Tuesday, October 27, 2015

What we can really learn from Russian air strikes

Participation by Russia in fighting ISIS was demanded by Obama and Kerry as some type of foreign policy power play but the results have not been what Washington hoped for.  Russia not only participated but brought overwhelming force causing Washington to look even weaker.  But there is even more to learn.

Russia was able to strike targets deep in Syria and Iraq without the benefit of several strategic bases or 13 years of pre-positioning.  The Russian military is no longer a slow moving behemoth from the old Soviet days and in fact has show as great, if not superior, ability to use US developed tactics such as cruise missile strikes launched from ships with greater accuracy and range than American strikes.

The sheer volume of firepower brought by Russia in such a short time has secretly caused much panic amongst US military planners.  US forces have grown accustomed to having the advantage when it comes to long-range deployment of forces, benefitted by the numerous bases built as part of the global war on terror.

In contrast, Russia has not built up bases yet was able to bring an astonishing amount of firepower to the war with ISIS.  True, Russia is closer than the continental US but even so the range of Russian aircraft and missiles has greatly increased.

The Russian navy has undergone the most dramatic change.  Instead of relying on Cold War style carrier task forces, which the US still clings to, Russia has developed state of the art cruisers with long range missiles.  The range and accuracy of these missiles have surprised US military experts and has caused Navy planners to re-assess their opinions of Russian naval might.

The kinetic strikes of Russian Navy and Air Forces have been impressive but it begs the question of what else has Russia improved?  Cyber and energy directed weapons are much harder to assess against an enemy such as ISIS but given the overall improvement of Russian military, it is logical to assume improvements have been made in this realm as well.

Russia has obviously repurposed their military to fight in the 21st Century while US forces seem to be stuck preparing to fight the next Desert Storm.  For example, the prohibitive costs associated with the F-35 means there won't be enough tails to support any major air campaigns.  The British has just discovered the staggering costs of replacing their Trident class submarines with many now calling for Britain to abandon the program all together.  Nuclear deterrence just doesn't mean what it used to.

Given all of this, the current gamesmanship the US is playing with China seems unnecessarily foolhardy.  China has not, as of yet, denied any sea lanes around the contested islands yet the US has sent a destroyer to "test" the Chinese resolve to enforce their claim to the islands.  China, like Russia, has been building up their military as well but unlike Russia, we have not seen Chinese military technology deployed.  It seems ridiculous to send a destroyer to test the resolve of China when we aren't certain what we may encounter.

Obama seems to be setting a course for the next President to have a conflict with either Russia or China (with an able assist from ISIS).

Monday, October 26, 2015

Subs snooping around data cables

Electro-magnetic pulse (EMP) is one of the ways preppers and doomsday conspiracists imagine the end-of-the-world happening.  In most of these scenarios, either a major solar flare or high altitude nuclear device detonation renders the blacks out all of the digital technology of the US.  To many, this seems far-fetched and dismiss the notion outright without considering other possibilities.

One of course is to use a much smaller EMP device to wipeout say Wall St.  Another way is via a cyber attack shutting down servers and digital switches, in effect a virtual EMP.  Yet sometimes in the age of blockbuster movies filled with tremendous explosions, we tend to predict apocalyptic scenarios when sometimes a good old-fashioned hammer works just as well.

According to the New York Times, the Russians may have been practicing their hammer swings.  Russian subs seem to be paying a lot of attention to US data cables that stretch across the oceans.  A well-aimed torpedo attack, or several well placed explosive charges, could do what the doomsday predictors have been imagining…a blinded and crippled US.

Russian subs have always been hard to detect and track.  Attack subs could either fire torpedoes at the cables or divers could place charges on the cables (if that hasn't already happened).  In either case, there would be no warning before the cables were cut.  Even in the age of cellular phones, much of the data still travels through fiber optic cables.  Taking out major networks with a physical attack is something that can't be easily countered.

Fiber optic cables also crisscross most of the US, traversing some very remote real estate.  A few well timed attacks on these cables could also render the US blind.

The take-away from all of this is we need to stop thinking that the next attack will resemble anything we have seen before.  It may be terrorists, Russians, Chinese or someone we've never heard of before.  But out dependence on digital communications, and its relative softness compared to other high-value targets, makes this a very likely scenario.  It also means that cyber attacks and hackers aren't the only threat, physical (or what military planners like to call kinetic) attacks require much less technical skill but are equally effective.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Inevitability Thesis

Daniel Chandler's "inevitability thesis" states that once a technology is introduced into a culture, what follows is the inevitable development of that technology.  In Europe and the United States, technology has been major factor in our cultures since the industrial revolution.  Technology has been at the forefront of increasing production while decreasing costs associated with production.  Sounds simply enough when you write it out but people still want to pretend that Chandler's thesis does not apply to them.  Two cases recently illustrate the fallacy of their beliefs.

First is the demands of workers at McDonald's to be paid a "living wage" of $15 per hour versus the current $8.10 per hour.  I'm not going to argue the merits or weaknesses of their proposition, only refer back to Chandler's thesis and the role of technology in our culture.  Technology may initially be developed with making things safer for workers (such as robots used for painting cars) but inevitability thesis takes over adding more technology and more technology which conversely requires fewer workers.  

Automats were an early example of using technology to reduce costs for restaurants.  Automats were early 20th Century innovations for New Yorkers to busy to wait for their food.  They simply went to the little window with the sandwich or salad they wanted, dropped a few coins in and they were able to immediately have their food.  While not truly automated they way we think of automated today (there were still people behind the windows preparing and stocking the windows), it was the precursor to the modern day fast food restaurant.

Automation in the form of robots have been a part of our culture since the early 20th Century.  Robots of today are able to mimic not only human movement but even human intellect and emotions.  Don't be surprised to see your McDonald's become more automated.  The once might McDonald's Corporation has posted a record 7 straight quarters of loss.  Technology versus wage increases is the most likely path McDonald's is going to choose to correct their negative growth.

Second, while reading about the trials and tribulations of McDonald's and it workers The Daily Beast posted an article entitled "G.I. Jane Grim-Gamer Drone Jockey:  'She Kills People From 7,850 Miles Away'".  It is a day in the life of piece on a drone "sensor" (the one who guides the missile as opposed to the pilot) ironically nick-named "Sparkle".  The article points out both through studies as well as "Sparkle" that increasing costs associated with the USAF drone-focused mission.  The virtual isolation of drone operators from the war and other warriors exposes them to much higher levels of stress and PTSD than first appearances would suggest.

The Air Force has managed to create create a McDonald's type of situation with drones.  You order a strike when you want, the way you want.  No more waiting for units to move into position while pilots spend hours ramping up their skills over the local terrain.  Drone operations don't require huge bases with thousands of support personnel.  Hell the drone operators even get to go home every night.  Or so it seems.

Much like the experience of corrections officers that get to go home every nigh from the prisons, they know the following day they are going right back into the belly of the beast so to do drone operators.  Worse, drone operators get to go home to the families and friends within hours of watching a target being blown apart by a missile they've just launched.  As the article points out, this has necessitated the Air Force to bring on a whole host of counselors to try to help drone operators operate the stress and emotion of conducting a long distance war.

Like McDonald's, the Air Force is also experiencing a type of negative growth.  There is still the demand for more drone missions but the Air Force is finding it hard to field enough operators to meet the demand.  The 18XX career field is a dead-end career by virtue of its own success.  Drones pilots and sensors are in high demand meaning they often can't change assignments as often as other career fields.  On active duty, PCS (permanent change of station) is the only way to get promoted.  The skills needed for the 18XX career field take too long to develop in comparison to the normal assignment cycle. The high demand, low density of the career fields means the drone operators remain at their assignment longer and miss out on new assignments and professional military education (PME) which are pre-requisites for promotion.

Compounded the poor opportunity with promotion with the high-stress of a job many still consider equivalent to a video game and you get the shortfall of personnel that the Air Force is currently facing.  The solution is going to follow a similar route to McDonald's, introduce even more automation.  Since much of the time for drone operations is spent merely observing the target, drones will be quickly introduced that will be able to handle this part of the mission autonomously, requiring a human element only when it comes time for fire.  Sounds great and saves a lot of money except that means the Air Force will need ever fewer people in the future.  The Air Force in is race to introduce more technology is also racing towards irrelevance.  Why do you need a separate branch just to operate autonomous flying machines?

If you read the article, "Sparkle" sounds like she has developed that "thousand yard stare" associated with other combat veterans.  She feels she can't relate to most men, and even other women, because "they don't know how hard the world is beyond our borders."  "Sparkle" is exactly the kind of operator the military wants and develops and her success is the very reason the 18XX career field are destined for obsolesce.  Robots can perform as many missions as "Sparkle" and her colleagues without burn-out.  Robots are 100 percent combat ready off of the production line and don't months or years of time to develop their skills.  Robots also don't require mental health professionals.

The "inevitability thesis" means we've already seen the final days of manned-combat.  Our culture is increasingly comfortable interacting with automated machines.  Robotic engineers are making robots more life-like so that it is easier for humans to interact with them.  While in the near-term this means fewer Americans will have to serve in combat, it means in the long-term we will have even less visibility of the consequences of future wars.  Atrocities will be committed with no one to witness or talk about it.  And I'm not sure there is a damn thing we can do about it.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

50 tons of ammunition

Just days after Mr. Obama announces that troops would be staying in Afghanistan, contrary to his campaign promise to bring all of the troops home, now CNN is reporting the US has sent 50 tons of ammunition to Syrian rebels.  Point of order Mr. Obama, what's the difference between ISIS and other Syrian rebels?  Lately the ability of your staff to be able to know the difference between rebels and terrorists is extremely situation-dependent (See Boko Haram).

Also the vast quantity seems suspect given the success of Russian air strikes against ISIS supply depots in just 24 hours compared to the 365 days of US led airstrikes.  While we are on the subject of airstrikes, isn't it just a bit hypocritical to have led ELEVEN other nations into conducting airstrikes yet protest and feign shock when Russia finally joins in…especially after your own Secretary of State demand their participation?

So who exactly needs all of that ammunition?

Perhaps it is just my cynicism getting the best of me but I would not be surprised to see this all end up with the US and Russia in a regional conflict in Syria as opposed to Ukraine.  Failing to entice Mr. Putin, there is also the US Navy led reindeer games going on with China (oh and at the cost of the US not having a carrier group in the Persian Gulf).

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A History Lesson

Mr. Obama is the last few months has famously, or infamously, has remarked how the military just isn't an option for solving problems in the Middle East.  He holds fast to the belief that the policies he and Hillary, and now he and Kerry, have formulated are successful.  Yet by any account, it was the Obama-Clinton policy of ousting Syrian President Assad that led to the creation of ISIS.  It was the Obama-Kerry policy that demanded that Russia do something to oppose ISIS.  The crisis was created by the very diplomatic solutions that Mr. Obama has clung to with a religious fervor that he is in full-blown denial as to its failure.

We won't hear much about this given last night's Democratic debates and the media's fawning over Hillary.  If we can't expect to hear much about the foreign policy disaster that created ISIS, we certainly aren't going to hear about why ISIS has been able to conquer and occupy territory.  Whether by intent or accident, the coverage of ISIS leaves key points of the analysis.  For example, why has ISIS (initially a rag-tag group that opposed the Syrian government) been so hard to defeat?

To understand the answer to that question, one needs to only re-read my first paragraph and add a little more to it.  ISIS was formed from a US-backed opposition group in Syria.  Whenever you see the words "US-backed opposition" you should start getting feelings of deja vu.  US-backed opposition groups throughout the last 60 years include;

Iran in 1953 (which placed the Shah of Iran in power)

Guatemala 1954 (back an opposition that was sympathetic to the United Fruit Company resulting in the deaths of over 100,000 Guatemalans)

North Vietnam 1954-58 (attempts to overthrow the Communist government, and well we all know how that turned out)

Laos 1957-73 (US backed groups to overthrow democratically elected Laotian governments)

Haiti 1959 (US backed Papa Doc Duvalier resulting in over 100,000 deaths during his reign)

Brazil 1964 (US backed overthrow Goulart results in throwing the country into 20 years of chaos)

Indonesia 1965 (US backed thug Suharto kills 500,000 to 1 million of his own people)

Greece 1967 (US backed overthrow of the government.  It could be argued that Greece's problems in 2015 began with at this time)

Cambodia 1970 (US backed puppet Lon Nol policies clear the path for Khmer Rouge to seize power 5 years later resulting in over the deaths of 2 million people)

Angola 1975 (US supports war in Angola at the behest of Kissinger.  The US supports UNITAS which in-turn the opposition to the Soviet Union and Cuba.  At least 300,00 Angolans are killed)

Afghanistan 1979 (US supports the Mujhadeen via their ally Osama bin Laden.  We all know how this turns outs)

Nicaragua 1979 (US supported opposition fails and the Sandinistas take over and all breaks loose for the next 10 years)

El Salvador 1980 (US backs military government which leads in-turn to death squads roaming the country killing over 60,000.  The refugees who fled this atrocity are brought to the US and housed in East LA.  The Salvadorian refugees and harassed and attacked by Mexican gangs.  The resulting opposition takes on the moniker "Mara Salvatrucha" or MS-13)

Iran-Contra 1981 (Remember the Sandinistas?  Yeah well the US decided to fund the opposition Contras by selling arms to Iran.  The fall-guy for this was a Marine Corps lieutenant colonel named Oliver North)

Panama 1989 (US invades Panama to oust Manuel Noriega.  Interesting note, he had been receiving funding from the US since 1966).

This list is by no means comprehensive.  The similarities between what is happening now in Syria and Iraq to what happened in Angola 40 years ago is eerily similar.  Now if you have not guessed, the "US" in all of these cases was the CIA.  The CIA is a stand-alone agency and does not fall under any one department, however due to the nature of their work overseas they tend to work closely with the State Department.  Whenever arms are sold by the CIA to a "US-backed opposition group", it has to be signed off by either the President or the Secretary of State.  Yes so the feigned surprise of Obama, Hillary and Kerry to the well-armed nature of ISIS is total bullshit.  ISIS has tanks  for God's sakes that we sent to the opposition to overthrow Assad.

And yet the press continues to support the Hillary bandwagon.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

A long rant

This is going to be a long rambling post but I will still tie things together.

Let's begin first with an article I read the other day concluding that the US military is still might enough to defeat Russia, at least in a conventional war.  Many electrons were needless slain by the writer in pointing that the US has more, and in most cases, better stuff than the Russians.  Ipso facto, the US wins!  Unfortunately, the writer fell victim to the same flawed reasoning as many other military analysts do, namely superior numbers means victory.  To be sure, whenever one engages in battle you want to have superior force which often means superior numbers.  However, numerical or technological superiority alone does not mean an automatic "W" for the home team.

Look at the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan in the late 1980s.  A vastly superior military in numbers and technology, on paper it looked like a victory for the Soviets.  However, the Afghanis knew how to utilize their terrain to greatly negate any advantages the Soviets had.  Or look at the US in Vietnam.  Another case of vastly superior numbers and technology losing to a more determined enemy entrenched on the homeland were also able to negate the US.

The first flaw with any analysis of US versus Russia is to first determine where such a war would occur.  Most likely the war would not be on the US or Russian homeland.  The likely scenario would be somewhere like Ukraine or Eastern Europe.  US public support may not allow Washington to send more than airstrikes negating any advantages other branches of the US military might bring to the table. More likely Russia would have more of a home-field advantage in such a war as opposed to the US.

But this is only the first problem.  The second and even larger flaw in most analysis is to assume that the war would resemble some type of "force-on-force" conflict.  The first Gulf War was more of an anomaly that large standing militaries will square off to clobber one another.  The current wars have been more regional conflicts waged more like guerrilla warfare than conventional war, albeit on nearly a global scale.

What analysts seem to have failed to grasp from the last 13 years of war is that nothing in the past resembles how the war will be fought in the future.  Some analysts early on adopted the term "asymmetrical warfare" to try to convey this concept.  But time has made the ridiculousness of this term though obvious.  Is there really such a thing as "symmetrical warfare"?  No one attacks unless they think they can win and they only attack when they perceive they have the advantage thus any conflict can be referred to as "asymmetrical".

If the US finds itself going against Russia in a regional or global conflict, it will not resemble anything the analysts have predicted.  Russia will not attack US forces in a linear, predictive way.  Instead, Russia will use every means to shut-down use military technology.  For example, Russia will use a variety of energy weapons (both short and long range), to shut-down or blind US targeting systems and communication nodes.  Russia knows if US forces are blind, they won't go in.

Drones are becoming the go-to system of the US military but drones are highly susceptible to both physical as well as electro-magnetic attacks.  The increasing dependence on unmanned systems by the US means Russia and others have surely focused on taking drones out of the picture.

A global scale attack won't begin with Bear bombers flying over the north pole or even Russian cruise missiles being launched from subs.  If the US and Russia square off on a global scale, expect the first shot to be cyber.  Shutting down US power grids and infrastructure via cyberspace would be crippling on a far greater scale than even a nuclear attack.  Citizens will panic enmasse.  The US economy would shut-down.  Even if the US military could still launch attacks, it won't mean anything because the American public will be too busy trying to survive.

Think about how losing your smart phone or internet connection causes disruptions to your day.  Now multiple that by losing communications and/or power across the entire country.  Yet the wimp who is the current commander-in-chief calls out Putin "weak" for Russia's airstrikes against ISIS.

Now the US Navy is being sent in to challenge China's claims to some artificial islands.  We already know that China regularly launches cyber attacks against the US.  What is the point of upping the game now?

So it come as no surprise that this same mentality of expecting things to be the way they've always been has crept into how law enforcement and the public have viewed school shootings.  In fact, the very term shows how limited our thinking is about the problem.  School shootings are in fact attacks on soft targets.  The majority of those attacks HAVE involved firearms, however before you pull out your NRA card or gun-control cards allow me to call your attention to another phenomena that has caught the national attention yet.

About two weeks ago, one of the local elementary schools here in my small town (not Cincinnati) received a bomb threat.  The school was dismissed and no bomb was found.  At the same time, several bombs threats were made at Dayton elementary schools.  Then on Thursday, a bomb threat was made to a different elementary school here in town again.

So far, indications are that these threats are being phoned in by teenagers but unlike incidents in the past, these seem to be coordinated virtual attacks by a group of teenagers.  There is no way to know in advance if the "bomb" is real or not so critical response plans have to be activated.  The results are same regardless as young children are scared and parents may not want to send their kids back to school.

Cyber attacks, unlike firearms or explosives, give no "tell" until the attacker launches the attack.  Depending on the sophistication of the attacker, it may be difficult if not impossible to trace the attack.  Regardless, the victims are still just as terrified as if the attack were real.  While the country further divides itself along the pro or anti-gun control, the real threat is mastering the art of cyber attacks.  It won't be long, if it hasn't already happened, before these cyber-terrorists figure out how to shut down power grids, disable traffic control systems, or use meaconing (interception and rebroadcast of navigation signals) to create even more havoc.  Even our cars are now susceptible with the addition of WiFi systems, it is even easier to hijack a car's system and shut it down.

So the next time you read some experts threat analysis, ask yourself a question.  Are they merely regurgitating past practices as scintillating analysis or have they really come up with how a threat will act in the future?  Remember, it's all about selling copy.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Russian strikes again expose US disarray

This morning on Yahoo News, we find out that you'd have to work pretty hard to find a more ineffective Secretary of State than John Kerry.  It was that long ago that Kerry demanded that Russia and Iran help fight ISIS.  As the old saying goes, be careful what you wish for.  Russia jumped right in with air strikes and SHOCK!, they airstrikes seem to be more about helping President al-Asad remain in power versus helping US foreign policy.

Kerry should know better, he served in the US Navy during the Cold War.  The Russians, and formerly Soviets, are not about nuance.  If you needed a 1,000lbs of high explosives to take out a target, the Russians will use more like 10,000lbs.  The US has grown too accustomed to the precision strikes made famous during the first Gulf War.  Those look pretty for the public but in reality they tend to drag conflicts out.  The Russian approach is to go in fast and heavy.  For Kerry and Obama to think asking Putin to come in and help out with ISIS wasn't going to use this type of doctrine, means they should both give back their Ivy League diplomas in shame.

Mr. Obama looks even more ineffective with his Middle East doctrine foolishly praising an equally ineffective UN for its assistance in developing diplomatic solutions.  Iran got what it wanted and now has little incentive to join in the "fight" against ISIS.

The worst part of all of this is the Syrian people who get to live through all of the violence.  Thanks to Kerry and Obama, the US foreign policy in the Middle East has been exposed for the fraud that it is and Putin has swept in to fill the vacuum.