Saturday, 26 April 2008

Friday, 25 April 2008

New Chinese SSBN Deploys to Hainan Island

FAS Strategic Security Blog
The wonders of satellite photo technology...

Jane's has also reported on this, a quick quote below.
This development so close to the Southeast Asian sea lanes so vital to the economies of Asia can only cause concern far beyond these straits.

Thursday, 24 April 2008

Not just another IED attack in Afghanistan

Ares Homepage
Behind the drama of the most recent Dutch casualty, this incident highlights the many dangers facing troops in Afghanistan. A common tactic to reduce the IED threat is to change your route from Point A to Point B, and avoid common roads. But in this case, it was still not sufficient.
"...his son's unit was driving cross-country, staying away from the road on purpose in order to evade IEDs."
It is possible that the deaths were caused by an old landmine.
"...indicated the IED (or mine) may have been there for a long time as there has been no evidence that it was placed recently."
The battle to combat IEDs is one that will need a combination of solutions. RIP to the fallen.

Wednesday, 23 April 2008

Can I borrow your chimney?

While going through the Defense Technology International (DTI) archives, opswarfare found an example of ingenuity in the article, "Blue Revolution" (nxtbook!). Apparently, a radar and a Forward Looking Infra-Red (FLIR) is mounted on top of "...a 250-meter electric company chimney".

Some of you may be thinking, "What if the chimney is attacked?". Well, the Israelis placed a 2nd system on a mobile platform nearby, for redundancy purposes.

Snippets of Kiowa Warrior missions in Iraq

Michael Yon's vivid depiction of life as a helicopter pilot in Iraq. For some reason, there is no permalink to the entire article. The beginning of the article is reproduced below.
Michael Yon

Mosul, Iraq
10 March 2008

Men crept in darkness to plant a bomb. They moved in an area where last year I was helping to collect fallen American soldiers from the battlefield.

Terrorists. The ones who murder children in front of their parents. The ones who take drugs and rape women and boys. The ones who blow up schools. The ones who have been forcibly evicted from places like Anbar Province, Baghdad and Baqubah by American and Iraqi forces. Terrorists are here now in Mosul. They call themselves al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). AQI cannot win without Baghdad, and cannot survive without Mosul. The Battle for Mosul is evolving into AQI’s last great stand.

And there were the men planting the bomb. It is unknown if the men with the explosives were al Qaeda, but they were planting a bomb and that was enough. Many terrorists murder only for money. Like hit men. They might have nothing against the victim. It’s just business. Although understanding enemy motivations is key to winning a war, out on the battlefield, such considerations can become secondary, as divining the motives of a would-be killer is less important than stopping him.

The bombers were being watched. Invisible to them, prowling far overhead, was a Predator.

The Predator is an unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) whose eye sees through the darkness. The night sky is the jungle where it hides. The Predator strikes with more suddenness and force than any tiger. I often watch the live feed streaming down into the Tactical Operations Centers (TOC) around Iraq, while crosshairs track the enemy, and the screen lists data such as altitude, azimuth, ground speed, and the precise grid coordinates of the target. The Predator carries a deadly Hellfire missile, but also has other weapons, like the crosshairs on its eye, which links down to soldiers watching the video and data feed. The soldiers have radios to other soldiers with massive arrays of weapons. With that combination, every weapon in the US arsenal can be brought into action. Unarmed spy planes, like the Shadow, often allow enemies to escape—the difference between success and failure is often measured in seconds. The Predator can launch an attack with its Hellfire, but the most devastating attacks are usually the result of closely-coordinated teamwork between soldiers on the ground and in the air, using information provided by the Predator above. Combat at this level is an elegant dance under a burning roof.

Total time from playing Guitar Hero to getting airborne and delivering justice was an astounding twelve minutes. Apparently at least five terrorists were killed, while at least one escaped, though he probably needs new eardrums and might ask for a raise before trying that again.

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Tuesday, 22 April 2008

On-condition maintenance

Maintenance is a big issue, even if most people don't wish to think about it. One easy way to show the importance of maintenance is to link it to availability. Once you discover that, although you have 10 fighter jets, but only 2 can fly, the point is very clearly made.

A major part of the effort to streamline support will be focused on on-condition maintenance. Despite the expenditure of some 1.5 billion euros between 2002 and 2007, the ministry has been unable to reach its operational availability targets, Morin says. Availability for helicopters, for example, has remained struck at around 30 percent. And maintenance structures, such as for ordnance, suffer from a lack of commonality and interchangeability, he says, citing the new Rafale front-line fighter as an example.

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Sunday, 20 April 2008

Is it really an issue of "being taken out of context?"

opswarfare is not really convinced by the response by Popular Mechanics (PM). Let's look at the paragraph in question.
This is how fragile the robotics industry is: Last year, three armed ground bots were deployed to Iraq. But the remote-operated SWORDS units were almost immediately pulled off the battlefield, before firing a single shot at the enemy. Here at the conference, the Army’s Program Executive Officer for Ground Forces, Kevin Fahey, was asked what happened to SWORDS. After all, no specific reason for the 11th-hour withdrawal ever came from the military or its contractors at Foster-Miller. Fahey’s answer was vague, but he confirmed that the robots never opened fire when they weren’t supposed to. His understanding is that “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move.” In other words, the SWORDS swung around in the wrong direction, and the plug got pulled fast. No humans were hurt, but as Fahey pointed out, “once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again.”
Read the response below, and see if you agree. opswarfare finds that the original paragraph sounds misleading (in light of the clarifications below).
Fahey’s comments about SWORDS, particularly his quoted statement that “the gun started moving when it was not intended to move” was not pulled from a sit-down interview with Popular Mechanics. PM’s requests for interviews to find out why SWORDS has never fired a shot at a hostile target, despite being in Iraq since last summer, have all been denied by Qinetiq and Foster-Miller. Fahey was answering a question following his keynote presentation at the RoboBusiness Conference, which other members of the press attended. When an audience member asked what happened to SWORDS, Fahey’s response was vague, and there was no indication of a timeline in his comments. So the unintended movement he mentioned could have occurred before or after the robot’s deployment in Iraq. Still, any answer regarding SWORDS is worth noting, which is why we were suddenly glad to be at an otherwise uneventful robotics conference in western Pennsylvania.

The other Fahey comment we quoted—“once you’ve done something that’s really bad, it can take 10 or 20 years to try it again”—appeared to be in the context of why he believes the military has treaded so lightly with armed ground robots. Let’s be clear: Fahey was not stating that a SWORDS unit made a blunder that it will take 10 or 20 years to recover from. If anything, Fahey was trying to express the exact opposite: The goal is to avoid an incident that could set military robotics back a decade or more.

Rather than rehashing the history of the SWORDS program and its apparent difficulties, we treated this story as a minor update to the ongoing saga of armed military ground bots. We said that SWORDS was “yanked,” and that the three robots were “pulled off the battlefield.” Without additional clarification, those sentences were picked up by bloggers looking for a more solid update, and the story took on a mutated life all its own.

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Friday, 18 April 2008

Helicopter sniper

Ever since news broke of a French sniper disabling a vehicle by shooting its engine as part of the Ponant yacht rescue operation, opswarfare has been intrigued by the viability (or lack of) of sniping from helicopters. This RAF story seems to indicate that, not only is it possible, this is being done regularly. Military Photos also has a thread, with great photos of various weapons and mountings used.
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So far the heli-snipers have been deployed to give force protection for Lynx immediate response teams, scrambled to evacuate casualties, fire support for deliberate operations, rapid route clearance for convoys, and to counter the threat from militia preparing crude explosive devices.

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This is a drill...

I wonder how the German vessel simulated "acting in a way that merrited boarding".

The Lebanese patrol boat, the Amchit, recently intercepted a Germany freighter, the Eschwege, off the country’s coast and directed the vessel into the Beirut harbor for closer inspection. There was concern on the part of the Lebanese about how the German vessel was acting, prompting the intercept.

blog post photo
(credit: German navy)

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Bring your own bridge

As an island state, bridging operations are likely to be a key portfolio for combat engineers in the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF). The M3 is one of the assets in SAF.
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The M3 can be driven into a river and used as a ferry or, when a number are joined together from bank to bank, as a bridge, capable of taking vehicles as heavy as the Challenger MBT. A 100m river can be crossed in 30 minutes, using 8 rigs.

Conscription woes in Germany

opswarfare wonders if the situation (% of people unfit for NS) in Singapore is any better...
The percentage of those considered unfit and therefore exempt from service has been steadily rising, from eight to 12 percent until 1999 to 16.9 percent in 2002, 32.6 percent in 2004 and 41.9 percent in 2007.
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Saturday, 12 April 2008

Dealing with piracy at sea

(6th April 2008) A luxury yacht from France has been hijacked off the coast of Somalia, a well-known hotspot full of pirates. It is a good opportunity to see how the French military deals with this mini-crisis.

A few quick comments on possible tactics that can be utilised. A "persistent-stare" capability will be very useful in this scenario. This is normally done via the use of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV). The next possible capability desired will be a method to insert a boarding team covertly. Most likely to be done at night, a submersible can deliver boarding teams to overpower the pirates. One issue could be the carrying capacity (or lack of) of the submersible to carry enough troops to outnumber the number of pirates on the yacht.

On the matter of the waters near Somalia being a pirate hotspot, opswarfare recently came across a UN mapping website which incidentally has a detailed map showing how bad the situation is.

The file (PDF) is available on this page.

France has some advantage over other Western countries in dealing with this issue, as it has permanent military assets based in Africa, e.g. troops, aircraft, vehicles etc. This will stand it in good stead in the scenario that they are now facing. In this case, the nearest French presence is in Djibouti, with the 13e demi brigade de légion étrangère (13e DBLE) (13th Half-Brigade) of the French Foreign Legion based there.

UPDATE (11th April 2008): It seems the crew has been released. No further details at the moment.

UPDATE (12th April 2008): The plot thickens. It seems that ransom was paid and the crew were then released. After that, the French forces pursued the pirates ashore. Some of the pirates have been taken into custody. Part of the ransom was also recovered. 2 reports seen so far (Washington Post, Independent).

If the reports are true, then kudos to the French for ensuring the safety of the crew, and also discouraging further attacks with its strong action of apprehending some of the pirates involved.

Friday, 11 April 2008

Faulty army gear may breach human rights, court rules
Possibly another landmark ruling in the UK courts (after yesterday's ruling on the Al Yamamah corruption investigation). opswarfare will revert with more info.

UPDATE: The Guardian article has been updated, with the important summary below
The case followed an inquest into the death in 2003 of Private Jason Smith, a 32-year-old Territorial army soldier sent to Basra, southern Iraq, in June 2003. Two months later, he died from heat stroke in temperatures reaching 60C.

At the inquest in November 2006, Oxfordshire's assistant deputy coroner, Andrew Walker, said Smith died because of "a serious failure to recognise and take appropriate steps to address the difficulty that he had in adjusting to the climate".

However, the coroner refused to consider whether the death breached Smith's rights under article two of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), covering the right to life.

Smith's mother, Catherine, challenged this in the high court, with the MoD listed as an "interested party" after Browne sought legal guidance on whether corners could talk of "serious failures".

While risk was inherent in a soldier's job, the judge ruled today, the MoD had to provide them with proper care.
Another recent case seems to contradict the above judgement. A quick blurb below.
The nine law lords who heard the case - an unusually high number reflecting the importance attached to it - said they sympathised with the families. But they unanimously ruled that the human rights convention did not apply to war.
opswarfare will be looking for more information on this issue.

Friday, 4 April 2008

Lessons for human rights and humanitarian law in the war on terror: comparing Hamdan and the Israeli Targeted Killings case

International Review of the Red Cross No 866, p. 373-393

A sort of counter to the blog post below. This article looks at 2 recent cases involving terrorism and human rights and humanitarian law.

A key portion to note (with relevance to the discussion on targeted killings) is on page 389, where the Israeli Supreme Court lays down conditions for targeted killings
  1. The state must possess well-based, thoroughly verified information regarding the identity and activity of the civilian who is allegedly taking part in the hostilities; the burden of proof on the state is heavy.
  2. A civilian taking a direct part in hostilities cannot be attacked at such time as he is doing so, if a less harmful means can be employed. Thus, if a terrorist taking a direct part in hostilities can be arrested, interrogated, and tried, those are the means which should be employed. In the words of the Court, ‘‘Trial is preferable to use of force. A rule-of-law state employs, to the extent possible, procedures of law and not procedures of force.’’
  3. If a civilian is indeed attacked, a thorough and independent investigation must be conducted regarding the precision of the identification of the target and the circumstances of the attack, and in appropriate cases compensation must be paid for harm done to innocent civilians.
  4. Finally, combatants and terrorists are not to be harmed if the damage expected to be caused to nearby innocent civilians is not proportionate to the military advantage directly anticipated from harming the combatants and terrorists.