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National Security

Spy satellite NROL-32 logo and purpose

The US launched NROL-32the largest satellite” in the world the other day but won’t tell you what it is going to be used for. However, if you are curious, you can find the logo / patch online.

In case you are wondering, Annuit Coeptis (I can’t type the exact characters) is roughly translated as “Providence favors our undertakings” or “Providence has favored our undertakings.” Just to give a little Masonic twist onto the NRO’s satellite mission (yes, these are the same words that are over the pyramid on the US dollar bill).

So what does NROL-32 do? Probably electronic eavesdropping. The size is mammoth, rivaling the ISS Space Station so amateur satellite trackers will likely be able to see it:

“I believe the payload is the fifth in the series of what we call Mentor spacecraft, a.k.a. Advanced Orion, which gather signals intelligence from inclined geosynchronous orbits. They are among the largest satellites ever deployed,” said Ted Molczan, a respected sky-watcher who keeps tabs on orbiting spacecraft.

Destined for geosynchronous orbit 22,300 miles above the planet, this new spacecraft supposedly will unfurl an extremely lightweight but gigantically huge umbrella-like antenna to overhear enemy communications and aid U.S. intelligence.

Keep watching the Skies!

Hillary Clinton’s mercenary troops set for action in Iraq

Hillary's Air Force

Ok, so that’s a bit of a scare headline, but I was struck by this story in the New York Times for two reasons.  First, it does report that the last US combat troops have left Iraq, but second, it mentions that the US State Department is going to be doubling their security contractors (upto nearly 7,000) and these civilians will be providing security, escort duty, quick reactions forces, even flying drones over Iraq.


Just yesterday I wrote about the possible inefficiency in using US Navy ships in humanitarian efforts, and today I’ve got a bit of the opposite–using civilian military forces in place of the Army.

To move around Iraq without United States troops, the State Department plans to acquire 60 mine-resistant, ambush-protected vehicles, called MRAPs, from the Pentagon; expand its inventory of armored cars to 1,320; and create a mini-air fleet by buying three planes to add to its lone aircraft. Its helicopter fleet, which will be piloted by contractors, will grow to 29 choppers from 17.

The department’s plans to rely on 6,000 to 7,000 security contractors, who are also expected to form “quick reaction forces” to rescue civilians in trouble, is a sensitive issue, given Iraqi fury about shootings of civilians by American private guards in recent years. Administration officials said that security contractors would have no special immunity and would be required to register with the Iraqi government. In addition, one of the State Department’s regional security officers, agents who oversee security at diplomatic outposts, will be required to approve and accompany every civilian convoy, providing additional oversight.

Wow, really sounds like the kind of job the military might excel at don’t you think?

There is a reason–plenty of reasons.  Obama’s team can say “we’re out of Iraq” with shades of the “Mission Accomplished” banner far from their memories (deja vu?) and the Iraqi ‘government’ for lack of a better word can says ‘the US is out of Iraq’.  Of course the reality on the ground is probably a shade different than those two stories that both governments want to start spinning.  There are still 50,000 advisors in country, and I wouldn’t be surprised if there are more than a few special operations teams looking for this guy or that (and not afraid to fire a weapon if it comes to that).

Something tells me there are a few asterisks to the story of “the last combat troops leaving” that we haven’t heard just yet.

The Peace Corps needs a Navy

Floods in Pakistan are a growing problem for the governments not only in Islamabad but in the US as well. The demand for helicopters to ferry supplies and rescue workers is being shouted from those suffering on the ground, and the radicals are certainly adding fuel to the fire by spreading the idea “they can use the helicopters to attack us but not save us?” Needless to say, it’s getting some traction. The US dispatched 6 desperately needed helicopters from combat operations in Afghanistan, but with the arrival of the USS Peleliu those six will return to be replaced by 19 USMC helos (eventhough, in an unrelated incident, the captain of the Peleliu was relieved of command last weekend).

Last year the disaster was in Haiti, and before then we had earthquakes and tsunamis all of which required a significant deployment of US combat capabilities in a humanitarian effort.  Sometimes these come at a cost, such as when our aircraft carriers were working with the Indonesian tsunami and we had to offload all the combat aircraft (carrier pilots need to land on a carrier every 21 days to maintain proficiency, which was nearly impossible with all the relief operations ongoing on the deck and the refusals of local governments for military aircraft to operate in their airspace).

While the military does a wonderful job assisting in humanitarian efforts, it’s sometimes like calling the fire department to rescue a cat from a tree.  Is the military the most efficient resource we can send to a humanitarian crisis?  Is there a better suited federal agency or group that could provide necessary assistance?

Perhaps it is time for the Peace Corps to develop a Navy.

Taking a few amphibious assault vessels out of the reserve fleets and turning them over to the Peace Corps might be an interesting approach.  Staffed with Peace Corps volunteers, professional (contract) pilots, and merchant mariners, we could develop a small fleet of emergency assistance vessels that would patrol the worlds oceans providing medical assistance to impoverished lands and responding to natural disasters with their own fleet of specially suited rescue and logistics helicopters.  Without the ‘US Military’ label that goes on some operations, countries might be more willing to accept assistance.  Take the Chinese earthquake in Sichaun in 2008.  Existing Chinese military units were vastly overstretched, but national pride prevented initial requests for international assistance.  Had an amphibious ‘rescue’ vessel been offshore or in Hong Kong the response from the US could have been non-militaristic and immediate.

Of course given the budget deficits and the fact that humanitarian dollars flowing to the Pentagon help to offset some of the operational expenses of the forces, I don’t foresee this happening anytime soon.  C’est la vie.

Private Thomas D. Costello, laid to rest in Arlington after 91 years in the French countryside

Interesting story in today’s Washington Post about a World War I doughboy who was fell in action but was listed as MIA for the last nine decades. Private Thomas D. Costello of New York City was killed in action in France near a place called Bois de Bonvaux. His remains were located by a private MIA foundation who searches in France for the missing. As chance would have it, when they found the remains there was an official US government MIA team in the area looking for a missing in action soldier from a World War II tank engagement, so they were able to bring their high tech sensors and skills into recovering Private Costello.

His descendants attended the funeral, though they did not even know the story of him being missing. Said his relative (Frisbie):

…had no idea he was a relative until he was contacted about two years ago by a Pentagon genealogist, said he believes that Costello was his great-great uncle. But the distance of the connection “doesn’t matter,” Frisbie said. “He’s a fallen soldier, and if I can honor him, that’s great.”

The French embassy also sent their military attache to attend the funeral and say thank you on behalf of the French people. You can see the video below.

The US spends nearly $105 million a year on finding missing troops. The CNN article on this story also has some interesting quotes from the family.

The barrio Saint–a Priest with salty language trying to connect to Mexican gang members.

Interesting story in the NY Times today about a priest trying to make inroads in the gang community in Mexico City. It’s a rough task, preaching to those who have faced life and death and the harsh reality of the barrio on a daily basis. It’s probably not an easier as many of these kids are addicted to sniffing glue, literally walking into the church with glue in their hands and sniffing away.

Combat Air Patrol at a Space Shuttle Launch

From the US Air Force photo archives.

4th FW Strike Eagles assist shuttle launch

Lt. Col. Gabriel Green and Capt. Zachary Bartoe patrol the airspace in an F-15E Strike Eagle as the Space Shuttle Atlantis launches May 14, 2010, at Kennedy Space Center, Fla. Colonel Green is the 333rd Fighter Squadron commander and Captain Bartoe is a 333rd FS weapons system officer. Both aircrew members are assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base, N.C.

Somali pirates, in a fit of stupidity, attack HNLMS Tromp, a Dutch warship.

So a few months back I was walking through Baltimore and came across what you see in the photo below. Although I was never in the Navy and have been known to make some mistakes, I was pretty certain that what I was looking at was a warship, a fact confirmed after I walked to the bow and saw the large deck gun that you can see in the second photo below.

Now the reason I mention all this is because what was obvious to me and my 3 year old son, namely that this was a warship, is apparently beyond the capabilities of a Somali pirate, a few of whom decided to launch a raid on the HNLMS Tromp, a Dutch frigate on anti-piracy patrols off of Somalia.

Why are there so many idiots around the world.

This is not a cargo vessel


This is not a cargo vessel from this view either.

The Greatest Raid of All Time–St. Nazaire in 1942

No, I haven’t heard of it either.  I was flipping around Youtube watching some Top Gear clips when I happened to see a Jeremy Clarkson video of a documentary called “The Greatest Raid”.  I started watching, and boy was I glad I did.

The Greatest Raid was essentially a suicide mission of British Commandos on the docks at St. Nazaire along the Atlantic coast of France in 1942.  Designed to knock out a drydock facility for the German battleship Tirpitz the raid played an important role in ensuring the Atlantic convoys continued to feed England in the dark days following the Battle of Britain.  Loaded aboard an old US destroyer and tiny patrol boats, the Commandos made their way up an estuary to the heavily defended docks.

It’s all up on Youtube, and it’s a pretty amazing story worth 45 minutes of your life.

Is the USNS MERCY being readied for Haiti deployment? Drydocking cancelled?

Dry dock cancelled? Haiti mission imminent?

After reading this blog post calling for the USNS Mercy to be activated and deployed to Haiti, I found some interesting tidbits here on a San Francisco bloggers page:  Work on the USNS Mercy, scheduled for drydock work in San Francisco, may have been cancelled and the workers at the drydock laid off.  A possible deployment to Haiti was cited as the reason.  The USNS MERCY was in drydock in Mission Bay area of San Francisco but the workers were told they were laid off until further notice.

Trying to find more than just a blog post to confirm that.

Here was the original dry docking proposal.

USNS Comfort bloggers and Twitter messages

I’m starting to compile a list of bloggers and twitterer’s on board the USNS Comfort.

USNS Comfort Twitter Account


HaitiComfort (official blog)

Comfort XO

US Naval Institute (the publishing arm for many Naval Press books)

Baltimore Sun on-board reporter

more coming…

p.s. Calls are now being made for the West Coast Hospital Ship, the USNS MERCY, to be activated and sent to Haiti, so great is the need and so much stress being put on the COMFORT.

USNS COMFORT treats first patients from Haiti earthquake

The USNS COMFORT'S first patient gets treatment.

Although not technically ‘there’ yet the Comfort is now within helicopter range of Haiti and has started taking in some patients from the earthquake, according to various press sources.  Good timing too as there has just been another after-shock.

The Baltimore Sun is on board and reports that the entire ship went through an Abandon Ship drill just moments before the first helicopters brought in a 20 year old male with spine problems and a 6 year old boy.

The COMFORT’s Medivac Helos will be in operation today starting at 7:00 am EST.  The crew is still busy getting things ready, preparing for water rationing (to give more to patients) and to ‘hot rack’ the bunks to give more room for the wounded and a full crew.

With the addition of 350 medical and service personnel, who were expected to be in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, overnight and to begin arriving on the ship today, the Comfort will exceed its capacity of 1,200 crew members. Officers were making arrangements for crew members to share berths, a practice known as “hot-racking,” in which one person sleeps while another is on duty.

Air Force starts air drops into US-controlled Haitian LZs


Help from above.

Just a few days after the Defense Secretary said that air drops of relief supplies would lead to chaos and rioting, the Air Force has apparently changed their mind and launched their first parachute delivery of supplies into Haiti.  A C-17 from Nouth Carolina did a 7-hour mission to drop MREs and bottled water into an area controlled by US troops.  

Approximately 40 pallets per plane are dropped, and military officials are planning an additional 15 sorties for a total of 600 pallets in the next three days.  CBS News has video of the airdrops.

Haiti airport capabilities and the complainers.

Roll on, Roll Off

Interesting tidbit here about the capabilities of Port au Prince airport.

Currently, we’re operating with a working maximum aircraft on the ground of one wide-body and five narrow-body aircraft. And the one wide-body is planned for two hours on the ground, and the five narrow-bodies are planned for one hour on the ground. We also have room for three smaller aircraft, and then we fit in as much as we can other aircraft that arrive that we have space for. Any aircraft that can taxi into the grass and get off the ramp that the big aircraft need to be on, we use that option.

There’s been the typical “it’s a disaster because I’m not there” claims from some aid agencies and amongst those in Europe.  Some counties have even sent large commercial aircraft, including a Chinese 747, a Dutch KC-10, an Iceland 757 and other civilian airliners to a tiny airstrip that basically has very limited loading and unloading facilities.  Other countries and aid agencies basically ignored ground controllers and crashed the line of planes, basically saying ‘we’re going to run out of fuel and crash if you don’t let us land’ thus creating even more chaos and confusion.

Cargo planes that require complicated loading and unloading trucks might not be the best option in these situations.  American C-130 and C-17 aircraft are accessible directly from the ground, no “lift trucks” needed to remove and equipment can be driven off by a forklift rather than slowly disembarked by complicated machinery.  Perhaps there is a need for standardizing the airlift requirements of the Haitian airlift.

For example, check out some of the guidelines that were used in the Berlin Airlift requirements:

In August, General William Tunner, a veteran of supply runs during World War II over the Hump (between India and China), arrived to direct and standardize operations to increase efficiency and safety. He discouraged flying heroics, saying that ” a successful airlift is about as glamorous as drops of water on a stone.” And the new flying regulations reflected this, leaving little room for error. Airplanes took off every three minutes, around the clock. They maintained that interval throughout the 170-mile (274-kilometers) flight, not veering an inch from the prescribed route, speed, or altitude. When they arrived in Berlin, they were allowed only one landing attempt. If they missed it, they had to transport the load back to base. When each plane landed in Berlin, the crew stayed in the plane: a snack bar on a wagon gave them food, and weathermen arrived in jeeps with weather updates. As soon as Germans unloaded the last bit of cargo, the plane would take off. Back at base, there was a 1-hour 40-minute turnaround allowed for ground crews to refuel, reload, do preflight preparations, and perform any required maintenance, which was considerable as the engines experienced rapid and excessive wear from the short flights. Tires also experienced extreme stress from the heavy loads and hard landings.

I wonder if turning Homestead ARB into a cargo redistribution center would be a better idea than having all manner of strange aircraft trying to fight their way into Port au Prince.  Have the planes of the world come to Homestead, consolidate their loads and cargos on easy to load and unload C-130s and C-17s, and then create an orderly and pattern-packed line of aircraft into and out of Haiti.

It’s just a matter of time before some Airbus breaks down in Haiti and requires a special part flown in from France.  If we are serious about an air bridge, maybe we should consider standard aircraft, standard loading / unloading requirements, and standard parts and repairs to keep the flow of aid moving.

Interesting end note:  the other international airport, Cap Haitien, may soon take more flights.