Friday, August 31, 2012
Monday, August 27, 2012
Saturday, August 25, 2012
Tuesday, August 21, 2012
An SA-20 transporter-erector-launcher (TEL) at a Moscow military parade in 2008. Iran's announcement that it is building a new $300 surface-to-air missile base has renewed speculation that Russia may soon deliver the SA-20 to Tehran, greatly improving its air defense capabilities (Wikipedia photo).
Amid reports that Israel is finalizing plans to strike Iran, Tehran has announced plans for a massive, new surface-to-air missile base. More from the Times of Israel:
The new base, located near the city of Abadeh, in southern Iran, will cost $300 million, be home to 6,000 personnel, and host seven battalions, Iran’s Fars news agency reported Tuesday.
The Deputy Commander of the Khatam ol-Anbia Air Defense Base, Mohammad Hosseini, said the base, the largest of its kind in Iran, will also include one of the most important military training centers in the country.
Last month, a senior Iranian air defense commander asserted that all Iranian air defense units and systems are fully prepared to repel possible enemy air raids.
The key word in that account is "training." Iran already has an established support infrastructure for its older SAM systems, including the U.S. made HAWK, purchased by the Shah in the early 1970s. As the HAWK nears the end of its service life, along with older Russian and Chinese systems such as the SA-5 and CSA-1, it would make little sense to build a huge support center for those aging systems. Iran also has the newer SA-15 mobile SAM, but (as with its older counterparts), the support network is already established.
On the other hand, it would make a great deal of sense to build a training base (and centralized support facility) for a new system like the Russian S-300. Tehran has long hoped to acquire the advanced SAM system, but Russian has never fulfilled a contract that was reportedly signed years ago, bowing to pressure from the U.S. and other western nations.
But announcement of the new SAM training center near Abadeh (in southern Iran) may be the best indicator yet that the S-300 will become operational with Tehran's air defense forces. Widely regarded as one of the world's most potent SAM systems, the S-300 (NATO designator: SA-20) is highly effective against both tactical aircraft, stand-off platforms and tactical ballistic missiles. With a maximum range of 90-120 miles (depending on variant), multiple battalions of S-300 could provide overlapping coverage of nuclear facilities and other high-value installations in Iran, while greatly complicating Israeli tactical planning.
Obviously, the new support base won't be ready for at least a couple of years, but completion of the facility is not a requirement for the S-300 to enter operational service. If Moscow is proceeding with deliveries of the system, it is likely that the initial cadre of crews and maintenance personnel was trained in Russia, and can provide an operating capability as soon as equipment arrives. There are unconfirmed reports that support components for the system were shipped to Iran last year, but neither Moscow, Tehran or western intelligence agencies have acknowledged the arrival of the S-300 in Iran.
If deliveries of the S-300 are in progress or imminent, it will add new urgency to Israel's strategic calculus. Even a rudimentary deployment of the system represents a game-changer for Iran, forcing Israel to modify its tactical planning. At a minimum, the S-300 would force the Israeli Air Force to allocate more assets for the suppression of enemy air defenses (SEAD) mission. However, for every fighter assigned that mission (or for every anti-radiation missile loaded on an aircraft pylon), Israel will diminished capabilities to put bombs on the most important targets--Iran's nuclear facilities.
Imagery analysts in the U.S., Israel and elsewhere will be watching the work at Abadeh very carefully. If the new SAM base is being built for the S-300, it will be patterned on similar facilities in Russia, China and other countries that operate the system. Intel experts will now fairly soon if the new facility will support the S-300, further influencing military decisions on what must be done about Iran and its nuclear program.
ADDENDUM: Both the United States and Israel have extensive intelligence on the S-300 and its various models. But neutralizing the system (or avoiding it) is a definite challenge, one made more difficult by the long distance associated with an Israeli airstrike against Iran, and the limited assets that could be employed.
Saturday, August 18, 2012
Monday, August 13, 2012
Saturday, August 11, 2012
“We have ‘eyes’ inside the nuclear facilities and we will know in real time when and if Iran decides to cross the threshold and develop nuclear weapons,” Carney said, according to a report by Channel 10 News.
Carney’s remarks were made in response to recent assessments in Israel, especially those of Defense Minister Ehud Barak, according to which the Americans understand that the Iranian threat is becoming an increased concern.
Thursday, August 09, 2012
Aaron Benner, a fifth-grade teacher in St. Paul, Minnesota, scoffs at the notion that minority students are being unfairly targeted for discipline. “Anyone in his right mind knows that these [disciplined] students are extremely disruptive,” he says. Like districts across the county, the St. Paul public school system has been on a mission to lower the black suspension rate, following complaints by local activists and black parents. A highly regarded principal lost his job because his school had “too many” suspensions of black second- and fourth-graders. The school system has sent its staff to $350,000 worth of “cultural-proficiency” training, where they learned to “examine the presence and role of ‘Whiteness.’ ” The district spent another $2 million or so to implement an anti-suspension behavioral-modification program embraced by the Obama administration.
Benner sees the consequences of this anti-discipline push nearly every day in the worsening behavior of students. He overheard a fifth-grade boy tell a girl: “B----, I’ll f--- you and s--- you.” (“I wanted to throw him against the locker,” Benner recalls.) The boy’s teacher told Benner that she felt powerless to punish the misbehavior. “This will be one of my black men who ends up in prison after raping a woman,” observes Benner. Racist? Many would so characterize the comment. But Benner is black himself—and fed up with the excuses for black misbehavior. He attended one of the district’s cultural-proficiency sessions, where an Asian teacher asked: “How do I help the student who blurts out answers and disrupts the class?” The black facilitator reminded her: “That’s what black culture is”—an answer that echoes the Obama administration’s admonitions to teachers. “I should have said: ‘How many of you shouted out in college?’ ” Benner remarks. “They’re trying to pull one over on us. Black folks are drinking the Kool-Aid; this ‘let-them-clown’ philosophy could have been devised by the KKK.”
Tuesday, August 07, 2012
Iran has been trying to guarantee the survival of Mr Assad, who serves as Tehran's only reliable ally in the Middle East, by supplying Syria's regime with funds, weaponry and expert personnel to aid the campaign against rebels.
Saeed Jalili, the secretary of Iran's Supreme National Security Council, came to Damascus as a visible symbol of that support.
"Iran will never allow the resistance axis – of which Syria is an essential pillar – to break," he said. The "axis of resistance" refers to the Middle East's anti-Western powers: Iran, Syria and the armed groups, Hizbollah and Hamas, although in reality the latter has already broken away by ending its presence in Damascus.
Jalili also demanded release of some 48 Iranians now being held by the rebels. The Iranian representative claimed his countrymen were religious "pilgrims" visiting a shrine near Damascus, but the rebels said that most of the captives were members of Iran's Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), sent to Syria to provide assistance to Assad's forces. By some accounts, there are hundreds of IRGC "advisers" now in Syria, part of a $5 billion aid package provided by Tehran.
Iran's willingness to back Assad to the end is hardly surprising. Syria is (arguably) Tehran's most important ally in the Middle East, providing a handy conduit for Iranian funding and arms to groups like Hizballah in Lebanon, and an ally in any conflict with Israel. Iran understands that the outcome in Syria will shape the future of the Middle East, and its own plans for regional supremacy. "Losing" Syria would be a geopolitical setback of the first magnitude for Tehran, which is betting that Assad can hang on.
Meanwhile, the U.S. is exerting very little influence in the conflict. Admittedly our options are limited, but the general attitude has been one of avoidance, as Eliot Abrams noted at NRO's "The Corner" last month:
How much credit does the United States get for this happy trend toward regime collapse? Very little or none. As Michael Young, opinion editor of the Daily Starnewspaper in Beirut, wrote this week, “In Syria, where the Americans have the capacity to politically cripple a principal regional rival, namely Iran, the Obama administration is still dependent on the goodwill of Russia and China, two countries that want to see American power reduced.”
What the administration wants, it has seemed for all 17 months of the Syrian revolt, is to hide behind the U.N. and Kofi Annan. The apparent success of outside aid, which has quickly made the opposition far more effective, shows that it should have been provided far sooner: regime collapse could have been induced far sooner and thousands of lives saved. Picking up the pieces in Syria will be a great deal harder because of the scope of the killings there over 17 months.
To coin a phrase, the U.S. is once again "leading from behind."
While there are signs of increased American involvement--President Obama signed an executive order last week that authorizes some assistance for Syrian rebels--the U.S. has missed an opportunity to end the Assad regime sooner rather than later, and engage Syrian opposition forces. Word of of Washington is that our intelligence community is still trying to sort out the good guys from the bad guys. That's hardly surprising in a civil war, but a more proactive stance might have placed more U.S. assets in position at earlier stages of the conflict. As it now stands, the United States will be a spectator in post-Assad Syria, for better or worse.
Which begs an obvious question: why? No one is advocating the introduction of American ground troops, or even a no-fly zone. With the right forms of assistance (secure communications gear, better anti-tank weapons, shoulder-fired anti-aircraft missiles), the rebels can defeat regime forces in a matter of weeks or months. Had we begun providing such aid earlier, Bashir Assad might already be gone, and Iran would be suffering the loss of an irreplaceable ally.
Then again, this is the same administration that has been overly deferential to Iran, no matter the circumstances. And, we've just learned that a key member of Obama's inner circle, campaign strategist David Plouffe earned $100,000 in speaking fees in 2008 from a South African company with close ties to the IRGC.
It's hard to get tough on foreign adversaries when your own advisers are profiting (indirectly) from that regime. That's one more reason that Iran will stay the course in Syria; not just for geopolitical reasons, but because it has little to fear from the current administration. From Tehran's perspective, the Assad government is too important to fail. Too bad we don't have the same mindset in preventing Assad (and his Iranian allies) from retaining power in Damascus.
Sunday, August 05, 2012
And there's still confusion as to their mission and itinerary. According to the Los Angeles Times, Moscow announced on Friday that the amphibious group would not conduct a port call at Tartus, the small Russian naval facility on Syria's Mediterranean coast. Then, just a few hours later, a Russian military spokesman offered a revised operational statement, saying that the amphibious flotilla "might call on Tartus to replenish supplies," if "the period of the trip is extended."
In other words, the Defense Ministry is still mulling its options. But, as the situation in Syria continues to deteriorate, an amphibious squadron could prove very useful in securing the Tartus facility, and arranging a limited Russian evacuation from Syria. An under-strength battalion of naval infantry is embarked on three landing ships assigned to the squadron. Equipped with helicopters and armored vehicles, the Russian "marines" could remove personnel and equipment from Tartus, while preventing rebel attacks against the base.
That mission may assume a new urgency, given reports of Iranian "advisers" being taken prisoner by the insurgents. Members of the IRGC have been active in Syria since the uprising began, providing assistance to the Assad government and (by some accounts) assisting in heavy-handed security operations. If IRGC personnel are being plucked off the streets of Damascus (or captured in fire-fights), then no foreigner (read: Assad ally) is safe, and many of them want out. After all, the rebels have little regard for the Russians who rank just above the Iranians in terms of popularity.
Unfortunately, the Moscow's current military force is inadequate for large-scale evacuation operations. By some accounts, there are 30-60,000 Russian nationals in Syria; the amphibious ships that may dock at Tartus can handle only a fraction of that total, and there's the difficult (and dangerous) task of getting them to the embarkation port. Put another way, you'll need more than 360 Russian naval infantry and a handful of helicopters to carry out such a massive evacuation.
Another option is securing an air bridge at Damascus International or a large Syrian military airfield. A stream of Russian military transports and charter flights could evacuate far more personnel from Syria, but even that possibility is fraught with danger. First, there's the matter of shifting loyalties in the Syrian military. Officers and installations loyal to Assad today may shift allegiances tomorrow, leaving the Russians caught in the middle.
Additionally, the air bridge option still requires the assembly and movement of large numbers of civilians through war zones to the departure point. Their safe transit depends largely on the good offices of the insurgents, who may not be inclined to let the Russians past, given Moscow's historic support for the Assads and their brutal regime, which has murdered tens of thousands of Syrians over the past five decades.
As we've observed in the past, non-essential [personnel] evacuations, better known as NEOs, are among the most difficult military operations to plan and execute, even under ideal conditions. The number of individuals who show up at the assembly points is often two or three times the original estimate, and getting them to safety is a terribly difficult proposition, at best.
Consider the U.S. evacuation from Saigon in the spring of 1975. Thousands of Americans were removed from the country over a two-month period (along with 110,000 South Vietnamese), but the final stages of the operation were chaotic, symbolized by long lines of people awaiting evacuation from the roof of the U.S. embassy in Saigon.
Still, the United States military had a number of advantages in the Vietnam operation. Military Airlift Command (MAC) had dozens of transports shuttling between various airfields in South Vietnam and U.S. bases in the Far East, including Clark AB in the Philippines. Civilian charter flights aided in the effort, and helicopters continued ferrying evacuees to ships in the 7th Fleet, stationed off-shore.
As the situation in Syria rapidly declines, Russia has few of these assets to draw upon. Its amphibious capabilities are modest, and its military transport fleet is equally modest. And, when you factor in such considerations as airspace access (through countries like Turkey or Iraq), evacuation planning becomes even more complex.
At this point, it looks like many of the Russian nationals in Syria will be stuck for the duration and it's just a matter of time before the rebels begin boasting of their Russian hostages as well. As a former KGB officer, Vladimir Putin is certainly aware of these issues, so it will be interesting to see how he handles the situation in Syria. Mr. Putin likes to brag about Russia's resurgent military might, but when it comes to evacuating Russian citizens from Syria, he will likely need outside help, or just tell his countrymen to hunker down and wait until Assad meets his fate.There are signs that Russian would like execute a big skedaddle (ulepetyvat) from Syria, but Moscow just doesn't have the air and sea assets to make that happen. Watch for Putin to ask the U.N. to organize a "humanitarian" evacuation from Russia, utilizing (mostly) western assets to get his citizens out of the war zone.
Saturday, August 04, 2012
Suggesting (perhaps) that some parties never learn, the Democrats are at it again, this time in Ohio. The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have filed a lawsuit, challenging a new law that gives military personnel three more days for early voting. More from Fox News:
The Obama campaign and the Democratic National Committee have filed a lawsuit to block a new state law allowing men and women in uniform to vote up until the Monday right before an election, while the cutoff on early voting for the rest of the public is three days earlier.
Top Obama campaign officials told Fox News in interviews that the lawsuit in no way tries to restrict the voting rights of military members. All they are trying to do is even the playing field for all voters in Ohio by allowing early voting up until Monday for everyone, including members of the military, because they believe a two-tiered, early-voting process is unfair.
"Along with the DNC and Ohio Democratic Party, this campaign filed a lawsuit to reinstate equal, early-voting rights for all Ohioans -- rights the Republican-controlled legislature arbitrarily stripped away this past year," Jim Messina, Obama's campaign manager, told supporters in an email.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine isn't buying that argument. The same holds true for 15 veterans and military organizations who backed the change. As we've note in this blog--on multiple occasions--members of the armed forces serving overseas are the most disenfranchised segment of the American electorate. By some estimates, at least one-third of military absentee ballots are never counted, often because they arrived at the submission deadline. The Ohio measure is aimed (in part) at making more military votes count.
Surely, Team Obama could get behind that idea. But then again, never underestimate the politics that invariably color such decisions. Mr. Obama's managers are acutely aware that most military absentee voters support the GOP. In a battleground state like Ohio, where every vote takes on added importance, thousands of absentee ballots from armed forces personnel (with 60% supporting Mitt Romney) could determine which candidate carries the state. All the more reason to deny military voters those extra days, in the name of "fairness."
And while we're on that subject, you can rest assured that GOP officials in Ohio know that members of the armed services are a reliable Republican constituency. So, why not allow a few extra days, particularly if it means more votes in the "R" column.
From our perspective, the Ohio accomodation is reasonable, given long-standing problems with military absentee ballots. And quite frankly, we wouldn't have a problem with extending the deadline for all absentee voters living overseas.
But quite frankly, there's a better solution. Why not create a system that allows all military members to vote on-line? Arizona instituted that type of system several years ago, with great success. The on-line option would eliminate the need for special deadlines and other measures aimed at military voters.
To date, Mr. Obama's Defense Department has done absolutely nothing to implement on-line voting for military personnel (we should also note that President George W. Bush was equally negligent in that department). The problem is evident, and the technology is available to fix it, but no one at the White House or the Pentagon is willing to tackle the problem.
In fact, Democrats have always been willing to go the extra mile in creating barriers to military voting. Members of Mr. Obama's party in Congress have refused to support simple provisions that would require military ballots be returned to the states by the fastest means available, meaning that move would arrive in time to be counted. At the local level, Democratic county clerks have been among the worst offenders in mailing out absentee ballots weeks late, ensuring they won't be returned before the submission deadline.
Ensuring the franchise for military personnel should be a bi-partisan issue, but regrettably, it's not. That's why the next administration should make it a priority to implement on-line voting for armed forces members (and other Americans) living overseas. Those brave young men and women who wear the uniform--to defend our basic liberties--deserve much better than lawsuits and election-year maneuvering.
Thursday, August 02, 2012
The brief delay was clearly a warning shot for the USAF, amid growing concerns over the service's handling of a sex scandal at Lackland AFB, Texas. So far, at least fifteen current and former military training instructors (MTIs) have been accused--or are under investigation--for inappropriate sexual conduct involving trainees in their charge. Lackland, the so-called "Gateway to the Air Force," provides basic training for all new airmen.
Cornyn lifted the hold Thursday morning, after a private meeting with General Welsh. In a statement, the Senator said it was "clear that General Welsh shares my grave concern over the situation at Lackland. Gen. Welsh demonstrated a genuine resolve to improving Air Force-wide policies to prevent a recurrence of the grossly unacceptable conduct that took place at Lackland,” he continued.
According to the Senator, the incoming Chief of Staff has agreed to direct a review of three elements related to the scandal:
- Current Air Force policy and training relating to sexual assault prevention
- Fraternization and inappropriate relationships, including social networking among airmen (and)
- The organization of Basic Military Training units at Lackland, focusing on the ratio of officers to enlisted personnel.
Actually, there should be a fourth requirement on Cornyn's list, namely, why the Air Force's response to this scandal has been so slow and ineffectual.
Consider this disturbing timeline; the problems at Lackland first surfaced more than a year ago, and the number of victims has grown to almost 40. Meanwhile, more than a dozen MTIs have been implicated in the scandal, and one has been court-martialed and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
To be fair, all of those accused of wrong-doing deserve their day in court. But we'll go out on a limb and predict that when all is said and done, a number of MTIs will be serving time at Leavenworth. It is also worth noting that all but one of the MTIs caught in the sexual assault scandal were assigned to the 331st Training Squadron, yet the commander of that unit, Lieutenant Colonel Michael Paquette, was not removed until a few weeks ago (emphasis ours).
But the trail of potential culpability doesn't end there. The 737th Training Group commander, Colonel Glenn Palmer, and his boss, the 37th Training Wing Commander (Colonel Eric Axelbank) waited almost a year before "losing confidence" in Paquette's ability to lead. It's worth noting that both Colonels arrived at Lackland as the scandal was unfolding.
Meanwhile, the Commander of Air Education and Training Command, General Edgar Rice, Jr., has requested an outside investigation to look into the scandal. Major General Margaret Woodward was appointed to lead the probe, which will focus on any "systemic issues" that might be associated with sexual misconduct among Lackland MTIs. General Rice requested the outside inquiry in late June, almost a year after the scandal broke. So far, there's no word on what General Woodward has discovered, or any recommendations she has offered.
Now, at the urging of Senator Cornyn, General Welsh will launch a second inquiry into the scandal. If this sounds a little familiar, it should. When confronted with serious accusations of wrong-doing, bureaucratic organizations (including the military) tend to go into a defensive crouch. Conducting multiple investigations creates the appearance of action, even if the final reports--and any corrective actions--may be months, even years down the road.
Clearly, the scandal at Lackland is far from over, and Senator Cornyn's brief hold on the Welsh nomination was a no-confidence vote in how the service is handling the problem. And despite today's reprieve, it's very apparent that Congressional patience is wearing thin.
So, what should General Welsh do? As the next Chief of Staff, he has a plate that's already full. From getting the F-35 and the KC-30 into service, to securing funding for the next-generation bomber--and steering the service through massive budget cuts--there 's no shortage of items on his agenda. But fixing the problems at Lackland should be priority #1. Basic military training is where all enlisted airmen begin their career. Every year, thousands of American families entrust their sons and daughters to the MTIs at Lackland; the service cannot tolerate conditions that allowed sexual predators to prey upon recruits.
That's why leadership changes at Lackland--and at the MAJCOM level--are imperative. General Rice, along with Colonel Axelbank and Colonel Palmer--have had months to deal with this festering scandal. So far, they've done nothing to restore confidence in the integrity and safety of Air Force basic training. Simply stated, they've had their chance; now it's time for someone else to fix the problems.
It will be interesting to see how General Welsh addresses the scandal at Lackland. having served under Welsh when he was a Colonel, I can tell you that he is a leader who puts the welfare of his troops above everything else. It's difficult to imagine Mark Welsh allowing this deplorable situation to slither along, as it has under the current Air Force Chief of Staff, General Norton Schwartz. In fact, General Schwartz has been largely silent on the issue, seemingly biding his time until retirement.
Fortunately, Welsh's ascendancy won't be delayed. Senate confirmation of General Welsh as CSAF sets the stage for a change-of-command ceremony at the Pentagon next Friday. For a military service that has suffered under poor leadership for more than a decade, Welsh's arrival can't come soon enough. And the cesspool at Lackland represents his first major test--one he can't afford to fail.