January 3, 2018

BAHFest London 2017 – Louie Terrill: Why the Kessler Syndrome is key to humanity’s future

Filed under: Humour, Space — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 02:00

Published on Dec 11, 2017

Watch Louie Terrill at BAHFest London 2017 present his theory, “Making sure we’re all in this together: Why the Kessler Syndrome is key to humanity’s future.”

BAHFest is the Festival of Bad Ad Hoc Hypotheses, a celebration of well-researched, logically explained, and clearly wrong scientific theory. Additional information is available at http://bahfest.com/

July 18, 2014

The Israeli-Palestinian situation is difficult to solve, but not complex

Filed under: Media, Middle East, Military — Tags: , , , , , — Nicholas @ 07:14

David Harsanyi responds to a silly post at Vox by Max Fisher:

    This is the one thing that both Hamas and Israel seem to share: a willingness to adopt military tactics that will put Palestinian civilians at direct risk and that contribute, however unintentionally, to the deaths of Palestinian civilians. Partisans in the Israel-Palestine conflict want to make that an argument over which “side” has greater moral culpability in the continued killings of Palestinian civilians. And there is validity to asking whether Hamas should so ensconce itself among civilians in a way that will invite attacks, just as there is validity to asking why Israel seems to show so little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods. But even that argument over moral superiority ultimately treats those dying Palestinian families as pawns in the conflict, tokens to be counted for or against, their humanity and suffering so easily disregarded.

A “partisan” writing about a conflict as if he we an honest broker is distracting, but read it again. You might note that one of the institutions he’s talking about is the governing authority of the Palestinian people in Gaza, which, applying even the most basic standards of decency, should task itself with safeguarding the lives of civilians. Instead, it makes martyrs out of children and relies on the compassion of Israelis to protect its weapons. This is a tragedy, of course, but Israel does have to bomb caches of rockets hidden by “militants” in Mosques, schools, and hospitals. Since Hamas’ terrorist complex is deeply embedded in Gaza’s civilian infrastructure there is really no other way. And that only tells us that one of the two organizations mentioned by Fisher has purposely decided to use Palestinian as pawns and put civilians in harm’s way.

It is also preposterous to claim that Israel is showing “little restraint in dropping bombs over Gaza neighborhoods.” Actually, Israel is far more concerned with the wellbeing of Palestinians civilians than Hamas. This week, 13 Hamas fighters used a tunnel into Israel and attempted to murder 150 civilians in Kibbutz Sufa, with Kalashnikovs and anti-tank weapons. On the same day, Israel issued early warnings before attacking Hamas targets – as it often has throughout this conflict in an effort to avoid needless civilian deaths Hamas is hoping for. It was Israel that agreed to a five-hour cease-fire so that UN aid could flow into Gaza last week. It is Israel that sends hundreds of thousands of tons of food to Gaza every year, millions of articles of clothing and medical aid. That’s more than restraint.


I often hear people claim that the Israel-Palestinian situation is complex. It isn’t. It’s difficult to solve, indeed, but it’s not complex. One side refuses to engage in any serious efforts to make peace with modernity and with Jews. So, for those like Andrew Sullivan and some of the folks at The American Conservative, who argue that Israel is the one drifting from Western ideals, I think Douglas Murray has the best retort:

    A gap may well be emerging. But not because Israel has drifted away from the West. Rather because today in much of the West, as we bask in the afterglow of our achievements — eager to enjoy our rights, but unwilling to defend them — it is the West that is, slowly but surely, drifting away from itself.

Update: Charles Krauthammer says this is a rare moment of moral clarity.

Israel accepts an Egyptian-proposed Gaza ceasefire; Hamas keeps firing. Hamas deliberately aims rockets at civilians; Israel painstakingly tries to avoid them, actually telephoning civilians in the area and dropping warning charges, so-called roof knocking.

“Here’s the difference between us,” explains the Israeli prime minister. “We’re using missile defense to protect our civilians and they’re using their civilians to protect their missiles.”

Rarely does international politics present a moment of such moral clarity. Yet we routinely hear this Israel–Gaza fighting described as a morally equivalent “cycle of violence.” This is absurd. What possible interest can Israel have in cross-border fighting? Everyone knows Hamas set off this mini-war. And everyone knows Hamas’s proudly self-declared raison d’être: the eradication of Israel and its Jews.


Why? The rockets can’t even inflict serious damage, being almost uniformly intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile system. Even West Bank leader Mahmoud Abbas has asked: “What are you trying to achieve by sending rockets?”

It makes no sense. Unless you understand, as a Washington Post editorial explained, that the whole point is to draw Israeli counterfire.

This produces dead Palestinians for international television. Which is why Hamas perversely urges its own people not to seek safety when Israel drops leaflets warning of an imminent attack.

To deliberately wage war so that your own people can be telegenically killed is indeed moral and tactical insanity. But it rests on a very rational premise: Given the Orwellian state of the world’s treatment of Israel (see: the U.N.’s grotesque Human Rights Council), fueled by a mix of classic anti-Semitism, near-total historical ignorance, and reflexive sympathy for the ostensible Third World underdog, these eruptions featuring Palestinian casualties ultimately undermine support for Israel’s legitimacy and right to self-defense.

July 17, 2014

Israel’s Iron Dome systems

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

Austin Bay discusses the relative success of the Israeli anti-missile defence system called Iron Dome:

According to the Israeli government, in this latest round of Israel-Hamas combat, Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system has (so far) intercepted 90 percent of targeted incoming Hamas rockets.

Iron Dome is a very sophisticated tactical (short-range) anti-missile and anti-artillery projectile defense system. In terms of combat operations, Iron Dome’s “sensor-shooter” system is a drastically scaled-down strategic anti-missile defense system, a mini-ABM system in the mold of the Reagan administration’s Strategic Defense Initiative. In fact, Iron Dome is an SDI descendant and a cousin of the current U.S. Missile Defense program. I will return to the cousin connection in a moment.

For good reason the 2006 Israel-Lebanese Hezbollah War is also called “The Rocket War.” Hezbollah fired several thousand unguided rockets into Israeli territory.

Human Rights Watch, a non-governmental human rights organization, accused Hezbollah and the Israeli Defense Forces of launching “indiscriminate” attacks that killed civilians on both sides of the border. As usual, HRW’s legalistic accusations against Israel received more international media attention. Though Hezbollah rocketeers frequently fired from positions within civilian neighborhoods (as Hamas rocket teams are doing in 2014), HRW argued that the Israelis “failed to distinguish between civilian and military targets.” HRW berated the IDF for employing cluster munitions.

However, to its credit, HRW’s detailed 2007 investigation of Hezbollah confirmed the harsh but obvious conclusion that Hezbollah had “deliberately targeted” civilian areas within Israel. HRW’s report concluded that, “Hezbollah repeatedly fired rockets in the direction of civilian-populated areas in which there was no evident military target.”

An HRW press release summarizing the investigation said that indiscriminate rocket fire directed at densely populated civilian neighborhoods “killed or injured civilians in Jewish, Arab and mixed villages, towns and cities.” In other words, Hezbollah wanted to spill civilian blood — lots of blood — and if it happened to be Arab blood, so be it.


In the last two weeks, Iron Dome has demonstrated that it can successfully protect people. Several press reports have noted the Israeli claim that Iron Dome’s demonstrated capabilities have given the Israeli government something very precious in a crisis: time. Instead of facing demands to strike back immediately, the government can consider military and political options.

November 25, 2013

What hasn’t been told in the official story about drone hit on USS Chancellorsville

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:01

Recently the guided missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville was hit by a target drone that reported malfunctioned. There were some injuries onboard, but none were said to be serious and the ship was safe and could continue operations. However, as this post shows, there are some pretty big open questions based on what the US Navy’s public relations department has shared:

The Navy tells us the drone malfunctioned, and apparently the combat system on the ship had no problems if the ship remains capable of operations, so based on those details of the press release the officers and crew of the USS Chancellorsville tracked the target missile drone — during the radar tracking exercise — apparently as it scored a direct hit into side of the ship.

But the ship was unable to defend itself? I get it that the safety systems were probably engaged that would prevent the full capabilities of the AEGIS combat system from being employed against the rogue drone, but what about the independent close-in point defenses of the cruiser?

The official story, based on the details as released officially, is that the most advanced AEGIS warship in the world tracked a direct hit by a missile drone and was apparently unable to defend itself successfully. Did the ship even try to defend itself from a rogue drone? We don’t know, because the press release focuses on telling the public the technology of the ship is sufficient enough for the ship to conduct normal operations, but tells us no details at all regarding what the crew did or did not do to defend the ship from a direct hit.

There is a detail that is omitted in the official press release, and because it is a detail of the incident known at the time of the press release, we can only assume the omission is intentional for purposes of protecting a reputation. The ships officers and crew apparently did try to defend the ship. The CIWS apparently fired at the BQM-74 but was unsuccessful in defending the ship. That detail matters, because the omission of that detail is the difference between protecting the reputation of the ships officers and crew who tried to defend the ship, or protecting the reputation of a piece of technology that was unsuccessful — for unknown reasons — in performing the technologies primary role as the last line of defense for the ship.

You can understand why a detail like that would fail to make the cut for what the PR department wanted to release to the media.

H/T to John Donovan for the link.

November 20, 2012

Hamas rockets versus Iron Dome

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

Strategy Page looks at the anti-missile system Israel has been using to combat Hamas rocket attacks:

Israel has bought seven batteries of Iron Dome anti-rocket missiles. Four are in action and a fifth one entered service several weeks early (on November 17) because of the major rocket assault Hamas and other Islamic terror groups in Gaza launched on November 14th. Over 500 rockets were launched during the first two days, but then the number began to decline. On Saturday (the 17th) 230 rockets were fired, with only 156 on Saturday and 121 on Monday. While the Palestinians have fired over a thousand rockets into Israel so far, and killed three Israelis, their effort is faltering and the Israeli response is not. Few of the rockets landed in occupied areas. That’s because Iron Dome has been able to detect and destroy 90 percent of the rockets that were going to land in an area containing people. The Israelis military says they have shot down over 300 rockets so far.

Iron Dome uses two radars to quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, guided missiles are fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That’s because Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets in 2006, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand rockets in the past eight years and the Israelis know where each of them landed. Over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas and few of those that did hit inhabited areas caused casualties. Israel already has a radar system in place that gives some warning of approaching rockets. Iron Dome uses that system, in addition to another, more specialized, radar in southern Israel.

[. . .]

Since Hamas is a big believer in using civilians as human shields (often against their will), a ground campaign would get a lot more Palestinians killed. So the attacks against specific terrorist leaders are seen as the better option. Even this risks civilian casualties, because Hamas puts its government and military facilities in residential neighborhoods. It has also, on the advice of its Hezbollah advisors, built rocket launchers near mosques, schools, hospitals and residences. The Israelis have distributed lots of videos of Palestinian rockets being fired in this way. Still most Arab and some Western media keep maintaining that Israel is at fault for defending itself, or simply existing.

This latest war with the Palestinians has been a major test for the Iron Dome system. Each battery has radar and control equipment and four missile launchers. Each battery costs about $37 million, which includes over fifty Tamir missiles (costing $40,000 each). In the two years before this month Iron Dome had intercepted over 100 rockets headed for populated areas. In the last week Iron Dome has intercepted at least another 300 rockets.

September 13, 2012

Margaret Thatcher: not quite the hawk of popular memory

Filed under: Books, Britain, History, USA — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:22

History Today has an Archie Brown review of Reagan and Thatcher: The Difficult Relationship by Richard Aldous:

… Thatcher had serious reservations about Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative project (SDI — soon popularly referred to as ‘Star Wars’). In particular she rejected his idea that this hypothetical anti-missile defence system would make nuclear weapons — and the concept of deterrence — obsolete. When, at the Reykjavik summit in 1986, only Reagan’s determination to continue with SDI prevented his agreeing with Mikhail Gorbachev on a plan for total removal of nuclear weapons from global arsenals, the British prime minister became incandescent with rage.

Her strong attachment to nuclear weapons as a deterrent, in the belief that they would never be used, went alongside a foreign policy that was less bellicose than her popular image might suggest. Thatcher’s willingness to use force to take back the Falkland Islands, following their takeover by Galtieri’s Argentina, should not obscure her extreme reluctance to endorse military intervention where there had been no external attack on Britain or on a British dependency. Aldous cites her clearly-expressed opposition to military interventions for the sake of ‘regime change’:

    We in the Western democracies use our force to defend our way of life … We do not use it to walk into independent sovereign territories … If you’re going to pronounce a new law that wherever communism reigns against the will of the people, even though it’s happened internally, there the USA shall enter, then we are going to have really terrible wars in the world.

That was provoked by the American invasion of Grenada to reverse an internal coup. Thatcher also took a sceptical view of American military strikes in Lebanon and Libya, saying: ‘Once you start to go across borders, then I do not see an end to it and I uphold international law very firmly’.

September 7, 2012

The debut of energy weapons in the real military world

Filed under: Military, Technology, USA — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 00:03

The Economist looks at the long-anticipated introduction of energy weapons. They’re still a long way from matching the fictional capabilities of phasers, blasters, disruptors, or photon torpedoes:

In the late 1970s and early 1980s the idea was revived when American strategists began thinking in earnest about the technologies they would need to shoot down nuclear-armed ballistic missiles. Among the more fanciful ideas taken up by Ronald Reagan’s Strategic Defence Initiative (more commonly known as Star Wars) was the X-ray laser, which aimed to harness the energy of an atomic explosion to generate powerful laser beams. The hassle of having to explode a nuclear bomb every time a beam was needed meant the idea never went anywhere, though it did spur research into high-powered chemical lasers and the sophisticated optics needed to aim and control them.

The main appeal of using an energy beam to shoot things is that it travels at the speed of light, which means, in practice, that it will hit whatever it is aimed at. Trying to shoot down an incoming missile or warhead with a physical projectile, by contrast, is much more difficult. The guidance challenges of trying to “hit a bullet with a bullet” are enormous and are only gradually being solved using complex radars and missiles equipped with expensive sensors. A second attraction of lasers and other energy weapons is that in most cases they cannot run out of ammunition, and can keep firing for as long as they are plugged into a power source. The initial costs may be quite high, but each shot may then cost only a few dollars, compared with a price-tag of $3m or more for the latest missiles used to shoot down aircraft or other missiles.

[. . .]

The big trend now is to try to scale up three other sorts of laser that are far more compact than chemical lasers and can fire away merrily as long as they have power and don’t get too hot. The first sort is the fibre laser, in which the beam is generated within an optical fibre. Because this is already used in industry for welding and cutting, prices are falling, power output is increasing and reliability has been steadily improving. Industrial lasers can be turned into weapons pretty easily, simply by strapping them to a weapons mount.

But they are not very powerful. The Tactical Laser System being developed for the American navy by BAE Systems, a British firm, has an output of just 10kW, enough to run a few household kettles. Even so, it might be useful for frightening off (or burning holes in) small boats that look threatening but wouldn’t warrant a hail of machinegun fire. A slightly bigger version puts out about 33kW of power and fits neatly on existing turrets that house the rotary cannons used to shoot down incoming anti-ship missiles. It could blind optical or heat-seeking sensors on enemy missiles, or puncture small boats.

May 7, 2012

“Welcome to the foreign policy Theater of the Absurd”

Filed under: Europe, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , — Nicholas @ 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.

June 3, 2011

China’s first aircraft carrier edges closer to readiness

Filed under: China, Military, Russia — Tags: , , , , — Nicholas @ 10:25

The Chinese navy is a bit closer to having an operational aircraft carrier, as the Shi Lang (formerly Varyag in Russian service) is being equipped with radar and weapons:

In the last month, the new Chinese aircraft carrier, the Shi Lang (formerly Varyag) has had several major electronic systems, and its first weapons, installed. The most notable electronic item to show up are the four AESA radar panels. This is a state-of-the-art radar similar to the one used in the American Aegis system. There were a lot of other electronic items being carried into the Shi Lang, indicating that the ship will be equipped with extensive networked computers and communications systems.

The two main weapons were also installed. One was a new version of the older, Type 730 seven barrel, 30mm close-in anti-missile automatic cannon. Operating like the American Phalanx, the new version of the Type 730 seen on the Shi Lang had ten barrels. The other weapon was the FL-3000N anti-missile systems. These are similar to the American RAM anti-missile missile system, except that they come in a 24 missile launcher and are less accurate. FL-3000N was only introduced three years ago, and uses smaller missiles than RAM. The two meter long FL-3000N missiles have a max range of nine kilometers (about half that for very fast incoming missiles). The 120mm, two meter long missiles now use a similar guidance system to RAM, but are not as agile in flight.

[. . .]

The Shi Lang/Varyag is one of the Kuznetsov class carriers that Russia began building in the 1980s. Originally the Kuznetsovs were to be 90,000 ton, nuclear powered ships, similar to American carriers (complete with steam catapults). Instead, because of the high cost, and the complexity of modern (American style) carriers, the Russians were forced to scale back their plans, and ended up with 65,000 ton (full load) ships that lacked steam catapults, and used a ski jump type flight deck instead. Nuclear power was dropped, but the Kuznetsov class was still a formidable design. The 323 meter (thousand foot) long ship normally carries a dozen navalized Su-27s (called Su-33s), 14 Ka-27PL anti-submarine helicopters, two electronic warfare helicopters and two search and rescue helicopters. But the ship was meant to regularly carry 36 Su-33s and sixteen helicopters. The ship carries 2,500 tons of aviation fuel, allowing it to generate 500-1,000 aircraft and helicopter sorties. Crew size is 2,500 (or 3,000 with a full aircraft load.) Only two ships of this class exist; the original Kuznetsov, which is in Russian service, and the Varyag. Like most modern carriers, the only weapons carried are anti-missile systems like Phalanx and FL-3000N, plus some heavy machine-guns (which are often kept inside the ship, and mounted outside only when needed.) However, Russian practice was been to sometimes install long range anti-ship missiles as well. China may also do this with Shi Lang.

May 20, 2011

Britain’s Type 45 destroyers finally get main armament

Filed under: Britain, Military — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 14:29

Back in October, I linked to an article which told the sad story of the Royal Navy’s most expensive class of unarmed warships, the Type 45 destroyers. In November, I linked to another sad story about the £1.1bn+ lead ship of this class breaking down in mid-Atlantic and having to make an emergency stop in Halifax for repairs.

In the first bit of good news about the Type 45’s, they’re now finally getting their primary missile systems into service:

HMS Daring, first of the £1.1bn+ Type 45 destroyers now coming into service with the Royal Navy, has finally fired her primary (and only significant) armament, the Sea Viper missile system.

The glad news comes five years after the ship was launched, three years after she was accepted into the Royal Navy and well into the tenure of her third commanding officer.

It’s not all good news, however, as the Sea Viper may not be the wonder weapon it’s been implied to be:

Stripping away the hype, Sea Viper has never been tested against a supersonic target and there are no plans to do so — meaning that it would be a brave decision indeed to rely on it against supersonic threats in combat. (The system’s first four trials even against subsonics saw two failures.)

Sea Viper’s French-made Aster missiles can probably reach out to 75 miles, but the inescapable curvature of the Earth means that the Sampson masthead fire control radar can’t lock on to a low-flying target until it is within 20 miles or so. Various modern and indeed not-so-modern anti-shipping missiles (eg the “Klub”, “Sunburn” and “Brahmos”) are both low-flying and supersonic.

Then there are some serious gaps in the Sea Viper’s (and thus the Type 45s’) capabilities. The system cannot attack surface targets, meaning that the Royal Navy’s new and cripplingly expensive destroyers will be almost powerless against properly-equipped warships or even quite minor gunboats and the like.

April 12, 2011

Israel’s “Iron Dome” missile defence system in action

Filed under: Middle East, Military, Technology — Tags: , , — Nicholas @ 08:42

Strategy Page discusses the first use of the new Israeli anti-missile system to defend civilian targets last week:

Israel has deployed two batteries of its Iron Dome anti-missile system near the Gaza border. One is near the town of Beer Sheva (the largest town in the Negev desert) and another near the coastal city Ashdod (the largest city within range of 122mm rockets fired from Gaza). On April 7th, a 122mm rocket was intercepted near Ashkelon, which is south of Ashdod. This deployment was prompted by an increase in rockets fired from Gaza, and the growing use of longer range (20 kilometers) 122mm rockets. Iron Dome proved that it could work under combat conditions, preventing the longer range, factory made, rockets from landing in populated areas.

This is a big turnaround for this system. Four months ago, the Israeli military revealed that its new Iron Dome anti-rocket system was not meant for defending towns and villages, but military bases. For years, politicians touted Iron Dome as a means of defending civilians living close to rockets fired from Gaza in the south and Lebanon in the north. But it turns out that it takes about 15 seconds for Iron Dome to detect, identify and fire its missiles. But most of the civilian targets currently under fire from Gaza are so close to the border (within 13 kilometers) that the rockets are fired and land in less than 15 seconds. This means that the town of Sderot, the closest Israeli urban area to Gaza, cannot be helped by Iron Dome.

[. . .]

Iron Dome uses two radars to quickly calculate the trajectory of the incoming rocket (Palestinian Kassams from Gaza, or Russian and Iranian designs favored by Hezbollah in Lebanon) and do nothing if the rocket trajectory indicates it is going to land in an uninhabited area. But if the computers predict a rocket coming down in an inhabited area, a $40,000 guided missile is fired to intercept the rocket. This makes the system cost-effective. That’s because Hezbollah fired 4,000 rockets in 2006, and Palestinian terrorists in Gaza have fired over six thousand Kassam rockets in the past eight years, and the Israelis know where each of them landed. Over 90 percent of these rockets landed in uninhabited areas, and few of those that did caused few casualties. Still, a thousand interceptor missiles would cost $40 million. But that would save large quantities of military equipment and avoid many dead and injured troops. Israel already has a radar system in place that gives some warning of approaching rockets. Iron Dome will use that system, in addition to another, more specialized radar in southern Israel.

Powered by WordPress