September 17, 2014

QotD: Fun has no place in Islam

Filed under: Middle East, Quotations, Religion — Tags: , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

Allah did not create man so that he could have fun. The aim of creation was for mankind to be put to the test through hardship and prayer. An Islamic regime must be serious in every field. There are no jokes in Islam. There is no humor in Islam. There is no fun in Islam. There can be no fun and joy in whatever is serious. Islam does not allow swimming in the sea and is opposed to radio and television serials. Islam, however, allows marksmanship, horseback riding and competition …

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, meeting in Qom “Broadcast by radio Iran from Qom on 20 August 1979.” quoted in Taheri, The Spirit of Allah (1985) p.259

September 7, 2014

ISIS and its local and regional enemies

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 11:27

Strategy Page looks at the various forces and factions opposed to the rise of the Caliphate of ISIS:

In the Middle East Islamic radicalism, and its murderous offshoot Islamic terrorism, comes in many different flavors. Most groups are mutually antagonistic and will often kill each other as eagerly as they go after kaffirs (non-Moslems.) Nearly all these radical movements now condemn ISIL (al Qaeda in Iraq and the Levant) and condemn ISIL for being too extreme. To the West these seems absurd, and many Moslems agree. But radical Islam is what Islam began as and to this day there are always Moslems who embrace the concept of extreme Islamic radicalism and Islamic terrorism as being the ultimate form of Islam. Thus while Saudi Arabia bans all other religions in its territories and regularly beheads people accused of sorcery and other religious offenses, the Saudis condemn ISIL. One reason for this is that ISIL considers the Saudi government weak and not Islamic enough and worthy of being replaced (after a righteous bloodbath of the current Saudi royal family) by someone more suitable (like ISIL). Al Qaeda also condemns ISIL, initially for not ignoring al Qaeda orders to tone down the barbaric treatment (mass murder and torture) of the enemy because al Qaeda realized that this eventually triggers a backlash from other Moslems. Iran condemns ISIL because all Shia (meaning all Iranians) are heretics and deserving of summary execution. Iran-backed Hezbollah is now using that ISIL threat to justify Hezbollah grabbing more power in Lebanon, where Shia are a third of the population but far more powerful politically because Iranian cash, weapons and training have made Hezbollah too strong for the elected Lebanese government to suppress or even oppose. In Syria, the minority (more Shia) Assad government, fighting a Sunni rebellion since 2011, now calls on their current Sunni enemies (Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arabs, plus the Sunni majority in Syria) to join with them in destroying ISIL.

Whatever else ISIL has done it has united many other Sunni faction and the Shia in the region into an uneasy anti-ISIL coalition. But even after ISIL is gone, Islamic radicalism will still be there. For most Moslems this radicalism is like the weather; every Moslem talks about but Moslems cannot seem to do anything to eliminate or even control it.

Islamic terrorism has long been trapped in a self-destructive cycle of its own making. It works like this. Islamic radicals obtain their popularity and power by proclaiming that they are defending Islam from non-believers and sinners (within Islam, often local Moslem dictators). In order to maintain this moral superiority, the Islamic radicals must be better Moslems, and insist that others do as they do. Since Islam is a religion that dictates how one lives, in considerable detail, as well as how one plays, this business of being a “good Moslem” can get tricky. And it is. There’s a race underway by Islamic radicals, and the clergy that provide theological support, to issue, and enforce, more and more rules on how a good Moslem should live.

May 22, 2014

Trigger warnings and the closing of the western mind

Filed under: Liberty, Media, Politics — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:49

Tiffany Jenkins says that the rising demand for trigger warnings are like a loaded gun pointed at the head of literature:

In Reading Lolita in Tehran: A Memoir in Books, the Iranian author and professor Azar Nafisi recalls how, when living in the Islamic Republic of Iran, she secretly brought together seven female students in her living room every Thursday morning so they could read and discuss forbidden classic works of Western literature. These books were considered ‘anti-revolutionary’ and ‘morally harmful’ by the Iranian authorities. Nafisi and the girls put themselves at risk so they could enter the worlds created by writers that included Vladimir Nabokov, Henry James, Jane Austen and F Scott Fitzgerald.

Nafisi’s passion for literature and her defiance of the authorities is inspiring, as is the determination of the girls who attended her class, but Reading Lolita in Tehran is an upsetting read. Books – ideas – are powerful, of course, and deal with difficult and sometimes questionable ideas, but they are not so powerful that we should be prevented from studying them, and it makes me angry to think that those wonderful, if tragic and complicated, worlds of Jay Gatsby and Daisy Buchanan, Humbert Humbert and Dolores Haze, are not available to everyone in many parts of the world. All because those books are considered immoral, and because women, especially, are deemed too susceptible to negative influences.


One thing a novel never is is simple. That’s why we read them, because they are challenging and thoughtful. You don’t read The Great Gatsby or any other book to learn about whether it is good or bad to betray your husband, or long after a lost love, or make loads or money, or to hit your mistress, or commit suicide, you read to explore how complicated, and human, these desires, wishes and acts are. And there is no such thing as the ‘last word’ when it comes to a novel. The ongoing conversation between readers and writers shouldn’t be curtailed, or deemed too difficult a task for us. What we know or think is never complete or final.

As someone who has taught many students, I can say that most lecturers have faith in their students and know how to help students with issues navigate difficult material. What the students calling for trigger warnings fail to realise is that these are issues that will never be addressed by a warning sticker.

This is a generation of students, it would seem, that does not want university to be a place of free thought, of experimentation, and of reading the best that has been known and thought. This is a generation that sees knowledge as dangerous and themselves as incapable of dealing with it, who seem to want to erase from the world any written words that address complexity, difficulty, nastiness, or the depth of human feeling. These students don’t want to be disturbed, stretched or challenged, and nor do they want others to be. It is a generation that just wants to be sheltered from the world, from one another and even themselves. These are students who, if they are not careful, will find that members of their classes are forced to organise private reading groups in their own homes in order to experience a world of literature that is being denied to them.

October 13, 2013

QotD: Luck of the draw

Filed under: Britain, Middle East, Military, Quotations — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 00:01

When the time came for us to leave Persia and make the long trek back to Iraq, we stopped again for a few days with Robertson in Kermanshah. Then I said good-bye to my host, my Persian friends, and to his house with keen regret — with, as a matter of fact, a secret personal regret.

As a junior officer in the first World War, I had been presumptuous enough sometimes to hope that if I survived and were not found out, I might with tremendous luck, by the time the next great war arrived, be a general. Then, I fondly imagined my headquarters would move from château to château, from which I would occasionally emerge, fortified by good wine and French cooking, to wish the troops the best of luck in their next attack. Alas, when the time did come and, by good fortune in the game of military snakes and ladders, I found myself a general, I was so inept in my choice of theatres that no châteaux were available. More often than not, I had to make do with a plot of desert sand, a tree in the African bush, or a patch of jungle, while my cuisine was based on bully beef and the vintages of my imagination were replaced by over-chlorinated water. Once or twice, however, I did get, if not my château with its chef and its cellar, at least an excellent substitute — an oil company bungalow. Once having sampled its comfort I would not have swapped Robertson’s house for all the châteaux of the Loire. Dug in there, a delectable future had spread before me in which I achieved my youthful ambition and conducted the war from linen-sheeted bed and luxurious long bath. But, like other youthful hopes, the vision faded. I was once more, had I known it, destined to châteaux-less wilderness.

Field Marshal William Slim, “Persian Pattern”, Unofficial History, 1959.

May 5, 2013

Sorcery, conspiracy theories, and a magical worldview

Filed under: Middle East, Religion — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:12

Strategy Page looks at some of the widely held beliefs in some Islamic countries:

… in most countries where there is a dominant religion, especially a state approved one, there is usually still a fear that the previous religion (or religions) will try to make a comeback. The former faiths often involved some really old-school stuff, including magic and sometimes animal, or even human, sacrifice. It is not uncommon for there to be civil laws covering those accused to be practicing such sorcery, and severe punishments for those convicted. At the very least, the accused will be driven from any senior government jobs they might hold, and that’s what’s being done to dozens of Ahmadinejad associates.

All cultures have a certain belief in magic and what Westerners call “conspiracy theories” to explain otherwise unexplainable events. In the Islamic world, there is a lot of attention paid to sorcery and magic, and people accused of practicing such things are regularly attacked and sometimes executed. Conspiracy theories are also a popular way to explain away inconvenient facts.

For example, back in 2008 many Pakistanis believed that the then recent Islamic terrorist attack in Mumbai, India was actually the work of the Israeli Mossad or the American CIA and not the Pakistani terrorists who were killed or captured and identified. Such fantasies are a common explanation, in Moslem nations, for Islamic terrorist atrocities. Especially when women and children, and Moslems, are among the victims, other Moslems tend to accept fantastic explanations shifting the blame to infidels (non-Moslems).

[. . .]

American troops arriving in Iraq after 2003 went through a real culture shock as they encountered these cultural differences. They also discovered that the cause of this, and many other Arab problems, is the concept of “inshallah” (“If God wills it.”) This is a basic tenet of Islam, although some scholars believe the attitude was a cultural trait that preceded Islam. In any event, “inshallah” is deadly when combined with modern technology. For this reason, Arab countries either have poorly maintained infrastructure and equipment (including military stuff), or import a lot of foreigners, possessing the right attitudes, to maintain everything. That minority of Arabs who do have a realistic attitude towards maintenance and personal responsibility are considered odd, but useful.

The “inshallah” thing is made worse by a stronger belief in the supernatural, and magic in general. This often extends to technology. Thus many Iraqis believed that American troops wore sunglasses that enabled them to see through clothing, and armor vests that were actually air conditioned. When they first encounter these beliefs, U.S. troops thought the Arabs are putting them on. Then it sinks in that Arabs really believe this stuff. It’s a scary moment.

April 27, 2013

The Caspian Sea as a potential trouble zone

Filed under: Asia, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:46

Strategy Page provides some background on the possibility of conflict on the Caspian in the post-Soviet era:

The Caspian Sea, long a Russian lake, is now witnessing a naval arms race. Before the Soviet Union broke up in 1991, the only nations bordering the Caspian were Russia (with most of the coastline) and Iran. But now those two nations have been joined by parts of the Soviet Union that have become independent states (Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan and Turkmenistan). It goes downhill from there.

Iran shares a land border with Azerbaijan and has a historical claim on Azerbaijan. In the 19th century Azerbaijan (as in the area occupied the Azeris, a Turkic people) was divided by Russia and Iran. Currently about a quarter of the Iranian population is Azeri, but the Azeris of Azerbaijan believe all Azeris should be part of an independent Azerbaijan. This was how it was for centuries before Turkey, Russia and Iran began seeking to conquer Azerbaijan. Some Iranian Azeris like this idea and Iran is always looking for ways to make Azerbaijan back off. So Iran is building up its Caspian naval forces, which is annoying Russia more than Azerbaijan.

The Iranian buildup includes a new corvette, an Iranian built 1,400 ton ship. Azerbaijan responded by buying $1.6 billion worth of weapons from Israel (which angered Iran a great deal.) Among the items ordered were Gabriel anti-ship missiles. These are 522 kg (1,150 pound) weapons with a range of 36 kilometers. Azerbaijan will use these to protect its Caspian Sea coast from the growing number of Iranian warships being introduced in the area. Most of the Iranian Caspian “fleet” consists of small patrol boats. Some are armed with anti-ship missiles but they are basically coast guard type craft.

What really controls the Caspian is aircraft and Russia has the most of those. Russia also has the only water link to the ocean and thus the ability to bring in more warships on short notice. These, plus Russia’s larger air force gives Russia the edge.

April 9, 2013

US Navy to deploy laser ship defence system in the Persian Gulf next year

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:55

At The Register, Neil McAllister reports on the most recent successful test of the US Navy’s LaWS prototype and plans to deploy the weapons to the Persian Gulf:

The US Navy says it has successfully test-fired a ship-mounted laser weapon, and that it plans to deploy the device to an actual maritime staging area beginning in 2014.

On Monday, the Navy released video and still images showing the somewhat-unimaginatively named Laser Weapon System (LaWS) firing on an unmanned drone, causing the aircraft to burst into flames and plummet from the sky.

Speaking at the Navy League Sea Air Space Exposition at National Harbor, Maryland on Monday, Rear Admiral Matthew Klunder, chief of Naval research, said the device would be deployed to the Persian Gulf, where Iran has been “harassing” US ships with drones and small, fast boats.

“The area we’re going to test this in is a very intensive maritime region of the world,” Klunder told USNI News. “Lots of commerce, lots of ships.”

Klunder said the Navy has field-tested the solid-state laser 12 times so far, and in each case it managed to destroy its target. He added that the weapon also has a nonlethal mode that can generate a “dazzle” effect, which can be used to blind enemy vessels by overwhelming their sensors.

In addition to being effective against small, fast-moving craft, the cannon offers another benefit: its low cost relative to traditional weapons systems. According to The New York Times, firing LaWS costs less than $1 per sustained pulse. Compare that to the cost of a short-range interceptor missile, which the paper estimates run around $1.4m apiece.

The YouTube description:

120804-N-ZZ999-001 SAN DIEGO, Calif. (Jul. 30, 2012) The Laser Weapon System (LaWS) temporarily installed aboard the guided-missile destroyer USS Dewey (DDG 105) in San Diego, Calif., is a technology demonstrator built by the Naval Sea Systems Command from commercial fiber solid state lasers, utilizing combination methods developed at the Naval Research Laboratory. LaWS can be directed onto targets from the radar track obtained from a MK 15 Phalanx Close-In Weapon system or other targeting source. The Office of Naval Research’s Solid State Laser (SSL) portfolio includes LaWS development and upgrades providing a quick reaction capability for the fleet with an affordable SSL weapon prototype. This capability provides Navy ships a method for Sailors to easily defeat small boat threats and aerial targets without using bullets. (U.S. Navy video by Office of Naval Research/ Released)

February 25, 2013

What Argo doesn’t show about “The Canadian Caper” of 1979

Filed under: Cancon, History, Middle East, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 13:15

In Maclean’s, one of the American diplomats who took part in the actual hostage drama in Tehran provides a bit of supplementary material to the film Argo:

Ben Affleck’s Argo has stormed box offices, collected awards [. . .] yet Canadians of a certain age may find themselves thinking: This is not quite how I remember those days. I was there when Iranians took over the American Embassy in Tehran, and it is not quite how I remember them either. Argo is terrific entertainment, but it tells only a part of our story, and says nothing at all about many of the real heroes — most Canadian — who helped rescue us. Before Argo came along, our rescue was routinely called the “Canadian Caper.” It still should be. The operation consisted of four distinct phases. Three were almost entirely Canadian, and only one involved significant U.S. assistance.

For those not of a certain age, a brief summary is a good starting point. Nov. 4, 1979 brought cold rain and hinted of trouble of a different sort. Two weeks earlier, then-president Jimmy Carter decided to admit the former shah of Iran to the U.S. for cancer treatment. Iranians were outraged; many suspected it was a plot by the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency to remove Iran’s new ruler, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, and put the shah back in charge. Protests outside Tehran’s U.S. Embassy had become daily occurrences. That November morning, demonstrators climbed the gate and soon controlled the compound.

[. . .]

Phase four always receives the least attention. The U.S. government was desperate to keep the CIA’s role secret, rightly fearing its disclosure might endanger the hostages (who weren’t freed until 1981). This concern was sufficiently real that we were asked to live under false names in Florida until the hostages were set free. I was looking forward to seeing how many speeding tickets my alter ego could accumulate, but La Presse decided to publish Jean Pelletier’s story once the Canadian Embassy in Tehran had closed. We came home to a rousing reception and the Canadians were asked to claim complete credit for our escape. That job understandably fell to ambassador Taylor, who spent the better part of a year on the rubber chicken circuit at receptions to honour the Canadian government and people for helping us. Some have said he did the job too well, or failed to share the credit with other embassy staff. My own experience contradicts this. I heard Taylor speak several times. He always mentioned his staff. I also tried, during press interviews I gave, to mention others, particularly the Sheardowns. My comments were edited out. It seemed the press could handle only one hero at a time. Unfortunately, this meant John Sheardown, who was indispensable in phase one, became invisible in phase four. I truly believe John did not care. He did his duty as he saw it. For those who loved and respected him, it was painful.

[. . .]

As I wrote at the beginning, Argo is a wonderful film. Not because it is historically accurate, but because, aside from its technical brilliance, it reminds us of a time when ordinary people performed great deeds, and two neighbours that feud over many small and not so small things came together and did something magnificent. Maybe it didn’t change history, but for we six house guests it was truly life changing. And it was, and should always remain, the Canadian Caper.

October 22, 2012

Want to learn a new language? How about proto-Elamite?

Filed under: History, Middle East, Science — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:10

If you have the ability to decode the world’s oldest undeciphered texts, you can be our first proto-Elamite scholar:

“I think we are finally on the point of making a breakthrough,” says Jacob Dahl, fellow of Wolfson College, Oxford and director of the Ancient World Research Cluster.

Dr Dahl’s secret weapon is being able to see this writing more clearly than ever before.

In a room high up in the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, above the Egyptian mummies and fragments of early civilisations, a big black dome is clicking away and flashing out light.

This device, part sci-fi, part-DIY, is providing the most detailed and high quality images ever taken of these elusive symbols cut into clay tablets. This is Indiana Jones with software.

It’s being used to help decode a writing system called proto-Elamite, used between around 3200BC and 2900BC in a region now in the south west of modern Iran.

And the Oxford team think that they could be on the brink of understanding this last great remaining cache of undeciphered texts from the ancient world.

October 17, 2012

Matt Gurney on Iran’s anti-Canadian coverage

Filed under: Cancon, Media, Middle East — Tags: , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:17

A pair of former First Nations chiefs have been on Iran’s Press TV to denounce Canada and Canadian treatment of natives:

Friends, I have a double dose of bad news for you. There’s no easy way to say it. So here it is. Not only is Canada set on exterminating a whole segment of its population. That would be bad enough. It also turns out that we frankly aren’t very good at it.

These painful revelations come to us from Tehran courtesy of Terry Nelson, formerly chief of the Roseau River Anishinabe nation south of Winnipeg, and Dennis Pashe, of the Dakota Tipi nation. Both men have plenty of time to travel these days, having both lost their jobs as chiefs. Nelson lost his after his own band council gave him the boot, for the third time, last fall. Pashe was fired by Ottawa in 2003, after the federal government sent in a third-party manager in the face of corruption allegations and violence on his reserve, compounded by Pashe’s refusal to call elections.

[. . .]

But ignore Tehran’s pathetic attempts to portray Canada as worse than Iran (or ask some of the protesters gunned down, raped or tortured during the post-2009 election protests what they think about the two nations’ comparative human rights records). The truly sad thing about Nelson and Pashe’s trip is that there are, indeed, systemic issues facing Canada’s native population, and Nelson and Pashe have made a mockery of them.

Nelson isn’t wrong to point out that many native women are missing. Or that natives are overrepresented in the prison population. Or even to point out that many resource extraction projects, including petroleum sites, are on or near native reserves. And many Canadians, native and otherwise, agree that many reserves are essentially designed to fail, and that the living conditions for natives there are unacceptable. These are all fair things to say.

September 25, 2012

Mine operations in the Straits of Hormuz

Filed under: Middle East, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 08:18

Strategy Page runs down the history of naval mines and explains why Iran is most likely to try using mines to close down the critical Straits of Hormuz to tanker traffic if a new Gulf War begins:

The U.S. and over 30 other nations recently held a joint mine clearing exercise called the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise 2012 (September 16-27). The numerous training events were directed at dealing with Iranian attempts to block the entrance (Straits of Hormuz) to the Persian Gulf. Iran insists it will have no trouble doing this and blocking the export of oil. Some 35 percent of the world’s oil shipments pass through these straits, which comes to about 15-20 tankers a day (plus a dozen or more non-tankers). The Persian Gulf, in general, is a busy waterway. It is 989 kilometers long, and the average depth is 50 meters (maximum depth is 90 meters). Naval mines are Iran’s best bet if they want to shut down the straits.

[. . .]

The Iranian military is in worse shape today than it was 25 years ago, and would not last long trying to attack ships. That leaves the Straits of Hormuz. This is actually a wide (about 30 kilometers) deep channel. Normally, shipping sticks to narrow (a few kilometers wide) channels, going in and out, to avoid collisions. The main Iranian threat has always been seen as naval mines. The Arab states have lots of mine clearing equipment, and more numerous air and naval forces than Iran. In addition, there are the United States and NATO forces in the area. The problem was that all these mines clearing forces had never practiced under realistic (wartime) conditions. In short, what would everyone do if Iran did mine the straits.

Iran would probably mine the straits if sanctions, or military action, halted all Iranian oil exports. Otherwise, mining the straits would be economic suicide. If Iran tried to shut down the Straits of Hormuz, it’s more likely that effort would fail and the straits would remain open for non-Iranian oil. With the loss of their oil exports, Iran would find its remaining military forces being hunted down and destroyed day after day. Not only would Iranian oil exports be halted, but so would imports. Iran depends on imports of food (over 100,000 tons a week) and gasoline to keep its economy operating.

For an Iranian mining attempt to work they would have to get the mines onto the bottom of the straits and then prevent the rest of the world from clearing those mines. That would be difficult, as will Iranian attempts to plant additional mines. Such attempts would not be impossible as Iran has small submarines and speed boats along with sailors willing to carry out suicidal missions to deliver the mines. Even that may not be sufficient as this sort of fanaticism failed against the Americans in the 1980s. While Iran has worked to overcome their shortcomings, most of the solutions appear to be publicity stunts mainly meant to make the Iranian population feel better.

July 29, 2012

US Navy’s surge to the Persian Gulf

Filed under: Middle East, Military, USA — Tags: , , — Nicholas Russon @ 12:36

Strategy Page has the details:

The U.S. is sending another carrier task force to the Persian Gulf, and the ships are heading out four months early and will stay at sea for eight months instead of four. There are already two carrier task forces in the Gulf area, and for a short while there will be three when the third task force arrives in five months.

This is what the U.S. Navy describes as “surge capability” (getting the maximum number of ships to a war or hot sport in the shortest possible time). It’s a new policy, getting a workout here because of rising tensions in the Persian Gulf.

It all began eight years ago, after a massive surge for the invasion of Iraq. This caused several problems, one of them being a dip in morale. So the navy decided it had to keep ships at sea less often. That’s because the ships need more time in port for maintenance, and the more you keep the ships at sea (especially for more than four months at a time), the more sailors decide to leave the navy.

For the 2003 Iraq campaign the navy sent 72 percent of the combat fleet (221 of 306 warships, including seven of twelve carriers, 75 percent of the amphibious ships and 33 of 54 attack submarines). There were 600 navy (and marine) warplanes involved, and over 100,000 sailors and marines. But this was done in the midst of the navy’s usual (for several decades) routine of six month cruises followed by six months in port. The navy got so many ships and aircraft into the Iraqi campaign by skipping scheduled maintenance, keeping sailors at sea for very long periods and basically improvising. This meant that when the Iraq operation was over, the navy had more than half its ships out of action for months as maintenance for ships and rest for crews was caught up on.

June 5, 2012

Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame: joint US-Israeli projects

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:02

The US and Israeli governments have admitted that the Stuxnet, Duqu, and Flame malware infections were joint efforts:

American and Israeli officials have finally confirmed that the industrial grade Cyber War weapons (Stuxnet, Duqu and Flame) used against Iran in the last few years were indeed joint U.S.-Israel operations. No other details were released, although many more rumors are now circulating. The U.S. and Israel were long suspected of being responsible for these “weapons grade” computer worms. Both nations had the motive to use, means to build and opportunity to unleash these powerful Cyber War weapons against Iran and other that support terrorism.

The U.S. Department of Defense had long asked for permission to go on the offensive using Cyber War weapons. But the U.S. government regularly and publicly declined to retaliate against constant attack from China, mainly because there were fears that there could be legal repercussions and that weapons used might get out of control and cause lots of damage to innocent parties.

Iran turned out to be another matter. Although not a serious Cyber War threat to the United States, Iran was trying to build nuclear weapons and apparently Israel had already been looking into using a Cyber War weapon to interfere with that. Given the nature of these weapons, which work best if the enemy doesn’t even know they exist, don’t expect many details to be released about this Cyber War program. What is known is that the Cyber War weapons unleashed on Iran were designed to concentrate only on very specific targets. So far, only three weapons that we know of have been used. One (Stuxnet) was designed to do damage to one specific facility, the plant where Iran produced nuclear fuel for power plants, and atomic weapons. That one worked. The other two (Duqu and Flame) were intelligence collection programs. They also apparently succeeded, remaining hidden for years and having lots of opportunity to collect enormous quantities of valuable data.

May 7, 2012

“Welcome to the foreign policy Theater of the Absurd”

Filed under: Europe, Military — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 09:13

Justin Raimondo on the recent spat between Russia and NATO:

A Russian general has threatened military action if the US and its NATO allies go ahead and build a “missile shield” in Eastern Europe: “A decision to use destructive force preemptively will be taken if the situation worsens,” say Russian chief of staff Nikolai Makarov. That the “shield” is of dubious effectiveness, and is mainly a cash cow for US defense companies, are not factors the Russkies are willing to take into consideration: their main beef seems to be the implied insult of Washington claiming the shield isn’t designed to protect against future aggression emanating from Moscow, but against an alleged Iranian missile threat to Europe. Hey, they seem to be saying: what about us? Aren’t we a threat, too?

Well, no — they aren’t. Russia’s population is falling rapidly, and their economy isn’t doing too hot, either. What the oligarchs didn’t loot and spirit out of the country has been either seized and mismanaged by the state, or else is part of the burgeoning black market. The last thing Moscow needs is an empire: they can barely manage what they already have. That hasn’t stopped Washington from manufacturing a phony narrative that imagines a “resurgent Russia” motivated by revanchism and a desire to refight the cold war.

So here we have the spectacle of a phony threat being uttered as a response to yet another phony threat: the Russians aren’t going to preemptively attack Poland, and neither they nor the Iranians represent a real danger to the West. Yet the actors in this little drama are intent on playing out their roles to the end, no matter how disconnected from reality their actions and pronouncements may seem.

Welcome to the foreign policy Theater of the Absurd.

February 15, 2012

More speculation that Canada might be reconsidering the F-35 fighter purchase

Filed under: Cancon, Military, Technology — Tags: , , , , , , — Nicholas Russon @ 10:53

In the National Post, John Ivison reports on a new tender for UAVs and wonders if it may herald a reconsideration of the government’s announced F-35 purchase.

Sources said the Department of National Defence is preparing to tender a contract for around six remotely piloted vehicles such as the MQ-9 Reaper, which the U.S. Defence Department estimates cost around $30-million each. A spokesman for DND dismissed the suggestion that armed drones could replace the F-35s, or augment a reduced number of aircraft, as speculation.

The Canadian military has previously leased drones from Israel and the CU-170 Herons flew reconnaissance missions in Afghanistan. But the Herons were never armed and a move to fit munitions on to any unmanned aircraft would inevitably draw criticism from opposition parties. When the idea was raised two years ago, then New Democrat defence critic Jack Harris dismissed it as “morally repugnant” and “robot warfare.”

In 2009, it was mentioned that Canada had been using Heron UAVs for about a year (long enough that Australian troops were in Canada to train on the equipment at that time). Of course, you can’t (currently or in the near future) completely replace manned fighters with UAVs, but UAV capabilities have grown substantially and they can now accomplish many missions that used to require manned aircraft. (See the comments on this article for some useful discussion on that topic.)

The F-35 should be (once all the development and manufacturing issues have been worked out) a very impressive combat aircraft. Here’s a graphic showing the kind of armament the F-35 will be able to use. The problem for Canada and other countries intending to purchase the F-35 is that costs are rising uncomfortably fast:

However, delays and cost overruns to Lockheed Martin’s F-35 strike fighter jet are causing headaches in many NATO capitals. Peter MacKay, the Defence Minister, admitted Tuesday that “the program has not been without problems in timelines and cost estimates.”

He said the government remains committed to giving the air force “the best opportunity for mission success” but refused to confirm that the government still intends to buy 65 F-35s.

In Question Period, the Prime Minister said that there is a budget for the F35s and “the government will operate within that budget.”

The problem for the Tories is that the cost of the planes is likely to rise considerably from the estimated $75-million per plane. Buying 65 jets would burst the $9-billion budget allocated for the F-35 purchase.

The U.S. Defence Department estimates the cost of each F-35 at $195-million this year. The Pentagon said Monday it intends to reduce spending on the F-35s next year and delay future spending because of the soaring costs and technological problems.

Some countries are opting to buy some F/A-18F Super Hornets as a stopgap until the F-35 is mature (Australia, for example, ordered 24 aircraft at a reported cost of A$6.6 billion).

No story about military equipment purchases is complete without considering the fact that the government thinks of it as an economic development program nearly as much as a military purchase. In spite of the remarkably poor economic justification, it has political benefits that easily dazzle parliamentarians and local newspaper editors (in the regions that benefit from the spending, anyway).

The Harper government has argued consistently one reason to stay in the F-35 program is the industrial benefits that have accrued to some Canadian companies. However, one industry insider said more work would likely flow from an order for a less expensive jet from Boeing or Saab. The government is set to unveil a comprehensive review of the Canadian aerospace industry, led by former Industry Minister David Emerson. If his review were to encompass the F-35 purchase, it could provide the Tories with the perfect cover to cancel a program that is turning into a political millstone.

Also in the National Post, Matt Gurney points out that it’s not just the NATO allies getting concerned about the F-35 program:

Ottawa is said to be considering equipping the Air Force with armed drones as part of an effort to replace the aging CF-18 fighter jets. The original plan was to replace them with 65 F-35s, but that problem has been beset by cost overruns and production delays. While the Harper government has remained resolutely behind the F-35 purchase, news has emerged out of Washington that the United States is beginning to cancel or delay orders for the advanced stealth fighter jets. This is a game-changer — it’s one thing for Italy or Israel to get cold feet, but if America pulls the plug on the program, the entire calculus of the F-35′s economics could change rapidly. And not in Canada’s favour.

He also points out that it’s no longer safe to assume that your UAV will perform as expected once your opponent reaches a certain level of technical sophistication:

Last December, Iran announced that it had shot down a U.S. RQ-170 drone over its territory. There was nothing new about that, and nor was it particularly alarming — an advantage of using drones for reconnaissance is that if the enemy does blow one up, you don’t necessarily need to respond with a retaliatory strike, as would be far more likely if a pilot (with a family and an elected representative and a Facebook page) was killed or captured. It also helps avoid a repetition of the awkward Gary Francis Powers incident of the Cold War, where an American spyplane pilot was shot down over the Soviet Union. When America denied the flight had ever occurred, the Soviets displayed a very much alive Powers to the media, humiliating the United States. Having a drone blown out of the sky isn’t nearly as complex. You just build another drone.

After several days, however, it became clear that there was more to the story than we had first been led to believe. Iran hadn’t shot down the drone at all. It had done something much worse — it had hacked the drone, and seized control of it. Iranian ground controllers, having assumed command of the drone, were able to successfully land it in their territory as a prize. Now, one of the most advanced pieces of spy technology in the United States’ military inventory, loaded with all sorts of high-tech monitoring and communications gear, is being reverse-engineered by a hostile regime. Worse: You can be certain that Iran will have no qualms about sharing access with whatever it learns, or perhaps even the drone itself, with Chinese and Russian engineers. Just a small way of saying thanks for all the missiles and UN vetoes Iran’s friends have provided over the years. (Early consideration of sending in U.S. commandos to blow up the drone, or destroying it from afar with an airstrike, were rejected for fear of triggering an all-out war and because U.S. officials hoped that Iran wouldn’t know what to do with the technology — but the Russians and Chinese will likely have no such problems.)

Update: Kelly McParland on the luck of Stephen Harper:

Stephen Harper is one lucky politician.

Here he is, stuck with a bad decision to buy a bunch of fighter planes the country can’t afford and might not need, a decision he has defended so many times there is now no way out save through an admission of error and embarrassing public climbdown. Which, knowing our Prime Minister, we can safely predict would happen just about the time the last polar ice cap melts away.

Then along comes a solution with his name on it, all wrapped up in pretty ribbon and accompanied by a “get out of embarrassment free” pass. Once again you can picture Bob Rae lying awake in bed at night, cursing softly and muttering “How does the *!@*%$-ing son-of-a-#%&% do it?”

Mr. Harper’s gift, which arrived, appropriately enough, on St. Valentines Day, comes in the form of further evidence that other would-be buyers of the F-35 fighter jet are heading for the exits. Italy chopped its order by 30% this week, Britain says it won’t make up its mind until 2015, Turkey has reduced its order by 50% and Australia is having doubts. On Monday the Pentagon said it’s delaying its own purchase of 179 of the planes by five years to save $15 billion and allow yet more time for testing. Let’s repeat that: The U.S., which is building the plane and marketing it like crazy to any ally that will listen, says the plane isn’t ready yet and it can’t afford the thing itself.

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