Archive for April, 2015

MARITIME DOMAIN: Sea-Air-Space Expo This Week

Three-Day Maritime Conference.

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly)

(U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Paul Kelly)

Future challenges and current needs for the sea services – the U.S. Navy, U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. Coast Guard – will be the hot topics this week at the Navy League’s Sea-Air-Space Expo at National Harbor, Maryland.

Top officials, including Chief of Naval Operations Admiral Jonathan Greenert, Admiral James Winnefeld Jr., the vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Coast Guard Commandant Admiral Paul Zukunft, Marine Corps Commandant General Joseph Dunford and naval commandants from Singapore, Australia and Japan will be among the speakers at the three-day event that starts Monday (April 13) across the river from Washington, D.C.

Big names in the defense and maritime industries like Northrop Grumman, Boeing, L-3, General Dynamics, Huntington Ingalls Industries, Austal and BAE Systems will exhibiting their latest products for the Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard.

Components of the services like the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) will also ne detailing their plans and equipment requirements in the coming fiscal year.

Your 4GWAR editor will be there too, as part of the small army of reporters covering the goings on for the Navy League’s Seapower magazine and its daily show publication. We’ll be focusing on unmanned aircraft and the Coast Guard’s strategic plan for the Western Hemisphere among other assignments.

If you can’t make it to the Gaylord Convention Center, you can catch the latest news at the Seapower website and on Twitter at @seaairspace and @SeapowerMag

U.S. Navy photo by Lt. Ed Early

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

April 13, 2015 at 12:12 am Leave a comment

HIGH NORTH: Nordic Nations Plan Closer Defense Ties vs. Russia

Eyes on the Bear.

Norwegian F-16 fighter jets during Exercise Cold Response in 2014. (Photo by Torbjorn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces) CLICK ON PHOTO TO ENLARGE IMAGE

Norwegian F-16 fighter jets during Exercise Cold Response in 2014.
(Photo by Torbjorn Kjosvold, Norwegian Armed Forces)

After months of Russian probes, intrusions and military provocations, the countries of Scandinavia have agreed to build closer defense ties among themselves and with the neighboring Baltic States of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.

Writing in a joint declaration, the defense ministers of Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Iceland said Northern Europe must prepare for possible crises or incidents because of Russia, according to a dispatch from Reuters (via Army Times’ Early Bird).

“Russia’s leaders have shown that they are prepared to make practical and effective use of military means in order to reach their political goals, even when this involves violating principles of international law,” the ministers wrote in a joint statement in the daily Aftenposten.

Over the last year, there have been numerous reports of Russia probing Nordic defenses from an underwater vehicle — believed to be a Russian submarine — entering Swedish waters and Russian bomber flights violating Swedish and Finnish airspace. Estonia was hit by a massive cyber attack, believed to be Russian in origin, in 2007.  Then there is Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula and fighting between Ukrainian troops and Russian-backed rebels.

“Russia’s actions are the biggest challenge to the European security,” the ministers said. “Russia’s propaganda and political maneuvering are contributing to sowing discord between nations, and inside organizations like NATO and the EU.”

(EDITOR’S NOTE: We recommend clicking on the photo above to enlarge it and get the full impact of its technical achievement).

April 10, 2015 at 8:29 pm Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 10, 2015)

No Time to Stop.

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jorge A. Dimmer

U.S. Marine Corps photo by Chief Warrant Officer 2 Jorge A. Dimmer

Now this is what we call multi-tasking!

A U.S. Marine Corps CH-53E Super Stallion is refueled in the air by a KC-130 Hercules tanker while transporting a Humvee near Marine Corps Air Station Yuma, Arizona. The KC-130 is capable of refueling two aircraft at once. You can see a second fuel line and drogue refueling pod hanging from the tanker’s other wing.

The exercise was part of a Weapons and Tactics Instructor Course hosted by Marine Aviation Weapons and Tactics Squadron-1. MAWTS-1 provides standardized tactical training and certifies unit instructor qualifications to support.

April 10, 2015 at 1:39 am Leave a comment

SHAKO: April 9, 1865, Lee Surrenders to Grant [UPDATE]

Appomattox Court House.

"The Surrender" by Keith Rocco shows the known officers that were present for at least a portion of the meeting in the McLean Parlor, April 9, 1865. Photo National Park Service)

“The Surrender” by Keith Rocco shows the known officers that were present for at least a portion of the meeting in the McLean Parlor, April 9, 1865.
(Photo: National Park Service)

On this day 150 years ago, the battered Army of Northern Virginia was surrendered by its commander, Robert E. Lee, to the overall commander of the Union armies, Lieutenant General Ulysses S. Grant.

Much has been said about those men and the way they conducted themselves that day after four years of brutal and bitter conflict. Lee, all correct in a dress uniform and sword, Grant, muddy from the ride from his headquarters to the village of Appomattox Court House and the home of Wilmer McLean where the last negotiations took place before the surrender documents were signed. You can read more detailed accounts about it here and here and here.

There was a commemoration by re-enactors today (April 9) at the historic site, you can see a photo slide show here.

While most Americans (and Hollywood script writers) believe Lee’s surrender ended the war. Sadly, it did not. The guns wouldn’t be silenced everywhere for more than a month. A larger Confederate army, commanded by General Joseph E.  Johnston surrendered to Major General William T.  Sherman in North Carolina on April 26.

The last land battle would take place along the Rio Grande in south Texas on May 12-13 and, ironically, the Confederates won the engagement.  In the final hours of the battle, a Union private from Indiana, John J. Williams, was shot fatally and he is considered the last man killed in the war.

Union soldiers at the courthouse in April 1865 (Photo by Timothy O'Sullivan via wikipedia)

Union soldiers at the courthouse in April 1865
(Photo by Timothy O’Sullivan via wikipedia)

But historians note there is an important element to Lee’s surrender. He issued General Order No. 9, which instructed his troops to lay down their arms, return to their homes and — in effect — discouraged them from taking to the hills to mount a guerrilla campaign against the government in Washington.

As a long-time Civil War buff, your 4GWAR editor is embarrassed that we almost let this significant event slip by without marking the occasion. We were a small boy when the Civil War Centennial began in 1960. The last surviving Civil War veteran, a Confederate, had died just a year earlier. We had a new president and the civil rights movement’s attempts to right the lingering wrongs of the post Civil War South were starting to make the evening news. The hundredth anniversary was marked by hundreds of books and magazine articles. There also was a weekly comic strip in the Sunday papers, Civil War trading cards (like baseball cards), a short-lived television show and no end to Civil War-related toys and blue and gray faux kepis (to replace the faux coonskin hats of the previous decade.) It made a lasing impression on us.

We fell for this comic book ad back in the 1960s. The box hem came in was about the size of this photo.

We fell for this comic book ad back in the 1960s. The box they came in was just a little bigger than the size of this photo.

UPDATE: Adds historic photo, clarifies Lee’s Order No. 9 and adds background on Civil War Centennial nostalgia.

SHAKOSHAKO is an occasional 4GWAR posting on military history, traditions and culture. For the uninitiated, a shako is the tall, billed headgear worn by many armies from the Napoleonic era to about the time of the American Civil War. It remains a part of the dress or parade uniform of several military organizations like the corps of cadets at the U.S. Military Academy, West Point, New York.


April 9, 2015 at 11:56 pm Leave a comment

AROUND AFRICA: Hostage Rescue in Mali; Kenya College Attack; Yemini Refugees; C.A.R. “Ceasefiire” [UPDATE2-April 10]

French Commando Rescue.

Mali (CIA World Factbook) Click on image to enlarge

(CIA World Factbook)
Click on image to enlarge

A Dutch national held hostage by Islamist extremists in North Africa for three years has been freed in a daring raid by French commandos.

Sjaak Rijke, abducted while vacationing in Timbuktu in November 2011, was set free in a raid on Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb by French special forces on Monday (April 6), AFP reported.

French President Francois Hollande said a number of suspected jihadists were killed during the rescue. Hollande added that the French soldiers were unaware of the hostage’s location before the raid against the extremists near Tessalit in Mali’s far north, close to the border with Algeria.

Some 3,000 French forces are taking part in the mission to stabilize Mali, which was overrun by al-Qaida-linked Islamic extremists until French troops came to the aid of Malian soldiers in January 2013, according to the Associated Press. Rijke was abducted by extremists in November 2011 from a hostel in Timbuktu along with Swede Johan Gustafsson and South African Stephen Malcolm. A German died in the attack. Officials in France and the Netherlands did not say whether there was any news of Gustafsson or Malcolm.

*** *** ***

Kenya’s Response.

Kenyan warplanes bombed militant camps in Somalia, following a vow by President Uhuru Kenyatta to respond “in the fiercest way possible” to a massacre of college students by al-Shabab extremists, the Associated Press reported.

The airstrikes Sunday (April 5) and Monday (April 6) targeted the Gedo region of western Somalia, directly across the border from Kenya, a  Kenyan military official said, adding that al-Shabab camps, which were used to store arms and for logistical support, were destroyed, but it was not possible to determine the number of casualties because of poor visibility.

The Somalia-based militant group claimed responsibility for last week’s attack at Garissa University College in northeastern Kenya in which 148 people were killed — most of them students.

Kenya’s response to the attack has gone beyond military action. Nairobi is ordering the closure of 13 money transfer firms to prevent Islamist extremists from using them to finance attacks, the BBC reported. The bank accounts of 85 individuals and “entities” had also been frozen, according to government officials. Among those targeted: a Somali-linked bus company and hotel.

Nearly 500,000 Somali refugees are in Kenya – many of whom fled decades of conflict and drought in Somalia.

*** *** ***

The Horn of Africa. Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

The Horn of Africa.
Map courtesy of University of Pennsylvania African Studies Center

Refugee Crisis Expected.

Violence in the Arabian Peninsula, across the Gulf of Aden from East Africa is expected to drive thousands of refugees to the Horn of Africa, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

The UNHCR reported Friday (April 10) that at least 900 people have made the journey by boat in the past 10 days. The report noted the vast majority of he new arrivals were “Somalis but also Yemenis and a small number of Ethiopian and Djiboutian nationals.” All received food and water, and health and medical checks on arrival, the UNHCR said.

The U.N. estimated that clashes between rebels and supporters of the ex-president in Yemen have killed more than 500 people and left 1,700 others wounded in less than two weeks.

And that is expected to drive thousands of refugees to Djibouti and Somalia, putting a huge strain on local resources, according to Newsweek. Djibouti has a population of just 870,000 so a large influx of people would put a huge strain on its resources, said Frederic Van Hamme, an official at the UNHCR’s Djibouti base.

*** *** ***

C.A.R. “Ceasefire”.

Central African Republic (Map from CIA orld Factbook)

Central African Republic
(Map from CIA World Factbook)

Rival Central African Republic (CAR) groups have signed a ceasefire deal in Kenya to provide the strife-torn country with a political solution.

According to al Jazeera, Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted the signing of the accord Wednesday (April 8) between Anti-Balaka leader Joachim Kokate and former president and ex-Seleka leader Michel Djotodia. The two factions have been in talks in Kenya since November. Their agreement includes a deal “to stop hostilities” and another to “open a new chapter of political stability in their country” by adhering to the transitional roadmap.

But CAR’s president has said he does not recognize these talks, and they  are not recognized by either the French or the United Nations.”

April 8, 2015 at 11:59 pm Leave a comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: Understanding the Islamic State Threat

Fighting a Radical Tide on Social Media.

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq's Anbar Province in 2014. (Wikipedia)

Islamic State insurgents in Iraq’s Anbar Province in 2014.

WASHINGTON — You’ve seen them on TV or the Internet: faces masked, waving black flags and AK-47s , videotaping heinous acts of barbarism against soldiers and civilians that fall into their hands. They call themselves the Islamic State.

But what is the United States and its allies to do about the growing number of people from around the world — the CIA estimates 10,000 — flocking to Iraq and Syria, pledging allegiance to this self-styled caliphate, a terrorist group so vicious its parent organization, al Qaeda, disowned them?

Two professors at the National War College tackled that and other questions Monday (April 6) in a briefing at the National Press Club sponsored by the Medill National Security Journalism Initiative.

Dr. Richard Andres said the group has been very successful using social media to recruit new members and raise money. Despite the disturbing images of beheadings and other violence that IS has spread across the Internet, despite the knowledge that Islamic State practices severe Sharia law that calls for stoning, flogging and mutilating wrongdoers, hundreds of mostly young people are leaving their homes in Europe, the Americas, North Africa and Asia to join IS and risk their lives in a war zone. The group is also called ISIL (for Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) by the U.S. government and ISIS (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) by others.

Andres, professor of National Security Strategy at the War College, says social media takes advantage of two psychological quirks: People are attracted to the sensational, whether it be lurid gossip or disturbing images, and will click on a webpage to see it. People are also “attracted to things that confirm our existing biases,” Andres said, so the politically unsophisticated or economically frustrated are drawn in to view more and more outrageous information.Soon they’re hearing just one side of the story and straying farther and farther from mainstream cultural attitudes. This is especially true in undemocratic regimes where the government controls the media. If you can’t trust mainstream media in your country, Andres said, you’re going to be drawn toward more radical information. The message IS sends of fighting repression and exploitation by the West “resonates with young people,” playing on their desire to initiate change and fight injustice.

Dr. Omer Taspinar said most of Islamic State’s new recruits are believed to come — not from the poor and downtrodden of Middle Eastern slums — but from middle and working class immigrant families in Britain, Germany, Italy, France and other European countries. While these radicalized young Muslims are often educated and have grown up in democratic societies, social and economic inequality still play a role in what Taspinar called “relative deprivation.” Dissatisfaction grows with unmet aspirations and expectations of a good job, family and a better life until, in some cases, it becomes unbearable. “It’s about the gap between opportunities and expectations,” he added.

This frustration leads to a feeling of alienation. “They become rebels looking for a cause,” and that makes them susceptible to radical propaganda on social media, said Taspinar, whose expertise includes political economy and Europe, the Middle East and Turkey. Both he and Andres stressed they were expressing their own views and not those of the National War College or the U.S. government.

Islamic State's territories in Syria and Iraq. CLICK TO ENLARGE (Map from the Institute for the Study of War)

Islamic State’s territories in Syria and Iraq. CLICK TO ENLARGE
(Map from the Institute for the Study of War)

Here at the 4GWAR Blog we’ve written often about the Department of Homeland Security’s concerns that American citizens who have been radicalized and served with Islamic State’s insurgencies in Syria and Iraq may return home with dangerous military skills that could be used for terrorist attacks.

Andres said the United States needs to get better at countering radical propaganda on the Web, not an easy task in a country where free speech is enshrined in the Constitution and spying on citizens is unlawful and unpopular. Unlike Russia and China, “the U.S. can’t stop people from saying what they want online,” he added. While the U.S. State Department has a small, underfunded program to challenge radical Islamist propaganda “it’s only a drop in the bucket,” Andres said.

“Not all radicals become terrorists,” Taspinar said, adding that the United States should do what it can at home and abroad to encourage tolerance. He suggested that helping autocratic regimes in the Middle East sends the wrong message to disaffected Muslim youth. Countries with good governance and rule of law can “afford” to be tolerant, he said but “once you lose your sense of security and are threatened by many enemies, you lose your sense of tolerance.” Taspinar noted that after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, “the U.S. lost its sense of security. It feels much more vulnerable and it became much harder to be a Muslim in America after 9/11.”

April 6, 2015 at 7:59 pm Leave a comment

UNMANNED AIRCRAFT: Aerial Photography Using UAS Soars Outside U.S.

Small Drones, Big Jobs.

A Coptercam unmanned mini helicopter operates with a a video camera. (Photo courtesy Coptercam via Facebook)

A Coptercam unmanned mini helicopter operates with a a video camera.
(Photo courtesy Coptercam via Facebook)

While the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration slowly opens up parts of the national airspace to unmanned aircraft for commercial use,  unmanned aircraft systems (UAS) elsewhere in the world are providing unique aerial views of migrating wildlife, bridges needing structual inspection and sprawling sporting events.

UAS operated by news organizations were used to capture images of the massive pro-democracy crowds demonstrating in Hong Kong last year. They are also used by industry to supervise remote logging and mining operations in Canada and monitor banana plantations in Costa Rica.

Your 4GWAR editor has a story in the March issue of AUVSI’s Unmanned Systems magazine. You can see it by clicking here. Some of the small UAS mentioned in the article were demonstrated at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida last year at the Unmanned Systems 2014 conference sponsored by AUVSI, the robotics industry trade group. This year’s AUVSI expo is in Atlanta in May.

In Australia, Coptercam, one of the first companies Down Under to provide aerial video and still photography using a UAS, flies its custom-built unmanned mini helicopters to take video and still photos for architects, real estate agents, advertising agencies as well as television and documentary film crews.

Starting in the Western Australian city of Perth in 2011, the company has expanded operations to Sydney on Australia’s East Coast, as well as Melbourne and Adelaide. Coptercam operates a small fleet of eight-rotor octocopters with a maximum takeoff weight of 26.4 pounds (12 kilograms).  A three axis camera gimbal system can carry cameras like the Sony NEX-7, Canon 5D Mark III and Blackmagic Design’s cinema and production cameras.

Chief pilot and co-founder Hai Tran says he first strapped a Sony handycam to the bottom of his radio controlled helicopter for fun in 1999 “but it didn’t work very well.” He kept at it, however, and in 2011 he obtained an Unmanned Air Vehicle Controller Certificate and started Coptercam.

Click here to see a video shot by Coptercam of a 2014 pro surfing competition at Bell’s Beach, Australia. (Editor’s advice: if you’re wearing headphones, you might want to turn the volume down before viewing).

While Australia permits commercial operators to fly UAS, the requirements are pretty rigorous. Like many commercial operators in the States, Tran complains that hobbyists and amateurs flying radio-controlled unmanned aircraft, face fewer restrictions on where and when they can fly their UAS.

April 6, 2015 at 12:01 am Leave a comment

FRIDAY FOTO (April 3, 2015)

Send in the Cavalry.

(U.S. Army photo by  Staff Sgt. Opal Vaughn

(.S. Army photo by Staff Sgt. Opal Vaughn

U.S. soldiers in Stryker armored vehicles arrive at Smardan Training Area in Romania last month for a multi-national exercise known as Saber Junction 15. These soldiers are assigned to 2nd Squadron, 2nd Cavalry Regiment.

The first phase of Saber Junction 15, which runs for the entire month of April, will include a deployment readiness exercise and airborne operations into Romania. The exercise will then move to the Army’s Hohenfels Training Area in southeastern Germany.

Saber Junction 15, includes nearly 5,000 troops from 17 nations that are NATO allies and partners: Albania, Armenia, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Great Britain, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Moldova, Poland, Romania, Turkey, Sweden and, of course, the United States. 

The exercise will test offensive, defensive and stability operations while promoting interoperability among participants. The exercise is part of a wider overseas project, Operation Atlantic Resolve, which seeks reassure NATO allies and partner nations of America’s dedication to peace and stability in the region, while sending a message to Moscow, saying Russia’s aggressive behavior in Eastern Europe will not go unchallenged

April 3, 2015 at 1:23 am Leave a comment

COUNTER TERRORISM: Kenya College Siege

147 Dead.

Kenya (CIA World Factbook)

(CIA World Factbook)

Gunmen said to be al Shabab Islamist extremists attack a university campus in Kenya Thursday (April 2), battling security forces for more than 15 hours before the school was secured.

Officials said 147 people at the school — including two security guards — were killed in the siege. Four gunmen also were killed and at least one other person was arrested, according to the BBC and other news organizations.

Garissa University College, about 230 miles (370 kilometers) east of Nairobi (see map) was the scene of the carnage. Kenya’s Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the gunmen were wearing suicide vests which exploded, killing them in an exchange of gunfire with government security forces.

More than 500 students were rescued during the attack and 79 were injured. The most seriously hurt were transported to Nairobi for treatment.

An official of al Shabaab, said the violent extremist group launched the attack as a reprisal for previous Kenyan military incursions into Somalia, where the group is based.

The school is located about 125 miles (200 kilometers) from the border with Somalia and has, in recent years, been the site of sporadic gun and grenade attacks blamed on al Shabab, the Voice of America reported.





April 2, 2015 at 11:58 pm Leave a comment

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