Monthly Archives: April 2015

War under the Cover of Training and Advising: Afghanistan

Soldiers from the Michigan Army National Guard and the Latvian army patrol through a village in Konar province . Image from wikipedia

Months after President Obama formally declared that the United States’ long war against the Taliban was over in Afghanistan, the American military is regularly conducting airstrikes against low-level insurgent forces and sending Special Operations troops directly into harm’s way under the guise of “training and advising.”…[I]nterviews with American and Western officials in Kabul and Washington offer a picture of a more aggressive range of military operations against the Taliban in recent months, as the insurgents have continued to make gains against struggling government forces.

Rather than ending the American war in Afghanistan, the military is using its wide latitude to instead transform it into a continuing campaign of airstrikes — mostly drone missions — and Special Operations raids that have in practice stretched or broken the parameters publicly described by the White House.

Western and military officials said that American and NATO forces conducted 52 airstrikes in March 2015 months after the official end of the combat mission. Many of these air assaults, which totaled 128 in the first three months of 2015, targeted low- to midlevel Taliban commanders in the most remote reaches of Afghanistan.,,,“They are putting guys on the ground in places to justify the airstrikes,” one of the officials said. “It’s not force protection when they are going on the offensive.”…Gen. John F. Campbell, vehemently denied accusations that he was putting troops into harm’s way just to enable more airstrikes.….“Washington is going to have to say what they say politically for many different audiences, and I have no issue with that,” General Campbell said. “I understand my authorities and what I have to do with Afghanistan’s forces and my forces. And if that doesn’t sell good for a media piece then, again, I can’t worry about it.”

The operations are continuing during a troubling stretch for the Afghan security forces, as the Taliban are continuing to make gains…Mr. Ghani, who has yet to name a minister of defense, has in many ways outsourced much of the running of the war to General Campbell.

Excerpts from AZAM AHMED and JOSEPH GOLDSTEIN, Taliban Gains Pull U.S. Units Back Into Fight in Afghanistan, NY Times, Apr. 29, 2015

Space Conquest: Brazil

vls-1, Brazilian Space Agency's satellitel launch vehicle. image from wikipedia

The Brazilian government is ending a decade-long project to operate Ukraine’s Cyclone-4 rocket from Brazilian territory following a government review that found too many open questions about its cost and future market success, the deputy chief of the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) said.  It remains unclear whether the decision will force Brazil to pay Ukraine any financial penalties for a unilateral cancellation of a bilateral agreement. Over the years, the work to build a launch facility for Ukraine’s Cyclone at Brazil’s Alcantara spaceport has suffered multiple stops and starts as one side or the other fell short on its financial obligations to the effort…

“There have been challenges on the budget issues, on the technological aspects, in the relationship between Brazil and Ukraine and in the actual market for export that would be available. So it is a combination of things.”  said Petronio Noronha de Souza, AEB’s director of space policy and strategic investments.  The Alcantara Cyclone Space project was to give Brazil and Ukraine access to the global commercial launch market for satellites in low and medium Earth orbit, with the possibility of launching very light telecommunications satellites into geostationary orbit.

Noronha de Souza said the idea of making a profit in the launch business is now viewed as an illusion. The project, he said, was unlikely ever to be able to support itself on commercial revenue alone.  “Do you really believe launchers make money in any part of the world? I don’t believe so. If the government doesn’t buy launches and fund the development of technology, it does not work,” he said.  “Everybody talks about SpaceX [of Hawthorne, California] like it’s magic, somehow different. It’s no different. Their connections with NASA have been important. If NASA had stopped the funding, where would they be? I really appreciate what they are doing, but I doubt whether launch bases can make money and survive on their own without government support.”…

While the Cyclone-4 project is about to end, Brazil has maintained as a strategic goal the development of a space-launch vehicle from the Brazilian military-owned Alcantara facility. As such it is continuing work with the German Aerospace Center, DLR, on a small solid-fueled vehicle, called VLM-1 for Microsatellite Launch Vehicle, that began as a launcher for suborbital missions and has evolved to a small-satellite-launch capability….

AEB is a purely civilian agency funded through the Science and Technology Ministry. Until a few years ago, the Brazilian military had not been a player in the nation’s space policy. That is starting to change with the Brazilian Defense Ministry’s establishment of space-related operational requirements.  Among those requirements is a radar Earth observation satellite, which AEB has penciled into its program for around 2020. Aside from allowing the use of its Alcantara site, the Brazilian military is not yet financing any AEB work, but the military is expected to pay for launches of its satellites once the development is completed

AEB is finishing design of a small multimission satellite platform whose first launch will be of the Amazonia-1 Earth observation payload, with a medium-resolution imager of 10-meter-resolution, similar to the capacity of today’s larger China-Brazil CBERS-4 satellite, which is in orbit.

Brazil and Argentina’s CONAE space agency will be dividing responsibility for an ocean-observation satellite system, using the same multimission platform, called Sabia-Mar. The first Sabia-Mar is scheduled for launch in 2017, with a second in 2018, according to AEB planning.

Excerpts from Peter B. de Selding Brazil Pulling Out of Ukrainian Launcher Project,  Space News, Apr. 16, 2015

Russia has rushed to take advantage of the cancellation of space agreement between Brazil and Ukraine. [Russia] wants bot build  joint projects and space programs on the long term with BRICS Group member countries, particularly Brazil.  Brazil attempts to build its own cosmodrome, and unfortunately for the loss of Ukraine and its technology, the Brazilian-Ukrainian Project for the use of the Cyclone rocket in coastal launchings is practically minimalized…Russia proposed its variant of work, consisting in principle on the installation, already existent, of several satellite navigation stations Glonass and tbe idea of helping Brasilia in some way to the construction of the cosmodrome.

Excerpt from  Odalys Buscarón Ochoa, Russia Interested in Space Coop with BRICS Countries, Prensa Latina, Apr. 24, 2015

The Hidden Nuclear Power: South Korea

south korea nuclear plants. Image from IAEA

It will take a “number of years” for South Korea and the United States to evaluate whether it’s good for Seoul to produce low-enriched uranium fuel for power plants on its own under a new nuclear cooperation agreement with the U.S., a former American negotiator said Friday.  [In April 2015] Seoul and Washington announced the revision to their 1974 nuclear energy cooperation pact after more than four years of negotiations to reconcile Seoul’s demand for the right to reprocess spent nuclear fuel and enrich uranium with Washington’s concerns about proliferation.  The new agreement still bans Seoul from reprocessing and enrichment, but it opens the way for the Asian ally to begin research into a new technology for spent nuclear fuel recycling, known as “pyroprocessing,” and to make low-level enriched uranium with U.S. consent…

Victor Cha, chief Korea analyst at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, also said the new agreement still “keeps South Korea’s obligations intact” with regard to the 1991 inter-Korean declaration on denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Excerpts from  Chang Jae-soon, ‘A number of years’ needed to evaluate Seoul’s need to produce enriched uranium fuel for power plants: expert, Yonhap News Agency, Apr. 25, 2015

GPS System under the Sea: DARPA POSYDON

image from wikipedia

The objective of the POSYDON program is to develop an undersea system that provides omnipresent, robust positioning. DARPA envisions that the POSYDON program will distribute a small number of acoustic sources, analogous to GPS satellites, around an ocean basin.  By measuring the absolute range to multiple source signals, an undersea platform can obtain continuous, accurate positioning without surfacing for a GPS fix.

DARPA program  April 14, 2015

See also DARPA Hydra

How to Build Climate Resilience in Ecosystems

Great Barrier Reef, Australia

Some ecosystems show little response [to climate change] until a threshold or tipping point is reached where even a small perturbation may trigger collapse into a state from which  recovery is difficult .  ….[S}uch collapse may be altered by conditions that can be managed locally…. [This] provides  potential opportunities for pro-active management.…[C]rises in iconic UNESCO World Heritage sites illustrate that such stewardship is at risk of failing. The term “safe operating space” frames the  problem of managing our planet in terms of staying within acceptable levels or “boundaries” for global stressors [Such as climate change]….

Obviously, local interventions are no panacea for the threats of climatic change. For example, melting of arctic sea ice with its far-reaching ecological consequences cannot be arrested by local management. However, ways of building climate resilience are emerging for a variety of ecosystems, ranging from control of local sources of ocean acidification  to management of grazing pressure on dry ecosystems,World Heritage Areas.

The Doñana wetlands in southern Spain provide the most important wintering site for waterfowl in Europe. They contain the largest temporary pond complex in Europe, with a diversity of amphibians and invertebrates. Despite the site’s protected status, the marshes are threatened by eutrophication due to pollution and reduced flow of incoming streams, promoting toxic cyanobacterial blooms and dominance by invasive floating plants that create anoxic conditions in the water. In addition, groundwater extraction for strawberry culture and beach tourism also has major impacts.  Little has been done to control these local stressors, leaving Doñana unnecessarily vulnerable to climate change. UNESCO has just rated this World Heritage Site as under ‘very high threat’.

The Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral system in the world. In response to multiple threats, fishing has been prohibited since 2004 over 33% of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and efforts have begun to reduce runoff of nutrients, pesticides, herbicides and sediments from land. However, these interventions may be too little, too late. Approximately half of the coral cover has been lost in recent decades, and the outlook is “poor, and declining” with climate change, coastal development and dredging as major future threats. The World Heritage Committee has warned that in the absence of a solid long-term plan, it would consider listing the reef as “in danger” in 2015.

More available online Creating a Safe Operating Space for Iconic Ecosystems By M. Scheffer et al, 2015

Frenemies with Nuclear Benefits: Pakistan and Saudi Arabia

Shaheen III-missile range, Pakistan missile tested in March 2015

The Pakistani Parliament, even while stating its commitment to protect the territory of Saudi Arabia, recently adopted a resolution not to join the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen….The foreign affairs minister of the United Arab Emirates, Anwar Gargash, blasted the decision as “contradictory and dangerous and unexpected,” accusing Pakistan of advancing Iran’s interests rather than those of its own Persian Gulf allies. Pakistan was choosing neutrality in an “existential confrontation,” he said, and it would pay the price… Millions of Pakistanis work in the Persian Gulf, sending back vast remittances. Many of Pakistan’s politicians and generals have major investments in the region, and some have a deep affinity for Wahhabism. Rich Arabs in Pakistan are treated like royalty, allowed to flout hunting and environmental protection laws… [S]ome backpedaling has begun. The Pakistani military agreed to commit naval vessels to help enforce an arms embargo against the Houthis. This, however, will not undo the damage: The recent deterioration of Pakistan’s ties with its Arab benefactors, even if it turns out to be temporary, is unprecedented.

For Saudi Arabia, the Pakistani Parliament’s surprising assertion of independence was especially worrisome because it came on the heels of the American-backed preliminary nuclear deal with Iran…This development undermines Saudi Arabia’s longstanding nuclear strategy. In the 1970s, partly to extend its influence, partly in the name of Muslim solidarity, it began bankrolling Pakistan’s nuclear program. In gratitude, the Pakistani government renamed the city of Lyallpur as Faisalabad, after King Faisal of Saudi Arabia. When Pakistan seemed to dither after India tested five nuclear bombs in May 1998, the Saudi government pledged to give it 50,000 barrels of oil a day for free. Pakistan soon tested six of its own bombs. Later, the Saudi defense minister at the time, Prince Sultan, visited the secret nuclear and missile facilities at the Kahuta complex near Islamabad… In exchange for its largesse, Saudi Arabia has received Pakistani military assistance in the form of soldiers, expertise and ballistic missiles.

The Saudi government has taken the quid pro quo to imply certain nuclear benefits as well, including, if need be, the delivery at short notice of some of the nuclear weapons it has helped pay for. Some Pakistani warheads are said to have been earmarked for that purpose and reportedly are stocked at the Minhas air force base in Kamra, near Islamabad. (Pakistan, which has as many as 120 nuclear warheads, denies this..)

The Saudis have also come to expect that they fall under the nuclear protection of Pakistan, much like, say, Japan is covered by the United States’s nuclear umbrella. Pakistan’s nuclear forces were developed to target India, but they can strike farther, as was recently demonstrated by the successful test launch of the Shaheen-3 missile, which has a range of 2,750 kilometers.

In March 2015 Saudi Arabia signed an agreement with South Korea “to assess the potential” for the construction of two nuclear reactors in Saudi Arabia. It plans to build 16 nuclear-power reactors over the next 20 years, with the first reactor expected to be on line in 2022, according to the World Nuclear Association. It insists on having a full civilian fuel cycle, leaving open the possibility of reprocessing weapon-grade plutonium from nuclear waste.

Excerpts, Pervez Hoodbhoy, Pakistan, the Saudis’ Indispensable Nuclear Partnership, NY Times, Apr. 21, 2015

The Nuclearization of Sub-Saharan Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa. image from wikipedia

Kenya and Uganda are among the countries making progress in nuclear technology in sub-Saharan Africa with both involved with the pre-feasibility study stage in their atomic energy programmes.  According to the the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Kenya successfully completed its pre-feasibility stage while Uganda is currently conducting its own.

A pre-feasibility stage involves assessing energy needs, proposing roadmaps, developing expertise and training human resources, establishing policy and regulatory frameworks and mobilizing funding as a country prepares to conduct feasibility studies for nuclear plants.

“Kenya and Uganda join their sub-Saharan Africa counter-parts, Ghana, Nigeria, Sudan and Niger while in North Africa – Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and Libya have taken notable steps,” Jin Kwang Lee, African Regional Officer at IAEA told a conference on energy and nuclear power in Kwale….James Banaabe Isingoma, Uganda’s acting Commissioner for Energy Efficiency and Conservation told East African Business Week while it is perceived Uganda will build a nuclear plant by 2026, this projection is too ambitious, because financing for reactors is hard to find.  Kenya aims to have a nuclear plant by 2025….Kenya hopes to establish a 1,000 MW reactor between 2022 and 2027. Njoroge said, “We are committed to the introduction of nuclear energy to our country’s energy mix which is currently dominated by hydro-power projects. We will soon deplete geothermal and hydro generation hence be left with no choice, but to go nuclear,” he said.  “We are injecting Ksh 300 million (about $3 million) in human resource training annually and we think nuclear will be a game changer. It is economically strategic because all other available resources will be exploited by 2031,” Njoroge said.He said, “It means we will be able to drive iron and steel production, electric rails, powering mills and petroleum pipelines.”

Currently, the two regional neighbours are grappling with insufficient power supply as demand increases with economic growth and rural electrification programmes that are putting more people on the grid.

Excerpt from Uganda: Kenya and Uganda Eye Nuclear Power, allAfrica.com, Apr. 19, 2015