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Archive for November, 2009

Pyracy on Parade — Part 2

Monday, November 30th, 2009


EDITOR’S NOTE: This is part two of Joe Buff’s story on the rise of modern piracy and the international response to swashbuckling banditry. Read part one HERE.

Is modern piracy a containable nuisance, a regrettable but acceptable cost of doing business for shipping companies?  And should it also be allowed to continue as an unfortunate but bearable burden on various navies’ nations’ taxpayers? Would a land invasion to clear out the strongholds by force be very effective, or would it turn into a bitter bloodbath that backfires? Barring such a landward force-based solution, could the ongoing fight again Somali piracy turn into a new type of quagmire, at sea? Or need it best be viewed as any other crime-solving problem, as something that will more or less always be there, fluctuating in intensity with local economic conditions and with the varying extent of funding made available for law enforcement? The latter is not an attractive outcome. Nor does erecting a floating security wall, in the form of a close-in blockade along Somalia’s entire 2,000 miles of coastline, seem practicable or desirable to the authorities policing the piracy problem. 

In a video just released by the pirates who hold them hostage, the British couple Paul and Rachel Chandler, seized with their yacht in October, expressed fear that unless the UK pays ransom very soon, they might be killed or sold to terrorists. Is this just an imagined concern of the Chandlers, or the latest bargaining tactic by their captors, or do the pirates really mean it? The specter of pirates selling hostages and/or captured ships to terrorists, if that becomes their only resort to raise cash from their efforts, is disturbing indeed. While the Somali pirates are inspired by the profit motive, not extremist ideology, they might have no compunctions about doing business with terrorists for capitalist reasons. That business might even come to include live operational training of Al Qaeda suicide pirates by Somali instructor pirates, preparatory to capturing an innocent merchant ship as platform for a horrendously costly WMD attack against some strategic strait (Malacca or Gibraltar?) or canal (Suez or Panama?) or populous harbor or oil terminal (Singapore or Galveston?).

It’s proving difficult for foreign countries and coalitions to deter Somali piracy. The overall phenomenon results from disparate extended family groups sending out expendable small units to first infiltrate, disguised as fishing boats, and then threaten a very wide area. Put this way, modern piracy sounds almost like a waterborne guerilla insurgency, a type of enemy that on land is notoriously difficult to dissuade by “third generation warfare” means.  This is especially an issue when, at least so far, international law and foreign government policies alike have given the pirates sanctuary within their own territorial limits. The pirates do have a significant technical advantage as well, in that each mother ship’s or skiff’s arbitrary and evasive marauding path consumes food and fuel at a linear rate, whereas maritime security units need to protect a vast area that goes up with the square of the range of any individual pirate sortie. If pirates increase their practical operating range from 300 miles to 1000 miles, for instance, which is by a factor of 3–1/3, the area they bring under threat, which foreign navies and coast guards need to patrol, increases by a factor of more than 10. Another problem in deterrence lies in the rather poor target classification capabilities of the pirates themselves. When they close in and open fire with automatic weapons and rocket propelled grenades, not realizing that a warship is a warship, Sailors can get hurt or killed.


Cyber Arms Control

Monday, November 30th, 2009

The subject of international cyber arms control (ICAC) has risen in conversation around the beltway and beyond, and it’s an issue has polarized many in the technical and policy making communities. 

The argument among experts revolves around whether an international cyber arms control treaty might reduce the plethora of criminal and national security threats, while promoting greater cyber security for all.  The very first argument is that cyber crime should be handled separately than cyber warfare and cyber terrorism. 

Once you get past that, there are those that firmly believe it is critical that an ICAC be developed and implemented as soon as possible given the increases we have seen in cyber attacks, cyber crime and the growing fear of cyber terrorism.  Those opposed to the idea feel that implementing a cyber arms control treaty will be difficult and enforcing it will be nearly impossible due to the facts that no special materials are needed to create cyber weapons and all that is needed to manufacture a cyber weapon is a creative technical person and a computer that is connected to the Internet.  The opposition is quick to point out that compliance verification and ongoing monitoring would require a level of openness for inspection that few governments would find acceptable.

What do you think?:

Kevin Coleman

French SCARs?

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009


Got a news item from our tip line today that I’m confirming but I thought I would bring it to your attention.

Seems that the French are potentially jumping on the SCAR bandwagon with a limited deployment of 10 SCARs to its contingent in Afghanistan and Sudan. Our tipster pointed us to a French blog called The Mammoth that said the French National Police officers stationed in Kabul and Khartum, Sudan, will get the 7.62mm Mk-17s.  It seems that the forward deployed paramilitary police troops are also tinkering with the H&K 417 “for additional firepower.”

The blog also said that the national police is looking for a replacement for the G36 (seems there’s something lost in my translation — may be looking to replace the MiniMi or both MiniMi and G36 with one gun) and that both the above weapons are contenders.

A word of caution: I threw the blog URL into Google Translator to get the English version. I speak a little French and was able to somewhat cross check the translation, but any of our foreign readers out there with better French skills than mine can dive into the comments and set my interpretation straight.

– Christian

Piracy Blooms Anew

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009


EDITOR’S NOTE: Our boy Joe Buff went a little crazy on his latest post, forwarding me a 1700 word essay about the evolving piracy threat, the shipping industry’s response and the geopolitics of marauding banditry.

So what I did is post it to a Military​.com news page and break it into two digestable parts. I’ll crop a little teaser here, but be sure to read the rest of part one after the excerpt…

Is King Neptune trying to mock the multinational counter-piracy mission of Combined Task Force 151 off the Horn of Africa? Just a couple of days before November 20’s festivities in Norfolk, VA, where M/V Maersk Alabama’s Captain Phillips thanked the skipper and crew of USS Bainbridge (DDG-98) for his life-and-death rescue from Somali pirates back in April, another band of Somali pirates attacked M/V Maersk Alabama again. Only this time, following the latest recommended shipping industry best practices, a private security detail was aboard. They drove the pirates off after a brief firefight and non-lethal noise projector barrage at 300 yards range; there were no reported injuries.

But behind these two different types of American operational successes lies a more troubling picture. In response to outside pressures, pirate mission planning and implementation have gotten more ambitious and sophisticated during 2009, especially since the summer monsoons died down. According to London’s International Maritime Bureau, although a smaller percentage of hijacking raids have succeeded this year relative to 2008 — 11% compared to 17% — a larger number of attacks have occurred, 359 so far this year compared to 293 total last year. The types of ships attacked and sometimes hijacked run the gamut from oil tankers, coal carriers, container ships, and bulk cargo ships, to fishing boats and private yachts. While published estimates vary, right now Somali pirates hold captive about one dozen vessels, anchored in shallow water, and almost 300 crewmembers, most held aboard in horrendous living conditions.

Read more…

– Joe Buff

Avic Defense To Expand Civil Work

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

BEIJING — Chinese fighter builder Avic Defense aims to build a large business jet as part of its strategy of exploiting military technology for its civilian sidelines.

Avic Defense also will build up an aircraft maintenance operation catering for airline customers, company president Wang Yawei tells Aviation Week.

Wang emphasizes that the dominant business of Avic Defense will continue to be the supply of weapons to the Chinese armed forces. The company will pursue military exports, but the development of military products will be aimed mainly at local requirements.

In an interview, Wang did not elaborate on domestic weapons programs. Such announcements are reserved for generals, admirals and ministers.

Avic Defense already has substantial civil work, including center fuselages for the Bombardier C Series regional jet, rudders for Boeing 787s and parts for Airbus aircraft. Moreover, it is wholly responsible for building the Cessna 162 Skycatcher light sport aircraft.

The development plan for the defense unit has been drawn up by parent company Avic, Wang says. The efforts purposefully imitate France’s Dassault Aviation.

“As part of the development plan, Avic wants Avic Defense to exploit its defense resources to develop a high-end business aircraft, just as Dassault does,” the executive says. “Dassault is a very good fighter builder, and it makes very good business aircraft.”

Wang’s description of the proposed business jet as a high-end product and his reference to Dassault suggests that he is thinking of a large-cabin, long-range aircraft.

He rules out simply acting as a supplier for a separate business jet program proposed by sibling Avic General Aircraft. Avic Defense will build its own aircraft, he says. Avic General Aircraft has said its jet would be in the class of the Bombardier Challenger 850.

Wang also has clarified Avic Defense’s plans to develop an aircraft-support business. When the idea was raised earlier this year, it seemed that it might be restricted to military products, since the Chinese air force and navy would presumably be unwilling to allow foreign airline executives to enter sites that maintain Chinese combat aircraft.

But Avic Defense does plan to pursue airline customers, Wang says. He defines the proposed business as after-sales service and maintenance, including whole-life service.

Read the rest of this story, watch as the tanker delays begin anew, see why it’s smart to invest in defense and see Iraqi air defense in action from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian

Major M4 Mods in the Works

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


My good friend Matt Cox over at Army Times has done it again.

In what might be the best military weapons story of the year so far, Matt got his hands on a brief that shows the Army is seriously looking at major improvements to the current M4, including a heavier barrel, a new round counter and potentially moving to a gas-piston operating system.

The improvements, if implemented, would address most of the major criticisms of the current M4 configuration and would also answer the mail on a study of the 2008 Wanat battle that seemed to indicate that some weapons had a high incidence of stoppages when fired at high cyclic rates.

Army weapons officials say they want to give soldiers something better, sooner. While there is no set timeline, the hope is “to have this nailed by [early] January,” said Col. Doug Tamilio, the head of Project Manager Soldier Weapons.

“As we move down this carbine competition path, let’s continue to make substantial improvements to the M4,” Brig. Gen. Peter Fuller said Oct. 27. Fuller commands Program Executive Office Soldier, the command responsible for soldier weapons development.

The Army has made 62 changes to the M4 since it began fielding the weapon in the mid 1990s, weapons officials maintain. The changes have ranged from improved extractor springs to high-tech optics to a more reliable magazine.

But soldiers’ criticisms of the M4’s performance have continued.

The fixes were outlined in a briefing from PEO Gen. Pete Fuller to lawmakers who’ve been pushing the Army to modernize the M4 in substantial ways. Matt’s story jibes with what the Army has been saying all along that it would continue to improve the M4 even as it searches for a so-called “improved carbine” which might night land in Joes’ hands until 2013.

Be sure to read the entire story, but by the looks of it, the work that Matt’s done (and we’ve done here) might be moving the geologic entity that is the institutional Army on one of its most fundamental programs.

– Christian

McAfee’s Take on the Cyber War

Monday, November 23rd, 2009


The big cyber news event of the week is the just released report by McAfee. In this report the security industry giant asks if the age of cyber warfare has arrived. The thirty-seven page report has several very provocative statements about cyber warfare. Upfront, they present three key finding in the report and they are as follows:

Although there is no commonly accepted definition for cyber war today, we have seen nation-states involved in varying levels of cyber conflict.

If a major cyber conflict between nation-states were to erupt, it is very likely that the private sector would get caught in the crossfire.

Too much of the debate on policies related to cyber war is happening behind closed doors.

One topic in the report that gave rise to lively debate in a meeting I attended was, “The line between cyber crime and cyber war is blurred today in large part because some nation-states see criminal organizations as useful allies. Nation-states have already demonstrated that they are willing to tolerate, encourage or even direct criminal organizations and private citizens to attack enemy targets.”

This creates an interesting dilemma about who is in charge of cyber attacks when you really don’t know who is behind it! While this has been discussed many times behind closed doors, it has rarely been argued this openly in public. 

Towards the end of the report they stated that international cyber conflict has reached the tipping point where it is no longer just a theory, but a significant threat.  While these are not new, the attention this report is drawing has placed these issues before the security industry, military and government leaders. 

If the tipping point has been reached, how will the computer security industry respond to this international issue and what does this mean for the private sector?

Kevin Coleman

Army Launches Examination of Armor Testing

Friday, November 20th, 2009


If the service thought they’d buried the issue of armor testing, they forgot to ask their new Secretary.

ArmySec John McHugh announced today he had enlisted the services of the National Research Council to examine the service’s armor testing procedures and compliance protocols in light of a recent GAO report calling into question the Army’s adherence to QA standards.

Secretary of the Army John McHugh announced today that the National Research Council (NRC) will perform an independent assessment of the Army’s body armor testing, following last month’s recommendation by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for an independent review. The NRC functions under the auspices of the National Academies, a private, nonprofit institution that provides science, technology, and health policy advice to the federal government and the public on critical national issues.

Under an agreement between the National Academies and the director of operational test and evaluation (DOT&E), the Department of Defense’s final independent authority on survivability testing of body armor, the NRC will perform an independent assessment of ongoing body armor testing. The purpose of the NRC assessment is to ensure that the Army maintains the highest standards for testing processes and protocols, thus addressing concerns raised by the GAO about current testing procedures.

On the face of it, this is a good thing. As ballistics experts will tell you, there’s still some voodoo in the ballistic testing science and one more set of eyeballs on the problem wouldn’t hurt. Maybe at the end of this saga the Pentagon can adopt one standard testing protocol for all military body armor and the notional threats to it so there’ll be a bit more confidence in the results and less objectivity.

Walkoff question: Will they open the flexible armor testing standards and procedures can of worms?

– Christian

New Camo Pattern on the Block

Friday, November 20th, 2009


As if we didn’t already have enough to consider with Marpat, UCP, UCP-D, MultiCam and Desert Brush, in comes another pattern making inroads in the milgear blogosphere.

I’ve been trolling over at our friends Soldier Systems’ site over the past couple days, and the editor over there is obsessed with the development of this new pattern. Not one day after I scoped his post, our partners at Tactical-Life forwarded me an article (that looked more like a press release to me) unveiling the new, multi-environment pattern.

Companies participating in this unprecedented launch include Remington, Bushmaster, DPMS Panther Arms, Danner, EOTAC, Tactical Assault Gear, Blue Force Gear and Emerson Knives.

The the so-called A-TACS pattern departs from today’s “pixel” obsession and goes more along the blended lines, making it easy to slip between environments and still conceal movement. 

Many who have seen the pattern comment on how it is unlike any camouflage pattern they have encountered as its chameleon-like qualities cause it to blend into the surrounding environment. This unique “pattern within a pattern” concept allows it to break up the outline of the human body relying on a palette of inter-mingled natural colors over a neutral tan base for use in open, rocky, or arid environments.


And here’s the conglomerate’s explanation for their design:

Many of the modern digital camouflage patterns currently in use by the tactical community have flaws. The square pixels used to create the distortion effect do not replicate the shapes, forms and shadows of the environment they are deployed in-especially when viewed through optics. The ninety-degree angles and limited use of natural colors can in many cases, make detection easier.

Additionally, the “visual noise” in these same patterns tends to make them close-up into a solid color, producing a “blobbing” effect when viewed from a distance. A-TACS addresses and improves these critical issues in three ways.

1. — Replace un-natural square pixels with organic pixels. Utilizing our patented process, we created a palette of natural colors digitally sampled from real-world elements in carefully controlled lighting. The pattern is then created using a mathematical algorithm that writes “organically-shaped” pixels using the specific color information given. The resulting pattern while still digital, is far more organic in appearance.

2. — Use small patterns to create larger more distinct shapes designed to work at a distance. Small shapes create larger shapes and larger shapes are organized into a distinct pattern with no horizontal or vertical orientation. This unique “pattern within a pattern” concept allows A-TACS® to effectively break the human outline at great distances thereby, minimizing the “blobbing” effect of other patterns when viewed from a distance.

3. — More effective use of color-range produces a better concealment system. A-TACS® is created using a far greater range of inter-mingled natural colors than was previously possible. The overall base color for the cast is a neutral tan which is designed for use in open, rocky or arid environments.

Furthermore, the abstract and intricate nature of this pattern gives it a unique “fingerprint”which is not only adaptable to various service branches, but also makes it difficult to copy.

I dunno, another desert/urban pattern? Aren’t we debating the flaws of the UCP because of the forested environments of Afghanistan? Doesn’t this one look as if it would stick out on a green background?

On the other hand, it’s interesting to see someone make a play against the ever-popular MultiCam and to tinker with the science of concealment. Let’s not forget, the Army is in the midst of a comprehensive look at its camouflage effectiveness and A-TACS is surely poised to play a role in pushing the argument and science.

– Christian

BAE to Market Mantis UAV to North America

Friday, November 20th, 2009

This article first appeared in Aerospace Daily & Defense Report.

Manufacturer BAE Systems is formulating its marketing of the Mantis medium-altitude long-endurance UAV demonstrator air vehicle in the U.S., following the recent kickoff of test flights of the U.K. version.

Mark Brown, BAE Systems vice president of unmanned aerial systems, is positioning the Mantis as a next-generation UAV. “When we talk about Mantis specifically, you’re talking about a theater/strategic platform that has the ability to satisfy intelligence, reconnaissance and surveillance requirements and also be a weapons carrier,” Brown said.

Mantis is the largest autonomous vehicle ever built in the U.K., with a wingspan of 65.6 feet. Were BAE to build the Mantis for a U.S. market, a second, separate production line would be launched. Whether that line were based in the U.S. or in the U.K. is “an open question,” Brown said. The company is also open to partnering with another defense contractor, but “no decisions” have been made, he added. As to when the Mantis will make its North American debut, BAE’s U.K. liaison officer Matt Pearson would say only, “it’s certainly worth thinking about.”

Brown said Mantis is flexible. “We built this aircraft with manned standards in mind,” he said, noting the UAV was designed just like any other manned aircraft, from the twin engines to the logistics plan. “It gets us where we want to be — fully certified in any airspace,” Pearson said.

Read the rest of this story, see how much the expanded Afghan army’s going to cost and consider how close China is to stealth technology from our friends at Aviation Week, exclusively on Military​.com.

– Christian