Saturday, November 29, 2008

Mumbai Post-Mortem

The terrorist siege in Mumbai ended just hours ago, but experts are already offering their critique of how Indian officials handled the situation.

And the reviews are anything but kind. The New York Daily News was one of the first out of the box, quoting unnamed American experts who described Indian commandos as "clownish," suggesting that poor tactics and equipment problems led to a "Munich moment."

This wasn't the SAS digging knuckleheads out of some embassy," the chagrined official said.
Hesitating may have cost lives at places like the Mumbai Jewish community center, experts said.

"It's just like
Columbine," insisted former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader Danny Coulson, referring to the 1999 Colorado high school massacre. "If they're slaughtering people, you've got to go in."

Grenades were still blowing out windows at the Taj on live TV 48 hours after the horror began.
Indian authorities "were caught completely unaware," said
Vince Cannistraro, a retired CIA counterterror chief.

Supposedly elite commandos appeared to be lacking standard tools: tear gas and masks, laser-sighted guns and stun grenades.

Questions about the response underscored by another, disturbing realization: the carnage in Mumbai was perpetrated by only 10 terrorists. At one location (the Taj Mahal Hotel), a single, surviving gunman kept counter-terrorism teams at bay for more than 24 hours before he was finally eliminated. Various reports suggest that terrorists had detailed knowledge of their targets, while police and military elements had trouble getting floor plans for the buildings they had to storm.

Still, any analysis of the Indian response should be tempered by this rather obvious fact: the ultimate "failures" in Mumbai represented the final mistakes in a long string of blunders that began months, even years, before the terrorist attacks.

The list begins with India's immigration and domestic security policies. Like most democracies, Delhi allows freedom of movement within its borders, even among foreign visitors. Nothing wrong with that, but it does mandate some vigilance in keeping track of who's in your country, and their potential ties to hostile regimes. Preliminary information suggests that at least one terrorist was a Pakistani national, and his team was "in constant contact" with a foreign country (you can guess which one) throughout the operation.

But planning for the terror strike began far in advance. Without going too far out on a limb, we'll predict that the investigation will reveal extensive preparations and planning, conducted with outside assistance. That type of activity (typically) produces a spike in chatter between various conspirators, and is often detected by signals intelligence elements. It will be interesting to learn what India's SIGINT element knew in the weeks leading up to the attack, and what information--if any--was conveyed to counter-terrorism officials.

At this point, it appears that such data was closely held--if it existed. There's no evidence that anyone in the Indian security apparatus tried to disrupt the plot, which moved steadily toward execution. The line of lapsed defenses includes Delhi's Navy and coastal security forces. By some accounts, the terrorists were delivered to the waters off Mumbai by a trawler, which was ignored as it approached the city.

As the attack unfolded, security and counter-terrorism forces were already behind the power curve. Responding to multiple attacks--unfolding at the same time--Indian forces were initially overwhelmed, and their tactical and equipment issues compounded the problem. Making matters worse, two of their most experienced counter-terror officers died early in the siege, in gun battles with the bad guys. Leading from the front isn't always the best idea.

Meanwhile, the terrorists were communicating with each other via text messaging, cell phone conversations and satellite phones. Television and radio coverage from the Indian media (and the western press) provided invaluable information on the government's response, allowing gunmen to adjust their tactical plans. It would not be surprising to learn that the remaining hostages in the Jewish Center died as commandos fast-roped onto the roof of the building--an event carried live on Indian TV, in broad daylight.

The details of these mistakes will become increasingly clear in the coming weeks, as the Delhi government conducts various inquiries into the terrorist attack and its aftermath. But the tragedy already offers a cautionary tale for the U.S. and other potential terror targets. While it is easy to criticize the Indian response, their failures bear an eerie resemblance to our own mistakes into the run-up to 9-11.

But we're beyond that, right? After all, the U.S. has spent billions on homeland security over the past eight years, closing the gaps that existed before that fateful day in 2001.

True, security has improved. But our borders are still porous, immigration remains a mess and there are serious issues in the sharing of intelligence information with local law enforcement. In other words, we remain vulnerable to the same, root problems that allowed a handful of terrorists to wreak havoc in Mumbai, and paralyze that city for almost three days.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Enemy Within?

Shirwa Ahmed blew himself up last month, in a suicide bombing in northern Somalia. Ordinarily, such an event would attract little attention. In Somalia, where Al Qaeda has long sought an operational base, such events are not uncommon.

But Ahmed was a naturalized U.S. citizen who spent years in the Twin Cities before returning to his native land. And, more ominously, dozens of Somalis still in Minnesota have disappeared since Shirwa Ahmed launched his suicide attack. KSTP-TV in Minneapolis reports that federal authorities are now trying to determine if Ahmed was part of a terrorist recruiting network in this country:

More than a dozen young men of Somali descent, mostly in their 20s, from the Minneapolis area have recently disappeared, U.S. law enforcement officials tell 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS. All are thought to be associates of Ahmed. U.S. officials suspect most of the young men have departed for Somalia to fight in ongoing violence there or to train in terrorist camps. Family members of the young men are said to be distraught, trying to figure to out what happened to them, sources say.

So far, the investigation has not uncovered credible evidence of a plot targeting the U.S. but American officials want to track down all these young men before they can say for certain what this is or is not, according to ABC News. Sources say the situation is being closely monitored by senior law enforcement and intelligence officials in Washington.

CIA Director Michael Hayden recently voiced his concern about increased fighting in Somalia and the Horn of Africa and the desire of Al Qaeda to strengthen it's ties in Somalia.

According to General Hayden, the terrorist group is trying to rebuild its operational network in Somalia, two years after an Ethiopian-led invasion that crippled Al Qaeda's local operations.

Now, the question is whether that rebuilding effort extends to the U.S. homeland.

ADDENDUM: Another Minneapolis TV station, KMSP, estimates that at least 20 Somali men have left the Twin Cities in recent months. The "missing" men are believed to have retured to their homeland to participate in the Somali civil war, in which Al Qaida is a key player.

Ookie Cops Another Plea

The disgusting saga of Michael Vick took another turn today, this time in a Virginia courtroom.

Vick, the former Falcons star now serving a federal prison sentence for a dogfighting conviction, returned to the Old Dominion to face state charges on the same crimes.

Appearing briefly in a Surry County court, Vick entered a guilty plea to state dogfighting charges. He received a three-year suspended sentence--far less than the 10 years in prison he could have faced.

Vick's move is designed to speed his release from prison and return to the NFL. By clearing up the state charges against him, Vick becomes eligible for transfer to a halfway house, where he can spend the rest of his prison sentence.

Once the NFL's highest-paid player, Vick is now scheduled for release on 20 July 2009. He is now housed at the federal prison in Leavenworth, Kansas but the halfway house will probably be closer to his Virginia home. After release, Vick will be on probation through 2012.

After today's 20-minute hearing, members of Vick's family expressed relief that his legal ordeal is apparently coming to an end. But no one suggested that the proceeding was, to some degree, unnecessary. In many respects, the hearing was little more than a show trail, designed to help local authorities save face.

Make no mistake; we have no sympathy for Mike Vick. The one-time Virginia Tech phenom, who goes by the handle of "Ookie" is a cruel-hearted thug who actually deserved more prison time for his crimes. Lest we forget, Vick and his "Bad Newz Kennels" sent dozens of animals to their death in pursuit of his barbaric hobby, dogfighting.

But the NFL star's brutal pastime could have ended much earlier--if local officials had intervened. Neighbors around Vick's former estate near Smithfield, Virginia noticed something was afoot when he began constructing a massive kennel complex on the property--before building a $700,000 mansion.

There were also complaints about unusual activity at the home; the large number of pit bulls kept on the estate; crowds gathering on the weekend and suspicious sounds coming from the kennel area. But those complaints were ignored by the Surry County Sheriff's office and (as far as we can tell) they never warranted attention from the local prosecutor, Gerald Poindexter.

In fact, Vick's dogfighting ring wasn't discovered until April, 2007, when a police officer from Hampton, Virginia went to the house to question the quarterback's cousin, who had been arrested on marijuana charges. Disturbed by what he saw, the officer alerted state and county authorities.

A subsequent search of the property yielded compelling evidence of dogfighting activity. Officers discovered the carcasses of dead animals, scores of scarred dogs and "rape stands" in Vick's kennel, but Mr. Poindexter urged a "go slow" approach. Two months after the initial search, the prosecutor told local reporters that he "didn't have a single investigative report" in his files.

Meanwhile, U.S. attorney Chuck Rosenberg built an air-tight case against Vick and secured the pro quarterback's first plea deal in August 2007, only four months after the initial property search. State charges didn't come until after Vick went to federal prison.

Poindexter's "handling" of the case sparked outrage in Surry County, and a write-in campaign against the prosecutor. Unfortunately, he won re-election last year, and will remain on the job until 2011. Cynics say that's about the time that Michael Vick would have faced state dogfighting charges--had Mr. Poindexter been left to his own devices.

Monday, November 24, 2008


In our estimation, Air Force lawyers got it half-right in their arguments Friday before the service's Court of Criminal Appeals in Washington, D.C.

As we noted last week, the arguments were connected to the courts-martial of Colonel Michael Murphy, the former Commander of the Air Force Legal Operations Agency. He faces multiple counts of conduct unbecoming an officer, failure to obey a general regulation and larceny, after it was discovered that he served as a JAG for more than 20 years without a law license.

But even if he is convicted, Murphy may never spend a day in prison, or suffer any other penalties. In September, the trial judge ruled that Colonel Murphy could not be punished, because defense lawyers have been denied information on his classified duties as a member of the White House Military Office. Murphy served with that organization before assuming command of the legal operations office in 2005.

Without information from the White House, the judge ruled, Murphy's lawyers could not present the "good airman" defense at sentencing, which might reduce (or mitigate) potential sanctions.

In their arguments last Friday, Air Force prosecutors argued that the trial judge, Army Colonel Stephen Henley abused his authority and failed to consider less drastic alternatives. They also claimed the judge's ruling set a dangerous precedent, suggesting personnel with classified backgrounds could be "immune" from prosecution.

We understand that attorneys often present the "worst case" in their arguments. But it's silly to say that individuals with security clearances--or those who serve in sensitive billets--are immune from prosecution. More than a few former intel types and snake eaters have wound up in Leavenworth, proving that you can successfully prosecute military members with covert backgrounds. As a result, we don't think the "immune from prosecution" argument will carry much weight with the Chief Appeals Court Judge, Colonel James Wise.

On the other hand, we believe the prosecution team is on solid ground in stating that Judge Henley overstepped his bounds. With a 20+ military career behind him, Murphy and his legal team can cite countless examples of his past, "exemplary" service in mounting the "good airman" defense.

With only a limited knowledge of the appeals court and its rulings, we can't say how Judge Wise will rule in this matter. But it is relatively rare for an appellate court to reverse a trial judge, in both the civilian and military justice systems. That's why we'd be surprised to see Judge Wise to overturn the decision of his Army colleague.

But this is one case where a reversal appears to be in order. Allowing Murphy to go unpunished --and retire with a full pension--would set the worst possible precedence.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Environmental Irony

It's no secret that the broadcast networks have been shedding viewers at an alarming rate. And, as the economy sinks into a recession, the dinosaur nets face not only eroding audience levels, but declining advertising revenues as well.

So, how are the suits in the executive suite responding? As they normally do, with job cuts and ratings stunts.

Consider, for example, NBC's "Green" initiative. Touting its environmental "commitment," the network has created a website, instructing viewers on how they can "green" their routine, and they've worked the storyline into all of their shows.

Not that any one's paying attention. NBC's prime time audience ratings are down by double-digits this year, and a lot of GE executives can't wait until Super Bowl Sunday to recoup lost audiences and advertising. In the interim, their network is limping along with its environmental theme, looking for any hook or storyline to advance their eco-marketing ploy.

Even NBC's enormously popular (and profitable) "Today Show" is not immune. Last week, as part of the November sweeps, NBC news dispatched Today newsreader Ann Curry to climb Africa's Mount Kilimanjaro and report on its disappearing ice cap, supposedly the result of global warming.

But as Michelle Malkin and Newsbusters report, the network wound up with egg on its face. Given only three weeks to train, Ms. Curry never made the summit. And, her reporting on Kilimanjaro's vanishing snow cap was based more on hype, rather than fact.

With a little baisc research (you know, the stuff journalists are supposed to do before embarking on a story), Marc Sheppard of Newsbusters found that deforestation, not global warming, is the real reason for the shrinking ice mass on Africa's highest peak.

In an October of 2003 Nature Magazine piece, Betsy Mason explained why researchers blamed not global warming, but deforestation:

"Without the forests' humidity, previously moisture-laden winds blew dry. No longer replenished with water, the ice is evaporating in the strong equatorial sunshine."

A June 2007 study published in American Scientist, found that Kilimanjaro's melting had been going on for more than a century and most had occurred prior to 1953, when atmospheric CO2 levels were quite low. "Complex interacting factors" including a process called sublimation, which "occurs at below-freezing temperatures and converts ice directly to water vapor without going through the liquid phase" were cited.

That same year, South African nuclear physicist Dr. Kelvin Richard Kemm wrote in Engineering News that "It is not hot air melting the ice, but direct sunlight." Unlike the American Scientist team, Dr. Kemm stated as "scientific fact that there has been no measurable atmospheric warming in the region of Kilimanjaro,"based on satellite measurements of the region since 1979.

So what is causing the ice cap to melt? Once again, due to deforestation by locals "there is much less wet air moving up the mountain than there used to be, so less ice forms at the top."

Another effect of deforestation "mainly due to extensive farming" was named as recently as this August, in a report compiled by researchers Nicholas Pepin and Martin Schaefer of Britain`s Portsmouth University, who spent 11 days surveying the mountain`s glaciers. They too explained the drying effect a lack of forests cause, adding that:

"Loss of humidity automatically leads to a reduction in cloud cover. Clouds play a crucial role in protecting ice from sunrays, with fewer sunrays meaning faster freezing of water."

Mr. Sheppard also discovered that the NBC crew ignored basic safety guidelines for high altitude acclimation, increasing their risk for potentially-serious medical problems. But the snow-job had to go on, and Ms. Curry was a willing dupe.

Of course, a televised expedition to Africa is an expensive proposition, so NBC-Universal is facing an accounting challenge. How do you pay for a ratings stunt, with minimal impact on the corporate bottom line?

That brings us to GE's newest broadcast acquisition, The Weather Channel. While Ann Curry and her crew were climbing Kilimanjaro, the weather outlet was announcing major budget cuts. At least three on-camera meteorologists have been dropped, and in a bit of environmental irony, The Weather Channel's entire environmental unit was dropped.

Best known for such programs as "The Climate Code," and "Forecast Earth," the environmental crew offered no pretense of objectivity on its pet issue, global warming. In fact, their "climate expert," Dr. Heidi Cullen, once suggested that broadcast meteorologists should lose their credentials if they challenged the "scientific consensus" on the subject.

Despite heavy promotion, the environmental show never attracted much of an audience, and efforts to turn Cullen into a TV star were equally disastrous. "The Climate Code" was quietly cancelled, and Dr. Cullen was relegated into a secondary role on "Forecast Earth," fronted by former CNN (and MSNBC) anchor Natalie Allen.

While few viewers will mourn the TV demise of Heidi Cullen, the cutbacks also claimed two Weather Channel veterans, Dave Schwartz and Cheryl Lemke. While Ms. Lemke was something of an acquired taste (her broadcast style always struck us as mechanical an dull), Mr. Schwartz was one of the most popular on-camera mets at TWC. Not only was he adept at explaining the science of meteorology, he also reflected something rare at the channel: a genuinely engaging personality.

In their place, NBC will likely insert some of the younger (and cheaper) talent from "Weather Plus," the meteorology channel it started a few years ago. "Weather Plus" never caught on with viewers, prompting GE to spend more than $1 billion acquiring The Weather Channel from Norfolk-based Landmark Communications. The deal was finalized just months before the financial markets (and GE stock) tanked.

Still, General Electric is determined to turn its broadcast operations around. While the highly-paid anchors of "Today" are in no danger of losing their jobs (or a salary cut), meteorologists at The Weather Channel are definitely in danger. NBC and its parent corporation can't afford two weather outlets, and they'll run the "name" channel just as cheaply as they can.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Modernizing the Nuclear Arsenal

Over the past year, much attention has been paid to the "human" element of our nuclear arsenal. Embarrassing incidents at Minot AFB, North Dakota and Hill AFB, Utah prompted a comprehensive review of the Air Force's nuclear enterprise, and generated reforms aimed at bolstering experience and accountability among personnel who protect, service and handle nuclear weapons.

But the technology of our nuclear inventory also requires serious attention. The Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, Air Force General Kevin Chilton, emphasized that point in an interview with The Wall Street Journal. Among the world's major nuclear powers, the United States is the only one not investing in new weapons technology. As a result, our deterrent rests on an aging arsenal, with declining reliability, and yes, increasing safety concerns.

As General Chilton explained to the Journal's Melanie Kirkpatrick:

"We've done a pretty good job of maintaining our delivery platforms," the general says, by which he means submarines, intercontinental ballistic missiles and intercontinental bombers. But nuclear warheads are a different story. They are Cold War legacies, he says, "designed for about a 15- to 20-year life." That worked fine back when "we had a very robust infrastructure . . . that replenished those families of weapons at regular intervals." Now, however, "they're all older than 20 years . . . . The analogy would be trying to extend the life of your '57 Chevrolet into the 21st century."

Gen. Chilton pulls out a prop to illustrate his point: a glass bulb about two inches high. "This is a component of a V-61" nuclear warhead, he says. It was in "one of our gravity weapons" -- a weapon from the 1950s and '60s that is still in the U.S. arsenal. He pauses to look around the Journal's conference table. "I remember what these things were for. I bet you don't. It's a vacuum tube. My father used to take these out of the television set
in the 1950s and '60s down to the local supermarket to test them and replace them."

And here comes the punch line: "This is the technology that we have . . . today." The technology in the weapons the U.S. relies on for its nuclear deterrent dates back to before many of the people in the room were born.

The general then pulls out another prop: a circuit board that he holds in the palm of his hand. "Compare that to this," he says, pointing to the vacuum tube. "That's just a tiny, little chip on this" circuit board. But replacing the vacuum tube with a chip isn't going to happen anytime soon. The Department of Energy can't even study how to do so since Congress has not appropriated the money for its Reliable Replacement Warhead program.

But it's more than simply designing modern warheads. Chilton notes that the U.S. has also abandoned its infrastructure for building nuclear weapons. Manufacturing capabilities atrophied after the "newest" weapons were produced 20 years ago, and there has been no effort to sustain production facilities. Additionally, many of the experts who produced the last generation of nuclear weapons are approaching retirement age, but there has been little effort to train the next generation of scientists and engineers. The StratCom CINC describes the problem bluntly:

"The last individual to have worked on an actual nuclear test in this country, the last scientist or engineer, will have retired or passed on in the next five years." The younger generation has no practical experience with designing or building nuclear warheads.

General Chilton is lobbying hard for Reliable Replacement Warhead Program (RRWP), which would allow the U.S. to modernize its nuclear arsenal--and force necessary investments in research and manufacturing. Better technology, he observes, would produce a nuclear arsenal that is more reliable and less vulnerable to terrorism. Chilton told the WSJ that it's now possible to design "terrorist-proof" devices that cannot be detonated if they fall into the wrong hands.

Still, the new warhead program promises to be a tough sell. President-elect Barack Obama has talked about a nuclear-free world, so it's doubtful that he would invest in a new generation of weapons. But RRWP has a powerful ally in Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who will likely stay on for the first year of Obama's administration. We can only hope that Dr. Gates can convince the incoming commander-in-chief to change his mind.


General Chilton told the Journal that our nuclear delivery platforms are in better shape that the weapons they carry. But that assessment is charitable, in some respects. While introduction of the Ohio-class SSBNs (and the Trident D-5 missile) modernized the sea leg of our nuclear triad, the land-based elements are getting long in the tooth. Minuteman III ICBMs date from the 1970s (though some missiles received newer warheads from the Peacekeeper missile when that system was phased out). Meanwhile, B-52Hs--which rolled off the Boeing assembly line in 1962--remain the backbone of our land-based bomber force.

Despite their age, both the Minuteman III and B-52 retain relatively high mission-capability rates. That's a testament to the young men and women who maintain those systems. Not surprisingly, most are far younger than the aircraft and missiles they work on.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What Happened at Barksdale?

In the aftermath of those infamous nuclear incidents at Minot AFB, North Dakota and Hill AFB, Utah, the Air Force has implemented major reforms within its nuclear enterprise.

Among the many changes is a new evaluation program, built around "no notice" inspections. Under the old system, nuclear-capable units received notice of evaluations months in advance, giving them time to prepare.

However, a number of Air Force wings still managed to flunk their nuclear surety inspections, which measures unit readiness in categories ranging from maintenance to safety. By one estimate, roughly half of the service's nuclear units failed their inspections over the past decade.

The "no-notice" approach is designed to help reverse that trend, forcing units to prepare for evaluations that could, quite literally, occur at any time.

But will the new inspection scheme achieve the desired results? The jury's still out on that one, for a couple of reasons. First, the new evaluation system is in its infancy, and secondly, it's hard to tell how units are faring under no-notice inspections.

Case in point: the 2nd Bomb Wing at Barksdale AFB, Louisiana. Last week, the B-52 unit became the first Air Force wing to undergo a no-notice NSI. But results of the evaluation have not been released, raising speculation that the wing fared poorly.

In fairness, the USAF discourages the public release of inspection results. But, if you do a Google search of results for Operational Readiness Inspections or NSIs, you'll find plenty of units who trumpet the outcome of successful evaluations, and a few that acknowledge less-than-impressive results.

Earlier this month, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana announced that it had failed a nuclear surety inspection, but there would be no changes in wing leadership. In May of this year, the 5th Bomb Wing at Minot also flunked an NSI, but those results were first revealed by this blog, not the unit's public affairs office. The unit later confirmed that there were discrepancies in the evaluation, which prompted another visit from inspection teams in August. During that inspection, the 5th Wing earned passing grades.

Officially, the results of the Barksdale NSI have not been released and there's no requirement for the 2nd Bomb Wing to disclose them. But in light of recent failures, the public is entitled to greater transparency regarding Air Force nuclear operations. That's why the unit would be well-served by revealing the overall grade on its recent NSI, without divulging details that could compromise security.

But don't hold your breath. Barksdale never announced the results of its previous nuclear inspection, which occurred less than a month after the Minot mishap in 2007. In From the Cold filed a Freedom of Information Act request for results of that evaluation. We're still waiting for a response.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

One More Shot

Military prosecutors will be in court tomorrow, attempting to overturn a trial judge's ruling that would prevent punishment for Colonel Michael Murphy, who served as a JAG for more than 20 years, despite being disbarred in two states.

Murphy was Commander of the Air Force's Legal Operations Agency--and on the fast track to flag rank--when it was discovered that he had no law license and had been disbarred by Texas and Louisiana in the early 1980s. Murphy not only lost his command (and future chances at promotion), he also faced prison time on charges of conduct unbecoming an officer, failure to obey a general regulation and larceny of more than $500.

When the Air Force outlined the case against Colonel Murphy, it seemed like a slam dunk. He never informed superiors of his disbarment, and continued to serve in positions that required a law license. At government expense, Murphy also attended conferences and meetings for credentialed attorneys, actions that (apparently) prompted the larceny charges.

But prosecutors were dealt a devastating blow in early September, when Army Colonel Stephen Henley, the trial judge, ruled that Murphy cannot be punished even if he is convicted. Henley, who was appointed to hear the case because of Murphy's senior status in the Air Force JAG Corps, made his ruling because the White House Military Office has refused to release classified details of Murphy's service between 2001 and 2005.

Without that information, the judge decided, Colonel Murphy's defense team would be limited in its ability to demonstrate his "good conduct and performance" during the sentencing phase of the trial, which Henley called a "substantial right of a military accused."

As Air Force Times reports, the White House's refusal to disclose information has become a veritable "stay out of jail" card for Murphy:

The information about his tenure at the White House would not relate to the facts of whether Murphy possessed a valid law license, but it could be useful in presenting what is known as the “good airman defense” – a doctrine in military law that allows the defense to present information about the defendant’s character and job performance.

Murphy served with distinction there, earning unrestrained praise from superiors on his performance reports.

One of the reports cited in court documents says, “Few will ever know the contributions he has made to the security and continuity of our nation, but I do.” Another calls Murphy “a national security asset of the highest order.”

During his tenure at the WHMO, Murphy deployed to Baghdad immediately after the initial invasion of Iraq, where he provided support and security to an Iraqi agent who was helping the coalition secure Shiite support, according to an award citation. He also came under fire multiple times while escorting large sums of money that were to be funneled into the Iraqi economy, the citation says.


Beginning in June 2007 —immediately after charges against Murphy were filed — his defense team began seeking access to classified information regarding his duties and performance at the White House, according to the Sept. 5 ruling by Henley.

Friday's arguments will be made before the Air Force Court of Criminal Appeals at Bolling AFB in Washington. Whatever its ruling, the decision of the Air Force court is expected to be appealed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces, the highest in the military. A ruling from that court could only be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court.

As AFT observes, a petition to the appeals court for the armed forces could delay Murphy's courts-martial by another year. Not that the disgraced JAG is in a hurry for his day in court; over the past six months, the seemingly air-tight case against Murphy has slowly unraveled. Some legal analysts believe that if the Air Force court upholds Henley's ruling, the prosecution of Colonel Murphy will collapse, and the remaining charges will be dropped.

At that point, Murphy will waltz out the door, with a full pension and other retirement benefits.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Missing Gitmo (Already)

This much seems certain: sometime next year, President-elect Barack Obama will close the terrorist detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. What happens next is still unclear, but many of prisoners being held there will wind up in American courtrooms and prison cells, wreaking havoc in our legal and corrections systems.

Remember the Zacarias Moussaoui, the Al Qaida terrorist who was captured less than a month before the 9-11 attacks? Legal proceedings against Moussaoui dragged on for almost four years and, on more than one occasion, resembled a judicial farce. At various points, Moussaoui professed his innocence, declared himself guilty and even represented himself in court. His behavior was consistent with terrorist training manuals, which encouraged operatives to make a mockery of western judicial systems.

Multiply the Moussaoui trial by a factor of several hundred, and you've got some idea of what awaits the federal court system. But Mr. Obama remains undeterred, and in fairness, he may have little choice. As Ed Morrissey reminds us, the Supreme Court has, on two separate occasions, rejected the military tribunal system established by the Bush Administration.

But rather than pursue the matter in Congress (and the courts), the Obama team is determined to shut down Gitmo. Still, they haven't answered the most important questions: (1) how will the detainees be tried, and (2) can you sustain a viable intelligence system with analysts and operatives subject to questioning--and identification--in open court?

Those are but two reasons that abandoning the tribunal system (and closing) Guantanamo will eventually be regarded as colossal mistakes. But let's add one more to the list. Gitmo is tailor made for handling another problem that transcends international borders and jurisdictional authority.

We refer to pirates, particularly those operating along the coast of Somalia. While their recent hijackings of merchant vessels have gained international headlines, the piracy problem has existed for years. Making matters worse, there is the thorny issue of what to do with the pirates in the event they're captured.

Turn them over to the Somali government? What a joke. Somalia is the world's best example of a failed nation-state, with no functioning government and nothing approaching a viable criminal justice system, unless you count the Islamic courts run by an Al Qaida affiliate in the southern part of that country. The notion that Somalia could punish the pirates in ludicrous.

As for the nations--and navies--currently chasing the bad guys (and we use that term loosely), there are legitimate questions about jurisdictional authority. Could a U.S. Navy frigate, operating in the Gulf of Aden, detain pirates attacking a merchant vessel flagged under another nation's flag? And, what to do with them once they're taken into custody?

With the required international agreement, piracy suspects could be taken to Gitmo, detained there, tried by an international tribunal, and serve out their sentence--at the same, secure location.

Unfortunately, Gitmo has been forever tarred by administration critics, false claims of improper treatment and years of legal wrangling. We can't envision any scenario where the U.N. (or any other international body) authorizing the use of Guantanamo as a jail for international pirates.

Instead, the United Nations is suggesting tougher sanctions against Somalia as a way to curb piracy, and the Russians have suggested ground ops against pirate villages. Good luck with those proposals. The pirates operating around the Horn of Africa don't seem overly concerned.

On the issue of dealing with terrorism suspects, Attorney General Michael Mukasey is warning that Congress must address that issue again. In a column published in today's WSJ, Mr. Mukasey argues that the habeus corpus requirement for detainees has created a hodgepodge of inconsistent decisions in the federal courts. If Congress doesn't establish firm guidelines, he observes, we will be forced to choose between exposing intelligence assets in open court, or allowing terrorists to jump the immigration line and enter the United States.

Mukasey's op-ed offers three sound proposals for giving detainees a fair trial without crippling our legal system. Well worth a read. Ironically, the column appeared just hours after Mukasey collapsed while giving a speech to the Federalist Society in Washington. While Mr. Mukasey (who is 67) appears to be recovering quickly, keep him in your prayers. NRO's Andy McCarthy reminds us that Mukasey is a public servant of the first order. He has reprinted the text of Judge Mukasey's speech, which is equally superb.

"We are Ready to Deal With Iran"

Those are the words of Israel's Air Force commander, regarding a possible air strike against Tehran's nuclear facilities.

Major General Ido Nehushtan made the comments in a conversation with the German paper Der Spiegel, which was published on Tuesday. During the interview, Geneal Nehushtan said a potential strike is a political decision, and not a question of Israel's military capabilities:

A strike against Iran's nuclear facilities "is a political decision," the IAF commander said, "but if I understand it correctly, all options are on the table… The Air Force is a very robust and flexible force. We are ready to do whatever is demanded of us."

When asked by the paper whether the Israeli military was able to destroy Iran's nuclear facilities, which are spread around the country and partly located underground, Nehushtan said, "Please understand that I do not want to get into details. I can only say this: It is not a technical or logistical question."

Nehushtan said the cutting edge capabilities of the IDF in the region were not only a derivative of the advanced technologies it uses.

"Modern technology is one thing, but the biggest advantage we have is our soldiers and officers. Israel is a small country. We neither have a big population nor natural resources. Our biggest asset is our human resources. And it is the Air Force that makes best use of it," he said.

While Nehushtan's comments were clearly calibrated for Iranian consumption, there was little bluster in his remarks. The Israeli Air Force has been preparing for a potential strike against Iran for years, with periodic updates. Two years ago, a group of IAF officers told their USAF counterparts that plans for an attack were complete, and they (reportedly) include forward operating bases for commando teams that would support the mission.

The real question, of course, is whether Israel would actually order the strike. With the nation preparing for elections in February, the consensus has been that any decision will wait until the next prime minister takes office.

But events could force a shorter timeline. Iran is continuing its pursuit of nuclear weapons and delivery systems. By one estimate, Tehran could obtain its first nuclear device in as little as two years; that means that a raid aimed at derailing the Iranian program would be mounted sooner, rather than later. However, most intelligence agencies believe that Tehran won't obtain the bomb until after 2010, suggesting that Israel has a slightly wider window for military action.

However, U.S. politics will also play a role in Tel Aviv's eventual decision. Israeli officials view the incoming Obama Administration as being even less supportive of an attack against Iran than the current Bush White House. Based on that consideration, Israel could launch a strike under its current, caretaker government, before Obama takes office in January.

At this point, it's difficult to say how close Israel might be to a military attack against Iran. The IDF won't tip its hand, beyond vague statements like the one issued by Major General Nehushtan. In fact, given Israel's expertise in military deception, it's quite likely that any strike would be successfully concealed until the moment of execution.

Clearly, the Israelis don't want to tip their hand, but at some point, events in Iran (and elsewhere) may force a final decision. The next few months in the Middle East promise to be consequential, at the very least.


General Nehushtan's comments came as the IAEA announced that Tehran is rapdily increasing its stockpile of enriched uranium, which could be rendered into a nuclear device. According to experts interviewed by the Financial Times, Iran could reach "breakout" status by early next year, leaving it just one step away from producing enough fissile material for a nuclear device.

Just one more factor for the geopolitical calculus in Washington--and Tel Aviv. Mr. Obama, that first 3 a.m. phone call is closer than you think.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The First Broken Promise?

In an article for The Weekly Standard, Alan Dowd, a senior fellow at the Fraser Institute, wonders where Barack Obama will "land" on the issue of missile defense. On the campaign trail, candidate Obama offered at least two different positions on the issue.

During one memorable sound bite, he vowed to "cut investments in unproven missile defense systems," but offered a revised stance a few weeks later, in a debate with John McCain. When the topic arose in that national forum, Mr. Obama offered a measure of support, saying "I actually believe that we need missile defense, because of Iran and North Korea and the potential for them to obtain or to launch nuclear weapons."

So, which one will it be?

We'll find out in the coming weeks and, as Mr. Dowd writes, President-elect Obama would do well to stick with his more recent position. Both Tehran and Pyongyang are continuing their efforts to develop long-range missiles. Left unchecked, both will eventually have systems capable of delivering a nuclear weapon against the CONUS.

Meanwhile, Iranian missiles can already threaten most of the Middle East and southeastern Europe; North Korea's medium and intermediate range systems are capable of reaching the entire Korean peninsula and Japan. They can also threaten more distant targets including Guam, Hawaii, and portions of Alaska.

To counter that threat, the U.S. and its allied partners have been working--and deploying--a series of ballistic missile defense systems. As Mr. Dowd notes, these systems have achieved an 81% success rate since 2001, in a series of increasingly complex, hit-to-kill tests. He observes that " a growing global coalition prefers those odds over the zero-percent chance of success guaranteed by shutting down the missile defense program or consigning it to the lab."

But that's where missile defense technology may wind up, if Mr. Obama sides with members of his own party. A number of Senate Democrats, led by Carl Levin of Michigan, have threatened to slash missile defense spending by imposing unrealistic performance criteria. Under their standards, even successful programs like the Navy's Aegis/Standard Missile-3 ER would be in jeopardy, because they can't achieve a 100% success rate.

Obviously, Levin and his colleagues understand that no defense system can meet the benchmark--but that's the idea. By setting the bar impossibly high, they can justify extreme cuts in missile defense because the technology simply doesn't "measure up."

Of course, our adversaries are also attempting to influence the debate. Russia has threatened to deploy SS-26 missiles in the Kaliningrad region, allowing them to target interceptor rockets that the U.S. plans to base in Poland. North Korea and Iran have staged missile tests this year, offering a preview of their response to our planned deployments.

Will our next president take the bait? Mr. Obama's debate comments suggests he might support some forms of missile defense, but the president-elect will face still opposition from Congressional Democrats--the same Congressmen and Senators he needs to pass other elements of his agenda.

Against that backdrop, we can't see President Obama putting up much of a fight for missile defense programs. In fact, the next commander-in-chief is already sending mixed signals on the missile shield for western Europe. Only a day after Obama seemed to support the proposal (in a phone conversation with Poland's president), an aide clarified his position, saying the president elect was "non-committal" on the topic.

That's hardly reassuring to our allies, who have invested their own money--and political capital --in missile defense. That's why they hoping that Barack Obama will break his "original" campaign promise, and sustain key missile defense initiatives. As Mr. Dowd observes, at least 12 openly hostile regimes are currently working on missile programs--programs that pose a current or future threat to the U.S. and its allies. That alone should be enough for Mr. Obama to break with members of his party on the missile defense issue.

But don't get your hopes up.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The Case Continues

On the eve of this year's presidential election, attorneys representing John McCain went before a federal judge in Virginia, asking him to preserve--and count--military absentee ballots that were received after the submission deadline.

It was a timely--and valid--request. As we've noted before, members of the armed forces are the most disenfranchised segment of the electorate. By one estimate, roughly two-thirds of absentee votes submitted by overseas military personnel go uncounted, for a very simple reason--they don't receive their ballots in time to meet state submission requirements.

In Virginia, for example, the law requires that absentee ballots be returned by 7 p.m. on election night to be counted. But local election officials in the state--like most around the country--mailed out the ballots well after the 45-day deadline established by a 1986 federal law. Under that standard, absentee ballots in Virginia should have gone to the post office in late September; but in most counties around the state, they weren't mailed out until mid-October--or later.

Anticipating a close race in Virginia, the McCain campaign asked Federal Judge Richard L. Williams to preserve late-arriving ballots, and count them. Williams agreed to preserve the ballots, pending a 17 November court hearing.

When the two sides returned to the courtroom today, the judge removed the McCain campaign as a plantiff in the lawsuit. However, he rejected state claims' that the suit is moot, because it would not affect election results. Instead, Judge Williams agreed to let the Justice Department replace the campaign as the plantiff in the case. A hearing on the merits of the case is scheduled for next month.

It's unclear if Williams will actually order the votes to be counted, but today's ruling is a partial victory for military absentee voters, and those fighting to preserve their election rights. Justice Department attorney Alberto Ruisanchez said it's important to ensure that votes are properly counted, both in this year's election and future contests.

We heartily concur. But we still wonder why it took the McCain campaign--and the Bush Administration--so long to intervene. The disenfranchisement of military personnel is hardly new, but (to our knowledge) the McCain lawsuit was the only legal action attempted during this election cycle. Likewise, the White House has never thrown its support behind GOP-sponsored legislation aimed at making it easier for military members to vote.

Unfortunately, that decision represents another missed opportunity for the Bush team. With almost 70% of military members voting Republican, the administration--and its Justice Department--should have done far more to ensure the voting rights of those who wear the uniform.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sink the Bismarck

A Fairley Swordfish, the antiquated World War II torpedo bomber that helped sink the German battleship Bismarck (Daily Mail photo).

On the afternoon of May 24, 1941, the men of the Royal Navy's 825 Squadron received a desperate assignment. Launching their Swordfish biplanes from the carrier Victorious, the squadron was to locate and sink--or at least damage--the mighty German battleship Bismarck.

Earlier that day, the search for the Bismarck had taken on a new urgency. It was no longer a matter of locating (and neutralizing) Nazi Germany's most powerful ship, to prevent raids against Allied convoys. The hunt for the Bismarck was now a matter of British pride.

Hours before the pilots, observers and gunners of 825 Squadron learned of their mission, the Bismarck sunk the battle cruiser HMS Hood, the pride of the Royal Navy, in a surface battle in the Denmark Strait. Hit in one of her ammunition compartments, the Hood exploded and sank in less than three minutes; only three British sailors survived.

As Britain sought revenge for the Hood, the task of intercepting the Bismarck seemed daunting, if not impossible. The German dreadnought had sustained minor damage in its engagement with the British battle cruiser and its sister ship, Prince of Wales. But Bismarck was making more than 20 knots, steaming east toward the safety of Nazi-occupied France and Luftwaffe air cover. The window for catching Bismarck was already closing.

Against that backdrop, nine Swordfish of 825 Squadron departed Victorious in fading daylight. With their fabric and steel frame construction, the torpedo bombers were vulnerable to a variety of threats, including small arms fire, anti-aircraft guns and enemy fighters. First introduced in 1934, the Swordfish was obsolete by the time World War II began, but it remained in operational service. And on that May evening in 1941, the hopes of the Royal Navy--and all of Britain--rested on nine antiquated biplanes, and the 27 airmen who flew them.

It was a long shot, at best. The Victorious had joined the fleet less than a month earlier, and many of the Swordfish crews were equally inexperienced; some had made their first carrier landing only days earlier. Members of 825 Squadron had never conducted a combat strike, but the unit commander, Lieutenant Commander Eugene Esmonde, assured superiors that his men were up to the task.

Still, Esmonde had a couple of factors working in his favor. His Swordfish were equipped with the latest surveillance radar, and Royal Navy vessels were still shadowing Bismarck. Just before midnight, having sighted the enemy vessel visually and on radar, 825 Squadron launched its attack.

Their effort was gallant, but the results were disappointing. Bismarck put up a hail of anti-aircraft fire, and her skipper, Captain Ernst Lindemann, expertly dodged at least seven torpedoes.

But one of the Swordfish pilots was waiting to release his torpedo. Lieutenant Percy Gick, leading an element of three aircraft, launched his attack from starboard, but was dissatisfied with the angle. While the other Swordfish in his element pressed on--and missed--Glick elected to climb back into the clouds and maneuver around to port.

He reappeared as two other Swordfish crews launched their weapons. Gick's attack surprised the Germans and even the skillful Captain Lindemann couldn't outmaneuver the last torpedo. It exploded amidships, squarely in Bismarck's armored belt.

The torpedo inflicted little actual damage, but it did slow the Bismarck, at least indirectly. Lindemann's efforts to avoid the British torpedoes--and concussion from Gick's direct hit--loosened collision mats, installed to limit flooding in damaged forward compartments after the Hood engagement.

As a result, Bismarck's speed dropped below 20 knots, slowing the battleship's progress toward France, and giving the British more time to close in for the kill. Forty-eight hours later, Swordfish from another carrier, Ark Royal, sealed the battleship's fate. A torpedo launched by Sub-Lieutenant John Moffat jammed Bismarck's rudder and steering gear, leaving the giant ship steaming in a circle.

Hours later, the German vessel was decimated by a British surface force, led by the battleships King George V and the Rodney. But contrary to popular belief, Bismarck didn't slip beneath the waves until she was finally scuttled by her crew. Hundreds of German sailors jumped into the cold water, but the threat of U-boat attack prompted the British to suspend rescue operations. Of the Bismarck's 2,200 man crew, less than 300 survived.


One of the men who helped sink the Bismarck died this week. Les Sayer was the radio operator-gunner for Percy Gick, the Swordfish pilot whose torpedo slowed the German battleship. As the U.K. Daily Mail recounts, Sayer remembered staring down at the ocean after a shell splash from the battleship ripped the aircraft's fabric exterior. Sayer won the Distinguished Service Medal for his exploits during the Bismarck mission. After the war, he spent more than 30 years in civil aviation with various European airlines.

Mr. Sayer was also one of the last survivors of 825 Squadron. Three members of the unit were lost on a subsequent sortie to locate the Bismarck, and thirteen others died nine months later, on a mission against two other German capital ships, the Scharnhorst, Gneisenau and Prinz Eugen, during their famous dash up the English Channel. Among those lost on that day was Eugene Esmonde, the resourceful commander who found the Bismarck on the May evening, in the gathering darkness of the North Atlantic.

The "A" Word

The Air Force's renewed emphasis on accountability was a key factor in the recent firing of a wing commander at Kunsan AB, Korea.

Sources tell Air Force Times that Colonel Bryan Bearden, the former leader of the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan, lost his job because superiors lost confidence in his ability to lead. Bearden's dismissal came after recent inspections revealed problems in the wing's maintenance group.

Those problems caused Gen. Howie Chandler, Pacific Air Forces commander, to lose faith in Bearden’s leadership, according to sources with knowledge of the situation.

A PacAF press release said he was fired because “duty performance factors” led Chandler to conclude “new leadership was required to maintain the highest levels of precision and reliability.”


Bearden is not being investigated for any wrongdoing, sources said, but he presided over the wing during a series of recent inspections that found problems with the maintenance group’s adherence to technical orders and standards of documentation.

Maintenance is a critical function for any fighter wing, so it's not surprising that General Chandler decided to dismiss Bearden. Discrepancies in the maintenance complex impact the wing's ability to train and generate combat sorties--a situation that is unacceptable in any unit, particularly one that is located less than 200 miles from the Korean DMZ.

As readers of this blog know, the Air Force launched a major accountability movement after last year's nuclear mistakes at Minot AFB, North Dakota and Hill AFB, Utah. The commander of Minot's 5th Bomb Wing was fired last fall after crews mistakenly loaded nuclear-tipped cruise missiles on a B-52, which ferried them to Barksdale AFB, Louisiana.

More recently, a number of senior officers--including several generals--received administrative punishment over the Hill incident, when fuses for an ICBM's nuclear warhead were accidentally shipped to Taiwan.

However, the accountability movement may have its limits. As we noted yesterday, the 341st Missile Wing at Malmstrom AFB, Montana ran into problems during a nuclear surety inspection (NSI). Unsatisfactory grades in two elements of the evaluation resulted in an overall failing grade, and another visit from the IG team.

But there won't be a leadership change at Malmstrom. After the inspection results were revealed, the wing's parent organization (Air Force Space Command) announced that the leader of the 341st, Colonel Michael Fortney, would keep his job. According to a press release, Space Command has determined that the wing has the "right leadership team" in place to make required changes.

Admittedly, Air Force commanders need some degree of flexibility in handling troubled units. In some cases, the failings are well below the command level and corrective measures can be implemented without removing the wing commander. In other instances, widespread or serious discrepancies may dictate a change in senior leadership.

Unfortunately, "flexibility" is sometimes an excuse for selective accountability. We've seen cases in the past where failing commanders were given a second chance on the strength of their connections. We're not saying that was the case at Malmstrom. But it is rather odd that Fortney kept his job after failing an NSI--in a new era of "strict accountability" among nuclear-capable units.

What the Air Force could use is a little more clarity in such matters. In the days of Curt LeMay, any wing commander who failed an NSI--regardless of the reason--could expect a quick dismissal, no exceptions. Maybe that's what the service needs to get its nuclear enterprise back on track.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Changing of the Guard

When Barack Obama takes office, he will apparently appoint a new Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and a new leader for the wider intelligence community.

Sources tell the Washington Post that former Air Force General Michael Hayden, the CIA Director, and retired Admiral Mike McConnell, the Director of National Intelligence, expect to be replaced by the new administration.

The expectations of Hayden and McConnell are based on the fact that the Obama transition team has not reached out to either intelligence official. Additionally, key Democrats have called for their replacement when Obama takes office in January.

Quite frankly, we'd be surprised if the new president retained either man for his national security team. General Hayden and Admiral McConnell have become convenient targets for left, on issues ranging from interrogation techniques and domestic wiretapping, to the rendition of terrorist suspects to their native countries. In fairness, many of the issues surfaced under their predecessors, although Mr. Hayden served as director of the National Security Agency for six years, a period that coincided with the 9-11 attacks, and domestic surveillance programs to ferret out possible terrorists.

Both Hayden and McConnell are career intelligence officers who are (reportedly) worried about a transition during a time of war. And those concerns are justified, particularly since their potential replacements, former CIA officials John Brennan and Jami Miscik, and onetime Clinton National Security Advisor Anthony Lake, have been "out of the loop" for a while.

In terms of experience, Brennan once served as chief of staff for former CIA Director George Tenet. Ms. Miscik was also a member of Tenet's team, working as his executive assistant before concluding her career as the agency's Deputy Director of Intelligence. Lake was once Bill Clinton's nominee to lead the CIA, until he withdrew his name, due to Republican opposition. Dr. Lake probably sealed his fate by expressing doubts about the guilt of Alger Hiss in a TV interview.

From our perspective, Brennan, Miscik and Lake are less-than-impressive candidates. But that's not to say that an Obama nominee couldn't get up to speed and become a capable leader. But there is also a need for an orderly transition at the top of the intelligence community, given the threats we now face. It makes little sense to can Hayden and McConnell on Day One of the new administration, and leave those posts vacant for weeks, or even months.

And the transition problem doesn't end there. The departure of General Hayden and Admiral McConnell will be accompanied by dozens of subordinates, charged with the supervision of key intelligence programs and functions. If history is any guide, filling those positions will take even longer, leaving the community without senior leadership for an extended period of time. Hayden and McConnell are not without their faults, but they have provided stable, competent leadership at a time the intelligence community needed it most.

Managing the intel transition is a rather simple proposition; as much as the Democrats may dislike the current CIA Director and DNI, they need to decide which official they can tolerate for a few months, maybe even a year. In the mean time, the Obama team can start the process of replacing other senior officials, in a timely, orderly manner.

Now, if they could only do something about the quality of their likely nominees.

A Tale of Two Inspections

For an Air Force wing commander, an operational readiness inspection (ORI) or Nuclear Surety Inspection (NSI) represents the defining moment of your tour. The evaluation represents the commander's ultimate report card and will determine--to a large degree--their future prospects for promotion.

That's why the results of two recent inspections are rather revealing, and deserve additional scrutiny, In recent weeks, the 8th Fighter Wing at Kunsan AB, Korea and the 341st Missile Wing, located at Malmstrom AFB, Montana, fared poorly during recent evaluations.

In the case of the 8th Wing, the unit actually passed its most recent ORI (conducted in April 2007), but that evaluation--and subsequent inspections--revealed major problems in its maintenance group. The discrepancies were apparently so serious that the wing commander, Colonel Bryan Bearden, was relieved of his duties by General Howie Chandler, the commander of Pacific Air Forces.

Sources tell Air Force Times that the problems at Kunsan stemmed from poor adherence to technical orders and documentation issues within the maintenance complex. Technical orders (or TO's) provide detailed guidance for repairing aircraft and other equipment. The process also requires extensive documentation of problems discovered and the actions taken to correct them. TO compliance and documentation are major inspection items for all Air Force maintenance organizations.

Ironically, Bearden served as commander of the 43rd maintenance group at Pope AFB, North Carolina before assuming the top job at Kunsan in May. Based on that assignment (and more than more than 15 years of experience as an F-16 pilot), Bearden had detailed knowledge of maintenance procedures, and what's required in terms of documentation. That may be one reason that General Chandler was quick to give Bearden the boot.

From the general's perspective, Colonel Bearden had the background to fix problems in his maintenance complex--but somehow failed to get the job done. In fact, given Bearden's limited tenure at "The Kun" it appears that the maintenance issues predated his arrival, and he was sent to the base (in part) to fix that part of the wing.

A PACAF press release said that "duty performance factors" led to Bearden's dismissal. It's also worth noting that Kunsan's maintenance group commander, Colonel Harry Truhn, remains on the job, despite his organization's performance problems. That suggests a potential conflict between Truhn and his former boss; perhaps Bearden was willing to tolerate standards that the maintenance group commander found unacceptable. Or, perhaps General Chandler simply wanted to send a signal, and the ultimate responsibility for the wing's performance rested with Colonel Bearden, not his subordinates.

As anyone who's served at Kunsan will tell you, being commander of "The Wolfpack" is one of the toughest jobs in the Air Force. Everyone at the base is one a one-year remote tour; with the constant turnover of personnel, it's difficult to sustain an experienced, combat-ready team. And, with the DMZ less than 200 miles away, the 8th Wing is on the tip of the proverbial spear, facing a very real North Korean threat.

But that doesn't excuse poor performance. Scores of wing and group commanders have served their time at Kunsan, maintaining the standards required of a front-line combat unit. Colonel Bearden had his chance and (obviously) came up short. Now his replacement, Colonel Jerry Harris, will get a chance to turn things around.

While Bearden moves to a new assignment, his counterpart at Malmstrom, Colonel Michael Fortney, escaped a similar fate. Fortney's unit received failing grades in two elements of its recent NSI, resulting in an unsatisfactory rating for the overall evaluation. But Air Force Space Command, the wing's parent organization, has already announced that there will be no leadership changes at the 341st. According to a press release, Space Command believes "the right leadership" is in place to make the needed changes at Malmstrom.

Fair enough. There's nothing in Air Force inspection guidelines that mandates the firing of a commander of a failing unit. And, while contrasting a fighter wing to a missile unit may seem like an apples-and-oranges comparison, there are similarities between the situations at Kunsan and Malmstrom. Both wing commanders had been on the job for only six months, and both had troubled maintenance organizations that were affecting the unit as a whole.

But Fortney kept his job, despite the USAF's new, tougher critieria for nuclear inspections--and recent problems in the service's nuclear enterprise. Malmstrom is at least the fourth nuclear unit to fail an NSI this year, but Colonel Fortney will keep his job. That will raise new questions about accountability, supposedly a cornerstone of the Air Force's nuclear reform effort.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Gathering Storm

An Iranian Sajjil missile is launched from a test site west of Tehran (Associated Press photo via Fox News)

Barack Obama's first international "test" moved a bit closer to reality today, with Iran's test of a new, solid-fuel missile that can strike targets in Israel--and southeastern Europe--more accurately (and with less warning) than other missiles in Tehran's inventory.

Iranian Defense Minister Mostafa Mohammed Najjar identified the missile as the Sajjil, which was launched from a test complex western of Tehran. The two-stage system has a reported range of 1,200 miles, allowing it to reach targets as far away as Greece and Israel. Iranian officials claim that the Sajjil is Iran's first medium-range missile to use solid fuel technology, similar to that found in more advanced systems produced by Russia, China and the West.

While the test launch was a major step for Iran's missile program, it also represented another failure. U.S. defense officials report that th Sajjil suffered an engine failure in the early stages of its flight and traveled only 180 miles, less than 20% of its advertised range. Similar failures have also occurred in past launches of extended range versions of the Shahab-3, Tehran's first medium-range ballistic missile.

Unlike the Sajjil, the Shahab-3 uses liquid fuel to power its engines. While liquid-fuel engines represent proven technology, they also pose operational problems. The missile must be fueled before launch, raising the potential for accidents--or detection by intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) systems. It can take up to an hour to fuel an older Iranian SCUD or Shahab-3 and in some cases, the missile must be elevated to firing position before the propellant and oxidizer can be loaded.

By comparison, solid fuel is stable and can be stored in the missile for extended periods of time. That decreases the "signature" associated with operations--you don't need oxidizer and propellant trucks following your launcher vehicle around the countryside. With a smaller signature, it becomes more difficult to spot (and interdict) missile operations.

That problem is further compounded by the rapid response time of solid fuel missile systems. With liquid fuel missiles, there is often a lag between the receipt of launch orders and the actual event, increasing the vulnerability of the weapon--and its crew--to enemy interdiction efforts. The problem is particularly acute in Iran's ballistic missile force; many of its Shahab-3 launchers cannot raise a fully-fueled missile, meaning that the airframe must be elevated prior to fueling operations.

Those difficulties are largely eliminated by the use of solid-fuel missiles. With the propellant (and warhead) already on-board, a solid-fuel system can respond much more rapidly to operational tasking. Using standard "shoot-and-scoot" tactics, a Sajjil crew could fire their missile and move to an alternate site for re-loading and new tasking. That makes the job of "Scud hunting" (or, in this case, MRBM hunting) that much more difficult.

Additionally, Iran has taken steps to help conceal its missile and rocket forces, improving their prospects for survivability. In the spring of 2005, for example, western intelligence analysts were surprised to find pre-surveyed launch sites for SCUDs and battlefield rockets near the Persian Gulf coastline. The sites had been used in a late-winter exercise involving Iranian missile units, but the deployment locations weren't discovered until well after the training ended. That discovery underscores the difficulty associated with finding ballistic missiles and rockets in the field.

Tehran has also developed a concealed launch site which could support a surprise attack against Israel, U.S. targets in the Gulf region, or locations in southeastern Europe. When Iran's missile base at Bakhtaran was built several years ago, analysts noted a rather unusual feature in one of the underground bunkers. Iranian engineers left a rather wide opening in the top of the bunker, which was burrowed beneath a hill.

More detailed analysis revealed the opening was actually a launch shaft for Shahab-3 missiles, which are based at the facility. The underground cavern was large enough to allow a missile to be elevated to launch position and fired through the shaft. Using the subterranean complex, Iranian crews could prepare and fire the missile with little chance of detection. It was an ideal facility for staging a "bolt from the blue" strike against one of Iran's enemies.

Development of the Sajjil will make that scenario even more likely. A solid-fuel system is a much safer option for an underground launch, since the missile uses a more stable propellant. Couple that with improved reaction times, and you have an ideal weapon for the Bakhtaran complex. Clearly, Iran's new missile has significant technical hurdles to overcome, but those challenges are not insurmountable.

And, of course, Tehran is continuing its quest to develop a nuclear warhead, capable of delivery by medium and long-range missiles. That represents the ultimate weapon for for a first-strike system, like the one tested today in the Iranian desert.


ADDENDUM: So, how does the missile launch figure into the "challenge" for Mr. Obama? Consider this possibility: Iran would benefit from a crisis that sends oil prices spiraling. Tehran typically stages major military exercise in the late winter/early spring that includes ballistic missile units. The next Sajjil test could well occur during that time frame, part of an Iranian effort to provoke the U.S. and test the mettle of the new commander-in-chief. This won't be the last time that Mr. Obama (and his advisers) have to deal with Tehran's new missile.

Today's event also underscores the importance of the recent deployment of a U.S. X-band radar to Israel. Capable of detecting missile launches at long range, the radar will give Israeli officials an additional 60-70 seconds of warning time, critical in any "surprise attack" scenario.

Monday, November 10, 2008

The Greatest Day in History

Ninety years ago tomorrow, at the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, the guns fell silent along the western front. The Armistice had been signed and World War I was officially over, though fighting in the Italian Alps and the Middle East would persist for several weeks.

Popular images of that first Armistice Day depict shell-shocked combatants emerging from the trenches, stunned by the now-quiet guns and the end of the terrible carnage that had claimed millions of lives.

But those notions are deceiving. Fact is, there was a great deal of activity in the final days and hours leading up to the end of World War I. While the generals were aware that the fighting would end on 11 November, bitter--even desperate--fighting continued up to the end in many sectors. By one estimate, at least 11,000 men died on that final day of the war, more than the number that perished during the D-Day invasion a generation later.

The horror (and futility) of the conflict's final hours has been captured in a pair of recent books, Joseph Perisco's Eleventh Month, Eleventh Day, Eleventh Hour: Armistice Day, 1918 (published three years ago), and the more recent The Greatest Day in History: How, on the Eleventh Hour of the Eleventh Day of the Eleventh Month, the First World War Finally Came to an End, by Nicholas Best, the British journalist and critic.

Mr. Best's book was published last month, but like Perisco, he brings an eye for detail and irony to his subject. Among the millions present for the final act of World War I, he finds the already-famous (including the youngest general in the U.S. Army, one Douglas MacArthur) and the soon-to-be-infamous. Miles from the front lines, an Austrian Corporal was recuperating from his injuries in a military hospital near Berlin; his name was Adolph Hitler.

The war's end was anything but a surprise. German offensives in the spring and summer had been repulsed with terrible losses, and morale plummeted. In late September, the Army Chief of Staff, General Erich Ludendorff, warned that his forces faced not only defeat, but "annihilation." His bold gamble to achieve total victory on the western front had failed.

Meanwhile, Allied forces were on the advance, bolstered by the ever-expanding American Expeditionary Force. With the enemy in retreat, French, U.S. and British generals were anxious to press their advantage, even if an armistice was in the offing. That possibility first surfaced on the evening of 7 November, when a German delegation requested terms from Marshal Foch, the Allied Supreme Commander. "I have no proposals to make," Foch told the Germans, informing them that the war would continue while he obtained the consent of allied governments.

As Joseph Perisco writes, the senior American commander, General John J. Pershing, considered an armistice "equally repugnant." There can be "no conclusion until Germany is brought to her knees," he said. Conciliation, he claimed, would only lead to future war. Pershing wanted Germany's unconditional surrender.

So, the fighting dragged on, even when it became clear that the armistice would go into effect. The Germans didn't sign the agreement until the morning of the 11th, but radio traffic between various allied headquarters anticipated the war's end. However, few commanders issued orders aimed at limiting combat during the conflict's final hours.

So, the advance continued, with little regard for the cost. The British, still stung by their retreat from Mons, Belgium in the first year of the year, moved to recapture the city as the armistice approached. The commander of a French regiment issued two orders, for an attack to begin at 9 a.m., and to cease-fire at 11 a.m. Canadian troops also launched new assaults as the cease-fire loomed.

But it was the AEF, still a relative newcomer to the war, that launched some of the heaviest attacks in the final hours of the war. One of Pershing's Corps Commanders, Major General Charles Sumerall, ordered his Marines to cross the Meuse River under heavy fire. Hundreds were killed or wounded.

In another sector, an American division commander pressed his attack because the "unit lacked proper bathing facilities," putting (in Perisco's words) "cleanliness above survival." An artillery battery commander named Harry Truman put down one last barrage in the war's closing hours, giving his men a chance to test the "extended range" shells they had just received. In a letter to his wife, Truman expressed a desire to "scalp" a few Germans.

By various estimates, at least 300 American troops died between midnight and 11 a.m. on 11 November. But those numbers are suspect; they do not include casualties among U.S. units attached to British and French units. The actual total is believed to be much higher. Pershing's own, official report indicates that the last American died in battle at 10:59 a.m., only one minute before the armistice went into effect.

And to what end? As Perisco notes, allied troops could have easily marched into the same areas after the cease-fire, with no loss of life. But the opportunity for career advancement, or to inflict additional punishment on the enemy proved irresistible. That's one reason that the last hours of the war were an extension of the preceding years. The slaughter continued until that last moment, on day the British papers called "the greatest in history"

Today's Reading Assignment

"How to Survive Media Bias," a primer found in Kathryn Jean Lopez's most recent syndicated column, and reprinted at NRO. She recounts the recent, MSM "hatchet job" on Minnesota Congresswoman Michelle Bachmann, who was pilloried for on MSNBC's "Hardball," for questioning Barack Obama's ties to domestic terrorist Bill Ayers.

This is an unrepentant terrorist who says he wishes he would have bombed more people. Remember, this is a man who bombed the Pentagon and was happy to be bombing Americans, as well. This is not a person that the president of the United States would want to be associated with.

For her troubles, Ms. Bachmann was called a "hatemonger"--and worse. As Ms. Lopez reports, left wing talk show host Mike Malloy (he's still on the air?) likened the Congresswoman to someone who would "have rounded up Jews for the Nazis," or given typhoid-infected blankets to native Americans.

After that dust-up, Bachmann was given up for dead, at least politically. The Republican National Committee reportedly pulled funding for her campaign, leaving Ms. Bachmann on her own. Democrats were salivating at the prospect of another seat falling into their column.

But Congresswoman Bachmann didn't give up. She fought back, speaking directly to her constituents, largely through talk radio. And, she eeked out a narrow victory on Election Night, while scores of other Republicans went down to defeat.

As Ms. Lopez notes, there's a lesson for the GOP in Michelle Bachmann's successful effort to keep her seat. It's the same advice we offered a few days ago. Republicans need to embrace their "media base," and it isn't MSNBC, the broadcast networks, or dinosaur print publications.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

A Lease Deal With Deadly Consequences?

Various media outlets are reporting that the Russian Navy has suffered another, fatal submarine accident.

A Russian naval spokesman tells Reuters that 21 sailors died in the mishap, and 21 more were injured. The name of the vessel and the accident location were not disclosed, but Russian sources indicate that the destroyer Admiral Tributs was assisting the rescue operations. Normally based at Vladivostok, the largest base in the Russian Pacific Fleet, the Tributs participation suggests that that mishap occurred near the naval facility.

We also know that the unnamed sub had a crew that was much larger than normal. According to Russian sources, at least 208 personnel were on board the sub at the time of the mishap. A "standard" crew for a Russian Akula-class attack submarine is between 50-100 men; a Los Angeles-class attack boat of the U.S. Navy has a complement of 129.

Why the over-sized crew? Galrahn at InformationDissemination offers the most logical explanation. The sub that suffered the fatal mishap is (likely) the same attack boat that Russia has leased to the Indian Navy. Delhi has signed a 10-year, $650 million deal to lease the vessel from Russia, with delivery expected next year.

Citing Russian press accounts, Galrahn reported late last month that the Akula-type sub was undergoing sea trails off the Soviet Pacific coast--the same area where the accident occurred. The expanded crew included Russian and Indian sailors, as well as shipyard personnel. At this point, it's unclear if Indian personnel and Russian contractors were among the dead and injured.

Initial reports suggest the mishap began with the "unsanctioned functioning of the fire extinguishing systems.” The Russian spokesman didn't explain what that means, but it suggests that crew members were caught in spaces where oxygen was in short supply; without access to emergency breathing equipment--and training in how to use it--survival would be difficult.

The accident was the latest in a long string of submarine tragedies in the Soviet and Russian navies. Eight years ago, an Oscar II attack submarine, designated the Kursk, sank in the Barents Sea after an accident. The entire crew--more than 100 men--perished. In 1989, 42 of the 69 crew members of a "Mike" class boat were lost after their submarine sank off Norway. That accident was blamed on a fire that caused mechanical malfunctions on board the sub.

During the "Mike" disaster, most of the crew made it out of the stricken boat, but there weren't enough life rafts, and many of the crew members perished in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic. With more than 200 men crowded on that Akula, it's not difficult to envision a scenario where men couldn't access emergency breathing equipment, or were not trained on its proper use.

By some estimates, more than 500 Russian sailors have died in submarine accidents over the last 50 years. The sub involved in the latest accident is believed to be a fairly new hull that was overhauled in anticipation of the transfer to India.

Another Procurement Holiday?

A lot of people have been waxing nostalgic for the 1990s. You know, that supposed era of peace, prosperity and fat 401k accounts.

But the decade of the 90s had a dark side--and we're not referring to Clinton's cigar and that infamous stained dress. In an effort to keep his poll numbers high (and secure re-election), President Clinton put off a number of key decisions, setting the stage for debacles that followed.

As we've recently discovered, he opened the door for the sub-prime lending mess, by putting the Community Reinvestment Act on steroids, and threatened banks that refused to lend to risky customers. Mr. Clinton also put his cronies in charge of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the quasi-public institutions that bought up the loans and packaged them as securities. Folks like Franklin Raines and Jamie Gorelick got rich while running those organizations into the ground, and triggering the recent economic collapse.

In terms of national security, Bill Clinton is remembered, most infamously, for ignoring the rising threat of Islamic fundamentalism. Despite a series of attacks at home and abroad, he refused to response decisively, encouraging terrorists to up the ante and execute the 9/11 attacks.

But there's another element of the Clinton legacy (and the 1990s) that often goes ignored. We refer to the so-called "procurement holiday" that gripped the Pentagon during that decade. Critical decisions on major weapons programs were postponed or shelved, forcing the Pentagon to extend the service lives of existing systems. Investor's Business Daily aptly described the problem--and its consequences--in an editorial published earlier this year:

In the first six years of the Clinton administration, Bush 41's budget projections for weapons procurement were slashed by $160 billion. For fiscal 2000, the Congressional Budget Office said $90 billion a year was needed to hold procurement steady. The Clinton procurement budget was a mere $55 billion. During the Reagan buildup (fiscal 1981-87), we spent an average of $131 billion on procurement.


Because we didn't spend enough on defense and procurement during the Clinton years, it's going to be expensive to catch up. Because we're still spending too little on defense, the Air Force's original plans for 750 F-22 Raptors to replace the aging F-15 has been reduced to just 183.

MacKenzie Eaglen, senior policy analyst for national security at the Heritage Foundation, told Cybercast News Service:

"The U.S. Air Force has been engaged in continuous combat for the last 17 years with fewer airplanes today than in 1990 — only increasing their age more quickly. Moreover, current Air Force plans call for retiring two F-15s for every new F-22 brought into service."

To be fair, the administration of George W. Bush has, in some respects, ignored the problem as well. It was his Secretary of Defense, Robert Gates, who elected to cap F-22 production at 183. He has also incurred the wrath of lawmakers, for refusing to spend $140 million allocated for buying parts and supplies needed for the next batch of Raptors.

But that little squabble seems trivial to what lies ahead. There are signs that DoD is bracing for major budget cuts, which may lead to a new "procurement holiday" under an Obama Administration.

Given the recent meltdown in the financial sector--and projected decreases in government revenue--some budgetary modifications were inevitable. But according to The New York Times, Pentagon leaders are quietly preparing for a "worst case" scenario:

Across the military services, deep apprehension has led to closed-door meetings and detailed calculations in anticipation of potential cuts. Civilian and military budget planners concede that they are already analyzing worst-case contingency spending plans that would freeze or slash their overall budgets.

The obvious targets for savings would be expensive new arms programs, which have racked up cost overruns of at least $300 billion for the top 75 weapons systems, according to the Government Accountability Office. Congressional budget experts say likely targets for reductions are the Army’s plans for fielding advanced combat systems, the Air Force’s Joint Strike Fighter, the Navy’s new destroyer and the ground-based missile defense system.

For his part, the new commander-in-chief has promised to keep defense spending at current levels, at least initially. But, Mr. Obama has also promised to cut spending on military programs that he considers "unproven," including missile defense. He has also pledged to accelerate U.S. troop withdrawals from Iraq, a move that he claims would save $10 billion a month.

But analysts warn that some of those savings are illusory, at least in the early stages. Moving equipment back to the states is an expensive proposition, and the planned expansion of ground forces will consume much of the money now devoted to the Iraq War.

Meanwhile, Congressional Democrats have made no secret of their desire to cut defense spending. Massachusetts Representative Barney Frank recently proposed a 25% reduction in the military budget; while that goal is far-fetched, there is strong Democratic support for substantive reductions in defense, in favor of social spending.

The way ahead seems painfully obvious. Between Mr. Obama's pledge to cut selected programs--and wider Democratic plans to reduce military spending--the Pentagon will wind up with less money in the years ahead. And unfortunately, major acquisition programs represent the most convenient (and likely) targets, allowing Obama and his allies to trim billions from military spending.

That result in more aging weapons remaining in service for even longer periods of time. For example, if Obama decides to reduce the F-35 program, that means that many F-16s (built in the 1980s) will solider on almost indefinitely. So far, we haven't seen any Falcons fall apart in flight, but the stress of training and current deployments will make the aircraft more difficult to maintain over an extended service life.

Given the financial issues facing this country--and the national security preferences of the party now in charge--it's not hard to envision another procurement holiday under an Obama Administration. That means that Mr. Obama's successor will face even greater defense challenges in 2012 or 2016.
ADDENDUM: Democratic analysts have long argued that "exotic" programs like missile defense can be easily cut, along with such big-ticket items as the F-22 and F-35. But potential cuts will be felt throughout DoD, affecting such programs as the C-17 transport, and upgrades of older airframes, like the C-5. That, in turn, would mean substantial reductions in critical military capabilities, at a time we can ill afford them.