About Defense Tech

Defense Tech examines the intersection of technology and defense from every angle and provides analysis on what’s ahead.

Tip Us Off

Tip for Defense Tech?


It’s Confidential!

Archive for April, 2004


Friday, April 30th, 2004

The New York Times details which weapons coalition forces are using in their bombardment of Falluja. The idea, it would appear, is to “pacify” the city as much as possible before handing counter-insurgency duties over to Iraqi troops.

In the past 48 hours, Air Force F-15E and F-16 warplanes, and carrier-based F-14 and F-18 fighter-bombers, have dropped about three dozen 500-pound laser-guided bombs in three different sections of Falluja, Air Force officials said, destroying more than 10 buildings and 2 sniper nests identified by troops as sources of attacking fire, and other targets.
By day, AH-1W Super Cobra helicopters have hovered over the city, launching Hellfire missiles at guerrillas who fire on the Marines. By night, lumbering AC-130 gunships have pounded trucks and cars ferrying fighters with the distinctive thump-thump of 105-millimeter howitzers. British Tornado ground-attack planes are also flying missions over Falluja, and remotely piloted Predator reconnaissance aircraft prowl the skies.


Thursday, April 29th, 2004

“A new Iraqi security force made up of former Iraqi soldiers and commanders will replace the American troops now in Falluja and assume responsibility for the city’s security,” the New York Times reports.

The new force, known as the Falluja Protection Army, will include as many as 1,000 Iraqi soldiers led by a former general from the army of Saddam Hussein, American military officials said. A Marine commander, Col. Brennan Byrne, said the force will be a subordinate command of the American military…
Marines in Falluja and encircling the city were briefed today on the agreement to form a new Iraqi military division. The plan is supposed to take effect beginning on Friday. Some Marine units were already beginning to pack up today in preparation for the withdrawal, news services reported.
The new Iraqi force represents an about-face for the American authorities, who disbanded the Iraqi army following the fall of Mr. Hussein.

Quick question — three, actually:
1) Have Iraqi forces shown any ability whatsoever to put down insurgent forces? These former Saddam-ites will probably be more ruthless than their predecessors. But will they be any more effective?
2) Why have AC-130 gunships pound the hell out of the city one day, only to abandon it the next?
3) Is the pullback of U.S. troops from an area already known as the “Iraqi Alamo” going to be seen as a sensible, mutually beneficial settlement, or as a complete and total victory for anti-American forces?
Chris Allbritton has much more on the withdrawal’s many meanings.
THERE’S MORE: Why use the big gunships right before pulling out? “It was to provide incentive to come to agreement, and to root out easy targets before a deal was struck,” says Defense Tech reader TM. The insurgents most assuredly were using the ‘cease-fire’ time to dig in for the next assault… Bringing in the AC-130s was a low (military) liability, but highly effective means of bearing a lot of pressure on insurgents without exposing US GIs.”


Thursday, April 29th, 2004

dog_armor.JPGG.I.s in Iraq may not be able to get armor for their Humvees. Their dogs, on the other hand, are well protected.
U.S. forces are using K-9s, like the one in this New York Times photo to the left, for crowd control and other duties. To keep Cujo and his furry friends safe from dog-hating insurgents, the pooches have been outfitted with new body armor — kevlar vests that are “manufactured to the same standards” as the ones people wear, according to the Marines.
The armor, weighing seven pounds, protects against small arms fire and stab wounds. And it costs about a thousand bucks a pop — chump change, the Corps argues in one of their official “news” stories.
“We get attached to the dogs because they’re our partners, and we don’t want to lose them,” Marine dog handler Cpl. Daniel Hillery said.
dog_growl.JPG“If you estimate the cost of raising, feeding and training a dog, it adds up to somewhere around $60,000. Replacing a dog ends up being a lot more expensive and time consuming,” Hillery went on to explain.
Along with the financial benefits, the new K-9 body armor is giving the Marines behind the dogs more confidence to accomplish their missions no matter what task is assigned to the unit.
“I think that it makes us feel more confident with the dogs because we know that they’re going to be protected, and we feel like we can do more with them,” Hillery explained.

THERE’S MORE: Iraqis will likely find the armored doggies “doubly insulting,” Defense Tech pal KK believes. “The Koran says they are filthy animals. They are not kept as pets,” he notes.


Thursday, April 29th, 2004

Troops in Iraq have rush-ordered thousands of Kevlar shoulder guards and blastproof sunglasses. The reason why: a newly-formed Combat Trauma Registry that tracks exactly where and how soldiers get wounded.
Using that Registry, Lt. Col. Kelly Bal, an orthopedic surgeon with the Army’s 82nd Airborne, first detected the pattern of wounds to exposed shoulders, the Christian Science Montior explains.

Colonel Bal jerry-rigged a Kevlar groin protector from a typical armored vest to fit around the upper arm, says McDonald. A prototype saved a soldier. The Army quickly bought 6,000, some 2,000 of which are now being used by marines. The Marines have ordered 25,000 more shoulder protectors.
A similar story surrounds the wide use of Wiley-X sunglasses with ballistic lenses and padded frames, and toughened goggles — a direct result of blast wounds to the eyes from IEDs…
Experts are also working on a better earplug that permits frequencies like voices while protecting against the noise of a nearby grenade blast. Surgeons here also expect more coverage of neck and lower abdomen areas. “The future is mining that database,” 1st Marine Expeditionary Force chief surgeon Capt. Eric McDonald says, “to find the places where benefits [of new measures] outweigh risks.”


Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

The shift to a gunship-and-howitzer kind of fight in Iraq is good for American forces militarily. The U.S. has the bigger guns. And, unlike house-to-house, small-arms combat, G.I.s are kept somewhat out of harm’s way. That’s why yesterday’s casualty figures seem particularly lopsided — only a single American soldier dead, compared to dozens and dozens of insurgents.
But politically, this shift could be bad news. The coalition assault earlier this month in Falluja has become a rallying cry for those Iraqis disenchanted with the American occupation. This new round of strikes has the potential to be much, much more bloody.
Traditionally, the terrorist mentality has been the provoke the most draconian response from the government possible. That forces the local public to take sides — often against those who rule. (It’s one of many reasons why Palestinian militants have thrived under the Sharon government in Israel.)
American forces can wipe out the Sunni insurgents in Falluja. They can decimate the Sadrists in Najaf. But an all-out strike could, in the end, lose the entire country.


Wednesday, April 28th, 2004

Raining hell on Falluja is a tactic bursting with political danger. So why do it? The answer, according to Newhouse’s David Wood, is because thin-skinned American Humvees can’t handle an up-close fight.
“A shortage of armored combat vehicles in Iraq is pressing U.S. forces into a cruel dilemma: either advance stealthily on foot, or hold up at a city’s outskirts and use artillery, mortars and airstrikes,” Wood writes.

“Using bombs and AC-130s is a strategic defeat,” given the political repercussions, said Kenneth Brower, a weapons designer and consultant to the U.S. and Israeli military. “But we’ve had to use them.“
In contrast, Israel has developed special armored vehicles for urban combat in Gaza and the West Bank, senior Israeli officers said, enabling them to drive up close to the enemy and use pinpoint weapons. Soldiers ride into Palestinian neighborhoods in tanks with turrets replaced by armored boxes with bulletproof glass, which allow the vehicle commanders to see 360 degrees without exposing themselves to fire.
American tanks and infantry fighting vehicles, like the Bradley, have notoriously restricted vision when hatches are closed. In city streets, they must operate with crewmen exposed in open hatches or be flanked by walking infantrymen to protect against side attack.
“We have a whole spectrum of vehicles that enable you to see where you are going and who shoots at you, without being hit,” said a senior Israeli officer who recently commanded a brigade in Gaza.
“This enables you to advance inside the city and to get closer” to the enemy, said the officer, who spoke on condition that he not be identified by name. “As far as I can recall we have never used indirect fire in 3 1/2 years in the West Bank and Gaza.”


Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

It’s all-out war. Again.
Almost a year to the day after President Bush delcared an end to major combat operations in Iraq, American soldiers and marines unleashed ferocious assaults in Fallujah and outside of Najaf. 64 militiamen loyal to the renegade cleric Moqtada al-Sadr were killed in the holy city, according to the AP. The death toll for Fallujah is not yet known.
In that city’s Jolan quarter, a U.S. AC-130, “a powerful gunship that can unleash a deluge of ordnance, joined 105mm howitzers in opening up on insurgent targets in the neighborhood. Gunfire and explosions reverberated for nearly two hours, and an eerie orange glow shone over the area while showers of sparks descended like fireworks,” the AP reports.
“U.S. aircraft dropped white leaflets over Fallujah before nightfall, calling on insurgents to give up. ‘Surrender, you are surrounded,’ the leaflets said. ‘If you are a terrorist, beware, because your last day was yesterday. In order to spare your life end your actions and surrender to coalition forces now. We are coming to arrest you.’”
In recent days, American forces had largely held their fire in Fallujah (where an extremely tenuous cease-fire with Sunni rebels was in place) and in Najaf (which the U.S. was hesistant to attack, because it is the equivalent of the Vatican to Iraq’s Shi’ite majority).
With the twin lulls ended, Slate’s Fred Kaplan notes, “no longer [can] U.S. officials speak of conducting mere ‘security and stabilization operations’ the Marines’ declared mission last month when they took over [Fallujah] from the Army’s 82nd airborne division. SASO (the military’s acronym for such operations) is essentially police work with heavy armaments in a war, or postwar, zone. It is not an accurate term for invading a city of half a million people or strafing it with gunship fire.”


Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

livermore_secy.JPGLong-time Defense Tech readers know that security at the country’s nuclear labs is hovering somewhere around Disneyland level. But the defenses at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory don’t even meet this Pirates of the Caribbean standard, according to the L.A. Times.
“Unlike the security forces at other weapons sites, Livermore’s personnel do not have certain high-powered weapons, door-breaching explosives or helicopters to defend the site,” the paper reports. The area where the lab keeps its nuclear material is about a quarter mile from a residential tract, and it “is packed into the dense Livermore complex, making it tougher to defend than remote facilities.“

“We have concluded, working with insiders, that Livermore cannot adequately protect its materials,” said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington, D.C., group that has been pressing the Energy Department to improve its security. “The only way to address the problem is to get those materials out of there.“
The group has asked Energy officials to eliminate the materials from Livermore and two sites in Idaho and to move plutonium to underground sites in Tennessee and South Carolina.
Brian said she met with Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham on Jan. 22 to recommend that the department move the Livermore materials to the Nevada Test Site’s defense assembly facility, an underground lab located in a remote desert. “He seemed genuinely concerned and committed to fixing the problem,” she said.
Energy spokesman Bryan Wilkes acknowledged Monday that the department was looking at consolidating or removing nuclear materials at a number of sites. Earlier this year, it decided to remove the materials from TA-18, a weapons site at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.

THERE’S MORE: “Two Chinese diplomats, away from their Los Angeles consulate improperly, recently sped their vehicle past a Los Alamos National Laboratory guard post near classified facilities in what U.S. officials think was an intelligence mission,” according to the Washington Times.
It’s where the diplomats were stopped at the lab that’s particularly unnerving. Pajarito Road looks down onto canyons where TA-18 and TA-55 — two of Los Alamos’ most sensitive nuclear facilities — are located. Watchdog groups have long warned that Pajarito would be the ideal place to launch an attack on the lab. And it has been frequently closed to the public since 9/11.
AND MORE: A House Committee on Government Reform’s subcommittee is holding hearings today on whether the Energy Department can meet the security requirements at its labs. Hint: no.


Tuesday, April 27th, 2004

hummer.JPGIt seemed like a green dream, ready to come true: the Army replacing its gas-chugging Humvees with clean, enviro-friendly electric hybrids. But, for now, it’ll have to stay a wish unfulfilled. The Army has decided to stop funding the development of the hybrid Hummers, National Defense magazine reports.
During the past decade, the Army has supported a number of development programs to equip military vehicles with hybrid-electric engines, but none has transitioned yet to full production. The hybrid Humvee was viewed as one of the more promising efforts, with at least six prototypes in the works.
Although the Army continues to struggle with the enormous logistics burdens of transporting millions of gallons of fuel to combat zones, it has not yet been convinced that hybrid-electric engines are the way to go. Hybrid systems, though more fuel efficient, have proved to be more expensive and less rugged than advocates had hoped.
We have to prove that it works as touted, said Claude Bolton, assistant secretary of the Army for acquisition, technology and logistics. It has yet to be seen whether hybrid vehicles will ever be accepted in the Armys truck fleets, he told an industry conference.
Another hybrid prototype now in development is the Armys wrecker, the Heavy Expanded Mobility Tactical Truck. The manufacturer of the HEMTT, Oshkosh Truck Corp., equipped the vehicle with a hybrid system similar to one now in use in civilian trucks, such as fire engines.
But the Army is not yet persuaded that the HEMTT should be hybrid, said Lt. Col. Lisa Kirkpatrick, program manager for Army heavy trucks.
We need to test it against conventional power train, she said. I have told Oshkosh to be prepared to go back to conventional power train if hybrid electric doesnt work. I dont know if hybrid electric will deliver what it promises.


Monday, April 26th, 2004

Almost a quarter of the coalition combat deaths in Iraq could have been prevented — if the Pentagon had bothered to invest in fully armoring its vehicles. That’s the damning conclusion of a story in Monday’s Newsweek.

As Iraq’s liberation has turned into a daily grind of low-intensity combat and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld grudgingly raises troop levels many soldiers who are there say the Pentagon is failing to protect them with the best technology America has to offer…
A breakdown of the casualty figures suggests that many U.S. deaths and wounds in Iraq simply did not need to occur. According to an unofficial study by a defense consultant that is now circulating through the Army, of a total of 789 Coalition deaths as of April 15 (686 of them Americans), 142 were killed by land mines or improvised explosive devices, while 48 others died in rocket-propelled-grenade attacks. Almost all those soldiers were killed while in unprotected vehicles, which means that perhaps one in four of those killed in combat in Iraq might be alive if they had had stronger armor around them, the study suggested. Thousands more who were unprotected have suffered grievous wounds, such as the loss of limbs.
The military is 1,800 armored Humvees short of its own stated requirement for Iraq. Despite desperate attempts to supply bolt-on armor, many soldiers still ride around in light-skinned Humvees. This is a latter-day jeep that, as Brig. Gen. Mark P. Hertling, assistant division commander of the 1st Armored Division, conceded in an interview, “was never designed to do this … It was never anticipated that we would have things like roadside bombs in the vast number that we’ve had here.” One newly arrived officer, Lt. Col. Timothy Meredith, says his battalion had just undergone months of training to rid itself of “tank habits” and get used to the Humvees. “We arrived here expecting to do a lot of civil works,” says Meredith.
According to internal Pentagon e-mails, the Humvee situation is so bad that the head of the U.S. Army Forces Command, Gen. Larry Ellis, has urged that more of the new Stryker combat vehicles be put into the field. Sources say that the Army brass back in Washington have not yet concurred with that. The problem: the rubber-tire Strykers are thin-skinned and don’t maneuver through dangerous streets as well as the fast-pivoting, treaded Bradley. According to a well-placed Defense Department source, the Army is so worried about the Stryker’s vulnerability that most of the 300-vehicle brigade currently in Iraq has been deployed up in the safer Kurdish region around Mosul. “Any further south, and the Army was afraid the Arabs would light them up,” he said.

THERE’S MORE: Phil Carter has a dynamite story in Slate on how impossibly far the American military is being stretched. Key point:

Even if the order [to send an extra 30,000 soldiers to Iraq] were cut right now, fresh divisions of troops would take months to get to overseas, meaning today’s stretched force will have to put down the Iraqi revolt, restore security, and conduct the June 30 power handover without reinforcements. The U.S. military remains the most lethal fighting force ever fielded, but one year in Iraq has chewed it up, creating global shortages of manpower, equipment, and spare parts that are not easily relieved. (all emphases mine)

AND MORE: Gen. Ellis’ memo, asking for more Strykers to be hurried into Iraq and Afghanistan is here. “Commanders in the field are reporting to me that the Up-Armored [Humvee] is not providing the solution the Army hoped to achieve,” he says.