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Archive for April, 2009

Close Encounters of the Pirate Kind

Thursday, April 30th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

The U.S. is exploring the use of commercial satellites to enhance ship identification and communication for the battle against piracy.

Long before the U.S.-flagged container ship Maersk Alabama was attacked by Somali pirates this month, a sister vessel, the Maersk Iowa, was plying the sea lanes between the U.S. East Coast and the Indian Ocean, testing a device that combines the information obtained from shipboard radar and identification transponders to give authorities a better overview of who is on the water and what they are up to.

Now, the U.S. Office of Global Maritime Situational Awareness wants to leverage that data fusion technology to create a spaced-based collaboration for International Global Maritime Awareness. Guy Thomas, the office’s science and technology adviser, envisions a networked information system using commercial satellites to transmit a common operating picture to authorities, allowing them to monitor large ocean areas.

Thomas, a former Navy signals intelligence officer working for the interagency maritime situational awareness office, thinks navigational radar and other sensor data from thousands of merchant ships — enhanced by commercial satellites rapidly relaying the information to authorities — could help overcome the challenge of monitoring the vast maritime domain.

Using existing commercial satellite technology, such as synthetic aperture radar (SAR) and electro-optical and infrared imaging, could provide all-weather night-and-day surveillance, even in heavy cloud cover. The satellites and shipboard sensors would complement each other, either calling attention to anomalies or checking and verifying them. The time it takes to download information from a satellite could be as little as 5 min., says Thomas. The information would be made available to authorities in an unclassified format. L-band radar, less detailed but also less expensive, would be adequate to detect the wake of ships at sea from space, he asserts.

Probably the greatest obstacle facing the warships from more than a dozen nations patrolling the pirate-infested waters between the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea is that the area “is just vast, more than a million square miles,” says Gordan Van Hook, the director of innovation and concept development for the U.S.-based Maersk Line Ltd. According to U.S. Central Command, 33,000 ships passed through the Gulf of Aden in 2008. The same year, 122 piracy events occurred, with 42 successful and 80 unsuccessful.

International maritime regulations require commercial ships weighing more than 300 tons to carry an Automated Information System. Initially intended as an anti-collision device, the AIS is similar to the transponders that FAA regulations require on civil aircraft. Broadcasting on VHF radio, it divulges a ship’s identification number, navigation status, speed and course heading every 2–10 sec. Name, cargo, size, destination and estimated time of arrival are broadcast about every 6 min. Other vessels with AIS in range constantly receive those data. However, each vessel is its own information bubble, says Van Hook, and cannot share data about other ships it encounters with authorities when more than 50 mi. from shore.

In a test project funded by the Transportation Dept., Lockheed Martin put a prototype data fusion system, known as Neptune, on Maersk cargo vessels, starting with the Maersk Iowa in 2006. Neptune took the information obtained by the ship’s radar, which has a radius of about 20 mi., and combined it with data from passing ships received through its AIS. The information was sent via an Inmarsat satellite to a Lockheed Martin fusion center in Eagan, Minn., says Van Hook.

Read the rest of this story, give your guess on how many tactical vehicles are needed, ponder the possibilities of the split tanker buy and see where Paris is looking to gas up from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Picture of the Day: Canada Invades

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Canucks in Florida.jpg

04/25/2009 — Canadian soldiers storm a beach in Mayport, Fla., April 25, 2009, during an amphibious assault demonstration. The service members are participating in the 50th annual multinational exercise UNITAS Gold, which involves participation from Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Germany, Mexico, Peru, Uruguay and the United States. The two-week long exercise includes realistic scenario-driven training opportunities such as live-fire exercises, shipboard operations, maritime interdiction operations and special warfare. (DoD photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Alan Gragg, U.S. Navy/Released)

Courtesy my friend John Donovan, who writes: [Dammit!] We demand the immediate withdrawal of your forces!
–John Noonan

Combat Advising (Or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Counterinsurgency)

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Damn good column here from Small Wars Journal (pdf). A taste:

Combat advising is central to successful counterinsurgency operations in existing U.S. conflicts around the world. As U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates observed, The most important component in the War on Terror is not the fighting we do ourselves, but how well we enable and empower our partners to defend and govern their own countries.1 Similarly, in 2006 the U.S. Army and Marine Corps Field Manual (FM) 3–24, Counterinsurgency, identified the most critical task required to conduct effective counterinsurgency operations as, developing an effective host-nation security force.2 The importance of combat advising is not a new realization. In fact, major U.S. efforts in this area began in the early 1950s when U.S. forces provided training and assistance to Greece, the Philippines, China (Taiwan), Iran, and Japan. Since that time, protracted combat advising operations have occurred in Korea, Vietnam, and El Salvador.

The traditional arm of America’s combat advising force, Special Forces A-Teams, are way overtasked at the moment. To compensate, we’ve been sticking officers in a combat advisor role that –honestly– have no business being there in the first place. The solution, to create a combat advisor command, pains me due to my severe bureaucracy aversion, but does make some sense from a training and sustainment point of view.
Still, it seems as if combat advising is something that could be rolled into our Joint Special Operations Command. The initiative-fostering culture of our boys in black, as well as their equal aversion to chickenshit regulation and bloated command infrastructure, is precisely the right environment for this style of soft operations (think Lawerence of Arabia for the 21st century).
–John Noonan

We Report, You Decide

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009

Obama’s 100 Days Report Card

Wednesday, April 29th, 2009


EDITOR’S NOTE: The combined reporting and brain power of the entire Military​.com/Defense Tech/DoD Buzz team was brought to bear last week to compile a report card for President Barack Obama’s first 100 days as it related to the military and national security. I invite you to read the excerpt here and continue with the comprehensive story on Military​.com. And I’d also be interested to read your opinion on his performance so far.

In his campaign for president, Barack Obama pledged a swift end to the war in Iraq, a new commitment to the defeat of al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Pakistan, a strong emphasis on veterans’ care and military families and a critical look at Pentagon spending, strategy and conduct in the war on terrorism.

Since his inauguration 100 days ago, Obama has made good on his promise for sweeping change in the military, a new tone in the White House’s relationship with troops and a personal investment in easing the burden of military service.

But so far his record has been met with controversy, both for its marked consistency with the policies of George W. Bush and for its radical break from the past that some see as reckless.

Obama was quick to apologize for American conduct in the war on terrorism and relations with some of its allies during his trip to Europe in early April. He called for “mutual respect” toward Iran, which commanders in Iraq say supplies deadly roadside bombs to insurgents. And he has agreed to the release of reportedly gruesome photos of the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal, an action that some insiders claim will worsen morale in a military service only now recovering from the tarnished public perception stemming from that terrible chapter.


No Robot in the Loop Here!

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009


Just when you didn’t think things could get any more nonsensical, here’s a story that makes you just shake your head with frustration.

Now, I’ll caveat this by saying I’m welcome to be convinced otherwise, but it strikes me as downright stupid that the Air Force insists on having Airmen pilot their Predators all the way to touchdown.

Now, I can understand having a close-tethered “man-in-the-loop” for weapons releases or snap recon taskers, but my reporting on automatic landing systems leads me to believe that there’s no reason whatsoever to have pilots landing drones from Nevada (or wherever else they’re remotely piloting those drones) every time.

Colin reports in his interview with outgoing AT&L chief John Young that the Pentagon purchasing czar was miffed that the Air Force declined to retrofit their Predators with autonomous landing systems. He cites dozens of crashes that might have been avoided had the service embraced the system.

Youngs spokesman, Chris Isleib, later sent an email to reporters slightly changing the numbers. “Since 1994 the Air Force has procured 195 Predators. 65 have been lost due to Class A mishaps,” he said. Isleib added that of the 65 mishaps, 36 percent are laid at the door of human error and “many of those attributable to ground station problems.” About 15 percent of the total was destroyed during the landing phase, Isleib clarified in his email.

The Army, on the other hand, typically uses ALS for their Warrior drones and has a lower casualty rate, Colin reports.

Is this a direct causal relationship? I’m sure there are mitigating circumstances and opinions on the matter with some of the mishaps. But it seems to me a needless attempt to cling to the Red Scarf mentality of a service that’s evolving more and more into a digital force of systems operators than the swashbuckling zoomies of yore — and that’s really not a bad thing at all.

Let’s hope there’s some other logical and practical reason than tradition here, but I’m worried Occam’s Razor is at play.

– Christian

Chinese Navy Requires Supercruising Fighter

Tuesday, April 28th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aviation Week & Space Technology.

A supercruising combat aircraft is a high priority of the Chinese navy, the country’s top admiral says in a revealing official interview that gives strong clues of perceived shortcomings and future directions for the maritime force.

Adm. Wu Shengli also says China must step up work on precision missiles that can overcome enemy defenses, and the nation should move faster in developing large combat surface ships — probably meaning the aircraft carrier program that looks increasingly imminent.

Wu’s demand for supercruise — supersonic flight without afterburner — hints that such performance will be available from the next Chinese fighter, sometimes called the J-XX.

“One possibility is that the J-XX is being designed for supercruise and that Wu is trying to build support for a naval version of the aircraft,” says Richard Bitzinger, a senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore.

The design of the J-XX is unknown. It could be a new aircraft or quite possibly a development of the J-10, a fighter now entering service.

The J-10’s configuration is similar to that of the Eurofighter Typhoon, which the manufacturer says can supercruise at Mach 1.5, although it is likely to be somewhat slower with a useful external load.

For the Chinese navy, one advantage of supercruising would be the ability to cover a large defensive area in less time — quite useful if the imagined target is a U.S. carrier group at long range.

Importantly, Wu lists a supercruising fighter among a series of technological demands that all look quite achievable for the Chinese navy over the next decade or so, suggesting that he does not regard such flight performance as a pie in the sky.

“Sophisticated equipment is the key material basis for winning a regional naval war,” says the admiral, evidently referring to the possibility of a confrontation in the Taiwan Strait. “We must accelerate and promote steps to work on key weapons.

Read the rest of this story, check out Turkey’s new AW149, see a Russian fighter go down and read about the Poseidon’s first flight from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

SCAR Sighting!

Monday, April 27th, 2009

A colleague of mine sent me this photo today and I thought I’d share it with DT readers…

Note the buttstocks over these dudes’ shoulders. I think this is the first official SCAR sighting with troops other than testers…

(NAVY PHOTO) SEAL BEACH NAVAL WEAPONS STATION, Calif. (April 15, 2009) Special warfare combatant-craft crewmen (SWCC) assigned to Special Boat Team (SBT) 12 conduct an equipment check before getting underway for a training exercise at Seal Beach Naval Weapons Station. U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Joshua T. Rodriguez.

– Christian

China’s ‘Increasing Naval Threat’ Overstated

Monday, April 27th, 2009


China’s Navy — officially the Peoples Liberation Army’s Navy — held an impressive naval review in the historic port city of Qingdao on 23 April, the 60th anniversary of the founding of the PLA Navy. By any criteria, the event was a great success. Beyond a Chinese contingent of 2 nuclear and 2 diesel-electric submarines, 5 missile destroyers, and 6 frigates, there were 21 ships representing 14 other nations at the review. The U.S. Navy’s contribution to the anniversary celebration was the Aegis missile destroyer Fitzgerald (DDG 62).

By the criteria of many American newspapers and, of course, bloggers, the event revealed the increasing “threat” to Western interests from China’s Navy. Indeed, a Time magazine blog showed an Associated Press (AP) photo of a Chinese warship with the caption, “A Chinese navy soldier guards on a battleship at Quingdao port…” The photo, however, shows what is probably a frigate. China does not have any battleships; nor does any other nation.

Other articles — some citing official Chinese statements indicating that aircraft carriers will be constructed “in the future” — tell how the Chinese Navy is about to overtake the U.S. Navy, although by which measures is usually ignored. Indeed, one AP article declares that Chinese nuclear-propelled submarines “are considered just a notch below cutting-edge U.S. and Russian craft.“

Reality is quite different. First, simplistic numerical comparisons are too often misleading. But quantity does provide a quality. For example:

  • Nuclear aircraft carriers (CVN)
    U.S. = 11 China = 0
  • VSTOL/helicopter carriers (LHA/LHD)
    U.S. = 11 China = 0
  • Guided missile cruisers (CG)
    U.S. = 22 China = 0
  • Destroyers (DDG/DD)
    U.S. = 60 China = 27
  • Frigates (FF/FFG)
    U.S. = 30 China = 48
  • Ballistic missile submarines (nuclear)(SSBN)
    U.S. = 14 China = 3
  • Attack/cruiser missile submarines (nuclear)
    U.S. = 57 China = 6
  • Attack submarine (non-nuclear) (SS/SSK)
    U.S. = 0 China = 55

Second, numbers alone to not convey an adequate comparison. For example, each U.S. CVN-type carrier can operate 60 or more high-performance aircraft. All U.S. cruisers and destroyers have the Aegis advanced radar/fire control system; only a few Chinese ships have the equivalent. Similarly, all U.S. cruisers and destroyers have vertical-launch systems for firing long-range Tomahawk strike (land-attack) missiles as well as surface-to-air missiles. The Chinese have no ship-launched strike weapons and their surface-to-air missiles are inferior.

Further, there is no public evidence that the Chinese SSBNs have an operational missile, and none is known to have undertaken a long-range patrol. No long-range patrols have been reported of nuclear torpedo-attack submarines (SSN), and relatively few are made by diesel-electric undersea craft.


MilBlog conference begins

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

The 4th annual MilBlog conference kicked off April 24 with a bunch of bang-bang last night as Bouhammer introduced the first “world premier” of the docu-film “At War.” For many of the 150 bloggers and bloggerfans in attendance at the Westin Arlington Gateway hotel just outside DC it was a bit of a time warp — remembrances of deployments or embeds past — and for others it was a vivid, violent, frustrating, heartwarming window into the world of the troops these bloggers write and care about.

As TSO from This Ain’t Hell said: “I thought I was having flash backs…”

Here’s a tidbit of the well-done movie shot and directed by Scott Kesterson, a former building contractor who at 41 decided it was time to be a war correspondent/blogger, which will have a limited release across the United States.

– Christian