Archive for December, 2009
Back in March, in another venue, I reported that U.S. military and intelligence officials were growing increasingly concerned that instability stemming from Mexico’s extremely violent drug wars could pose a national security threat north of the border in the years to come. News from Mexico City this week indicates those concerns may be well-founded as President Felipe Calderon’s three-year war against drug cartels has sparked horrific new violence.
Numerous news sites are reporting on the violent backlash to a successful military action that left drug lord Arturo Beltran Leyva and six of his gunmen dead. A day after a Mexican naval special forces officer slain in the fire fight was buried with full military honors, gunmen sprayed his family’s home with gunfire, killing the slain officer’s mother and three relatives.
In the March 3 edition of Aerospace Daily & Defense Report (subscription required) I wrote that U.S. Marine Corps planners had placed Mexico on their list of countries and regions that could become trouble spots later in the century. In the same article, it was noted that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said the U.S. was providing training as well as reconnaissance and surveillance capabilities to assist the Mexican military. At the same time, CIA Director Leon Panetta said his agency was paying close attention to developments in Mexico.
It will be interesting to see how Mexican military and police officers react to this latest threat escalation — especially since it affects their families.
Latin America Arms Race?
Earlier this month we noted two reports indicating there were lessons to be learned from the decades-long insurgency in Colombia and how the government there has handled it (See Lessons Learned). Now comes word that the FARC guerillas are apparently active again following the high profile kidnapping and murder of the governor of the state of Caqueta. The Los Angeles Times and other news outlets note that tensions have been high in the region between Colombia and neighboring Venezuela.
Colombia has claimed Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is giving FARC rebels a safe haven in his country. meanwhile, Chavez has placed his military on a war footing, claiming Colombia is flying U.S.-made spy drones through Venezuelan airspace.
Both countries are beefing up their militaries and observers fear that could lead to an arms race in the region. Already Brazil is planning to acquire new military vehicles, fighter jets and revive its satellite program.
The Guardian, a General Atomics Predator B laden with maritime sensor equipment — including Raytheon’s SeaVue Marine Search radar — makes its public debut at the General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Inc (GA-ASI) Gray Butte facility in Palmdale, Calif.
Once operational testing and evaluation is completed, the latest Customs and Border Protection (CBP) unmanned aircraft system (UAS) will be based at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a unit of Patrick Air Force Base in Florida.
Seated on the dais at the Dec. 7 ceremony (from left to right) GA-ASI President Thomas Cassidy, CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik, the head of CBP’s Air and Marine Office; and Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard commandant. CBP and the Coast Guard, both Homeland Security Department agencies, have been working together for more than a year on developing a land-based UAS for maritime air patrols.
In an interview with 4GWAR before leaving for California, Kostelnik said the first Guardian will patrol for drug smugglers in the airspace over south Florida and the Caribbean. Another Guardian is scheduled for delivery in early 2010, bringing CBP’s UAS fleet to seven aircraft. The second Guardian’s maritime radar will not be ready for several months, however, so it won’t start operations until summer 2010, Kostelnik says. Three land-based Predators already at Libby Army Airfield in Sierra Vista, Ariz. will continue to patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. Two other land-based Predators are located at Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota to patrol the border with Canada.
The second maritime variant will eventually be based in Corpus Christi, Texas and patrol the Gulf of Mexico and later as far south as the waters off Central America. Kostelnik says there are no immediate plans to base a Predator in California to patrol the Pacific coast.
The maritime sensor package includes an electro-optical/infrared sensor to optimize maritime operations. The standard Predator B, with structural, avionics and communications enhancements, can fly at speeds up to 250 knots at an altitude of 19,000 feet. Both Kostelnik and Allen call it a “force multiplier.”
–John M. Doyle (http://4gwar.wordpress.com)
Food for Thought
The debate over the Obama administration’s Afghanistan policy is well underway with pundits — both print and electronic — weighing in on the wisdom of sending another 30,000 U.S. troops to keep the nearly nine-year mission from failing.
But two think tanks have taken a closer look at another — even longer — counter insurgency and counter terrorism effort in Colombia. Are there any lessons to be learned from the Colombian experience? Both the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and the Strategic Studies Institute (SSI) think there are.
In a recent report, “Countering Threats To Security and Stability in a Failing State,” CSIS maintains there are parallels to Iraq and Afghanistan in Colombia’s struggle against left wing insurgents, right wing paramilitary groups and violent narcotics kingpins. “Nations that cannot control their own territory run the risk of succumbing to the threat of armed insurgents and international criminal gangs as well as offering a safe haven to terrorists,” says CSIS President John Hamre in a forward to the 90-page report.
The story of how Colombia was able to reverse its slide toward a destabilized government by taking control of previously ungoverned areas and providing a larger portion of its citizens with security “may offer lessons for other imperiled states,” Hamre adds. The report was written by Peter DeShazo, Johanna Mendelson and Phillip McLean.
Another report, by the SSI — a think tank at the U.S. Army War College — looks at the rebuilding of Colombia’s battered judiciary system with U.S. assistance. “Colombia may very well be the best ongoing laboratory for democratic state building,” a summary of the report notes, adding that restoring security without the rule of law “puts a society at risk of falling into a Hobbesian hell.”
The article was written by Dr. Gabriel Marcella, retired director of Americas Studies at the War College.
Of note, another War College faculty member, Dr. Antulio J. Echevarria II, the director of research, is critical of the concept of fourth generation warfare (4GW) as a new development.
The Price (Updated Dec. 8 to restore link to photos)
The 4GWAR blog wasn’t up and running until after Veterans Day — also known as Armistice Day — commemorations Nov. 11, so we missed this moving photo essay by Reuters photographer Larry Downing. His blog posting, which recently came to our attention, is about Section 60, the part of Arlington National Cemetery where most U.S. Iraq and Afghanistan fatalities are laid to rest. While sometimes teetering close to the maudlin, the photos and accompanying commentary by Downing are, for the most part, very moving in a quiet. thoughtful way.
On this day, when the United States marks another war and the surprise attack that sparked it 68 years ago, we believe it’s appropriate to remember the price that war exacts — not just on the dead, but on those they leave behind.
New Kind of Predator
As 4GWAR reported in its initial posting, U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) will unveil its new maritime Predator B unmanned surveillance aircraft next Monday, Dec. 7. CBP Assistant Commissioner Michael Kostelnik will take delivery of the first Predator maritime variant at the Gray Butte Flight Operations Facility of Predator maker General Atomics in Palmdale, Calif.
Kostelnik will be joined by Admiral Thad Allen, the Coast Guard’s commandant, and the man behind the Predator: General Atomics Aeronautical Systems Group President Thomas Cassidy Jr. CBP and the Coast Guard, both Homeland Security Dept. agencies, have been working closely for more than a year to develop an unmanned aircraft that can patrol U.S. waters. (see Nov. 8 posting in Homeland Security).
The maritime Predator variant will be known as the Guardian Unmanned Aircraft System (UAS).
Drones over England
Police in Essex, England are looking at adopting unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) used by the military for surveillance in Afghanistan to combat illegal immigration and drug smuggling, according to the Daily Gazette. The news site says BAE is looking into adopting the HERTI for border and coastal patrol and the GA22 for hovering over major events.