Random thoughts on almost anything and everything, with an emphasis on defense, intelligence, politics and national security matters..providing insight for the non-cleared world since 2005.
Monday, January 31, 2011
NEO on the Nile?
Meanwhile, Back on the Beach
Saturday, January 29, 2011
Better Hope He's Right
Egypt, then, has turned a decisive corner, and there is no going back. Mubarak is history. Egypt's rising middle class is demanding greater political freedom and economic opportunity.
Mubarak long ago should have been instituting political reforms that allow for a more representative government. That he did not do so is why Egypt is now being rocked by violent protests.
And while Islamist elements may well try to take advantage of the Egyptian revolution, they face one almost insurmountable obstacle: the Egyptian military, a professional force and a nationally respected institution which views itself as the guardians of greater Egypt.
Friday, January 28, 2011
What the President Knew (and Didn't Know)
Tuesday, January 25, 2011
“I failed not only as an airman, but as a husband,” Gurney told Cumbie while describing the details of each of the charges.
Gurney admitted to seven specifications of dereliction of duty stemming from improper relationships with women; one count of improper use of his government e-mail account, computer and cell phone; one count of indecent conduct stemming from a threesome with his wife and another airman; and four counts of adultery.
In his statement, Gurney described the circumstances behind each guilty plea. He admitted to feeling flattered by the attention several of the women showed him. He also alluded to “a lot going on in my life” and said he acted selfishly.
Monday, January 24, 2011
The Legacy of Vega 31
..The Admiral who was Croatia's chief of staff during the Kosovo War has said he believes that China formulated the technology for its J-20 jet from an American F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter that was shot down over Serbia in March 1999.
"At the time, our intelligence reports told of Chinese agents criss-crossing the region where the F-117 disintegrated, buying up parts of the plane from local farmers," Admiral Davor Domazet-Loso said. "We believe the Chinese used those materials to gain an insight into secret stealth technologies."
Admiral Domazet-Loso's account is hardly a revelation; in the months following Allied Force, various intelligence accounts suggested that much of the aircraft's wreckage had been shipped to Russia and under the regime of then-President Slobodan Milosevic, Serbia routinely shared military information with Moscow, Beijing and even Saddam Hussein's Iraq.
Of course, there are legitimate questions about how much information China might have obtained from the remnants of that F-117, and the role it played in development of the new F-20. However, it is also worth noting that the Nighthawk's systems were roughly 20 years old at the time of the shoot down, and stealth technology had advanced steadily since the early 1980s. For example, the F-117 made heavy use of its angular design (and radar-absorbent material) to reduce its radar signature.
By comparison, the F-22 relies more on advanced shaping to deflect radar signals away from enemy antennas. The Raptor also employs an on-board signature management system which measures the aircraft's "vulnerability" throughout the electromagnetic spectrum, alerting pilots and maintainers when key features need attention. Yet, the F-22 doesn't trade performance for stealth, as the F-117 did.
While the J-20 is clearly patterned after the Raptor, we still don't know how much of its low-observable capability is attained by shaping (versus RAM), and whether its sensors are stealthy as well. And that represents a critical design feature. For example, if the J-20 has a conventional, high-energy pulse-doppler air intercept radar, that would largely negate the stealth characteristics, providing adversaries with an easy way to detect and track the jet.
At this point in its development, it's quite possible the J-20 has avionics similar to those found on SU-33s in the PLAAF inventory, while operational models--entering service at the end of this decade--will have more advanced sensors. While the new Chinese fighter looks impressive, Beijing has a long way to go in producing them in large quantities, with the sensor options and weaponry that truly maximizes their capabilities.
As for that "collection effort" in Serbia, the Chinese were merely following a time-honored custom. Why spend billions on research and development when you can copy existing technology and improve upon it? Russia elevated "reverse engineering" to an art form during the Cold War and Beijing is continuing that tradition today. And, if you believe the U.S. is above that sort of behavior, think again.
In early 1945, an Army Air Corps Colonel named Harold Watson was given a critical assignment: send teams of scientists, engineers and intelligence specialists into Germany (alongside advancing Allied forces) and "appropriate" advanced Nazi weaponry before it could be destroyed, or captured by the Russians. Watson and his men proved adept at their task; they captured enough German jets to fill up the deck of an escort carrier, which ferried them back to the United States. The U.S. team was also successful in identifying--and recruiting--German scientists from advanced aircraft and rocket programs. Many of our post-war efforts in those areas owed a debt to Watson and his teams.
Later promoted to Major General, Watson became an early commander of the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio. Today, the organization is known as the National Air and Space Intelligence Center (NASIC), but one of its primary missions is the analysis and assessment of foreign military technology. The street that leads to NASIC's headquarters is named for General Watson, who understood the value of "borrowed" technology.
ADDENDUM: As for the event that reportedly gave China access to our early stealth technology (the downing of Vega 31), that "wound" was largely self-inflicted. As we've noted previously, planning teams for Allied Force used the same ingress and egress routes for strike aircraft; the Serbs quickly caught on and deployed their air defenses accordingly. They were also aided by spies, parked on public roads near Aviano AB. With cell phones, they reported the departure and arrival of various Allied aircraft--information that was quickly relayed to air defense crews in the field.
So why didn't the Serbs shoot down more NATO aircraft? Several reasons, actually. First, the introduction of advanced, precision-guided munitions allowed most bombing runs to be conducted from medium altitude, taking attack jets largely out of the AAA envelope. Additionally, the Serb fighter force was a non-factor after the first night of the air war, and their SAM force consisted mostly of antiquated SA-2 and SA-3 missiles. Radars associated with those systems were very vulnerable to jamming and the threat of Allied HARMs kept most of them off the air for extended periods.
Still, the downing of that F-117 proves it is possible for legacy air defense systems to threaten advanced aircraft--particularly if we help the enemy with predictable routing and interval times between formations. Incidentally, the Serb SA-3 commander that brought down Vega 31 was considered among the best in the FRY defense forces and after the war, he made several visits to the U.S., sharing his secrets with us--for a price, of course.
Saturday, January 22, 2011
MSNBC's most successful and controversial personality for his outspoken liberal prime-time program, gave an abrupt goodbye to viewers and said Friday was his last show.
It was not immediately known if he quit or was fired. Olbermann did not address the question, and MSNBC said only that they and Olbermann had ended their contract. He signed a four-year contract two years ago.
Thursday, January 20, 2011
But for this expansion in TRICARE coverage, by as much as three to five years, these young adult dependents will have to pay a premium set high enough to cover the entire cost of the program.
The exact charge is not yet known but unofficial estimates have ranged from $1400 to $2400 a year or about $116 to $200 a month.
The bottom line is that Congress didn't achieve for military families what was gained for other American families, at least on adult dependent coverage, through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.
Wednesday, January 19, 2011
Friday, January 14, 2011
Today's Reading Assignment
On an archaic display screen in the center of the console, three large letters blink in rapid succession. “EAM inbound,” says my deputy commander and the second member of the launch crew. An emergency-action message is on its way, maybe from the Joint Chiefs of Staff, maybe from the Commander of U.S. Strategic Command, maybe even from the president. We both mechanically pull down our code books, thick binders swollen with pages of alpha-numeric sequences, and swiftly decipher the message.
After nearly four years of pulling ICBM-alert duty, this process is instinctive. I deliberately recite the encrypted characters to ensure my deputy is on the same page, literally and figuratively, as six short characters can effectively communicate a wealth of information through the use of special decoding binders. “Charlie, Echo, Seven, Quebec, Golf, Bravo, six characters ending in Bravo.” My partner concurs, scribbling in his code book.
“Crowd pleaser,” he adds without emotion, referring to a war plan that mandates immediate release of our entire flight of nuclear missiles, 10 in all.
Of course, this is just a training scenario. The coded orders are a simulation. The console is a mockup of the real thing, stowed away in a larger hanger and serviced seven days a week by a small staff of Boeing contractors.
But before a missileer can unleash Armageddon, he/she must be properly attired:
In a favorite missileer uniform patch, the Grim Reaper sits at an ICBM console, dressed in bunny slippers. In the real world, death wears a campus T-shirt, JCrew bottoms and the ubiquitous Snuggie. The silly blanket-robe hybrid is suited to the missile force, keeping an officer toasty while allowing him to interact with the weapons console unobstructed.
Missileers learn that on alert, comfort is as important as humor. One enterprising fellow liked to string a hammock between the two command chairs and stretch out for his long shifts at the console. Videogame systems are forbidden, a rule that was mocked until it got out that wireless Nintendo Wii controllers could cause the system to detect a false electromagnetic pulse attack and shut down.
I used to imagine that I’d have some sort of stiff-upper-lip moment should I receive “the order,” where I’d shed the Snuggie and slippers, zip up my flight suit, and make imperial references about “going out proper.”
A personal aside: when I was selected for commissioning by the Air Force back in the 1980s, I put missileer at the top of my officer job preferences. My rationale was simple: missiles offered early command experience and I could earn a free master's degree during my stint at Minot, Warren, Whiteman or the other "Garden Spots" associated with missile duty.
Of course, Rule #1 of military service is "Be careful what you wish for," and Rule #2 is "Don't volunteer for anything." Apparently, the Air Force was a little leery of anyone that anxious to be a missileer. So, when my assignment came down, I discovered I was bound for intel, and not missile duty.
Later, I discovered how fortunate I was. Most of my OTS instructors were missileers. Even at that point--with Minuteman, GLCM and Titan all on-line--the future for the career field looked bleak, and many wound up serving out their careers in other AFSCs. Intel turned out to be a fortuitous choice and I spent the rest of my career as a spook--a job I truly enjoyed.
Still, I've always had the greatest respect for missileers. Their mission represents the ultimate guarantee of our national security and besides, they're right up there with fighter jocks in terms of their own, unique culture, as illustrated by the following, true-life stories.
Before the end of the Cold War, some of the drills/simulations were very realistic (some might say a bit scary), particularly if something unusual was going on among Russia's nuclear forces. One night at Whiteman, a Minuteman crew commander was convinced an alert was the real deal and became slightly flustered. In violation of every OPSEC principle (and most SAC regulations), the commander called the base command post and asked to be patched through to his wife at their home, even as he and the deputy crew commander worked through their launch authentications and checklists.
Roused from her sleep, the wife heard her husband scream: "Head for the hills, honey, it's World War III." He then hung up, fully expecting to unleash global thermonuclear war in the moments that followed. His wife, in the finest tradition of USAF spouses, called her best friend (the wife of another missileer), and she called someone else. Within a few minutes, there was a small convoy of frightened wives, children and pets heading out of Knob Noster and Warrensburg, Missouri, bound for the Ozarks. Needless to say, the missileer who started the panic never pulled another alert.
During another drill, a missile crew commander was more concerned about launching his missiles (and leaving this world) in the correct uniform. When the EAM came down, the commander and his deputy were sitting in their underwear because the launch complex's air conditioning was on the blink. "Where's my gun?" the MCC shouted, referring to the pistol that all crew members carried. "If I'm gonna die, I'm going out with my gun on." So, sure enough, he strapped on his pistol and holster over his tighty-whiteys and proceeded through the checklists.
And, as you might imagine, missile duty means the crew is responsible for a wide array of classified information, including secret codes and other COMSEC material. As an intel officer at a TAC base, I was assigned to perform an investigation of a fighter squadron adjutant who couldn't handle her squadron's COMSEC account. As I recall, the Deputy Commander for Operations let her off with a slap on the wrist (we eventually accounted for all of the COMSEC material), but made it clear that the Lieutenant needed to find a new vocation, and made a call to the USAF Personnel Center. Her next job in the Air Force? Missileer.
A tip of the hat to all those, past and present, who have stood watch "on the brink of man-made hell"--in their bunny slippers.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Meanwhile, Back in Beirut
On Tuesday, China snubbed visiting Defense Secretary Robert Gates with the first test flight of its new stealth fighter. Readers will recall that Dr. Gates was on a fence-mending mission to Beijing when the J-20 made its maiden flight. The test reaffirmed China's emergence as a technological super-power, and the fact that many in the ruling elite (political and military) don't want better relations with the United States.
Then, just a day later, there was an equally troubling development in the Middle East. Hizballah ministers pulled out of Lebanon's fragile "unity" government, just as that nation's Prime Minister, Saad Hariri sat down for a meeting with President Obama in Washington. The move was yet another embarrassment for the administration, which has strongly backed Mr. Hariri's government, hoping to avoid a complete Hizballah takeover of Lebanon.
The move was yet another reminder of how much influence the terror group (and its sponsors in Iran) have in Lebanese affairs. Hizballah's withdrawal from the ruling coalition was prompted by the on-going UN tribunal into the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, the father of the current leader. The elder Hariri was killed by a massive car bomb in 2005, an act of political terror widely blamed on Hizballah and its friends in the Syrian intelligence service.
With the tribunal expected to indict Hizballah leaders--and others--in connection with the crime, the terror group decided it was an opportune moment to bring down the government. At this point, it's unclear what may happen next. Installation of the younger Hariri as Prime Minister narrowly avoided a second Lebanese civil war, and the threat of widespread violence has increased with the government's collapse. Israel put its northern military command on heightened alert just hours after Hizballah pulled the plug on Hariri's cabinet.
It's been almost five years since the terror network and the Israelis fought a bloody, month-long war in Southern Lebanon. That conflict grew out of a border incident and its obvious the Netanyahu government doesn't want to be surprised again.
While Lebanon's latest political crises is primarily a result of the UN tribunal--and Hizballah's determination to derail that process--the current situation also creates opportunities for Iran. With Lebanon heading for another period of uncertainty (at best), Tehran's proxies will have a greater opportunity to exert power and expand their arsenal. That, in turn, gives Iran more options for score-settling with Tel Aviv.
Fact is, Tehran is still smarting over the Stuxnet computer worm that infected its nuclear weapons facilities last year. While the source of that worm has never been confirmed, many experts believe it was created--and inserted--by Israeli intelligence. At last report, the Iranians were still trying to get rid of the virus (with only marginal success) and their nuclear weapons program has reportedly been delayed by another two or three years.
So Tehran would like nothing better than striking back at Israel. And Hizballah provides its best option, short of a missile attack that might trigger a nuclear war. By imploding the western-backed government in Beirut, the terror group can advance preparations for a renewed conflict with Israel, improving its positions/facilities in southern Lebanon and even appropriating equipment and personnel from the national army. The United States has poured more than $100 million in equipment and other aid into the Lebanese Army in recent years; there is reason to believe that much of that hardware may fall into Hizballah's hands as the nation falls into political crisis.
The real question is whether Tehran wants to leverage the current situation in Lebanon to start another proxy conflict with the Israelis. That strategy carries obvious risks--if Israel is confident that Iran's nuclear program has been sufficiently delayed, the IDF might be assigned to attack Hizballah's sponsors, along with the terror base in Lebanon. Syria in particular is vulnerable to an Israeli strike, given Tel Aviv's military superiority.
On the other hand, Hizballah has amassed an estimated stockpile of 40,000 missiles and rockets since the end of the 2006 war. Most of those weapons are capable of reaching Israeli territory. During any renewed conflict, the first responsibility of the IAF will be attacking Hizballah launch sites, leaving fewer aircraft for strikes against Damascus and Tehran. And, as we saw five years ago, it is a formidable task to interdict hundreds of rocket and missile launch positions, even in a country as small as Lebanon.
As for the U.S., we're still trying to pick up the political pieces in Beirut, while working with Saudi Arabia to "constructively engage" the Syrians. It's a bad situation, and one that will likely grow worse in the coming weeks.
ADDENDUM: We almost forgot to mention the week's third discouraging security development, this one also in the Middle East. During a visit to Yemen, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton endorsed her host's plans to start a terrorist rehabilitation program. The effort to reform jihadists will be apparently based on the Saudi model, which has produced a 40% recidivism rate. Given the number of terrorists running around in Yemen--and the utter failure of other rehabilitation programs--we're sure the Sanaa government can easily smash that record.
Wednesday, January 12, 2011
The Smell of Sour Grapes
“I don’t watch Glenn Beck…Glenn Beck was a nobody, and I will say it loud and clear on TV, he was a nobody at Headline News, a nobody, and then Roger Ailes took him under his wings and suddenly he became a superstar,” Scarborough said in an episode of “Morning Joe” that aired Wednesday.
Scarborough added that Beck couldn’t hold his own outside of the Fox News network.