Monthly Archives: November 2016

Codification of Best Practices to Capture or Kill

image from http://www.socom.mil/pages/jointspecialoperationscommand.aspx

The creation of a new  Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC ) entity,  the “Counter-External Operations Task Force,” this late [November 2016]  in the Obama’s tenure is the “codification” of best practices in targeting terrorists outside of conventional conflict zones, according to the officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity …[These practices]include guidelines for counterterrorism operations such as approval by several agencies before a drone strike and “near certainty” that no civilians will be killed. This series of presidential orders is known as the “playbook.”

The new JSOC task force could also offer intelligence, strike recommendations and advice to the militaries and security forces of traditional Western allies, or conduct joint operations, officials said. In other parts of the world, with weak or no governments, JSOC could act unilaterally…

The new JSOC task force will report to the Pentagon through the U.S. Special Operations Command, or SOCOM, according to U.S. military officials, creating a hybrid command system that can sidestep regional commanders for the sake of speed….But [the problem is that] regional commanders, all four star generals, guard their turf carefully.

Officials hope the task force, known throughout the Pentagon as “Ex-Ops,” will be a clearinghouse for intelligence coordinating and targeting against groups or individuals attempting to plot attacks in places like the United States and Europe.  According to officials familiar with plans for the task force, it will initially draw on an existing multinational intelligence operation in the Middle East that tracks foreign fighters, called Gallant Phoenix, and one of JSOC’s intelligence centers in Northern Virginia.

While in the past the smaller task forces, such as Gallant Phoenix, were staffed by representatives from different intelligence agencies, the new task force aims to have decision-makers present, ensuring that the targeting process happens in one place and quickly…. “There has never been an ex-ops command team that works trans-regionally to stop attacks.”

Excerpts from  Thomas Gibbons-Neff and Dan Lamothe, Obama administration expands elite, Washington Post, Nov.25, 2016

 

 

Shopping for Shiny New Toys: The Yemen Files

yeme-mmap-md

On November 25, 2016,  WikiLeaks released the Yemen Files. .The Yemen Files are a collection of more than 500 documents from the United States embassy in Sana’a, Yemen. Comprising more than 200 emails and 300 PDFs, the collection details official documents and correspondence pertaining to the Office for Military Cooperation (OMC) located at the US embassy. The collection spans the period from 2009 until just before the war in Yemen broke out in earnest during March 2015.

Julian Assange said: “The war in Yemen has produced 3.15 million internally displaced persons. Although the United States… is deeply involved in the conduct of the war itself reportage on the war in English is conspicuously rare.”

Yemen is of significant strategic interest as Yemen controls a narrow choke-point to the Red Sea and the Suez Canal through which 11% of the world’s petroleum passes each day. In addition, Yemen borders Saudi Arabia (to the north) and Oman (to the east) and has access to the Arabian Sea, through which another 20% of the world’s petroleum passes from the Strait of Hormuz (including the oil of Saudi Arabia and Iran). Saudi Arabia seeks to control a port in Yemen to avoid the potential constriction of its oil shipments byIran along the Strait of Hormuz or by countries which can control its other oil shipment path along the Red Sea.The Yemen Files offer documentary evidence of the US arming, training and funding of Yemeni forces in the years building up to the war. The documents reveal, among other things, procurement of many different weapon types: aircraft, vessels, vehicles, proposals for maritime border security control and Yemeni procurement of US biometric systems.

See also Yemen File

 

The Quiet Revolution in Space

Orbits around earth. Black dots indicate geostationary orbit (GEO) Blue color indicates low earth orbit (LEO). Image from wikipedia

National security critically depends on space, and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA)is focused today on creating the capabilities needed to help make that environment a real-time operational domain, DARPA Director Dr. Arati Prabhakar…

“The questions we ask ourselves at DARPA about the space domain … is what would it take to make the space domain robust for everything that we need militarily and for intelligence, and what would it take to make space a real-time operational domain, which it’s not at all today,” the director said, noting that many other nation-states now are active in orbit and space is a domain where conflict is becoming a real possibility.

Through a national security lens, she added, nothing needed from an intelligence or military perspective can be done effectively without access to space. Something as simple as navigation completely depends on GPS in nearly every part of the world and in every operating regime.

In an era of declining budgets and adversaries’ evolving capabilities, quick, affordable and routine access to space is increasingly critical for national and economic security. Today’s satellite launch systems require scheduling years in advance for a limited inventory of available slots and launches often cost hundreds of millions of dollars each. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency created its Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1, program to help overcome these challenges and reduce the time to get capabilities to space. DARPA artist-concept graphics  “Because of the demands on launch, from the day you know you have to put an asset on orbit to the time you can plan on a launch today is still unacceptably long,” Prabhakar said.

Commercial capabilities will help, she added, “but if in a time of war we imagine if we could go to space not in a month or next week but tomorrow, think about how that would completely change the calculus for an adversary that’s thinking about [using an antisatellite] weapon to take out one of our satellites

”With that ambition in mind, DARPA is now starting Phase 2 of its Experimental Spaceplane, or XS-1.“It’s a reusable first stage that’s designed to be able to put 3,000 or 5,000 pounds into low earth orbit … at a very low cost point — a few million dollars — but very significantly the objective on the DARPA program is by the end of the program to fly that spacecraft 10 times in 10 days,” Prabhakar said, “something that’s inconceivable with any of the spacecraft we have today.”

A second piece of the puzzle is what can be done in orbit, she added, referring to low earth orbit, or LEO, an orbit around Earth whose altitude is between 99 and 1,200 miles.

“We’re doing some amazing work with geo[synchronous]-robotics and rethinking [geostationary Earth orbit]-architectures once you have an asset that would allow you to extend the life or do inspection or simple repairs at GEO, which is something you can’t do today.  GEO [geostationary orbit]is a stable region of space 22,370 miles from Earth.  And because GEO is a stable environment for machines — but hostile for people because of high radiation levels — DARPA thinks the key technology there is space robotics.  DARPA’s Phoenix program seeks to enable GEO robotics servicing and asset life extension while developing new satellite architectures to reduce the cost of space-based systems.

The program’s goal is to develop and demonstrate technologies that make it possible to inspect and robotically service cooperative space systems in GEO and to validate new satellite assembly architectures. Phoenix has validated the concept that new satellites could be built on orbit by physically aggregating “satlets” in space, according to DARPA.

Satlets are small independent modules that can attach together to create a new low-cost, modular satellite architecture, DARPA says. Satlets incorporate essential satellite functionality — power supplies, movement controls, sensors and others — and share data, power and thermal management capabilities. DARPA now is working to validate the technical concept of satlets in LEO [Low earth orbit an orbit around Earth whose altitude is between 99 and 1,200 miles.]

Excerpts from  Cheryl Pellerin Director: DARPA Space Projects Critical to Shifting Trajectories , US DOD News, Nov. 22, 2016

 

Trapping and Killing Drones

Mobile Force. Image from DARPA

The rapid evolution of small unmanned air systems (sUAS) technologies fueled by the exponential growth of the commercial drone sector, has created new asymmetric threats for [conventional armies]…[There is is a need to] identify, track, and neutralize these sUASs while mitigating collateral damage.

DARPA is soliciting proposals for award for the Mobile Force Protection (MFP) program … The MFP program [seeks to develop a system] capable of defeating a raid of self-guided, small Unmanned Aircraft Systems attacking a high value asset on the move. The program …seeks to develop an integrated system capable of providing protection to ground or naval convoys against self-guided sUAS and, to the extent possible, other asymmetric threats… By focusing on protecting mobile assets, the program plans to emphasize low-footprint solutions in terms of size, weight, power (SWaP),and manning….The Mobile Force Protection program has selected the U.S. Army Maneuver Aviation and Fires Integration Application (MAFIA) as the software architecture…(www.fbo.org)

Note that In 2016 the Islamic State tried to use small commercial drones to launch attacks, prompting American commanders in Iraq to issue a warning to forces fighting the group to treat any type of small flying aircraft as a potential explosive device.  (NY Times).

Mining Colonies in the Ocean: digging the ocean floor for phosphate

Ocean Floor Mining image from http://e360.yale.edu/feature/drive_to_mine_the_deep_sea_raises_concerns_over_impacts/2818/

A persistent fear of diminishing phosphorus reserves has pushed mining companies to search far and wide for new sources. Companies identified phosphate deposits on the ocean floor and are fighting for mining rights around the world….

From April 2007 to August 2008, the price of phosphate, a necessary ingredient in fertilizer, increased nearly 950 percent, in part due to the idea that phosphate production had peaked and would begin diminishing. Before prices came back down, prospectors had already begun looking for deep sea phosphate reserves around the world.

Since then, the fledgling seabed phosphate industry has found minimal success. While several operations are proposed in the Pacific islands, New Zealand and Mexico rejected attempts at offshore phosphate mining in their territory.  This means southern African reserves – created in part by currents carrying phosphate-rich water from Antarctica – are the new center of debate.

Namibia owns identified seabed phosphate deposits, and the country has recently flip-flopped about whether to allow mining. A moratorium was in place since 2013, but in September 2016 the environmental minister made the controversial decision to grant the necessary licenses. Since then, public outcry forced him to set those aside…

Three companies, Green Flash Trading 251 (Pty) Ltd, Green Flash 257 (Pty) Ltd and Diamond Fields International Ltd., hold prospecting rights covering about 150,000 square kilometers, roughly 10 percent, of  South Africa’s marine exclusive economic zone…[G]reen Flash companies received drill samples, which showed current prices could not sustain seabed phosphate mining.

This leaves Diamond Fields as the only remaining player in South African waters. The company announced in a January 2014 press release that it received a 47,468 square kilometer prospecting right to search for phosphate.  According to information the company published summarising its environmental management plan, prospecting would use seismic testing to determine the benthic, or seafloor, geology. If mining commenced, it would take place on the seafloor between 180 and 500 meters below the surface.  “A vital and indisputable link exists between phosphate rock and world food supply,” the company stated, citing dwindling phosphate reserves…

Environmentalists argue that not only would phosphate mining destroy marine ecosystems, but it would also lead to continued overuse of fertilizers and associated pollution. They call for increased research into phosphate recapture technology instead of mining.“We could actually be solving the problem of too much phosphates in our water and recapturing it. Instead we’re going to destroy our ocean ecosystems,” John Duncan of WWF-SA said.

The act of offshore mining requires a vessel called a trailing suction hopper dredger, which takes up seafloor sediment and sends waste back into the water column.  “It amounts to a kind of bulldozer that operates on the seabed and excavates sediment down to a depth of two or three meters. Where it operates, it’s like opencast mining on land. It removes the entire substrate. That substrate become unavailable to fisheries for many years, if not forever,” Johann Augustyn, secretary of the South African Deep-Sea Trawling Industry Association, said….

Mining opponents also worry offshore mining would negatively impact food production and economic growth. Several thousand subsistence farmers live along South Africa’s coast, and the country’s large-scale fishing industry produces around 600,000 metric tonnes of catch per year.

“[Mining] may lead to large areas becoming deserts for the fish populations that were there. If they don’t die off, they won’t find food there, and they’ll probably migrate out of those areas,” Augustyn said.

South Africa is one of only three African nations – along with Namibia and Seychelles – implementing marine spatial planning. This growing movement toward organised marine economies balances competing uses such as oil exploration, marine protected areas and fisheries….[and mining.]

Excerpts from Mark Olalde, Phosphate Mining Firms Set Sights on Southern Africa’s Sea Floor, IPS, Nov. 17, 2016

The So Swiss Nuclear Plant Disposal

muhleberg Nuclear Power Plant. Image from wikpedia

On November 27, 2016 Swiss voters will decide whether to turn off the country’s nuclear power stations after 45 years of activity. But what does dismantling a nuclear power plant involve? ….

On December 20, 2019, the Mühleberg nuclear power plant in canton Bern will definitely be disconnected from the grid. A new chapter in the history of Swiss nuclear energy will thus begin: the complete dismantling of a power plant…Situated around 15 kilometres from the Swiss capital Bern, the reactor has been in service since 1972 and provides 5% of the electricity used in Switzerland….

Once the fuel is extracted from the reactor core, it will be submerged in the so-called deactivation pool, where it will stay for several years.  Around 2024, the cooled uranium will be transported by lorry to the interim storage facility at Würelingen, canton Aargau.

It will then be possible to begin the real disassembly of the cement and steel structure, starting with the reactor core. This is the most complex phase…“Fifty years ago, when a power station was built, no one thought about dismantling it. The old plants were made in an extremely compact manner for reasons of cost and safety. Therefore there isn’t much space for the dismantling and decontamination,” …[D]eveloping robots.. [is one way] of improving efficiency and staff safety.

At Mühleberg, unlike what has been done in the United States for example, the so-called “fast” version will be used.“Dismantling this [boiling water] type of reactor is well-known and therefore we’ll be able to begin directly,” said Stefan Klute. “In other places the preference is to seal the plant for 40-50 years and wait for some of the residual radioactivity to decay naturally.”

In his opinion, there are many advantages to the more rapid option. “We don’t have to second-guess what the political situation will be in half a century – an impossible prediction in any case.

Dismantling the Mühleberg nuclear power station will generate around 200,000 tonnes of waste. Most of the material will be decontaminated directly in situ and recycled or disposed of in appropriate landfills.The whole operation should finish around 2034.

Excerpts from  Luigi Jorio The end of a Swiss nuclear power plant, Swissinfo.ch,  Nov. 17, 2016

Eating Fish in Microplastics

microplastics

One study has estimated that of the 275 million tonnes of plastic waste generated by 192 countries in 2010, 4.8–12.7 million tonnes could have entered the ocean. That’s a serious amount in just one year.

Luckily, some plastic waste is recyclable…However, many of the world’s coastal countries currently do not have such recycling policies nor the technical capabilities, and so large quantities of plastic are not recycled and enter landfill. The durable properties of plastics make them persistent and slow to degrade in the environment, and ultimately non-recycled plastics on land and in the rivers are left to work their way into the oceans.

It’s at this point the story of plastic ocean pollution seems to become synonymous with microplastics. Typically less than 5 mm in size, microplastics can be eroded to particles as small as 1–100 nm – nanoplastics. Using modelling tools it has been estimated a total of 15–51 trillion microplastic particles have accumulated in the ocean. Some start out as large plastic pieces, slowly eroded by water; others start off as microplastics specifically produced for certain uses, eg microbeads in cosmetic products such as facewash, soaps and shower creams. Microbeads … after they have been washed down the drain, they have been found to evade filtration systems at water treatment works and are discharged directly into the oceans…

Another emerging source of marine microplastics from household wastewater is microfibres leaching from clothing when washed. Microfibres are 1/100th the diameter of a human hair and are used for better waterproofing, breathability and flexibility in sportswear. The most common types of microfibers are made from polyesters and polyamides, and according to researchers giving evidence to the UK House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee in 2016, the number of leached microfibres in wastewater could be as many as 1900 fibres per garment.

Although it is relatively easy to develop policies and bans for microbeads and microfibers, these sources are just a drop in the ocean in terms of tonnage….

[P]lastic waste can travel great lengths. As such, waste from one place can become an issue in a region geographically distant from the original source, due to the oceans’ powerful currents…. Microplastics…, can also exist on beaches and in deeper waters of the oceans where animals feed, and it’s here the main large scale threats to wildlife…[T]he main problem is marine wildlife mistaking micro- and nanoplastics for food. Once ingested, they can cause gut blockage, physical injury, changes to oxygen levels in cells in the body, altered feeding behaviour and reduced energy levels, which impacts growth and reproduction….

[T]here is a need to change the way plastic is viewed by society: from ubiquitous, disposable waste to a valuable, recyclable raw material, much like metal and glass. It’s hoped this will increase the economic value of plastic waste.

Better process design is also needed to improve the issue, especially with regards to recyclability and biodegradability. ..[T]he invention of new, bio-based polymers could lead to improved biodegradability, and this would be greatly helped by further research into the degradation of plastics in the environment. The new plastics must retain functionality but degrade to innocuous substances much quicker.

Excerpts from Camilla Alexander-White The massive problem of microplastics,  Royal Society of Chemistry Nov. 15, 2016