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Archive for December, 2004

TSUNAMI

Friday, December 31st, 2004

We all know what happened in South Asia over the weekend. The Times has a list of ways you can help. So does the Post. And this Amazon Honor System page for the Red Cross has already raised more than a million four million seven and a half million thirteen million bucks. Let’s all add to it.

PAIN RAYS, LASER JETS, AND STUN GUN SHOCKERS

Friday, December 31st, 2004

From pain beams to stun guns to laser jets, real-life ray guns seemed to blasting their way from the world of sci-fi into the realm of reality in 2004. There were setbacks, to be sure — missed deadlines, bloated budgets, and a sense that supposedly “non-lethal” energy weapons might not be so safe, after all. But, by the end of the year, the dream of a blaster in hand seemed a whole lot nearer than it did in 2003.
abl_small.JPGLASER JET: GOOD NEWS
After decades of bloated promises, busted budgets, and missed deadlines, the troubled Airborne Laser project finally got a bit of good news yesterday.
The program’s goal is to mount a high-energy, chemical laser onto a 747 jet, so it can shoot down incoming missiles. But whether such a laser would ever work remained very much an open question. On Thursday, some answers emerged, when Northrop engineers successfully tested the laser.
ANTI-LASER CONTACT LENSES
I think we all winced when we read, back in September, about the Delta pilot who was hit in the eye by a laser while flying a 737. Or about the 20 year-old Los Alamos intern who was zapped during a July experiment.
Air Force researchers must not have liked what they read, either. That’s presumably why they’re looking to develop a contact lens that can protect against laser blasts.
LASERS 1, MORTARS 0
Lasers have been getting pretty good at knocking down rockets, as we’ve seen in tests over the last few years. Now, the ray guns are starting to prove that they can zap one of the most common battlefield threats mortars as well.
ARMY FOCUSING ON “EASY” LASER WEAPONS
In the world of laser guns and death rays, there’s hard to pull off. And then’s really, really hard to do. The Army has decided to concentrate on developing some of the easier “directed energy” weapons. The idea is to prove to a skeptical military community that lasers can, in fact, be used to blow stuff up — and not just on Babylon 5.
RAY GUN RESEARCH POWERS UP
The most powerful lasers today probably wouldn’t work that well as weapons. They have the energy needed to zap oncoming missiles. But, powered by enormous vats of chemicals, they’re really too cumbersome to work in the battlefield.
Solid state lasers don’t have those logistical problems. Until recently, though, the energy they’ve generated has been pretty puny just 10 kilowatts or so, instead of the 100 kilowatts that most think are needed to make a workable weapon. Now, Aviation Week reports, the Defense Department is on track to demonstrate three, solid state laser designs that can hit the 25 kw mark.
taser_side_mirror_small.JPGDEATHS DOG STUN GUN MAKER
For executives as Taser International, this should be the best day, ever. The company just signed a $1.8 million deal with the Pentagon the largest in Taser’s history. But the stun-gun maker can’t shake allegations that their supposedly “non-lethal” weapons have killed more than a few of their targets.
CORONER: TASERS DIDN’T KILL
They’re still not sure why 31 year-old Frederick Jerome Williams died in police custody. But it wasn’t the five shocks to the chest from a Taser stun gun, the Gwinnett, Georgia County medical examiner’s office has concluded.
TASERS IN THE SKIES
Firing bullets in an enclosed space is rarely a good idea. So I guess it was only a matter of time before someone decided to arm airline security guards with tasers instead.
NEXT-GEN STUN GUNS TARGET CROWDS
The problem with today’s stun guns is that you can unload a can of electrical whoop-ass only on one person at a time. But that may be starting to change.
SONIC WEAPON IN IRAQ
U.S. soldiers in Iraq have new gear for dispersing hostile crowds and warding off potential enemy combatants. It blasts earsplitting noise in a directed beam. “
“E-BOMB,” FOR REAL?
On the eve of the Iraq invasion, it was being hailed as America’s next “wonder weapon.” The “e-bomb” — a munition using high-powered microwaves to fry circuits and computers — was about to be dropped on Baghdad, we were told. Now, Aviation Week reports, there are a pair of efforts underway at the Pentagon to use high-powered microwaves — the core of the e-bomb — for real.
v-ads.jpgBRING THE PAIN
When U.S. soldiers are faced with a hostile crowd, they only have, broadly speaking, two options for breaking it up: the bullhorn or the machine gun. Words or bullets. Deadly force, or no force at all. What’s need instead is a weapon that falls somewhere in between. That shoots to hurt, not to kill. That drives away looters, without driving up casualty counts. A microwave-like pain ray, let’s say.
SOUPED-UP ARMORED CARS PREPPED FOR IRAQ
Soldiers in Iraq might soon get armored vehicles equipped with pain rays, sonic weapons, or guns that automically return fire if a Pentagon project works out as planned.
PAIN RAY GOING AIRBORNE
It was only a matter of time, I guess. First, the Air Force builds a real-life, microwave-like pain ray. Then, it gets a company to strap that real-life, microwave-like pain ray to the back of a jet.
NO SCI-FI TECH FOR “FUTURE COMBAT“
Back in 1999, when the Army launched Future Combat Systems, its $117 billion modernization program, “discussions were dominated by visions of an all-electric, laser-firing fleet of fast-moving tank-like vehicles unburdened by the weight of conventional armor,” notes National Defense. “Five years later, reality has set in.”

NUKES SPREAD, LABS CLAMP DOWN

Thursday, December 30th, 2004

Both Bush and Kerry said it: the spread of nuclear weapons is the biggest security problem the country faces. And 2004 saw that situation get a whole lot worse, with both Iran and North Korea moving further down the atomic path.
Here at home, the nuclear news was a bit better. Plans for new atomic weapons were scrapped by Congress. And the Energy Department finally got serious about security at its nuclear labs — after a slew of lost classified disks and laser in the eye shamed the bureacracy into acting.
m_cloud.jpgPAK NUKE SALES OVERT, GOV’T APPROVED
Pakistan’s government is trying to portray the sale of nuclear technology to Iran, Libya, and North Korea as the cloak-and-dagger work of a few, isolated rogues. But that’s a lie, says Jane’s Defense Weekly. Nuclear sales were so out in the open that underlings of Abdul Qadeer Khan — the father of the Pakistani Bomb — were handing out glossy brochures advertising their services at a 2000 arms conference.
IRAQI URANIUM NOW IN U.S. LABS
The good news: U.S. troops and scientists have taken a heap of radioactive material out of insecure locations in Iraq. The bad news: they may have brought the stuff to one of the most insecure locations here in America.
1 YEAR UNTIL IRAN NUKES
“Some American analysts warn that there is only a year or so left to stop Iran from achieving nuclear self-sufficiency. After that, they say, the country will have the means to create a nuclear arsenal without outside help, forever altering the Middle East balance of power.“
NUKE STOCKPILES ON THE RISE
No matter what Iran decides to do about its nuclear program, the chances of radioactive material getting into dangerous hands continue to grow.
IRAN’S NUKE PAUSE — BAD NEWS?
So Iran has apparently stopped enriching uranium for the moment, pressing pause on its nuclear program. Great news, right? Actually, it could hardly be worse, argues Michael Levi, the Brookings Institution’s resident atomic authority.
NEW NUKE RESEARCH BLOWN UP
It ain’t dead, yet. But the Bush administration’s push to research and develop new nuclear weapons could be on the verge of flat-lining, after a key Congressional leader moved on Wednesday to eliminate funding for the atomic arms projects.
WHAT’S A “BUNKER BUSTER” NUKE?
In the debate tonight, Sen. Kerry made an aside about cutting the money to develop a new, “bunker-busting” nuclear weapon. What’s he talking about?
GUARDS CHEATED NUKE SECURITY DRILLS
Security guards at the country’s leading nuclear storehouse have been cheating during antiterrorism drills — perhaps for as long as 20 years.
NOT AGAIN! LOS ALAMOS LOSES SECRET DISK
It’s become a recurring nightmare for managers at the nation’s most important nuclear weapons lab: a hard drive or disk, filled with classified information, goes missing. And suddenly, Los Alamos officials, trying to remerge from years of scandal, have a whole lot of explaining to do.
SANDIA HAS BUTTER FINGERS, TOO
Los Alamos isn’t the only weapons lab that can’t seem to keep track of its classified disks. Sandia National Laboratories just announced that they, too, are “searching for a missing floppy disk that was marked classified.“
“AT A MINIMUM, ELECTROCUTION“
The heart-warming stories of safety violations from the country’s top nuclear weapons lab continue to pile up, like presents under the ol’ yuletide tree.
LOS ALAMOS SHUT DOWN
Los Alamos National Laboratory director Pete Nanos shut down the country’s leading nuclear weapons lab on Friday, after a set of classified computer disks disappeared, and a student was hit in the eye with a powerful laser beam — all in the space of a week.
ABRAHAM TO LOS ALAMOS: GET A CLUE
Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham has heard from his top deputies about the security situation at Los Alamos. And he is pissed.
LOS ALAMOS SCIENTISTS SPOOKED
There’s something missing from all the hubbub about security breaches and safety violations and political maneuverings over at Los Alamos: a sense of how the lab’s 12,000 employees feel about having their workplace shut down. The answer, in a word, is spooked.
NO SECRET DISKS FOR NUKE LABS
Stop using classified disks — everywhere. That’s the order Energy Secretary Spencer Abraham handed down today, telling the country’s entire nuclear weapons complex to lay off the use of classified CDs, Zip disks, floppies and portable hard drives until new training and procedures are put in place.
NUKE LAB FRAUDSTERS COP A PLEA
The men who helped start the current wave of scandals at Los Alamos have pled guilty to charges of conspiracy and mail fraud,
LOS ALAMOS CAVEMAN CAUGHT
Authorities have evicted a man from a cave on Los Alamos National Laboratory land where they say he apparently lived for years with the comforts of home a wood-burning stove, solar panels connected to car batteries for electricity and a satellite radio.
NUKE LAB CONTRACT: AMNESIA ATTACK
Imagine, for a moment, that you had held your job for the last sixty years. And then the boss wanted you to re-apply for your job, all over again. But your past performance over the decades that would barely count, when you filled out the application.
You’d call that kind of a mixed, message, right? But it’s exactly what the Energy Department did, when it began to put the Los Alamos National Laboratory’s contract up for bid, for the first time ever.

SPACE WAR, MOON BASES, AND SPYSAT MYSTERIES

Wednesday, December 29th, 2004

Guiding bombs, relaying orders, finding a safe way through hostile territory — just about everything a modern military does on the ground depends on a satellite in space. So it’s no wonder that the Pentagon spent a nice-sized chunk of 2004 getting ready for an eventual showdown in orbit.
This was also the year that NASA was sent back to its mission of manned exploration — and astronaut entrepreneurs reached the edge of space. Can trips to Alpha Centauri be far behind?
anti-sat weapon.JPGPENTAGON PREPS FOR WAR IN SPACE
An Air Force report is giving what analysts call the most detailed picture since the end of the Cold War of the Pentagon’s efforts to turn outer space into a battlefield.
For years, the American military has spoken in hints and whispers, if at all, about its plans to develop weapons in space. But the U.S. Air Force Transformation Flight Plan changes all that. Released in November, the report makes U.S. dominance of the heavens a top Pentagon priority in the new century. And it runs through dozens of research programs designed to ensure that America can never be challenged in orbit — from anti-satellite lasers to weapons that “would provide the capability to strike ground targets anywhere in the world from space.“
SPACE WAR BUDGET UNVEILED
$75.9 million to shut down enemy satellite communications. $84.6 million for projects like relay mirrors that would re-target laser beams in space. $15 million for weapons that ram into satellites and other “space control” efforts. That’s just a small sample of what the Pentagon plans to spend on space war research next year, according to a study from the Center for Defense Information.
AIR FORCE: ALL’S FAIR IN SPACE WAR
The American military has begun planning for combat in space. And commercial spacecraft, neutral countries’ launching pads even weather satellites are all on the potential target list.
PENTAGON WANTS MINI-KILLERS IN SPACE
“Arms Control Wonk” Jeffrey Lewis has uncovered what looks like a Pentagon wish list for orbital combat. At the top of the list: a slew of itty-bitty satellites. Their mission: “Destruction of Enemy Spacecraft.“
AIR FORCE: SATELLITE JAMMER READY
The U.S. Air Force is ready to start jamming enemy satellites. So says ISR Journal, which reports that the Counter Communications System (CounterCom), a radio frequency-based system to disrupt communications satellites, has been declared operational by the American military.
USAF WANTS SELF-AWARE SATELLITES
One of the things that makes Rummy & Co. the most nervous is that nobody has a clue what’s up there in orbit. Imagine how vast and opaque the seas must have seen to World War I-era commanders, and you’ll get the idea. The Air Force may have a fix: turn satellites’ internal monitors outward, to keep tabs on space.
TETHERS: SATELLITES’ SAVIOR?
How could satellites be saved from nuclear attack? Simple, the Pentagon says: with giant, electrically charged space-ropes.
IRAN’S “TROJAN HORSE” IN SPACE
Iran is planning on launching its first satellite early next year. And it’s not so the mullahs can catch the Knicks game or HBO Latino.
MOON BASE: RECURRING DREAM
Moon Base? Old news. In his hotly anticipated announcement Wednesday, President Bush ordered NASA scientists to plan for a manned “foothold on the moon.” They might look through their old filing cabinets to start. Because the U.S. government and its contractors have been planning lunar colonies since long before Neil Armstrong took his one giant leap for mankind in 1969.
NO IDEA TOO WILD FOR NASA’S SCI-FI ARM
Shape-shifting space suits? Step right up. Antimatter-powered probes to Alpha Centauri? No problem. Robotic armada to destroy incoming asteroids? Pal, just sign on the dotted line. At the NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts, the wildest of ideas are not only tolerated. They’re welcome.
PSA_small.jpgRED, ROUND “TRICORDER” PREPPED FOR SPACE
It’s shaped like a basketball. It was inspired by Spock’s tricorder. And, if NASA researchers have their way, it could be helping out astronauts aboard the International Space Station in as little as three years.
NASA NUKE MISSION BEGINS
NASA’s nuclear-powered mission to Jupiter’s moons is on.
SATELLITES SPEED DARFUR AID
Satellites can be used for peaceful purposes, too. A European-led coalition is using the orbiters to boost humanitarian efforts in the conflict-torn Darfur region of Sudan.
SPYSAT MYSTERY SOLVED
A classified spy program that had worked Sen. Jay Rockefeller — and a nice-sized chunk of Washington — into a jittering froth has been unveiled.
CONGRESS POKES ALL-SEEING EYE IN SKY
It’s a spook fantasy: an all-seeing, always-on, rain-or-shine constellation of satellites, able to keep track of every plane, truck, and person below. Now, Congress is telling the Pentagon to go back to the drawing board.
EURO-GPS: READY FOR ORBIT?
It’s a fair bet that satellite navigation won’t be at the top of the agenda when President Bush meets with European leaders in Ireland next week for the annual summit between the United States and the European Union. But, in the long run, a little-known agreement to allow New World and Old World satellites to play nice with each other could prove to be the summit item that has the greatest impact on average people worldwide.

EXPLOSIVE, STICKY, AD-HOC ARMOR

Tuesday, December 28th, 2004

reactive_montage.JPGIn 2004, there was no military technology issue as important as armor. How the Pentagon protected American troops and American vehicles became, for many, the litmus test for Defense Department leadership — or lack thereof.
Here are some of the year’s wildest schemes, biggest steps, and most intense political battles over armor.
PEEL-AND-STICK ARMOR IN IRAQ
Usually, adding to an armor to a Humvee means welding on giant steel plates. Now, U.S. forces in Iraq are starting to stick their armor on, like bumper stickers.
ARMY SAYS NO TO AD-HOC ARMOR
U.S. soldiers have been adding jury-rigged armor to their Humvees, to toughen the vehicles up against RPGs and roadside explosives. The Army is telling its troops to cut it out.
ARMORED POOCHES ON IRAQ PATROL
G.I.s in Iraq may not be able to get armor for their Humvees. Their dogs, on the other hand, are well protected.
ARMY REBOOTS G.I.S’ TIRED FATIGUES
Ever since they tangled with the Red Coats, American generals have been giving their grunts more and more and more gear to lug — from rations to radios, body armor to batteries. Now, for the first time, the Army has decided to junk the old uniforms and start from scratch.
G.I.S GET ARMOR ADD-ONS
A G.I.‘s body armor is designed, mostly, to stop head-on attacks, or to keep a soldier from getting shot in the back. But in Iraq, insurgents aren’t coming straight at the soldiers. That’s why the Army and Sandia National Laboratories are rolling out new body armor add-ons, designed to shield troops’ flanks and arms.
SOLDIER ARMOR: STEP INTO LIQUID
Army researchers are working on liquid body armor, to add to soldiers’ bulletproof vests.
interceptor_small.jpgPAYBACK, FINALLY, FOR ARMOR BUYS
It’s become a disgustingly familiar scene: American troops, cornered into to paying for their own protection. Now thank God they’ll finally start to get reimbursed for what they’ve spent.
U.S. GETS EXPLOSIVE ARMOR FROM ISRAEL
The U.S. Army wants to protect its Bradley fighting vehicles — by strapping dozens of Israeli explosives to their skins.
SHOOT TO PROTECT
For many soldiers in Humvees, the best defense against an RPG is to shoot the guy holding the RPG before he can let one off. But another layer of defense may be coming — a way to blast the RPG in midair.
ARMORED HUMMERS UNDERCUT
Without some extra armor, American Humvees can’t stand up to the Iraqi insurgents’ onslaught of rocket-propelled grenades and roadside bombs. “So how is the White House proposing to deal with this?” asks Slate’s Eric Umanky. “By underfunding the program to armor Humvees.“
ARMOR LACK LEADS TO HEAVY ATTACKS
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.
RUMMY’S SLICK SUPPLEMENTAL MOVE
You’d think it’d be a top priority for the Army, outfitting troops with new body armor, helmets, and communications gear. But the Pentagon can’t seem to find the cash in its $420 billion budget to pay for the equipment.
ARMOR LACK: WHO’S TO BLAME?
So who’s responsible for American troops still operating in Iraq without proper protection?
TRUCKS STILL THIN-SKINNED
The Hummers are protected, mostly. It’s the trucks that are in trouble.
G.I.S’ PAYCHECKS FUND TRUCK ARMOR
So the Pentagon leadership has finally recognized that they need to armor up their trucks. But they’ve settled on a damn peculiar way of paying for the work. They’re dipping into soldiers’ paychecks to do it.

THE YEAR IN DEFENSE TECH

Monday, December 27th, 2004

Re-runs: not just for television any more! Defense Tech is proud to bring to blogdom the time-honored tradition of recycling fare from the past year, to fill up an otherwise fallow 52nd week.
We’ll tackle a different topic each day, staring this morning with drones. Check back in every day for more Defense Techlicious goodness. And don’t forget to visit the forum here, where (original, non-recycled) debates are raging on everything from Iraq strategy to ray guns to real-life exoskeletons.

DRONE DOGGIES, ROBO-COPTERS, AND MORE

Monday, December 27th, 2004

In robot world, 2004 was a time to get ready. To test out new drone designs. To give the bots a bit of autonomy, and see if they could drive across the desert on their own. To have the machines try on rocket-launchers and smart bombs.
All of which sets the stage of a mighty big 2005. That’s when gun-toting drones will be heading to Iraq. New control schemes will be unveiled. And robo-racers might even make it more than a few miles into the Mojave.
BigDog_pr_small.jpgDRONE DOGGIE BUILT FOR WAR
A robot dog could one day become a soldier’s best friend — if an Army program works out as planned.
WHIRL-A-DRONE BEGINS TO SPIN
“Right now, it looks a lot like a Frisbee with four wings,” the Wall Street Journal says. But, one day, this early prototype could become “an unmanned aircraft capable of hovering in the same spot for days at a time.“
KILLER DRONE PLANS REVEALED
They’ve served, mostly, as spies. Once in a great while, they’ve moonlighted as assassins. But now, unmanned aircraft are slowly starting to become full-fledged killing machines — armed to the teeth, and designed for the deadliest parts of war.
ROBO-COPTER: TALK TO ME
“See that building over there? Bomb the hell out of it.” That’s how easy the Pentagon wants commanding its Unmanned Combat Armed Rotorcraft to be.
REMOTE CONTROL FOR KILLER DRONES
If you’re going to have a bunch of killer drones roaming the skies, you better make damn sure you can control ‘em. Pilotless plane promoters have long promised this would be doable. And now, after a series of test flights earlier this month, there’s reason to think they’re right.
TERROR DRONE: NO SWEAT?
If you were worried about the drone that Hezbollah flew over Israel the other day, Stratfor has a word for you: chill.
ARMED DRONES ROLLING TO IRAQ
Hunting for guerillas, handling roadside bombs, crawling across the caves and crumbling towns of Afghanistan and Iraq — all of that was just a start. Now, the U.S. Army’s squad of robotic vehicles is being prepped for a new set of assignments. And this time, they’ll be carrying guns.
ARMED ROBOTS, GOOEY SNACKS MADE BY SAME FIRM
Foster-Miller, the company behind the armed robots that are about to be shipped off to Iraq, may win the award for the oddest array of expertise, ever. When they’re not building gun-toting, death-dealing machines, Foster-Miller scientists are helping make chewy, gooey fruit snacks; training railway workers in staying safe; building bone-growth devices; and testing out new vending machines for Pepsi.
SWINGING 60’S DRONE OVER IRAQ
Sure, the Pentagon’s latest and greatest drones were there. But Gulf War II also saw the remergence of an unmanned plane that got its start nearly four decades ago.
CHALLENGE 1, ROBO-RACERS 0
A million dollars waits the winner of the Darpa Grand Challenge, the all-robot, off-road rally across the Mojave Desert, slated for this weekend. But at the rate the race’s preparations are going, there may not be a winner at all.
ROBOT RACERS CATCH A BREAK
The rules were simple: if drone makers wanted to compete in the Pentagon’s million-dollar, robotic, off-road rally, they had to make sure their creations could navigate a mile-long obstacle course first. But when the qualifying rounds began Monday for this “Grand Challenge,” run by the Pentagon research arm Darpa, it quickly became clear that only a handful of the bots could pass the exam on the opening day. Now, it looks like just about any robot car will be on the starting line in the desert town of Barstow, California.
GRAND CHALLENGE BREAKS DOWN
It looks like all of the robot racers in Darpa’s Grand Challenge have broken down in the Mojave Desert.
DARPA’S ROBO-RACE FIX: CARS THAT THINK
After months of hype and twitching buildup, the Defense Department’s drone-only rally across the Mojave Desert fizzled. So officials at Darpa, the Pentagon’s way-out research arm, are trying to get rolling after the stall out. They way they propose to do it: build cars that can think for themselves.
DRONE LOST AT SEA
Fisherman and divers of Norway: If you see a ten-foot long, robotic mini-submarine swimming off of your shores, please call the U.S. Navy.
DUDE, THERE’S MY DRONE!
Joy in subville: the U.S. Navy has found its mine-sweeping, torpedo-shaped drone.

TERROR GROUP TESTS IRAN’S TECH

Thursday, December 23rd, 2004

This Israeli press flipped its collective lid in November, when the Hezbollah terrorist group flew an Iranian drone over the Galilee. But it’s not the only time Tehran-backed fundamentalists have used surprisingly sophisticated means to tussle with Israel, according to Defense News. In fact, “Several Israeli officials and analysts suggested Tehran is using the group to test and promote the products of Iran’s defense industry, which has been built from scratch over the past quarter-century to get around international arms embargoes.”

In January, an anti-tank missile provided by Iran struck an Israeli D-9 bulldozer in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, killing the Israeli soldier.
They also cited thousands of Katyusha rockets upgraded to 30-kilometer ranges; the Al-Fajr 3 surface-to-surface missile; and the Al-Fajr 5, which can deliver a 200-kilogram payload up to 75 kilometers.
Awar said the most common Iranian weapon in Hizbollah’s arsenal is the single-tube 122mm rocket launcher.
“It is light, easy to move around, easy to hide and can be put into action fairly quickly and uses a variety of Iranian ARASH missiles with ranges that vary from 21 to 29 kilometers,” he said.
Tehran has consistently denied arming the group.

MOSUL: MORE THAN TRAGEDY

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004

The awful events yesterday in Mosul meant more than just tragedy for 14 American soldiers’ families and friends. The attack on Forward Operating Base Marez is a harbinger of even worse things to come in Iraq, Tom Ricks argues in a must-read story in today’s Washington Post:

The major difference between the latest attack and the earlier incidents is that it was an attack on a U.S. base, rather than on troops in transit in vulnerable aircraft. That difference appears to reflect both the persistence of the insurgency and its growing sophistication, as experts noted that it seemed to be based on precise intelligence. Most disturbingly, some officers who have served in Iraq worried that the Mosul attack could mark the beginning of a period of even more intense violence preceding the Iraqi elections scheduled for Jan. 30.
“On the strategic level, we were expecting an horrendous month leading up to the Iraqi elections, and that has begun,” retired Army Col. Michael E. Hess said.
Jeffrey White, a former Defense Intelligence Agency analyst of Middle Eastern military affairs, said he is especially worried that the insurgents’ next move will be an actual penetration by fighters into a base. “The real danger here is that they will mount a sophisticated effort to penetrate or assault one of our camps or bases with a ground element,” he said…
The attack also indicates that the insurgency is growing more sophisticated with the passage of time. One of the basic principles of waging a counterinsurgency is that it requires patience. “Twenty-one months” — the length of the occupation so far — “is not a long time to tame the tribal warfare expected there,” said retired Marine Lt. Col. Rick Raftery, an intelligence specialist who operated in northern Iraq in 1991. “My guess is that this will take 10 years.“
Another principle, less noted but painfully clear yesterday, is that insurgents also tend to sharpen their tactics as time goes by. Over the past 20 months, enemy fighters have learned a lot about how the U.S. military operates and where its vulnerabilities lie.
“The longer you are anywhere, the more difficult it becomes,” said Hess, who served in northern Iraq in 1991 and in Bosnia in 1996. “They have changed their tactics a lot in the year-plus.”

THERE’S MORE: “Worried about recent artillery attacks on American mess halls in Iraq, the U.S. military was just days away from completing a reinforced dining area at the camp where a rocket attack killed more than 20 people in a tent the bunker was meant to replace.“
AND MORE: The Mosul blast now appears to have been the work of a suicide bomber. And that’s even worse news than a rocket attack. Because it means that insurgents are slipping into American bases, the Times explains.

The announcement on Wednesday of the likely cause of the Mosul attack produced a new source of concern by leaving a crucial question unanswered: How was the attacker able to infiltrate a heavily guarded military base in one of the most hostile regions of Iraq?
It also raised the possibility that one of the most commonly discussed fears of American soldiers stationed at forward operating bases in Iraq had come true — that an Iraqi or other foreign worker had been able through special access, knowledge and privileges to sabotage the troops he was supposed to be serving.
Other heavily guarded compounds have been infiltrated, including the main American governmental zone in Baghdad, where suicide bombers killed five people in October. But the attack on Tuesday far exceeded the size and devastation of any previous strike on American troops within a secured compound.
“I’ve been expecting it,” said Wayne Downing , a retired four-star Army general who headed the inquiry into the bombing at the Khobar Towers housing complex in Saudi Arabia in 1996. “They’re trying to get in. We have a terrible problem. We have all this indigenous labor. We don’t wash our dishes, cook our own food. When you bring indigenous laborers into camps, you immediately have a security problem.”

REMOTE CONTROL FOR KILLER DRONES

Wednesday, December 22nd, 2004

x45_small.jpgIf you’re going to have a bunch of killer drones roaming the skies, you better make damn sure you can control ‘em.
Pilotless plane promoters have long promised this would be doable. And now, after a series of test flights earlier this month, there’s reason to think they’re right.
In one trial, control of the X-45A experimental unmanned plane was passed from an operator at Edwards Air Force Base in California, to another, 900 miles away, at a Boeing facility in Seattle. The Seattle pilot took over for only six minutes. But the switch was significant, regardless.
Equally reassuring was what went down at the beginning of the month at Edwards. One pilot was able to take charge of two X45s at once, for about an hour.
Eventually, the goal is to let one flesh-and-blood operator guide an entire squadron of death-dealing drones at once. That’s still a ways off. But this start ain’t bad.