Saturday, March 29, 2014

Camp Ravenna clears hurdle for possible missile defense site

Last fall, Camp Ravenna and four other sites were named as areas that would house an undetermined number of U.S. missiles designed to intercept incoming enemy missiles. Cost estimates for such a facility range from $1 billion to $5 billion.

Three other sites were selected for completion of the environmental study: Fort Custer, Mich.; Fort Drum, N.Y;. and the Portsmouth Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape Training Area, near Rangeley, Maine.

Akron Beacon Journal

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Strange Case of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370

By now, pretty much everyone who reads the Internet or watches the news has heard about this incident. But for those who may not or for future reference, here are what details we know about the flight prior to its disappearance.

Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 headed to Beijing from Kuala Lumpur, locally at 12:41 am Saturday (Friday afternoon ET), March 8, 2014, air traffic controllers in Subang, outside Kuala Lumpur, lost contact with the Boeing 777 plane over the Gulf of Thailand between Malaysia and Vietnam, 90 nautical miles northeast of Kota Bharu, Malaysia. Malaysia Airlines’ Boeing 777 asset was last tracked at 1722 Zulu (1:22 am local), when it disappeared from radar contact.  I've marked the approximate area on the map below.

The only other factor we know for sure is the aircraft attempted to "turnaround".  It is unclear if this means a full 180 degree turn back to its point of origin or if it was a more abrupt 90 degree turn indicating a loss of altitude (and the turn is an attempt to avoid other aircraft in the route).

The first point many articles fail to point out is that aircraft operating under IFR aren't truly tracked by radar as in the beam reflected off of the skin of the aircraft, but rather but the transponder signal received by the radar antenna.  It is the reason why the final location of the aircraft is alluding authorities.  Once the transponder was turned off or destroyed, FL 370 disappeared from air traffic control radars.  Any AWACS in the area would have been able to still track it as military radars look at both skin reflection as well as transponders.

The second point is the black box (which is actually a bright color such as red or orange so you can find it) emits a locating signal but that signal is very weak.  The signal is only good for several thousand yards and that assumes it isn't underwater.

The third point is why didn't Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 squawk either "7500" for hijacking or "7700" for emergency?  If the disappearance was due to some type of hijacking or terrorist incident, then the pilot and co-pilots may have been overwhelmed or killed before they could react.  If not then a terrorist or hijacking, then there is the possibility something in the environment effected the crew before they could enter the transponder code.  If oxygen levels slowly dropped, reaction times for the pilots may have prevented them from acting accordingly.  

The fourth is the lack of debris.  If Flight 370 exploded in mid-flight or crashed into the ocean, there should be signs of debris floating in the ocean.  Seat cushions, life vests and baggage should be visible on the surface.  Some speculate this is a sign that is was diverted and forced to land somewhere.  This seems unlikely as it is damn hard to find land strips long enough for a Boeing 777 much less keep witnesses from seeing it.  The only explanation that makes sense right now is that searchers aren't looking in the right place.

The Boeing 777 has operated for nearly 20 years with an impeccable record so it seems unlikely that the disappearance of Flight 370 is related to some type of mechanical failure.  It is also unlikely that a missile was used to bring down the aircraft.  Missiles leave smoke trails and radar signatures that would have been seen.  

The majority of passengers on this flight were Chinese with 154 citizens. Additionally, 38 Malaysians, 7 Indonesians, 6 Australians, 5 Indian, 4 French, 3 Americans, 2 New Zealanders, 2 Canadians, 1 Austrian, 1 Dutch, 1 Italian, and 1 Russian were reported to be aboard.  Based on this, a motivation for a terrorist to target this flight seems unlikely.  There are numerous reports of passengers using bogus passports.  While certainly suspicious, one has to wonder how many other flights have passengers using bogus identities?  Of these, how many result in an aircraft disappearing?

The turn would indicate the pilots suspected something but since they did not radio anything, it would support a scenario involving a hijacker.  But if hijacked, why blow up the aircraft over the ocean once you already have control of it? 

I suspect we may find out a new type of attack was used.  Some type of either cyber or advanced weaponry.  A cyber attack could have be launched against the Boeing's on-board systems rendering the pilots unable to control the aircraft or radio for help.  It is not outside the realm of possibility especially if one of the people carrying a fake passport were involved.  Flying over the ocean, the aircraft could have been hit with some type of advanced weapon from a ship or satellite that knocked out its navigation systems and radios.  If I'm right, governments and militaries would be extremely reluctant for this information to get out.  It would mean that any civilian airliner could be targeted (and potential even military aircraft).

What is most disconcerting to me is the timing.  This happened right after Russia's move into the Crimea.  It seems to me like someone (and not necessarily the Russians) wants to keep the world off balance.

UPDATE:  The Chinese government has released satellite images which may show debris from missing Malaysia Airlines Flight 370.  The photos, found on the website for the Chinese State Administration for Science, Technology and Industry for National Defense (SASTIND), show what appears to be a floating object in the South China Sea, according to CNN.--Raycom Media Network

Monday, March 10, 2014

Russia continues its Crimean campaign

All it took was one Malaysian airliner to disappear to shift American news media away from Crimea.  It certainly looks suspicious, however it can just as easily be some type of catastrophic design failure.  Regardless, more headlines are pouring out speculation on this rather than looking at all of the nasty options Mr. Putin has set into motion over he the weekend.

A little review is in order to properly set the magnitude of how much the United States does not understand Russia and Mr. Putin.

The “reset” with Russia had a brief, unhappy life. It began with then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton presenting her Russian counterpart with a mistranslated reset button reading “overcharged.” It ended with current Secretary of State John Kerry denying knowledge of the late, unlamented policy on “Meet the Press”: “Well, I don’t know what you mean by the reset.”-- Rich Lowry, New York Post 

Former Secretary of State (and 2016 Democratic Presidential hopeful) Hillary Clinton and President Obama crafted the notion of a "reset" for relations with Russia.  As we are now reminded, Russian may not be the former Soviet Union anymore but Mr. Putin's approach is not the much different from the Cold War days.

To protect Russian interests, he sent troops to Crimea when it looked like Ukraine would align with the EU.  The United States and Western Europe protested, with Mr. Obama coming out looking like a rank amateur going against a world-class heavyweight champ.

Mr. Obama looks weakest whenever he makes threats.  No one takes them seriously and to someone like Mr. Putin, it just stokes his ego.  Towards the end of last week, Mr. Obama threatened Russia with economic sanctions if he did anything.  Over the weekend, Mr Putin did the following;

1.Putin mocks the West and threatens to turn off gas supplies.  Rather than have direct talks with the new government in Kiev, Mr. Putin would take away Europe's cheap source of natural gas.  The Ukraine is one of the main transit routes for Russian gas and much of Europe depends heavily on the flow of natural gas.  Even though temps are warming up, a cut-off would adversely effect the European economy.--Telegraph

2.Russian troops storm military post in Crimea as U.S. sends warship to the Black Sea after talks between Obama and Putin break down  Russian troops stormed a Crimean command center in an act that seems to be in retaliation for the deployment of the US Destroyer Truxtun to the Black Sea.  While Washington is claiming this is just part of a routine exercise, Moscow claims this act escalates tensions.  There are now 30,000 Russian troops on the ground compared to a normal end-strength of around 11,000.--Daily Mail

3. Russia May Halt US Inspections Over Sanctions  Moscow sees the U.S. move as a reason to suspend U.S. inspections in Russia in line with the 2010 New START treaty on cutting U.S. and Russian nuclear arsenals.--Associated Press

4.  Ukraine leaders vow not to cede land; Russia tightens grip on Crimea  Leaders of Ukraine vowed Sunday not to cede any part of their nation’s territory, even as Russia defended its virtual takeover of the disputed Crimean peninsula and signaled its willingness to act on the result of an upcoming secession vote there. LA Times

Besides the deployment of the USS Truxtun, the US has quietly deployed more assets into the region.

1.  USAF To Increase Military Presence in Lithuania, Poland Six F-15C Eagle fighter jets were deployed to the Lithuanian Air Force base in Siauliai, in the country’s north, Thursday, Lithuania’s Defense Ministry said in a statement.  On a related note, 12 F-16 fighter jets and 300 US troops are to be deployed to Poland March 10-11, Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak said. The fighter jets will arrive at the military base in Lask, in central Poland.--Defense News

One has to wonder how the Russians how the Russians did it.  Military historians will tell you that the Soviet era military was large, ponderously large.  It would take forever to get somewhere but once it did it would utilize its huge mass to overwhelm the enemy (unless it happens to be some pesky Afghanis).

Under Mr.Putin, two things happened.  One was his unwavering passion to ascend Russia to its rightful place as the major world power.  Second was his vision that the old Soviet military model was not nimble and would not work in a 21st Century battlefield of rapid strikes.  Instead of the lumbering military that was ripe for committing fratricide during the invasion of Georgia in 2008, the forces in Crimea in 2014 are much more like US Rangers.  Contracted professionals, no draftees, and many of the troops are from the FSB (modern day KGB).  It is a lean force designed for rapid deployment but lacks the depth and heavy armor for prolonged war with a major power.  The Ukraine does not pose that type of challenge.  (see Putin has transformed Russian army into a lean, mean fighting machine).

Many are speculating that Russia's economy cannot sustain these expeditionary forces.  I suspect these estimates are optimistic.  Russian people are used to a much more austere lifestyle than the West.  Mr. Putin has sustained relationships with Syria, Iran and China that will be more than willing to pay for Russian expertise in nuclear technology.  Even the threat of European sanctions rings hollow.  The EU is having a hard enough time keeping its members in line.  The threat of gas prices shooting up will hurt them more in the short-run than Russian.

Mr. Putin has figured he can ignore Washington for another two years at least.  In the meantime, if he regains control of Crimea he also insures Russia's dominance in the Black Sea.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Crimea, Russia and the US since we last checked-in

World War III has not started and Russia seems content with holding their troops in position.  While all seems quite on the Crimean front, back home thinks have started to become quarrelsome to say the least.

Item:  House Intelligence Chair Mike Rogers (R-MI) summed the Ukraine crisis by saying “Putin is playing chess, and I think we’re playing marbles.” --Fox News

Item: Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon (R-CA), Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee made the following statement upon receipt of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) for 2014, "Unfortunately, the product the process produced this time has more to do with politics than policy and is of little value to decision makers. For that reason, I will require the Department to re-write and re-submit a compliant report. In defiance of the law, this QDR provides no insight into what a moderate-to-low risk strategy would be, is clearly budget driven, and is shortsighted. It allows the President to duck the consequences of the deep defense cuts he has advocated and leaves us all wondering what the true future costs of those cuts will be."--Armed Services Committee

Item:  On Thursday President Obama orders sanctions in response to Russia's actions.  European allies are uncertain how far they are willing to support Mr. Obama (something to do with wanting to keep the flow of Russian oil, maybe?).  Immediately Mr. Obama follows this stern action with a phone call to Mr. Putin saying there was still a way to resolve this diplomatically (even though all other options are off the table anyway).  Further, the President thinks this stance is strong enough that he is still demands that Russia recognize the legitimacy of Ukraine (not bloody likely!).--Daily Mail

Item:  In the "I'm desperate enough to try anything" category, a Pentagon research team is studying the body language of Vladmir Putin.  "U.S. policymakers are seeking any advantage they can find as they try to anticipate Putin, who in the past week has ordered Russian troops into neighboring Ukraine and laid claim to the Crimea Peninsula. "--USA Today  I must be missing something here.  Putin has told everyone his goals (protect Russian interests) and has moved his troops into position to insure that goal is achieved.  This is not a poker game, we know what he wants and how he intends to do it.  I wonder if Mr. Putin has a research team studying our President's body language?

Meanwhile, things abroad have become more interesting.

Item:  Ukrainian President Yanukovych is in a Moscow hospital after a heat attack, listed in grave condition (no worries of testimony from that person!).--Daily Mail

Item:  The USS Truxtun, a US Navy guided-missile destroyer, passed through the Çanakkale Strait en route to the Black Sea on Friday for what the US Navy described as a "routine" deployment that was scheduled well before the crisis in Ukraine (no coincidence here or why not cancel the maneuvers?).--Today's Zaman

Item:  Leaders of both houses of Russia’s Parliament said on Friday that they would support a vote by Crimea to break away from Ukraine and become a new region of the Russian Federation, the first public signal that the Kremlin was backing the secessionist move that Ukraine, the United States and other countries have denounced as a violation of international law.--NY Times

Putin is in charge of this game.  Mr. Obama's only hope is if he has the guts to get Russia kicked off the G8.  Short of that, and given his stance against any military action, the sanctions aren't going to have any short term effect on Russia.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Surprise! Russia and China agree on Ukraine

This just in on Sky News:

Russia has said China is largely "in agreement" over Ukraine, after other world powers condemned Moscow for sending troops into the country.

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov discussed Ukraine by telephone with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Monday, and claimed they had "broadly coinciding points of view" on the situation there, according to a ministry statement. 

Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Qin Gang said: "China has always upheld the principles of diplomacy and the fundamental norms of international relations. "At the same time we also take into consideration the history and the current complexities of the Ukrainian issue."
--Sky News

China has seen the US "pivot" towards Asia while relations between Beijing and Tokyo heighten.  Siding with Russia checks any really diplomatic moves by the US and keeps the Obama Administration on the sidelines.


There is a reason why Putin may have already won and not have to start shooting up the Ukraine.  Russia has always been after one thing; access to the Black Sea.  The following timeline helps you see the back and forth one the last 160 years.

Crimean Timeline

1853-1856 Crimean War:  Russia on one side versus the British, French and Ottomans on the other.  Everyone wanted to control the Black Sea.  

1921-Soviet Union (following the Russian revolution) takes over.

1941-WWII and Nazi Germany takes over

1944-Soviets take control again.  As punishment for allegedly conspiring with the Nazis, Joseph Stalin exiles Turkish Tartars to Central Asia.  Over 46% percent of those exiled died along the way from disease and hunger.

1954-By decree from Khrushchev, Crimea is placed under Ukraine control.  The exiled Tartars are allowed to return but find their homes and lands gone.

1991-Fall of the Soviet Union sees an the creation of an independent Ukraine.

1994-Budapest Memorandum, Ukraine agreed to give up its share of the Soviet nuclear arsenal, in return for solemn pledges regarding its security.

2014-Crimea seized by Russian troops.  Russia 1, West 0

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Why our President is not a leader

Yesterday much of the social media I read was abuzz with a story that Mr. Obama did not attend a briefing by his National Security Council on the Ukraine situation.  Susan Rice was ever quick to defend this lapse in leadership and claim the President had already been briefed.

We truly don't know why the President skipped a briefing but what Mr. Obama does not seem to grasp is his image as a leader has been further damaged.  The New York Times has even realized this by titling a piece, "Making Russia Pay?  It's Not So Simple".

The first challenge of being a leader, you have to act on what you threaten.

"Finding powerful levers to influence Mr. Putin’s decision-making will be a challenge for Mr. Obama and the European allies. Mr. Obama has seen repeatedly that warnings often do not discourage autocratic rulers from taking violent action, as when Syria crossed the president’s “red line” by using chemical weapons in its civil war."--NY Times

Like in the schoolyard, when you draw a line in the sand you need to be ready to deal with your opponent when he steps over the line.  Mr. Obama has not shown that he has the heart to deal with those that cross him.

The second challenge of being a leader, know how to make things happen.

"Russia is an even tougher country to pressure, too formidable even in the post-Soviet age to rattle with stern lectures or shows of military force, and too rich in resources to squeeze economically in the short term. With a veto on the United Nations Security Council, it need not worry about the world body. And as the primary source of natural gas to much of Europe, it holds a trump card over many American allies."--NY Times

If you are going to threaten an action, make sure your opponent is going to respond.  Russia holds too many trump cards for economic extortion to work.  Europe is struggling to keep the EU together and taking on Mother Russia right now is not in their best interest.  While former Secretary of State Clinton and the President pissed off Iran, Mr. Putin eased up to Tehran to insure the flow of oil and cash.  The UN doesn't mean nearly as much to Mr. Putin as it does to Mr. Obama so that's not much of an option either.

Finally, being a leader is a lonely job.  You can only defer deciding for so long, else you start to get statements like this;

“There’s nothing we can do to save Ukraine at this point,” he said. “All we can do is save the alliance.” --James F. Jeffrey, quoted in the NY Times

Nothing we can do?  So we just give up on the very people we encouraged to break away from Moscow?  Can anyone reading this imagine in contrast Mr. Putin accepting this kind of scenario?

From Alexander the Great to Martin Luther King, all great leaders shared on thing in common.  They were unwilling to accept anything other than their vision as the only acceptable outcome.  They were all willing to sacrifice everything for what the believed was their destiny.  The problem for Mr. Obama is he just doesn't have to guts for the job.  Whether it be Syria or the Ukraine, Mr. Obama does know what to do once his advisors throw up their hands and give-up.  That, Mr. Obama, is when a leader leads…...

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Battle Stations

The Ukraine has put its military on full combat alert and warned Russia that if it invades, it means war.

President Obama called the Kremlin on the hot-line to condemn their actions and to tell President Putin to backdown.  (Daily Mail)

I'm not sure what the US hopes to do.  Russian forces have already taken over two airports and have massed 150,000 soldiers on the border.  Even if the White House had the desire to intervene, we don't have enough forces in the region to effectively counter the Russians.  Military actions by US forces would lead to casualties both on the Ukraine and Russian sides, hardly something the US has had trouble dealing with in both Iraq and Afghanistan.

Russia sees it as their right of protection so I doubt this will be solved by any diplomatic measures from the US (which Russia sees as encouraging the separatist factions in the Ukraine).  Putin has a vision of putting Russia back on the map as a world power and the Ukraine is his vehicle to do it.  Obama wants to pull the US out of being the world's policeman and Putin knows it.

The unknown in this is should the US try to intervene militarily, would China then attack Japan or North Korea head south?

Russian Senate Approves Military Force in Ukraine

And now what, Mr. Obama?

As Russian-backed armed forces effectively seized control of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula on Saturday, President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia requested —and received — authorization from the Russian Senate to use military force in Ukraine.  

Within hours after receiving Mr. Putin’s request, Russia’s upper house of parliament, the Federation Council, voted to approve it, after a debate that warned of the apocalyptic consequences of failing to stop a fascist threat from spreading to Russia’s borders. The lawmakers direct considerable fury at President Obama and others in the West they accused of fomenting the upheaval in Ukraine. 

The vote was unanimous among the 90 members present for the debate, and it was clear that forces allied with Moscow were largely in control of the disputed peninsula.--NY Times

Russia sees the turmoil in Ukraine as a threat and perhaps a way of acting in opposition to the US.  For it's part, the US is unable and unwilling to intervene.  Regardless of how Washington and the media tries to explain non-involvement by the US, Russia and the rest of the world will see it as a sign of waning influence by the US on world events.