Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Android Completes Basic Training. Vague Human Emotion of Pride Reported.

As smart phones continue to expand the way with which American consumers check their Facebook, play online Scrabble, or generally ignore people on public transportation, this revolution begs the question: Can we weaponize this technology?  Fortunately, the answer is a resounding YES.  According to Reports, the National Security Agency (NSA) has created a version of the Android tablet that is suitable for combat.  Dubbed the Security Enhanced Android, or the SE Android, this device promises to radically overhaul the ability of combat troops to find adequate dining experiences on Urban Spoon in even the most extreme combat situations.

In all seriousness though, the technological revolution within the defense industry continues to churn out important advancements in devices with enhanced capabilities in communication and global positioning systems for individual soldiers in a battlefield setting.  When and if this new Android is released, it will replace the Nett Warrior End-User Device, a 5 lb wearable computer system with eyepiece display, a system largely known as unwieldy and difficult to operate.  As a common element of modern life in the United States, the National Security Agency hopes the new Android powered devices will transition seamlessly in the hands of U.S. troops.

While we discussed the use of commercial smart phones by soldiers overseas, largely within the context of incriminating pictures or videos stored on the devices, commercial smart phones obviously lack the encryption and security requirements necessary for combat use.  As a Linux based OS, the NSA was able to make the necessary security adjustments for the SE Android, and is looking to install it on Atrix smart phones and Galaxy tablets.  Furthermore, advances in battery technology have increased the length of usable charges, increasing the viability of smart phones in a battlefield setting.

With a myriad of functions and capabilities, each SE Android will effectively serve as a communication device, GPS, video camera, and can even be used by Team Leaders and Squad Leaders to locate each individual soldier, in real time, during raids or other combat situations.  By increasing the available amount of data to soldiers on the ground, as well as helping coordinate communications between different squads, smart phone technology aims to significantly increase the effectiveness of the troop’s ability to conduct successful operations and, most importantly, will be a crucial tool for saving lives.

With tests still ongoing, the SE Android poses to be a significant building block in the technological revolution going on in military circles.

Sent from my (not combat ready) iPad. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Sexual Assault Dramatically Increases within the U.S. Army

On January 19, 2012 Leon Panetta addressed the rising sexual violence within the Army, which has continued its upward swing since 2006. Since 2006, sexual assaults have increased by an uncomprehensible 64%. Incidents of rape, forcible sodomy and sexual assault were the most reported incidents within 2011. These figures are frightening to say the least.

Women, who account for around 14% of the U.S. Army, are the victims 95% of the time. This lopsided representation is not healthy for recruitment or the overall emotional state of service women, who seem to be in somewhat unsafe conditions. Further, this high figure of sexual assault leaves an ugly perception of the U.S. Army and sadly speaks of American culture and its still dominant, and often ugly, male view.

In 2011, just about 4,000 reports were filed. However, Panetta believes the number to be closer to 20,000. These figures are distorted because of the tendency to not report due to shame and possible retribution by the offender. At approximately 20,000 reports, that is about 4% of all service members being sexually assaulted.

Panetta has planned for further training of lawyers prosecuting sex crimes, an emphasis on training for counselors within the U.S. Army, possible reconfiguration of barracks (to diversify them and break up young soldiers, because they are the majority of victimes and offenders) as well as forming an independing body outside of the military to investigate cases.

This development is repugnant. We owe a safer environment to individuals who put their lives on the line to promote our freedom and ensure our safety. The least we can do, is the same for them.


Foreign Policy in the Florida Primary Debate

The Florida GOP Debate tonight focused mostly on domestic issues; some issues of national security and foreign policy were touched upon. After months of campaigning and debating, the candidates by and large have not expanded on their foreign policy aspirations. This is primarily due to the economic situation of the United States demanding so much attention. Nevertheless, here is what I gathered in the debate tonight.

Rick Santorum, as he has in previous debates, focused on the current administration's dealings with Latin American countries. He claimed that Obama was not supporting pro-democratic countries like Colombia, and instead was strengthening ties with leftist authoritarian "Marxist" countries, i.e. Cuba and Nicaragua. He also stated that he would not try to establish diplomatic relations with Cuba until after Fidel Castro is gone. Under the current administration, not much attention has been paid to Latin America at all, but the region seems to be an area of expertise for Santorum so he will continue criticizing current U.S.-Latin American relations.

Mitt Romney shifted the focus of foreign policy to the Middle East, where he said Obama had "betrayed" America's ally, Israel. Not sticking with Israel 100%, according to Romney, had led Hamas to take more extreme, violent actions against the Israeli state. Romney made it clear that he supports a two-state solution, but will not waver in his support for Israel. He did not, however, mention the difficulties of creating a Palestinian state, such as the demographics of certain areas and boundaries of a Palestinian state (the possibility of a Palestinian state being surrounded by Israel on all its borders).

Newt Gingrich reiterated a previous statement he made- that the Palestinian nationality is an "invention" of the 1960s. He believes that Palestinians are really just a combination of Egyptians, Lebanese, Syrians, etc. Keep in mind, this was directed at a member of the audience who was a Palestinian-American. He also said that the Israeli state, having been attacked in the fall of last year, should have responded by launching war against Hamas. Of the remaining candidates, Gingrich seems to have the least developed foreign policy ideas. Unless, of course, you include establishing a colony of Americans on the moon.

Ron Paul did not have an opportunity tonight to talk about his foreign policy ideas, but as one might expect, they include an isolationist stance and a refrain from using or deploying U.S. troops abroad.

The domestic issues of the United States (the economy, border control, taxes) are still the center of attention in the political debates. But hopefully if the race between Romney and Gingrich remains close, the two will be forced to expand upon their foreign policy ideas in more detail.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

American-Indian Developments

In order to ensure higher security in Asia, India and the United States are seeking to build a more strategic relationship through discussions about missile defense systems. Last week, in an attempt to help India deter nuclear threats, the American Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for South and Southeast Asia stated that they were willing to examine the sale or joint production of missile shield systems with India. American officials have met with Indian missile experts, and participated in both actual and computerized missile simulations. The U.S. was hoping that India would purchase the Patriot Advanced Capability(PAC)-3 missile defense system, the most advanced air defense missile, but India has shown an interest in building its own systems. This obviously produces contention from Pakistan and China, since these discussions display the shared strategic interests between the United States and India and encourage giving India further technology that would enable them to better defend themselves against Pakistani and Chinese missiles. There’s also the added risk of Indian officials deciding to forego American equipment and build their missile defense system indigenously, thus lessening the amount of transparency and accountability.

Conversation on such things between the two countries is nothing new, since the two countries began discussion about ballistic missile defense shields three years ago. However, the discussions are of particular interest since India is in the midst of a substantial military modernization program and was named the world’s largest weapons importer by the arms watchdog SIPRI. The plans to continue the dialogue are also of particular importance since Pentagon officials have named China as a threat and seek to keep their relationship with India particularly strong as Asia gains increased global power.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Is it Worth the Payoff?

(AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo)
With the recent withdrawal of U.S. troops from Iraq, the responsibility of maintaining state security fell into the hands of the Iraqi Security Forces. In spite of years of military training provided by the United States along with other NATO members, many remain concerned that Iraq’s military may still be incapable of securing the its border and airspace without outside assistance. A vulnerable security force becomes a major issue considering not domestic challenges to the military’s authority, but also the tensions that arise with an increasingly-hostile Iranian neighbor.

Although the focus among most pundits and politicians is upon the appropriateness removing U.S. troops from Iraq, few question why Iraqi forces remain largely inept to protect their own state. Though the simple answer may be to say that creating a military organization from the ground-up takes time, it may be the case that no amount of training, money, or time can “fix” the Iraqi military. In his book, “Arabs at War”, Kenneth Pollack notes a similar phenomenon that occurred when the U.S. trained Egyptian forces. Despite decades of education, technological infusion, and joint military exercises, the Egyptian military simply did not respond to Western military perspectives and failed to make adjustments necessary to make its forces tactically viable to execute complex, modern operations. This too may be the fate for the Iraqi Security Forces, whom too have been exposed to a Western re-education, but may simply choose not to adopt these teachings.

This creates an additional question: If there was no guarantee that the Iraqi military would respond to lengthy military training, why would the United States be willing to expend the time and resources required to work the Iraqi military? Although, some may suggest that such training was necessary to prepare Iraq to reclaim its sovereignty, others may contend that such training would create Iraqi dependency upon the U.S. for further military and technological support. The latter view gains traction when noting a recent NYTimes article reporting that the Obama administration has approved of nearly $11 billion worth of arms and training for the Iraqi forces, in spite of limited results of previous military training efforts. Though such a deal would be a mere drop in the bucket considering the enormous cost of blood and treasure incurred by the United States since 2003, the creation of a new market for technology and military expertise may be a way to justify unproductive training and arming of foreign forces as worthwhile cause.   

Friday, January 20, 2012

Barbie's Dream Drone

When the American drone crashed in December, Iran bragged about their self proclaimed intelligence coup when an Iranian engineer claimed he “spoofed” the American drone’s navigation system, causing to crash and thus make the intricacies of its technology available. This success has been especially welcomed by Iranians in the midst of several setbacks for the country’s nuclear efforts, including the deaths of nuclear scientists, Stuxnet, and damages done at missile and industrial sites. In an additional effort of celebration, replicas of the American drone that Iran brought down in December will be making their ways onto Iranian toy store shelves this week, with a production goal at 2,000 models a day for $4 each. Although similar toys already exist, this one is special in its availability in various bright colors and features a quote from Ayatollah Khomeini: “We will trample America under our feet.” In response to President Obama’s request for Iran to return the original US drone, toymakers have stated that a pink toy drone has already been set aside to send to the President.

The production of toy drones also makes a cultural statement in Iran, where several toys are not allowed due to their links to Western ideals and lifestyles. A substantial amount of Iranians condemn American toys, such as Barbies, due to claims of encouraging a permissive Western life style. Iranian store owners have reported that the country’s morality police have previously been sent to remove all of the voluptuous dolls from the shelves. The comparison was made years ago that the Barbie is America’s version of Troy, with cultural invading soldiers coming inside the dolls. The recent production of the toy drones renews the debate over the American soft war against Iran, in which Iranians claim the United States is trying to culturally invade Iran in an attempt to erode the religious values of the country.

An Iranian woman spoke in anonymity to reporters and expressed her frustration with the antics of the toy makers. She complained about the substantial amount of money that is being put into the production of the toy drones, while Iran, Israel, and the US are spouting war rhetoric, sanctions are increasing against her country, and the people’s savings have decreased in value by 40% in the past year. However, although she is frustrated with the frivolity of the toy creation efforts, she admitted she would probably buy one in an effort to “take the sting out of reality” and provide a bit of comic relief. It will be interesting to see how the Iranian population reacts to the toy’s production; whether they will rally behind anti-American sentiment or respond negatively to their own government’s efforts to minimize the gravity of the situation at hand. It will also be interesting to follow the American response, or lack thereof, to these actions as well.

Training forces who don't want you there

One of the mandates of NATO in Afghanistan is to train and develop a strong internal military force comprised of native Afghans.  For Afghanistan to be a secure nation, it must eventually rely on itself to supply military strength.  NATO forces currently work with army and police units, training them in disciplined reaction to threats, preemptive actions through patrols, combat medical treatment, and other crucial activities.  The ultimate mission is for Afghanistan to have a strong, stable military/police force to allow for the maintenance and further development of peace.  However, not everyone in Afghanistan wants a centralized military force and insurgents have caused problems for the recruitment of soldiers/police and their training.  It appears though that the latest hurdle faced by NATO forces trying to train a competent military is within the military itself.  Today, four French servicemen were killed by an Afghan National Army (ANA) member, adding to the number of what is termed "fratricide-murders" committed by Afghan National Security Force (ANSF) members.  What is causing this phenomenon?  

The infiltration of ANSF troops by insurgents in order to sow discord and attack NATO troops directly continues to be a threat.  However, a report released last May concluded that the growing number of this type of killing reflects a systemic threat, caused not so much by the actions of insurgents attempting to disrupt development of an effective army, but of personal clashes between NATO and ANSF troops.  According to the report, the root cause of these clashes is cultural in nature - Western and Afghan forces treading heavily on each others' cultural norms, leading to severe misunderstandings and disrespect.  A recent well-publicized example is the video of American troops urinating on dead Afghans.  While completely reprehensible, such an act may perhaps be understood in terms of war fatigue.  Both NATO and ANSF troops are tired.  It is hard work, building national security by partnering with people from strange lands who don't speak your language or understand your culture.  NATO troops are tired of being in Afghanistan, trying to train people who may or may not want or see the need for the training.  ANSF troops might feel that they have enough training and are ready for the foreigners to leave.  In all, a tension is growing that is resulting in dangerous ends.  

So what should be done?  More frequent rotations of troops?  More cultural training?  Quicker pace of handing over training to ANSF troops?  France has chosen the latter route, and announced it will halt all training now and be pulling its troops sooner than 2014.  Clearly this is a reactionary announcement, most likely spurred by the upcoming elections in France, in which Sarkozy will run again.  Pulling out early will only create a vacuum for other NATO troops to fill, giving France a bad reaction from other nations.  France though is no stranger to going its own way, so time will tell.  In the long run, however, the bigger issue of how to train people who don't want you there must be solved.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Force Employment in Changing TImes

Stephen Biddle writes about the importance of force employment, more so how we use the resources we have, not whether we have them or not. For example, are we taking advantage of cover and concealment, do the weapons we have integrate well with other weapons in a combination of superior fighting power and are we efficient in our tactics? Having the best weapons or greatest technology does not guarantee victory if used unwisely in the operational and tactical stages. However, today we see a growing movenment away from ground troops due to budgetary constraints, war fatigue and the general growth in technology. Thus, will this movement lead our military to be weaker due to infamiliarity with force employment?

First, the recent budget proposals have hinted at dropping 70,000 troops from the armed forces. Biddle states that often soldiers are unable to pick up on the nuances of finer force employment due to short-term enlistment. While the U.S. has a respectable average service of 6-8 years (outliers not accounted for), one has to ask if force employment will be as strong in this era of troop cutting and budgetary concerns. Less troops are not an issue, but their ability to serve for longer stints and gain knowledge of strategy is important and may be endangered comparatively to other states.

Secondly, technology is also decreasing the use of manpowered instruments. Will force employment be as strong if war should break out if less individuals are interacting with possible theatres, and will knowledge of proven tactics prove incompetent without longer enlistments and familiarity of the enemy and environment? These are questions I cannot answer, but I think they are important to pose.

Take for example drones. They lessen the need for manpower in the region of concern. Further, U.S. tactical advantages will become less once other states begin to manufacture drones comparable to ours. It seems that will be soon, China's drone will resemble a U.S. drone, thus will force employment be negated by similar weapons and an emphasis on hard targets instead of soft. Overall, progress will continue on drones, but it seems there has become a focus on reducing manpower, which could reduce tact in force employment, not because of reduction in men, but reduction in skills and time to learn the skills.

Thus, in a world where war could be fought without man, how will guaging the likely victor change? It seems force employment can only go so far without the human element. In accordance, new criteria may be needed to improve our chances in victory and this possibility should begin to be analyzed now.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Much Ado About Nothing

Over the weekend, reports came out that two U.S. Coast Guard ships were "harassed" by Iranian naval craft in the Strait of Hormuz a week before[1]. (A link to the video released) These events certainly warrant some attention considering the heightened tensions between America and Iran and that Iran has threatened to shut down the Strait of Hormuz if sanctions are placed against its oil exports. However, in my opinion, the media and the DoD blew the events far out of proportion.

Looking at the situation more closely, three Iranian high-speed boats (approx. 30 ft in length) came within 500 yards of the USS New Orleans (approx. 680 ft in length) and would not respond to efforts to establish contact made by the U.S. ship. It's claimed that men on the Iranian boats were carrying a few AK-47 rifles, yet the USS New Orleans is equipped with two 30 mm Bushmaster II chain guns and two RIM-116 Rolling Airframe Missiles.
Really? A harassment? What could three tiny speed boat possibly do to threaten a ship with such size and attacking capability?

The other U.S. craft reportedly "harassed," the USCGC Adak (pictured below), is equipped with a 25 mm MK 38 machine gun, five .50 caliber machine guns, and a MK 19 40 mm grenade launcher, among other smaller arms. It is also worth noting that the Adak is approx. 110 ft in length,  over three times as large as any of the Iranian speed boats that approached it.

Again, I am not saying that these developments aren't slightly concerning, but they certainly should not be deemed a "harassment" to U.S. naval craft. Considering the fact that the U.S. military has admitted to flying drones over Iranian airspace, this action taken by Iran hardly warrants a provocation in my opinion. In a period of extremely elevated high tensions between the U.S. and Iran, any hostile action (or inaction, in this case) by the latter will be perceived as a potential threat and a step closer to war between the two.