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Archive for July, 2006

Rapid Fire 07/31/06

Monday, July 31st, 2006

    * Israel’s tragic mistake
    * Middle East ceasefire: over before it began?
    * US encouraging Israeli attack on Syria?
    * UN in Lebanon: “indefinitely postponed”
    * UN nixes Iran enrichment
    * Taepodong-2 didn’t get far
    * Iran out of TD-2 picture?
    * Counter-terror catches crabs?
    * China building our black tech?
    * India begins exporting missiles?
    * Singapore’s personal sniper detectors
    * Swiss bunkers!
    * Internet security somewhat slack

(Hat tips: RP, JS, CM, JK)
Eric Hundman

Nukes on Ice?

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Nukes on Ice.jpgPicture floating nuclear reactors sailing the seven seasgenerating emergency power at disaster sites, providing fresh water during droughts, and warming the shivering citizens of Siberia.
Now, add indomitable ice floes, highly enriched uranium, hellacious weather, and terrorists slavering over lightly guarded nuclear fuel. Apply a “Made in Russia” stamp and file these titans under Technological Terrors.
On June 14 the Severnoye Mashinostroitelnoe Predpriyatie (more commonly known as Sevmashpredpriyatie, or Sevmash shipyard, one of many Russian sites bursting with nuclear waste, signed a contract to construct a floating nuclear power plant. Sevmash will install pairs of KLT-40S reactors (also sometimes called KLT-40C because of transliteration errors, or just KLT-40) on barges. The Russian icebreaker fleet uses the same KLT-40 reactor type, fueled by high-enriched uranium (roughly 40% enriched). However, according to the Uranium Information Center, the floating reactors have been modified to use low-enriched fuel. Other specific differences between the reactors on the icebreaker fleet and those on the floating plants remain unclear.
(Note: the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists published a short blurb [titled “Russias Sea Change”] about these floating plants in its latest issue. However, their piece asserts the reactor design will tentatively be a VBER-300. My sources almost uniformly say that the KLT-40S will definitely be the reactor for this initial, pilot project. The VBER-300 is being discussed for use in a proposed larger floating reactor, but the larger version is, as of now, only hypothetical.)
At full capacity, the two reactors together will provide up to 70 megawatts of power. They are also capable of desalinating water, though it is unclear whether this can be done at the same time as power production. There are 11 other possible sites for these plants in Russia, but very few regional leaders have expressed interest. Rosatom, the Russian civilian nuclear power agency, now hopes to sell them to interested countries in Asia once the design has been successfully demonstrated. China, Indonesia, Malaysia, and the Philippines have already expressed interest.
On the surface, this may not seem such a bad idea. Proposals for mobile nuclear plants as desalinators have a long history they dont produce greenhouse gases and they could get to remote locations easily. Such a humanitarian sheen takes the edge off nuclear jitters, too. Fuel will be stored onboard and, to assuage proliferation concerns, the Russians claim that the barges will come back to Russia every 4–12 years for fuel disposal.
All indications, though, point to (dare I say typically Russian?) poor planning, with potential for serious problems.


Sim Victory in Sim Iraq

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Ft. Irwin, California — It’s 110 degrees here on the southern edge of Death Valley when Alpha Company storms Medina Jabal. On July 27, twelve days into their two-week exercise at the National Training Center, the Soldiers of Alpha Company are resigned to the heat, if not accustomed to it. After just a few minutes exposed to the blazing sun, sweat soaks their gray and tan combat uniforms and leaves salty white deposits on their 25-pound armor vests. They drink water religiously and, whenever there’s a lull in operations, seek the nearest shade.
Alpha’s tribulations at NTC are shared by all the 10 5,000-soldier brigades annually that train here before deploying to Iraq. Their trials are part of a accelerating trend across the U.S. military services of providing ultra-realistic training to its troops.
ntc.jpgFor Alpha, right now there’s no time for rest. The commander of the 2nd Infantry Division’s 2nd Brigade, Col. Jeffrey Bannister, has ordered Alpha — from the 1st battalion of the 9th Infantry — to secure Medina Jabal in advance of his July 28 meeting with the regional governor. All over the Rhode Island-size desert range, 2nd Brigade units are engaged in mock combat with “insurgents” from the resident 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, but the most important fight is here at this tiny, shambling village of concrete and plywood buildings. Victory in this simulated Iraq, just like in the real Iraq, hinges on hearts and minds. If Bannister is going to win over the local populace, it’s going to happen here when he stands up with the governor (portrayed by a Kurdish Iraqi national) and promises a better future for the residents of Medina Jabal (played by Iraqi nationals and local actors).
But the insurgents know that, and they will focus all their efforts on wrecking Bannister’s carefully orchestrated event. Down at the 11th ACR’s operations center in the heart of Ft. Irwin, staff officers plot 2nd Brigade’s movements on a map and consider their options. With Alpha moving into Medina Jabal, it’s going to be hard to slip in fighters. Someone proposes an Improvised Explosive Device smuggled in a truck. Another pitches mortar barrages. Snipers are an option too. And if Alpha interdicts all these efforts, then the 11th ACR — the so-called “Opposing Force,” or Opfor — can send teams to harass the brigade’s Forward Operating Bases, including its vulnerable helicopter base at FOB Miami, in an effort to draw Bannister’s attention away from Medina Jabal.
But Alpha seems to know exactly what the Opfor is up to.
Read the exciting conclusion at Military​.com. And check out my NTC photo-essay at Flickr.
–David Axe

The MiTEx Mystery: Mobile microsats make nerds nervous

Monday, July 31st, 2006

Right now, a pair of mysterious, highly mobile microsatellites dubbed MiTEx are roaming about in geostationary orbit (GEO). Their mission and their capabilities are unknown; even their orbital position is classified. Lockheed Martin and Orbital Sciences each built one of the 225kg microsatellites for DARPA, and the Naval Research Lab built the propulsive upper stage.
mitex-stage.jpgInformation on the microsatellites themselves is virtually nonexistent. Calls by this office to DARPA were quickly met with no comment, and Space News writer Jeremy Singers inquiries also went unanswered. DARPA has already run the controversial DART and XSS-11 missions, both of which tested technology with anti-satellite applications. Since these missions were conducted largely within the public eye, one has to wonder what MiTEx is up to that must remain so secret.
The MiTEx launch, on June 18, was heralded by a press release touting its upper stage as a technology demonstrator, but this is where the story gets interesting. The upper stage is equipped with lightweight, high-capacity propellant tanks and with thrusters that use a platinum/rhodium alloy, which should be able to fire tens of thousands of times. It has solar panels and lithium-ion batteries to provide electrical power, as well as a star tracker. Compared to traditional upper stages which consist of an unadorned solid-fuel rocket motor — this elaborate contraption of an upper stage is quite novel and is certainly designed to do a lot more than transfer the microsatellites from their transfer orbit to GEO.
But while such a tricked-out upper stage is unusual only one other known upper stage, the Integrated Apogee Boost Subsystem (IABS), has even carried solar panels every one of the individual technologies listed above is in itself tested and well-established. So what exactly are the technologies which this technology demonstrator is demonstrating?
The MiTEx satellites about which no information is available — are freely traversing GEO with a robust upper stage that, based on launch vehicle performance, probably has plenty of fuel to spare for significant maneuvers. What exactly will they be doing in what has become the most economically viable and strategically important locale in space?
That is the million-dollar question. The high level of secrecy surrounding the satellites themselves, as well as the unusual upper stage, suggests that MiTEx might be more than a technology demonstrator. The fact that MiTEx effectively has stealth capability (only the U.S. Space Surveillance Network has a chance of detecting it) doesnt help calm the nerves.
Close proximity operations around other satellites as demonstrated by DART and XSS-11 are certainly possible and would allow for a wide range of activities. For example, proximity operations would enable detailed reconnaissance of a satellite, identifying weaknesses, taking photographs, and collecting all the satellites incoming and outgoing radio traffic. More hostile acts, such as denying ground communications, depleting propellant reserves, and even causing permanent damage to the satellite, cannot be ruled out.
MiTEx could merely be demonstrating technologies that havent been tried before in the harsher GEO environment. Or it could indeed be operational, performing any number of possible clandestine missions. We simply do not know.
More information on MiTEx can be found at the World Security Institute’s Center for Defense Information. Ryan Caron is a research assistant for the space security project at the World Security Institutes Center for Defense Information. He studies aerospace engineering at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

See Ya!

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

I’m getting married next week. Then, it’s off to Italy for the honeymoon. Which means no blogging for me until late August — my biggest break, I think, since the site started.
But Defense Tech will be in good hands, never fear. An A-team of guest bloggers is lined up to take over while I’m in the Mediterranean.

Week of 7/31: Haninah Levine and his wonkalicious buddies from the Center for Defense Information.
Week of 8/7: The legendary David Axe.
Week of 8/14: Bad science’s bete noire, Sharon Weinberger.
Week of 8/21: Inside Defense (and Inside Green Business) editor Dan Dupont.

You can contact any of ‘em through the regular e-mail address, defense-AT– defensetech-DOT-org.
Wish me and Elizabeth luck. And if you’re looking to send us a wedding present, you can make a donation to fine charities like Soldiers’ Angels, through this website right here.

Hezbollah, Deadly Hybrid

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

We’ve hinted at this a couple of times since the fight between Israel and Hezbollah began. But the terror group, “with the sophistication of a national army… and the lethal invisibility of a guerrilla army” is a new breed of military animal. “A hybrid,” Thom Shanker writes. “Old labels, and old planning, do not apply.“

Hezbollah still possesses the most dangerous aspects of a shadowy terror network. It abides by no laws of war as it attacks civilians indiscriminately. Attacks on its positions carry a high risk of killing innocents. At the same time, it has attained military capabilities and other significant attributes of a nation-state. It holds territory and seats in the Lebanese government. It fields high-tech weapons and possesses the firepower to threaten the entire population of a regional superpower, or at least those in the northern half of Israel.…
“We are in a world today where we have a non-state actor using all the tools of weaponry,” from drone aircraft to rockets to computer hacking, said P.W. Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who specializes in the impact of new technologies on national security.

But John Robb, who’s been examining this kind of “open source warfare” for years, says that “the central secret to Hezbollah’s success” isn’t in its weaponry. It’s in the terrorists’ ability to have its “guerrillas to make decisions autonomously… at the small group level.”

In every area — from firing rockets to defending prepared positions… — we have examples of Hezbollah teams deciding, adapting, innovating, and collaborating without reference to any central authority. The result of this decentralization is that Hezbollah’s aggregate decision cycles are faster and qualitatively better than those of their Israeli counterparts… the continued success of its efforts has put the Israelis on the horns of a dilemma: either request a ceasefire or push for a full invasion of southern Lebanon (each fraught with disastrous consequences).

And not just for Israel. “Other terrorists are learning from Hezbollahs successes,” Shanker notes. Iraqi insurgents are showing a similar blend of operational flexibility and modern technology. To beat these groups, the U.S. is going to have to learn that it “takes a network to fight a network.”

American intelligence agencies and the military proved it can fight this kind of war, as it did in Afghanistan to rout Al Qaeda, when intelligence officers and small groups of Army Special Forces worked with local fighters to call in devastating air strikes and drive the Taliban from power.
Within the Bush administration and across the military, a clearer view is emerging out of the chaos in southern Lebanon. It is that nation-states know they cannot directly take on superpowers either regional or global without getting their clocks cleaned, and so they use proxies they train and support to take the fight to those superpowers. The fight against groups like Hezbollah requires a strategy for dealing with their sponsors. These networks, Hezbollah included, dont float around in the ether like free electrons bumping into each other. They alight. They attach themselves to territory. In Afghanistan it was with the full support of the Taliban. In Pakistan, its an ungoverned space. In Lebanon, its a state within a state. Cut off state support, or eliminate the ability of the networks to survive in ungoverned areas, and they collapse on themselves.
No solution has been written. But it would include military force along with diplomacy, economic assistance, intelligence and information campaigns.
“Most critically, we have to get better at its such a clich winning hearts and minds,” said a military officer working on counterinsurgency issues. “That is influencing neutral populations toward supporting us and not supporting our terrorist and insurgent enemies.”

And so the zillion-dollar question becomes: Do big air campaigns and large-scale invasions really influence those opinions in a positive way? Or do they just play into the terrorists’ hands?
UPDATE 07/31/06 4:07 PM: Anthony Cordesman’s answer: The U.S. — and Israel’s — current course is “stupid, incompetent, and obsolete.” Youch.

Rapid Fire 07/30/06

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

* Counter-IED: no silver bullets (background here and here)
* Ivy League vs. military
* Secrecy vs. biodefense
* Pentagon eyes YouTube
* US AID’s Iraq shell game
* “Why the Mid-East Ain’t About Terror“
* Condi: quick cease-fire
* Army wants microwave cannon
* Looking back at Israel’s laser defense
(background here)

Diesel boats beware

Sunday, July 30th, 2006

Diesel subs, diesel subs, everyone’s worried about diesel subs. With the advent of Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) and the proliferation of German– and Russian-made diesel designs — including to our favorite bugaboo Iran — a lot of folks in the U.S. Navy are working really hard on ways to find and kill these quiet, lethal boats.
mh-60r.jpgEnter the Sikorsky/Lockheed Martin MH-60R Seahawk helicopter. This new bird will boost the Navy’s ability to root out pesky diesels and make the littorals safe for $5-billion carriers.
The so-called “Romeo” is a major driver behind a massive overhaul of the Navy’s helicopter fleet. Five years ago the Navy flew seven helo models each in relatively stovepiped missions. SH-60B Seahawks droned along the outer edges of a battlegroup sensing for magnetic disturbances caused by large submarines. SH-60Fs dipped sonars into the middle zone of a carrier group to spot infiltrating submarines. HH-60Hs rescued downed pilots. MH-53E Sea Dragons towed mine-detecting gear. CH-46 Sea Knights hauled supplies. What the Navy needed was a larger helo force that it could swing between missions — say, to swarm an enemy coast on day one clearing out the diesel subs then switch to fighting small suicide boats on day two while retaining the ability to do urgent resupply, noncombatant evacuation or search and rescue.
The Romeo model of the Seahawk will perform all these missions and more — and do them better than earlier choppers thanks to better equipment and aircrew training. The key to the latter is a new simulator built by firm Manned Flight Simulators that can replicate the tricky acoustics of littoral waters.
The first four Romeos have been fielded by San Diego-based training squadron HSM-41. As many as 300 more worth $3 billion will follow in the next decade. Alongside the transport– and cargo-optimized MH-60S, which shares an airframe and cockpit with the Romeo, the MH-60R will provide the Navy a large, flexible and lethal helo force capable of taking out quiet diesel subs and blazing a trail for vulnerable carriers in coastal waters.
Read on at Military​.com. And check out my Flickr for pics.
–David Axe

Hez’s 30-Mile Missile

Friday, July 28th, 2006

Here’s some more on those longer-range Hezbollah rockets mentioned in today’s Rapid Fire:

Hezbollah called the rockets the Khaibar-1. They fell more than 30 miles south of the Lebanese border. A few other rockets have traveled this far, but it was still unusual, according to the Israeli military and police.
The rockets are capable of carrying more than 200 pounds of explosives, making them much more powerful than the Katyusha rockets that Hezbollah has been firing most of the time, Israeli authorities said.
American and Israeli officials believe that the rocket Hezbollah referred to as a “Khaibar-1″ appears to be an upgraded version of the Fajr-3, a rocket that Iran has supplied to the terrorist network and that Hezbollah has used often during the conflict. The rocket fired today has an estimated range of 90 kilometers, which makes it the longest range rocket fired thus far. Officials said that it is still unclear whether the rocket is actually a Fajr-5 which Iran has also given to Hezbollah or a new model altogether.
[The Jerusalem Post and Ynetnews both argue differently — ed.] Hezbollahs leader, Sheik Hassan Nasrallah, said earlier in the week that his Shiite group would strike beyond Haifa, about 20 miles inside Israel, which has been the southernmost city to come under regular attack.

One thing the weapon was not, according to Israeli authorities, was “an Iranian-made ‘Zilzal’ rocket, which has a range of about 210 km (130 miles) and would have put the Israeli commercial capital Tel Aviv within reach.“
That honeymoon is looking less and less likely, all of the time…
(Big ups: SOI)

Rapid Fire 07/28/06

Friday, July 28th, 2006

* Hez missile command taken out?
* Israel backed by cyber-soldiers
* Hez fires off long-range weapons
* Congress pushes alt energy for defense
* Spam king gets whacked
* Brit spy cams = peeping toms
* Pak’s bomb factory
* NSA whistleblower subpoenaed
* Senate smushes conventional Tridents
* Return of supersonic jets?
* Bunker, busted
* “Can we ever fly faster than sound?” (1944)
* Watch those Gs, Steve!
* Dior, Gucci… Blackwater?!?!?
* NORAD leaving Cheyenne Mountain

(Big ups: EH, TPMM, WH, DS)