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Archive for August, 2005

Katrina: Relief Links

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

My brother Dan was one of the lucky ones; he left New Orleans long before Katrina made landfall. But even the fortunate, like him, have no idea whether they will have homes or jobs when they return — and may not know for weeks, or even months.
Dan is about to start the 1400-mile drive to our folks’ house, to wait things out for a while. Many others don’t have that luxury. Give to one of the charities linked here.

Giant Blimp on the Rise

Wednesday, August 31st, 2005

The idea is pretty wild, even for the dreamers at Darpa: build a giant blimp that can haul 1,800 soldiers and their gear 12,000 nautical miles, in less than a week.
wired_blimp.jpgBut the Pentagon’s research arm is serious enough about the project, code-named Walrus, to hand out more than $6 million to Lockheed Martin and Aeros Aeronautical Group to start designing the thing.
The Defense Department has renewed its interest in blimps in recent years; a pair of tethered airships kept watch over the giant American military complex near the Baghdad airport, when I was there. The “tri-phibian” (air, land, sea) Walrus is particularly intriguing because the Pentagon is trying to figure out ways to make American forces less reliant on deep-water ports, foreign bases, and billion-dollar airports to wage war. The Army’s Surface Deployment and Distribution Command has its own plans for a such an airship.
Darpa hopes the designs they’ve just funded will lead to a small-scale Walrus, capable of carting 30 tons, by 2008, Defense Industry Daily notes. That’s as much as today’s C-130 transport planes. But it’s only a fraction of the million pounds that the agency wants the Walrus will ultimately be able to lug around.
(Illustration by John MacNeill, used with premission.)

Laser Sat’s Big Pipes

Tuesday, August 30th, 2005

“Todays military satellites “take about two minutes to transfer a simple photo,” Defense News notes. “That same image could take about 23 seconds on the next-generation Advanced Extremely High Frequency satellites, which will start to go up in the next few years.“
tsat_md.jpgThe third wave of U.S. orbiters, scheduled for launch in the mid-2010s, “could move the image in far less than a second.” And they’d use lasers to do it.

Such blinding speed could finally bring to life the Pentagons visions of networked sensors and shooters unmanned aerial vehicles, Joint Strike Fighters, warships and troops on the ground trading instant images and video anywhere in the world.
The Air Force’s Transformational Satellite System (TSAT) program got off the ground about two years ago.. Boeing and Lockheed, which each have half-billion-dollar contracts to develop initial TSAT systems, are competing for a final production contract to be awarded in a year or so. Both have reported initial success in basic laser communications and other features.
TSAT will offer jam-proof radio and laser connections to compact surface receivers. Instead of lugging around brick-sized satellite phones, troops will sport BlackBerries that deliver space intelligence on the run.

Sounds great. But the Air Force figures it’ll take $12-$18 billion to put the five-satellite constellation in orbit. And, given the military space program’s track record of legendarily large screw-ups, it’s far from clear whether Congress will pony up for TSAT.

During the 2005 budget process, lawmakers cut $300 million from the $775 million request. In 2006, the Air Force is asking for $836 million. The House Armed Services Committee has recommended only about half that be approved, while the Senate Armed Services would like a cut of about $200 million.

THERE’S MORE: The Air Force is adding four more anti-satellite jammers to its arsenal of orbiter stoppers, Inside Defense reports.

Rapid Fire 8/29/05

Monday, August 29th, 2005

* Cops n’ robot in Chicago standoff
* Get your secret government dossier
* Navy’s giant, floating runway
* FBI: peace marchers = terrorists
* Unmanned firefighters
(background here)
* Dumb, needy, lovable compu-brains

(Big ups: JQP)

Army Doc: “Bring Us Home”

Monday, August 29th, 2005

Captain Daniel Green is an battlefield surgeon, treating soldiers and Iraqi civilians around Baghdad’s Green Zone. He has seen more casualties — and interacted with more Iraqis — than the vast majority of GIs over there. And that has given the captain a different perspective on this war. He isn’t happy with how it’s being run. In an e-mail to friends and family back home, Green says that it’s time for U.S. forces to get out of Iraq.

I don’t rightly know what your US news is saying, but here are a few of my own observations… The US Army is putting forth its main effort to train Iraqi soldiers… It will realistically take years before their Army and police are sufficient to protect the people and resist internal corruption. The reports that the commands are making to the higher-ups are biased and sugar-coated. The corruption is underplayed and the achievements/milestones exaggerated. The results however, may convince Congress and that a successful pull-out is close.
At this point I’d appreciate [it]. I’ve done my part. I’ve personally come to the law-of-diminishing-returns. The remaining process will be slow and arduous. Increasing financial expenditures and man-hours are going to be needed to sustain any significant growth.
It’s similar to building a house. From the initial ground-breaking to foundation and framing, things seem to go remarkably fast, giving the home owners an unrealistic sense of impending move-in. Then the minor details like outlets, appliances, trim work, and cabinetry begin and little progress is noted after long periods. The tenants-to-be get anxious. The same is taking place here. The American public will not be able to consciously measure our productivity even with the best of media reporting.
Besides, I think the military is the wrong force at this point. We deal effectively with the combat training, but this corruption is a new species. We need Americans more attune to the nuisances of internal governmental fraud…people more like our own lawmakers. Soldiers need to focus on combat, not mafia arbitration.
I witnessed a company commander a few months ago try to expose and bring to justice the perpetrators of an intricately weaved plot of electricity theft. The King-Pin of the scheme was none other than the chairman of the city council. That went over well…
If it moves shoot it. If it doesn’t move, shoot it anyway, and leave the rest to the State Department. Bring us home.

THERE’S MORE: As Jon reminds us in the comments, Michael Yon has been doing great fronline blogging from Mosul.

Styrofoam First, Lightning Guns Later

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

The line between envy and admiration can be pretty thin, when you’re a freelance writer. Take, for example, Defense Tech pal Sharon Weinberger’s story in today’s Washington Post Magazine.
stunbeam.jpgIt’s genius: a heartfelt, quirky, subtly snarky profile of Pete Bitar, an Anderson, Indiana styrofoam recycling entrepreneur who’s now marketing non-lethal lightning guns to the Pentagon. How, she asks, did a guy with no engineering background manage to get a million bucks from the Defense Department to develop a “StunStrike” weapon?
Great question — one I wished I had asked at the Virginia “directed energy” conference where both Weinberger and I met Bitar for this first time. Anyway, go read her piece. I’ll be finished kicking myself by the time you’re done.
THERE’S MORE: Speaking of kicking myself, military thinkers have been telling me for months about their idea for bringing some order to Iraq. I never got around to writing about it. The New York Times’ David Brooks just did.

You set up safe havens where you can establish good security. Because you don’t have enough manpower to do this everywhere at once, you select a few key cities and take control. Then you slowly expand the size of your safe havens, like an oil spot spreading across the pavement.
Once you’ve secured a town or city, you throw in all the economic and political resources you have to make that place grow. The locals see the benefits of working with you. Your own troops and the folks back home watching on TV can see concrete signs of progress in these newly regenerated neighborhoods. You mix your troops in with indigenous security forces, and through intimate contact with the locals you begin to even out the intelligence advantage that otherwise goes to the insurgents.

AND MORE: Armchair Generalist has a good round-up of the “oil spot” buzz.

M-4s? Not so Fast…

Sunday, August 28th, 2005

The Times has an interesting story on American relcutance to give Iraqi army units the machine guns and armored Humvees they want.

Simply put, Iraq remains too fragile for any planner to know what shape the country will be in six months or a year from now — whether it will reach compromises and hold together or split apart in a civil war.
And that presents a conundrum for American military planners. With those questions up in the air, they have to fear that any heavy arms distributed now could end up aimed at American forces or feeding a growing civil conflict. And the longer Iraq’s army has to wait for sophisticated weapons, the longer American forces are likely to be needed in Iraq as a bulwark against chaos.

New Sensor: Naturally Rad

Friday, August 26th, 2005

total-recall.jpgOhio State is working on a simple new sensor that could one day put other detectors out to pasture.

Unlike X-ray machines or radar instruments, the sensor doesn’t have to generate a signal to detect objects it spots them based on how brightly they reflect the natural radiation that is all around us every day.
There is always a certain amount of radiation light, heat, and even microwaves in the environment. Every object the human body, a gun or knife, or an asphalt runway reflects this ambient radiation differently.
Paul Berger, professor of electrical and computer engineering and physics at Ohio State and head of the team that is developing the sensor, likened this reflection to the way glossy and satin-finish paints reflect light differently to the eye.
Once the sensor is further developed, it could be used to scan people or luggage without subjecting them to X-rays or other radiation. And if the sensor were embedded in an airplane nose, it might help pilots see a runway during bad weather.

(Big ups: Schneier. And yeah, that’s a screen grab from Total Recall)

Rapid Fire 8/25/05

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

* Police vest can’t stop bullets
* Robo-guards to Iraq
* Honest-to-God Bat-rope
* Catfish = evildoers?
* Real, virtual war games mash up

(Big ups: TT, GO, RC, Sploid)

Baghdad Battle, First Hand

Thursday, August 25th, 2005

Pick up the paper today, and you’ll read reports of “fierce gun battles [that] erupted between about 40 insurgents and the police… in western Baghdad.“
Here’s what those battles looked like, from a soldier who was there. He was kind enough to copy me on an e-mail he wrote home immediately after the fighting.

I just strolled back in to the safety net of my surroundings and have been dragged through chaos the past couple of hours. My brain is still spinning and I am not sure where to even start.
102_0699.JPGWe received a request to conduct a post-blast investigation of a VBIED (Vehicle Borne Improvised Explosive Device) that detonated near the base camp. The initial report indicated that the target was an Iraqi Police (IP) car. We responded to the incident site and found the smoldering remains of a couple of vehicles in the middle of the road. It appeared at first glance that the only fatalities resulted from the suicide bomber in the car and perhaps the occupants of the IP car. As we walked from our vehicles to the incident site, we heard another car bomb detonating near an IP station approximately 2 kilometers away.
We soon received a request to respond. We quickly finished up with the first incident site, but not before we found additional casualties persons in the near vicinity. While we prepared for movement to the second site, we heard on the radio that the second site was now getting hit people were driving past the IP station, and firing RPG’s [rocket propelled grenades] at IP’s in their vehicles. We conducted movement to the IP station and when we arrived, the scene was full of chaos.
IP’s were frantically running down the streets helping injured persons. IP vehicles were speeding up and down the streets looking for the culprits. Vehicles were burning. Gun fire erupted in the background and we just pulled our vehicles into a formation to provide a good tactical posture and prepared to unleash a heavy volley of steel. After everything settled down, we continued to do our work. We found an IED nearby that was meant to add to the attack.
I don’t usually write home and talk about the details of specific incidents because I feel compelled to keep the chaos out of the homes of family and friends. But today felt different. I don’t know why I had the need or desire to talk about today’s events — other than the fact that perhaps it was time to vent some fumes. All of my soldiers deal with the reality of what we face everyday in different ways. Some have made pacts to not write home and possibly worry family. Perhaps I am wrong in doing so, but I thought I would provide some insight to what you might not see on the news tonight. You will not be able to smell the burnt remains of the suicide bombers or the IP’s. You probably won’t see the charred remains of persons in the vehicles. And you won’t be able to see the full effects of a carefully placed VBIED with a follow-up attack with RPG’s and small arms fire.
While writing, I decided to comb through my pictures and add one. But I’ll adhere to my promise to not send anything too graphic. Perhaps, if you catch the news, you might just see that suicide bombers once again rocked Baghdad.