse and the Associated Press are reporting that Belgian authorities have arrested 14 suspected Al Qaeda terrorists including a jihadi who was allegedly planning a suicide attack. Sixteen raids were executed by 242 police officers in Brussels and in the eastern city of Liege. Security and judicial sources described the arrests as the “most important anti-terrorism operation in Belgium.” Citing the Federal prosecutor’s office, AFP reported that the move was targeting “a Belgian Islamist group involved in training as well as fighting on the Pakistan-Afghan border in cooperation with important figures in Al Qaeda.”


By: Brant

UN to Pirates: Here We Come!

So the UN has authorized use of force against the pirates of Somalia:
The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Tuesday to authorize nations to conduct military raids, on land and by air, against pirates plying the waters off the Somalia coast even as two more ships were reportedly hijacked at sea.

Somehow, I'm not sure they're quaking in their made-from-spare-tires sandals.

By: Brant

15 December 2008

Brits and Afghanistan: No more troops?

The already-strapped British Army may be forced to say 'no' to a request for more troops to Afghanistan:
Britain is expected to come under considerable pressure from Mr Obama when he becomes President in January to send another battle group of 1,500-2,000. Turning down such a request would open a rift between Britain and the US. British military chiefs have also been clamouring for reinforcements for the beleaguered troops in the southern Afghan province of Helmand.

Senior military officers have begun drawing up plans for boosting the British presence in southern Afghanistan to more than 10,000. Secret planning has been under way for some time to deploy another 2,000 troops, although the Ministry of Defence has previously denied reports that reinforcements were likely to be sent next year.

British officials fear that if Britain fails to send more troops, the US will take military control of Helmand and sideline the British. Under US surge plans to send 20,000 more soldiers next year, the Pentagon is planning to deploy 5,000 into Helmand to join the British effort, and a further 5,000 into neighbouring southern provinces.

By: Brant

On the scene in Baghdad

Independent blogger/journalist Michael J. Totten has a fantastic article about a manhunt in the dark in Baghdad:
“If your men conduct any raids,” I said to Captain Todd Looney at Combat Outpost Ford on the outskirts of Sadr City, Baghdad, “I want to go.”

“We might have something come up,” he said. “If so, I'll get you out there.”

Less than an hour later, one of the most dangerous terrorist leaders in all of Iraq was spotted holding a meeting at a house in the area. An arrest warrant had already been issued by the government of Iraq, and Captain Looney's company was the closest to his location. They would be the ones to go get him.

“Do you still have room for me?” I said.

“Get your gear,” Captain Looney said."

Trust me, it's worth your 30-45 minutes.

By: Brant

12 December 2008

Japan shifts focus closer to the East

Japan has pulled their forces from Iraq:
The Japanese Ground Self-Defense Force held an end of mission ceremony at Al Faw Palace Dec. 6 to commemorate the conclusion of their operations in Iraq with Coalition forces.
Japan showed its support to the mission with a military force of more than 600 soldiers supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
The JGSDF was stationed in the southern city of Samawah. The JGSDF units supplied water, rebuilt infrastructures to include schools and roads, provided medical services, and transported humanitarian aid materials for Iraqis in Samawah.

But extended their naval mission supporting efforts in Afghanista:
Japanese lawmakers have extended a naval refueling mission that supports a U.S.-led anti-terrorism effort in the Indian Ocean.
Friday's vote in the lower house of parliament extends the mission in the Indian Ocean until January 2010. The Japanese naval forces refuel foreign vessels participating in U.S. operations in Afghanistan.

By: Brant

Poland cuts off the draft

Poland has ended their draft, presumably not by padding the gap in their door.

By: Brant

Meanwhile, in Africa's Bizzaro-world

So apparently Zimbabwe's implosion is not the fault of the most racist and mono-maniacal dictator of the post-WWII era. Nope. Apparently, it's England's fault:
Zimbabwe’s leaders are now blaming Britain for the nation’s cholera outbreak, saying the British aim is to commit a “genocide.” The country’s information minister also said images of cholera victims broadcast on international news outlets are actually those of people from war-wracked Congo and Darfur.

“The cholera epidemic in Zimbabwe is a serious biological, chemical war force, a genocidal onslaught, on the people of Zimbabwe by the British. It’s a genocide of our people,” Information Minister Sikhanyiso Ndlovu told reporters.

“Cholera is a calculated, racist attack on Zimbabwe by the unrepentant former colonial power, which has enlisted support from its American and Western allies so that they can invade the country,” he said. Britain ruled the country as a colony until 1965.

Ndlovu — who said the country’s health system is working on the outbreak, which has claimed nearly 800 lives — called for British Prime Minister Gordon Brown to “be taken to the United Nations Security Council for being a threat to world peace and planting cholera and anthrax to invade Zimbabwe — our peaceful Zimbabwe.


By: Brant

Blackwater Shooter Defense

The defense team in the Blackwater shootout case has put up an online site for their defense documents. Not sure if it's a smart legal strategy, but some of it makes for good reading.

By: Brant

11 December 2008

Iranian Power Projection at Sea Lane Choke Points

Not content to choke the Persian Gulf at one end, the Iranians want to choke off other strategic points around the globe, including Eritrea:
Iranian ships and submarines have deployed an undisclosed number of Iranian troops and weapons at the Eritrean port town of Assab, according to opposition groups, foreign diplomats, and NGOs in the area.
The city of Assab sits at the Horn of Africa in the Arabian Sea. As such, Assab offers a strategic position as the world nervously eyes the precarious routes through which a seaborne oil traverses daily.
Local sources have reported that Iran recently sent soldiers and a large number of long-range and ballistic missiles. The military basing came after Iran signed an accord with Eritrea to revamp the Russian-built refinery used by the Eritrean Oil Company, also known as Assab Oil Company. As the world’s second largest import of gasoline, Iran is sensitive to a Western plan to obstruct its access to refined product as a part of broad sanctions provoked by Teheran’s nuclear activities. Iran needs nearby oil refining ability. Using protection of the Eritrean refinery as a pretext, Iran has set up its military operation there, and has been patrolling with unmanned surveillance drones.

In case you need the refresher on where Eritrea is...

View Larger Map

By: Brant

Germans Livin' Large in Afghanistan. Emphasis on "Large"

The Brits have posted a scathing critique of the German Army in Afghanistan:
They drink too much and they're too fat to fight, that's the damning conclusion of German parliamentary reports into the country's 3,500 troops stationed in Afghanistan.
While British and U.S. troops in the country face a strict ban on alcohol, their German comrades are allowed two pints a day.
The stunning statistics reveal that in 2007 German forces in northern Afghanistan drank 1.7million pints of beer and 90,000 bottles of wine.
The troops also downed 896,000 pints of beer in the first six months of this year, the Times reported.
The parliamentary report claimed that some 40 per cent of all German army personnel are overweight - a higher percentage than in the civilian population.
At the time Reinhold Robbe, the parliamentary commissioner for the armed forces, stated: 'Plainly put, the soldiers are too fat, exercise too little, and take little care of their diet.'
The Times also reported the damning allegation from a senior officer that Germany is failing in its main mission to train the Afghan police. He descibed the efforts as 'a miserable failure'.

Is it me, or do the Brits seem more irked that the Germans are pounding beers while their boys aren't, rather than that the Germans won't leave the FOB to be useful while their boys dodge bullets?

By: Brant

Analysis of anti-piracy RoE on the High Seas

Here's a good, if limited analysis of the Rules of Engagement on the high seas.
Not sure if lard is a legal anti-piracy weapon though.

By: Brant

Mistaken identity shootout in Afghanistan

So there was a shootout in Afghanistan that resulted in a bunch of dead Afghanis with US bulletholes in them. The issue has been in the way the story has been presented.

HuffPo was pretty up-front about what happened:
U.S. Special Forces killed six Afghan police and wounded 13 Wednesday in a case of mistaken identity by both sides after the police fired on the Americans during an operation against an insurgent commander.
A U.S. military statement said police fired on the American forces after the troops battled and killed an armed militant in the city of Qalat, capital of the southern province of Zabul. The Americans returned fire on the police but only later learned their identities. An Afghan civilian was also killed in the exchange.

But several other blogs, such as Big Lizards have taken the Associated Press to task for its presentation of the story.

This is rich. First read AP's headline:
US Special Forces mistakenly kill 6 Afghan police

Next, the beginning of their lede graf:
U.S. Special Forces killed six Afghan police and wounded 13 early Wednesday in a case of mistaken identity...

Finally, here are the complete first two paragraphs:
U.S. Special Forces killed six Afghan police and wounded 13 early Wednesday in a case of mistaken identity by both sides after the police fired on the Americans during an operation against an insurgent commander, officials said.

A U.S. military statement said police fired on the American forces after the troops battled and killed an armed militant in the city of Qalat, the capital of the southern province of Zabul. The Americans returned fire on the police but only later learned their identities. One Afghan civilian was also killed in the exchange.
Anybody reading just the headline (which is all that is shown in some news feeds), or even just the headline plus the beginning of the lede (which might be all that is shown on most other feeds), is bound to come away with the impression -- as I did -- that once again, those vicious, violent, bloodthirsty American soldiers were firing indiscriminately, wildly shooting at anything that moves, and they killed a bunch of innocent victims. Again.
But the reality is that the Americans did not make any mistake: They simply returned fire when fired upon, an action always allowed of any unit in any combat zone... even the Dutch can do that much!

By: Brant

Which costs more, contractor or soldier?

Popular Mechanics (yes, I know...) has an interesting analysis on the cost of contractors vs soldiers in a war zone:
The CBO used similar-size Army units to compare with private guards and found that sergeants in combat earn as much as $190 per day while private firms charge a staggering $1200 per day. Both the private security and U.S. military figures include costs like transportation and equipment, but the military statistic excludes large costs such as disability benefits, retirement and healthcare. The CBO determined that the actual costs are similar, in part because the Pentagon must pay for reserve units to replace the soldiers who are leaving.

Not all the math is 100% correct, but it's there to see.

Basically, contractors cost a lot more in the short term, but a lot less in the long term because you have no long-term obligations for health care, retirement pensions, etc. You can also add and subtract as many as needed as fast as needed, without regard for Congressional troop ceilings and all the administrivia you get with people joining the military. The downside, of course, is that they tend to perform to a wide range of standards.

By: Brant

Chinese finally doing something with their aircraft carrier?

Gahlrahn posted some updates about the nascent Chinese aircraft carrier Varyag.

View Larger Map

Additionally, the Chinese are cutting a deal to train their naval pilots in the Ukraine.

And the eventuality of Chinese naval power projection seems inevitable, even if it's not always well-orchestrated.

Varyag at Wikipedia.
Varyag at FAS.org
All things Varyag at its own website.

By: Brant

09 December 2008

More Than One Way To Skin A Cat...

In the "There's More Than One Way To Skin A Cat" Category, shipping company and cruise ship owner Hapag-Lloyd has announced that it will disembark passengers on the MS Columbus and fly them over pirate-infested waters near Somalia. It isn't clear what port the passengers will fly from, but they are scheduled to rejoin the MS Columbus in Oman for the remainder of their "round-the-world" cruise.

By: GladiusMagnus

08 December 2008

Putting jobs ahead of soldier performance

(this one's made its rounds on the web quite a bit today - blackfive.net, defensetech, etc - but we've added some perspective because, hey, we're cool like that).

So we've got the latest installment of the Congressional Jobs Program Follies. Unlike previous attempts to shamelessly use the DoD as a local-jobs program, these guys openly admit to requesting earmarks to keep jobs in Congressional Districts rather than allowing the DoD to steer purchases toward more effective soldier solutions.
The Defense Department bought huge stockpiles of Rohm and Haas' resin in 2005 and 2006, enough to last through 2012, said Douglas Bryce, second in command of the DOD's joint chemical- and biological-defense office.
After the large purchases of resin, the military didn't include funding for M291 kits in its budget because the product was being phased out, Bryce said.
But members of Congress had different plans. Staffers for Sens. Clinton and Schumer met with Daniel Kohn, president of Truetech, a Riverhead, N.Y., company that mixed the powder from the resin and produced the kits.
"In self-defense, we've gone to our representatives in Congress and we've said: 'You know, let's lay our cards on the table — we're in business to provide a living and jobs in your district,' " Kohn said in a recent interview.
Clinton, Schumer and others added a $2 million earmark to the 2007 defense bill, instructing the military to buy M291 kits.
In March 2007, the Defense Department gave all branches of the service the go-ahead to buy RSDL.
Although it hadn't intended to buy any more M291 kits, the military honored the earmark and bought more kits from Truetech and Pine Bluff Arsenal, a federal facility in Arkansas that assembles them. With its huge stockpile of resin, the military bought nothing from Rohm and Haas.
Rohm and Haas went back to Congress and got another $5.6 million earmark in the 2008 defense bill.

our italics
So these guys are willing to sacrifice the lives of soldiers in combat, all for the promise of a few jobs in local Congressional districts, and Congress buys it!

Of course, Lou Dobbs screamed loud and long about the Northrup/Airbus tanker deal, too:
(Representative Duncan) HUNTER: We'll get that when we send my provision in this bill when it goes up to the Senate in conference. The president's people will issue a statement. I hope at this point they've been pretty well bludgeoned by thousands of messages from the American people saying don't give those 100,000 jobs to Europe. If so, they won't object to it and we'll get this provision through.
(CNN Host Lou) DOBBS: Tell me how the geniuses at the United States Air Force, at the Pentagon, the Department of Defense and this administration managed to but Northrop Grumman into competition with Boeing, to put American contractors in competition with one another, and then turn it over to Airbus against whom we have charge in the World Trade Organization for subsidizing that business?
HUNTER: It's an old pattern, Lou. And what you do is if you're an American company, you partner up with a European company, just as they did on several other aircraft. And you go in as so-called partners where there's going to be some jobs created in America. But thousands and thousands of jobs created offshore, all with American dollars, all with American taxpayer money.

I emailed him my comments, which I'm sure he ignored.

The DoD jobs program also comes up every time there's a BRAC round, too.
In 2005, several targeted bases were the subject of Congressional opposition:
U.S. Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, called the recommendation a 'travesty and a strategic blunder of epic proportions on the part of the Defense Department.'

You know why, though, right? Not because Snowe is a national security expert or anything.
Her state has three installations on the list, including the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The New England Congressional whiners even tried to appeal directly to the President.

South Dakota got into the action that day, too. Of course, they won their argument to have a B1 base removed from the BRAC list.
'This is a great day for South Dakota, but we think it's a great day for America,' said Thune, adding that he spent more time lobbying base commissioners in the last three months than he had with his family.

And thus we end up remembering the the truth of government auditing
Federal accounting has always been primarily concerned with making sure money was spent as Congress directed - not with making sure it was spent wisely.

By: Brant

To Catch & Release Or Not? - That Is The Question

Pakistan has historically had a poor record when it comes to prosecuting bad guys. So it is that shortly after US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice visited the region in an attempt to cool things down, an arrest of the "mastermind" of the Mumbai attacks was announced. But the question hangs out there: will his arrest mean anything? Sounds of explosions and gunfire were reported, but that hardly indicates real intent. More often than not these types of arrests are symbolic, and the suspects are simply allowed to go free after the public's attention, in the form of international press coverage, has been distracted and moved on.

The real question may be whether the arrest of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the alleged mastermind of the attacks and operations head of Lashkar-e-Taiba will lead to a deeper investigation of Pakistan's intelligence service or will mearly result in lip service with his release when the weather turns warmer.

News coverage from London can be found here: http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/asia/article5305642.ece

By: GladiusMagnus

US Looking for Contract Security for Afghanistan

Hey - if you want to live and work on a FOB in Afghanistan, and occasionally get to shoot something - in self-defense only! - then Uncle Sam has a contract for you:
The contractor(s) shall provide all labor, supervision, equipment, materials, transportation and operations necessary to provide Armed Security Guards to include, but not limited to, the following: detecting, identifying, reporting, and guarding against threats related to unauthorized personnel, contraband, and instruments of damage, destruction, and information collection from entering the installation through the Entry Control Points (ECPs); conducting surveillance and counter-surveillance of the installation perimeter and vicinity from designated Perimeter Defensive Positions (PDPs) in order to prevent unauthorized personnel from gathering information or illegally entering the installation; employing the appropriate force to neutralize any threat from unauthorized individuals illegally attempting to enter the installation with the intent to harm personnel or damage facilities and equipment.

05 December 2008

Oh, what? Now you're outraged?

So apparently, BrickArms, who've been around for a few years, are suddenly attacting the ire of whiny adults with nothing better to focus their attention:
{numbers in brackets correspond to my comments below}

A Lego-style figurine resembling an Islamic terrorist strapped with explosives and made by a small American company has caused an uproar among Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
The controversial miniature figure, created by Seattle-based Will Chapman as part of his BrickArms military fighters line, is a bearded militant with a face-covering hood, a tiny toy assault rifle, a little grenade launcher and plastic bombs that can be attached to an explosives belt. {1}
The character is called "Bandit — Mr. White" and sells for $14.
The jarring toy has outraged the British Muslim organization known as the Ramadhan Foundation, which called the figurine "absolutely disgusting," according to Sky News.
The foundation's chief executive, Mohammed Shafiq, complained that the toy is "glorifying terrorism." {2}
"I don't think there's any difference between someone that shouts hatred through a megaphone and someone that creates a doll that glorifies terrorists," he told Sky. {3}
"As a parent myself, I'm going to teach my children respect for the law and respect for each and every community. These are the lessons parents should be giving to their children — not lessons about weapons and violence."
Chapman, a father of three who operates the company from the Seattle suburb of Redmond, Wash., bristles at the notion that he is celebrating terrorism.
"We do not sell an 'Osama bin Laden' miniature figure," he wrote in an e-mail to FOXNews.com. "We sell a generic bad guy minifigure with a Ninja scarf head wrap, the same minifigure that we have been selling for over a year now, {4} with no associated 'outrage.'

{1} Uh, those are grenades (see image below) and pretty much every soldier out there carries them, so why not the bad guys?
{2} Do the criminals in the LEGO police sets glorify crime? Why not have bad guys to chase around?
{3} Didn't realize LEGOs were dolls. Hmmm. And how is it 'glorifying' a terrorist if he's there to be a target dummy?
{4} What he said - it's been on the market for over a year. Why are you outraged now?

By: Brant

Travelin' back from IITSEC

We'll get ramped up by the end of the week... LongBlade might've been more active, too, but he was leading some local 4th-graders in an advance-to-the-rear.

By: Brant

04 December 2008

Crime of the Century

A Story of Suckers, Dupes, and Crooks

A 700 billion dollar bailout and 318 billion dollars in stimulus packages; a trillion dollars above and in addition to the normal federal budget, all geared toward rescuing our economy. This is a number so huge that it defies our ability to truly conceive of just how big it actually is. The entirety of our national net public debt is just over five trillion, to give that number some perspective.

So how did we get here in the first place? The answer is complex, and, sadly, is a tail of gross incompetence and criminal mismanagement. Yet it is critical that people understand how this happened. Therefore, allow me to guide you on a journey through some basic economics, some history, and some dot connecting.

Expectation, the Foundation of a Stable Economy

It is a basic tenet of economics that the reason monetary policy works is because when the central bank announces a planned action, it actually does that action. Because the management of interest rates is a prime mover of how people invest in the economy, if people believe that the central bank will do what it says it will do, they will behave according to the announced policy. There is a temptation, then, for a central bank to make an announcement, and then not follow through. This sort of behavior frequently happens in countries experiencing financial difficulties in order to get a short-term alteration in investment and spending behavior; usually where the central bank is controlled by the government. However, once the trust in the word of the bank is broken, uncertainty is introduced, as expectations can no longer be counted upon. At that point the economy begins to break down.

That expectations drive behavior is important to understand in the context of the current economic crisis. When the Fed announces an alteration in interest rates, our expectation is that said alteration will take place, thus, there is a great deal of trust in the American banking system.

For people in the US who are currently approaching retirement age or have already retired, the expectation throughout their business life has been that the return on safe investments, such as government bonds, savings and loans, and bank CDs, will be between 6 and 8 percent. This rate is essentially the Fed rate plus 2 percent. Because these investments were considered safe, people concentrated wealth in these investments in such a way that they could live on the interest returns in retirement, hopefully without digging into principal too much, and thus leaving an endowment to their next generation. These investments were made based upon the expectation that the returns on these investments would remain consistent.

The Tricky Business of Controlling Inflation

Those of you old enough to remember the 1970’s may remember a term coined in that era: stagflation. Up until that period, monetary policy was largely set based upon a device called the Phillips Curve. The Phillips Curve was a product of Keynesian economic thought, and held that there was a persistent negative relationship between unemployment and inflation. As one went up, the other went down.

The economic shock of the oil embargo during that decade caused a circumstance in which both inflation was high and growing, and so was unemployment; a situation which, according to the Phillips Curve, could not happen. As a result, economists such as Milton Friedman strongly criticized the use of government intervention to control the economy, and advocated a return to more market based economics. This situation gave rise to the monetarists, whose prime motivation in monetary policy was to control inflation. Those who remember the Volker recession of the 1980’s will recall that this was a recession induced by the Federal Reserve Bank solely in an effort to reduce inflation.

Since that time, the Fed has used monetary policy almost exclusively to keep inflation in check. Occasionally it would use interest rates to create economic stimulus, but only so long as inflation did not rise as a result.

The problem, of course, is how do you measure inflation? It is done by measuring changes in the price of a certain basket of goods that consumers typically purchase, called the Consumer Price Index. And here is where we experience our first disconnect between the Fed and consumers. The CPI is based upon the consumption of urban dwellers only. Furthermore, it is not strictly a cost of living index, but includes the prices of recreational and electronic goods, which have a known negative cost to value relationship. Thus, the increase in the cost of bread and milk is offset by the decrease in the cost of that computer you purchased two years ago. Thus, while you and I watch our rent, food, and medical costs climb through the roof, the inflation rate appears to remain low.

Some studies have shown that if inflation were measured today using the same basket of goods as used in the 1970’s, we would be experiencing double digit inflation. (A good article on why this is can be found at: http://www.creditwritedowns.com/2008/04/cpi-understates-inflation.html).

Because of the perception that we have had very little inflation in our economy, the Fed has been all to happy to stand on the economic accelerator by keeping interest low, pretty much since the mid-1990’s.

The Housing Boom (As in “Here, Hold This Grenade”)

It’s oft been said that the American dream is to own a home. In bygone years, it’s a dream typically reserved for people who are able to save. But when inflation rates are low, money is cheap and there is an abundance of it to lend. When money stays cheap, borrowing becomes easier, barriers to entry get lowered, and speculators enter the market. Under these conditions, prices rise.

In our case, money stayed cheap, and as a result housing boomed. Because the interest rates were set by the Fed at such low levels for such an extended period of time, people began to conceive of housing not as a long term investment in their family’s future, but as a short-term commodity investment based upon the anticipation that housing prices would continue to rise. And rise they did over a period of a number of years. Some houses saw as much as a doubling of price in only a few years, a tripling in less than ten.

Because of the confluence of the tremendous rise in the price of homes combined with the over-abundance of cheap loans and available cash, loans began to be structured in more and more creative (read riskier) ways. Hence the rise of stated-income (i.e. no disclosure of actual income) and interest only (until that bubble payment hits) loans. Such loans were made with the understanding that no-one would be in them for the long term. They were made exclusively on the speculation that housing prices would continue to rise.

Leveraging: Keep the Money Flowing

At this stage in the narrative a critical term must be explained; the concept of leveraging. Leveraging is essentially the borrowing of money for purposes of investing that money someplace in which the interest rate is higher than that at which it was originally borrowed. How much a bank is leveraged is a measure of how much it has borrowed for this purpose above its actual net worth.

In the case of the housing market, investment banks were borrowing money in order to invest it in the mortgage industry. Because low interest rates created a tremendous incentive to purchase housing, investment banks would borrow money at even lower rates to provide more available funding for home loans.

Here’s where we arrive at our first moral hazard. The incentive to maximize the return on these investments created an incentive to provide loans to riskier home purchasers because they could be charged a slightly higher interest rate. These riskier loans offset the lower rate loans, and thus made the overall mortgage backed investments look on the whole a lot better than they actually were. And, because of the influx of lendable cash, mortgage brokers were incentivized to generate borrowers and thus create loan deals that appeared attractive in the short-term and provide them to people who had utterly no hope of paying the loans in the long-term. It was simply expected that they could sell the property at a higher price in the very near term before they ran into problems.

Talk is Cheap, but Your Money is Worthless

So where did the investment banks get all this money to pump into mortgage backed investments? Remember all the folks at the beginning of this narrative who had invested all their lives in safe places?

When the interest rates are lowered, returns on investments like CDs and so forth also go down. This is not so bad if the rates are lowered for a short period, but when they stay low over a period of years, the returns that retirees expected to live on go down. In this case, way down. Those who invested all their lives expecting to see a return of 6 or 8 percent actually saw returns of around 2 percent. That 60 or 70 thousand a year they expected to retire on is now around 20. So people who made these investments are left with a stark choice: either eat away at the principle or find a new place to invest.

When interest rates are low, money has no value, thus it’s difficult to find safe places to invest that will pay a return worth the trouble. Because retired people have no capacity to recover losses, the stock market is no option. Their only option was the only game in town: IRAs.

An IRA, or Individual Retirement Account, is a form of retirement account that offers certain tax advantages, and gives the investor some control over where their funds are invested. And, dressed up as a bond investment, was the only high-paying secure rated investment around: mortgage-backed securities. Some IRA accounts were vested as highly as 80 percent in these securities.

Which gets us to our first mystery of criminal proportion. These investments were all rated AAA by the rating companies. This is despite the fact that in order to get the leveraged returns, the return rate depended upon the provision of riskier home loans to people whose only hope of staying solvent was a continued housing boom and the sale of their home within a year or two.

Unfortunately for investors, this information was either not disclosed, or obscured by the exuberance of salesmen anxious to cash in on the boom.

Expectation: Another Word for Trust

So let’s recap from the perspective of the safe investor. After working all of his adult life and investing steadily in safe places with the expectation that the return would be a consistent 6 to 8 percent, finds at the end, when he can no longer recoup losses, that his returns are no longer high enough to continue to live on.

But still trusting in the system, our safe investor seeks an alternative place to put his nest egg and finds it in IRAs vested heavily in mortgage backed securities disguised as bonds. They are rated AAA by rating agencies, so he has no need to fear volatility because he has an expectation that the ratings are trustworthy.

Nevertheless, the entirely predictable housing bubble collapse occurs, as the risky loans begin to turn into foreclosures. As this begins to happen, returns on investments in mortgage backed securities decline as the higher risk/higher interest loans begin to default. And what happens when the returns begin to decline? Divestiture by short-term investors (these folks are not our retirees, but money movers playing the markets).

Very rapidly we start to see bank failures. One must ask at this stage why the decrease in returns in a single market, mortgage backed securities, could have such a profound affect on the solvency of banks. As it turns out, it’s due to leveraging. Typically your local depository bank only leverages a maximum of fifteen times its net worth, usually in a broad portfolio. But as it turned out, investment banks such as Bear Stearns, Lehman Brothers, etc. were leveraged out as much as 35 times their net worth, mostly in mortgage backed securities. If that’s not bad enough, Freddie Mac was leveraged 70 times its net worth. By leveraging themselves so far into a single market, these investment banks were left holding the bag once the investment returns began to decrease and divestiture accelerated.

By now the trust of our secure investor has been violated three times: first by the expectation on return to his initial investment due to the past behavior of the Federal Reserve, next by the investment rating houses, then by the investment banks themselves. But then it really starts to get ugly.

And complicated. The first investment bank to have trouble is Bear Sterns. As we all know, they were the first to receive a federal bailout, setting up a new expectation. When the bailout occurred, bond values held though the firm actually increased in value. But then came Lehman Brothers.

Lehman Brothers was the next investment bank to experience liquidity problems, but in their case, the federal bailout was not forthcoming. Investors who saw what happened at Bear Sterns had reason to feel safe with the expectation that if anything happened to their investment bank, they would get bailed out as well. They were wrong. Here’s where things get complex… and murky.

The composition of the bonds is not only mortgage backed securities, but all kinds of other debt as well, such as student loans, and so forth. Thus, a bond can hold pieces of many different forms of debt, and many different instances of those debts. This is further complicated by the fact that portions of these bonds can be divided among several investors. There is no real visibility by the investor into exactly what the composition of the bond is.

The value of these bonds is stated as a mark to market. The stated value in the case of mortgage backed securities is the current appraised market value, which in this case, is the value of the cash revenue of people making payments. Because of that usage, the real value of these securities is continually in flux. If they go up, it was a good year and the government collects taxes. If they go down, they become write-offs. When the higher-risk mortgages began to default, the mark to market value of those securities went to zero. That does not mean that there is no asset, the house still exists after all and has some value, but because the borrower had stopped making payments, the value of the security became nothing.

When the mark to market value of those securities went to zero, Lehman Brothers experienced a liquidity problem. In other words, it no longer had enough cash to cover its debt obligations (that of the investor). For reasons that still remain a mystery, the US government apparently used a magic eight-ball to determine whether these investments were worth protecting. When no bailout was forthcoming, Lehman Brothers went into Chapter 11 Bankruptcy, and sold the assets to an investment group at eight cents on the dollar.

The investment group then turned to the insurer, since these bonds were, after all, insured, to make up the other 92 cents. The insurance company defaulted. By now we all know that the government then bailed out insurance giant AIG to the tune of 160 billion dollars. What we don’t know is where that bailout money went. Those who were invested in Lehman Brothers are getting nothing. Their bonds still have some value, but no one is too excited about cashing in at eight cents on the dollar. Meanwhile, the insurance and investment groups are now engaged in an exercise in trying to figure out exactly what the value of the securities actually is. Remember how mark to market values are determined? The process could take years and those unlucky enough to have had expectations of consistent government behavior can do nothing but sit on their hands and hope the process gets resolved. Meanwhile, ninety percent of their investment in AAA bonds has evaporated.

Trust violation number four is the failure of government to act consistently in its bailout policy, causing people to leave their investments alone when divestiture at a higher value would have been a sounder move. Trust violation number five is the bailout of insurance companies who then continue to default on the assets which they insured with no government directive to the contrary.

Solve the Problem: Screw the People

One critical element to remember in all of this is that a huge portion of our national savings resides in pension plans and retirement accounts. This is money that typically seeks safe investments. Why that is is easy to understand: once you retire you cannot recoup losses. The owners of these assets have had their trust in the system violated on a monumental scale. And now they see that in order to fix the system, unheard of amounts of money are being handed to the very people who violated their trust in the first place. It’s simply astonishing that anyone wonders why there is no credit available. When every safe investment has been taken away, then huge portions of asset portfolios are bilked, and perpetrators are handed huge sums of money in reward, what could possibly be a motivation to reinvest in the system?

Sadly, you’re not going to find many details of this event in the American press. Simply stated, American journalists are not sophisticated, educated, or even smart enough to put any of this together. Sadly, you’ll have to look to the foreign news sources like the London Times to find the details of all this.

At any point in time the Federal Reserve Chairman could have put a stop to this by bringing interest rates back up to a reasonable level. Instead, now they’ve lowered them even further, and soon to be lowered to zero. Not surprisingly, it’s not working. The federal government is pumping a trillion dollars into bailouts and stimulus packages. It, too, is not working and is unlikely to.

The reason is all too obvious. Our economy is in this situation due to either colossal incompetence or through colossal corruption; more likely a colossal amount of both. The only real solution is the restoration of trust, and trust requires accountability. So far we have had none of that.

The people who rated mortgage backed securities as AAA bonds either committed fraud or were criminally negligent. They need to be held accountable.

The Federal Reserve Chairmen who continued to keep interest rates ridiculously low over such long periods despite fore-knowledge that the CPI grossly underestimates the actual rate of inflation in the cost of living, and that these rates were causing a runaway boom in the housing industry should be investigated for corruption and held responsible for driving retirement savings out of secure investments and into investment banks.

The investment bank captains who leveraged their firms way beyond a reasonable amount (and paid themselves ridiculous salaries to boot, see this piece on Robert Rubin: http://online.wsj.com/article_email/SB122826632081174473-lMyQjAxMDI4MjA4MzIwNjM2Wj.html) violated the trust of their investors and must be held accountable.

The politicians who only two years ago were praising Freddie Mac, and legislated the seeds of this fiasco are just as, if not more, responsible than anyone else by cheering on the train wreck while it was happening instead of taking steps to halt it. And now they think the solution is to increase our net national debt by 20 percent in one fell swoop and hand the windfall to the very people who put us here to begin with.

Expectations are the key to a stable economy, and only trust in the system allows for reliable expectations. If we expect the system to be untrustworthy, and at this stage that should be exactly our expectation, then our economy cannot recover. Trust is the problem and accountability is the solution. So long as there is none of the latter, there will be none of the former.

By: Jon Compton

03 December 2008

Live "TV" from IITSEC


By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 comments

Sorry about the picture quality and the sideways video. I have a hate-hate relationship with my cell phone. It hates being useful, and I just hate it.

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 Take 4

Because wat the world *needs* is one more flight simulator...

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 Take 3.1

More from VR walkthru

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 Take 3

The VR walk-around that allows you to 'operate' in 'real' terrain. Red lights arund the top edge indicate 'live' action. Overhead screens show what the players see. more pics to follow.

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 Take 2

The PEO-STRI booth insists that they haven't made a decision to buy VBS2 as their FPS-level sim. But every STRI computer is running VBS2 or a bolt-on to it. You be the judge.

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 3 Take 1

Because nothing says "military-grade simulator" like a girl dancing around in a skin-tight black bodysuit.

By: Brant

VICE combat trainer

Training in a VR-ish FPS game with an actual rifle as input device.

Sorry the video is sideways... see post above about my phone.

By: Brant

01 December 2008

IITSEC Day 1, Take 2

I just saw one of the absolutely stupidest things I think I've ever seen in the military...

The FCS guys are convinced that it's a good idea to have AKO connectivity in the FCS vehicles to download digital training into the tracks and control it from the vehicle. That's fine if you just want to do some switchology training or something in the motor pool. But these guys want to train for the mission while en route to the mission. That's right - switch your sights over to the simulator view while road-marching to your target! Who needs local security! And what E3 won't be using the AKO connection to send a letter home when he should be scanning a sector of fire. Man - who comes up with this crap?!

By: Brant

IITSEC Day 1, Take 1

OK< so we get our badges at 830 or so... and the exhibit hall doesn't open until 2pm (!). Off to Borders!

By: Brant

30 November 2008


Brant's live at I/ITSEC all week!

By: Brant

BREAKING: Somali Pirates Cut Deal For Ukrainian Arms Ship

The Ukrainians have apparently paid off the pirates for their arms tanker, according to CNN:
Pirates have reached a deal with the owners of a Ukrainian ship loaded with arms that was seized more than two months ago, an official with the Kenya Seafarers Association said Sunday.
'A deal has been reached to free the MV Faina. Talks on how to deliver the ransom money are ongoing,' Andrew Mwangura of the association told CNN.
It is not clear how long those talks will take, but the ship could be freed as soon as an agreement has been reached.
The ship, which is laden with Soviet-era tanks, tank artillery shells, grenade launchers and small arms, was seized on September 25.
It was heading for Kenya, whose government had bought the weapons from Ukraine, Ukrainian Defense Minister Yuri Yekhanurov said, according to the Interfax-Ukraine news agency.

By: Brant

26 November 2008

BREAKING: Terror Attack in Mumbai, India

Gunmen have attacked a handful of locations in Mumbai. No word yet on total casualties, but initial reports are 15-20.

By: Brant

Russians stirring the Ossetian pot again?

Are the Russians stirring up more trouble in Georgia?:
Human Rights Watch says Ossetian militias are attacking and harassing ethnic Georgians in the breakaway province of South Ossetia.
The New York-based group blames Russia for not doing more to control to the militias, which are largely allied with Russian troops.
The group said in a statement Wednesday that the militias are 'running wild' in the Akhalgori district. The report documented two attacks that left ethnic Georgians hurt but did not provide details on any other deaths or injuries.
Akhalgori was controlled by the central Georgian government before Russian troops and Ossetian forces occupied it during the August war between the two countries.
Russia's Foreign Ministry says requests for comment must be submitted in writing.

By: Brant

25 November 2008

Taking a Break

Most of us are being invaded by in-laws for Thanksgiving.
News will be light for the next few days.

24 November 2008

"Surge" for Afghanistan - numbers, yes; same strategy? Not likely

SecDef is making plans to beef up troop numbers in Afghanistan, regardless of the expected transition team and their new policies:
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that he supports a fresh troop buildup in Afghanistan -- officially estimated at more than 20,000 U.S. troops in the next 12 to 18 months -- to fight a growing insurgency and to safeguard the 2009 Afghan elections. But he stressed that in the long run the conflict should be 'Afghanistan's war.'
'The violence is up,' Gates said. 'It's clear there is a need for more [troops] to try to deal with this increased security problem,' he told reporters traveling with him to a meeting of defense leaders in Canada.
Gates said he intends to meet the requests of top U.S. commanders in Afghanistan for an increase of four more combat brigades and an aviation brigade, as well as thousands of support troops -- a total reinforcement of 'well north of 20,000' in the coming year and a half, said Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell.
The troops would deploy primarily to eastern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, where the 3rd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division is headed in January, as well as to southern Afghanistan, where the Taliban insurgency is based.

By: Brant

F35 sales growing

Norway has decided on the F35 JSF as their next upgrade for their air force:
Despite being defeated against the F-35 in Norway, by merely contesting its claimed dominance Saab gained significant recognition in its Gripen NG, being a viable alternative to the future US 5th Generation fighter
After reconsidering its future fighter procurement, and evaluating a possible procurement of a future version of the JAS-39 Saab Gripen NG, Norway decided that the only candidate which could meet all the future operational requirements set by the Royal Norwegian Air Force 'Future Combat Aircraft Capability' requirement will be the 5th generation Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning II.

Quite a bit of discussion about it over here

By: Brant

Pirate Insurance = Growth Market

There's insurance for everything else, so why not piracy? And it seems to be growing in popularity and necessity:
There are three tiers of pirate protection for every vessel. The price is set the same way any other insurance rate is: by a calculation of risk. The ship's key statistics -- size of ship, size of crew, length of journey, transport route, docking port, etc. -- are weighed and evaluated.
First, there's the basic hull insurance, which insures damage to the ship and its cargo from 'marine perils.' There's some debate about whether this covers damage incurred from a pirate attack, so there's another plan -- the ominously named 'war policy' -- that is sure to protect you from violent damage. Just to be safe, there's also a kidnapping and ransom policy -- 'K&R' to those in the nautical know -- that insures against losses of what the pirates are really after: money. Portfolio magazine has reported that K&R premiums at one leading insurer, Hiscox, are now 10 times the price they were a year ago, but Hiscox declined to confirm or deny that number to me. Brendan Flood, a member of Hiscox's marine staff, did confirm that 'quite clearly rates have gone up' over the last six to nine months. None of the companies I interviewed for this story would share hard numbers on how much it costs to take out any of the insurance policies.

Also, Kenya is trying to get an anti-piracy conference underway:
The Kenyan government says it is willing to host an international conference that brings world leaders together to tackle the problem of piracy off the coast of Somalia. The announcement follows numerous warnings from analysts that the piracy situation is likely to get worse unless the world also recognizes the root causes of it.

By: Brant

British reservations about NATO expansion?

The Guardian tends to be a bit skeptical of entangling treaties, but the attitude in this commentary toward NATO expansion seems to be gaining some traction:
I don't know when the British cabinet last discussed the role of Nato. I suspect things may not be much different to the time I was in cabinet in the 1970s, when there would be a brief report from the foreign secretary on recent foreign developments and only rarely a discussion in depth.
I am fairly sure that the last-minute decision of David Miliband to go to Kiev at the end of August was not discussed by the cabinet beforehand. I have already publicly questioned whether it was wise, despite best intentions.
As we approach the December meeting of Nato foreign ministers we should carefully consider whether, in promising to support membership of Nato to Georgia and the Ukraine, we really want to bind ourselves to article five of Nato's charter which commits members to come to those countries' defence. Nato's charter essentially bound the US and Canada to western Europe – "one for all and all for one". It was and remains a defensive shield, binding all of us together.
I can understand why Russians are concerned about the relentless eastward expansion of Nato. How could this growth continue without provoking Russia? It feels betrayed by the west over its abandonment of assurances given in the early 1990s that the alliance would not be enlarged. Agreement in principle to site bases in the Czech Republic and Poland has been the last straw. What is surprising is that retaliation has taken so long.
No sensible person would want to return to the cold war, and President Dmitry Mevedev's recent comments are not only most unhelpful but mean that there will be a counter-move from Russia.
Miliband is reported as having said on his Kiev visit, "It is clear to me, standing here today, that this is a European country," adding that "once it fulfils the criteria, it should be accepted as a full member, and we should help you get there".
Really. Justifying membership from an applicant country's viewpoint is one thing. But embracing new members requires careful consideration of whether it is in the interests of existing members to accept them. It is the British interest, and the interests of other existing members, that should be at the forefront of such considerations.

By: Brant

23 November 2008

Syria thinks the rest of us are idiots

Syria is trying to deny that Israel hit a nuke site and hoping the world buys it:
Syria said Friday a building bombed by Israeli planes last year was not a covert nuclear reactor, as Washington stuck to its allegations which it said was borne in a findings by the UN nuclear watchdog.
"We are talking about military bases, we are talking about military activities," Ibrahim Othman, the head of Syria's Atomic Energy Commission, told reporters after IAEA inspectors briefed members about their first visit to the site in June.
Earlier on Friday, the US envoy to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Gregory Schulte, had said the initial findings of the inspectors' visit had served to harden the suspicions against Syria.
A four-page report circulated to IAEA board members on Wednesday "reinforces the assessment of my government that Syria was secretly building a nuclear reactor in its eastern desert and thereby violating its IAEA safeguards obligations," Schulte said.
"The report sharply contradicts a number of Syria's claims and catalogues Syria's repeated refusal to answer IAEA questions.

By: Brant

Brits went (too?) hands-off in Basra

Iraqis are opening up with criticism of the way the Brits handled Basra:
In an interview with The Daily Telegraph, Major Gen Mohammed Jawad Humeidi said it was too soon for UK forces to be pulled out and called for the Americans to step in.
He also criticised the lack of support from British forces during the early days of the decisive Charge of Knights operation when the Iraqi army defeated Basra's Jaish al Mahdi (JAM) insurgents.
The officer suggested too that he would be content to see the British replaced by American troops when they withdraw from southern Iraq in the coming months.
In an interview at the newly opened Basra Operations Centre from which the Iraqi army and police will control the city, Gen Mohammed had little praise for the British presence in Basra since 2003.
While the Iraqis have an excellent working relationship with the British Army and are grateful for the superior military training they received, Gen Mohammed was openly critical of how JAM was able to take key positions at all levels of government.

By: Brant

22 November 2008

Pakistan declaring war on US UAVs?

So apparently the Paki's are hoping to use US UAVs as target practice:
The Pakistani military's reaction to the unmanned U.S. Predator airstrikes in its northwest would be funny were it not that al Qaeda is plotting their next attack on the West from there. Supposedly outraged over the U.S. violations of its sovereignty, the Army has conducted exercises to shoot down the Predators.
Here's a suggestion: Deploy the anti-aircraft batteries in Wana in South Waziristan and Miramshah in North Waziristan. The vast majority of the U.S. strikes take place in these towns. This happens for good reason: the Haqqani family and Taliban forces under Baitullah Mehsud, Mullah Nazir, Hafiz Gul Bahadar, and a host of other minor Taliban leaders and their al Qaeda allies openly operate in these areas.
While the Pakistani Army is at it, try deploying ground forces along with the air defense units and take down these networks. If they really want the airstrikes to stop, that is the best solution.

Given that we don't even admit to flying the UAVs over there, what would we say if they did accidentally knock one down?

By: Brant

Bad News in US Army Future?

Andrew Krepinevich - a really smart guy on defense - has recently released a report that is critical of the near-term future of the US Army:
Krepinevich's report is titled "An Army at the Crossroads." But a more appropriate title would have been an "Army in Crisis." In the report he writes: "[The Army] risks a catastrophic leadership failure of a kind not seen since the late stages of the Vietnam War, a failure that took the Army over a decade to repair."
His central message is alarming: the quality of the Army's soldiers is in sharp decline, from enlisted personnel to NCOs to officers. It's a "particularly discouraging" trend for the Army as it is happening despite the service's "increasingly aggressive" use of financial incentives including bonuses and a salary increase of 33 percent between 1999 and 2005.
The Army has lowered standards to fill recruitment quotas, including weight and body fat restrictions, number of high school graduates and is allowing in more recruits with moral waivers. Krepinevich sees troubling signs of a repeat of the Vietnam era "shake-and-bake" sergeants, with the widespread promotion of inexperienced enlisted soldiers ill suited to the challenge of leading small units in combat.
The officer corps is also dropping in quality. Of the nearly 1,000 cadets from the West Point class of 2002, 58 percent are no longer on active duty. The Army is forced to pull soldiers from the ranks who have not graduated college and send them to OCS. Today, over 98 percent of eligible captains are promoted to major. The number of involuntary "stop loss" extensions has increased, by 43 percent between 2007 and 2008. Nearly half of those affected are NCOs.

By: Brant

China pooh-poohs the coming cyberwar

After the recent spate of attacks on US networks, the DoD released a statement that the Chinese are discounting. What? You expected them to fess up or something?:
China has denounced a U.S. congressional panel that issued a report accusing it of stepping up computer espionage attacks on the American government, its defense contractors and businesses.
The U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission, a congressional advisory panel, also said in an annual report to lawmakers that aggressive Chinese space programs were allowing Beijing to better target U.S. military forces.
In a statement issued late Friday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin Gang rejected the findings, dismissing them as 'not worthy of rebuttal.'
The commission 'deliberately slanders and attacks China' and always sees it in a bad light, Qin said. 'It attempts to mislead public opinion and the general public as well as set obstacles for Sino-U.S. cooperation in extensive fields.'

Great coverage of the computer virus/worm attack this week over at Danger Room:
Military USB Ban Meant to Stop 'Adversary Attacks' | Danger Room from Wired.com
Under Worm Assault, Military Bans Disks, USB Drives | Danger Room from Wired.com


By: Brant

Hey! We're sending the Navy to Georgia!

No, this time we're talking about the other Georgia, and the US Navy making a 'scheduled' visit:
The American embassy in Georgia says a U.S. Navy destroyer is making a routine visit to the country's port of Batumi.
The USS Barry is the latest U.S. warship to visit the Caucasus country since its August war with Russia.
An embassy spokesman says the ship is part of U.S. Navy's 6th Fleet based in Naples, Italy, and arrived Saturday at the Black Sea port. The official spoke on customary condition of anonymity.
He says the ship is not carrying humanitarian or military aid, and he dismissed speculation that the visit was timed to coincide with next week's arrival of Russian warships in Venezuela.

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By: Brant

20 November 2008

Paying off the Somalis...

So apparently piracy is turning out to be a potentially lucrative career move:
Somali pirates released two hijacked ships after ransoms were paid, U.S. military officials said Thursday. The deals emerged as Britain warned that paying for the release of hostages risks encouraging more piracy.
NBC News reported that the Great Creation, a Hong Kong-flagged chemical tanker seized on Sept. 18, was released after a $1.67 million ransom was paid. The Genius, another Hong Kong-flagged chemical tanker which was hijacked Sept. 26, was also returned in exchange for an unknown sum.
Earlier this week, pirates released the Stolt Valor, a Japanese chemical tanker after paying hijackers $2.5 million.

You comments below!

By: Brant

Iran's Navy Beefing up Bases

Iran's navy adds another base along the Persian Gulf:
The Islamic Revolution Guards Corps (IRGC) has upgraded a naval base on Iran's Persian Gulf coastline to improve its defensive capabilities.
It is the fourth in a string of IRGC bases along the waterway. IRGC was put in charge of defending Iran's Persian Gulf coast in September.
The new base is in the port of Assalouyeh in Iran's southern Bushehr province. It will control a 190-mile (300-kilometer) stretch of coastline west of the strait between Kish Island and the port of Dayyer.
IRGC's Navy Commander Rear Admiral Morteza Saffari said here on Monday that the US Navy Fifth Fleet and other foreign naval forces were operating near the Sarrallah naval base, which he said was near Assalouyeh on the Persian Gulf coast.
'Therefore, it was necessary to upgrade Sarrallah naval base ... to increase our military capability in case of any instability caused by foreigners in the Persian Gulf,' Saffari.
The US Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain, over the Persian Gulf from Iran.

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By: Brant