Eyes of the Fleet

Eyes of the Fleet

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Applying Lessons Learned in the Middle East: Letting the Local Powers Fight It Out

Interesting piece from George Friedman at Stratfor, "The Middle Eastern Balance of Power Matures:"
Last week, a coalition of predominantly Sunni Arab countries, primarily from the Arabian Peninsula and organized by Saudi Arabia, launched airstrikes in Yemen that have continued into this week. The airstrikes target Yemeni al-Houthis, a Shiite sect supported by Iran, and their Sunni partners, which include the majority of military forces loyal to former President Ali Abdullah Saleh. What made the strikes particularly interesting was what was lacking: U.S. aircraft. Although the United States provided intelligence and other support, it was a coalition of Arab states that launched the extended air campaign against the al-Houthis.

Three things make this important. First, it shows the United States' new regional strategy in operation. Washington is moving away from the strategy it has followed since the early 2000s — of being the prime military force in regional conflicts — and is shifting the primary burden of fighting to regional powers while playing a secondary role. Second, after years of buying advanced weaponry, the Saudis and the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are capable of carrying out a fairly sophisticated campaign, at least in Yemen. The campaign began by suppressing enemy air defenses — the al-Houthis had acquired surface-to-air missiles from the Yemeni military — and moved on to attacking al-Houthi command-and-control systems. This means that while the regional powers have long been happy to shift the burden of combat to the United States, they are also able to assume the burden if the United States refuses to engage.

Most important, the attacks on the al-Houthis shine the spotlight on a growing situation in the region: a war between the Sunnis and Shiites. In Iraq and Syria, a full-scale war is underway. A battle rages in Tikrit with the Sunni Islamic State and its allies on one side, and a complex combination of the Shiite-dominated Iraqi army, Shiite militias, Sunni Arab tribal groups and Sunni Kurdish forces on the other. In Syria, the battle is between the secular government of President Bashar al Assad — nevertheless dominated by Alawites, a Shiite sect — and Sunni groups. However, Sunnis, Druze and Christians have sided with the regime as well. It is not reasonable to refer to the Syrian opposition as a coalition because there is significant internal hostility. Indeed, there is tension not only between the Shiites and Sunnis, but also within the Shiite and Sunni groups. In Yemen, a local power struggle among warring factions has been branded and elevated into a sectarian conflict for the benefit of the regional players. It is much more complex than simply a Shiite-Sunni war. At the same time, it cannot be understood without the Sunni-Shiite component.

Iran's Strategy and the Saudis' Response

One reason this is so important is that it represents a move by Iran to gain a major sphere of influence in the Arab world. This is not a new strategy. Iran has sought greater influence on the Arabian Peninsula since the rule of the Shah. More recently, it has struggled to create a sphere of influence stretching from Iran to the Mediterranean Sea. The survival of the al Assad government in Syria and the success of a pro-Iranian government in Iraq would create that Iranian sphere of influence, given the strength of Hezbollah in Lebanon and the ability of al Assad's Syria to project its power.

For a while, it appeared that this strategy had been blocked by the near collapse of the al Assad government in 2012 and the creation of an Iraqi government that appeared to be relatively successful and was far from being an Iranian puppet. These developments, coupled with Western sanctions, placed Iran on the defensive, and the idea of an Iranian sphere of influence appeared to have become merely a dream.

However, paradoxically, the rise of the Islamic State has reinvigorated Iranian power in two ways. First, while the propaganda of the Islamic State is horrific and designed to make the group look not only terrifying, but also enormously powerful, the truth is that, although it is not weak, the Islamic State represents merely a fraction of Iraq's Sunni community, and the Sunnis are a minority in Iraq. At the same time, the propaganda has mobilized the Shiite community to resist the Islamic State, allowed Iranian advisers to effectively manage the Shiite militias in Iraq and (to some extent) the Iraqi army, and forced the United States to use its airpower in tandem with Iranian-led ground forces. Given the American strategy of blocking the Islamic State — even if doing so requires cooperation with Iran — while not putting forces on the ground, this means that as the Islamic State's underlying weakness becomes more of a factor, the default winner in Iraq will be Iran.

A somewhat similar situation exists in Syria, though with a different demographic. Iran and Russia have historically supported the al Assad government. The Iranians have been the more important supporters, particularly because they committed their ally, Hezbollah, to the battle. What once appeared to be a lost cause is now far from it. The United States was extremely hostile toward al Assad, but given the current alternatives in Syria, Washington has become at least neutral toward the Syrian government. Al Assad would undoubtedly like to have U.S. neutrality translate into a direct dialogue with Washington. Regardless of the outcome, Iran has the means to maintain its influence in Syria.

When you look at a map and think of the situation in Yemen, you get a sense of why the Saudis and Gulf Cooperation Council countries had to do something. Given what is happing along the northern border of the Arabian Peninsula, the Saudis have to calculate the possibility of an al-Houthi victory establishing a pro-Iranian, Shiite state to its south as well. The Saudis and the Gulf countries would be facing the possibility of a Shiite or Iranian encirclement. These are not the same thing, but they are linked in complex ways. Working in the Saudis' favor is the fact that the al-Houthis are not Shiite proxies like Hezbollah, and Saudi money combined with military operations designed to cut off Iranian supply lines to the al-Houthis could mitigate the threat overall. Either way, the Saudis had to act.

During the Arab Spring, one of the nearly successful attempts to topple a government occurred in Bahrain. The uprising failed primarily because Saudi Arabia intervened and imposed its will on the country. The Saudis showed themselves to be extremely sensitive to the rise of Shiite regimes with close relations with the Iranians on the Arabian Peninsula. The result was unilateral intervention and suppression. Whatever the moral issues, it is clear that the Saudis are frightened by rising Iranian and Shiite power and are willing to use their strength. That is what they have done in Yemen.

In a way, the issue is simple for the Saudis. They represent the center of gravity of the religious Sunni world. As such, they and their allies have embarked on a strategy that is strategically defensive and tactically offensive. Their goal is to block Iranian and Shiite influence, and the means they are implementing is coalition warfare that uses air power to support local forces on the ground. Unless there is a full invasion of Yemen, the Saudis are following the American strategy of the 2000s on a smaller scale.

The U.S. Stance

The American strategy is more complex. As I've written before, the United Sates has undertaken a strategy focused on maintaining the balance of power. This kind of approach is always messy because the goal is not to support any particular power, but to maintain a balance between multiple powers. Therefore, the United States is providing intelligence and mission planning for the Saudi coalition against the al-Houthis and their Iranian allies. In Iraq, the United States is providing support to Shiites — and by extension, their allies — by bombing Islamic State installations. In Syria, U.S. strategy is so complex that it defies clear explanation. That is the nature of refusing large-scale intervention but being committed to a balance of power. The United States can oppose Iran in one theater and support it in another. The more simplistic models of the Cold War are not relevant here.

All of this is happening at the same time that nuclear negotiations appear to be coming to some sort of closure. The United States is not really concerned about Iran's nuclear weapons. As I have said many times, we have heard since the mid-2000s that Iran was a year or two away from nuclear weapons. Each year, the fateful date was pushed back. Building deliverable nuclear weapons is difficult, and the Iranians have not even carried out a nuclear test, an essential step before a deliverable weapon is created. What was a major issue a few years ago is now part of a constellation of issues where U.S.-Iranian relations interact, support and contradict. Deal or no deal, the United States will bomb the Islamic State, which will help Iran, and support the Saudis in Yemen, which will not.

The real issue now is what it was a few years ago: Iran appears to be building a sphere of influence to the Mediterranean Sea, but this time, that sphere of influence potentially includes Yemen. That, in turn, creates a threat to the Arabian Peninsula from two directions. The Iranians are trying to place a vise around it. The Saudis must react, but the question is whether airstrikes are capable of stopping the al-Houthis. They are a relatively low-cost way to wage war, but they fail frequently. The first question is what the Saudis will do then. The second question is what the Americans will do. The current doctrine requires a balance between Iran and Saudi Arabia, with the United States tilting back and forth. Under this doctrine — and in this military reality — the United States cannot afford full-scale engagement on the ground in Iraq.

Turkey's Role

Relatively silent but absolutely vital to this tale is Turkey. It has the largest economy in the region and has the largest army, although just how good its army is can be debated. Turkey is watching chaos along its southern border, rising tension in the Caucasus, and conflict across the Black Sea. Of all these, Syria and Iraq and the potential rise of Iranian power is the most disturbing. Turkey has said little about Iran of late, but last week Ankara suddenly criticized Tehran and accused Iran of trying to dominate the region. Turkey frequently says things without doing anything, but the development is still noteworthy.

It should be remembered that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has hoped to see Turkey as a regional leader and the leader of the Sunni world. With the Saudis taking an active role and the Turks doing little in Syria or Iraq, the moment is passing Turkey by. Such moments come and go, so history is not changed. But Turkey is still the major Sunni power and the third leg of the regional balance involving Saudi Arabia and Iran.

The evolution of Turkey would be the critical step in the emergence of a regional balance of power, in which local powers, not the United Kingdom or the United States, determine the outcome. The American role, like the British role before it, would not be directly waging war in the region but providing aid designed to stabilize the balance of power. That can be seen in Yemen or Iraq. It is extremely complex and not suited for simplistic or ideological analysis. But it is here, it is unfolding and it will represent the next generation of Middle Eastern dynamics. And if the Iranians put aside their theoretical nuclear weapons and focus on this, that will draw in the Turks and round out the balance of power.
"The Middle Eastern Balance of Power Matures is republished with permission of Stratfor."

And a chaser from J.D. Tuccille| at Reason "So Arab Countries Can Clean Up Their Own Messes Without (Crazy) Uncle Sugar! Being the craziest guy in the room can sometimes get results."
It looks like there are two ways to get countries to reduce their dependence on the American military umbrella. One way is the calculated, tough-love approach: point out that to other governments that they're capable of fighting their own fights, set a timetable for them to assume responsibility for defense matters, and stick to it. The other approach is to act so nuts and untrustworthy that allies sense an implosion of crazy and reluctantly take on new responsibilities. This second technique seems to be working miracles in the Middle East as some sort of unified Arab self-help emerges from an anguished watching of whatever the hell it is the United States is up to.
Just proof that being indecisive makes its own strategy.

Perhaps not one that can be contained, though.

Better load up the humanitarian aid train, because before this is over the Middle East looks like it will need it.

Lots of it.

Oh, and I guess it's a good time to point out that, thanks to the oil and gas industry, our reliance on Middle East oil and gas has diminished to the point that we can afford the "crazy uncle" approach, intentional or not.

UPDATE: Another excellent piece by A. Savyon and Y. Carmon at MEMRI "Tehran vs The Awakening Sunni Arab Camp: Significance And Implications:"
In recent years, and especially in the last few months, Tehran has ratcheted up its direct involvement in several Arab countries, thanks to the silence on the part of the U.S.; this silence has been interpreted in the Arab world as support for Iran becoming a hegemonic military and political regional superpower. The Sunni Arab camp has appeared to be in a state of disintegration and division both politically and militarily, after nearly five years of internal erosion following the Arab Spring.

In this situation, official Iranian spokesmen had stepped up their threats against Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states,  as well as against the U.S. military. These threats were backed up by maneuvers conducted by naval, ground, and missile forces, and by advanced weaponry development. Several Iranian officials spoke of Iran's control of four Middle East capitals and four seas. A senior advisor to Iranian President Hassan Rohani, Ali Younesi, even declared that the Persian Empire was now revived.

The surprise Sunni Arab move blocked Iran in Yemen, and is a warning sign of Sunni camp intentions to cut Iran back down to size and to let it know that it is no empire, as Younesi said, but rather a mere 10% of the Islamic world – the vast majority of which is Sunni.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Yemen Backgrounder

Nice, short video on the situation in Yemen from the Wall Street Journal:

China: A South Atlantic Pivot? Base rights in Southwest Africa?

If the U.S. is doing a "Pacific Pivot," is China countering with expansion into the South Atlantic?
Click to enlarge. Namibia Circled.

The Diplomat asks Is China Secretly Building a Navy Base in Africa?
Writing for Real Clear Defense, Robert C. O’Brien explores reports that China is looking to build an overseas naval base in Namibia. O’Brien notes the historical strategic importance of Walvis Bay, Namibia’s sole deep water port, adding that the South Atlantic is generally “below the radar of most policy makers today.” If the PLA Navy does construct a base at Walvis Bay, he writes, “It would have the ability to patrol the critical Cape of Good Hope around Africa and Cape Horn around South America. The approaches to the key North Atlantic sea lanes linking the Americas, Africa and Europe would be nearby.”
Mr. O'Brien's piece is China's Next Move: A Naval Base in the South Atlantic?:
During my visit to Walvis Bay, China's plan to build a naval base was the talk of the town. Several Namibians pointed out that China already has a major satellite tracking installation in-country. China is developing key uranium mines. Chinese immigrants are opening shops in every corner of the land. A Namibian told me he would not be surprised if Namibia soon elects its first Chinese member of parliament. One local, who works at the harbor, said he has heard the PLA Navy will deploy four to six warships to the prospective base. Once that happens, he said, Namibia becomes, in essence, a Chinese colony.
David Tweed had this story back in November 2014 at Bloomberg reporting on an article from the Namibian, China Mulls Building Naval Base in Namibia, Namibian Times Says. The Namibian report from Nov 19 2014 is "Chinese naval base for Walvis Bay" by Adam Hartman:
According to reports in the Chinese media, Walvis Bay will be one of 18 naval bases that will be established in various regions: Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Mynanmar in the northern Indian Ocean; Djibouti, Yemen, Oman, Kenya, Tanzania and Mozambique in the western Indian Ocean; and Seychelles and Madagascar in the central South Indian Ocean.

“These three strategic lines will further enhance China's effectiveness in taking responsibility for maintaining the safety of international maritime routes thereby maintaining regional and world stability,” the media reports said.

Other naval bases are: Chongjin Port (North Korea), Moresby Port (Papua New Guinea), Sihanoukville Port (Cambodia), Koh Lanta Port (Thailand) Sittwe Port (Myanmar), Dhaka Port (Bangladesh), Gwadar Port (Pakistan), Hambantota Port (Sri Lanka), Maldives, Seychelles, Djibouti Port (Djibouti),

Lagos Port (Nigeria), Mombasa Port (Kenya), Dar es Salaam Port (Tanzania) and Luanda Port (Angola).
As the Tweed piece notes, however,
The Namibian Times report was based on an unofficial Chinese Internet report and was “inaccurate,” “exaggerated” and therefore “groundless,” Defense Ministry spokesman Geng Yansheng said at a monthly press conference in Beijing today, according to a transcript of his remarks. Geng didn’t say which parts of the report, if any, were accurate.
The game's afoot. And it's a big one.

As seen on the above map, the Chinese, if the reported "naval base" list is correct, would build an interesting string of ports available to them. The listed countries that would host bases are under the red ovals. I added China and I added in the Nicaragua canal that it appears the Chinese may fund/engineer/build.

IN 2013 there was this report, China’s moves in Western Hemisphere have U.S. stepping up its game:
China’s courting of Latin America and the Caribbean – signaled anew this week by a visit by its president – is prodding the United States to step up its outreach to the rapidly emerging economies, which are showing greater global clout.

President Xi Jinping’s weeklong trip to Trinidad and Tobago, Costa Rica and Mexico starting Friday comes in the wake of President Barack Obama’s recent trip to Mexico and Costa Rica, and follows by just a day Vice President Joe Biden’s three-nation tour of the region. Xi will meet with Obama at the close of his trip, June 7-8 in California.

China has eclipsed the United States as Brazil and Chile’s largest trading partner, purchasing soybeans, iron ore and oil to fuel its rapidly expanding economy. Latin American exports to China accounted for just $5 billion in 2000; by 2012, they topped $104 billion.
May we live in interesting times.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Space Exploration: Inflatable Habitat Ready for Space Station Trip

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
Inflatable Habitat Ready for Space Station Trip:
According to Bigelow Aerospace, the demonstration of expandable space habitat technology supports NASA's plans in the realm of human spaceflight, which ultimately lead to putting boots on Mars. Developing a deep-space habitat is an important step along the path to the Red Planet, agency officials say.

Founded in 1999 by entrepreneur Robert Bigelow, Bigelow Aerospace has as a goal the creation of a new paradigm in space commerce and exploration via the development and use of expandable habitat technology. Expandable habitats are viewed as offering dramatically larger volumes than rigid, metallic structures as well as enhanced protection against both radiation and physical debris.
Hmmm. Inflatable space craft.

Seems I read something about this concept in The Planet Strappers by Raymond Z. Gallun:
Nelsen didn't listen anymore. His and Paul's attention had wandered to the largest color photo thumbtacked to the wall, above the TV set, and the shelf of dog-eared technical books. It showed a fragile, pearly ring, almost diaphanous, hanging tilted against spatial blackness and pinpoint stars. Its hub was a cylindrical spindle, with radial guys of fine, stainless steel wire. It was like the earliest ideas about a space station, yet it was also different. To many—Frank Nelsen and Paul Hendricks certainly included—such devices had as much beauty as a yacht under full sail had ever had for anybody.

Old Paul smirked with pleasure. "It's a shame, ain't it, Frank—calling a pretty thing like that a 'bubb'—it's an ugly word. Or even a 'space bubble.' Technical talk gets kind of cheap."

"I don't mind," Frank Nelsen answered. "Our first one, here, could look just as nice—inflated, and riding free against the stars."

He touched the crinkly material, draped across its wooden support.

"It will," the old man promised. "Funny—not so long ago people thought that space ships would have to be really rigid—all metal. So how did they turn out? Made of stellene, mostly—an improved form of polyethylene—almost the same stuff as a weather balloon."

"A few millimeters thick, light, perfectly flexible when deflated," Nelsen added. "Cut out and cement your bubb together in any shape you choose. Fold it up firmly, like a parachute—it makes a small package that can be carried up into orbit in a blastoff rocket with the best efficiency. There, attached flasks of breathable atmosphere fill it out in a minute. Eight pounds pressure makes it fairly solid in a vacuum. So, behold—you've got breathing and living room, inside. There's nylon cording for increased strength—as in an automobile tire—though not nearly as much. There's a silicone gum between the thin double layers, to seal possible meteor punctures. A darkening lead-salt impregnation in the otherwise transparent stellene cuts radiation entry below the danger level, and filters the glare and the hard ultra-violet out of the sunshine. So there you are, all set up."

"Rig your hub and guy wires," old Paul carried on, cheerfully. "Attach your sun-powered ionic drive, set up your air-restorer, spin your vehicle for centrifuge-gravity, and you're ready to move—out of orbit."

They laughed, because getting into space wasn't as easy as they made it sound. The bubbs, one of the basic inventions that made interplanetary travel possible, were, for all their almost vagabondish simplicity, still a concession in lightness and compactness for atmospheric transit, to that first and greatest problem—breaking the terrific initial grip of Earth's gravity from the ground upward, and gaining stable orbital speed. Only a tremendously costly rocket, with a thrust greater than its own weight when fully loaded, could do that. Buying a blastoff passage had to be expensive.
Of course, Gallun wrote in 1961, so we all know that his idea of a space craft made of cheap materials and dependent on recycled air (or air produced by plants grown on board) was . . . ahead of its time?

Credit: Bigelow Aerospace
Bigelow Aerospace seems to believe in the concept. Here's info about its B330:
B330 will have 330 cubic meters (12,000 cu ft) of internal space, hence its numeric designation. The craft will support zero-gravity research including scientific missions and manufacturing processes. Beyond its industrial and scientific purposes, however, it has potential as a destination for space tourism and a craft for missions destined for the Moon and Mars.
Flexible, expandable? Check. Self-sealing? Check. Solar power? Check. Ion Thruster power? Possible. Affordable? Umm. Still face that cost of getting the package to space. Perhaps a space elevator could help.

But, you might ask, why? Asteroid mining? It seems, in addition to mining rare earth elements from the ocean floor (see here), there is a movement afoot to explore asteroid mining for rare earth elements(and gold and other valuable metals). There are start ups looking into making this work, e.g. Planetary Resources. Most of these efforts seem to be directed at robot mining, but why not allow individuals driven by profit motive to get out there and try their hand at space mining?

Asteroid Mining:
Early evidence suggests that there are trillions of dollars' worth of minerals and metals buried in asteroids that come close to the Earth. Asteroids are so close that many scientists think an asteroid mining mission is easily feasible.
Plus, you know, freedom.

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Friday, March 27, 2015

On Midrats 29 March 15 - Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC

Please join us on Sunday 29 March 2015 at 5pm, EDT for Midrats Episode 273: Partnership, Influence, Presence and the role of the MSC:
This week we will return to the “unsexy but important” topic, specifically that of “alternative naval platforms and missions.”

In part, the concepts that underlay Jerry Hendrix’s “Influence Squadrons” are in practice on a smaller scale today. In most cases they are being conducted using Military Sealift Command assets and the Navy Reserve.

To focus on this part of our maritime power, our guest for the full hour will be Commander Chris Rawley, USNR. President of Periplus Holdings in his day job, he is also Commanding Officer of the Military Sealift Command Afloat Mission Command and Control Units in the Navy Reserve, in addition to being Vice President of the Center for International Maritime Security.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here or pick the show up later from our iTunes page here.

Friday Fun Film: "Ships of the U.S. Navy (1942)"

Basic ship familiarization film of its day. Part of the Bluejackets Manual series.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Chem Lights, "Glow Sticks" and the like

One of my favorite disaster (and non-disaster) items is the "chem light" or "glow stick"
A glow stick is a self-contained, short-term light-source. It consists of a translucent plastic tube containing isolated substances that, when combined, make light through chemiluminescence, so it does not require an external energy source. The light cannot be turned off, and can be used only once. Glow sticks are often used for recreation, but may also be relied upon for light during military, police, fire, or EMS operations.
Several US patents for "glow stick" type devices were received by various inventors. Most of these are assigned to the US Navy.
Glow sticks are used for many purposes. They are waterproof, do not use batteries, generate negligible heat, are inexpensive, and are reasonably disposable. They can tolerate high pressures, such as those found underwater. They are used as light sources and light markers by military forces, campers, and recreational divers. Glow sticks are considered the only light source that is safe for use immediately following any catastrophic emergency.
Live in a multistory building and need to provide light in stairwells when the power goes off? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to mark the position of injured or trapped people so rescue teams can find them more easily? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to mark a hazard to warn people away? Chem lights are great for that.

Need to have light source that will not ignite gas or other other flammable materials? Chem lights are great for that.

Cyalume Technologies, a manufacturer of chem lights offers this:
Safety is a necessity for work, travel or rest. Safety depends on risk reduction. Danger is often revealed in an unexpected instant – therefore preparation is the key. Safe lighting is taken for granted until it is not there. There is a higher standard at work to adequately set the stage for safety in commerce. Cyalume builds portable lighting to this higher standard by involving employees and customers in the development of solutions that work reliably in any emergency circumstance.

The most unique advantage of Cyalume chemical light products is their ability to remain operational for years, free of any dependency on batteries or electrical connections. Additional advantages include operation without spark or flame, and without oxygen consumption. Such rock solid reliability and safety in a self contained system enables the application of Cyalume technology in many demanding circumstances, where risk reduction can make a major difference in commercial operations affecting large numbers of people

Developed for the Military, Cyalume SnapLights are now tested, proven, and recommended for:

- Utilities: Reliable, Flameless, Waterproof lights to get the job done - indoors and out
- Hotels: Evacuation lights, room and hallway lighting during power outages
- Businesses: Work lighting during power outages, evacuation lights
(emphasis added)
Which points out that it is a good idea to pack a few of these sticks in you luggage when on a trip and you are staying in a hotel along the way. You just never know. I keep several in our cars at all times.

It's not clear whether TSA will allow you to carry a couple of sticks in your carry on as part of your "liquids" pack. If you attempt it, I would suggest keeping them in their original package and letting the TSA agent know you've got them. If not allowed, you may be out a couple of bucks. Would be nice to have under many scenarios I can imagine . . .

You can buy these things from Amazon, Walmart and many other places.

If you need a handy way to store these things, a good idea from Cyalume:
The Cyalume LightStation Model 20 includes 40 yellow chemical Snaplight light sticks measuring 10" long, for providing instant 360 degree illumination, that can be seen up to a mile away for up to four hours in optimal conditions. The LightStation is housed in a red, fire-resistant case with a luminescent label for use in the dark. When the front cover is pulled open, one light stick automatically activates upon opening, and the 39 additional sticks can be handed out and activated by individuals for use in an emergency.
$68 at Amazon.

I prefer longer lived sticks (12 hour) but 4 hours is enough for most emergency purposes.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Cratering of Yemen

Excellent piece from Bill Roggio at The Long War Journal US military, diplomatic personnel quit Yemen as country descends into civil war
The US government has withdrawn its military and remaining diplomatic personnel from Yemen as the security situation has spiraled out of control over the past week. Among the forces pulled from Yemen were more than 100 military advisors who were training Yemeni counterterrorism personnel to battle al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. The withdrawal of US forces from Yemen takes place just six months after President Barack Obama described the US strategy of partnering with local Yemeni forces as “one that we have successfully pursued … for years.”

The US yanked its military forces Al Anad Air Base after AQAP forces and allied tribes briefly took control of the nearby city of Houta, the capital of Lahj province, on March 20. Al Anad is located just 20 miles north of Houta. Yemeni military forces loyal to ousted President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who is based in the nearby city of Aden, regained control of Houta after AQAP fighters withdrew without a fight.

AQAP’s foray into Houta was preceded by attacks from the rival Islamic State, Shia Houthi rebels, and infighting between forces loyal to President Hadi. Additionally, today Houthi forces have taken control of the city of Taiz, Yemen’s third largest and are now just 120 miles from Aden, The New York Times reported.

On March 20, the Islamic State deployed four suicide bombers at two Houthi mosques in the capital of Sana’a’, killing more than 100 worshiper. The Islamic State threatened to carry out more such attacks.

On the previous day, forces loyal to Hadi battled a rival military commander at Aden’s international airport. Thirteen people were killed before Hadi’s troops took control of the airport, Reuters reported. During the fighting, an aircraft thought to have been flown by the Houthi-led government based in Sana’a struck the presidential palace in Aden.

Hadi fled to Aden in late February after escaping house arrest in Sana’a. He was forced to resign his presidency in January after intense pressure from the Iranian-backed Shiite Houthi rebels, who took control of much of northern and western Yemen late last summer. Hadi has been the US’ biggest supporter in the fight against al Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia. He was a vocal supporter of the unpopular drone strikes, which have targeted al Qaeda’s leaders and operatives in Yemen.
"Yemen war detailed map" by 0ali1 - Own work. Licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
Actually, a sensible precaution in getting U.S. folks out of way while the Yemenis continue to abuse each other.

It must be noted that Yemen has a long history of being a area of unrest. As noted back in the 16th Century, here:
The country was in a state of incessant anarchy and discord . . .
Back in the 1960's the country was split in two parts, North Yemen and South Yemen (a/k/a People's Democratic Republic of Yemen). It wasn't until 1990 that there was "one Yemen" under Ali Abdallah Saleh. However, even in its united state, it has been a difficult place with a Shia sect uprising:
The Shia insurgency in Yemen began in June 2004 when dissident cleric Hussein Badreddin al-Houthi, head of the Zaidi Shia sect, launched an uprising against the Yemeni government. The Yemeni government alleged that the Houthis were seeking to overthrow it and to implement Shī'a religious law. The rebels counter that they are "defending their community against discrimination" and government aggression.
Toss in al Qaeda in the the Arabian Peninsula and,
In January 2009, the Saudi and Yemeni al-Qaeda branches merged to form Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is based in Yemen, and many of its members were Saudi nationals who had been released from Guantanamo Bay. Saleh released 176 al-Qaeda suspects on condition of good behaviour, but terrorist activities continued.
Perhaps not the best decision ever made. Saleh gets replaced, but things do not calm down.

Nice summary of events in Yemen from the BBC here:
2014 September - Houthi rebels take control of the capital Sanaa. The UN brokers a peace deal according to which the Houthis agree to withdraw their fighters from cities they have seized once a new national unity government has been formed.

2015 January - The Houthis reject the draft of a new constitution proposed by the government. They seize state TV and clash with troops in the capital, in what the government called a coup attempt.

President Hadi and his government resign in protest at the takeover by Houthi rebels of the capital. He later flees to his native city of Aden and rescinds his resignation.

2015 February - Houthi rebels say that they are seizing power and that transitional five-member presidential council will replace President Hadi.
Now, UN envoy warns: Yemen is being pushed 'to the edge of civil war'. No kidding.

UPDATE: About ISIS in Yemen, ISIS in Yemen: Fueling the sectarian fire by Alex Knutsen at the AEI:
The Islamic State in Iraq and al Sham (ISIS) carried out five suicide bombings in Yemen today. The attacks are the first by ISIS in Yemen, and ISIS’s targeting of Zaydi Shia mosques will fundamentally change political and security dynamics. The Yemeni state is already fragmenting. Yemeni President Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, who resigned in protest in January, is establishing a rival government in the south to challenge the authority of the one now under Iranian-backed al Houthi control in the capital, Sana’a. The al Houthi-Hadi conflict remained largely a political one until fighter jets bombed Hadi’s residence on March 19. There is now a multi-faceted conflict in Yemen that also includes al Qaeda’s affiliate, al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), which is fighting both the al Houthis and the Yemeni security forces. The arrival of ISIS in Yemen could fuel a broader sectarian war. (emphasis added)

Yemen sits on the vital sea lanes of the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden where shipping routes to and from the Suez Canal are located.

In the wrong hands . . .

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day #48

The Cat Who Walks Through Walls
"A friend who offers help without asking for explanations is a treasure beyond price.”

On Midrats 22 March 2015 - Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again - with Will Beasley

Please join us on 22 March 2015 at 5pm U.S. EDT for Midrats Episode 272: Naval Professionalism; up, down, and back again - with Will Beasley
What are the intellectual responsibilities of the naval professional? What is the canon sound thought in the maritime realm is based?
Historically, what has been done, what has worked, and what should we be doing? Should the naval professional just focus on his narrow area of expertise, or does he need to have a more interdisciplinary approach to his intellectual development?

Our guest to discuss this and more for the full hour will be William M. Beasley, Jr., associate attorney with Phelps Dunbar, LLP in Mississippi. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of Mississippi with a BA and MA in history where his graduate thesis examined the impact of popular culture, inter-service rivalry, civil-military relations, strategic planning, and defense unification on the "Revolt of the Admirals" of 1949.

Mr. Beasley received his JD from the University of Mississippi School of Law, where he served on the editorial board of the Mississippi Law Journal. Prior to joining Phelps Dunbar, Mr. Beasley worked as a research consultant with the Potomac Institute in Arlington, Virginia. He is a member of the Center for International Maritime Security (CIMSEC) and his work on maritime history and security has appeared in Proceedings, The Strategy Bridge, and USNI Blog.
Join us live or pick the show up later by clicking here. Or you can also get the show later from the Midrats iTunes page.

Friday, March 20, 2015

Friday Fun Film: "Duck and Cover" (1951)

"We all know the atomic bomb is very dangerous . . ."

See North Korean Threat: EMP? Death by Threats?.

And U.S. Confirms North Korean Sub Missiles:
The commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, in charge of U.S. nuclear missile forces, confirmed on Thursday that North Korea is developing a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
The comments were the first official U.S. government confirmation that North Korea is working on a new underwater missile capability and comes as the regime in Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons and claims to have miniaturized a weapon to fit on top of a missile.
Duck and cover? Better have a better plan than that.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Important U.S. House Armed Services Strategic Forces Sub-Committee Hearing: Fiscal Year 2016 Missile Defense

This is worth an hour of your time:

If you have doubt, there is this Reuters headline, U.S. missile defense agency warns of "jeopardy" from budget cuts:
Further budget cuts would put the U.S. military's ability to protect the United States in "serious jeopardy" at a time when Iran and North Korea are advancing their own missile programs, the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency said on Thursday.

Vice Admiral James Syring told U.S. lawmakers that failure to lift budget caps in fiscal 2016 would force him to delay urgently needed steps aimed at improving the reliability of a system that top military leaders have already called "unsustainable" given growing threats and budget pressures.
It is not rational to think standing still means your potential enemies will also call a halt to their activities.

UPDATE: U.S. Naval Insitute News offers up Army-Navy Memo on need for Ballistic Missile Defense Strategy, referenced in the above:

UPDATE2: Robert Work, Deputy Defense Secretary on budget issues as found in the Aviation Week opinion piece, "Budget Blunders Threaten U.S. Military Superiority":
Sequestration is a blunder that allows our fiscal problems, not our security needs, to determine our strategy.
Preach it!

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Disaster Prep Wednesday: Hard Wired Phones

Interesting problem during a recent ice and snow event that caused a power outage in the neighborhood.

The neighborhood is transitioning from older, empty nest retirees to families just beginning to fill their nests. The young people are great, but when the power goes out and you've got babies and toddlers, their interest is at home, not necessarily with their neighbors.

Some of not quite ancient residents try to look out for our older neighbors. This can be a challenge when they have adopted some parts of modern technology but not others. For example,the elderly gentleman living across  the street had no cell phone and instead of a phone hard-wired to land line was using portable phones in his house.

When the power went out, his phones went out. Since his house was surrounded by snow and ice, he was trapped inside because he is too frail to risk falling on the ice. We were interested in checking on him but when we tried to call him . . . we couldn't get through.

Lessons learned:

  1. If you have elderly relatives, don't let them give up on their hard-wired telephones;
  2. And make sure they have at least one phone that is connected  by a cord to that wire (and that they have a cell phone, too, just in case);
  3. Make sure that relative knows to call you when there is a power outage in the winter (or during a heat wave) to let you know his/her status. Do not rely on the kindness of neighbors.
As it turned out, we took hot coffee and soup over to our neighbor once we were able to find out that he was both cold and unprepared for even this simple disaster.

A working phone would have really helped him.

UPDATE: I had to clear a path to  get to his house and pound on his door to be able to determine his status. Each relay of coffee and soup was an ice-filled adventure.  I really need a pair of crampons to protect myself in such conditions.

It was much later that it occurred to me that I could have taken one of the spare wired phones from our house over to his and plugged it in in place of his portable phone set up so that he could have called out in case he needed the police, firemen or EMTs. Having a cheap wired phone in the emergency kit for such purposes is a good idea. I've added one to mine.

Monday, March 16, 2015

Got Your 2015 "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready" Right Here

Here's "A Cooperative Strategy for 21st Century Seapower: Forward, Engaged, Ready" which you can read for yourself:

Now having read it, you can go read THE NEW MARITIME STRATEGY: IT’S TRICKY TO BALANCE ENDS, WAYS, AND MEANS by Brian McGrath and Bryan Clark.


A video discussion from the Center for Strategic and International Studies.

A very different perspective from the World Socialist Website at "US ramps up anti-China “pivot to Asia”:
There is nothing benign about the US strategy of maintaining overwhelming naval superiority in the Indo-Pacific region. The Pentagon’s plans for war against China, known as “AirSea Battle,” rely on the ability to mount a massive offshore air and missile attack on the Chinese mainland, including China’s military and infrastructure, supplemented by an economic blockade. Under the pretext of securing “freedom of navigation,” the US navy is ensuring that it has the ability to block key shipping lanes across the Indian Ocean used by China to import energy and raw materials from Africa and the Middle East.
Gee, I wonder what they say about the Chinese strategy to dominate East Asia and the South China Sea.

America's Navy

Or you could work in a cubicle.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Saturday Is Heinlein Quote Day #47

From "The Happy Days Ahead"
. . . [T]he 3-legged stool of understanding is held up by history, languages, and mathematics. Equipped with these three you can learn anything you want to learn. But if you lack any one of them you are just another ignorant peasant with dung on your boots.
Found in The Expanded Universe.

Friday, March 13, 2015

On Midrats 3/15/15 - Episode 271: "Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter "

Please join us Sunday 15 March 2015 at 5pm (U.S. EDT) for Midrats Episode 271: "Red Flag and the Development USAF Fighter Pilots"
In parallel efforts that in the Navy which led to Top Gun, the US Air Force looked hard at the lessons of air to air combat in the Vietnam War and brought forward "Red Flag,"

Moving beyond the technical focus, they looked to training and
fundamentals to bring back a primacy of combat skills.

Our guest for the full hour to discuss this and his new book, The Air Force Way of War: U.S. Tactics and Training after Vietnam, will be

Dr. Brian D. Laslie, Deputy Command Historian, North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) and United States Northern Command (USNORTHCOM).

A historian of air power studies, Dr. Laslie received his Bachelor’s degree in history from The Citadel: The Military College of South Carolina, his Master’s from Auburn University Montgomery in 2006 and his Doctorate from Kansas State University in 2013.

Dr. Laslie was Honorably Discharged from the United States Air Force in 2007 as a Captain after serving as a logistics officer, doctrine instructor, and Action Officer to the Commander of Air University.
Join us live if you can (or pick the show up later) by clicking here. Or if you prefer, you will find the show later on our iTunes page here.

Friday Fun Film: The Russian Navy in the Late 1960s

The Soviet fleet was not built to keep international commerce flowing by protecting the sea lanes. Nor was it built to allow a quick switch to delivering international disaster relief.

It was built to hold off the U.S. Navy in the areas of interest to the Soviets and mostly in preventing aid flowing to NATO's European countries.

Operation Ocean (1970):

UPDATE: Yes, Operation Ocean took place during the 100th anniversary of Lenin's birth in 1870. But the fleet described was built in the 1960's - hence the post title.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Here's An Interesting Piracy/ISIS Warning for the Yachts in the Mediterranean

From the Marshall Islands Vessel Registry (hat tip Lars Bergqvist):

To: Commercial and Private Yacht Masters, Owners, Yacht Managers, Agents, Classification Societies and Appointed Representatives
Date: 23 February 2015
Please be advised that yachts and other shipping in the Mediterranean could come under attack from heavily armed ISIS fighters using speedboats to conduct attacks from the Libyan coast. It is feared that luxury yachts could be singled out as part of a piracy campaign that would threaten shipping from Gibraltar to Greece. ISIS pirates would pose a greater danger than the Somalis who have attacked shipping in the Indian Ocean because they are better armed.
We've seen warnings like this in the past about Somali pirates teaming up with terrorists and al Qaeda taking to the sea.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Monday, March 09, 2015

Boko Haram Joins the IS Bandwagon

Boko Haram Reportedly Swears Allegiance To The Islamic State:
Nigeria's Boko Haram has reportedly announced formal allegiance with the self-declared Islamic State, according to an English-language translation of an Arabic message posted to Twitter.

"We announce our allegiance to the Caliph ... and will hear and obey in times of difficulty and prosperity, in hardship and ease," according to a translation of a message purporting to be by Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau. "We call upon Muslims everywhere to pledge allegiance to the Caliph."
I think someone was talking about bandwagons recently.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

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.