Monthly Archives: September 2016

Churning Out Weapons as quickly as Algorithms-dominance in electronic warfare

F-117 stealth plane.Image from wikipedia

US Army Secretary Eric Fanning announced [in August 2016] a new Rapid Capabilities Office to accelerate the development of cyber, electronic warfare…That rapid technological progression is on full display, for example, in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian soldiers have been battling Russian-backed forces since 2014. For example, Russian-backed separatists have used EW and GPS-spoofing to jam and misdirect the drones that Ukrainian troops use to scope out enemy positions. “Over the past several years we’ve learned from what we’ve seen from Russia and Ukraine, and later in Syria, and from the different capabilities they’ve brought to the battlefield. We’ve seen the combination of unmanned aerial systems and offensive cyber and advanced electronic warfare capabilities and how they provided Russian forces a new degree of sophistication,” said Fanning…

“My guess is … that after 15 years of doing largely counter-insurgency operations in the Middle East, the Army is now taking a look at how it would do large force-on-force conflict in a place like Europe. ”

The pace of innovation in EW — in the form of novel new waveforms that can disrupt an adversary’s electronics, paint enemy stealth aircraft* etc. — has surprised many in the military. That’s because EW innovation has become less and less a hardware challenge and more of a software challenge. You can make a new weapon as quickly as your algorithm can pull together a new waveform from the spectrum. But the military, too often, still procures EW assets the same way it buys jets and boats. Slowly.

Excerpts from To Counter Russia’s Cyber Prowess, US Army Launches Rapid-Tech Office, DefenseOne, Aug. 31, 2016

*Radar-absorbent material (RAM), often paints used on aircraft,: absorb radiated energy from a ground or air based radar station into the coating and convert it to heat rather than reflect it back thus avoiding detection by the radar.

An Overly Militarized Military and its ROI: United States

Syria
Gray zone security challenges…that fall between the traditional war and peace duality, are characterized by ambiguity about the nature of the conflict, opacity of the parties involved, or uncertainty about the relevant policy and legal frameworks….

The U.S. already possesses the right mix of tools to prevail in the gray zone, but it must think, organize and act differently. Gray zone challenges are not new. Monikers such as irregular warfare, low-intensity conflict, asymmetric warfare, military operations other than war and small wars were employed to describe this phenomenon in the past. …

America spends roughly $600 billion every year on defense, and it is the dominant global power by every objective measure. Yet state and non-state actors (e.g., Russia and Daesh) are increasingly undeterred from acting in ways inimical to the global common good.
State actors like Russia and China reasonably believe we will not use nuclear or conventional military force to thwart their ambitions if they craft their aggressive actions to avoid clear-cut military triggers. Despite their inherent ambiguity, the United States should not be
frustrated by gray zone challenges. Rather, we should aim to achieve favorable outcomes by taking some practical steps to improve our ability to address them.

Our responses to gray zone challenges display several clear deficiencies. As separate U.S. government agencies strive to achieve their individual organizational goals, they seldom act in integrated ways to support wider government objectives….

We also need to grow our non-military capabilities. Our gray zone actions are often overly militarized because the Department of Defense has the most capability and resources, and thus is often the default U.S. government answer…. Our counter-Daesh campaign is a perfect example. Thousands of airstrikes helped to check their rapid expansion, but the decisive effort against them will require discrediting their narrative and connecting the people to legitimate governing structures — areas where DoD should not have primacy.

Root Causes: Prudent strategies recognize root causes and address them. Daesh, for example, is merely symptomatic of the much larger problems of massive populations of disaffected Sunnis estranged from legitimate governance and a breakdown in the social order across much
of Africa and the Middle East, which will worsen in coming years by economic and demographic trends. Daesh is also a prime example of gray zone challenges, since the legal and policy framework of how to attack a proto-state is highly ambiguous. Coalition aircraft started bombing Daesh in August of 2014, although the authorization for use of military force is still under debate a year later, highlighting the confusion on how to proceed.
Comprehensive Deterrence: Paradoxically, each deliberate gray zone challenge represents both a success and failure of deterrence — success in averting full-scale war, but a deterrent failure given the belligerent’s decision to take action in the gray zone.

[Develop and Nurture Surrogates to Fight China]

For example, China is both antagonistically asserting its questionable claims to specific islands
and atolls in the South China Sea while simultaneously expanding its import of raw materials from Africa. Instead of confronting China in the South China Sea directly, surrogates could, theoretically, be used to hold China’s African interests at risk in order to compel a more
favorable outcome of South China Sea disputes. Thus, the point of action (e.g., Africa) might be far removed from the point of effect (e.g., Asia), but the intent would be to alter the decision-making calculus regardless of geography. To be credible, such an approach requires
prep work every bit as important as the infrastructure behind our nuclear and conventional capabilities. Capable and trustworthy surrogates are the result of years of purposeful relationship nurturing, and the vast majority of the work should take place pre-crisis….

Changing our vocabulary could help yield better decisions in the gray zone. Adopting a business vocabulary and a “SWOT” model (strength, weakness, opportunity and threat) would open other opportunities not available in military decision-making models. Similar to the way businesses decide how to allocate capital, we would necessarily distinguish between opportunities and threats and have at least an estimate of our expected return on investment. Talking and thinking differently about national security in the gray zone would help us measure the oft-ignored opportunity costs and come up with some metric, however imperfect initially, to measure our expected return on investment for defense dollars.

Cost should be a significant up front consideration. For example, we famously refused to provide a cost estimate for Operation Iraqi Freedom, other than to know that $200 billion was ar too high. Assuming we established $200 billion as the top end to “invest” in
Iraq, it would at least force us to review our actions and evaluate our return on investment as we blew through initial estimates on our way to spending in excess of $2 trillion.

Excerpts from the Gray Zone, Special Warfare, Oct-Dec. 2015, Volume 28, Issue 4

Exotic Pets and other Illegal Markets

Animal Markets. Caged Nycticebus. image from wikipedia

It’s easy to catch grey parrots, say researchers from Birdlife, a global grouping of conservation groups. A team of hunters will use decoys or go to the birds’ water and mineral licks in the forests where flocks gather. They then throw nets over them and take dozens at a time.

Once caught they will be smuggled over borders, stuffed in tiny cages and flown illegally to Europe, South Africa, the Middle East and China, where they may fetch up to £1,000 each. All this makes the African grey probably the most highly traded bird in the world, causing their numbers to plummet… Some conservationists estimate only 1% of their historical numbers remain…

“Africa’s overall elephant population has seen the worst declines in 25 years, mainly due to poaching over the past 10 years,” the IUCN’s director-general, Inger Andersen, will say. “Their plight is truly alarming. Poaching has been the main driver of the decline, while habitat loss poses an increasingly serious, long-term threat to the species.”..

Laos has pledged to phase out its controversial tiger farms, which supply neighbouring China with bones and other parts for traditional medicine. But international animal trade inspectors will report in Johannesburg that rhinoceros horn, elephant ivory and many other wildlife specimens are being regularly smuggled through the country both to China and other south-east Asian countries. “Laos is being targeted by organised crime groups as a transit point,” says wildlife trade monitoring network Traffic.

South Africa.. has lost nearly 6,000 rhinos to poachers since 2007, including more than 700 this year. Vietnam needs to crack down on its rampant illegal rhino horn trade and China has been identified as the world’s primary destination for precious woods…..The street value of ivory is now more than £1,500 a kilogram in Beijing, and rhino horn can sell for £50,000 per kilo – far more than the price of gold or platinum – on the Chinese black market. Meanwhile rosewood can sell for many thousands of pounds a cubic metre.

Excerpt from The grey parrot and the race against Africa’s wildlife extinction, Guardian, Sept. 24, 2016

Industrial-Scale Hunting and the Verbal Bravado

Killing the Cecil lion, Zimbabwe

Starting September 25, 2016,  thousands of conservationists and top government officials will be thrashing out international trade regulations aimed at protecting different species.A booming illegal wildlife trade has put huge pressure on an existing treaty signed by more than 180 countries — the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES)….

[T]he plight of Africa’s elephants, targeted for their tusks, generated fierce debate as the talks kicked off.Zimbabwe, Zambia, South Africa and Namibia castigated Western-based animal charities, saying they “dictated” on how African resources should be managed.”Please leave us alone, don’t just come and dictate what we should be doing,” Zambian Tourism Minister Stephen Mwansa said.Fortune Charumbira, head of Zimbabwe’s traditional chiefs, blasted “elitist NGOs who are coming from countries where there are no animals”, describing them as “domineering”.

A coalition of 29 African countries is pressing for a total halt to the ivory trade to curb poaching of elephants, but other delegates believe it would only fuel illegal trading…CITES forbids trade in elephant ivory, but Namibia and Zimbabwe have made a proposal asking for permission to sell off stockpiles to raise funds for local communities that co-exist with the animals….

CITES’ secretary general John Scanlon… warned illegal wildlife trafficking was “occurring on an industrial scale, driven by transnational organised criminal groups”.

African countries lash out at Western charities at international wildlife conservation meeting, ABC News, Sept. 24, 2016

Killing Civilians in Theory and Practice

Minneapolis anti-war protest: 'Stop Killer Drones', 5 May 2013, Image from wikipedia

[T]he long list of errant airstrikes carried out by American warplanes: Weddings, funerals, hospitals and friendly forces have been mistakenly attacked, with each strike prompting fresh outrage.

While most of those killed have been civilians — in Afghanistan alone, the United Nations recorded 1,243 civilians killed in airstrikes between 2009 and 2015 — American-led forces have repeatedly struck friendly forces. It is a pattern that was repeated last weekend with a pair of separate airstrikes in Syria and Afghanistan that have again cast a harsh spotlight on the seeming inability of the United States to avoid hitting the wrong targets in its air campaigns.

[A]lmost all the mistaken strikes over the years have come down to two main reasons: Faulty intelligence, and what military strategists call “the fog of war,” referring to the confusion of the battlefield.

WRONG TARGETS

Many of the deadliest American airstrikes to hit civilians in the last 15 years have taken place in Afghanistan.

·         JULY 1, 2002

An American AC-130 gunship struck an engagement party in the village of Kakrak in Uruzgan Province, killing 48 people.

·         MAY 4, 2009

American airstrikes in the village of Granai in Farah Province killed 147 civilians, the Afghan government said. The United States estimated that 20 to 30 civilians and as many as 65 Taliban fighters had been killed.

·         SEPT. 4, 2009

An American F-15E fighter jet, acting on orders from a German commander, dropped a 500-pound bomb on a tanker truck outside the village of Haji Sakhi Dedby in Kunduz Province, killing at least 70 people, and possibly dozens more.

·         OCT. 3, 2015

An American AC-130 gunship, called in by American Special Forces, struck a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, killing 42 people…

No matter what the intent, killing civilians by mistake can amount to a war crime, though the military almost never brings criminal charges against those involved. That was the case with the strike on a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, in northern Afghanistan, in 2015, that killed 42 people. The military’s own investigation found that those who took part in the attack “failed to comply with the” laws of armed conflict, and though 12 service members were disciplined, none faced criminal charges…

One of the issues, experts say, is the culture of the Air Force itself….“One of the core aspects of air power theory is this idea that with enough reconnaissance, with enough data with enough data crunching, we can paint an extremely hyper-accurate picture of the battlefield that is going to not only eliminate accidental strikes, but it’s going to make it so we can strike directly and precisely,” Mr. Farley said.“So in some sense, that kind of extreme optimism about air-power targeting is baked into Air Force culture, is baked into the Air Force cake,” he added.

But bad information leads to bad outcomes. Faulty readings of surveillance from drones and other sources appear to have been involved in the strike in Syria, which infuriated the Syrian government and its Russian backers, further undermining an already shaky cease-fire there.

The attack occurred on September 17, 2016  when fighter jets from the American-led coalition struck what the military believed was an Islamic State position. The attack was methodical and merciless — the jets took run after run over the camp in an effort destroy it, cutting down men as they fled.But about 20 minutes into the strike, Russia notified the United States that the jets were hitting troops loyal to the Syrian government, not the Islamic State. Russia and Syria have since said that more than 60 Syrian troops were killed.

Excerpts from  MATTHEW ROSENBERG,It’s Not Like Hollywood: Why U.S. Airstrikes Go Awry 20, NY Times Sept. 20, 2016

Water and Money: the case of Tasmania

knyvet_falls_tasmania

Australia is the world’s driest continent. Climate change is expected to make its droughts even more frequent. The country is still paying for years of overexploitation of its biggest river system, the Murray-Darling basin. The federal government in Canberra is spending A$3.2 billion ($2.2 billion) buying up and cancelling farmers’ water entitlements in a bid to reduce salinity and repair other environmental damage stretching back a century.

While mainland farmers are being paid to give up water, those in wetter Tasmania are being enticed to buy more. The island state accounts for just 1% of Australia’s land mass and 2% of its population. Yet it receives 13% of the country’s rainfall. Tasmania may be blessed with water, but most of it falls in the mountains of the west, making it useless to farmers elsewhere.

So the island has embarked on a project to capture more water for its drier east and north, shifting it through pipes to these regions’ farms. Almost 800 farmers have already bought into ten irrigation schemes that are up and running. They will allow farmers to do more than graze sheep and cattle; they will be able to grow fruit and vegetables, including more of Tasmania’s exotic stuff: cherries, grapes for the island’s increasingly fashionable wines and even poppies (the island is a big opium supplier for legitimate pharmaceuticals).

If another five planned schemes involving 200 farmers go ahead, Tasmania’s investment in shifting its water around the island will be almost A$1 billion. The federal and Tasmanian governments are putting up some of the money. But that comes with conditions. Farmers and other investors must first agree to meet at least two-thirds of the costs of each irrigation project before governments commit the rest….

Tasmania’s new water market has already been kind to one of its biggest investors. David Williams, a Melbourne banker, owns no Tasmanian farms. But he put A$10m into two central Tasmania irrigation schemes after local farmers had bought in. Mr Williams likens the arrival of reliable water in such regions to technological change: “I punted that it would change the way land is used.” He calculates that trading his water entitlement with farmers in both schemes could turn his investment into A$16m….

Among the foreign tourists coming to sample Tasmanian Riesling, oysters and marbled beef are plenty of Chinese. When China’s president, Xi Jinping, visited Hobart in late 2014, he sent signals that China wanted more seafood, beef and other costlier food exports from Tasmania.

Excerpts from Tasmania charts a new course: Water into wine, Economist, Feb. 11, 2016

Artisanal Mining and Dodd-Frank

Image Mark Craemer from http://www.eea.europa.eu/signals/signals-2011/articles/interview-mark-craemer

North Kivu, Democratic Republic of Congo, Bisie Mine
Congo’s soil is bursting with buried treasure. Its long civil war, which ravaged the east for the best part of a decade, was financed largely by metals extracted….Congo’s tin, tantalum and tungsten are used in electronics around the world. Although some of these minerals come from big industrial copper mines in Katanga, Congo’s south, and a gold mine in South Kivu, there is not yet a single modern mine in North Kivu.

Until now the province’s metal has been dug out almost entirely by hand. Yet Alphamin hopes to show that it can run a modern industrial mine in a part of the world that scares other modern miners away.

Alphamin says that the investment is attractive—even at a time of low commodity prices—because the ore that it plans to extract is richer than that found anywhere else in the world. Behind the company’s camp on the hill are stacks of carefully ordered cylinders of rock drilled out to map the riches beneath the mountain. (Like almost everything else in the camp, the drill rig had to be lifted in by helicopter.) The ore they contain is 4.5% grade. That means that for every 100 tonnes of ore extracted, the firm will be able to sell 3.25 tonnes of tin (not all the tin can be extracted from the rock). Most other mines would be happy to produce 0.7 tonnes…..

If the gamble pays off Alphamin’s investors will make juicy returns. But to do so they may have to convince locals that the project is in their interest. If not, they risk protests and sabotage.In 2007 some 18,000 people lived at Bisie, working the site with pickaxes and shovels. They produced some 14,000 tonnes of tin that year—or perhaps 5% of world production. To get it to market people carried concentrated ore on their heads through the jungle to an airstrip where small planes could land to carry it out. It was back-breaking work but lucrative for many Congolese. That era began to come to an end in 2011, thanks in part to an American law.

Under the Dodd-Frank act, a law aimed mainly at tightening bank regulation, firms operating in the United States must be able to show where the minerals used in their products came from. The idea was to stop rebels in poor countries from selling gold and diamonds to fund wars. The law all but shut down artisanal mining in much of eastern Congo.

Elsewhere in eastern Congo artisanal mines have gradually reopened thanks to a verification scheme under which the UN and the government check mines and allow certified ones to “tag and bag” minerals. The site at Bisie has, however, never been certified. And although Alphamin will provide some well-paid jobs to locals, as well as pay taxes to the central government, its mechanised operations will never employ anything like the thousands of people who once toiled there with pick and shovel. Alphamin has promised to fund local projects, such as a new school, that are intended to benefit 44 villages.

Excerpts from Mining in the Democratic Republic of Congo: The richest, riskiest tin mine on Earth, Economist, Aug. 27, 2016