Windows 10 is here. Resistance is futile. [VIDEO]

Should you upgrade to Windows 10?  You should if:

  1. You don’t have enough anxiety in your life. Nothing like learning a new operating system to  raise dangerously low levels of stress.
  2. You really, really hate Windows 8. Microsoft set out to fix the mistakes of its earlier OS (The Start menu is back! Yay!).  This is why Windows 10’s unofficial slogan is “Now, 67% less annoying than Windows 8!”
  3. You absolutely, positively must play Xbox games on your laptop. There is an export feature that allows you to do this, and evidently it’s pretty cool.
  4. You have too much privacy and want to received personalized ads. Sure you can opt out of Microsoft’s snooping, but as Alec Meer of the gaming site Rock, Paper, Shotgun notes: “….  despite chest-thumping, we’re-all-chums-here talk about how ‘real transparency starts with straightforward terms and policies that people can clearly understand.’ There is no world in which 45 pages of policy documents and opt-out settings split across 13 different Settings screens and an external website constitutes ‘real transparency.’”

The consensus seems to be that Windows 10 is here to stay, possibly for a long time.  So, if you are a PC user, you will be using Windows 10. Before you upgrade, you  may want to wait for awhile until some of the bugs shake out.

For a more comprehensive review with considerably less snark, watch the video below.

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National Military Strategy of USA 2015

The first revision since 2011, a new National Military Strategy was recently released. The following quote reflects some of the report’s major concerns.

“For the past decade, our military campaigns primarily have consisted of operations against violent extremist networks. But today, and into the foreseeable future, we must pay greater attention to challenges posed by state actors. They increasingly have the capability to contest regional freedom of movement and threaten our homeland. Of particular concern are the proliferation of ballistic missiles, precision strike technologies, unmanned systems, space and cyber capabilities, and weapons of mass destruction (WMD) – technologies designed to counter U.S. military advantages and curtail access to the global commons.”

It is increasingly likely that our primary adversaries in the future will not be terrorists, but state actors, as well as “hybrid” threats (state-sponsored theoretically independent insurgents, e.g. the Ukraine). Furthermore, our technological superiority may be eroding or may even be irrelevant. The report emphasizes the importance of multilateral international efforts as well as military support of “…diplomatic, informational, and economic activities that promote our enduring national interests.”

Read the whole report here.

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The Iran Nuclear Deal is a Disaster. I support it. [OPINION]

“The first three things I asked my briefers about when I woke every morning were Iran, Iran and Iran,”

-Marine Gen. James Mattis (Washington Times)

The recent nuclear arms control agreement between Iran and the P5+1 (UN Security Council members plus Germany) is one of the most important diplomatic agreements of this generation. It has spurred heated controversy, and has been shrouded in endless accusations and misinformation. While this is an opinion piece, I have striven to develop and present positions that are informed and balanced.

 

What does the deal say?

Currently, Iran is estimated to have enough enriched uranium to make approximately 10 to 12 nuclear bombs in a few months’ time. With this deal, under the watchful eyes of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA):

  • 98% of the enriched uranium stock will be destroyed.
  • 14,000 of Iranian 20,000 centrifuges will be taken out of commission.
  • Iran will be forbidden from enriching uranium beyond 3.67% enrichment, a far cry from the 90% necessary for weaponization.
  • The core of the controversial Arak plutonium facility will be exported or destroyed.

In return, some economic sanctions will be lifted on Iran, and some frozen assets will be released.

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Isn’t there a danger of the Iranians cheating?

 “Inspectors will be monitoring the only two mines where Iran can get uranium ore, the fuel for a bomb, and the mills where it’s processed. They will keep tabs on every single centrifuge in the country, as well as the centrifuge factories, the machines that could be used to make a centrifuge, even on imports of technology that could be used to build a machine that could be used to build a centrifuge.”

Vox

“I spent many hours of my youth watching, in some cases covering as a newspaper reporter, Senate hearings about nuclear arms treaties that the Carter, Reagan, Bush, and Clinton administrations had negotiated with the Russians. These were contentious hearings, but I don’t remember anything as plainly vicious—and utterly divorced from substance—as the Republicans’ behavior at Thursday’s briefing.”

 Fred Kaplan on Congressional hearings for the Iranian agreement, Slate

By far and away, the biggest lie of this controversy is the accusation that the inspection regime enforcing this deal is toothless. I am using the word “lie” intentionally, because it is simply not possible to reach this conclusion with any kind of dispassionate analysis.

In regards to the inspection regime imposed by the agreement, I did something that very few people have done; I read what experts had to say. While the track record of the inspectors at the IAEA is not perfect, it’s still a pretty good one. For example, when the whole world was screaming about Iraqi nuclear weapons, they repeatedly and correctly maintained that there was no evidence of their existence.

You can read arms control expert opinions here and here.

While the reaction of the IAEA staff has not been unanimous, it has been overwhelming one-sided.  They are astounded.  Over and over, I read quotes of their disbelief that the P5+1could get a deal this good. The idea that somehow we can get a better deal is completely unsupportable.

The consensus of the vast majority of experts I read is that this deal is the most stringent, detailed, and most comprehensive arms control agreement ever reached in peacetime. The imposed inspection regime on Iran is a foot on the throat of their entire nuclear program.


foot on throatFoot = Inspection regime

Throat = Iranian Nuclear program

 

What about the “two-week delay” in inspections?

When I researched this issue, my favorite quote came from Foreign Policy, who in an attempt at journalistic impartiality was able to find a few experts who had reservations about the deal. When asked about the famous “two-week wait,” Finnish nuclear weapons expert Heinonen stated, “From an investigative point of view that is a little bit not good.”

This wait period doesn’t apply to the entire known Iranian nuclear infrastructure. As mentioned above, the fact that international inspectors have real-time access to virtually every level of the nuclear industry is unprecedented. The wait period only applies to suspect facilities not officially part of the nuclear infrastructure.

Detecting nuclear weapons and the industrial infrastructure that produce them has been a top priority of the major powers for over 60 years. As a result, the technology for doing so is robust and fairly reliable.

The President was right to mock Netanyahu’s analogy of police warning a meth lab of an impending search. For one thing, most meth labs do not have high powered satellites watching their every move. Secondly, nuclear technology is heavy, clumsy, toxic and radioactive. Nuclear plants, typically, take years if not decades to decommission. In the entire history of nuclear weapons, none have ever been developed in mobile facilities.

nuclear plant

Not mobile

Most arms control experts that I have read dismissed the significance of the waiting period.  It is almost impossible to “scrub” a site of any importance in two weeks.

One of the great things about this agreement is the bonanza of intelligence it will provide about overall Iranian capabilities. In an attempt to stem the flood of data that will be flowing from Iran, their military refused unrestricted access to their entire country. In the history of arms control, no nation, who had not suffered a military defeat, has ever agreed to “anytime, anywhere” inspections.

Could the Iranians cheat without being discovered? With typical bureaucratic caution, a few experts say that it is theoretically possible, but it is highly unlikely. Considering the resources involved, the infinitesimal results such a covert effort would yield, and the overwhelming likelihood that they would be caught, cheating would be a very high risk, very low benefit endeavor.

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War is the only reality

 “Certainly, it can be delayed a month, six months, 18 months. What do you do with the delay is the question. The military can buy our diplomats some time, but it cannot solve this problem straight up.”

-Marine Gen. James Mattis (Washington Times)

Mattis description of 18 months being the maximum amount of delay that can be inflicted by military actions appears to be a consensus opinion among experts (see previous blog article about military options). All likely military scenarios are dangerous, unproductive, and will yield temporary benefits at best.

Continuing or strengthening sanctions will be impossible. It took the President 6 years to get sanctions this tough. The sanctions were only achieved by the President promising that they would lead to a nuclear arms agreement. If the US walks away from this deal, sanctions will unquestionably collapse.

Considering the agreement will delay the development of nuclear weapons far longer than any likely military actions (including nuclear attacks), why is there so much opposition to this deal? Some people oppose this deal for purely partisan reasons. Besides this, there are two major causes for opposition: one legitimate, one not.

Let’s play a game. Remember when the President said that Syrian use of chemical weapons was a “red line?” Let’s suppose in an alternate reality, he ordered a military strike on chemical weapon facilities. He goes on television and announces that he has confidently destroyed between 80 to 100% of the Syrian chemical capabilities. He is hailed as a hero who stood strong.

In reality, the President did destroy 80 to 100% of the Syrian chemical capabilities. However, he did it through diplomatic means. Since he didn’t kill anyone doing it, people accuse him of backtracking and spinelessness.

In the political arena, peace deals and arms control agreements are consistently judged by standards far stricter than military operations. Peace deals must be 100% foolproof with no possibility of anything going wrong. No one goes to wars with this type of assurance. Many assume war to be less risky, and more realistic than diplomacy. Anyone who questions the effectiveness of military solutions is considered a wimp.

mattis

General Mattis

Not a wimp

Recently, I discussed the Iranian nuclear agreement with an informed, intelligent acquaintance. Even after describing the stringent inspection regime, he dismissed the deal. “I don’t trust the Iranians,” he said. “It’s too much of a gamble. We should nuke them.”

I was flabbergasted. This man blithely assumed that the option of using nuclear arms was less dangerous, more certain, and more realistic than a diplomatic agreement.

I don’t understand why so many people think war is always a more reliable solution. I’ve notice true warriors tend to be far more hesitant about committing bellicose actions and will often seek less violent alternatives. It is no coincidence that the one person in the Bush administration who expressed reservations about the Iraqi invasion was combat veteran Colin Powell.

While the “war solves everything” argument is clearly not a valid criticism of this deal, some of the opposition is motivated, by what I consider legitimate reasoning.

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Israel opposes the deal.  It would be absurd for them to do otherwise.

Most countries in the Middle East, not just Israel, are suspicious of this agreement. Beyond question, this accord will empower Iran politically, militarily, and economically. This deal will give Iran enormous resources to fund Hamas, Hizballah, and Shi’ite militias in Iraq and Yemen.

While the agreement will likely succeed in its primary objective – delaying the development of a nuclear bomb – it will do so at a price that the people of Syria, Saudi Arabia, Gulf States, and Israel will have to pay. For them, this is no “peace” deal; it is a disaster.

Is the deal worth the cost? I think so, but as someone who lives in America, I do not have to pay the price. I support the deal, but I sympathize with the opposition of the Middle Eastern countries to it.

The President has addressed this criticism, but not I think convincingly.  Netanyahu has repeatedly attacked the agreement on the basis of its supposed ineffectiveness, or the delusional stance that the Iranians will agree to an even more demanding accord. I think this is a mistake, because it not only undermines his credibility, it also distracts from the legitimate argument that this agreement empowers a terrorist state.

 

War is not certain

While the nuclear agreement could increase tensions in the Middle East, due to the greater resources available to Iran’s terrorist proxies, it also may not.  For one thing, Iranian aggressiveness has provoked its adversaries into forming an informal alliance.

Here are the official members of the Saudi-led military forces that are fighting Iranian-backed insurgents in Yemen: Egypt, Jordan, Pakistan, Bahrain, Kuwait, Qatar, UAE, Morocco, Senegal, Sudan, Somalia, and the United States. By some accounts, Turkey is also supporting Saudi Arabia.

This is not an insignificant group of nations, and the nuclear deal could strengthen their ties. The power of this coalition (which in the future may unofficially include Israel) could be an effective counter to Iranian belligerence.

The true wild card in this situation is not whether Iran will cheat or take advantage of their new found economic power. The real question is “How will the deal transform Iran itself?” While the President expressed hope that the Iranians would learn to play nice with their neighbors, he has also expressed strong doubts that they would do so.

Iranian hard liners have been as ferocious in their criticisms of the agreement as their American counterparts have been. It’s easy to see why. Their country will now be crawling with analysts from international agencies collecting valuable intelligence. Their nuclear program, a symbol of national sovereignty, will be dramatically throttled back.

Even more significant is that the rationale behind their tyrannical government – protection from foreign imperialists – will be severely undermined. It is not an accident that the Russian communist party lost its grip on the Soviet Union after glasnost.

Can we count on the Iranians undermining their autocratic regime? No, but nor can we dismiss the possibility.

After the deal was announced, Iranians took to the streets, celebrating the easing of the economic sanctions. One image I saw on television is evidence that change is already occurring. A group of young people chanted “Death to no one!” and were waving their smartphones in the air. What was on their smartphones? Pictures of the American flag.

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This post is the opinion solely of the author and does not reflect the positions of AMREL or its other employees.

Do you have an opinion? Send it to editor@amrel.com. Be advised we may use the content of your email in a future blog post.

Killer Robots Are Here

From the very beginning, people have been concerned not only about what unmanned systems can do for them, but also what they can do to them. Indeed, the first time the word “robot” was used, was in a 1920 Czech play that depicted a machine rebellion against mankind.

More recently, there has emerged an international campaign to stop “killer drones.” This blog has previously expressed skepticism over the supposed “inherent immorality” of unmanned warfare. However, I think the more important issue may be the lethality of non-military unmanned systems.

For one thing, concerns about safety issues have significantly delayed the spread of unmanned system to civilian markets. An expert once told me that safety and legal concerns are the single biggest factor in delaying unmanned agricultural systems. They are also a major reason for the slow adoption of autonomous cars.

Many are anxious over the role of robots in industrial accidents. The rate of injuries and deaths of civilians in work settings is nothing to sneeze at. For example, we are used to thinking of casualties during war as being something that happens exclusively on the battlefield, but “The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that each year between 1942 and 1945 there were some two million disabling or deadly industrial accidents, a total of more than six million.” Indeed, the eHistory website asserts that for every American military casualty, there were eight industrial casualties on the home front.

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After a worker’s death in Germany, killer robots and industrial accidents are in the news. In response to to this report, journalist Margarita Noriega interviewed a cyberlaw expert. The interview below originally appeared in Vox.

After sharing a story on Twitter about a robot who killed a man in Germany, Ryan Calo, professor of robotics and cyberlaw at the University of Washington School of Law, replied that it is not that unusual for robots to kill people. Naturally, I had a few questions. Here they are with Calo’s answers, including why robots aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.

Margarita Noriega: What just happened in Germany?

Ryan Calo: A man was killed while setting up an industrial robot at a Volkswagen plant. Apparently the robot grabbed the man and crushed him against a metal plate.

Margarita Noriega: You mentioned that this was more commonplace than people might think. Can you explain?

Ryan Calo: About a person a year dies in robot related accidents in the U.S. alone. You can see this in the statistics complied by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Recent incidents include “Maintenance Worker Is Struck And Killed By A Robot”(2013) and “Robot Crushes And Kills Worker Inside Robot Work Cell” (2012). The reason people are reporting on this death, I think, is that robots are very much on the mind. Of course, we should keep this all in perspective—more people are killed by bees or sharks than robots, at least in the United States.

Margarita Noriega: What do we mean by “robot” in these cases, anyway? And how is “likeness to humans” defined?

Ryan Calo: In my work, I define a robot as having three qualities that distinguish it from previous or constituent technologies. A robot must sense its environment, process what it sense, and then be organized to act directly on the world. I don’t define human likeness because I don’t think it’s necessary. I do, however, think that robots that look and act like people raise particularly interesting legal and ethical issues. You can read more here in my article Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw.

Margarita Noriega: How are these cases handled, since the robot has no malicious intent?

Ryan Calo: Most industrial accidents—robot or otherwise—are handled in the U.S. by workers compensation. This means that the worker or their family receives a statutorily defined amount of money from a fund, depending on the severity of their injury. Technically the worker could sue the manufacturer of the robot but would have to show that s/he operated the robot within specifications. Usually some human error is involved, as apparently was the case in Germany. Where it gets tricky is when robots are not designed for any particular purpose and can run third party apps.

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Another hard issue is what to do when the robot displays emergent behavior, that is, behavior no one involved in the programming could anticipate. My paper Robotics and the Lessons of Cyberlaw discusses. We’re already seeing this with Internet bots that, for instance, threaten someone’s life.

Margarita Noriega: You predict here that robot cases will increase. How does one avoid being killed by a robot, anyway?

Ryan Calo: I think the answer is that you are very unlikely to be killed by a robot, unless you come into military conflict with the United States. If you are, for instance, a factory worker, it is very important to follow established security protocols around robots and especially to stay out of the danger zone unless you are sure the robot is off. What I predicted in that 2009 blog post was that robotics would become the subject of laws and legal cases. And it is. Think of all the recent cases and statutes involving drones.

Margarita Noriega: What question haven’t I asked about killer robots?

Ryan Calo: One question is what is different about industrial robots. Industrial robots generally stay in one place and do the same thing over and over. They are dangerous because they can exert enormous force are not usually able to sense the presence of a person. As robots come to do more and more things, as they leave the factory floor and enter our offices, hospitals, and homes, they will be designed to be much safer.

Why are autonomous cars happening now?

Why are we seeing self-driving cars right now?  This question was originally asked in Quora. Below is my answer:

To understand the development of autonomous cars, it is helpful to think of them as a kind of a robot, or to use a term more favored by those in the industry, an “unmanned system.” Autonomous cars (Unmanned Ground Vehicles) transform the role of people from that of an operator/driver to one of payload/cargo. Two trends, one demographic and the other technological, are driving the development of autonomous cars.

The significant demographic trend is the aging of population. In the 2013 Robotics Roadmap, which was presented to the Congressional Robotics Caucus by industry leaders, the impact of this surging senior demographic was discussed for almost every possible unmanned application. Countries as diverse as the United States, Japan, Mexico, and even in the Middle East are experiencing a growth in the number of elderly inhabitants. These people want to maintain their independence as long as possible. Seniors are a growing and eager market for autonomous cars.

The driving technological trend has been the spread of unmanned systems, especially for military purposes. The military view unmanned systems as a “force multiplier,” i.e. a way of reducing the number of personnel (soldiers). Since soldiers are the single most expensive item on a battlefield (a wounded US combatant can cost $2 million), the deployment of unmanned systems can result in significant cost savings.

However, most unmanned systems still require humans to operate them. To realize their full economic and tactical potential, some degree of autonomy is required. As a result, there is very good research being done on autonomous capabilities of unmanned systems. Since autonomous cars are actually a kind of unmanned system, this technology is maturing very rapidly.

There are other factors driving the development of unmanned cars. Some futurists think that economic doldrums will place private vehicle ownership out of reach of ordinary people. Supposedly, the next generation will come to depend on fleets of taxicabs, made more economically practical by their autonomous capabilities.

For more discussion on this issue, please see the following articles:

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Afghan Counter-IED efforts

While the US presence in Afghanistan may be minimal, counter-IED efforts persist.  Indeed, it appears to be one of the few areas in which Afghans are actively trying to emulate the Americans they are replacing.  The following article originally appeared in Strategy page.

In Afghanistan the government officially recognized their most effective EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal) technician; Staff Sergeant Abdul Ghafoor Afghan Yar. One of the earliest Afghans trained to do EOD work, Yar has managed to disable over 6,000 roadside bombs, mines and other IEDs (improvised explosive devices), most of them in the last three years and mainly in the most violent place in Afghanistan; Helmand province. For his efforts Yar was promoted to Senior Sergeant, the highest NCO rank. He now spends most of his time training new EOD technicians.

By mid-2013 Afghan security forces had largely taken over from Americans the EOD work. At that time about half the 300 Afghan police and soldiers killed each month were victims of the roadside bombs and mines the EOD teams don’t know about or don’t get to in time. NATO troops suffered a slightly lower rate of loss to these bombs, which indicates that the Afghans were able to be competitive in this area. The Afghan EOD troops have plenty of work. Up until 2014 most Afghan EOD teams were still accompanied by a few of their American counterparts, to advise, warn, and tutor but now most of the Afghan EODs are on their own.

By American standards the Afghans are quick learners but brash and sometimes undisciplined. But each time these bad habits get an Afghan EOD tech killed or hurt, the word gets around and attitudes are adjusted a bit. Many Afghans believed the American EOD men were some kind of magicians but the work is all about precision and discipline. To some Afghans that is still magic, but it’s a form of magic an Afghan can acquire.

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In 2013 the Afghans about 400 EOD technicians and that number has more than doubled since then. In 2013 the Afghan army and police were taking over security responsibility for all of Afghanistan, and currently all but the most violent areas in the south and east were protected by Afghans. Thus Afghan EOD teams were taking care of most of the bombs. Afghanistan needed about a thousand of these specialists to replace the departed American and NATO EOD specialists. In 2013, two or three bombs went off each day and killed three or four Afghans on average. Since then the number of IEDs used has increased.

By 2014 NATO had set up an EOD school staffed with 190 EOD experts and provided 19 different courses. Much of this training prepares soldiers and police to better spot bombs and call in EOD to deal with it. The EOD training is long (eight months) and arduous because the work is dangerous. The casualty rate is higher than being in the infantry but the pay is better and you get a lot of respect, which is a big deal in Afghanistan. The danger is not a totally negative thing because EOD always attracted the adrenaline junkies, who were skilled and disciplined enough to get through the training.

The Afghans have adopted the American attitude that only the best recruits will do and that the skills must be mastered before the new EOD techs are turned loose on the real thing. Trainees take quickly to this arrangement and all the details (of different kinds of bombs) and equipment (robots, sensor, and the full body protective suit) the job involves. Many of the new Afghan EODs already have experience working on the demining teams that have been clearing Afghanistan of all the mines and old munitions left behind by the Russians in the 1980s.

One downside of the American approach to EOD is the use of a lot of expensive equipment (special bomb suits, robots, jammers, and sensors). While the U.S. will leave a lot of this stuff behind, the Afghans are worried about keeping it maintained.

Android Tablet Opportunities for VARS/Resellers

BlogArtAMREL is providing unprecedented opportunities for VARs and resellers to distribute Flexpedient® AT80 rugged, Android tablets.

“This is a big deal,” declared Javier Camarillo, AMREL’s Senior Application Engineer. “We have structured the reseller program to make it as easy and profitable as possible.”

Unlike many reseller agreements, there is no required minimum order, and no complex legal agreements.

“We keep it dead simple,” he explained. “The typical reseller should be pleased with the no-hassle arrangement as well as the healthy profit margin.”

The Flexpedient® Android AT80 tablet was designed to appeal to the typical end-user. Lightweight and boasting the popular Android operating system, it has demonstrated an appeal beyond the usual rugged markets.

“Typically, only the military and First Responders buy rugged computers, which are more durable than commercial systems,” explained Mr. Camarillo. “Recently both consumers and enterprises have expressed interested in rugged systems.  In the long run, ruggedness saves money due to reduced repair, lost work, and replacement costs.”

“We have received inquiries from scientists who want them for collecting field data in remote locations,” stated Mr.  Camarillo. “Folks want it for aviation applications. Oil & Gas companies like its impressive IP 67 rating, as well as its lightweight mobility.

“Since it is easily modified, product developers have been calling us. A major league baseball club has bought the biometric version to help manage events at their park. This is a great opportunity for an aggressive reseller.

“One reseller described us as the Humvee of rugged tablets, because we are transferring military products to the industrial and commercial markets. Just like the Humvee, we are offering Flexpedient® AT80 rugged tablets in a variety of colors. We also offer engraved custom logos for companies interested in promoting their brand.”

Standard features include Android 4.3 (Jelly Bean), 8” 10-point multi-touch capacitive touchscreen display, front/back 5 MP cameras, 802.11 b/g/n, GPS, Bluetooth®.

To learn about the Flexpedient ® AT80 and VARs/reseller program,

contact Javier Camaillo at: (800) 882-6735  or javierc@amrel.com

Duffelblog: Satire or Truth?


The wonderful Duffelblog website specializes in military humor, usually from an insider’s perspective. I find the articles sharp, funny, and often revealing about what’s going on in today’s military.

The only problem is that the satirical stories are often indistinguishable from reality. For example, the supposedly funny headline Pentagon to Rename Confederate Bases for Army Values sounds totally plausible.  Another example is reprinted below from the Duffleblog website. You tell me: satire or truth?

New Battle Command Network Offers Unprecedented Micromanagement Opportunities

satire or truthFORT LEAVENWORTH, Kan. — The U.S. Army unveiled its latest digital command and control system, allowing commanders at higher echelons to make decisions at increasingly lower levels of responsibility.

“We hear all this talk about Carl von Clausewitz and ’empowering subordinates’ in ARDP 3-0″ said Brig. Gen. William Burleson, Commander of the Mission Command Center of Excellence, referring to the Prussian officer’s influence on the Army’s latest operations manual. “But what I think we’re forgetting is that Clausewitz never said anything about empowering subordinates. The guy was actually a huge micromanager. With this new battle command network, we can micromange our troops in ways Clausewitz never dreamed of.”

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Officials at the Mission Command Center of Excellence demonstrated how commanders could monitor whether or not soldiers were wearing reflector belts through an “exquisite” computer network linked to imagery from surveillance drones. Other unique features allow generals to examine down to the individual soldier level, such as whether or not they had complied with mandatory Consideration Of Others (CO2) training.

Burleson added, “Leadership is based on mutual trust, and if you can’t trust us generals to make decisions, honestly, who can you trust?”

Army officials also noted that, by concentrating on mundane details like individual soldier equipment and company-level PT formations, senior Army leaders were freed from messy, time-consuming issues like budgeting, force levels, and formulating a clear exit strategy from Afghanistan.

Gen. Ray Odierno, the Army Chief of Staff, praised the new system.

“When I was a lieutenant — back before email — I could plan and execute an entire M-16 range by myself,” Odierno said. “But thanks to the advent of email in the 1980s, I had the ability to plan and approve the same M-16 range as a company commander. Now, thanks to our battle command networks, I can schedule, arrange, plan, and approve an entire M-16 range myself.”

“The great part about modern technology is that it allows us generals to re-live our glory days as 22-year old lieutenants.”

Are soldiers turning into police? An informal conversation

Sometimes the best way to learn about a subject is just to listen to a bunch of well-informed people sit around and casually discuss it. This is the basis of AMREL’s Rugged Radio Podcast, in which we talk about the so-called “militarization of police.”

William M. Arkin, writing in Gawker, has turned this controversy on its head by contending that soldiers are becoming more like police. His article is worth reading in full and you can access it here.

Arkin cites the rise of biometrics enabled intelligence as well as forensics enabled intelligence as evidence of how soldiers are adopting police tactics.  For reasons unclear to me, he writes that counter-IED efforts are also police-type activities. He ends his post with the dramatic, if somewhat ominous, “The world has become a crime scene.”

I was curious what AMREL’s local military experts thought about this article. So I sought the opinion of Rob Culver, Director of Program Management for AMREL.  A former U.S. Army Special Forces soldier (AKA Green Beret), he has 23 years of experience in the Army.

Rather than describe his reaction, I’ll just let you read it in a slightly edited form:

“This is the most ****** up article I’ve read in a while.

“Arkin is skilled at weaving words to create the semblance of a pattern that does not exist.

“He goes from the assumption that ‘forensics is a police-only tool to the conclusion that the ‘world has become a crime scene.’  Catchy.   What the hell does that mean anyway?

“What he describes as forensics can also be termed Intelligence Preparation of the Battlefield (IPB).  In the conduct of IPB, you evaluate the terrain.  Slow go/no go terrain.  Swamps, rivers, bridges, mountains, open spaces.   You also evaluate population density and characteristics, i.e. who supports U.S. activities versus those who oppose us. Also, you evaluate ever increasingly the more complicated relationships such as Sunnis and Shias and Kurds etc…   Frenemies.   It gets complicated.  But, it has always been part of military training and operations.

“When the Indian scout jumps off his horse and examines the hoof tracks and droppings in the trail, he can tell how long ago the enemy was there,  how many, how heavy, the condition of the horses as well as what the horses have been eating.  Using his special Indian scout database (all that information stuck in his brain by his elders, training, and experience), he determines where the closest food source is for what the horses have been eating, and…. abracadabra – forensics! It has been a part of warfare since a patrol from one tribe started tracking a raiding party from another tribe.

“As for biometrics, it has always been part of military operations and population and movement control. Special Forces teams in Vietnam used fingerprints identification to ensure they were not double paying local guerrilla forces (Montagnards, etc.).The difference is instead of using our eyeballs to observe and measure, we have high tech gadgets. Still does not make it police work.

“Everything Arkin refers to can be found in the ‘Small Wars Manual: United States Marine Corps 1940.’  Yep. That is pre WW II. The only difference is the technology and terminology.

“For some reason Arkin states:  ‘The Navy, always the single manager for explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) technology, which includes technical exploitation of recovered explosives, explosive devices, and other explosive hazards, is more heavily involved in weapons technical intelligence and exploitation than ever before.’

“To which I reply, yes. IEDs are an explosive hazard and in the past decade posed a greater threat to our forces than previously. What is your point William?  How is protecting military forces and local populations during operations NOT a military responsibility?

“Arkin also states ‘Because, ironically, if military’s role is merely collecting evidence, then the fundamental post-9/11 talking point that terrorism is not a law enforcement matter needs to be revised.’ This premise is so flawed; I gag and do not know where to begin.  If you think, all our military is doing, is collecting evidence these days… I don’t even know what world you inhabit.

“Also, ‘…as if the experiences of the past 14 years governs or should govern how the United States forms, trains and equips its military.’   Why yes it should, William. Along with, and in context with our previous 200 years of warfare.  Or, Mr. Arkin, do you suggest we ignore the lessons learned of the past 14 years of conflict?   Again, this article is so flawed from the very beginning of its premise; I do not know where to start.

“In this article, Arkin referenced his other article Improvised Explosive Devices Are Reducing Our Freedoms. From that I found this excerpt.  ‘But now wherever and whomever the perpetrator, ‘bomb’ has been rebranded as IED and turned into a supposed tool and act of terror.’

“Yes William, IED is a newer and more accurate description of some types of bombs. For those who have driven through an IED ambush, there is no doubt that an IED is a ‘tool and act of terror.’  Nothing ‘supposed about it.

“Arkin, you are wrong.”

For those who don’t know Rob, he is a pretty easy going guy, so his strongly worded response was a bit of a surprise. I found some of Rob’s points convincing, but I think he may be missing the bigger picture. My reply to him:

“I think you may be right on the money on the specifics, but not the overall point. Sure identifying the enemy and collecting intelligence have always been traditional activities in war. While military operations have always involved elements of policing, haven’t policing missions overwhelmed what has been regarded as traditional military actions? Isn’t this a natural consequence of asymmetric warfare?

“Seems to me that at the beginning of the Iraq/Afghanistan mess, I heard more than one brass hat complaining that the military was doing a job it wasn’t trained for.  In other words, we know how to take out tank formations and infantry in trenches, but how are we supposed to patrol neighborhoods?

“When I lived in Israel, I heard this argument a lot.  The military was worried that their decades-long mission of patrolling the disputed territories was eroding their abilities to fight a traditional war. Israel’s less-than-stellar performance during the Second Lebanon War seemed, to many, to reinforce this fear (Personally, I blame the Lebanon fiasco on staggeringly incompetent civilian leadership).

“You are right that stuff like biometrics and ISR have always been the province of the military.  But the missions have changed.  Most of the wars fought post-World War II have not been World War II style wars.  The only one I can think of was the First Gulf War.  That war was a cakewalk, because our military was designed to fight it.  Everything else has been a problem, and despite everyone’s efforts, it doesn’t seem like we have figured out a solution.

“Three other points:

  1. In the wake of Ferguson there’s has been a lot of talk about the militarization of police.  I read comments in news articles by veterans stating they would never act as the police in Ferguson do.  Trained in counter insurgency, soldiers know better than to point automatic weapons at peaceful demonstrators. Furthermore, the veterans thought the police were wildly over armored and over armed for their mission. Also, soldiers look for ways to deescalate a situation, something some cops obviously haven’t learned. As I have written before, I think the problem is that the police are not militarized enough.
  2. 9/11 was in some ways the beginning of the ‘War on terror.’ The NYPD declared the ruins of the World Trade Center a ‘crime scene,’ and repeatedly reminded everyone about this. Indeed, the ‘world is a crime scene.’
  3. The article mentioned the old argument ‘Is the terrorism a criminal or a military problem?’ It’s a military problem when we want to use the military. It’s a criminal problem when we want to ignore the military code of justice (Sorry Red Cross, no prisoners of war here!). It’s a military problem when we want to ignore the constitutional rights of accused criminals. Those special courts in Guantanamo are a travesty and ineffectual as well. US prosecutors have had a better success record in regular courts.

“As I wrote above, I agree with your criticisms about the article, but I think his overall point may be valid.”

Rob wrote back:

“You might be right.  You do make your points.   Arkin, tho’, has a track record.

“We got fat and lazy.  The only war we (The Military) were gearing up and training for, involved the godless communist hordes roaring across the Fulda Gap, where we would stop them, standing toe-to-toe, trading tactical nuke for tactical nuke.  Thank God that didn’t happen.  But it was easy on the military mind. Might and Right.

“But where do these wars fit in? Barbary Wars, the Banana Wars, Spanish–American War, Philippine–American War, Moro Rebellion, Boxer Rebellion, Poncho Villa Expedition, etc.

“I guess you have to start with a definition of traditional military actions, which means ensuring we differentiate between the mission of the infantry and the mission of our nation’s military. I would argue that our nation’s military is a tool with applications far beyond ‘close with and destroy the enemy.’

“The US Military is conducting joint airborne operations with Latvian forces this week.  Just a training exercise.  But why?  To get better at jumping?   Or does it have something to do with containing Russia?

“Yeah, it is a lot simpler when the bad guys wear bad-guy uniforms and the good guys wear US uniforms and the civilians live somewhere completely ‘not here.’  But that nostalgia is based on fantasy.  It never has been that way. During World War II in Europe, homes were bombed and civilian lives were shattered. Crime was rampant.

“War has never been simple. It has always been messy. And there is always some ***** that thinks we should ‘kill them all and let God sort them out’ or ‘bomb them back to the Stone Age.’ Anything less is ‘not our job.’  But despite TV, movies, and brass-hatted jack assess, that has never been ‘The Mission’.

“Is terrorism a crime or an act of war?  I think, in general, what we frequently call domestic terrorism should be treated as a crime. Terrorism can be a tool of criminals such as drug cartels and mafias, as well as military. Terrorism on US Soil conducted by outside elements is war. Terror conducted by US Citizens, overseas, against US asset is war. Was Johnny Walker Lindh a criminal or an enemy combatant?  We already know he is a dumbass.   I say ‘enemy combatant.’ I don’t think he belongs in a penitentiary; he belongs in a POW camp.  Nor do I think he deserved a civilian trial.”

I’ll let Rob get the last word (for now).  What do you think? Have the military’s missions become mere policing? Is terrorism a legal or military problem? Send your opinion to editor@amrel.com

 The opinions discussed in this article do not necessarily reflect those of AMREL, its employees, clients or partners.

US military options for Iran’s nuclear program

As I write this post, nuclear negotiations with Iran are nearing a conclusion. I have no idea whether a deal will successfully be made or not.

During the heated debate about the wisdom of a negotiated settlement, I’ve noticed an almost complete lack of informed opinion about military options. I have a nagging suspicion that few involved in this controversy have actually thought through what military strikes would look like.

One group of people who have thoroughly examined this issue is the Center for Strategic & International Studies (CSIS). A well-respected Washington DC think tank, they have published Analyzing the Impact of Preventive Strikes Against Iran’s Nuclear Facilities.”

CSIS’s comprehensive analysis contains highly detailed scenarios of military actions against Iran and their aftermath. The report is a bit dated (2012), but it’s the best analysis that I have encountered. You can download or read it here.

In brief, CSIS is not enthusiastic about using military strikes to destroy Iran’s nuclear capabilities. The three big lessons I draw from the report are:

  1. Only the US can use military force to significantly hinder the Iranian nuclear program. Israel does not have and never has had the capability to do so.
  2. The most plausible military actions against Iran are unlikely to affect its nuclear program for more than a few years.
  3. Even limited military actions could lead to severe consequences for virtually the entire world. There is no way of estimating accurately the full scale of these consequences.

One person whose views fueled CSIS skepticism is the legendary General James Mattis.  You can read his opinion here.

Some of you might dispute the report’s conclusions. Whether or not you agree with CSIS, powerful people take this sort of analysis seriously, and plan accordingly. I strongly recommend you at least take at least a brief look at the entire report.