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Archive for November, 2005


Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

The Army has been planting stories favorable to the coalition in Iraqi newspapers, according to documents obtained by the L.A. Times.
The Financial Times weighed in today:
Many of the articles are presented in the Iraqi press as unbiased news accounts written and reported by independent journalists. The stories trumpet the work of U.S. and Iraqi troops, denounce insurgents, and tout U.S.-led efforts to rebuild the country. … As part of a psychological operations campaign that has intensified over the past year, one of the military officials said that the task force [responsible for planting the stories] also has purchased an Iraqi newspaper and taken control of a radio station, and is using the outlets to channel pro-American messages to the Iraqi public. Neither is identified as a military mouthpiece.Small Ferrell.jpg
This news should come as no surprise to those following the coalition’s information warfare campaign in Iraq. But planting stories represents the seediest — and least common — tactic for shaping Iraqi attitudes. The main campaign of the infowar is the coalition’s efforts to train up Iraqi journalists in Western-style journalism. Division and brigade public affairs shops throughout Iraq work hand-in-hand with local reporters, helping them gain access to important stories, equipping them with technology they otherwise could not afford and encouraging them to network, check their sources and tell both sides.
Seriously. I’ve seen it happen in Tikrit with the 42nd Infantry Division, in eastern Iraq with the 278th Cavalry Regiment and with British forces in Basra. A couple bad apples don’t represent the entire coalition infowar effort.
Take, for example, the Diyala radio station near Baqubah, where Iraqi journalists host call-in talk programs and the provincial governor delivers speeches. Last year a busload of radio employees were massacred by insurgents, so the 1st Infantry Division began patrolling the area and posted guards at the station. Now it’s secure. And sadly, in Iraq these days, secure means free.
Does that make everything that comes out of the Diyala radio station propaganda?
THIS JUST IN: Defense News quotes White House spokesman Scott McClellan responding to the allegations:
“We’re very concerned about the reports,” … McClellan told reporters. “We have asked the Department of Defense for more information.
“We want to see what the facts are.
“The United States is a leader when it comes to promoting and advocating a free and independent media around the world, and we will continue to do so,” McClellan added.
“We’ve made our views very clear when it comes to freedom of press.
“And in terms of this specific issue, again, what we want to do is find out what the facts are and then we�ll be able to talk about it more at that point,” he said.

–David Axe

So Much for Withdrawal

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

Well, so much for those plans to withdraw American forces from Iraq. President Bush’s big speech at the Naval Academy “did not break new ground or present a new strategy,” the AP notes. So that means, despite the chatter beforehand, no new schedule for bringing troops home.
GI_point.jpgWhat Bush did say is that “as Iraqi forces become more capable the mission of our forces in Iraq will continue to change.”

We will continue to shift from providing security and conducting operations against the enemy nationwide to conducting more specialized operations targeted at the most dangerous terrorists.
We will increasingly move out of Iraqi cities, reduce the number of bases from which we operate and conduct fewer patrols and convoys.
As the Iraqi forces gain experience and the political progress advances, we will be able to decrease our troop levels in Iraq without losing our capability to defeat the terrorists.

Which says to me: kiss the “oil-spot” theory goodbye. That’s the idea, which has been gaining momentum in political circles since an August Foreign Affairs article, to use our troops to set up safe havens in Iraq, and then slowly grow them out.
But to do that, you need troops — lots of troops — to fill a city up, and patrol virtually every corner. If I’m reading between the lines of Bush’s speech right, that’s not the idea here — despite talk in the President’s “National Strategy for Victory in Iraq” or “clear[ing]” out and “hold[ing]” insurgent epicenters.
Speaking of the “Strategy,” it ain’t. The document reads more like a marketing document than a focused plan for winning a war. And there are some mighty odd statements in it, as Dr. AC Wonk notes. For example, the Strategy claims that:

As of November 2005, there were more than 212,000 trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces, compared with 96,000 in September of last year.

But “Iraq did not, however, have 96,000 trained and equipped Iraqi Security Forces… in September 2004,” the Wonk responds.

Adam Entous with Reuters obtained internal Defense Department documents in September 2004 that revealed only 8,169 had completed the full eight-week academy training. 46,176 of what are publicly called trained and equipped forces were listed privately as untrained.

Whatever the numbers, Bush’s bottom line is clear: no big changes to Iraq strategy, despite all the heavy-breathing. “Stay the course,” he repeated four times at the end of his Annapolis speech. “Our clear, hold, and build strategy is working,” add his plan.

Calling all Catamarans

Wednesday, November 30th, 2005

In this age of rising shipbuilding costs, uncertain naval strategy and shrinking procurement budgets, nobody knows for sure what the future U.S. fleet will look like. But one thing’s for sure … it’ll include a lot of pontoon boats.
Everybody knows about the much-ballyhooed Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), a program for up to 75 small modular vessels optimized for coastal combat. Less glamorous but perhaps more important to future operations is the forthcoming Joint High-Speed Vessel (JHSV), which is managed by the Navy’s Program Executive Office for Ships.
The JHSV is a catamaran – basically a 100-meter pontoon boat. Catamarans and their three-pontoon cousins, trimarans, have been the subject of a lot of military experimentation of late. The Marines are using a catamaran, the WestPac Express, to transport infantry battalions to training events in the western Pacific. The Navy has two JHSV prototypes, HSVX-1 and HSV-2, that have been pressed into service in hurricane-relief efforts, while the Office of Naval Research has been testing LCS concepts with its FSF-1 catamaran. The Army has a trimaran, TSV-1X, that it uses for expeditionary logistics.
The idea behind the JHSV is to equip Military Sealift Command (or — and I’m speculating here — JHSV.jpgTransportation Command) with a fleet of fast, cheap vessels capable of transporting and deploying a battalion-sized Marine landing teams, an Army Stryker company, Special Forces teams or an equivalent load of cargo at austere shallow-water ports. JHSV would support two H-60 or H-6 helicopters and vertical-launch UAVs like Scan Eagle.
“The JHSV will not be a combatant vessel,” reads a Navy press release. “Its construction will be similar to high-speed commercial ferries used around the world, and the design will include a flight deck and an off-load ramp which can be lowered on a pier or quay wall — allowing vehicles to quickly drive off the ship.“
Think of the JHSV and its brothers as super–LCACs, or amphibious LCSs minus the guns. The Navy and Marines would use them as ship-to-shore connectors in their Seabasing concept. The Army might employ them at the theatre level for rapid maneuver, replacing its current trimarans. Special Forces Command wants catamarans as offshore commando bases, in the same vein as the new SSGNs, but a lot cheaper. Retired Rear Adm. George R. Worthington, in the October Proceedings, advocates arming the Special Forces catamarans with loitering missiles for coastal land-attack.
In fact, JHSV’s low price-tag, around $100 million (versus $1 billion for the new San Antonio-class amphibious transport) all but guarantees its place in the future fleet. The first production vessel is slated for FY2008.
– David Axe

Spooks = Bloggers

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

computer.cia.jpgEarlier this year, former Army intel officer (and Defense Tech homeboy) Kris Alexander told our spooks to start blogging if they wanted to get serious about tracking terrorist-types.
Afterwards, he got a flood of e-mails from government suits asking him for help to implement the idea. I’m not sure if CIA agents were among the callers. But either way, the agency seems to have gotten the message. The lead from a Washington Post article a few days back: “The CIA now has its own bloggers.“
(Big ups: CA)

Recon on Radio Project

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Over the last year, we’ve spent a whole lot of time chronicling the woes of the Joint Tactical Radio System. That’s the Pentagon’s star-crossed $6.8 billion effort to replace their with just a few digital ones. It’s the backbone of the military’s effort to modernize itself. And it is not going well.
jtrs_scenario.jpgBut “Jitters,” as the program is Pentagonese, hasn’t gotten much mainstream press attention — largely, I think, because its sprawling and confusing, even for a Defense Department project. (Jitters has four “clusters” of radios, for example — the last of which is “Cluster 5.”)
The current issue of Defense Technology International (pgs 30–34) does the best job I’ve seen so far at picking through the Jitters tangle, detailing what’s working, and what’s holding the radio project back. Check it out.

Withdraw, then What?

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

Lots of people who read this site are die-hard supporters of President Bush. Folks who shook their heads in disgust at Rep. John Murtha’s call to withdraw American troops from Iraq; who nodded in agreement when White House press secretary Scott McClellan responded that now “is not the time to surrender to the terrorists.“
sandbags.jpgSo guys: I’m curious to hear your reactions to the Administration’s apparent newfound-readiness to take tens of thousands of U.S. forces out of Iraq, pronto.
As someone who’s been skeptical about the war since before it began, I’m worried that pulling out — without a viable Iraqi military, and without a discernable “victory” to declare — gives the global Jihadist movement a gigantic win. After this war, and the fight against the Soviets in Afghanistan, there are a whole lot of radical Islamists out there who are going to see the scoreboard as Jihadists 2, Superpowers 0. Which, as a resident of the most-bombed city in America, is more than unnerving. Because that first score is what eventually lead to the Twin Towers getting knocked down.
And even if the terrorists never return to New York, without American troops, how do we keep a thoroughly-screwed up Iraq from becoming “a hornets’ nest,” as Martin van Creveld puts it, with “a hundred mini-Zarqawis spread[ing] all over the Middle East, conducting acts of sabotage and seeking to overthrow governments in Allah’s name.“
What’s the plan? (And, for God’s sake, don’t tell me it’s air power.)
THERE’S MORE: Eighteen months ago, when a left-leaning defense analyst told me that the U.S. military in Iraq was paving the way for Salvadoran-style death squads, I blew him off as a Bush-hater. I guess I owe him an apology now.

Rapid Fire 11/29/05

Tuesday, November 29th, 2005

* Cybercrime bigger than drugs
* Virtual autopsies beat real ones
* Crappy FBI IT: slightly less crappy
* Counter-terror financial fight FUBAR
* Nuke arsenal shift?
* Iris-spotting tech opens up?
* Armored Jag leaves lot

(Big ups: Geek Press, /.)

‘Duke’ Gone; Air Force Bummed

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Sure, it means one less crook on Capitol Hill. But Randy “Duke” Cunningham’s resignation from Congress also means that the Air Force loses one of its biggest allies in the legislature.
duke_resigns.jpgCunningham “pleaded guilty Monday to conspiracy and tax charges and tearfully resigned from office, admitting he took $2.4 million in bribes to steer defense contracts to conspirators,” says the AP.
But before Cunningham got cozy with the likes of shady security analysis firm MZM, Inc. and dodgy digital documenter ADCS Inc., the guy was a hero — the first American fighter ace of the Vietnam War, shooting down five Russian MiGs. He went on to become an instructor at the Navy’s “Top Gun” school, and then to Congress, where he got deeply involved with military matters. Especially matters with wings and big price tags.
When Pentagon chiefs wanted to cut $10 billion or so from the Cold War-inspired, $40 billion F-22 Raptor jet, Cunningham “lectured” Rumsfeld that “no airplane in the world can touch the F-22,’” according to Defense News. “Other U.S. pilots ‘are going to die 95 percent of the time’ if they fight [new] Russian Su-30s and Su-37s [fighter jets].“
Many former Top Gun graduates, like former Marine Gen. Tom Wilkerson, aren’t so sure. Earlier this year, he told me that the days of dogfights were over, basically, and that “maybe you don’t need any fighter pilots at all.” Let’s just say he wasn’t impressed with the Raptor rationale.
But credit Cunningham with being consistent. He cited the same 95% death rate back in 2000, when he was pushing his colleagues to bankroll the AIM-9X advanced air-to-air missile and Boeing’s “look-and-shoot” Joint Helmet Mounted Cueing System. “We needed those five years ago,” he told Defense Daily. The Su-30s and Su-37s “have a helmet-mounted site that they can turn their head and lock you up, and that missile will make the corner. Ours won’t.“
A year later — before 9/11, before the Predator drone became so famously successful over Afghanistan — Cunningham was agitating for Congress to pay for the development of the next-generation “Predator B” unmanned spy plane. The Air Force in March announced that it would be buying 144 more of the drones over the next five years, for a $5.7 billion.
THERE’S MORE: Will someone please explain why the Bush administration “hired Duke-briber “MZM, a ‘defense and intelligence firm,’ to buy office furniture for the White House?

Ward to Wingers: Get Lost

Monday, November 28th, 2005

The tone is probably a little different from the one I’d take. But I couldn’t agree with Military​.com editor and (F-14 flyer) Ward Carroll’s sentiments more.

As a veteran I’m put off by the rhetoric (and the media’s coverage of it) from the far ends of the political spectrum surrounding so-called support for the troops. On balance the dialectic is white noise, not to mention by in large disingenuous. The extreme conservative doesn’t have the warfighter’s best interest in mind any more than the radical liberal does. Sean Hannity is a poseur and Cindy Sheehan is an opportunist. Neither of them knows what its like to serve. (And, by the way, having service members email you does not count as service.)
The draw of service is an intangible, for the most part. You can’t read it in a book or see it on a DVD and get it. It lives under lofty tenets like Duty and Honor but it comes down to climbing into the Humvees day after day because the rest of their squad is. Their mission isn’t spreading Freedom; their mission is to keep traffic flowing along the airport road. They’ll do it, not because the vice president gave them a pep talk from half a planet away, but because the captain told them to and he’s a decent leader, even if he doesn’t know a thing about hip hop. And they’ll do it because a few weeks back a couple of their buddies died when an IED went off next to their vehicle and there’s no way they’re going to let those insurgent bastards get away with it.
From the safety and quiet of my stateside home I have the luxury of wondering what happened to the moral high ground. I’m dying to know where all the neo-cons went. What happened to Douglas Feith and the spring darlings of 2003 who graced the cover of
Vanity Fair and gave whacky press conferences? Goodness gracious, where did they go? And who gave Janeane Garofalo a microphone? Does the majority of the new left not see what a cartoon they are — like a middle schoolers conception of a Woodstock reunion or a feature length Tommy Hilfiger commercial?

Thermobaric Foes: Explosive Threat

Monday, November 28th, 2005

Thermobaric warheads put the power to demolish buildings into the hands of the average U.S. marine. But Americans arent the only ones with the weapons. The Chinese, the Russians — even guerilla groups — now have thermobarics’ shockingly destructive power in their grasps.
chinese_thermo.jpgThermobarics aren’t just a more powerful version of normal high explosive. The term encompasses a range of different types of warhead from fuel-air explosives, which release a cloud of flammable material and detonate it, to metallized explosives whose expanding fireball takes in oxygen from the air. What they have in common is that they produce blast which has a lower overpressure but a longer duration than normal condensed explosives. In effect it is a shove rather than a punch: a thermobaric explosion does not smash a hole in a wall, it pushes the wall over. An instantaneous explosive overpressure of 50 psi [pounds per square inch] is needed to kill. But one sustained for a fraction of a second at 10 psi is also lethal. Thats how thermobarics kill.
The basic idea goes way back, and anyone interested in the background — including a bizarre German WWII weapon, how a 500lb of coal dust can break windows five miles away and what new ultra-fine nanoexplosives can do — should put my book Weapons Grade on their Christmas list.
But the thermobaric threat isnt confined to history books. In Iraq and Afghanistan, many US lives have been saved by the protection afforded by armored patrol vehicles, body armor and prompt medical attention. Thermobarics may change that. Armored vehicles are safe only when buttoned up, as the blast from a thermobaric warhead will ‘flow’ through hatches or other openings.
A detailed analysis points out that “conventional countermeasures such as barriers (sandbags) and personnel amour are not effective against thermobaric weaponry.“
Other research indicates that current ballistic body armor actually increases the severity of blast injuries. Similarly, current combat medicine is not geared to deal with the damage to lungs and intestines which are typical of thermobarics — “diagnosis and treatment of blast injuries may require computed tomography, which might not be readily available in the battlefield.“
thermo2.gifIn 1988, the Russians were the first to field a shoulder-launched thermobaric weapon, the RPO-A. It is also known as Shmel or Schmel from the Russian for Bumblebee.
As with the Marines thermobaric SMAW-NE weapon, the Shmel is quite capable of destroying buildings as this video shows. The Shmel complemented a wide range of other thermobaric weapons including bombs, rockets and artillery in the Russian arsenal. Controversially, security forces used the Shmel in the school siege at Beslan, a questionable choice for a hostage situation.
New Russian developments include a compact multi-shot thermobaric grenade launcher for urban combat and a thermobaric warhead for the RPG-7 used by guerrilla forces worldwide. Similar products are offered for export by the Bulgarians and other Eastern European nations.
Rumors of a Chinese licensed copy of the Shmel appear to be confirmed with the emergence of this clone — it has the same calibre, same appearance and described as “fuel air blasting explosive”. Its effectiveness against buildings, bunkers is noted, as well as the fact that because the blast takes oxygen from the air, “personnel in the airtight space suffocates because of the oxygen deficit.“
Are such weapons in the hands of insurgents and terrorists? During the Chechen conflict, there were persistent stories that Chechen separatists had them:
“The Russian force, to explain extensive damage to buildings in Grozny, stated that the Chechens had captured a boxcar full of Shmel weapons and were now using them indiscriminately,” one report noted. Newspapers reported that the weapons were recovered from Chechen arms caches
However, according to Tourpal-Ali Kaimov, a Chechen commander interviewed by the USMC only a handful of Shmel were captured.

The Russian claim that the Chechens captured a ‘box car’ load of these weapons was part of a Russian disinformation campaign. The indiscriminate use of these weapons combined with its destructive capabilities produced a lot of collateral damage and deaths/injuries among non-combatants. The Russian claim was a ruse in order to place at least part of the blame on Chechen use of the Schmel.

There is at least one documented instance of an irregular force receiving Shmel: the Cobra militia in the Republic of Congo reported in 2003.

Among these shipments were significant quantities of the RPO-A ‘Shmel’, an extremely lethal hand-held launcher whose projectile uses fuel-air explosive… This is the first time this weapon has been seen in the possession of a non-state actor.

The report, by the Swiss-based Small Arms Survey group, does not identify the source of the weapon, but does provides photographic evidence.
So far, insurgents in Iraq havent gotten their hands on thermobaric weapons. And reports from Afghanistan describing thermobaric victims as being found dead without a mark on them have been overstated — and allegations about ‘displaced eyeballs’ — are highly doubtful. But it would seem only a matter of time until these weapons make them into the worlds most intense conflicts.
Some attention has been paid to the threat posed by thermobarics, but little has been made public. In a series of computer simulations called Project Albert, the Marine Corps Warfighting Laboratory has evaluated the effect of arming platoons of attackers and defenders with enhanced blast weapons in urban assault. The results are significant — when the attackers alone are armed with them, they are much more successful, but when both sides have them the advantage shifts towards the defenders.
This may be important for the future of warfare in cities. The spread of these weapons will make such actions more destructive, and it will make infantry assault even more costly in terms of lives.
Agreement on an international ban on the manufacture and export of such weapons might have been possible some years ago, but now the genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Now it is a matter of preparing ourselves with better tactical awareness of what such weapons can do, and improving the medical facilities for dealing with thermobaric casualties.
– David Hambling