Archive for January, 2013

FORCE PROTECTION: Improving K-9 Counter-IED Efforts

Building a Better Dog

A Marine from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, training with his improvised explosive device (IED) detection dog. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

A Marine from 1st Battalion, 9th Marines, training with his improvised explosive device (IED) detection dog. (U.S. Marine Corps photo)

ARLINGTON, Virginia — If you want better performance out of bomb detecting dogs, make sure they’re suited for the mission, realistically trained – and not too tired or stressed.

That’s the advice a military working dog expert at the Office of Naval Research (ONR) proposes for increasing the effectiveness of dogs used to detect improvised explosive devices (IEDs) – such as homemade explosives, roadside bombs and booby traps.

As manager of ONR’s Naval Expeditionary Dog Program, Lisa Albuquerque said her goal “is to figure out how to optimize the use of dogs – both as sensor and sensor platform.” At the height of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the Marines had more than 600 detector dogs. Now there are about 200 in Afghanistan with Marines on foot patrols.

Speaking Tuesday (Jan. 29) at a counter IED conference sponsored by the Institute for Defense and Government Advancement (IDGA), Albuquerque said the best detector dogs have hunting instincts and training. That’s why the Marine Corps uses only “hunt bloodline, field trial trained Labrador Retrievers,” that are selected for their sturdiness as well as the sniffing ability, she added.

“A dog hunting for birds is actually very similar to a dog hunting for an IED,” she said. But she cautioned that that detector dogs are only a single tool in the explosive ordnance disposal toolbox: “You will never be able to unilaterally depend on a dog.”

Problems can arise if you’ve got the wrong dog for the job, or the wrong handler. “Most of the time, if there’s a mistake, it ain’t the dog,” she said. Dogs that are fatigued or over-heated will have trouble paying attention and will perform poorly.

Another issue tackled by the ONR program is whether the handler is a distraction to the dog. “Maybe the dog was the strong part of the team,” said Albuquerque, who herself is a dog handler trained at the Defense Department’s military working dog program at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas. Before taking on the ONR program, she was dog program manager for the Navy’s Pacific Fleet and head of training all dogs for the Defense Department for four years.

The dogs in Albuquerque’s program are trained to move – off the leash – 50 to 100 meters ahead of their handlers, letting Marines on patrol focus on situational awareness and security while the dog does his or her job looking for IEDs..

Albuquerque said it was also important to train dogs to operate in a real world environment – not just the same location day after day – looking for explosives instead of training aids.

ONR has cooperated with several universities like Oklahoma State and Duke University on studies of how dogs process information and how flexible they can be.

January 30, 2013 at 11:53 pm Leave a comment

LATIN AMERICA: Foreign Defense Contractors Flock to Brazil

A New Gold Rush

As it raises its defense spending as part of a strategy to secure its borders and offshore oil deposits, Brazil has become a big draw for foreign defense contractors like BAE Systems, Eurocopter, Boeing, Saab and Dassault, according to the Financial Times.

The Saab JAS-39 Grippen is one of the fighter aircraft Brazil is considering buying to modernize its airfleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lawrence Crespo)

Saab’s JAS-39 Grippen is one of the fighter aircraft Brazil is considering buying to modernize its airfleet. (U.S. Air Force photo by Lawrence Crespo)

Brazil is building a fleet of five submarines — one of them nuclear-powered — with French contractor DCNS. And aircraft from France (Dassault’s Rafale), the United States (Boeing’s F/A-18 Super Hornet) and Sweden (Saab’s JAS-39 Gripen) are all vying for Brazil’s much delayed selection of a contractor to build a new fleet of more than 30 multi-role jet fighters.

Brazil is Latin America’s largest country and the sixth-largest economy in the world.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute ranks Brazil 10th in military spending in 2011 — up from 11th in 2010. Brazil’s military budget was $35.4 billion, SIPRI calculated, or 1.5 percent of Brazil’s gross domestic product. it’s defense spending has risen 19 percent since 2002, even though it dropped 8.2 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Overall, Latin America’s defense spending dropped 3.3 percent in 2011. It was up 5.1 percent in 2010. The biggest increase was Mexico’s: up 5.7 percent in 2011 and up by 52 percent since 2002 — largely due to increased military involvement in the country’s war with drug cartels, SIPRI said in an April 2012 report.

Helicopter Deal

CIA World Factbook

CIA World Factbook

Brazilian aircraft manufacturer Embraer S.A. has signed an agreement with Anglo-Italian helicopter manufacturer AgustaWestland establishing a joint venture to explore producing helicopters in Brazil, both companies announced recently.

Preliminary studies by Embraer and AgustaWestland indicate strong market potential for twin engine, medium lift helicopters — especially to meet the needs of the of the offshore oil and gas market. Other key market sectors, such as the military, “show promising potential as well,” the companies said.

January 28, 2013 at 11:54 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 25, 2013)

A Shot in the Dark

 (U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

An advanced rifle marksmanship instructor ( left) teaches a paratrooper how to use a thermal-imaging scope at night during a four-day course at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

To see more images of this training program, click here.

January 25, 2013 at 1:57 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Algeria, Mali, Rise in Islamist Terror Groups, Eritrea

Algerian Hostage Siege

Algeria(CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

We’ve held off posting on the seizure of hostages at a natural gas plant in eastern Algeria until the situation became a little less confused. But as far as 4GWAR is concerned, the situation is still quite confusing. The Algerian prime minister said today (Jan. 21) that 37 foreign hostages were killed in the four-day terrorist incident.

Prime Minister Abdelmalek Sellal also said a “Canadian” citizen coordinated the siege`and that seven of the foreigners killed — during the initial seizure of the desert plant on Jan. 16 or  in the attack by Algerian security forces that retook the plant on Jan. 19 — have yet to be identified. Five other foreigners are still missing. Seven Japanese, six Filipinos, three Americans and three Britains have been identified by their respective governments as among the confirmed dead. Others, from Britain, Norway and elsewhere are listed as unaccounted for, according to Reuters.

The Algerians say about 700 Algerian workers and 100 other foreigners survived the ordeal at the In Amenas plant near the border with Libya.

Reuters also reported that an Algerian security source told the  news agency that documents found on the bodies of two militants had identified them as Canadians. At a news conference in Algiers the Algerian prime minister said a Canadian was among the militants, adding that: “He was coordinating the attack.”

A leader of the terrorist group, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), claimed responsibility for the attack on the gas plant in retaliation for French military intervention in Mali which Islamist militants are threatening to overrun. The AQIM says it was also punishing Alegerian officials for granting French military aircraft flyover permission on their way to Mali (See story below and note the border Mali shares with Algeria in the map above).

In a separate story from London, Reuters reported that Britain said it would increase counter-terrorism and intelligence aid to Algeria and consider giving more help to France in the fight against Islamists in Mali. But Prime Minister David Cameron ruled out any chance of direct British military intervention in Africa.

More on Mali

Mali and its neighbors(CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

French and Malian troops have retaken two towns from Islamic militants several news organizations are reporting. The joint force took control of Diabaly and Douentza today (Jan. 21), although BBC reports the towns had been abandoned by militant Islamist fighters fled both towns last week after a French bombing campaign. Diabaly is about 250 miles northeast of Mali’s capital of Bamako. Douentza is about another 250 miles northeast of the capital. Diabaly was the southern-most point held by the militants, Bloomberg reported. Mali is one of Africa’s leading gold-producing countries — even though its people are desperately poor, according to Bloomberg.

The French began airstrikes using helicopters and fighter jets on Jan. 11 to halt the militants’ advance on the capital. They were concerned about Mali becoming a launching pad for terror attacks against Europe. About 2,000 French troops are in Mali already with another 500 expected, although the France, the former colonial ruler of Mali, insists it don’t plan to stay for a long time in an Afghanistan-like mission in Mali.

First Nigerian troops arrive in Mali(French Ministry of defense photo)

First Nigerian troops arrive in Mali
(French Ministry of defense photo)

Meanwhile, an international force from several West African nations is beginning to form. Already about 250 soldiers from Nigeria, Togo and  Senegal are in Mali. Burkina Faso, Niger, Benin, Ghana and Guinea have all pledged to send troops. Chad has pledged to send 2,000 troops and Nigeria will send 1,200 according to the BBC. Funding the coalition force as well as coordinating action among troops from many lands speaking many languages is still a concern.

“The crisis in Mali, if not brought under control, may spill over into Nigeria and other West African countries with negative consequences on our collective security, political stability and development efforts,” Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan wrote earlier this month in a letter to the country’s Senate requesting approval of the troop deployment in Mali, according to Bloomberg. Nigeria is dealing with terror attacks by its own Islamist militant group, Boko Haram.

French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian said the objective in Mali was to “totally reconquer” the area seized by nomadic Tuareg nationalists and militant Islamist fundamentalist groups like Ansar Dine, The Guardian newspaper reported.

The African Threat

Do the Algerian hostage raid and French intervention in Mali — coming on the heels of Islamist militant attacks in Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda and Somalia  signal a widening of the so-called War on Terror or an expansion of jihad from Southwest Asia and the Middle East to Africa?

A number of analysts have weighed in on that question. Here is a sampling:

BBC: How was France dragged into the Malian conflict?

The Guardian: The danger of mission creep on al Qaida’s new frontier

The New York Times: North Africa is a New Test

ABC: Panetta says U.S. Assistance to French in Mali Could Serve as a Model

TIME: As Algeria Body Count Grows, Officials Analyze Terrorist Threat — and Whether the Attack Had Inside Help

Coup Stuck

Eritrea and its neighbors(CIA Word Factbook)

Eritrea and its neighbors
(CIA Word Factbook)

An attempted military coup in Eritrea, a country sometimes called the North Korea of Africa, has apparently failed.

Eritrea, which sits just above the Horn of Africa on the Red Sea, has one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in Africa, according to the New York Times. The country won its independence from Ethiopia in 1991after a 30-year war of rebellion.

Eritrea has waged war at one time or another with nearly all of its neighbors. The United Nations has imposed sanctions on the country because of suspected support for Somali militants.

On Monday (Jan. 21) mutinous troops stormed the Ministry of Information and siezed the state-run television service (often a first step in seizing power in coups and revolutions). But apparently nobody took to the streets and soldiers loyal to the government of  President Isaias Afwerki put down the would-be revolution. For details, click here and here.

January 22, 2013 at 1:31 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 18, 2013)

Home Again

U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early

(U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early)

The ballistic missile submarine USS Henry M. Jackson transits past the Olympic Mountains as it prepares to conduct sea trials in Bangor, Wash., Jan. 16, 2013.

The Jackson is an Ohio class conventionally armed, nuclear-powered sub, launched in 1983 and commissioned a Navy vessel the following year. The Jackson is armed with MK-48 torpedoes and  24 Trident II ballistic missiles,

We just thought it just makes a pretty photo subject.

January 18, 2013 at 12:45 am Leave a comment

TECHNOLOGY: Conflict-driven improvements in body, vehicle armor

Force Protection

The challenges of counter insurgency and unconventional warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan have sparked several innovations in armor development for both individuals and vehicles over the past decade.

Pvt. 1st Class Cheryl Rogers grins as 2nd Lt. Chelsea Adams helps her into the new Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest, Nov. 28. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Emily Knitter)

Pvt. 1st Class Cheryl Rogers grins as 2nd Lt. Chelsea Adams helps her into the new Generation III Female Improved Outer Tactical Vest. (U.S. Army photo by Cpl. Emily Knitter)

From mine resistant, ambush protected vehicles to better ballistic protection in helmets and outer tactical vests, the services’ research labs, university and corporate research divisions have been working to keep the troops safer.

One development that might come as a surprise to some was the Army’s development of female-specific body armor. For years, more and more women soldiers, sailors, Marines and airmen have been going in harm’s way to do their jobs as drivers, pilots, mechanics and Female Engagement Team members.

But until 2009, little or no study was given to making generic body armor fit a woman’s body. As one female soldier said “a woman in not a small man” but the ballistics vests that female soldiers and Marines were required to wear “outside the wire” were still too big, or too long or too constricting.

Now,  the Soldier Research, Development and Engineering Center at Natick, Massachusetts has come up with eight different sizes of female body armor in two different lengths and the women who have tested them give the new vests high marks.

To read more of my story, click here to  go to the Institute for Defense and Government Improvement (IDGA), which is holding a conference on body and vehicle armor next month outside of Washington, D.C.

January 17, 2013 at 11:54 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: Food for Thought

Why Mali Matters

Food for Thought

Food for Thought

For more than a decade we’ve been told how important it is for the U.S. and its allies in the war on terrorism to stay the course in Iraq and Afghanistan. If nothing else, one argument went, U.S. presence in those countries keeps them stable and keeps them from being turned into terrorist bases.

Since then the argument has been made for U.S. intervention in Yemen, Somalia, Uganda and Kenya. The key is keeping offshoots and allies of the terrorist group, al Qaeda, from gaining in a foothold around the Horn of Africa or the Muslim dominated countries of North Africa.

An op-ed piece in the New York Times today (Jan. 15) argues that now the U.S. must help the French military in its battle against terrorists, insurgents and Islamic extremists in the North African state of Mali. Written by Vicki Huddleston, who was U.S. ambassador to Mali from 2002 to 2005.

She maintains that its important that the U.S. do what it can — without committing combat troops — to prevent Mali from becoming “a launchpad for terrorism.”  The rebels in northern Mali have made common cause with Nigeria’s Boko Haram, which wants to create an Islamist state as well as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which has kidnapped several westerners in the desert ares of North Africa.

The Voice of America has a piece that identifies some of the major players among the Islamic coalition fighting the French. It also gives a brief summary of how Mali got in such a mess —  starting with a military coup last March. Reuters also has a simple, easy to follow timeline of the Malian conflict going back to last March’s military coup.

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

The Sahel Region. (Wikipedia)

January 15, 2013 at 11:40 pm Leave a comment

AFRICA: More on Mali

France Steps in

French troops embark for Mali as part of Operation Serval, the counter insurgency operation. (Photo: French ministry of Defense

French troops embark for Mali’s capital, Bamako, as part of Operation Serval (Photo: French Ministry of Defense)

Events are moving fast in the West African nation of Mali since Islamist militants seized a key government outpost late last week on the border of the desert region where Tuareg separatists and violent Islamic fundamentalists have seized an area the size of France.

Last Friday (Jan. 11), a day after Mali’s president wrote French President Francois Hollande seeking military assistance to stop the rebel forces’ advance, France launched air strikes against the al Qaeda-linked rebels.

Mali and its neighbors(CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

Since then, the airstrikes by Mirage and Rafale fighter/bombers and Gazelle attack helicopters have driven the Tuareg-Islamist rebels from the town of Konna where they threatened to advance on the larger city of Mopti and its airfield. (See map). One helicopter pilot was fatally wounded during an early airstrike but the helicopter was able to return to base. There are reports of hundreds of dead rebels and Malian soldiers. The French also bombed rebel strongholds in Gao and elsewhere in the north.

While the French are the only troops engaged in air combat missions, logistics and air transportation of armored vehicles and other equipment have been supplied by British C-15 Globemaster heavy lift aircraft. The United States will supply manned and unmanned aircraft for reconnaissance and intelligence missions as well cargo planes for transportation, while the Canadians are sending a single C-17 cargo plane to fly non-combat logistical missions. All three allies have said they would not send ground troops to aid the French. And the French do not plan to deploy combat infantry to attack the rebels. Germany said it will support French troops but ruled out sending German combat forces to West Africa.

Today (Jan. 14) the Islamist rebels fought back, seizing the town of Diabaly, less than 250 miles from Mali’s capital, Bamako. The rebels pledged to make the French pay a heavy price for their intervention. “France has opened the gates of hell for all the French,” a spokesman for one of the rebel factions. Meanwhile, France is evacuating its citizens from the area. An estimated 50,000 French citizens and foreign nationals live in Mali, a former French colony. The French government is also taking extra security precautions in Paris, Nice and other  parts of France.

The French defense ministry says it plans to deploy as many as 2,500 troops in Mali from France and French outposts in other former colonies like Chad and Burkina Faso.  The French president, Hollande, says France’s Operation Serval only seeks to keep things stable until an estimated force of 3,000 African troops from various nations in the region can be organized and transported to Mali.

Reports from Reuters, the Guardian, NPR, the New York Times, Toronto Globe and Mail, French Defense Ministry

A French helicopter poilot was killed in fighting with Islamist rebels in Mali. (Photo: French defense ministry)

A French helicopter pilot was killed in fighting with Islamist rebels in Mali. (Photo: French Defense Ministry)

January 14, 2013 at 11:05 pm 1 comment

FRIDAY FOTO (January 11, 2012)

Every Day is a Winding Road

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

(U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Michael J. MacLeod)

U.S. Army paratroopers and Afghan soldiers move along a riverbed during a foot patrol in Afghanistan’s southern Ghazni province. This photo was taken on May 8, 2012. It is included in a Defense Department retrospective, the Year in Photos 2012.

We were looking for something different for this week’s FriFo and we were taken by the arid imagery and curving composition of this photo. Please click on the photo to get the full effect.

The U.S. paratroopers are with the 82nd Airborne Division’s 1st Brigade Combat Team. They’re based at Forward Operating Base Arian near the village of Askarkot on Highway 1. Here’s a link to their Facebook page.

January 11, 2013 at 12:28 am Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Mali! Mali! Mali!

Army Losing Control

Mali (CIA World Factbook)

Mali in Africa (CIA World Factbook)

Islamist forces in northern Mali have attacked and taken a long-held village from the West African nation’s army.

The New York Times reports the militants have seized Konna a village that had marked the limit of the army’s control of the country. An army spokesman refused to confirm or deny the loss but an unidentified Malian Army officer told the Times the situation was “very serious” and “very dangerous.”

The Malian Army has been in disarray since a coup  last March that overthrew the democratically-elected president. The ensuing chaos prompted Tuareg nationalists in the country’s northern deserts to swoop down and seize half the country — an area the size of France — including key towns like the legendary caravan trading city of Timbuktu.

Since then, militant Islamist groups like Ansar Dine have seized control of the revolt, allied with al Qaeda affiliates like al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and imposed harsh Islamic law, including floggings and amputations of limbs for theft and other crimes. They have also destroyed tombs and other historic religious sites they deem idolatrous.

This latest setback may affect a United Nations Security Council-approved plan to send troops to assist the Malian Army retake the north.

Seeking French Help

Mali’s president, Dioncounda Traore, asked France Thursday (Jan. 10) for help in countering the Islamist offensive now threatening Mopti, a city of 100,000, according to the Associated Press.

France’s U.N. Ambassador Gerard Araud said Traore sent letters to U.N. Secretary Ban Ki-moon for the Security Council and also to French President Francois Hollande, seeking fassistance from Mali’s former colonial ruler.

In December, the Security Council authorized an African-led force to support the Malian Army in retaking the north. No timeline was set however.

Western security officials have expressed concern that terrorists could turn a chaotic Mali into a platform for attacking Europe.

New Regional Threat

The Long War Journal reports that a West African terrorist group says it is forming a new “brigade” with four “battalions” to conduct operations in northern Mali. The al Qaeda-linked Movement for Tawhid [Unity] and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) announced the formation on Jan. 4.

MUJAO is one of three major al Qaeda-linked groups that participated in last spring’s invasion of northern Mali.

Mali and its neighbors(CIA World Factbook)

Mali and its neighbors
(CIA World Factbook)

January 10, 2013 at 11:21 pm Leave a comment

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