Friday, March 06, 2015

The ISIS Bandwagon: Afghanistan and Pakistan

Sports fans like to follow a winner and will jump on the bandwagon of a team which appears to be headed for success. Should we be surprised, then, that it appears radical jihadists have a similar psychology?

Our friends at the Long War Journal point to IS footholds in Afghanistan in Mapping the emergence of the Islamic State in Afghanistan:
Ever since disaffected Afghan and Pakistani Taliban insurgents began pledging allegiance to the Islamic State during the summer of 2014, rumors and reports have emerged indicating how the Islamic State has expanded its presence throughout South Asia.
In mid-October 2014, a small group of disaffected Pakistani Taliban commanders, including the Movement of the Taliban in Pakistan’s Emir for Arakzai Agency, announced their initial pledge to the Islamic State.
In January 2015, the same disgruntled Pakistani Taliban leaders, this time joined by a few little-known disaffected Afghan Taliban commanders, published a propaganda video pledging allegiance to the Islamic State. Within days of the video’s release, the Islamic State announced its expansion into “Khorassan Province” and officially appointed Hafiz Saeed Khan as the Wali (Governor) of Khorassan. The Islamic State also appointed former Guantanamo Bay detainee and senior Taliban leader Mullah Abdul Rauf Khadim as Khan’s deputy. While Khan was primarily responsible for Islamic State activities in the tribal areas of Pakistan, Khadim was based in Helmand Province, particularly in his native village located in Kajaki district. It did not take long before clashes broke out between Khadim’s supporters and their rivals belonging to local Taliban factions.
Read the whole piece to catch the full flavor of bandwagon hopping power grabbers who would bend others to their will.

As noted before in these posts, vacuums in power suck in all kinds of stuff before the most potent of the suckees kill off their rivals.

The U.S. and NATO withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan and the feckless approach to Pakistan, Syria and Libya created an enormous vacuum. Like a Saturday morning cowboy movie of my youth, there is little doubt that the innocents will be held ransom by the most violent and ruthless gangs of jihadi wackos. I remember a lot of those movies where a town was held in the grasp of truly awful group of desperadoes until the good guys arrived to rescue them. Generally not a self help issue. Are there "good guys" out there interested in fight a ""holy war?"

Frankly, if the IS thugs take out Taliban thugs I won't miss the Taliban much, except to the extent that such action feeds the IS myth and will convince more radicals to jump on the IS wagon and that means that it raises their threat potential to people and places of importance to the West. See here re Pakistan and IS.

Pretty amazing for a "JV team."

Friday Fun Film: Winding Down From War

We all know war fighting is stressful. Here is a post-WWII attempt to help sailors wind down from a hard war, "Sunset in the Pacific (1945)"

Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Disaster Prep Wednesday: The Useful Sterno Stove

When the power goes out and it's cold and icy outside, it's nice to have several cans of denatured and jellied alcohol about. These are most readily available under the Sterno brand name. For about 24 dollars, you can buy a six pack of 7 ounce Sterno cans from Amazon.

That's about 12 hours worth of cooking time

A single burner Sterno stove will set you back about $9.

The cans and the folding stove take up very little space in your emergency bin.

The shelf life of unopened Sterno is several years, so you can store it and forget it for the most part, though you might want to check out a can every 2 or 3 years. Replacements can be purchased almost every where - Target, WalMart, hardware stores, camping supply stores, etc.

You might need a couple of single burner stoves if you are trying to cook something other than a single dish meal, otherwise you have to cook things in sequence. I have a double burner Sterno stove and you can find them for about $9 - see here.

There are other brands of this product available, just Google "canned heat cooking fuel." Of course, if you search for "canned heat" you'll get directed to the blues/boogie band that started up in the mid-1960's.

Sterno "Canned Heat" just celebrated its 100th anniversary:

One advantage of this product is that you can use it indoors without fear of poisoning your indoor air unlike charcoal, propane and the like.

There are some safety precautions - good idea to take the label off when using a can. You may find a pair of needle nose pliers handy for putting the lid back on the can to extinguish the flame - the cans and lid can get hot. Alcohol flame can be hard to see, so be careful if there's an open can in the stove.

We had a recent power outage and used our Sterno stove to make coffee and hot soup for some of our elderly neighbors who were less than prepared for bad weather.

If things had stayed bad, I also had my propane camping stove and the large propane grill to fall back on. But for a short event when it was nasty outside, the Sterno did just fine. The Boy Scout cook set is an excellent idea and you can find a stainless steel version here.

Make sure you have matches or a butane lighter available, too.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Tuesday Reading

Europe: NATO countries in blue
The dangers of identity politics once again pointed out in The Economist's look at a problem in Lithuania "Stirring the pot: The leader of an ethnic Polish party tries to broaden his appeal by reaching out to ethnic Russians"
Mr Tomaszewski’s support is not broad; on March 1st he came third in Vilnius’s mayoral election, with 17% of the vote. But as a leader of Lithuania’s ethnic Poles, who make up 7% of the country’s population, his international influence rises above his domestic support. Relations between Vilnius and Warsaw have long been strained over issues such as the restitution of property confiscated under the Soviet regime and the refusal to allow the Polish alphabet on official documents. Now Mr Tomaszewski’s pro-Russian leanings are fuelling increased suspicion of Lithuania’s ethnic Poles, at a time when the country is glancing nervously over its shoulder at Moscow.
Memories are long in these culture wars. But this is not good timing for the West. Lithuania is a NATO member, by the way.

Aviation Week takes an interesting look at the U.S. Navy's Unmanned Carrier-Launched Airborne Surveillance and Strike (Uclass) program in Bill Sweetman's Opinion: Looking For Answers To The Navy’s Uclass Mystery: Secret clues to the Navy’s tangled drone story:
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), a member of the cabal that has been pushing for a high-end Uclass, was discreet in an early-February discussion. “I’m pretty comfortable with the direction that the program is taking,” he said. “I’m not trying to be vague. I just don’t want to go to jail.”

Deputy Defense Secretary Robert O. Work (a supporter of unmanned combat air systems in his previous jobs) explained the Uclass delay in February comments: “In addition to looking at capabilities that we already have and using them differently, we’re going to make sure . . . that when we go after a new platform, it’s the platform that we need from a joint perspective.”

A joint platform is a U.S. Air Force/Navy program—the term can have no other meaning—but if Work is arranging a marriage for Uclass, where’s the bridegroom? When orbital patterns are so disturbed, it’s time to look for a dark planet somewhere in the system.

Russia's old carrier Admiral Kuznetsov
Ah, Russia. The National Interest reports Russia Is Building New Aircraft Carrier, Navy Chief Confirms:
On Monday Itar-Tass News Agency reported that Viktor Chirkov, Russia’s top naval commander, announced Russia is building a new aircraft carrier.

"The Navy will have an aircraft carrier. The research companies are working on it, and strictly in compliance with the requirements from the Chief Commander," the reported quoted Chirkov as saying. Itar-Tass did not report any additional details except that Chirkov made the remarks while speaking to workers at the Kolomensky Zavod plant. The plant makes diesel electric engines for navy vessels. which makes diesel electric engines.
The reports said that the carrier was still in the conceptual phase of planning. However, when completed the new Russian aircraft carrier would reportedly be able to hold roughly 100 aircraft on board. That would make it 10 percent larger than America’s current Nimitz-class aircraft carrier, which can store roughly 90 aircraft carrier.
As noted in the piece, Russia's current carrier is 30 years old.

The answer is not safer rail transport, but the much safer pipeline. Thought raised by this Oil and Gas Journal report by Nick Snow, Pennsylvania governor asks Obama for stronger crude-by-rail rules:
Noting that 60-70 trains/week carry Bakken crude oil across Pennsylvania to the Philadelphia area or other East Coast refineries, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) asked US President Barack Obama for stronger federal regulations to prevent derailments and improve safety.
This is really a national security issue in that the transport of crude to refineries is directly connected to U.S. energy security and independence. Relying on rail transport alone is applying 19th Century tech to a 21st Century issue.

That "junior varsity team" of ISIS is spreading into Libya as noted at Foreign Affairs in Geoffrey Howard's ISIS' Next Prize: Will Libya Join Terrorist Group's Caliphate?:
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham is no longer just an Iraq and Syria problem. For months now, ISIS (or groups affiliated with it) has been pushing into Libya as well. The country has long been vulnerable; the vacuum created by the deepening political crisis and collapse of state institutions is an attractive arena for terrorist groups. Further, control of Libya could potentially bring access to substantial revenues through well-established smuggling networks that deal in oil, stolen cars, contraband goods, and weapons.
Just fricking great. Create a vacuum then stand by while it gets filled with people who want to destroy the West.

Things get more complex in trying to find and keep allies in the field against ISIS and al Qaeda, as reflected in this article by Caleb Weiss at The Long War Journal, US-backed Hazm Movement disbands after Al Nusrah attack:
The US-backed Hazm Movement, or Harkat Hazm, has officially disbanded after suffering a major defeat by al Qaeda’s official branch in Syria. The most recent fighting between the Al Nusrah Front and Hazm Movement began last week after Al Nusrah declared war on Hazm. The declaration of war came after Hazm arrested and killed at least one Nusrah commander in Syria’s Aleppo province. According to a Dutch fighter in Al Nusrah, Hazm killed a commander named Abu Isa Tabqa.

Over the weekend, Al Nusrah launched an offensive on several Hazm positions in the Aleppo countryside. The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights (SOHR) has reported that Al Nusrah took over the “46th Brigade, Meznaz, Kafar Nouran, al-Mashtal, and Ref al-Mohandsin” in Aleppo. According to SOHR, around 80 people were killed in the fighting, with 50 of those being from Hazm. As a result of the defeats, the Hazm Movement released a statement yesterday saying that the group has been dissolved.

In the same statement, Hazm also said that its fighters will join Jabhat al Shamiyya, or the Levant Front. The Levant Front is a coalition of groups in Aleppo which includes the al Qaeda ally Ahrar al Sham, and the Jaysh al Mujahideen and Harakat Nour al Din al Zenki, as well as other smaller groups. Two of these groups, Jaysh al Mujahideen and Harakat Nour al Din al Zenki, have previously been supported by the US with BGM-71 TOW anti-tank missiles.
We need to start giving these people numbered jerseys so we can keep track of them by their jersey numbers on our scorecards. I mean they lose a fight to one al Qaeda group and then join up with another? The fast and loose organization reminds me of something from the past:

We discussed strategy on Midrats last Sunday (Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy's Proper Role in it) but there's a lot of good reading out there to follow up. You might start with General John Galvin's 1988 What’s the Matter with Being a Strategist? (pdf) (hat tip to PRBeckman) and follow that up with General Jim Mattis's A New American Grand Strategy and Captain Jerry Hendrix's Avoiding Trivia: A Strategy for Sustainment and Fiscal Security (download the pdf from that link at CNAS). You can find President Obama's 2015 National Strategy here along with some critiques.

Monday, March 02, 2015

Cutting Cable TV

Note: This post is totally unrelated to maritime security or any other security except perhaps financial.

My cable TV company  and I have divorced.

After paying the maximum price to get 300+ channels so that I could get the few I really wanted (mostly the ESPNs during college basketball season and FoxNews), I got mad when I saw advertisements offering "new subscribers" significant discounts on the services I was paying for.

Just as any good consumer would do, I got on the phone and asked for those discounts to be applied to my account. CableCo was unrelenting. So I began peeling back my services. First, I bought my own modem and within a few months recaptured its cost by not paying a rental fee for one from CableCo. My new modem is way better than the old one.

I began to track channel watching and realized that with the exception of the ESPNs we were mostly watching channels available over the air. Further, we were watching Amazon Prime Videos and Netflix, both services that I was paying for in addition to cable TV. We were not really interested 40 channels of bad music that counted as part of our premium package. Or in paying to receive channels I can get for free over the air.

We had a DVR "rented" from CableCo. This allowed us to time shift certain programs, but most especially "Jeopardy" which is, as far as I can tell, not legally available on the internet, but is provided over the air by the local ABC affiliate. Capturing that show for replay at a time convenient for us became my quest.

First, I acquired a Hauppauge WinTV USB TV tuner for Windows which promised:
WinTV-HVR-955Q has these great features in the easiest to install, USB TV tuner available today:
  • Watch and record live over-the-air HDTV, analog TV or clear QAM cable TV on your PC or laptop
  • Easy to install on your laptop or desktop PC ... small and portable, too!
  • Includes the WinTV v7 application to watch TV in window, pause TV or record TV. Plus a remote control and portable TV antenna are included
  • Also for Windows Media Center in Windows 8, 8.1 and Windows 7
Thing runs about $70 or less at Amazon. It works fine. Plug it into a USB port, connect to an antenna and you get over the air channels. You can record shows to your computer or other hard drive. However, it requires a Windows PC. I have a couple of older Windows laptops (but I prefer other operating systems) so I can use this tuner.

However, I continued my search for a bigger better DVR device to capture over the air channels and not require Windows to be part of the process. That took me to the Channel Master DVR+ and various things to go with it that took about $360 to acquire. This machine (with a 1 TB hard drive) provides a lot of nice features:
DVR+ from Channel Master provides the ultimate cord-cutting alternative to traditional pay-TV services. Watch and record free live over-the-air broadcast programming in crystal clear HD, including all of your favorite shows, news and sports from ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC, PBS, The CW and many more. Enjoy a familiar experience with menus and program guide very similar to the DVRs used by cable and satellite operators, and dual tuners allow you to record one program while watching another or record two programs at the same time. Internet connectivity provides additional features including an expanded 14-day program guide, software updates and access to online streaming services. This bundle includes the DVR+ DVR, DVR+ handheld remote, compatible WiFi adapter for internet connectivity and 12 foot high-speed HDMI cable that supports resolutions up to 1080p.
Based on its price (and the price of the needed antenna), I will recover the cost of the DVR+ in roughly 4 months of cutting cable TV.

One of the reasons it takes that long is that I still wanted access to the ESPNs. Happily, just as I turned my CableCo DVR in and told them to shut off the TV feed (yes, still keeping internet), Dish TV introduced Sling Television which offers, among other things, the ESPNs and more for $20 plus $5 for more sports stuff. So, I now have the ESPNs, Netflix, Amazon Prime Videos and DVR that meets my needs. And I save about a $1000 a year.

The quality of the over the air picture is better than cable, too.

Here's an for the Channel Master DVR+:

I am not getting dime of compensation for any of this. I just hate the CableCo (and its just as bad rivals) so my compensation is purely psychic.

Oh, by the way, buy a good antenna. It doesn't have to be the most expensive one out there, either. I mostly use cheap rabbit ears, but I live in a city. We get 22 or so over the air channels, including ABC, NBC, CBS, Fox, CW, PBS, and the various digital sub-channels they operate.

Friday, February 27, 2015

On Midrats 1 March 15 - Episode 269: "National Strategy and the Navy's Proper Role in it"

Strategy is not for amateurs*
Please join us at 5pm (EST)on 1 March 2015 for our Episode 269: National Strategy and the Navy's Proper Role in it:
The role of the Navy and Marine Corps should be to provide ready and capable forces to the joint commanders. Outside of that, what is the proper role of the sea services in designing a more national strategy?

What is the state of a national and a maritime strategy, who are the different players in the discussion, and what is the proper way forward?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be Captain Robert C. "Barney" Rubel USN, (Ret.), Professor Emeritus, US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel, now retired, was previously the Dean of the Center for Naval Warfare Studies at the US Naval War College from 2006 to 2014. Prior to arriving at NWC, he was a thirty-year Navy veteran, with experience as e a light attack naval aviator, flying the A-7 Corsair II and later the F/A-18 Hornet, commanded VFA-131, and also served as the Inspector General at U.S. Southern Command.

He is a graduate of the Spanish Naval War College in Madrid and the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, RI., and has an undergraduate degree in liberal arts from the University of Illinois and a master’s degree in national security and strategic studies from the US Naval War College.

Captain Rubel continues to serve as a member of the CNO Advisory Board and is active in local American Legion activities.
Please join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or from our iTunes page here.

*Upper photo is of Dr. James H. Boren discussing bureaucracy in three dimensions

Friday Fun Video: "Navy's Biggest Airplane"

The almost never heard of again "Constitution" jumbo airplane, the R6V:

Two were built. Biggest fixed wing air planes ever operated by the U.S. Navy.

More here.

Not all ideas are good ideas. Of course some of the feature of this aircraft showed up in later planes.

Wait, 180 passengers or 400 troops?

Nice one landing gear touchdown in Alameda.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

The New Domino Theory: Assisting Ukraine May Cause Russia to Help China Take Control Over the South China Sea Region

There is this National Interest piece by Harry J. Kazianis, "Russia Could Make China King of the South China Sea"
Events thousands of miles away in Ukraine could set off a chain reaction that could see China become the undisputed ruler of this large body of water thanks to a large infusion of Russian weapons and technology— if the West starts arming Ukraine.
Imagine this scenario: The West decides that it is time to arm Ukraine. Russia decides it needs to strike back— and not just in Europe. President Putin pulls out his map of the globe and looks for a place where Russian power would best stick it to the United States. His eyes light up on the one area that could not only strengthen ties with a potential partner but do real damage to America’s efforts to “pivot” to that part of the world: the South China Sea.
While Russia might not be a superpower anymore, it does have the power to create lots of havoc for the United States and its allies all over the world. Such moves would then see the West again look to strike back at Moscow, creating a dangerous dynamic that would see the conditions ripe for a new Cold War that is in no ones national interest. This is all the more reason for all parties concerned when it comes to Ukraine to find a political settlement to the crisis.
So, under this new "domino theory" (for info on the old "domino theory" see here), the inter-connectedness of the former "communist" (read complete dictatorships) countries would allow Putin to "send a message" to the U.S. by agreeing to sell very modern arms to China, which can then use those to cement its position  as regional hegemonic demon over the South China Sea region. That is, unless, of course, the West agrees to cede all or part of Czechoslovakia Ukraine to Hitler Putin in some sort of "political settlement." We know from history how well such appeasement agreements have work out. See Munich Pact, for example.

However, the argument is that failure to give up bits and pieces of Ukraine will cause Putin to knock over a domino piece elsewhere, most specifically the China piece.

But, isn't China doing just fine without agreeing to buy more Russian equipment? What with stolen plans, weak sister neighbors and a somewhat flaccid U.S. response so far to it bullying and island grabs, what does it need Russia for?

If I were Putin and I was looking at arming China, I'd be worried about my resource rich eastern areas that are so very close to China and its
area of influence. A Chinese "invasion" of Siberia has been discussed for some time and also discounted (oddly, both linked articles look at demographics to make their cases).

Frankly, if the information on some number of Chinese emigrating to Siberia is true (and perhaps even if is not) Putin has, through his assertions of "protecting ethnic Russians" in his Ukraine push, provided the Chinese with an argument to take action in Siberia to protect "ethnic Chinese." I imagine someone in the U.S. world of think tanks might be looking at how a signal to the Chinese about such an action might be viewed by the West if Putin pushes harder in the west.

Further, there is this interesting look at U.S.-China relations from a former U.S. Seventh Fleet commander in this U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings opinion piece, "Storm Warnings?":
• According to The Washington Post , China has increased its use of oil at the average pace of 6–7 percent a year since 1990—more than 20 straight years! At this pace, the PRC will catch the U.S. rate of petroleum usage in just over 20 more years.

• By 2020, China is expected to import 7.3 million barrels of crude oil per day—one half of Saudi Arabia’s planned output, as reported in Foreign Affairs . By way of comparison, today the Chinese import 4.7 million barrels per day and the United States about 9.7 million.

• A recent article in the International Herald Tribune states the PRC is preparing to build three times as many nuclear power plants in the coming decade as the rest of the world. However, electrical demand is growing so rapidly in the PRC that even if that happens, they will generate only 9.7 percent of the country’s power.

• According to National Geographic Magazine , today China produces and consumes nearly one third of the world’s steel, more than long-time industrial powers Japan, Germany, and the United States combined.

• David Hale Global Economics indicates that China now consumes 25 percent of Australia’s exports, up from 12 percent just two years previously, and has invested $44 billion in Australia since 2007.

• According to the South China Morning Post , while the PRC accounts for more than 20 percent of the world’s population, it has only 7 percent of the world’s fresh water, and its vast system of 87,000 reservoirs is not in the best of shape; 43 percent are said to be in poor condition.

All of this is to say that China is facing serious natural-resource challenges, including the need to import an ever-increasing amount of raw materials.
VADM Crowder notes that these external resource dependencies would support a strong blue water navy to protect China's sea lines of communication.

Admiral Crowder makes several excellent points in the piece, not the least of which is the need for some plain speaking on the part of the U.S.:
In fact, if the United States were a lot more transparent about its concerns in the region with regard to China, it could probably reach a glide path that moves more toward cooperation than confrontation. But until the Chinese show us by their words, and more important, their deeds, that their naval buildup is not about coercing the nations of the region—particularly over resources—then we have to be capable of making such an outcome, quite simply, not worth the risk.

On the other hand, if there truly are vast resources of oil, gas, and iron just sitting outside China's border with Russia . . . and exploiting those resources would not require the use of vulnerable sea lanes . . . well, I suspect there are Chinese operation plans on just how grabbing a big chunk of Russia's "far east" might happen, especially if Putin gets Russian forces heavily engaged in the west.

The point is that while Putin might be tempted to tip some dominoes, he really needs to be very careful. The West/U.S. does not need to cede anything at all because it has its own domino strings to push.