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Archive for January, 2006

Rapid Fire 01/31/06 PM

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

* AT&T sued over domestic spying
* Iran caught with nuke weapons plans
* Daley: Every biz must have spycams
(background here)
* Panamanians “run black-ops in Haiti“
* Are we at war,
* Dead drops go high-tech
* Inside the Syrian blogosphere
* US “unaware” of emerging bio-threats
* Good luck detecting border tunnels

(Big ups: Drudge, Kathryn, BC, Boing Boing)

Robo-Butterfly, Nuke Sniffer?

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

awww_lookit_the_cute_little_b.jpgClark read the nuke-detection story in today’s Times, and spotted this little tidbit:

The experts discussed a range of potential tools, including… robotic butterflies that can monitor an atomic site while appearing to flutter by innocuously.

So naturally, Clark wanted to know what was up with these mechanical insects. I haven’t heard of this project specifically. But I’m guessing that the Times’ lepidopterans are metaphorical — flying contraptions about the size of a butterfly (and yeah, before you ask, I looked up the word up).
Pentagon fringe science arm Darpa has a program, of course, for these “Nano Air Vehicles,” or NAVs. The idea is to make a drone smaller than a monarch butterfly — 7.5 centimeters and less than 10 grams — that can carry an itty-bitty sensor.

Monitoring… often requires that the sensors be placed in locations that are not readily accessible: on buildings, walls (exterior or interior, e.g., in tunnels), windows, bridges, caves, tunnels, towers, rocks, and other vertical or steeply angled surfaces. Emplacing unobtrusive reconnaissance/surveillance sensors in remote or special high-security areas also demands sophisticated means for delivery. [NAVs] may provide an effective means for precision delivery and emplacement of small, multi-element sensor packages to locations of interest.

Now, these drones don’t have to be insect-shaped to get the job done. “Monolithic 1 to 7.5 cm wings or rotors,” are okay too, Darpa says. But it is strongly suggested. “Fortunately, biology offers some hints, e.g., insects and hummingbirds have evolved the ability to fly at this scale.” As the Red Herring notes, the presentation Darpa gave to industry on NAVs in late September “is full of images of dragonflies and cicadas.“
Flying ‘bots just a bit bigger than NAVs are already being tested out. Earlier this year, sailors aboard the Nimitz Carrier Strike Group starting using a bunch of 7-ounce, 13-inch planes to act as teen-tiny eyes in the sky.
Now, the Times article talks about a whole bunch of other nuke-detection technologies, too — things that can pick up everything from centrifuges’ acoustic signals to the power surges needed for uranium enrichment. I’ll leave it to the Arms Control Wonk to explain those gadgets. But I know the Wonk hasn’t been happy with the reporters, David Sanger and Bill Broad. Not too long ago, he basically accused the pair of blowing big parts of both the Iranian and the North Korean nuke stories.
UPDATE 12:48 PM: “Look closely, and you still can’t see it. But it can see you. Cameras with lenses as small as the point of a pen have put video surveillance at the fingertips of just about anyone,” Knight-Ridder notes.

Cheaper and smaller than ever, the cameras increasingly are being used to monitor property, watch wildlife, keep an eye on baby sitters or children — and spy on people, raising privacy issues.
“A few years ago all this wireless stuff was pretty much reserved for government or covert agencies,” said Stephen Barnhart, owner of Barnhart Security & Alarm in Grandview, Mo. “Now anyone can buy a wireless, they can pop it somewhere and put it anywhere from 50 feet to 50 miles away and they’ve got transmission.”

(Big ups: JQP)

Rapid Fire 01/31/06 AM

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

* NSA’s revolving door
* Army’s civil war over troop cuts
* New sub’s 1st mission: spy on cell phones
* Psyops showing up in US?
* DoD’s laser-sats: everything you wanted to know
* Captains’ 97% promotion rate
* Mine buster targets cancer
(background here)
* Chris is back in Iraq… and he ain’t happy

(Big ups: JQP, RC)

Airplanes are People, Too

Tuesday, January 31st, 2006

It’s funny the way aviators talk about their airplanes. Every flier’s got his favorite jet, the one he’s most comfortable in and which behaves best for him. “Every airplane is different,” explains one maintenance sergeant here at Al Asad air base in western Iraq.
Marine_air_2_1.jpgEach of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332s dozen F/A-18D Hornets has a slightly different combination of sensors and systems, which partially explains their unique personalities. But even jets with the same equipment tend to have different temperaments.
In any squadron, the maintainers know the airplanes in ways the fliers don’t. After all, they’re the ones turning wrenches, pumping lubes and banging their shins on panels 12 hours at a time to keep the birds in the air for three or four hours every other day. And maintainers will tell you: sometimes there are jets that just refuse to cooperate. “Hangar queens”, they’re called.
332 is lucky. It doesn’t really have any hangar queens. And the hard work of successive generations of maintainers, plus a careful cadre of pilots, has achieved a notable distinction: in early 2005 the squadron marked 100,000 hours without crashing a jet, one of the best safety records of any Marine Corps jet squadron. This long streak of good fortune has made everyone a little superstitious, and the last jet that crashed, A-6E Intruder no. 05 back in 1978, haunts the ready room like a ghost. “Nobody talks about 05,” says one officer.
Jets are like diesel engines: the more you work them, they more reliable they are — to a point. 332 is wringing more flight hours out of its jets than ever, thanks to the relentless pace of operations in Al Anbar province. At some point in the near future, there will be a reckoning. The flying here is not terribly taxing, just a lot of medium-altitude cruising, but still… most fast jets are good for only around 8,000 hours, and the Hornets here have eaten up just under ten percent of that total in the past seven months alone. Worse, the Marine Corps’ single-seat birds will be swapped out for Joint Strike Fighters sometime after 2012, but no one’s postulated a replacement for the hardworking F/A-18Ds.
–David Axe

Pain Ray, Sonic Blaster, Laser Dazzler — All in One

Monday, January 30th, 2006

For a while, now, I’ve been hearing about the Defense Department’s plans to outfit a fighting vehicle with a pain ray, a sonic blaster, and a laser dazzler, too. I never figured they’d actually send the thing to Iraq, though. Project Sheriff, I assumed, would just be the military equivalent of a concept car — a chance to see if some whiz-bang gear really worked together.
ADS_big.jpgBut the Pentagon may wind up deploying this straight-outta-sci-fi jalopy, after all. The Army just got the OK to spend $31.3 million on three deployable Project Sheriff vehicles, Inside Defense is reporting.
Right now, a “non-deployable Spiral 0 prototype” [Sheriff] is “undergoing environmental testing,” according to the newsletter — and waiting for one of the armed services to adopt the program as its own. That looks like it’s happened, now. The “Spiral 1″ Sheriff will equip either a Stryker fighting vehicle or a Cougar mine-fighter with the dazzler, the blaster, and the like. Oh, and it’ll still have guns, too.

By combining the lethal and nonlethal technologies on a vehicle, [Marine Corps Col. Wade] Hall said a warfighter would be able to discriminate the noncombatants from insurgents by first employing the nonlethal capabilities and then progressing to the use of lethal force.
For example, if a convoy led by a Project Sheriff vehicle was moving through an urban area, a crowd may form to divert the convoy into an ambush zone, according to Hall.
If this were to happen, the first thing the crowd would hear is the Long Range Acoustic Device either telling the crowd to move or giving off a noise that would bother their hearing. Next, the Lazzer Dazzler would scan the crowd looking for a flicker from the scope of a possible sniper.
If the crowd was still in place, troops would employ the active denial technology [AKA the pain ray].
If they try and deflect beams then we will kill them because we know what their intentions are, Hall said. Now I know what your intent is. I just told you to move, I just flashed some light in you that said hey get away from me. I just put some effect on you that said please move or its going to get worse and you continue to tell me that you have an ill intent for me and my fellow Marines. So now I will bring some lethal force to bear if it satisfies my [rules of engagement].
In an April 7, 2005, memo, Army Brig. Gen. James Huggings, the chief of staff for the Multi-National Corps-Iraq, asked the Joint Chiefs of Staff to approve funding for the time critical material release, fielding and sustainment of the Full-Spectrum Effects Weapon Systems, the technical name for Project Sheriff vehicles.
This will allow operating forces to exploit the psychological dilemma of adversaries who are faced with advanced precision capabilities having multiple effects mechanism that are collectively more challenging to protect against, Huggins wrote. This will serve to transfer the difficulties of operational complexity to the enemy, helping to allow MNC-I forces to regain the initiative in fourth generation warfare.
Huggins proposes the Army receive eight vehicles — four for the 18th Military Police Brigade and four for the 42nd Military Police Brigade — and the Marines receive six.
In an April 19, 2005, response to Huggins, Marine Corps Maj. Gen. John Castellaw, chief of staff for U.S. Central Command, said the request for 14 Project Sheriff vehicles was fully supported by CENTCOM.

Hercules’ Newest Labor

Monday, January 30th, 2006

The war in Iraq requires a lot of aerial refuelling and moving a lot of stuff between crappy little airstrips. No airplane is better at both tasks than the venerable C-130.
Marine air_3.jpgAfter 40 years of building first-generation Hercules for dozens of customers all over the world, in the mid-1990s, Lockheed Martin switched to the new J model, which was supposed to be faster, longer-ranged and capable of carrying more cargo and fuel. But J customers have complained that new plane just isn’t as capable or reliable as the older models. The Air Force took almost a decade getting its Js into battle, and now the Marines are following suit. Marine Aerial Refueler Transport Squadron 252 has deployed its KC-130J tanker-transports to Al Asad airbase in Iraq’s Al Anbar province, the type’s first foreign mission in Marine Corps service, and the news is good.
The fighter pilots of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332 rely on the KC-130s to extend their legs over western Iraq. So far, 332 has no complaints. The refuelers has been on time with the gas, which is more complicated than it sounds. Tanker crews have to be flexible and efficient to meet the fast-movers when and where they can — and in unpredictable weather.
Still, the C-130J was threatened with shutdown when the Defense Department went cost-cutting last December. Congress came to the rescue, but the Pentagon’s classified Mobility Study might try again to cancel future buys. Meanwhile, the market for second-hand first-gen Hercules is white hot, and the Lockheed Martin facility in Greenville, S.C. is working full-time to recondition retired C-130s for resale to customers like Poland and Pakistan. Only time will tell if the J model wins the same loyalty.
–David Axe

Stealth Ship Chief Speaks

Monday, January 30th, 2006

On Thursday, we took a look at the Stiletto, a wild new stealth ship that the Defense Department has built to sneak special forces onto shore.
stiletto3a.jpgOn Sunday night, Stiletto program manager Greg Glaros paid us a visit, answering some reader comments and questions about the ship.
Thanks for your comments — Stiletto was constructed in 15 months starting Oct 04. She is made completely out of carbon fiber. Her purpose is to insert emerging technology at little cost […] and to provide a venue for operational experimentation. It is not perfect, nor is she designed to solve everyone’s needs (no she does not submerge — we left that to the billion $ club). What she is designed to do is expand our technical competence against an elusive adversary and learn operationally in a very short period of time.
With regards to its survivability or operational relevancy we will all learn by her mere existence. [One reader said the ship might be “easy to kill.”] Easy to kill We seem to easily lose sight that most military systems are all easy to destroy by a willing enemy. Our objectives should be focused on matching our adversaries at scale with an ability to cope and adapt surely the Stark, Cole, M-1 Abrams, and Hummers have taught us how easy it is to kill systems designed to survive everything our engineering imagined unfortunately what our engineer imagine often do not align with what our enemy intends
During the last two weeks Stiletto out performed our expectations with advanced speeds in calm waters and not so calm…and out performing in other areas in a time frame and within a cost that seems to be out of the reach of our requirements procss and acquisition system.
Time to operational market matters…

Rapid Fire 01/29/06

Sunday, January 29th, 2006

* CIA pumps up killer drone ops
* NYT channels Gore on wiretaps
* CSI: Murderers’ best friend?
* Anti-NSA “palace revolt“
* Kids just wanna have fun (with guns)
* Spook stumps, eavesdropping poo, and other spy gear
* Sea Kings’ final flight
* Peters: “There is, in short, not a single enemy in existence or on the horizon willing to play the victim to the military we continue to build.”

(Big ups: NOSI)

Prowling Over Al Anbar

Saturday, January 28th, 2006

At noisy Al Asad air base, the noisiest jets belong to Marine Electronic Attack Squadron 1. It’s hard not to notice the squadron’s EA-6B Prowlers, but don’t get caught looking. While touring the hangars of Marine All Weather Fighter Attack Squadron 332, my escort and I walked past the Prowlers and caught the evil eye from some aircrew returning from a mission.
Marine_air_2.jpgWhat exactly the Prowlers are doing in Iraq is classified — and even 332’s fliers don’t know for sure. My feeling is that it’s got something to do with improvised explosive devices or communications intelligence. The Prowlers are packed with sensitive radio receivers and carry electronic noise jammers under their wings.
If the EA-6Bs are indeed jamming IEDs, they wouldn’t be the only U.S. aircraft doing so. The EC-130 Compass Call has also been pressed into fight against IEDs. On one March patrol with the 25th Infantry Division in Qayyarah, I watched the Compass Call make a pass overhead, wiping out all radio reception in its path.
Replacement of the 30-year-old Prowlers — the only fast EW platforms in the U.S. inventory — is a top priority. The Navy has picked the EA-18G Growler, a development of the F/A-18F Super Hornet to replace its EA-6Bs, but the Marines have yet to name a successor. There have been rumors [ confirmed ed.] of an electronic warfare suite in the Marines’ version of the Joint Strike Fighter, the vertical-landing F-35B . But it might prove hard adapting a single-seat jet to a mission currently performed by a jet seating four.
– David Axe

IED Answer: Foot Patrols?

Friday, January 27th, 2006

Everybody seems to have an answer to the homemade bomb problem: more cargo flights, more radio frequency jammers, even explosive-spotting lasers.
pi20051105a1.jpgThis story in the current Atlantic has a solution I hadn’t seen before. The idea, from Gen. Joseph Votel, who headed the IED task force until recently, is to have troops stop riding through Baghdad or Ramadi on Humvees, and start walking the streets.

The growing use of IEDs is forcing America’s military strategists to rethink centuries of military doctrine holding that in warfare, mobility equals dominance. Votel told me that given the success that IEDs have had against America’s fleet of motor vehicles, the Pentagon may need to switch to more foot patrols. An intelligence analyst working on the IED problem agreed, saying, “The answer to the IEDs is to leave the vehicles. It’s obvious. It’s the only choice.”

Really? I don’t know much about infantry tactics. But I do know a soldier who was killed by a jury-rigged bomb. He was one his feet, not in a Humvee. Same goes for the British explosives specialist who lost limbs to an IED.
But the vulnerability isn’t even the big issue. Coverage is. The Army equivalent on the cop walking the beat works fine, if you’ve got lots and lots of cops in a very small area. In Iraq, there are 150,000 or so soldiers and marines trying to control a place the size of California. That means each patrol has to cover a really wide area — too wide, really, to walk. Driving is the only way.
Besides, as the Atlantic notes, more foot patrols “would expose U.S. soldiers to other risks, including snipers. And the December detonation of an IED in Fallujah, killing ten Marines on foot patrol, shows that soldiers will remain vulnerable to IEDs whether on foot or behind the wheel.“