Archive for February, 2011

FRIDAY FOTO (Feb. 25, 2011)

Like A Bridge Under Troubled Waters

U.S. Army photo by John D. Helms

Believe it or not, this wet and overloaded soldier is using a bridge to cross this Florida swamp – a rope bridge.

It’s all part of training during the third and final phase of the 61-day U.S. Army Ranger School course. Based at Fort Benning, Georgia, the Ranger School tests students’ skills, strength, endurance and adaptability under grueling physical and psychological conditions during 18-to-20-hour days. The average graduation rate is just 40 percent.

Those who do graduate are entitled to wear the black and gold Ranger shoulder tab on their uniform. In addition to officers and non-commissioned offers of the 75th Ranger Regiment, the school also trains a select number of candidates each year from the other U.S. military services, including Reserve components, as well as foreign military services.

The Ranger course is broken down into three phases: the physical assessment and woodland terrain phase at Camp Rogers and Camp Darby at Benning; the mountain phase at Camp Merrill in Dahlonega, Georgia; and the swamp phase at Camp Rudder at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The first phase spends 21 days training students in small unit tactics as well as squad- and platoon-size mission planning. But first they have to pass a rigorous series of physical fitness and infantry capabilities tests including being able to do 49 pushups in two minutes, complete a five-mile run in 40 minutes or less, combat water survival, day/night land navigation and timed, long marchs in full gear.

Another 21 days is spent in the mountain phase at Dahlonega, Georgia learning to lead small units in a mountainous environment.

The final phase takes 17 days to learn rope bridge, small boat and swamp maneuvering under the same grueling conditions in Florida’s swamps and coastal waters.

A fourth, Desert phase at Fort Bliss, Texas, was eliminated in 1995.

To see a Defense Department photo slide show of the Ranger Swamp training click here.

February 25, 2011 at 12:02 pm Leave a comment


Every Day Has its Dog

(U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Adrian Cadiz)

Meet Edy, a military working dog participating in an explosive training session at Forward Operating Base Lagman, Afghanistan. Edy, a three-year-old Sable Shepherd, specializes in explosives detection on patrol. He can identify at least 15 scents associated with explosives.

Edy’s handler is Air Force Staff Sgt. Pascual Gutierrez, who is assigned to Combined Team Zabul and is deployed with the 9th Security Forces Squadron, from Beale Air Force Base, Calif. Gutierrez is currently attached to the Army’s 2nd Stryker Cavalry Regiment in Afghanistan.

Most of the military’s working dogs get their initial training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, but specialized training — like combat tracking or finding and identifying improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — another name for homemade bombs —  comes later.

At a recent speech at a Washington think tank, Ashton Carter, the Defense Department’s acquisition executive, said “it turns out the best detector of home made explosives is the dog.”

The Defense Department is ramping up its acquisition of bomb detection dogs and canines with other skill sets like guarding military facilities or accompanying U.S. troops on patrol,  Carter told a gathering at the Center for a New American Strategy. After years of buying airplanes, ships and armored vehicles, “we’re new to learning how to buy dogs,” he said.

To see a Defense Department photo essay on Edy and other working dogs undergoing training in Afghanistan, click here.

February 25, 2011 at 1:33 am Leave a comment

2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Wow.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

Madison Square Garden can seat 20,000 people for a concert. This blog was viewed about 62,000 times in 2010. If it were a concert at Madison Square Garden, it would have performed about 3 times.

In 2010, there were 143 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 152 posts. There were 280 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 478mb. That’s about 5 pictures per week.

The busiest day of the year was August 3rd with 610 views. The most popular post that day was FRIDAY FOTO (July 30, 2010).

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were, Google Reader,,, and

Some visitors came searching, mostly for submarine, machete, korean war memorial, virginia class submarine, and world map.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.


FRIDAY FOTO (July 30, 2010) July 2010




SPECIAL OPERATIONS (updated March 11, 2010) March 2010


FRIDAY FOTO (August 20, 2010) August 2010


FRIDAY FOTO (Feb. 5, 2010) (Updated) February 2010

February 21, 2011 at 6:35 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Saharan Defense Pact

Mali and Niger Militaries Cooperating

The two northwest African countries of Mali and Niger – which share a common border in the Sahara Desert – are forming a cooperative defense pact to counter a rise in Islamist extremism.

The two nations will share land, air and river bases, exchange intelligence and carry out joint patrols and exercises, according to a report by Reuters.

Sahara Desert countries. (Map courtesy of

According to the CIA World Factbook, Mali spends just under 2 percent of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP: $9.07 billion, 2010 estimate) on defense and Niger spends about 1.3 percent of GDP ($5.6 billion, 2010 estimate). Both countries are predominately Muslim but are concerned by the acts of extremists primarilly in desert areas. Much of Mali is desert while nearly all of Niger lies within the Sahara.

Troops from Mali were among the 800 from 12 countries taking part in the Flintlock 11 exercise in Senegal, sponsored by U.S. Africa Command. In addition to troops from the U.S. and Mali, soldiers from Burkina Faso, Canada, Chad, France, Germany, Mauritania, the Netherlands, Nigeria, Senegal and Spain took part in the 19-day Special Operations Forces exercise that runs through March 11.

There have been a growing number of kidnappings of Westerners by an offshoot of al Qaeda, known as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), reports the Associated Press. At least two French hostages have been killed during a rescue attempt. The French government has requested its nationals working for international relief organizations in Niger and Mali to leave both countries immediately for their own safety.

Two Canadian diplomats were kidnapped by AQIM in December 2008 and released 130 days later, according to the Montreal Gazette.

February 21, 2011 at 6:29 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Feb. 18, 2011)

The Searcher

U.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Jeremy D. Crisp

A U.S. Army Special Forces soldier scans the horizon for enemy activity in Shah Wali Kot District, Kandahar Province, Afghanistan during an insurgent-clearing operation with Afghan Commandos from 2nd Company, 3rd Commando Kandak (battalion).

The soldier in the photo is assigned to Special Operations Task Force South. Because the image and accompanying Defense Department caption offer no directional information, we’re not sure if the sun is rising or setting in this photo. If you think you have the answer, please let us know in the comment box below.

To see more Defense Department images from Special Operations Task Force South, click here.

February 18, 2011 at 8:33 am Leave a comment

WASHINGTON: Defense Budget Delays Could Hurt Drone Funding

Budget Battle Begins

The Obama administration is seeking a total of $553 billion to fund the Defense Department in Fiscal Year 2012 – which starts Oct. 1, 2011 – plus $118 billion more to pay for the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

But Congress has yet to fully fund the department for the current fiscal year (which began last October).

Adm. Mike Mullen and Defense Secretary Robert Gates at Senate hearing. (Defense Dept. photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Chad J. McNeeley)

And that poses a problem that could turn into “a crisis on our doorstep,” Defense Secretary Robert Gates warned a Senate committee hearing today (Feb. 17).

In the waning days of the last Congressional session – while lawmakers battled over tax cuts, gays in the military and a new nuclear arms treaty with Russia – they never did pass the Fiscal 2011 defense spending bill. Instead, lawmakers resorted to a tried and true stop-gap measure known as a Continuing Resolution, or CR. In effect, Congress voted to hold spending by federal agencies – including the Defense Department – at current levels. That is to say FY 2010 levels: about $526 billion for the Pentagon. The idea is to keep things running until they get around to passing a bill. The latest CR is scheduled to expire early next month.

Gates told the Senate Armed Services Committee – just as he told their colleagues in the House of Representatives the day before – that the CR amounts to a $23 billion budget cut, compared to the $549 billion the department sought for 2011(not counting additional money for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan).

And continuing that reduced spending level much longer will hurt the military’s plans for buying equipment and weapons systems it needs, or developing new technologies for future needs, Gates told a hearing on the Fiscal 2012 request.

Complicating things even more, the new members of Congress, especially in the Republican-controlled House, are looking for more programs and department budgets to cut to reduce the deficit. Some have suggested cuts of $15 billion or more just in FY 2011.

Let me be clear:,” Gates told the senators. “Operating under a year-long continuing resolution or substantially reduced funding – with the severe shortfalls that entails – would damage procurement and research programs causing delays, rising costs, no new program starts and serious disruptions in the production of some our most high demand assets, such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” (UAVs).”

The Pentagon – and Gates – consider UAVs a top priority for Afghanistan and future conflicts. The FY 2012 budget request seeks $4.8 billion to acquire more unmanned aircraft – big and small.


An MQ-9 Reaper (U.S. Air Force photo by Paul Ridgeway)

Admiral Mike Mullen, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the committee that “ISR probably leads the pack” in capabilities needed for counter insurgency now and whatever kind of threats the U.S. Faces in the future. For the Air Force, the Pentagon is seeking $484.6 million for three additional Northrop Grumman RQ-4 Global Hawks, the high altitude reconaissance aircraft and $1.4 billion for 48 more missile-firing General Atomics MQ-9A Reapers. Another $659 million is being requested to supply the Army with 36 General Atomics MQ-1 Gray Eagles.

February 17, 2011 at 5:10 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO Extra (Feb. 12, 2011)

Training for Afghan Snows

( Defense Dept. photo by Army Staff Sgt. Jason Epperson)

U.S. Army military police conduct squad training after unloading from an Alaska National Guard UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter at Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, Alaska.  The MPs, assigned to 164th Military Police Company, 793rd Military Police Battalion, 3rd Maneuver Enhancement Brigade, practiced securing landing zones, responding to snipers and small arms attacks and maneuvering through snowy woods in preparation for an upcoming deployment to Afghanistan.

Joint Base-Elmendorf-Richardson, home to the 11th Air Force and U.S. Army Alaska, is the result of a congressionally mandated merger of Elmendorf Air Force Base and the Army’s Fort Richardson to save money and eliminate duplication of services.

(Click on the photo to enlarge the image)

February 12, 2011 at 9:17 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (Feb. 11, 2011)

Counter Insurgency, One Shoe at a Time

(Defense Dept. photo by Staff Sgt. Brian Ferguson, U.S. Air Force)

U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Manuel Delarosa finds a pair of shoes for a young girl while helping Afghan National Security Forces distribute winter supplies at Safidar village in southern Afghanistan.  Delarosa is assigned to the Provincial Reconstruction Team Zabul, Shinkai Detachment.

Zabul Province, once a Taliban stronghold near the Pakistani border, has seen more than its share of troubles in recent years.

To see more photos of the Provincial Reconstruction Team’s visit, click here.

February 11, 2011 at 12:31 am Leave a comment

INTERESTING TIMES: Food Shortages, Patriot Act

Food Glorious Food

China, the world’s biggest wheat producer, is in the middle of a drought and a United Nations agency says that could devastate the Chinese harvest in June. The UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization says rain and snowfall well below average have hit eight provinces in China’s winter wheat-growing belt and that could mean the People’s Republic will have to buy additional wheat on the world market, say analysts. That could upset already rising food prices, according to The Economist. Drought in Russia last year and floods in Australia in 2011 cut crop yields in those wheat exporting countries.

Food prices around the world have hit record highs in January – for the seventh consecutive month – and food experts say the rise in prices for crop staples like grains may have contributed to popular unrest in Tunisia and Egypt, according to The Guardian. While food is not the biggest driver of Middle East unrest, there has been widespread discontent over price inflation. Egypt is the world’s biggest importer of wheat.

Patriot Act, Act II

House Republicans cited comments by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano that the U.S. is facing “heightened” threats of extremist attacks as they argued for extending provisions of the Patriot Act due to expire at the end of the month.

In testimony Wednesday (Feb. 9) before the House Homeland Security Committee, Napolitano said the threat of terrorist attacks may be the highest since the 9/11 attacks nearly 10 years ago.

But a day earlier, a coaltion of Democrats and Tea Party and libertarian-leaning Republicans surprised House leaders by blocking an extension of provisions to the 2001 law. The measures, which the Obama administration favors, would allow:the FBI to: continue using roving wiretaps to listen to terror suspects’ phone calls; sift library records and other items to spy on suspected terrorists and monitor so-called “lone wolf” suspects with no known ties to terrorist groups. Liberal Democrats and Tea Party Republicans say that tramples First and Fourth Amendment constitutional rights.

After some back room briefings and negotiations, the measures are expected to be back on track for a vote early next week.

February 10, 2011 at 8:40 pm Leave a comment

COUNTER INSURGENCY: Is The Label Holding Unmanned Systems Back?

Will Unmanned Systems’ Role Be Pigeon-holed? (Update)

The machine gun – in the form of the hand-cranked, wheeled Gatling gun – was invented in 1861 but barely used in the American Civil War. In 1876, George Armstrong Custer could have taken four Gatling guns with him to the Little Bighorn — but he thought they would slow the 7th Cavalry down. An improved version of the concept – the self-powered Maxim gun – demonstrated its devastating effect when British troops battled African warriors in the 1890s. But the generals of the day didn’t see machine guns as serious weapons of modern warfare until they started slaughtering troops wholesale on the Western Front in World War I.

Gatling guns like this could have made a difference for Custer at Little Big Horn.

That same form of stereotyping – seeing unmanned air vehicles (UAVs) and other unmanned systems as useful only for counter insurgency (COIN) operations – may hinder their wider deployment in the future, says Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

It’s a common mistake we see in history: judging a technology only by its early capability,” Singer, head of the Washington think tank’s  21st Century Defense Initiative, told an unmanned systems industry gathering recently. He was part of a panel discussion at the Association of Unmanned Vehicle Systems International’s annual review of U.S. government plans for unmanned air, ground and maritime system programs. The discussion topic tackled what barriers existed for deploying robot systems.

Singer and other speakers noted the expected Pentagon budget downturn that is likely to squeeze out funding for drones and robots while politically popular manned programs continue. But the Brookings scholar also raised the specter of keeping unmanned systems in the COIN pigeonhole.

Within the Air Force, where top strategy thinkers have come to a begrudging acceptance of unmanned aircraft, Singer says. “They’re having a hard time visualizing UAS outside the context of counter insurgency – and a fairly open airspace – and beyond the capabilities” of remotely operated aircraft like the MQ-1 Predator B and MQ-9 Reaper over Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. “It’s getting difficult [for them] to see that next step,” said Singer, whose most recent book is “Wired for War: The Robotics Revolution and Conflict in the 21st Century.”


An MQ-9 Reaper takes off in Afghanistan (Air Force photo)

Like the early machine guns and tanks “the overall promise of the new technology is usually judged by, and thus limited by, the original context in which it was used,” said Singer. Machine guns were seen as O.K. for small colonial wars with indigenous peoples but not as a game changer in wars “between ‘civilized powers,’” he said. That was until machine guns cut down tens of thousands of British soldiers at the Somme in 1916.

Likewise, between the world wars most U.S. military planners were still unimpressed by tanks – which debuted on the Western Front in 1916. As late as August 1939 the official U.S. Army magazine had two articles that “extolled the Polish horse cavalry and said ‘this is a model for us because we face a similar strategic situation and we have a similar resource,’” Singer said.

A month later Hitler’s army, led by fast-moving tanks, invaded and eventually crushed Poland.


Polska Kawaleria on maneuvers before 1939/Wikipedia 

But just like the machine gun and tank which also faced tough budgetary environments in their infancies, Singer says he doesn’t think “these combined issues are going to prevent the future of this technology, but they may delay our effective adaptation to it.”


February 7, 2011 at 10:42 pm Leave a comment

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