Archive for August, 2010
More than 5,000 attendees and 400 exhibitors were at Denver’s Colorado Convention Center for the annual convention of the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI) last week.
4GWAR was there, too.
The four-day gathering saw speeches, briefings, product demonstrations and panel discussions about robotically-operated aircraft, ground vehicles and surface and underwater vessels.
There were numerous products that touched on counter insurgency and homeland security including high altitude airships, micro unmanned aircraft and equipment-carrying ground vehicles.
Your 4GWAR editor was blogging on the ARES on Defense Blog at Aviation Week’s new unmanned systems Website. There you can see pieces we did on miniature unmanned aerial attack vehicles (UAVs), the new robot under development by the Defense Acquisitions Research Agency (also known as DARPA) and the challenges of trying to fly a UAV near the South Pole. You can also see what the chief of naval operations, Adm. Gary Roughead had to say about unmanned air and maritime vehicles.
After their visit to Denver, defense and homeland security company analysts at Morgan Keegan, a Memphis financial firm, say they expect the unmanned systems segment will be one of the fastest growing in the defense industry – especially ground vehicles. With defense spending expected to contract, unmanned airplanes and submarines will also be a lot cheaper – and more attractive to budget planners – than ones carrying people.
In addition to the drones firing hellfire missiles at al Qaeda and Taliban strongholds in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and the bomb disposal robots seen in the Oscar-winning film about Iraq The Hurt Locker, unmanned vehicles assist in detecting and removing underwater mines, providing intelligence and surveillance for ground troops and checking out buildings and vehicles that might be hiding explosive booby traps.
Full disclosure: We sometimes write for the AUVSI magazine: Unmanned Systems.
The Other Air War in Pakistan
Heeding an earlier appeal from the United Nations to send more helicopters to rescue and resupply Pakistani communities isolated by floodwaters, the U.S. Is dispatching more helicopters to Pakistan. However, the 18 additional helos are not expected to begin flood relief until mid-September.
The incoming aircraft include 10 CH-47 Chinook and eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters from the 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. The unit will operate alongside the Pakistani military throughout flood-affected areas, the Pentagon says.
There are already some 15 U.S. Navy and Marine Corps helicopters and three Air Force C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft supporting flood-relief efforts in Pakistan. They have transported more than 2 million pounds of humanitarian assistance supplies and rescued more than 7,000 people. To date, the helicopters and cargo planes have delivered 2.7 million lbs. of relief supplies.
We’ve noticed that in many of the Defense Department photos of the evacuations from flooded areas, the helicopters seem to be filled with men and boys only
4GWAR contacted U.S. Navy Lt. Commander Jim Hoeft, a spokesman in the Office of the Defense Representative to Pakistan, just to make sure women and small children were being given equal access to evacuation flights. He says the Pakistani Army is making the decisions on who goes on which helicopter and that the separation of the sexes is a cultural thing. He also says U.S. personnel have seen family units traveling together and not separated by gender.
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) says its 12th relief flight landed on August 30 in Islamabad, delivering 37,625 blankets, 81,550 ten-liter water containers, and 500 saw blades to replace used blades from the 96 saw kits previously delivered. On August 30, USAID and the Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA) committed nearly $2 million to a non-governmental organization (NGO) to support logistics and relief commodities, health, shelter, and water, sanitation, and hygiene activities for flood- affected people in Sindh Province.
The organization plans to conduct activities in Thatta District where international media sources report that thousands of displaced people are returning as floods recede. The $2 million is part of the $70 million already planned for USAID/OFDA-supported flood response activities.
Speaking of Big Numbers
This Blog was started – almost on the spur of the moment – in November 2009. Since March 2010, it has consistently gotten over 4,000 hits or visits a month. And this month – with one day to go in August – we hit over 6,440 hits. Just thought you might like to know that. Also wanted to toot our horn a little bit and thank you all for checking in with us.
Not Just Worker Bees
U.S. sailors assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion 74 (SeaBees) run in place in full gear during a battalion readiness exercise at Naval Construction Battalion Center, Gulfport, Miss.. The exercise was designed to build strength, confidence and endurance in order to prepare the battalion for future missions and deployments.
The battalion, first created in 1943, served in the Pacific during World War II. It has also served in Operation Desert Storm in the Persian Gulf, Operation Iraqi Freedom and various postings on the islands of Diego Garcia, Guam and Okinawa as well as in Spain, Sicily, and the Caribbean.
NMCB 74 has also received the Society of American Military Engineers’ Peltier Award four times (1978, 1994, 1999 and 2003) for the best active duty battalion.
And you thought these guys just drove bulldozers.
AFGHANISTAN: Police officer kills 2 trainers, interpreter
Another setback for NATO efforts to recruit, train and equip national security forces in Afghanistan. An Afghan police officer shot and killed two trainers, both of them Spanish paramilitary officers, and an interpreter. The gunman was also killed, sparking a riot by locals in the northwest Afghanistan province of Badghis, the Los Angeles Times reports.
It was the second such incident in little more than a month and raised concerns about the reliability of Afghan security forces. Meanwhile, miltants killed eight Afghan policemen in a raid on a checkpoint outside the northern city of Kunduz, the Associated Press reported.
PAKISTAN: U.N. Calls for more helicopters for flood relief
The United Nations says more than 800,000 people in Pakistan have been cut off by flood waters and can only be reached by helicopter. The agency called for the international community to provide 40 more helicopters, the New York Times reports. The U.S. has dispatched as many as 22 helos at a time to aid Pakistan flood emergency relief.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports more than 1,500 people have been killed by the floods. Another 17 million people have been affected by the flooding that started in late July. Millions remain homeless and the country’s medical system has been hard hit. Hundreds of facilities have been damaged and thousands of medical workers have been displaced by the disaster.
MEXICO: Government buys Israeli drones to monitor drug violence
The Mexican government has secretly purchased unmanned surveillance airctaft from an Israeli firm to monitor border areas and strategic locations. The Latin American Herald Tribune (via the Homeland Security newswire) says Mexico’s defense ministry paid $23.5 million apiece for an undisclosed number of Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) manufactured by Elbit Systems.
Reuters reports the defense ministry declined to say how it would use the UAVs, which are capable of remaining aloft for 20 hours.
Speaking of UAVs, 4GWAR was at the premiere annual unmanned vehicle gathering in Denver this past week. Look for a report Monday on the annual Association of Unmanned Vehicles International conference.
Upping the Ante
Iran has announced the development of a long-range unmanned aircraft that could be used as a bomber or for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance-gathering. Called the Karrar, which means “destroyer” or “striker,” can carry up to four cruise missiles and has a range of up to 620 miles — not enough to reach Israel, according to Iranian government media quoted by the New York Times.
The unveiling of this drone comes a day after Iran began fueling its first nuclear power plant. The government claims it will only use nuclear power for peaceful means but Israel is not convinced and has not ruled out an attack to disable Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
Last Friday, Iran tested its latest surface-to-surface missile, the Qiam. In July, Iran’s Army Research Center announced the Islamic Republic intends to build new radar-evading drones that can be operated by its submarines. In 2009, Iran’s Air Force commander said that Iran had successfully tested its two home-made drones of ‘Ra’d’ (Thunder) and ‘Nazir’ (Harbinger) and mass production of the drones would begin soon, China’s Xinhua news agency reports.
Anatomy of a Sea Stallion
A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53D Sea Stallion helicopter assigned to Marine Heavy Helicopter Squadron 363 (the Red Lions), 3rd Marine Aircraft Wing Forward prepares to take off at dawn from Camp Bastion, Helmand province, Afghanistan, Aug. 11, 2010. The Sikorsky Sea Stallion is a smaller variant of the Sea Dragon and Super Stallion helicopters mentioned in the Pakistan flood relief story below.
Click on the photo for a larger image.
Slipping into the Swat Valley (Updated 8/29/2010 with NEW PHOTOS)
As the flooding disaster continues in Pakistan, large Navy and Marine Corps helicopters have replaced smaller Army helos as transport for bringing relief supplies in and evacuees out of the Swat Valley.
But the U.S. military’s biggest helicopters can only carry about half their capacity due the long distances and high altitudes they must contend with.
The MH-53E Sea Dragon helos of Navy Mine Countermeasures Squadron (HM-15) Detachment 2 – which arrived in Pakistan seven days ago – normally tow a mine-sweeping sled at sea level. For the fuel-eating flight from Pakistan’s Ghazi Air Force Base and the climb over the mountains, they can safely take on only about 10,000 pounds of cargo or 80 people, says Navy Lt. Sean Snyder, one of the pilots of the three huge Sea Dragons which are normally based at Bahrain in the Persian Gulf.
The Sea Dragons, powered by three General Electric T64-GD-419 turboshaft engines, are also used for heavy lift transport to air craft carriers and other Navy vessels.
There are also four U.S. Marine Corps CH-53 Super Stallion helicopters flying out of Ghazi. They are part of the U.S. disaster relief effort that began after unusually heavy monsoon rains caused flooding July 29. About 25 percent of Pakistan is now under water. The Navy and Marine Corps helos replaced smaller Army CH-47 Chinooks and UH-60 Black Hawks that were the first U.S. rotorcraft dispatched to Pakistan.
Snyder told a Defense Department bloggers’ roundtable today (Aug. 19) that bad weather prevented the Sea Dragons from flying into the mountains for the first two days of their deployment. So far, the HM-15 detachment has carried a total of 271,000 pounds of supplies in, and 1,600 people out, of the Swat Valley. At sea level, Snyder says, the big helicopters could life “probably twice that” load.
Air Crewman 2nd Class Kevin Strickhouser, who flies with Snyder, says the Pakistani Army has been supplying ground security at their landing zones and there have been no incidents even though the Swat Valley was once a Taliban stronghold and the scene of a Pakistani Army offensive to take back control from the insurgents last year.
Strickhouser says it only takes “a matter of hours” to change “a few parts” to convert the Sea Dragons from their counter mine mission to the high altitude relief effort and there have been no problems. The operational tempo has been two aircraft flying “all day, every day,” says Snyder, adding that the unit is 10 for 10 on mission completions.
As with their Army predecessors, the Navy and Marine Corps rotorcraft and their air and ground crews are based at Ghazi at the request of the Pakistani government, according to Lt. Commander James Hoeft, a Navy spokesman.
There currently are 22 U.S. military and civilian aircraft in Pakistan– including 12 CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters flying off the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu– in support of flood relief operations. U.S. helicopters have evacuated more than 4,600 people and delivered more than 500,000 pounds of relief supplies. In addition, U.S. military cargo aircraft based in Afghanistan have transported more than 194,000 pounds of international aid from the Pakistan Air Force’s Central Flood Relief Cell in Rawalpindi, Pakistan, to locations throughout the country at the request of the Pakistani government.
Not wishing to hide its good deeds candle under a bushel basket, the U.S. government presented the following statistics on its relief efforts in Pakistan:
To date, the U.S. has supplied a month’s emergency food rations to more than 307,000 people in partnership with the World Food Program. It also has made contributions for flood-affected communities in Pakistan, including $11.25 million for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees; $5 million for the International Committee of the Red Cross, $3 million to the World Health Organization and $4.1 million for Save the Children .
A number of emergency relief items, totaling about $4 million, were delivered to the National Disaster Management Authority). The items include: 18 Zodiac rescue boats, six water filtration units, 10 water storage bladders, 30 concrete-cutting saws and 12 pre-fabricated steel bridges. A 25 kilowatt generator was provided to Pakistan’s Frontier Scouts, a paramilitary unit made up of men from the tribal areas, to support their flood relief efforts.
Click on pictures for larger image.
At the time this posting originally ran, no photos of the Sea Dragons in action were available. Now we have some — along with some updated figures.
Here we see a Navy air crew — assigned to Helicopter Mine Countermeasures Squadron 15 (HM-15), Detachment 2 — helping Pakistani soldiers load relief supplies aboard a Navy MH-53E Sea Dragon during humanitarian relief efforts. This photo was shot Aug. 21 in Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa Province in northwest Pakistan. HM-15 arrived in the area of operations aboard the amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu (LHA 5), which is supporting the Pakistan government with heavy lift capabilities in flooded regions of Pakistan.
The lower photo shows the interior of a Sea Dragon packed with flood refugees. Apparently women and small children fly separately. We’re checking that out with NATO and U.S. officials. The big helos are equipped to carry 55 troops. You can see the seats along the bulkhead (exterior wall) are in the upright position, leaving room to pack in more people. We make out 48 heads in this shot, which does not show the helicopter’s entire interior.
Since August 5, U.S. helicopter relief flight Operations have rescued 7,662 and transported more than 1.3 million pounds of relief supplies, according to Navy Lt. Commander Jim Hoeft of the U.S. military representative to Pakistan office.
Add in the supplies brought in by Air Force C-130 heavy cargo lifters and the total U.S. relief supplies delivered so far is more than 2 million pounds.
On Aug. 27, the U.S. Defense Department sent an additional 18 helicopters to the Pakistan flood relief effort. They include 10 CH-47 Chinook and eight UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters, and associated personnel assigned to the 1st Battalion, 52nd Aviation Regiment, 16th Combat Aviation Brigade, based at Fort Wainwright, Alaska. They are expected to begin flood relief flights in mid-September.
LATIN AMERICA: Colombian Court Blocks Bases Deal
A court in Colombia has ruled that a deal allowing U.S. troops access to Colombian military bases is unconstitutional. The court said the 2009 pact – that gave the U.S. access to seven Colombian bases for drug interdiction and counter terrorism efforts – should be considered an international treaty that must should be redrafted and submitted to Colombia’s Congress for ratification, according to reports from the Associated Press and other news agencies.
The presence of U.S. troops has made Colombia’s neighbors nervous — especially Venezuela’s president, Hugo Chavez, who has been critical of U.S. influence in the region. Chavez broke diplomatic relations with Colombia for a brief time.
AFGHANISTAN: Attacks on Aid Workers Rise
The United Nations says humanitarian aid workers are being increasingly targeted for attacks and intimidation, CNN reports. There have been 47 incidents in the first six months of this year: 19 U.N. Staffers and aid workers have been attacked; 63 have been kidnapped and seven have been killed.
Afghanistan is proving a dangerous place for all aid workers, according to NPR. Ten medical aid workers from a U.S.-based religious group were murdered in northern Afghanistan earlier this month.
HORN OF AFRICA: U.S. Court Dismisses Piracy Charges Against Somalis
A federal judge in Virginia has dismissed the charge of piracy against six Somalis acused of attacking a U.S. Navy ship last April 330 nautical miles off the coast of Djibouti, the Associated Press reports. The judge ruled the alleged attack did not rise to level of piracy as spelled out in an 1820 U.S. Supreme Court ruling. The six remain in custody, however, on seven counts ranging from conspiracy to attacking a vessel with intent to plunder, according to the BBC.
NATIONAL SECURITY: Wild Weather Revives Climate Change Debate
Fires and drought in Russia, heat waves across the eastern U.S. and catastrophic flooding in Pakistan have revived the question of whether global warming is causing more extreme weather, according to the New York Times. The chief of climate change at the National Climatic Data Center says excessive heat, in particular, is consistent with scientists’ understanding of how climate responds to increases in greenhouse gases. But experts also caution there isn’t enough data yet for absolute certainty.
In February, then-Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the U.S. intelligence community believes “global climate change will have wide-ranging implications for U.S. national security interests over the next 20 years because it will aggravate existing world problems—such as poverty, social tensions, environmental degradation, ineffectual leadership and weak political institutions.
Food for throught
Well, the U.S government seems to be taking that concept to heart. The State Department has pledged $71 million in assistance for flood-ravaged Pakistan, the Defense Department is shipping tons of emergency supplies – along with the personnel and aircraft to deliver them to hard hit areas like the Swat Valley, which has been a hotbed of insurgency.
In addition to the simple decency of providing humanitarian assistance for those in need, it’s also good strategy to show the U.S. cares. Assisting a politically unstable, predominantly Muslim country that has been a sometimes shakey ally in the war on terror just makes sense. And don’t forget the significance of the country’s volatile tribal areas bordering Afghanistan and its small nuclear arsenal. Anti-American sentiment has been growing in Pakistan with the increase of U.S. missile strikes from unmanned aircraft on Taliban and al Qaeda strongholds in western Pakistan.
In launching a request for $460 million in international relief assistance, the United Nations said about 20 percent of Pakistan is underwater, 1,600 are dead and more than a million are homeless among the Islamic republic’s 177 million inhabitants.
In a Defense Department bloggers roundtable last week (Aug. 13), Army Brigadier Gen. Michael Nagata said four Army CH-47 Chinook and two UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters have been sent ftrom Afghanistan to deliver aid and rescue people in the flood zone but bad weather has made it impossible to fly about half the time. There’s also been “a steady stream” of heavy cargo transport planes like the Air Force C-130 Hercules and C-17 Globemaster flying in from Afghanistan with relief supplies (See Friday Foto, Aug. 6). There are also at least four U.S. Marine Corps CH-46 Sea Knight helicopters and two CH-53 Sea Stallion helicopters on the scene from the Navy amphibious assault ship USS Peleliu.
The Peleliu is transporting the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit, but Nagata says there are no plans to land large numbers of troops in Pakistan. He added that U.S. forces in Pakistan are there at the request of the Pakistani government and will stay as long as that invitation remains in effect.
To date, the United States has pledged to provide about $71 million in assistance to Pakistan. U.S. military helicopters have rescued 3,555 people and transported 436,340 pounds of emergency relief supplies in spite of bad weather. In addition, within 36 hours of the initial flooding on July 29, the United States began delivering thousands of packaged meals to Pakistan from U.S. stocks in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the region. In all, 436,944 meals that conform with Islamic law (Halal) were provided to civilian and military officials in Pakistan for distribution.
The U.S. has also delivered 1,870 rolls heavy-duty, waterproof plastic sheeting to be used in construction of temporary shelters. Some 14,000 blankets were brought along with the sheeting last week.
The Defense Dept. Web site has several news articles and photo essays, like this one, on the relief efforts in Pakistan.
BTW, Apparently Western speech writers and motivational speakers have mistranslated the Chinese characters in “Crisis” for years, according to a University of Pennsylvania professor.
High Tech Equipment in a Low Tech Battlespace
U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Jessie Elliott (right) looks at a digital map through his Land Warrior System helmet mounted display during a mission near Qalat, Zabul province in southeastern Afghanistan. The Land Warrior System provides wireless network communications capability for individual infantrymen, allowing them to share information from the squad level up through battalion. The Land Warrior System includes a Global Positioning System sensor, radio, monocular display screen and light weight computer.
Zabul Province, according to the U.S. Agency for International Development, is one of the most remote and sparsely populated areas of Afghanistan. It’s also a place where the Taliban is entrenched, according to the Long War Journal. A recent article in World Affairs Journal describes Zabul Province as “the back of beyond.”
$600 Million to Secure U.S.-Mexican Border
The U.S. House of Representatives has passed a $600 million border security bill that wil pay for about 1,500 law enforcement agents and two more unmanned aircraft to patrol the U.S. border with Mexico. The measure is similar to one passed by the Senate last week and must be approved by the Senate when it returns from its August break. At least two Arizona lawmakers facing tough re-election bids this fall want the Senate to come back into session to pass the bill. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid wants to do just that, an aide says. The legislation will be funded, in part, by raising the visa fees for temporary skilled workers – mostly from India. That has been widely criticized by Indian information technology companies.
Gates Plans Pentagon Cutbacks
Defense Secretary Robert Gates says he wants to avoid a sharp drop in the Pentagon’s budget after the wartime build-up for Iraq and Afghanistan. To skip the decades-old trend of sharp wartime increases and steep peacetime declines, Gates is looking for ways to cut the Pentagon’s spending by $100 million over the next five years. To find those savings, Gates is proposing cutting the number of generals, admirals and high-ranking civilians serving at the Pentagon. But he also wants to eliminate the Joint Forces Command, which is based in Norfolk, Va. Joint Forces Command trains personnel from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps to work together on specific missions and also makes sure there is compatibility in communications and other equipment before a joint operation. It employs about 5,000 people in the Norfolk area and Virginia politicians as well as deficit hawks and military interests defenders were quick to criticize Gates and the Obama administration’s priorities. Gates says the changes are needed to patch up the military after nearly a decade of constant war and overseas deployment and to prepare for future conflicts.
Kiss and Make Up (Sort of)
The government of Colombia and Venezuela may not be Best Friends Forever but they are at least talking again. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has restored diplomatic relations with his neighbor to the West. Chavez, angered — and perhaps a little nervous — about Colombia’s closer ties with the U.S., broke diplomatic relations with Bogota two weeks ago when then-President Alvaro Uribe accused Chavez of harboring Colombia’s FARC rebels in Venezuela. Now Colombia has a new president, Juan Manuel Santos, who sat down with Chavez this week to begin hashing out their problems.