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Archive for December, 2005

Four Star Blogger

Saturday, December 31st, 2005

During his talk at the IFPA “New Triad” Conference, General James “Hoss” Cartwright mentioned his blog.
How did I miss this?
Back in March, “Timmer” at The Daily Brief noted that General Cartwright had been “talking up his Command and Control Blog (you couldnt get to it even if I did link to it)” and posted some guidance that Cartwright issued about not letting the chain of command get in the way the information he needs. (Another blogger, with the handle Sgt. Mom, noted that a blogging 4-Star isn’t that odd.)
Any way, the story bumped around the blogosphere (for example) before petering out.
The Huntsville Times reported General Cartwright’s blog in August after he mentioned it at the Annual Space and Missile Defense Conference.
Cartwright’s comments — as reported by Timmer and the Hunstville Times — suggest that he “gets” the potential for blogging.

“The first thing that came out was ‘Don’t post anything on that blog without clearance from the commander,’ ” Cartwright said. “We had to beat that down.“
The next firewall thrown up to Cartwright’s blog were responses that came from only senior staff officers like captains and majors “giving me only what their commanders wanted me to hear,” he said. “I called that the ‘tethered goat’ response and it wasn’t all that helpful.
“What I wanted was information and context to help with decision making. I can’t wait for the perfect advice,” Cartwright said. “If there is a bad decision then that’s on me. That’s my responsibility.“
Finally after “blowing the doors down and sitting on” the blog nay-sayers, Cartwright is getting what he wants from STRATCOM’s Web tools, he said.

Of course, one doesn’t become a flag officer (or anything else essentially political) without some skill at self-promotion, so grain of salt and all.
I know that DefenseTech​.org (and Arms Control Wonk​.com, where this is cross posted) get lots of STRATCOM traffic — so, folks, I’d love to hear about how the STRATCOM blogs are working. Drop one of us a line:

– Jeffrey Lewis

Not a Deal Maker, or an Arms Broker

Friday, December 30th, 2005

I feel ridiculous even typing this. But enough companies have written in, asking me to help them market their products to the Defense Department, that I feel obliged to respond. Here’s my answer, in a nutshell: no.
I received the latest come-on just a few days ago, from a company that claims to make radio frequency jammers.

…COMPANY is able to quickly produce most professional [customized] solutions for Every requirement of jammers, the best in the world, and most competitive in terms of price. The only issue is that currently we don’t have yet connections with the US Military.
Can you help us make the US Army immediately aware of our superior capabilities ? because we understand that there’s an immediate top-urgent requirement of Professional IED Jammers for the US Army troops in Iraq. Needless to say that if you help us in this matter you (or your organization) will be highly compensated for the same.
Your prompt response will be very appreciated. Thank you very much in advance…

Look, I’m a journalist. Not a deal maker. And not an arms broker. I’m happy to consider writing about your product, whatever it is. But I’m not about to start lobbying the government to take the technologies I cover. That would pretty much shred whatever last little bit of credibility I still have. How could I appear to be an objective observer if I’m pimping gear behind the scenes? So, please, do everyone a favor — no matter how revolutionary and awesome your new doodad is: back off.

Sub’s Unmanned Buddy

Thursday, December 29th, 2005

A while back, I briefly mentioned the Cormorant, Darpa’s idea for a sub-launched flying drone. Reader DS points us to the agency’s quick write-up of the 19-foot “multi-purpose unmanned aerial vehicle,” or MPUAV.
cormorant.jpgThe idea is that the drone could handle “all-weather reconnaissance, battle damage assessment, or specialized mission support (e.g., special forces re-supply)” for the sub.
The Cormorants would be kept in the sub’s ICBM launch tubes, and released into the water as needed. From there, they’d be launched into the air “using two Tomahawk missile-derived solid rocket boosters.”

Upon mission completion, the turbofan engine-powered MPUAVs return to a designated retrieval point at sea, initiate engine shut down, and splash down to await recovery. During recovery, the submerged [sub] would deploy a remotely operated vehicle to secure an in-haul cable from the [sub] to the recovery tether deployed by the MPUAV. The [sub] would then haul the MPUAV to its designated launch tube [with a] saddle mechanism, where it would be docked and retracted into the missile tube.

StrategyPage, for one, isn’t so sure all that trouble is worth it.

Aircraft operating off submarines is nothing new… [During World War II], the Japanese built 44 subs that could carry a small float plane for reconnaissance. This idea was fine in theory, but much less successful in practice… Someone may read a history book before that, or remember that the United States has plenty of other satellite and long range UAVs that could provide air reconnaissance needs of U.S. subs.

And Darpa admits there are a whole bunch of technical hurdles to leap before the Cormorant would begin to make sense.
The launch and recovery procedure — including that “saddle” thingy — would have to go through “key risk reduction demonstrations.” So so would the drone’s high-pressure turbofan engine.

Rapid Fire 12/28/05

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

* Houston’s Katrina crimewave
* Pentagon’s wireless shift
* Old planes’ new networks
* Nuke lab blogger bows out
* Chem plants still at risk
* Euro-GPS takes off
(background here)
* Laser = IED finder
* DHS = lame
* Carter 1, eavesdroppers 0

(Big ups: JQP, Early Brief, RC, CA)

Free Press in Kurdistan, Take Two

Wednesday, December 28th, 2005

print_shop.jpgSo I tracked down the staff of Hawlati, the only independent newspaper in Kurdistan, to get their take on press freedom in this country so utterly dominated by two powerful political parties. Editor Faisal Khalid says that only Hawlati will tackle stories related to government corruption, of which there is a lot in Kurdistan. In retaliation, Hawlati staff have been threatened and, in a few cases, bribed by the government to become informants.
If the Hawlati staff believes an employee’s loyalty is wavering, that employee is promptly fired. Recently three Hawlati reporters were jailed for covering corruption stories; all three are out on bail awaiting trial. What makes this legally possible is the absence of Miranda Rights in Kurdistan and a law prohibiting loosely-defined “slander”, which editors have told me might include criticism of the major political parties.
Incredibly, even the courageous Hawlati staff cows away from certain subjects. “Past the red line,” is how Khalid describes them. When I asked what subjects were past the line, he refused to answer, saying only that everyone knows what subjects are absolutely taboo. If government corruption is fair game in this place where government is worshipped, what in the world is off-limits? My cynical Western mind suspects that these subjects are related to sex and religion. More on that later.
– David Axe

Hummer Limos Enter War Games

Tuesday, December 27th, 2005

hummer_limo.jpgThe next wave of Army fighting vehicles are still on the drawing board. So, in the meantime, “Boeing is outfitting 34 commercially produced limousine-style Hummers with radios and computer networking equipment to stand in for the… vehicles during tests and exercises,” according to Inside Defense.

In early January, seven of the vehicles will drive up Californias Interstate 15 to Nellis Air Force Base, NV, located near Las Vegas, to be used in the Air Force-led Joint Expeditionary Force Experiment 2006…
To find the actual vehicles, Boeing conducted two separate competitions — one among Hummer dealerships near Huntington Beach, CA, and another among companies that make vehicles into limousines by cutting them in half and adding length to the middle as needed. Hummer of West Covina, CA, and LA Custom Coach Inc. won out.
The Hummers were delivered to the Huntington Beach SOSIL [System of Systems Integration Laboratory] facility with an added alternator, dual oil filters and run-flat tires. Then they were handed over to the limousine company, where their length was increased by 65 inches…
After the expansion to a six-door vehicle was complete, the Army added air conditioning because the vehicles will be running with computers and radios in the heat of the desert. They also were painted with the services signature camouflage print.

On Growing Old (and Being Young) in Kurdistan

Monday, December 26th, 2005

There are few things rarer than an old Kurdish man. Decades of oppression, poor nutrition and medical care, war, flight and starting over have taken their toll. The low life expectancy of Kurdish men goes a long way to explain why the survivors are so revered.
Old_Kurd_Shaqlawa_market.jpgMore than most, Kurdish culture is patriarchal and personality-worshipping. And no patriarchs’ personalities are more worshipped than the Barzanis. In every office, shop and home hang portraits of Mustafa Barzani, the deceased Kurdish revolutionary, and his son Massoud, the current head of the Kurdistan Democratic Party, the dominant party in Erbil and, with the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan based in Sulaymaniyah, the heart of the Kurdish coalition that has been kicking ass at the polls since January.
Extremely high birth rates — an artifact of Kurds’ obsession with nuclear families — mean that despite historically high death rates among men, Kurdish population is exploding. All Iraqi peoples have very very young populations. (That many Arabs have multiple wives contributes to this.) High birth rates aren’t all good. Feeding, clothing and educating all these kids is a real challenge. At the public hospital in Shaqlawa, a resort town north of Erbil, Dr. Bestum Ali is doing all he can to keep thousands of kids healthy. That means up to 50 innoculations per day and aggressive childrearing education for new mothers. Ali says things are getting better, especially since the fall of Saddam. Medicine, personnel and expertise move more freely, international aid is up, and expatriate doctors like Shaqlawa head of pediatrics Dr. Yusef are returning to Kurdistan from places like Zurich. The result of all this and of Kurdistan’s new era of peace, hopefully, is that old Kurds will one day be as common as young ones.
– David Axe

Merry Christmas, Iraq

Sunday, December 25th, 2005

At the Erbil Ministry of Culture’s media hall, the Iraqi-Kurdistan Symphony Orchestra has just struck the final chord of the Kurdish national anthem, and the audience — Kurdish Christians and Muslims, Arabs and Turkomens, maybe even an Iraqi Jew or two, all in black ties and gowns — bursts into loud applause, foot-stomping and cheers. It’s Christmas Eve in the oldest city in the world, and the city’s million-and-some residents are in a pretty good mood. Maybe it’s the successful election they had just two weeks ago. symph.jpg
Maybe it’s the Christmas cheer of the city’s sizeable Christian minority rubbing off on everyone else. Or maybe it’s just that Kurdistanis love being Kurdistanis.
Sure, Iraqi Kurdistan’s got troubles. Corruption hamstrings the economy. Intense security limits civil rights. A dearth of natural resources has ministers begging for foreign investment. But despite all this, and against the backdrop of a country descending into an Arab civil war, Kurdistan is prospering. People are making money, raising their kids, going to school, travelling abroad, making plans, dreaming and enjoying life.
This is it folks, this is what a peaceful, democratic, multi-ethnic and religiously-tolerant Iraq looks like. The Western media’s myopic focus on Baghdad and Arab Iraq means it’s missed a quarter of the story, the northern quarter, where five million people are building the Middle East’s first indigenous democracy from scratch. Every day Kurds thank me, believing I represent all Americans. They thank me for freeing them from a murderous tyrant. They thank me for saving their lives and their families’ lives. They tell me that they understand we went to war for many reasons, some quite bad. Still, they say, no American has died in vain here, for even if there were no weapons of mass destruction, even if Iraq had nothing to do with Sept. 11, there is at least one good reason to fight and die in Iraq.
In fact, there are five million.
Merry Christmas, America. Merry Christmas, Iraq.
–David Axe

NSA “Tapping Into… Telecom’s Main Arteries”

Saturday, December 24th, 2005

nsa_hq.jpg“The National Security Agency has traced and analyzed large volumes of telephone and Internet communications flowing into and out of the United States… by tapping directly into some of the American telecommunication system’s main arteries,” the Times is reporting.

The volume of information harvested from telecommunication data and voice networks, without court-approved warrants, is much larger than the White House has acknowledged…
As part of the program approved by President Bush for domestic surveillance without warrants, the N.S.A. has gained the cooperation of American telecommunications companies to obtain backdoor access to streams of domestic and international communications.

When the NSA domestic spying story broke last week, I had a hunch that the eavesdropping technology at work was a whole lot different than what you’d find in an average wiretap. A former signals intelligence specialist wondered whether the NSA “may have compromised… a telecom carrier.“
That guess looks to be dead-on.

Since the Sept. 11 attacks, the leading companies in the industry have been storing information on calling patterns and giving it to the federal government to aid in tracking possible terrorists.
“All that data is mined with the cooperation of the government and shared with them, and since 9/11, there’s been much more active involvement in that area,” said the former manager, a telecommunications expert who did not want his name or that of his former company used because of concern about revealing trade secrets.

The Times article also makes clear why Senator Jay Rockefeller compared the program to Total Information Awareness, the Pentagon’s uber-database project.

The N.S.A. has sought to analyze communications patterns to glean clues from details like who is calling whom, how long a phone call lasts and what time of day it is made, and the origins and destinations of phone calls and e-mail messages. Calls to and from Afghanistan, for instance, are known to have been of particular interest to the N.S.A. since the Sept. 11 attacks, the officials said.
This so-called “pattern analysis” on calls within the United States would, in many circumstances, require a court warrant if the government wanted to trace who calls whom.
The use of similar data-mining operations by the Bush administration in other contexts has raised strong objections, most notably in connection with the Total Information Awareness system… [which was] ultimately scrapped after public outcries over possible threats to privacy and civil liberties.
But the Bush administration regards the N.S.A.‘s ability to trace and analyze large volumes of data as critical to its expanded mission to detect terrorist plots before they can be carried out, officials familiar with the program say. Administration officials maintain that the system set up by Congress in 1978 under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act does not give them the speed and flexibility to respond fully to terrorist threats at home.

Some will say this story is old news. The NSA has long been rumored to have the ability to vacuum up huge swaths of data at once.
“The NSA is intercepting huge streams of communications, taking in 2 million pieces of communications an hour,” James Bamford, the author of two books on the NSA, told the Boston Globe on Friday.
“They have a capacity to listen to every overseas phone call,” added Tom Blanton, director of the National Security Archive at George Washington University.“
But the question has been: how do you turn all that data into something useful? You’ve got to find a realtively simple way to get rid of 99.99999% of the calls and e-mails quickly. Otherwise, it’s like drinking from a firehose.
But as link analysis and data mining programs have become more sophisticated, that sifting process has gotten easier. And, I’ll bet, it is simpler still when the telecom companies are playing ball.

Inside the Air Force’s Laser Lab

Thursday, December 22nd, 2005

I love the bit in Bond films where 007 goes round Qs laboratory checking out the latest top-secret gadgets. Thats why I enjoyed talking to Capt.Wegner and his colleagues at ScorpWorks, source of a variety of laser weapons and other one-of-a-kind devices.
ACCM.jpgThe ScorpWorks is the Air Force Research Laboratorys in-house development team for laser system prototypes. Although it has existed since 1992, they have shunned publicity until this year. A laser weapon does not need to convert the target into smoking rubble: they are much more versatile than that.
The Laser AirCraft CounterMeasures (ACCM), which I detail in this week’s New Scientist, is a nonlethal coaxial laser that sits alongside a helicopter door gun. It dazzles the target, preventing them from firing accurately and providing protection for the helicopter, but without risking civilian casualties.
Its more than a dazzler. Experience with the Saber 203 laser dazzler in Somalia showed that it was too low-powered to affect vision, but anyone illuminated beat a hasty retreat as they knew a weapon was being aimed at them. The ACCM should have a similar effect, scattering potential threats on the ground and leaving only the truly dangerous ones — and the 4,000 rpm minigun should deal with them.
The PHaSR laser-dazzling rifle unveiled a few weeks ago is similar (and not a hoax). In a riot-control situation, the idea is that lighting people up with this portable laser will separate peaceful protesters from the stone-throwers. The PhaSRs dual-wavelength laser will also make countermeasures difficult, and Capt. Wegner points out that the end product will probably be very different to the bulky prototype.
The PHaSR is a relative of the Portable Efficient Laser Testbed (PELT). This is another riot-control weapon, but one that works by heat “the first man-portable heat compliance weapon of its kind” Take a close look at the picture of PELT on page 52 here and you’ll see a signature Scorpion logo a rare visible sign of ScorpWorks handiwork.
Elsewhere they’ve been utilizing the laser as a sensor. By picking up the reflections back from the human eye, invisible laser sensors can detect people looking at them — similar to the way animal eyes light up when you shine a flashlight on them. A sniper detection system is in the works.
Even more sophisticated is BOSS, the Battlefield Optical Surveillance System. This is a vehicle-mounted setup which uses retro-reflection and a number of other technologies to spot targets in pitch darkness. It can be locate, identify and invisibly designate targets, so they wont even know they’ve been spotted until a laser-guided weapon hits (and probably not even then). Exactly how far advanced BOSS or its successors are is not known.
The ScorpWorks name is a deliberate echo of Lockheeds famous Skunk Works, renowned for producing world-beating aircraft like the F-117 stealth fighter and SR-71 Blackbird on time and within budget, a feat achieved following a set of bureaucracy-busting rules laid down by the legendary Kelly Johnson.
ScorpWorks reckon that many projects get completed within two years and with prototypes built for less than $300k. At that price you could get about 20,000 different projects for the price of one Airborne Laser.
The Skunk Works is famous for the many black programs that originated there, and you do get the impression with ScorpWorks that what they have revealed is the tip of the iceberg. We know their customers include Special Operations Command, Air Force, Marines, DARPA and the Joint Non-Lethal Weapons Directorate, but we dont know what they bought. Even their unclassified programs can only be discussed in broad terms. If they told me more, theyd probably have to kill me but I bet theyd use a really impressive laser.
– David Hambling