Thursday, March 31, 2016


IS, ISIS, ISIL (your choice) and a dirty bomb are hot topics d'jour

The murder of a security guard at a Belgian nuclear facility just two days after the Brussels attacks, coupled with evidence that Islamic State operatives had been watching researchers there, has re-ignited fears about ISIS and nuclear terrorism. Some experts, including ones cited by the New York Times and others, dismiss the possibility that ISIS could make even a crude nuclear bomb. Yet Project on Managing the Atom at Harvard’s Belfer Center, says that the threat is quite real.

 A recent report from the Nuclear Threat Initiative, which notes that the material to make a dirty bomb exists in “tens of thousands of radiological sources located in more than 100 countries around the world.”

In 2013 and 2014, there were 325 incidents of radioactive materials being lost, stolen, or in some way unregulated or uncontrolled, according to the report, which cites estimates from the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation.

What if a dirty bomb isn't the goal? Perhaps those cats are instead looking to do a China Syndrome and create a meltdown at a nuclear power plant instead.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Mitsubishi X-2 ATD Stealth Fighter

Tokyo is locked in a regional dogfight with Beijing to maintain control over the skies over the Sea of Japan.

The new Japanese aircraft could be based in part on the technologies being matured on Mitsubishi’s X-2 ATD-X stealth fighter concept demonstrator. The X-2 prototype is set to take to the skies for the first time in days, reports Reuters.

Japan needs to replace her F-15J Eagle air superiority fighters. In Tokyo’s estimation, the F-35—which was not designed primarily for the air-to-air role—won’t be enough to meet her requirements. While Tokyo is buying forty-two F-35s, those planes will replace Japan’s F-4J Kai Phantom II fleet. The plane Japan wanted as its F-15J replacement was the F-22, but U.S. law prohibited the Raptor’s export. “Japan really wanted the F-22 but she got the F-35,” a Japan-based source told Reuters. “This is a source of concern and frustration in Tokyo.”

That is one reason the Japanese are aiming to develop what is being called the F-3—potentially a operational variant of the X-2—as an air superiority fighter. Japan aims to field a new air superiority fighter in the 2030s—roughly at the same time the U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy hope to field the F-X and F/A-XX respectively. That means that Japan might be able to leverage such an effort to join a U.S.-led sixth-generation fighter program. Tokyo probably can’t afford to pay for a $50 billion fighter development program on its own.

However, if Tokyo does manage to develop a new sixth-generation fighter on its own, it would mark the revival of Japan as an aerospace colossus. The country’s once-potent aviation industry was all but dismantled following the end of the Second World War.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

44's Foreign Policy Doctrine

Goldberg’s landmark essay on 44’s foreign policy shows the impatience, exasperation and utter unseriousness of the Free World's leader

If only America’s stubborn allies removed their blinders, which he attributes to tribalism or spinelessness, they could, like him, see the world for what it is — and resolve their problems on their own. Tensions between Iran and Saudi Arabia might subside if only Riyadh would learn to “share the neighborhood.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could resolve the Israeli–Palestinian conflict if only he offered greater concessions. Russian adventurism and Chinese bullying might end if only their neighbors demonstrated greater resolve.

The war in Libya might have achieved a more stable outcome if only the Europeans were more “invested in the follow-up.” At the same time,44 voices chagrin that his critics, both foreign and domestic, fail to recognize that some crises are so intractable that U.S. intervention, alas, either would fail to turn the tide or would come at too high a cost. An attack on Syria, he laments, would maroon America in a quagmire. Ukraine, he contends, “is going to be vulnerable to military domination by Russia no matter what we do.”

The opposite of unipolarity is not necessarily multipolarity but chaos. Both, in any event, could amount to the same thing — a phenomenon the Middle East has already begun to witness. As the White House pursues détente with Iran at the expense of Sunni Arab states and continues to abjure a meaningful military commitment in Iraq and Syria, a revanchist Moscow has expanded military and diplomatic cooperation with Tehran and Damascus. A rising China, meanwhile, is pursuing lucrative business deals with Iran, which provides critical backing to the Assad regime, thanks in part to the robust sanctions relief offered by the July 2015 nuclear agreement.

The result of all this is a shifting balance of power that favors America’s enemies rather than its friends, and increases global disorder. Saudi Arabia must now indeed share the neighborhood — not only with its arch-rival Iran but with the two aspiring superpowers of Russia and China as well. Wide swaths of the Middle East and North Africa must now share the neighborhood with the Islamic State and other terrorist groups. Europe must now share the neighborhood with millions of Arab refugees and the terrorists embedded among them. And the United States must share the neighborhood with a growing cohort of ISIS-inspired homegrown extremists who sense American weakness — and concomitantly grisly opportunities.

He defends his passivity, toothless diplomacy, and tenuous rapprochements, which have served to embolden America’s enemies, by casting an Iraq-like imbroglio circa 2003–08 as the only alternative — a one-size-fits-all argument meant to deflect any and all calls for increased military engagement.


Monday, March 28, 2016

Russia's Armoured Trains

Russian Defense Ministry is once again considering reviving a century-old military concept - the use of armored trains.

Last year, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu decided to overturn an order by his predecessor, Anatoly Serdyukov, to eliminate the four armored trains still in country's service. During Russian military operations in the North Caucasus and Chechnya from 2002 to 2009, the Russian military created an entire group of armored trains. However, once military operations in Chechnya wound down, the Defense Ministry has decided that a modern army no longer needed such trains.
According to Russian daily Izvestia, the decision to save these special armored trains was made personally by Minister Shoigu. When Serdyukov unexpectedly resigned in late 2012, many of his orders on the reorganization of various units of the Ministry of Defense were not fulfilled, explains Izvestia. After Shoigu audited all military assets, he overruled his predecessor's orders on the reduction of military educational institutions, refused to disband mobile and airborne units, and decided to keep armored trains in the nation's Southern Military District. "When he was the head of the Emergencies Ministry (the Russian equivalent of FEMA), Shoigu, while in Chechnya during the counter-terrorist operation, saw these special trains working and found them useful for the Armed Forces," Izvestia explains.
Russian military officers emphasized that these armored trains proved themselves ably in Chechnya, where it was necessary to protect military cargo and personnel transported via rail from Chechen insurgents. Such armored trains were also essential to protect combat engineers who cleared the railway tracks of improvised explosive devices. Each of the trains included repair teams capable of restoring damaged tracks within hours. The four trains, built in the middle of the last century, were on duty in the Soviet Far East until the 1980s -- there they guarded bridges and railways along the Soviet-Chinese border.
Such armored trains have near-legendary status in Russia. When mobility and concentrated firepower were scarce during the Russian Revolution and the subsequent Civil War that raged across long stretches of today's Russia and Ukraine between 1917 and 1921, trains equipped with cannon and other weapons allowed Bolshevik forces to gain an upper hand over their opponents, at times deploying more than a dozen such trains in a single battle.
By the end of the conflict, the newly formed Russian Red Army had 121 such trains in service, which were also used in World War Two and were immortalized on propaganda posters and numerous Soviet and Russian films. However, in the following decades, advances in artillery, missile guidance, aviation, and other technologies made such trains easy targets and therefore virtually irrelevant in large-scale military operations.

All Aboard!

Sunday, March 27, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, March 25, 2016

Open Letter To 44 About Aegypt

Pyramidland. A crazy place anyway it's looked at.

Dear Mr. President,

We are writing to urge you to speak directly with Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and to express both publicly and privately your objection to his accelerating crackdown on human rights, including recent moves to prosecute civil society organizations. You were correct to declare in September 2014 that “America’s support for civil society is a matter of national security,” and nowhere is that more true than in Egypt today.

President al-Sisi’s campaign against civil society takes place against the backdrop of unprecedented abuses by Egyptian security forces, including extrajudicial killings, the detention of tens of thousands of political prisoners, the widespread documented use of torture, and the forced disappearances of hundreds of Egyptians. The killing of Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose tortured body appeared on a roadside near Cairo a week after his abduction in late January, has come to international attention, but many Egyptians have shared his fate since President al-Sisi came to power.

On March 24, an Egyptian court will hear a request to freeze the bank accounts and other assets of two internationally-respected human rights defenders, Hossam Bahgat and Gamal Eid, along with members of Eid’s family. Mr. Bahgat and Mr. Eid and other activists may soon be indicted and face trial for illegally accepting foreign funding – a criminal charge that violates their right to free association and could carry a sentence of up to 25 years in prison.

The imminent proceedings are a major step in Egyptian authorities’ campaign to crush the last remnants of Egypt’s independent civil society and human rights community. Egypt’s media has recently reported that dozens of organizations are under criminal investigation, essentially for their peaceful work to monitor abuses and to hold Egypt’s government accountable to its own constitution and international human rights commitments. In recent weeks, Egyptian authorities have ordered the closure of a prominent anti-torture organization, the Nadeem Center; summoned staff from several human rights organizations for interrogation; banned prominent rights activists and advocates from traveling outside Egypt in violation of the Egyptian constitution; and harassed and threatened human rights activists with arrest and violence. The media regularly propagate vitriol against human rights defenders, portraying them as traitors and security threats.

If this crackdown is allowed to reach its conclusion, it will silence an indigenous human rights community that has survived more than 30 years of authoritarian rule, leaving few if any Egyptians free to investigate mounting abuses by the state.

The current attacks on Egypt’s rights advocates are a continuation of the same criminal prosecution of American and German NGO workers in Egypt that began in 2011. That prosecution, driven by senior members of the Egyptian government still in high office today, resulted in the June 2013 criminal convictions, in a deeply flawed trial, of 43 Egyptian and international NGO staff, including 17 American citizens. President al-Sisi, who was the head of military intelligence in 2011 when Egypt’s military government launched the investigation, has refused repeated requests to overturn the convictions.

While the current crackdown is primarily targeting domestic organizations, there are indications that international NGOs may also face increased pressure, including some that currently do not even have offices or staff working in Egypt. On March 20, the newspaper Al Masry Al Youm published the names of more than 150 individuals and civil society organizations reportedly under investigation for receiving foreign funding, including prominent American and European organizations such as the Center for International Private Enterprise, the Solidarity Center, Transparency International, Save the Children, Catholic Relief Services, CARE, AMIDEAST, the National Democratic Institute, and the International Republican Institute.

Mr. President, in your September 2014 Presidential Memorandum on Civil Society, you pledged that the United States government – including you personally – would stand firmly with those in civil society facing pressure or harassment from their governments. While the past five years have been tumultuous and challenging for US policy toward Egypt, this is another defining moment for the United States, a moment that tests your pledge to “stand with civil society.” Secretary Kerry’s March 18 statement of concern was welcome, but further action is urgently needed. Past practice demonstrates that when the United States government speaks clearly, in one voice, and consistently on NGO freedom and human rights in Egypt, the government in Cairo listens.

It is essential that you act to stand up for human rights, freedom of association, and the rights of both Egyptian and international civil society organizations to work together on behalf of common goals. You must make crystal clear to President al-Sisi that continued assaults on civil society, including harassment of US organizations, will make it difficult for the administration to cooperate across a range of issues, including your administration’s efforts to promote American investment in Egypt and to provide financial assistance to the Egyptian government and military. If Egypt’s government continues down a path to destroy its own civil society, American support and assistance will become, in both principled and practical terms, impossible.


The Working Group on Egypt

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Rethinking Polislam

Polislam - or political mohammedism gets an indepth look via our friends over at Brookings...
The rapid succession of events in the past four years—the Arab Spring, the Egyptian military coup, and the rise of ISIS—have challenged conventional wisdom on political Islam. After the democratic openings in 2011, mainstream Islamist groups—affiliates and descendants of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood—rose to newfound prominence after decades in opposition, but grappled with the challenges of governance and deeply polarized societies. The subsequent “twin shocks” of the coup in Egypt and the emergence of ISIS are forcing a rethinking of some of the basic assumptions of, and about, Islamist movements, including on: gradual versus revolutionary approaches to change; the use of tactical or situational violence; attitudes toward the state; and how ideology and political variables interact.

Rethinking Political Islam is the first project of its kind to systematically assess the evolution of mainstream Islamist groups across 12 country cases—Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Jordan, and Pakistan, as well as Malaysia and Indonesia. The project engages scholars of political Islam through in-depth research and dialogue to consider how the Arab uprisings and their aftermath have shaped—and in some cases altered—the strategies, agendas, and self-conception of Islamist movements.

Each author has produced a working paper that draws on on-the-ground fieldwork and engagement with Islamist actors in their country of expertise. Authors then write reaction essays focusing on 1) how reading the other country cases has made them think differently about their own country of focus, and 2) broader observations on regional commonalities and divergences. These are presented on the Brookings website in a real-time format, so readers can track responses and reactions between the authors as they grapple with each other’s cases.   
We then ask Islamist leaders and activists to respond and offer their own perspectives on the future of their movements. They will have the opportunity to disagree (or agree) with some of the leading scholars of political Islam, in the spirit of constructive dialogue. Finally, authors will produce final drafts incorporating additional insights gleaned from months of discussion and debate.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Front Line Europa

An attack at the very heart of NATO

The airport explosions took place at a check-in area around 8am local time, while the metro station was hit about an hour later. At least 34 people were killed. Early reports indicate that the airport blasts were the result of one suicide bombing and one bomb detonated from a distance. There are also reports that there was shouting in Arabic and gunshots were heard before the blasts. At least 14 people were killed in the airport attack. The Maelbeek station, where 20 people were killed, is in close proximity to European Union office buildings.

These attacks differ from the Paris attacks on Nov. 13 in size, scope and level of organization. In Paris, the attacks involved the participation of several groups targeting a stadium, concert hall, restaurants and cafes and led to 130 deaths. The attacks in Brussels were coordinated, but may have involved as few as two or three individuals. Today's attacks thus required much less equipment and advanced planning than the Paris attacks. It may be that the attacks are revenge for the arrest of Salah Abdeslam, a suspect in the Paris attacks. Or it could be operatives connected to Abdeslam - fearing that the authorities are closing in - attempting to carry out one last attack before their organization is dismantled.
ISIL claimed responsibility

The attacks come four days after the arrest of Abdeslam in the Brussels neighborhood of Molenbeek. The Nov. 13 attacks in Paris, which the Islamic State formally claimed responsibility for, were believed to have been planned largely in Brussels. Over the past few months, Belgian police conducted several raids in an effort to dislodge terror cells in Brussels. Molenbeek, an immigrant neighborhood in Brussels where unemployment stands at about 30 percent, is known as a jihadi hub. Not only were several suspects connected to the Paris bombings arrested in that neighborhood, but Molenbeek also reportedly boasts the highest concentration in Europe of militants going to fight in Syria and Iraq.

Attacks like those in Brussels today, especially on soft targets like large, unprotected public transportation centers, are likely the new normal for Europe. The Islamic State is largely focused on its war in Syria and Iraq, but militants have shown a willingness to further some strategic goals through terror attacks farther afield.

ISIL interest to strike visible Western targets because it benefits when the tide of popular opinion turns against migrants, and when mohammedist minorities in Europe feel that the West does not accept them. Moreover, it is impossible for authorities to fully secure all soft targets. Even if some members of a cell are arrested or killed, groups tend to have middle managers who are responsible for coordinating multiple cells.

  Unless the middle management is eliminated, when some of the attackers die or get captured there are others who can be deployed and more attacks are likely. At the same time, local groups, lone wolves and militants returning from Syria and Iraq are also able to carry out attacks, albeit generally on a smaller scale.

Lone wolves are particularly difficult to locate, even with strong security measures and intelligence capabilities.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

The Cost of Syria

Suriya al kubra!

Ah, seems only Yday that 44 put his foot down and conjured up the Red Line.

And now...

Japanese, South Koreans, Singaporeans and even Indians confided that they were convinced that 44’s failure to use force against the regime of Bashar al-Assad was directly responsible for China’s subsequent burst of aggression in territorial disputes in the East China Sea and South China Sea.

Poles, Lithuanians and French drew a line between the backdown and Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. As for the Sunni Arabs, Turks and Israelis, it is an article of faith that Obama’s decision accelerated the catastrophe that Syria, and much of the rest of the Middle East, has become.

They have an obvious point: Hundreds of thousands are dead, the European Union is in danger of crumbling under an onslaught of refugees, and the Islamic State and Assad remain unvanquished.

Who would not call this a bad outcome?
44 actually.

By far the most startling disclosure in the president’s interviews with the Atlantic’s Jeffrey Goldberg is his judgment of his Syria decision: “I’m very proud of this moment,” he said. The words ring with defensive arrogance. But they also suggest that 44 remains, to this day, fundamentally clueless — or in denial — about the consequences of what historians will surely regard as one of his most fateful errors.

44 now regards August 2013 as his “liberation” from a U.S. foreign policy establishment he holds in contempt, along with a “Washington playbook” that demands military action to uphold American “credibility.” If that’s how 44 sees it, that is a blinkered misjudgment. Yes, the conventional wisdom among the think tanks, ex-officials and pundits of Washington is that 44 made a terrible error. But that is also the view of the foreign policy establishments of most of the rest of the world.
Indians and Japanese, Poles and Latvians, Israelis and Saudis are convinced that the United States damaged its deterrence and invited aggression — and that they must adjust their own policies accordingly — it almost doesn’t matter if 44 is right in insisting that Putin and Xi Jinping took no cues from him. The global conventional wisdom has created its own reality. Recent events have been reinforcing: If the president believes Putin’s recent military adventure in Syria had nothing to do with the 2013 decision, he is virtually alone.

In fact, despite his protestations, 44 seems to be haunted by his Syrian retreat — so much so that he has concocted a kind of negative doctrine around it. It is, says Goldberg, that the Middle East “is no longer terribly important to American interests”; that even if it is, there is little the United States can do “to make it a better place”; and that any attempt to do so leads only to war and “the eventual hemorrhaging of U.S. credibility and power.”

If 44 really believes it, he has betrayed himself by dispatching 4,000 troops and scores of warplanes to Iraq and Syria to fight the Islamic State. That would seem to establish that there remains a vital U.S. interest in the region and that U.S. military action can have a positive effect. It suggests the real question is not about whether the United States should engage in the Middle East, or even if it must do so militarily, but rather how much so and with what goals.
In that, 44 has fallen victim to his own ideology. As the Brookings Institution’s Tamara Wittes points out in a brilliant Atlantic essay, the president’s attempt to restrain U.S. involvement in the Middle East has had the paradoxical effect of sucking the country into a deeper morass. Obama, she says, not only refused to act against Assad but also abandoned U.S. efforts to help build a new political order in Iraq, Egypt and Libya. 
The result is that 44 is now obliged to fight the Islamic State’s multiplying iterations across the region without any prospect of viable states to replace it.

  He has few allies and no exit strategy. The “liberation” from the Middle East that he now celebrates has created a quagmire that the next president will inherit.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Hollow Superpower

Ah, Russia ain't all that. Sure tovarisch - Russia enables bad actors and has the ability to wreck bunches of havoc. Yet deep down inside - She's hollow...

Happy crowds waved Russian flags; homecoming pilots were given fresh-baked bread by women in traditional dress. Judging by the pictures on television, Vladimir Putin won a famous victory in Syria this week. After his unexpected declaration that the campaign is over, Mr Putin is claiming credit for a ceasefire and the start of peace talks. He has shown off his forces and, heedless of civilian lives, saved the regime of his ally, Bashar al-Assad (though Mr Assad himself may yet prove dispensable). He has “weaponised” refugees by scattering Syrians among his foes in the European Union. And he has outmanoeuvred 44, who has consistently failed to grasp the enormity of the Syrian civil war and the threat it poses to America’s allies in the Middle East and Europe.

Look closer, however, and Russia’s victory rings hollow. Islamic State (IS) remains. The peace is brittle. Even optimists doubt that diplomacy in Geneva will prosper (see article). Most important, Mr Putin has exhausted an important tool of propaganda. As this briefing explains, Russia’s president has generated stirring images of war to persuade his anxious citizens that their ailing country is once again a great power, first in Ukraine and recently over the skies of Aleppo.

The big question for the West is where he will stage his next drama.

Russia is more fragile than he pretends. The economy is failing. The rise in oil prices after 2000,  provided $1.1 trillion of windfall export revenues for him to spend as he wished. But oil prices are three-quarters down from their peak. Russian belts have tightened further because of sanctions imposed after She attacked Ukraine. Living standards have fallen for the past two years and are falling still. The average salary in January 2014 was $850 a month; a year later it was $450.

With action in Ukraine and Syria, he has made it appear that Russia is the equal—and rival—of America. That is not only popular among ordinary Russians but also contains a serious message. Mr Putin fears that Russia, in its weakened state, could be vulnerable to what he sees as America’s impulse to subvert regimes using the language of universal democracy. In both Ukraine and Syria, he believes, America recklessly encouraged the overthrow of governments without being able to contain the chaos that followed. He intervened partly because he fears that the revolutions there must be seen to fail—or Russia itself could one day suffer a revolution of its own.

So far his plans have worked. Beguiled by a pro-Kremlin broadcast media, ordinary Russians have been willing to trade material comfort for national pride. Mr Putin’s popularity ratings remain above 80%, far higher than most Western leaders’. But the narcotic of adventurism soon wears off. Since last October, the share of voters who feel the country is heading in the right direction has fallen from 61% to 51%. Russians tired of Ukraine; now Syria has peaked. Sooner or later, the cameras will crave action. Ukrainians are petrified once again.

Syria shows how, when 44 stands back in the hope that regional leaders will stop free-riding on American power and work together for the collective good, the vacuum is filled by disrupters like Iran and IS, and by Russia in its search for the next source of propaganda.

So the West needs to be prepared. It is welcome that America is strengthening its forces in Europe. NATO’s European members should show similar mettle by putting troops in the Baltic states—which will require a change of heart in countries, such as Italy, that see any display of resolve as needlessly provoking Russia.

If there is trouble, NATO and the EU will need to respond immediately to show that Russia cannot prise open the collective-security guarantee that lies at the heart of NATO.

Sunday, March 20, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, March 18, 2016

Future of Conflict

Oh Snap!

“The most significant shift in the future security environment – and that is a return to an era of great power competition.  Today, we are faced with a resurgent Russia and a rising China. Both are nuclear-armed powers. Both are fielding advanced capabilities at a rapid rate.  Both are permanent members of the U.N. Security Council and both are raising issues with some aspects of the principled international order that has preserved stability and enabled the peaceful pursuit of prosperity for decades.”

The Secretary of Defense has identified his five major security concerns as: Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and terrorism.

And thus...

It is the absence of great power competition, not its presence, which has been the unusual state of affairs in the world for the past 25 years. Were Russia, China and the others willing to work within the norms and rules of the current international order even as they sought greater influence in it, that would not be a problem. But as Deputy Secretary Work noted, these two major powers, as well as North Korea, Iran and some others, want to rewrite the rules in ways congenial to their interests but not to America’s or that of any free and democratic country.

What makes this emerging competition all the more worrisome is that behind it is the rapid growth in Russian and Chinese conventional and nuclear capabilities. These investments have resulted in a loss of U.S. conventional military superiority in a number of areas. The U.S. Air Force isn’t certain it can successfully penetrate advanced air defenses with acceptable losses. The U.S. Army doesn’t have the means to effectively counter Russian long-range fire systems. These countries are selling advanced military capabilities to others, meaning that even if we never have to fight Russia or China we will face their weapons systems, possibly in large numbers.

The Big 8 Initiative is meant to focus the attention of the senior leadership of the Army, all the way to the Chief of Staff, on restoring that service’s ability to overmatch any adversary and to do so by systematically and logically investing in specific capabilities, largely but not exclusively platforms and systems. The capability areas that make up the Big 8 are: combat vehicles, soldier/team performance and overmatch, expeditionary mission command, cross domain fires, cyber/electromagnetic, future vertical lift, robotics and autonomous systems and advanced protection. These capabilities will be central to future high-end conventional conflict.

One of the Army’s main planning challenges is uncertainty regarding where, when and against whom they will fight. Another is that it has too many identified capabilities gaps with some stakeholder clamoring for attention to each one. A third is a relative scarcity of modernization funds. It is hoped that by developing a Big 8 Initiative and associated management process, the Army leadership can more effectively focus its modernization efforts and resources on the most critical of those gaps.
The Army leadership could enhance the value, credibility and relevance of the Big 8 Initiative by pursuing in the near-term what I would call a “small 8” initiative. The reality is that the Army lacks the resources to push a new set of major platforms as it did in the 1970s. Moreover, it is not clear in a number of the areas what would be the next “big thing.” Finally, even where there are major programs currently underway such as in advanced protection and future vertical lift (FVL), it will be years before they bear any fruit. And the Army may not have that kind of time.

A “small 8” initiative would focus on closing a recognized, serious capability gap in each of the eight areas for at least a portion of the force in the next couple of years. That is what the Army did with its effort to up gun a portion of the Strykers in the 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment with a new, more lethal 30mm cannon. Similarly, the Army could take an important step forward in advanced protection by deploying active protection systems on a subset of its Heavy and Stryker Brigade Combat Teams.

 The Army needs to run an evaluation no later than next year and pick a few available systems for deployment. Also, it could acquire several squadrons’ worth of existing advanced rotorcraft, like Sikorsky’s Raider, as a way of informing the FVL effort and making something of a down payment on its vision of a new scout/light attack helicopter.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Russia's Syrian Split

Suriya al Kubra!

 “I consider the objectives that have been set for the Defense Ministry to be generally accomplished.”

These words constitute an admission. Putin revealed that Russian forces did not come to Syria to fight radical Islamic terrorists or ISIS, as he and other Russian government officials have repeatedly stated since their military operation kicked off in September. ISIS is still going strong as a political-military force in Syria, controlling significant territory, fighting in Syria (and Iraq), and from Syria recruiting and inspiring affiliates to terrorist acts worldwide.

It should now be clear to those hanging on to a shred of hope that Putin was never going to join the Western coalition against ISIS in Syria. The Kremlin’s objective was always to achieve a negotiated settlement through the Geneva Talks that allows Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to remain in power for some time and for Russia to retain its key influence over his government. It was not to fight terrorism in Syria. 

Russia's sudden split ain't all that. In truth, only withithdrawing some forces — bomber squadrons, for example — while retaining his military infrastructure (air bases, port facilities, etc.) in Syria.

For years Russia tried to get its way mainly through diplomacy but that didn’t work. So last September, Russia decided to try the same strategy in Syria that worked in Ukraine. Russia’s tactical military moves there tipped in their favor the negotiating dynamic that boiled down to the Minsk Agreements. Just as in Ukraine, Kremlin is seeking to turn military advances into diplomatic leverage, having demonstrated it will intervene militarily to save its ally and gain territory for Syria.

This leverage cuts two ways. Russia’s maximum moment of leverage over the future of Syria will be on Tuesday just its forces begin to withdraw. Up until now Russia’s military intervention had increased pressure on the Syrian opposition and its backers, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, France, the UK and the other European and Middle Eastern states in the 64-member coalition led by the United States.  Russia had rescued Assad’s government from ever-increasing military losses and a real threat to its control of territory and survival. 

Starting Tuesday, Russia will also have increased its leverage over Assad. By signaling a Russian withdrawal — and at this point, it is only signaling — Putin is making clear that Russia is not providing Assad unlimited support. Now that Russia’s brutal military intervention has forced the West to compromise on when Assad must leave, Assad must be ready to compromise with the opposition and the coalition on a political settlement. Russia thus appears to have thrown its weight behind the U.N.-led negotiations in Geneva. 

Big questions remain:

1) How much military force will Russia withdraw and what assets will Russia leave in Syria?  Will air operations continue? 

 2) Will Russia be prepared to deploy troops again if Assad begins to lose territory?

 3) Will Assad (and Iran) compromise?

4) What are the implications for Ukraine?

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

The G Word

Don't say it out loud!!

In 1948, in the wake of World War II and the Holocaust, the United Nations drafted the Treaty on the Prevention and Punishment of Genocide. It defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial, or religious group.” Such acts include killing, causing serious mental or physical harm, causing conditions of life that will destroy the group, preventing childbirth, and kidnapping children.

 According to the treaty, United Nations member states, including the United States, must take action against such conditions. The goal was to ensure that nothing like the Holocaust would happen again.

A noble idea, but it hasn’t worked. Since 1948, genocide has clearly been committed multiple times, with no response until it was too late. American presidents in particular have made deliberate policy decisions to not call genocide “genocide,” even in the face of plenty of evidence, because they didn’t want to be responsible for acting. For example, during the Rwandan genocide in 1994, radical members of the Hutu tribe set out to exterminate their rival tribe, the Tutsis, as well as any Hutus who got in the way. 42's administration chose not to apply the word “genocide” openly until long after the evidence merited it. Only after 800,000 Rwandans had been slaughtered in 100 days and the bloodbath had run its course did officials finally start to call it genocide.

It’s not clear exactly what is being done to Christians in the Middle East right now (an excuse similar to that made by world leaders in the late 1930s when Jews were being rounded up and killed in Nazi Germany), but what we do know is grim. In 2003, over 1.4 million Christians lived in Iraq. By the summer of 2015, there were fewer than 275,000. Most were eking out a nightmarish existence in camps in Kurdistan.
 The numbers are similar among Syrian Christians: approximately 1.25 million in 2011, fewer than 500,000 today. Of the missing millions, some have been kidnapped, tortured, and held at absurd bails. Some have been sold into slavery or forced into “marriage” with ISIS fighters. We know many are dead, but we can’t determine how many.   

No American president has ever applied the word “genocide” to a current event or situation. The way is now paved for 44 to become the first. On January 27 the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe passed (117 votes to 1) a resolution to hold ISIS responsible for genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and other religious minorities. The European Parliament adopted the resolution on February 4. The U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee declared genocide on March 2. The British Parliament appears to be leaning toward a similar declaration. All President Obama has to do is jump on the bandwagon.

But he hasn’t.

Of course, we know why. For more than seven years, 44's foreign policy has been a toxic blend of strong language and weak action. (Remember the “red line” in Syria? Neither does Assad.) The foreign policy of the administration tends toward talking a big game and then conveniently forgetting to show up. That would be a lot harder to pull off if he called the genocide of Christians by ISIS what it is. So naturally he’s avoiding it, like 42's administration before him.

If his secretary of state, John Kerry, agrees to designate ISIS’s atrocities genocide, that could force the administration to act with the European Union to take military action against ISIS soon. 44 may want to avoid that policy, but his failure to confront the genocide and name it would be the nail in the coffin of his foreign-policy legacy.

If the 20th century taught us anything, it’s that ignoring genocide doesn’t make it go away. If we won’t call it what it is, our children will do it for us, and we’ll have to answer the difficult question of why we wouldn’t do it ourselves.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

T -14 Armata

Russia’s T-14 main battle tank—which is part of the Armata family of combat vehicles—is already in production.

The Armata Universal Combat Platform consists of the T-14 main battle tank, the T-15 heavy infantry fighting vehicle and the T-16 armored recovery vehicle, among a host of other vehicles. Another member of the Armata family includes an upgunned heavy assault armored vehicle, which has been dubbed “the Tank Killer” by Russian media. While the T-14 is no slouch in terms of firepower with its new 2A82-1M 125mm gun—which is mounted in an unmanned turret. The “Tank Killer” variant seems to incorporate a derivative of the 2S35 Koalitsiya-SV’s 152mm artillery piece into the Armata chassis in a direct fire mounting.

Meanwhile, footage from a Russian television segment on the T-14 main battle tank component of the Armata family shows an advanced armored three-man crew capsule fitted with touch screen displays. The interface looks simple and intuitive from what can be seen in the video. The Russians also seem to have developed a battle network connecting their T-14s and T-90MS tanks that can relay Instant Messaging, videos and imagery to multiple friendly tanks. The tank is also fitted with GLONASS and NAVSTAR GPS.

Perhaps the most impressive feature of the Armata series is the Afghanit active protection system (APS). The system uses a 360 active electronically scanned array radar and a potent electronic warfare system to disrupt the guidance of incoming rounds. It also has a countermeasure suite to jam enemy laser guidance systems. As well, the tank is equipped with interceptor rounds for the APS, which are fitted with explosively formed penetrators. That means the Armata’s APS could potentially be effective against even kinetic energy rounds.

APS systems are usually most effective when used against chemical energy rounds like rocket-propelled grenades or missiles.

The Military Balance 2016 report by the International Institute for Strategic Studies explains another important feature:

“Most revolutionary is the Armata-based T-14 Main Battle Tank featuring an uncrewed turret. There is emphasis on protection across the platforms—including active protection systems (APS)—reflecting lessons learnt as well as perceptions of future operating environments. . . .

“When it enters service Armata will be the first tank designed for an unmanned turret and APS. Successful fielding of APS will reduce the effectiveness of anti-tank guided missiles and shoulder-fired weapons such as rocket propelled grenades. This will change battlefield dynamics by increasing the importance of cannon, anti-tank guns and tanks.”
The Armata is a source of major concern for Western armies. As a direct response to the development of the T-14, Germany recently launched an effort to upgun the Leopard 2 with a new 130mm cannon and is developing plans to launch a new main battle tank called the Main Ground Combat System (MGCS).

Monday, March 14, 2016

Collapse of Red China

While debate in China has certainly advanced in the last four years, Diplomat neatly lays out three possible reasons Chinese scholars see as the most likely cause of the collapse—and the most important areas to address:

“Blame the Man” Concept

“For many in China in the late 1980s, early 1990s, and even until today, assessing blame for the Soviet Union’s collapse begins and ends with a single individual, Mikhail Gorbachev. This view seems to resonate most strongly with China’s more conservative leftists. During the height of Gorbachev’s reform efforts, there were people who argued that “within the CCP and within China intense ‘ideological struggle’ would be waged against Gorbachev’s ‘revisionism.’” Of course, since the Communist Revolution of 1949 few, if any, labels are more dreaded than “revisionist.” Even as recently as last year, the “Blame the Man” school of thought was en vogue.

On March 1, 2011, the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (CASS) released a new book, Preparing for Danger in Times of Safety: Recollections on the 20-Year Anniversary of the Collapse of the Russian Communist Party (居安思危: 苏联亡党二十年的思考), which concludes that the root cause of the collapse of the CPSU was not the Russian socialist system itself, but rather the corruption of the Russian Communists led by then-President Gorbachev.

The debilitating effects of corruption are manifesting themselves in China today, so it’s no wonder that the CCP certainly in word, if not always in deed, seems desperate to wage war against this dreaded foe.”

“Blame the System” Theory

While the core foundations of today’s Chinese and old Soviet economies and governments are vastly different, one can see through the lens of this school of thought why economic restructuring is so important to Beijing today:

“A second influential camp comprised of more liberal or reform-minded individuals saw the impetus of the collapse as being systemic – not a flaw in the socialist model itself, but rather in how it was executed in the Soviet Union. These people blamed domestic causes such as economic stagnation, mismanagement, excessive dogmatism and bureaucratic ossification for the Soviet Union’s collapse. These problems were certainly not solely the result of Gorbachev-era policies, but like a cancer that had been allowed to metastasize, spread over time throughout Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union.

“One could see why this “Blame the System” idea would gain traction with reform-minded Party members in China. After all, many of Deng Xiaoping’s reforms were an effort to combat just this sort of stale, stagnant thinking. . .”

Blame The West

Was the fall of the Soviet Union simply all America’s fault? Some in China think so—and might explain Beijing’s quest to rid Asia of its large U.S. presence:

“The “Blame the West” camp differentiates itself from the other two because it seems particularly consumed by fear of the United States’ policies and influence in the region. In fact one of this camp’s overriding concerns is that Washington would use its power to step up pressure on China to initiate regime change. Articles appeared in places like the People’s Daily and Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po stating that the CCP was fearful of growing influence by “aggressive” Western powers as well as of outward signs of Party disunity. . . . These sentiments are still echoed and diatribes against American hegemony often find their way onto many a Chinese Op-Ed page.”
End Game

Beijing’s markets and industries are a huge part of the global economy and supply chain. China does not have countless allies and partners to support around the world with expensive arms and endless subsidies. And best of all: Beijing is not pitted in a global contest with the U.S. for power and influence.

But whatever the differences, Beijing does have reasons to worry. Economic growth has slowed dramatically—or is possibly non-existent. China may grow old before it grows rich. In East Asia, Chinese moves over roughly the last decade have rattled the region, with nations around the wider Indo-Pacific slowly lining up to challenge Beijing’s quest for greater power and influence.

In the end, if history tells us anything is that the only constant is change. Perhaps it would be wise for U.S. Asia watchers to consider all futures when it comes to the Middle Kingdom—including what today might seem like the unthinkable.


Sunday, March 13, 2016


WoW - the Watchers Council- it's the oldest, longest running cyber comte d'guere ensembe in existence - started online in 1912 by Sirs Jacky Fisher and Winston Churchill themselves - an eclective collective of cats both cruel and benign with their ability to put steel on target (figuratively - natch) on a wide variety of topictry across American, Allied, Frenemy and Enemy concerns, memes, delights and discourse.

Every week these cats hook up each other with hot hits and big phazed cookies to peruse and then vote on their individual fancy catchers.

Thusly sans further adieu (or a don"t)

Council Winners

Non-Council Winners

See you next week!

Friday, March 11, 2016

Doped Up Jihad

Anyone familiar with Bing West's essential "No True Glory" may recall that drug use amidst jihadis was way widespread. Amped up on amphetamine, insurgents were literally racing in every aspect from this life to the next

ISIL is doped up beyond repair in comparison

 When fighters ingest drugs to meet religiously inspired goals, they are imbued with not only courage but also a sense of righteousness. For them, drug use is not immoral, but sacred because it helps an individual link the earthly with the divine. This clear divide between drug consumption to enable religious goals and recreational drug use for pleasure is evident with ISIL’s execution of casual drug users and addicts who live in territory under the group’s control.

The drug of choice for ISIL members is an amphetamine known as Captagon. Invented in the 1960s, Captagon (also known as Fenethylline) was originally used to treat hyperactivity but it was later heavily restricted and became illegal in many countries after 1986 due to the side effects of emotional detachment and sleeplessness, side effects which its consumers in ISIL relish. A Lebanese Captagon manufacturer who supplies drugs for various groups fighting in Syria says that those who consume the drug “have a thirst for fighting and killing and will shoot at whatever they see. They lose any feeling or empathy for the people in front of them and can kill them without caring at all. They forget about their mother, father, and their families.”
Drug use and drug trafficking are not new in the region where ISIL and other jihadist groups currently operate. In fact, the manufacturing base for Captagon — and its trafficking routes in the Bekaa Valley, northern Syria, and southern Turkey — existed long before the Syrian civil war and the emergence of ISIL. In 2014, ISIL captured a pharmaceutical plant in Aleppo that produced Captagon. The drug is cheap and easy to make. Many of its precursor chemicals come into Syria across the Lebanese and Turkish borders.

ISIL has been able to produce and distribute Captagon and other amphetamine-like drugs, and to control longstanding drug transit routes in the region, earning money for its cause and dispensing drugs to members of its ranks.

For ISIL, the encouragement of drug use in its ranks appears to go as far back as the days of the group’s predecessor, Al Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Numerous U.S. military commanders claimed to have fought drugged insurgent fighters from Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group. Hideouts used by Zarqawi’s fighters were frequently found littered with drug paraphernalia. As with AQI, ISIL has supplemented its ranks with criminals and former prison inmates who have links to the drug trade. In addition, Syrian President Bashar Assad released many drug criminals who he hoped would fight for the regime, but ended up defecting to ISIL. The group’s membership is also filled with Sunni ex-convicts who were freed from prisons when ISIL captured Iraqi towns and cities.
ISIL territory generates a rich atmosphere for its members to consume drugs. The group has undermined government institutions and civil society that would typically provide social constraints on drug abuse. As these constraints have been eroded, the setting and set that lead an individual to use drugs have intensified. An individual fighter is under more pressure to follow his peers and encourage a friend to use a drug when traditional constraints are removed and when an individual must demonstrate his bravery and honor.
The consumption of drugs, therefore, aids in fostering small group cohesion as individuals experience and survive danger with their fellow comrades.
In such an atmosphere, jihadist fighters are just as likely to be susceptible to common reactions to violence as members of professional militaries. They will experience symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and many of them will self-medicate to cope with attacks and their commission of atrocities.
Such unpredictable behavior will also likely be a factor in bringing conflicts with these groups to an end. Ceasefires, victories, and the possible decommissioning of these groups are required to set a foundation for greater political stability and personal security. However, as seen in other post-conflict environments involving drugged militants, creating the conditions for ceasefires and conflict resolution can be difficult due to the unpredictable behavior brought about by drug use and withdrawals.
These problems are exacerbated by the already-loose nature of the command structure of many of these forces, and commanders often have little means to limit the amount and type of drugs that their fighters consume.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Libya Redux

Pentagon has presented 44 with the most detailed set of military options yet for attacking the growing Islamic State threat in Libya, including a range of potential airstrikes against training camps, command centers, munitions depots and other militant targets.

Airstrikes against as many as 30 to 40 targets in four areas of the country would aim to deal a crippling blow to the Islamic State’s most dangerous affiliate outside of Iraq and Syria, and open the way for Western-backed Libyan militias to battle Islamic State fighters on the ground. Allied bombers would carry out additional airstrikes to support the militias on the ground. The military option was described by five American officials who have been briefed on the plans and spoke about them on the condition of anonymity because of their confidential nature.

Defense Secretary Ashton B. Carter outlined this option to 44’s top national security advisers at a so-called principals meeting on Feb. 22. But the plan is not being actively considered, at least for now, while the administration presses ahead with a diplomatic initiative to form a unity government from rival factions inside Libya, administration officials said.

Even so, the United States military is poised to carry out limited airstrikes if ordered against terrorists in Libya who threatened Americans or American interests, just as it did against an Islamic State training camp in western Libya last month.

But the broader scale of the airstrikes option prepared by the Pentagon’s Africa Command and the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command illuminated differences in perspectives and short-term goals within the administration. The scope of the military plan surprised some senior administration officials, and it drew warnings from some State Department officials that such airstrikes, if not coordinated properly, could jeopardize the United Nations-led effort to forge a unity government from Libya’s fractious political actors.

The detailed military planning does expand the choices available to 44 in the coming months as he and his advisers, along with allies like Britain, France and Italy, try to manage a tricky balancing act: nurture a fragile political process to form a unity government in Libya but not wait so long that the Islamic State grows too big for defeat by a limited — and politically acceptable — military action.