31 March 2014

Ukraine 3/31: The Russian Gov't Now Indistinguishable From The Mob

So now there's a report that Russia "threatened" some African and European countries before the UN Vote on Crimea to try to "sway" some votes their way. So some reporters over at the New York Times went hunting for a comment from the Russians. This is what they got

A spokesman for Russia's Mission to the U.N. denied that Moscow threatened any country with retaliation if it supported the resolution, saying: "We never threaten anyone. We just explain the situation."

I love it.

The robbing you of your wallet isn't threatening you with that gun. He's "explain[ing] the situation".

The bookie calling in your gambling debt isn't threatening to break your kneecaps. He's "explain[ing] the situation".

If only The Sopranos had lasted another few years.

Ukraine 3/30: The Speed Bumps on the Border

If the Russian Hordes come over the borderthere won't be much to stop them.

They know Russian tanks would make short work of their ramshackle defenses and shallow trenches. But with U.S. and Europe shrinking from the fight, this rag-tag band of civilian volunteers know they could be the first, last and only line of defense if Moscow rolls into this corner of northeast Ukraine.
"We can't expect help from anybody else. Our own government is too passive. But hopefully we can rely on support from ordinary Ukrainians," Vladimir Fedorok told CNN on a blustery morning close to the Ukrainian border village of Senkivka.
In more peaceful times, Fedorok runs a farm supplies company. Now, with Russia estimated to be massing up to 88,000 troops just across the border from Ukraine's eastern frontier, he finds himself marshaling a newly formed self-defense committee. They're setting up an outpost along the highway that cuts from the Ukrainian-Russian border to the Ukraine's interior.
He and his closest aides, Younis and Olec, are clad in British Army-issue uniforms from the Iraq "Desert Storm" campaign. They still bear the Union Jack insignia on the left sleeve.
"We picked them up at the bazaar. I've no idea how they got there. Including my boots, I paid around 100 euros," Fedorok said. Other members of his self-defense unit are sporting surplus combat jackets and pants from other European militaries.
All of the volunteers say they have some army training from time spent doing military service. Fedorok said they've also been getting refresher courses from friendly Ukrainian army officers in recent days. Two members of the group claim -- like an unspecified number of other Ukrainian nationalists -- to have fought alongside Muslim insurgents against the Russians in Chechnya.

28 March 2014

Ukraine 3/28: UN Disapproves, Russia Shrugs

The UN has resoundingly disapproved of the Russian annexation of Crimea, and Russia doesn't seem to give two shits.

The UN General Assembly on Thursday adopted a Western-backed resolution declaring Crimea's breakaway referendum illegitimate and refusing to recognize Russia's annexation of the peninsula.

The non-binding measure passed with a comfortable majority in the 193-member body, with 100 votes in favor and 11 votes against. But 58 abstained and more than 20 did not vote.

Ukraine, which drafted the resolution, welcomed its adoption and called for a "stronger and more concrete" united, international front against Russian aggression.

"I'm very much satisfied with the vote... (an) overwhelming majority of nations in the world supported this resolution," acting Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya said.

He had urged the international community to back the text, hoping an overwhelming show of support would ward off further Russian intervention on Ukrainian territory.

"I am convinced that a strong vote today will help to deter further aggressive moves," Deshchytsya told the assembly.

"It sends an essential message that the international community will not allow what has happened in Crimea to set a precedent to further challenges to our rules."

Western diplomats wanted a strong majority vote to press home what they say is Russia's isolation, but there had been fears that a high number of countries would abstain.

Moscow's UN envoy Vitaly Churkin claimed the vote was a "moral victory" for Russian diplomacy, saying that "almost half" the UN membership refused to support the resolution.

27 March 2014

Ukraine 3/27: Russia Gets Custody; No Visitation for Ukraine

I wonder if the dolphins care which navy is bossing them around, though I can't help but chuckle at the possibility that they'd lead a Russian ship into a minefield.

Just when you thought this divorce couldn't get any messier.
Weeks after Russia annexed Ukraine's Crimea region, it plans to take custody of the nation's dolphins as well.

Not just any dolphins. Highly-trained military flippers that detect risks such as sea mines or enemy scuba divers trying to slip through. Sea mines are sophisticated weapons that can sink ships and other water craft.

"The combat dolphin program in the Crimean city of Sevastopol will be preserved and redirected toward the interests of the Russian navy," state-run Ria Novosti reported Thursday.

Dolphins are a crucial part of open water security. They detect sounds and objects in murky waters that human beings can't, making them uniquely effective at highlighting dangers on the sea floor.

Ukraine was using outdated military equipment for the dolphin program and planned to disband it next month, according to Ria Novosti.

The Ukraine defense ministry told CNN that the nation has an ocean dolphin facility, but declined to provide details, saying it's classified.

The dolphin program dates to the 1960s when Russia and Ukraine were part of the Soviet Union, but was handed over to Kiev after independence, Ria Novosti said.

26 March 2014

Sigh. Institutionalizing Perpetual Idiocy Again

By creating an office for enforcing "professionalism" instead of demanding it from subordinates and firing those that don't exhibit it, we're now ensuring that every subordinate command can now wash their hands of this - "It's not my job; that's for the Senior Advisor for Military Professionalism!"

How much you want to bet that this office grows to 20-25 folks at O-5 or higher and becomes impossible to kill in subsequent budget fights.

Today I am announcing that Navy Rear Admiral Margaret "Peg" Klein will serve as my Senior Advisor for Military Professionalism, reporting directly to me on issues related to military ethics, character, and leadership.

I appreciate Rear Admiral Klein's willingness to take on this new assignment. She brings to the position a wealth of operational and leadership experience, including command responsibilities at various levels throughout the Navy community. Having served as the 82nd Commandant of Midshipmen at the U.S. Naval Academy, she knows that ethics and character are absolute values that must be constantly reinforced.

Rear Admiral Klein will coordinate the actions of the Joint Staff, the Combatant Commands, and each of the military services - working directly with the Service Secretaries and the Service Chiefs - on DoD's focus on ethics, character, and competence in all activities at every level of command with an uncompromising culture of accountability. This will continue to be a top priority for DoD's senior leadership.

Make people do their f'n' jobs and fire the ones that don't, instead of engineering around the problem and institutionalizing the idea that enforcing standards doesn't belong to the chain of command.

25 March 2014

G4s Profiled in the Newest Vanity Fair Magazine

William Langewiesche previously wrote one of the best analyses of the post-Cold-War, pre-9/11 military you'll ever read. Now he's back with a look inside G4S, "the Contractors Who Go Where Governments and Armies Can’t—or Won’t" as the world's largest PMC.

G4S is based near London and is traded on the stock exchange there. Though it remains generally unknown to the public, it has operations in 120 countries and more than 620,000 employees. In recent years it has become the third-largest private employer in the world, after Walmart and the Taiwanese manufacturing conglomerate Foxconn. The fact that such a huge private entity is a security company is a symptom of our times. Most G4S employees are lowly guards, but a growing number are military specialists dispatched by the company into what are delicately known as “complex environments” to take on jobs that national armies lack the skill or the will to do. Booyse, for one, did not dwell on the larger meaning. For him, the company amounted to a few expatriates in the Juba headquarters compound, a six-month contract at $10,000 a month, and some tangible fieldwork to be done. He felt he was getting too old to be living in tents and mucking around in the dirt, but he liked G4S and believed, however wearily, in the job. As he set out for the west, his team consisted of seven men—four de-miners, a driver, a community-liaison officer, and a medic. The medic was a Zimbabwean. All the others were soldiers of the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, the S.P.L.A., now seconded to G4S, which paid them well by local standards—about $250 a month. At their disposal they had two old Land Cruisers, one of them configured as an ambulance with a stretcher in the back.

So Norway's Military Is More Integrated Than The US? And...?

So Norway's unisex barracks sound great, but maybe it's just that their folks are bit more mature and even-keeled than Americans. Most of the troops I know would be giggling like 11-year-old neanderthals at the suggestion.

It may sound like a counter-intuitive move, but the Norwegian Army’s decision to make females share bedrooms with their male colleagues has actually led to a drop in sexual harassment.

The unisex dorms, housing two women and four men, have been tried out at a military base in northern Norway. Ulla-Britt Lilleaas, co-author of the report The Army: The Vanguard, Rear Guard and Battlefield of Equality, said that the experience helped the women become “one of the boys.”

One of the women was surprised to find that sharing a room made gender differences less relevant.

“You have to be a team here, and then you have to live together in order to be able to trust in one another,” she said.

The Norwegian armed forces have previously distinguished themselves for progressive ideas such as allowing male recruits to grow their hair long (as long as it’s kept in a pony-tail or braids) and serving vegetarian meals once a week. In 2013, Norway became the first NATO country to make military service compulsory for both genders.

I've said for years that gender integration in the military is a matter of maturity, something that American culture has been failing at more and more over the past 3 decades.

Anniversary: The Great Escape

Out in Poland, RAF officers marched to celebrate the anniversary of The Great Escape

A group of 50 British air force officers are marching from the site of a Nazi prisoner camp to a war cemetery in western Poland to mark 70 years since the Great Escape of Allied airmen and to honor 50 of them who were caught and executed.

Marek Lazarz, director of the Stalag Luft III Museum, said Tuesday the group started in rain from the place where 76 prisoners of war emerged, one by one, from a tunnel on March 24 and 25, 1944. The 77th man was spotted by guards, who gave chase. The 1963 Hollywood movie "The Great Escape," starring Steve McQueen, tells the story.

Only three airmen made it home. Fifty others were executed when caught, and 23 were sent to other camps but survived the war.

It was a great movie, too.

What's your favorite WWII movie?

Ukraine 3/25: Ukraine Defense Minister Resigns

Ukraine defense chief resigns and shoots back at critics* on his way out.

Lawmakers in Ukraine accepted the resignation of the defense minister Tuesday as thousands of troops began withdrawing from the Crimean Peninsula, now controlled by Russia.

In address to parliament, Igor Tenyukh said he rejected criticism that he had failed to issue clear instructions to troops, but that he reserved the right to step down. Lawmakers initially refused his resignation, but later accepted it. A majority then voted to appoint Col. Gen. Mikhail Kovalyov as his replacement.

Authorities in Ukraine have come under criticism for their often-hesitant reaction to Russia's annexation of Crimea, which was formalized following a hastily organized referendum this month.

In Crimea, Ukrainian soldiers piled onto buses and began their journey to the mainland on Tuesday, as former comrades saluted them from outside a base overrun by Russian forces.

Tenyukh said he had received requests to leave Crimea from about 6,500 soldiers and family members— meaning about two-thirds of the 18,800 military personnel and relatives stationed there were so far taking their chances in the peninsula newly absorbed by Russia.

"4,300 servicemen and 2,200 family members wish to continue serving in Ukraine's armed forces and will be evacuated from the autonomous republic of Crimea," Tenyukh said.

* figuratively

24 March 2014

Tom Clancy - The Gamer?

The Escapist has an excellent article on Tom Clancy and his use of wargaming as an analytical tool and how he could draw conclusions from the experiences.

In this two-part series, Critical Intel will examine Tom Clancy's contribution to gaming, from founding Red Storm Entertainment in the 1990s to growing into a global brand. But our story starts long before that - in the 1980s - when Clancy first set out to conquer the world not with a powerful multimedia franchise, but a fleet of miniature ships and a wargame called Harpoon. Because before Tom Clancy changed games, games changed him.

Speculation ran rampant after Clancy published The Hunt for Red October. No one could figure out where he'd gotten his information. The rumor mill had it that he was an ex-spook, or a CIA plant hired to write pop-culture propaganda. Truth was, Clancy was an insurance agent with no military experience. He had excellent research skills and a keen mind for logical deduction, a man who could take two points of publically available information and logically fill the classified details in-between. Again and again over the course of his career, he'd predict top-secret programs and technologies, from the gradiometer used aboard the Red October to the importance of Iceland to Soviet naval strategy in Red Storm Rising. He even foresaw the potential to use airliners in a suicide attack, and in Teeth of the Tiger described a terrorist strike eerily similar to the one that took place at a Kenya mall last year. Some have dismissed this as simple imagination, but that doesn't give Clancy enough credit - he was a self-taught master at collecting public information, easily one of the best open-source intelligence analysts of our time.

Clancy's research for Red October pulled together every data set he could get his hands on, from Jane's entries to stories he collected from retired submariners as he sold them insurance. One of those myriad sources was a tabletop wargame developed by a former naval officer - and it would become more than research material.

"A game that I'd written, a wargame called Harpoon, became popular," remembers Larry Bond. "A guy named Tom Clancy bought a copy and used it as one of his data sources." He chuckles as he remembers it. "Good guy to buy your game."

Ukraine 3/24: Troops Ordered Back to Ukraine

Admitting they can't keep it, Ukraine orders troops to pull out of Crimea.

Ukraine's fledgling government ordered troops to withdraw from Crimea on Monday, ending days of wavering as Russian troops consolidate control over the peninsula.

Russian forces have been systematically seizing Ukrainian ships and military installations in Crimea, including a naval base near the eastern Crimean port of Feodosia, where two wounded servicemen were taken captive on Monday and as many as 80 were detained on-site, Ukrainian officials said.

With the storming of at least three military facilities over the past three days alone, it wasn't clear how many Ukrainian troops remained on the peninsula. Acting President Oleksandr Turchnynov said the Defense Ministry was instructed to redeploy all servicemen in Crimea to Ukraine's mainland, in remarks confirmed by his office.

The situation in Ukraine is set to dominate U.S. President Barack Obama's agenda as he begins a week of international travel in the Netherlands, where is set to attend a nuclear security summit. The two-day summit has been expected to be the focus of Obama's visit, but the event will now be overshadowed by hurriedly scheduled talks on Ukraine among the Group of Seven industrialized economies — the U.S., Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy and Japan.

Speaking to leading lawmakers in the Ukrainian capital, Kiev, Turchnynov said Ukrainian troops would be evacuated with their families amid unspecified threats from what he termed occupying Russian forces.

Over the weekend, Russian forces stormed the Belbek air force base near Sevastopol and detained the commander.

The interim government in Kiev has been criticized for its indecision over Ukrainian troops in Crimea.

Russia completed its annexation of Crimea last week, after its troops took control over the Ukrainian region following the ouster of a Kremlin-friendly government in Kiev.

23 March 2014

Ukraine 3/23: Russia's Border Buildup

NATO concerned over Russian army buildup on Ukraine border - CNN.com

NATO's top military commander expressed concern Sunday about the buildup of Russian forces on Ukraine's border, as Moscow's forces consolidated their control of Crimea over the weekend.

Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Philip Breedlove said Russia had a large force on Ukraine's eastern border and that he was worried it could pose a threat to Moldova's separatist Trans-Dniester region.

"The (Russian) force that is at the Ukrainian border now to the east is very, very sizable and very, very ready," Breedlove, a U.S. Air Force general, said.

"There is absolutely sufficient force postured on the eastern border of Ukraine to run to Trans-Dniester if the decision was made to do that, and that is very worrisome."

Russia said its forces complied with international agreements. Moscow annexed Crimea following a controversial snap referendum in the autonomous region last week that produced an overwhelming majority of votes in favor of leaving Ukraine to join Russia.

"Russia is acting much more like an adversary than a partner," Breedlove said, speaking at an event held in Brussels, Belgium, by the German Marshall Fund think tank.
Other officials expressed concern too.

"It's deeply concerning to see the Russian troop buildup along the border. It creates the potential for incidents, for instability," Tony Blinken, White House deputy national security adviser, told CNN's "State of the Union."

"It's likely that what they are trying to do is intimidate the Ukrainians. It's possible that they are preparing to move in."

Ukraine 3/23: Russia's Consolidating

Russian troops seize an airbase in Crimea as they consolidates control over the peninsula

Russian troops used armored vehicles, automatic gunfire and stun grenades on Saturday to seize a Ukrainian airbase in Crimea a day after President Vladimir Putin signed laws completing Russia's annexation of the Black Sea peninsula.

Ukrainian forces also abandoned a naval base after attacks by pro-Russian protesters, and had to surrender two flagship vessels to Russian forces.

The facilities at Belbek and Novofedorovka had been among the last still under Ukrainian control after Moscow's armed takeover and subsequent annexation of Crimea, which has a majority ethnic Russian population and harbors one of Russia's biggest naval bases at Sevastopol.

Russia's seizure of the peninsula after the ousting of Ukraine's pro-Russian president by mass protests has triggered the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War. The United States and the European Union have targeted some of Putin's closest long-time political and business allies with personal sanctions.

At the Belbek airbase, a Reuters reporter said armored vehicles had smashed through the walls of a compound and that he had heard bursts of gunfire and grenades, making the takeover one of the more dramatic of Russia's largely bloodless occupation of Crimea.

22 March 2014

Ukraine 3/22: More Demonstrations

Pro-Russia demonstrations - no doubt completely spontaneous and without provocation or planning or outside assistance - have broken out in eastern Ukraine

More than 5,000 pro-Russia residents of a major city in Ukraine's east demonstrated on Saturday in favor of holding a referendum on whether to seek to split off and become part of Russia.

The rally in Donetsk came less than a week after the Ukrainian region of Crimea approved secession in a referendum regarded as illegitimate by the Western countries. After the referendum, Russia moved to formally annex Crimea.

With Crimea now effectively under the control of Russian forces, which ring Ukrainian military bases on the strategic Black Sea peninsula, concern is rising that Ukraine's eastern regions will agitate for a similar move.

Russia has brought large military contingents to areas near the border with eastern Ukraine. Russian President Vladimir Putin has said there is no intention to move into eastern Ukraine, but the prospect of violence between pro- and anti-secession groups in the east could be used as a pretext for sending in troops.

Eastern Ukraine is the heartland of Ukraine's economically vital heavy industry and mining and the support base for Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who fled to Russia last month after being ousted in the wake of three months of protests in the capital, Kiev.

Russia and Yanukovych supporters contend Yanukovych's ouster was a coup and allege that the authorities who then came to power are nationalists who would oppress the east's large ethnic Russian population.

Ukraine 3/22: The Bullet Point

There was no way the Russians were going to let their Black Sea fleet homeport be placed in an EU/NATO country. They had one chance to grab Crimea before Ukraine was too treaty-tied to the west, and they took it. And it worked.

18 March 2014

Ukraine 3/18: Russia Takes Crimea

Let's face it, no one can make them give it back.

Never mind what the West thinks -- the Kremlin says Ukraine's Crimea region is now part of Russia.
A signing ceremony Tuesday between Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Prime Minister of Crimea and the mayor of the city of Sevastopol made it official, the Kremlin said in a statement. Crimea and Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea fleet is based, are now part of the Russian Federation, it said.
Russia's support for Crimea's secession bid, which follows a contested referendum on Sunday, has been condemned by Ukraine's interim government in Kiev, the European Union and the United States.
Ukraine's interim President Oleksandr Turchynov told reporters that Putin is "mimicking the fascists of the last century" by annexing Crimea.
"The political leadership of Russia will have to answer before the whole world for crimes they are committing today in our country," Turchynov said.
And Interim Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk called the annexation "a robbery on an international scale," warning that the standoff was transforming "from political to the military form." Ukraine's defense ministry said a Ukrainian military officer was wounded at a base in the Crimea when masked gunmen opened fire, and Yatsenyuk said Russian forces were to blame.
But Putin hailed Sunday's vote in an address to a joint session of Parliament on Tuesday, saying the nearly 97% of its residents who voted to join Russia was "an extremely convincing figure."
In an hour-long speech, he argued that the vote had been entirely legitimate and stressed the historical and cultural ties between Russia and Crimea.
"In our hearts we know Crimea has always been an inalienable part of Russia," he said.
Crimea is an autonomous region within Ukraine with a majority Russian-speaking population. It has its own parliament, but the Ukrainian government had veto power over its actions.
With political instability and demonstrations rocking Ukraine in the past several months, President Viktor Yanukovych was pushed out of office and observers charged that Russia saw its chance to annex the strategic territory. The hastily called referendum Sunday resulted in 96.7% of the region's voters saying they wanted to become part of Russia, according to the Crimean Electoral Commission.
Putin denied that Russia had been militarily involved in Crimea, despite what has been stated by authorities in the Ukraine capital and international observers. "We have not used our armed forces in Crimea," Putin said.

17 March 2014

Someone resembling the Crimean parliament formally applies to join Russia

It wasn't the inevitability of the outcome that really surprised anyone, but the vote by the Crimean parliament to join Russia could not have been more scripted if it had been done by the Soviet Union

Crimea's parliament has formally declared independence from Ukraine and asked to join the Russian Federation.

It follows Sunday's controversial referendum which officials say overwhelmingly backed leaving Ukraine.

The government in Kiev has said it will not recognise the results. The US and EU say the vote was illegal and have vowed to impose sanctions on Moscow.

The Crimean peninsula has been under the control of pro-Russia forces since late February.

Moscow says the troops are pro-Russian self-defence forces and not under its direct control.

Somewhere a Conspiracy Theorist is Licking His Lips

Someone, somewhere, is going to make hay out of US forces seizing a tanker carrying Libyan oil from a port controlled by rebels

U.S. special forces have seized a tanker that fled with a cargo of oil from a Libyan port, the U.S. Department of Defense said on Monday, halting an attempt by rebels to sell petroleum on the global market.

Libyan rebels demanding a greater share of oil wealth managed to load crude onto the ship, which escaped Libya's navy, embarrassing the government and prompting parliament to sack the prime minister.

U.S. Navy SEALs boarded the Morning Glory tanker in international waters off Cyprus on Sunday night and took control of the vessel, which the Pentagon said was held by three armed Libyans.

The tanker's seizure by U.S. forces is likely to prevent any more attempted oil sales by the rebels, who in August seized three export terminals accounting previously for 700,000 barrels a day of exports.

No one was hurt in the tanker raid, which was approved by U.S. President Barack Obama and requested by the Libyan and Cypriot governments, Pentagon Press Secretary John Kirby said.

"The Morning Glory is carrying a cargo of oil owned by the Libyan government National Oil Company. The ship and its cargo were illicitly obtained" from the Libyan port of Es Sider, his statement said.

14 March 2014

Fears for the US Power Grid

So you enjoy NBC's Revolution? Well, there's a better-than-nothing chance that something a lot like it could happenif you hit just the right parts of the US power infrastructure.

A major federal study on the vulnerability of the U.S. electric grid reportedly finds that taking out just nine of the country's 55,000 electric-transmission substations—on a hot day when they're stressed—could provoke a national blackout

The dystopian, post-electricity world of NBC’s sci-fi show Revolution may be a less fictional possibility than you thought, according to the results of a major federal study on vulnerability in the electricity grid reported Wednesday by The Wall Street Journal.

A coordinated attack on just nine of the United States’ 55,000 electric-transmission substations on the right day could cause a blackout from Los Angeles to New York City, according to the study conducted by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The study’s results have been known for months to select people in federal agencies, Congress and the White House, but were reported publicly for the first time Wednesday. The WSJ did not publish a list of the 30 most critical substations identified by the FERC study.

Ouch. There's more.

One particularly troubling memo reviewed by the Journal described a scenario in which a highly-coordinated but relatively small scale attack could send the country into a long-term literal dark age. “Destroy nine interconnection substations and a transformer manufacturer and the entire United States grid would be down for at least 18 months, probably longer,” the memo said.

OK, so it wouldn't quite be like Revolution since the grid going down isn't the same as killing all electricity - generators and solar panels and batteries and such would still work. But it's not a pretty sight considering how underprepared most of the American public is for even a 3-day emergency. But hey, this is a long-shot, right?

Um. No. As reported last month by CNN, and many other places, there's already been at least one sniper attack on a power substation, in Silicon Valley. And the more you read about it, the more you realize that it was a very intentional, very well-targeted attack to create specific effects, not just random vandal shoot-em-up blasting.

The former chairman, Jon Wellinghoff, now a San Francisco energy law attorney, called the little-publicized April 2013 attack on the substation a "very well planned, coordinated and executed attack on a major piece of our electric grid infrastructure."
While Wellinghoff has expressed concern that the attack may have been a test run for a bigger strike -- possibly terrorism -- the FBI has declared the incident wasn't an act of terror and is still investigating the case, with no arrests made.
The FBI considers the incident vandalism, said spokesman Peter Lee in San Francisco.
"There is no nexus to terrorism at this time," Lee said.

Well, maybe there's no nexus to terrorism at this time but you can surely bet they're paying attention.

In all, 150 rounds from an assault rifle were fired over almost 20 minutes at a Pacific Gas and Electric Company substation south of San Jose, California, knocking out 17 transformers in the post-midnight darkness of April 16, according to PG&E, Wellinghoff and CNN affiliate KTVU.
To prevent a blackout to Silicon Valley, workers re-routed power, but it took almost a month to make repairs, the affiliate reported.
Authorities also found an AT&T fiber optic cable was cut in an underground vault, causing a phone blackout, Sgt. Kurtis Stenderup with the Santa Clara County Sheriff's Office told KTVU.
By the time police arrived, the shooters, also suspected of damaging the phone line, were gone.
At the time, the incident wasn't publicized, but since he stepped down as FERC chairman in November, Wellinghoff is raising public attention to the California sniper's attack to demonstrate the vulnerability of the nation's electricity system.

(Board) War Games and Military Planning

The Economist has a fascinating column that actually ran in their print edition about board wargaming and the professional military guys that play them.

TWO evenings a month, four dozen defence and intelligence officials gather in an undisclosed building in Virginia. They chat informally about “what if” scenarios. For example: what if Israel were to bomb Iran’s nuclear sites? Recent chats on this topic have been fruitful for a surprising reason, says John Patch, a member of the Strategic Discussion Group, as it is called. Nearly a quarter of those who regularly attend play a board game called Persian Incursion”, which deals with the aftermath of just such an attack. For half the players, such games are part of their job.

You don’t need a security clearance to play Persian Incursion. Anyone can order it from Clash of Arms, a Pennsylvania firm that makes all kinds of games, from Epic of the Peloponnesian War to Pigs in Space. Yet playing a war game is like receiving an intelligence briefing, Mr Patch says. It forces players to grapple with myriad cascading events, revealing causal chains they might not imagine. How might local support for Iran’s regime be sapped if successful Israeli raids strengthen claims that its anti-aircraft batteries were incompetently sited? Might a photo purportedly showing Iran’s president with a prostitute help the Saudi monarchy contain anti-Jewish riots? Might those efforts be doomed if the photo were revealed as a fake?

Paul Vebber, a gameplay instructor in the navy, says that in the past decade the government has started using strategy board games much more often. They do not help predict outcomes. For that, the Pentagon has forecasting software, which it feeds with data on thousands of variables such as weather and weaponry, supply lines, training and morale. The software is pretty accurate for “tight, sterile” battles, such as those involving tanks in deserts, says an intelligence official. Board games are useful in a different way. They foster the critical but creative thinking needed to win (or avoid) a complex battle or campaign, he says.

more at the link

13 March 2014

Ukraine 3/13: Afternoon Update

Russian exercises are drifting closer to Ukraine and drawing more scrutiny.

A day after a deputy minister denied any military buildup on the border, the Defense Ministry released a series of statements beginning early Thursday that appeared to contradict that. They outlined what was described as intensive training of units involving artillery batteries, assault helicopters and at least 10,000 soldiers.

The operations confirmed, at least in part, assertions by Ukrainian leaders on Wednesday that Russia was massing forces, as well as amateur photographs that appeared to show columns of armored vehicles and trucks in a border village called Lopan, only 30 miles from the Ukrainian city Kharkiv. One statement announced that another 1,500 paratroopers from Ivanovo, east of Moscow, had parachuted onto a military base in Rostov, not far from the Ukrainian cities Donetsk and Lugansk.

With NATO announcing its own deployments of fighter jets and exercises to countries on Ukraine’s western border, the crisis appeared to be worsening despite 11th-hour diplomatic efforts to halt a secession referendum scheduled for Sunday in Crimea. The ouster of the government of Viktor F. Yanukovych and Russia’s subsequent intervention in Crimea has deeply divided Russia and the West, and in Berlin, Ms. Merkel underscored the potential risks of what is being called the worst crisis in relations since the end of the Soviet Union.

Appearing before Parliament on Thursday, Ms. Merkel criticized Russia’s actions in some of her toughest language to date, declaring that “the territorial integrity of Ukraine cannot be called into question.”

“Ladies and gentlemen, if Russia continues on its course of the past weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine,” she said. “We, also as neighbors of Russia, would not only see it as a threat. And it would not only change the European Union’s relationship with Russia. No, this would also cause massive damage to Russia, economically and politically.”

As Russia’s largest trading partner in Europe, Germany is certain to have significant influence on the debate over how to respond to Russia’s actions in Ukraine. Some politicians and observers in other European countries and in the United States have suggested that Germany’s traditionally close trading and other ties with Russia have made it hesitant to adopt sanctions against Russia.

Ms. Merkel’s speech, however, suggested that President Vladimir V. Putin might have miscalculated the anger the occupation and annexation of Crimea would cause – or that he might be impervious to it.

Ukraine 3/13: Russia, China, Ukraine Public Statements

Interesting that this Reuters article acknowledges that Russia has taken over Crimea, and not "Russian-allied self-defense committees" or whatever other euphemism.
President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday Russia was not to blame for the crisis over Ukraine's Crimea region.

At a meeting with paralympic delegations in the Black Sea city of Sochi, Putin thanked officials for keeping politics out of the Winter Paralympics being hosted by Russia.

"I would like to express gratitude to you for keeping the Paralympics out of politics. And the uneasy circumstances which you well know about did not affect it. And I would like to stress that Russia was not the initiator of the circumstances that have taken shape," he said.

Crimea has been taken over by Russian forces and holds a referendum on Sunday on joining Russia. Ukraine and Western leaders say the referendum is illegal.

Meanwhile, China doesn't speak up until there are economic issues to cover.
China's top envoy to Germany has warned the West against punishing Russia with sanctions for its intervention in Ukraine, saying such measures could lead to a dangerous chain reaction that would be difficult to control.

In an interview with Reuters days before the European Union is threatening to impose its first sanctions on Russia since the Cold War, ambassador Shi Mingde issued the strongest warning against such measures by any top Chinese official to date.

"We don't see any point in sanctions," Shi said. "Sanctions could lead to retaliatory action, and that would trigger a spiral with unforeseeable consequences. We don't want this."

And the Ukraine are expanding their forces after a vote to increase their "national guard"
Ukraine's parliament has voted to create a 60,000-strong National Guard to bolster the country's defences.

The vote came ahead of Sunday's referendum in Crimea, now controlled by pro-Russian forces, on whether citizens want to join Russia.

President Vladimir Putin insists Russia is not to blame for the crisis.

But Germany's Angela Merkel says Moscow faces "massive" political and economic damage if it refuses to change course. The US has also threatened action.

Russia was exploiting the weakness of neighbouring Ukraine, rather than acting as a partner for stability, the German chancellor said on Thursday, adding that there was no military solution to the crisis.

11 March 2014

Veteran Opens Up About Costs of Iraq

A Marine reserve colonel has some excellent straight talk about whether or not Iraq was "worth it".

He knows his Marines fought with honor and tried their best to perform incredibly difficult tasks in an austere and dangerous land — instructing Iraqi security forces, securing supply routes, keeping a tenuous peace among Sunnis and Shiites. Smith said it was a privilege for him to serve with such courageous men.

But Smith doesn't blunt his criticism of politicians and military planners who invaded Iraq and kept American troops there for more than six years.

"If someone says we were fighting a war, I'll break out the military manuals and challenge that," said Smith, 48. "We engaged in combat operations, but under the tenets of warfare we were not fighting a war, therefore we were lacking a mission objective. Then you have to ask what was the criteria for mission success? No one could tell me then, and they can't tell me now."

10 March 2014

Operational US Forces in Africa

With small expansions in US forces in Africa the question is balance.

"Most of the countries we're dealing with don't want a large U.S. presence," said Army Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee Magee, the commander of a 130-soldier "crisis response" unit stationed in Djibouti, a tiny former French colony in the Horn of Africa, where the U.S. maintains its only major military base on the continent. National Security Advisor Susan Rice is scheduled to visit the base this weekend.
Known as the East Africa Response Force, Magee's unit was formed after the September 2012 attacks on a U.S. diplomatic compound and nearby CIA base in Benghazi, Libya. Africa Command was unable to send troops in time to help CIA and State Department security personnel fend off militants who stormed the compounds and left four Americans dead, including Ambassador J. Christopher Stevens.
If a U.S. diplomatic post in East Africa comes under attack or U.S. citizens need to be quickly evacuated, Magee said, his unit can deploy within 18 hours and up to 1,500 miles from Djibouti.
Another new quick reaction force of 550 Marines, stationed at an air base in Moron, Spain, is charged with responding to crises in North and West Africa, officials say. The force has six V-22 Ospreys, tilt-rotor aircraft that take off and land like helicopters, as well as two refueling tankers. They give the Marines the capability to fly thousands of miles to remote locations in Africa, said Col. Scott Benedict, the commander.
The Pentagon said Friday that the Spanish government had approved an expansion of the force to 850 Marines in April, with the number of aircraft increasing to 16.
Both units were sent to South Sudan in December to help evacuate Americans and guard the U.S. Embassy after fierce fighting broke out between rival armed factions.

08 March 2014

Ukraine 3/8: Blame Game?

The Economist has an interesting take on who is to blame for Ukraine.

Those convinced that a weak Mr Obama has emboldened foes are concentrating on the wrong bit of his foreign policy. Managing a thug like Mr Putin, who would distrust any American president, was never going to be easy. More thoughtful critiques consider how Mr Obama relates to allies.

Mr Putin is not deterred by even the toughest Western rhetoric when he sees a chance to advance national interests, says Fiona Hill of the Brookings Institution, a think-tank, who led government intelligence analysis of Russia during the Georgian crisis. The only way now to slow his march into Ukraine, she suggests, is for America to work in lockstep with Europe, preventing Mr Putin from exploiting Western divisions.

Kurt Volker, a former American ambassador to NATO, wishes that America had worked with Europe years ago to make Ukraine’s oligarch-infested energy sector more transparent. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the senior Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, wants co-ordination with Europe on economic aid for Ukraine. Senator Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, argues for opening up American gas exports to the region, to weaken Russia’s grip as an energy supplier.

Ukraine 3/8: US-RUS Treaties Unraveling?

Are the Russians backing out of yet another treaty?

Russian news agencies says Moscow is considering a freeze of U.S. military inspections under arms control treaties in retaliation to Washington's decision to halt military cooperation with Russia.

Agencies on Saturday carried a statement by an unidentified Defense Ministry official saying that Moscow sees the U.S. move as a reason to suspend U.S. inspections in Russia in line with the New START nuclear arms reduction treaty and the 2011 Vienna agreement between Russia and NATO on confidence-building measures.

07 March 2014

A Whole New Twist on the Phrase "Gun-Bunnies"

The Army is opening virtually all field artillery officer jobs to women

Virtually all Regular Army, National Guard and Army Reserve positions coded for field artillery officers have been opened to women under a directive issued by Army Secretary John McHugh.

The March 4 directive opens to women approximately 1,900 area-of-concentration 13A Field Artillery officer positions in the active component, and 1,700 in the Guard and Reserve.

The change applies to cannon battalions down to platoon level.

The change does not include field artillery positions in special operations units, which are now closed, or positions with “male only” skill identifiers.

The female component of the field artillery officer corps is small, but growing, with only 112 women holding the 13A designation and wearing the crossed cannon insignia of the career branch

06 March 2014

Ukraine 3/6 - Afternoon Update

Putinism is an odd thing, especially through the lens of the Russian media. Then there's this chestnut from the article.

Putin’s latest press conference—his first after days of silence—showcased the paradoxes underlying the new Russian worldview. He told reporters that he sympathized with the Ukrainian protesters who brought down Viktor Yanukovych, then hazarded the claim that the killings of demonstrators had been arranged by the protesters themselves as a provocation. He insisted that Yanukovych is still the legitimate leader of Ukraine, then went on to describe him as a man with “no political future.” He refused to acknowledge that the Russian soldiers besieging Ukrainian military bases in Crimea are acting on Russian orders, doggedly maintaining the transparent fiction that the only forces acting in Moscow’s interest on the peninsula are remarkably well-organized local “self-defense committees.” And he cited the independence of Kosovo as a precedent for the establishment of a Russian-dominated republic in Crimea—even though Russia spent years stubbornly rejecting Kosovo’s claims for statehood as a violation of Yugoslavia’s sovereignty.

I've been saying for years that Kosovo would come back to bite us in the ass.

The Battle for Lviv

Michael Peck takes Orange Crush for a test drive.

Orange Crush imagines a scenario which seemed unlikely then, but today seems eerily familiar: A bitterly-contested election lead Ukraine to erupt in political violence. The country's president orders the military to halt the fighting, but two army brigades revolt, asking Russia to intervene. Moscow obliges, sending in "peacekeepers" that advance on Kiev, but the fleeing Ukrainian government begs from assistance from NATO, which dispatches a force from Poland. NATO troops run into Russian forces racing to the border to head them off. War ensues.

Spooky, right? With Russian troops occupying Crimea, President Barack Obama warning Vladimir Putin of "costs" to come, and the army of the Kremlin busy sablya-rattling just across the Ukrainian-Russian border, now seemed an opportune time to give Orange Crush a spin, to see what insights it might yield about how a real NATO-Russia clash would play out.

Orange Crush portrays a fight between armies that are shadows of their Cold War selves. This is war on the cheap: No herds of armor thundering across the Fulda Gap, no gigantic armies sweeping across the north German plain. The battlefield is a slice of western Ukraine near the Polish border. The ragtag NATO force that Guillory envisions consists of a single British mechanized brigade supported by Special Air Service commandos, Canadian light infantry, Polish motorized infantry and helicopters, and Danish combat engineers. This isn't the British Army of the Rhine here; it's the odds and ends of whatever is left in the post-Cold War NATO armory. (Guillory assumed in 2007 that U.S. troops would be busy in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that NATO forces entering Ukraine would be whatever the alliance could scrape together on the spot.)

China planning airbase in Zimbabwe?

Wow. Maybe the Chinese are going to take this whole "power projection" thing seriously after all.

China is reportedly scheming to set up a military airbase in Zimbabwe's controversial Marange diamond fields of Manicaland province, as Beijing and Harare ratchet up military cooperation and closer than before foreign relations, The Telescope News has heard.
China has no known military bases in Africa, and insists on it's non-interference of internal politics stance of her allies on the continent, thus raising eyebrows as to whether Beijing could finally be making a paradigm shift in it's foreign military policy, in response to the Asian giants growing economic interests here.
The only one point, where it was thought China would finally start setting up military bases in Africa, was in 2011 in Seychelles. China had to weigh up, whether to open an Indian Ocean naval base, following an offer from the Seychelles government to establish a port to supply its anti-piracy patrols in the Gulf of Aden.
At the time Beijing's Defence Ministry, according to the British press had confirmed the development, only meeting stiff resistence and concern from India, whose former intelligence chief Vikram Sood said he was surprised the Seychelles government, had made the offer after being traditionally close to New Delhi citing the threats to his country posed by China's growing influence.

05 March 2014

Ukraine 3/5: Silly Statements

Putin's talking out of both sides of his mouth again.

Russia said on Wednesday it could not order "self-defense" forces in Crimea back to their bases ahead of the first face-to-face talks with the United States on easing tensions over Ukraine and averting the risk of war.

Well if they're self-defense forces that you can't order around, then it's an internal police matter for Ukraine, and you should never even leave your barracks when the Ukrainians start arresting them and trying to figure out who they are to know if they're going to be charged under Ukrainian law or sent back to Russia.

03 March 2014

Ukraine 3/3: Morning Update

The New Yorker has a solid look at the motivations and reasons behind what's happening.
Sergei Parkhomenko, a journalist and pro-democracy activist who was recently detained by the police in Moscow, described the scenario taking shape as “Afghanistan 2.” He recalled, for Slon.ru, an independent Russian news site, how the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, in 1979, under the pretext of helping a “fraternal” ally in Kabul; to Parkhomenko, Putin’s decision to couch his military action as the “protection” of Russians living in Crimea is an equally transparent pretext. The same goes for the decorous way in which Putin, on Saturday, “requested” the Russian legislature’s authorization for the use of Russian troops in Ukraine until “the socio-political situation is normalized.” The legislature, which has all the independence of an organ grinder’s monkey, voted its unanimous assent. Other critics of Putin’s military maneuvers in Ukraine used different, but no less ominous, historical analogies. Some compared the arrival of Russian troops in Simferopol to the way that the Kremlin, in 2008, took advantage of Georgia’s reckless bid to retake South Ossetia and then muscled its tiny neighbor, eventually waging a war that ended with Russia taking control of South Ossetia and Abkhazia. In a recent Letter from Sochi, I tried to describe Putin’s motivations: his resentment of Western triumphalism and American power, after 1991; his paranoia that Washington is somehow behind every event in the world that he finds threatening, including the recent events in Kiev; his confidence that the U.S. and Europe are nonetheless weak, unlikely to respond to his swagger because they need his help in Syria and Iran; his increasingly vivid nationalist-conservative ideology, which relies, not least, on the elevation of the Russian Orthodox Church, which had been so brutally suppressed during most of the Soviet period, as a quasi-state religion supplying the government with its moral force.
and some more
Georgy Kasianov, the head of the Academy of Science’s department of contemporary Ukrainian history and politics, in Kiev. “It’s a war,” he said. “The Russian troops are quite openly out on the streets [in Crimea], capturing public buildings and military outposts. And it’s likely all a part of a larger plan for other places: Odessa, Nikolayev, Kherson. And they’ll use the same technique. Some Russian-speaking citizens will appear, put up a Russian flag, and make appeals that they want help and referendums, and so on.” This is already happening in Donetsk and Kharkov. “They are doing this like it is a commonplace,” Kasianov went on. “I can’t speak for four million people, but clearly everyone in Kiev is against this. But the Ukrainian leadership is absolutely helpless. The Army is not ready for this. And, after the violence in Kiev, the special forces are disoriented.”
Russia's return volley seems like a lot of self-serving bluster for the sake of those who are disinclined to listen to the west anyway.
Ukrainian border guards on Monday reported a buildup of armored vehicles on the Russian side of a narrow sea channel dividing Russia and Crimea, Reuters reported, citing a border guard spokesman. He said that Russian ships had been moving in and around the port city of Sevastopol, where the Russian Black Sea Fleet has a base, and that Russian forces had blocked mobile telephone service in some areas. The buildup of Russian armor was near a ferry port on the Russian side of the Kerch Channel, opposite the Ukrainian city of Kerch. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian State Border Security Service said there had been several attacks on border posts in eastern Crimea just along the border with Russia. In a statement on its website, it said men, wearing unidentified camouflage uniforms, were carrying out the attacks, such as one on the Kerch border post, where doors and windows were broken and phone lines were destroyed late Sunday. Also on Sunday night, armed men in unidentified camouflage uniforms tried to enter the arms depot in Ukraine's Belbek military base near Sevastopol, a Defense Ministry spokesman said.
Finally, New republic asks a lot of good questions, starting with this one.
Why is Putin doing this? Because he can. That's it, that's all you need to know. The situation in Kiev—in which people representing one half of the country (the Ukrainian-speaking west) took power to some extent at the expense of the Russian-speaking east—created the perfect opportunity for Moscow to divide and conquer. As soon as the revolution in Kiev happened, there was an unhappy rumbling in the Crimea, which has a large Russian population and is home to the Russian Black Sea Fleet. It was a small rumbling, but just big enough for Russia to exploit. And when such an opportunity presents itself, one would be foolish not to take it, especially if one's name is Vladimir Putin.

Ukraine: 3/3 a dangerous precedent

This should scare the crap out of everyone. (our emphasis)

Ukraine said Russia was building up armoured vehicles on its side of a narrow stretch of water closest to Crimea after Putin declared at the weekend he had the right to invade his neighbor to protect Russian interests and citizens.

How long before Mexico declares a right to invade southern Texas to "protect" the "oppressed" illegal immigrants there not being cared for my the Americans?
When do Pakistan and India go at it over Kashmir again, using this pretext?
How does this affect the Kurds?
What about the Alsace?

Interesting that Ukraine - hardly the least stable of the former SSRs when you've got Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan out there - is the one that Putin chooses to invade to "protect Russian interests and citizens". Clearly he's after something else at this point...

Ukraine: 3/3 morning update

The Russians are sealing up their hold on Ukraine.

Pro-Russian soldiers seem to further cement their control over the strategic region — that also houses the Russian Black Sea Fleet — by seizing a ferry terminal in the Ukrainian city of Kerch about 20 kilometers (12 miles) by boat to Russia, intensifying fears that Moscow will send even more troops into the peninsula. It comes as the U.S. and European governments are trying to figure out ways to halt and reverse the Russian incursion.

The soldiers at the terminal refused to identify themselves on Monday, but they spoke Russian and the vehicles transporting them had Russian license plates.

Russia has taken effective control of the Crimean peninsula without firing a shot. Now, the fears in the Ukrainian capital and beyond are that that Russia might seek to expand its control by seizing other parts of eastern Ukraine. Senior Obama administration officials said the U.S. now believes that Russia has complete operational control of Crimea, a pro-Russian area of the country, and has more than 6,000 troops in the region.

Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk insisted that Crimea remains Ukrainian territory despite the presence of Russian military.

As I've noted elsewhere on the web, the West doesn't have the cajones to deal with Putin on a level he will actually understand.

Here's specifically what I said over at GrogHeads
Most Western countries lack the willpower to stand up to a bully like Putin until he's on their border threatening to cross.

The fact is that the Russian leadership - and especailly their public - are willing to accept far more extreme behavior than anyone in the West is. If a bomb goes off-target and hits a civilian neighborhood, western protestors will demand war crimes trials. The Russians would send another 6 for good measure.

We just flat lack the balls to stand up to the Russians and after 13-14 years of non-stop warfare we lack the willpower for another intervention.
We can only hope that their lack of power projection keeps them contained until their economy collapses again, so we're not going through the same shit for the next 40-50 years.

02 March 2014

Ukraine: 3/2 afternoon SMH moment

Ah test, the prophetic chuckle from the 2012 campaign comes back to bit the President in the ass.

“Gov. Romney, I’m glad you recognize al-Qaida is a threat, because a few months ago when you were asked what is the biggest geopolitical group facing America, you said Russia, not al-Qaida,” Obama said. “You said Russia. And the 1980s are now calling to ask for their foreign policy back. Because the Cold War has been over for 20 years. But Governor, when it comes to our foreign policy, you seem to want to import the foreign policies of the 1980s, just like the social policy of the 1950s, and the economic policies of the 1920s.”

Ukraine: 3/2 morning update

The BBC reports on the latest in the mobilization in Ukraine.

Ukraine has ordered a full military mobilisation in response to Russia's build-up of its forces in Crimea.

Prime Minster Arseniy Yatsenyuk said the country was "on the brink of disaster".

US President Barack Obama has called Russian troop deployments a "violation of Ukrainian sovereignty".

Nato is conducting emergency talks on the crisis. Its secretary-general has said Russia's actions "threatened peace and security in Europe".

Several other measures were announced on Sunday by national security officials:

The armed forces would be put on "full combat readiness".

  • Reserves to be mobilised and trained
  • Ukraine's foreign minister will seek the help of US and UK leaders in guaranteeing its security
  • Emergency headquarters to be set up
  • Increased security at key sites, including nuclear plants.
  • Airspace closed to all non-civilian aircraft.

The BBC has seen what appear to be Russian troops digging trenches on the Crimean border.