Echolocation Advances

Bat-bot boosts sonar research:

A robotic bat head that can emit and detect ultrasound in the band of frequencies used by the world’s bats will give echolocation research a huge boost.

"Whenever a robot team wants to build
an autonomous robot they look at sonar first, but they quickly run into
problems due to the simple nature of commercial sonar systems, and
switch to vision or laser-ranging. We hope that the research we can now
do with the robotic bat will lead to more sophisticated sonar systems
being used for robot navigation and other applications," he says.

One of the problems with remote sensing is identification. If accurate identification of an object is possible through redundant systems — visual and echolocation — robots may be more autonomous.

Quick Note: Linking Piracy and Terrorism

Concerns over pirates and terrorists forming partnerships are receiving more attention. The International Herald Tribune reported today

special operations commandos and the marine police recovered a vessel early Tuesday that had disappeared and been reported hijacked nearly three years ago. After initially sailing on in defiance of orders to stop, the crew of 20 Chinese nationals aboard surrendered without a fight

This issue, along with other similar situations, have excerbated fears of insurers of increasingly hijackings. Are the insurers crying wolf or does intelligence indicate a  reasonable liklihood of a future terrorist connection? Probably both.

Quick Note: Chinese Purchase Canadian Oil Co

Following their failed bid to acquire UNOCAL, China has successfully secured oil near its borders by purchasing a Canadian-based firm for US$4.18 billion.

The nation’s largest oil and gas producer, China National Petroleum Corp (CNPC), yesterday reached an initial agreement with PetroKazakhstan Inc to buy the Canadian-registered company for US$4.18 billion, topping the bid from an Indian rival.

Industry analysts attributed the winning of CNPC’s bid for
PetroKazakhstan to China’s solid relationship with Kazakhstan, in
contrast to mounting concerns in the US that China’s growing economy
and energy demand may threaten its national security.

The potential for energy wars is heating up. Do we need more reason to accelerate independence from oil?

Quick Note: Private Robot Guard

In the age of remote cameras and U(C)AVs, now aJapanese house-sitter robot:

Roborior can function as interior decor, but also as a virtual guard dog that can sense break-ins using infrared sensors, notify homeowners by calling their cellular phones, and send the owner’s cell phone videos from its digital camera.

Commercial application of remote sensing brings peace of mind somebody/thing is watching the tatami.

Federal or Islamic United States of Iraq?

The politics of security in an area that has shattered as predictably as Iraq — yes, predictably if you look at the failure to plan for post-"major hostilities" and failures to hold the reconstruction effort (er, friends of the Administration) accountable — has now induced an artificial deadline to create a state similar to the US. How again did the US get to be the US and not these United States? It wasn’t overnight, and apparently the Administration is starting to realize this.

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If Iraq is flypaper, what does that make us?

So, these two flies are cruising around when they find an open window. Naturally, they go on in, because that’s what they do. Smelling something tasty, they land to check it out. They’ve landed on flypaper and can no longer go home, if they wanted to. Their days numbered, they ask why they did it and struggle to free themselves, fighting against the industrial society that is now holding them while they were trying to find a free bite of food, perhaps because the wild food is gone…

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Dual Use Skills

There must be concern about teaching (former) Afghan fighters how to get around some of the hightest mountains in the world better than they already can. This dual use technology, personal skill + equipment, is potentially a great recruiting tool. Transforming the Afghan economy from poppy farmers to tourist haven and economic cross roads is in the interest of most people, with the obvious exception of Taliban and other extremists.

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Remote Controlled Cars and Warfare

What do you get when you cross ingenuity with need? Cheap and effecitve solutions. The American soldier is well known for his (her) resourcefulness and using RC cars against IEDs is no exception:

young private…has one of those radio-controlled toy cars. When they find unidentifiable debris in the
road, E.S. sends out his little RC car and rams it. If it’s light enough to be moved or knocked over, it’s too light to be a bomb…

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The Net and Terrorists

The Washington Post published an update on al-Qaeda’s successful venture into the world of knowledge management (KM) and its child, Computer-based training (CBT). While many businesses in America look for obstacles when deploying effective KM solutions (refusing to see the cost benefit of an imperfect deployment over no deployment over the wrong deployment), these ad hoc "franchises" of AQ latch on with vim and vigor, exploring the various opportunities available in cyberspace.

al Qaeda has become the first guerrilla movement in history to migrate from physical space to cyberspace. With laptops and DVDs, in secret hideouts and at neighborhood Internet cafes, young code-writing jihadists have sought to replicate the training, communication, planning and preaching facilities they lost in Afghanistan with countless new locations on the Internet.

Flexible, anonymous, collaborative knowledge sharing environments is what the web does best. Without being bogged down by bureucratic infighting to create the best practices before deployment, AQ and its affiliated nodes learn by trial and error, developing best practices the old fashioned way.

While easily identifiable items in the WP article are the Computer Based Training (CBT) examples, the real underlying concern is the information and knowledge sharing to build a smarter enterprise. These practices must be met with the same in our matching and superceding efforts, as they increasingly are. Decades old infighting between intelligence services that have led to ossified barriers between knowledge stores, including antiquated information systems, must be torn down and replaced.

The FBI’s Virtual Case File system was a disaster, an expensive ($170m) and time-consuming Dilbert-esque failure. The new Sentinel system is not expected to be in-place until 2009. This is not to say we are failing at every effort, but critical knokwledge hubs are not being addressed quick enough. Designing the perfect system takes time, providing an open platform that may be imperfect allows for expansion to meet the needs that are really necessary and develop after design milestones.

Collaborative methodologies take hold when users understand, demand, are heard, and responded to. A flatter organization, like AQ, with its transforming entrepreneurs will continue to evolve into a more formidable enemy because of reduced bureaucratic drag.

CBT for Terrorists

Computer games are actively deployed in the training, debriefing, and counseling forces. The US, for example, is using computer-based training (CBT) in the form of a computer game to reduce post-traumatic stress disorder, PTSD. On the other hand, terrorists and insurgents (or freedom fighter, depending on whose side you sit) are using CBT too.

ABC News ran an item about Iraqi insurgents providing online sniper training. Knowledge sharing is what the internet is based on, as is filesharing. Defense and National Interest translated and posted the  powerpoints of training exercises


Other technology is of course used by the modern collaborative terrorist: CD and DVD media. MSNBC reported on this offline technology to share knowledge and lessons learned to improve future efforts. Included on this CD are instructions on

how to make anti-personnel mines, anti-tank grenades
and armor-piercing mines, along with the exact chemical formula to
create RDX — a high-powered explosive which could increase the
lethality of major attacks.

Chinese Peace Corps + Energy Exploitation

In the spirit of challenges of securing energy sources and "hearts and minds" comes an article in the People’s Daily Online:

The 12 young volunteers from places such as Beijing, Sichuan and Yunnanwere going to Ethiopia in Africa to begin a six-month service work in
methane exploitation, Chinese-language teaching, physical education,
health care and information technology.

This Chinese Peace Corps is now in competition to win the hearts and minds with a Peace Corps perceived to be co-opted by the Defense Department. The long term goal for China is clearly cultural and technological imperialism as they seek to recreate a multi-polar world.

From the recent UNOCAL take-over attempt by CNOOC to competition for African energy resources, the Ethiopian service project is one of the many subtle salvos a patient China will fire.

Electronic Extortion

I recently became hooked on the TV series 24. Unfortunately, through Netflix we were able to watch the three seasons prior to the one that just ended. The point is CTU’s (Counter Terrorism Unit) utilization of technology is impressive and indicative of where things can go. It also demonstrated the reliance on technology and also where things can go. Heavy reliance on technology for voting, combat, or security can easily lead to over-reliance. Once "over" happens, a weak link can be targeted.

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Stealth Ships

The deployment of stealth technology on the sea, while still far from mature, is the next logical step in the evolution of warfare. Anti-terrorist and anti-criminal law enforcement and littoral combat operations against new and varied enemies are bringing new demands on ship technology.

The Swedes, conscious of their reliance on naval operations, are developing the Visby. Besides its own sensor avoiding abilities, it is designed to utilize unmanned vehicles for remote sensing.

Energy Efficient Warriors

The debate is increasing over fuel demands on today’s high tech and gas hungry mobile military. The blurring of forward and rear areas has meant supply convoys hauling ammunition, spare parts, food, fuel, and other things are being hit hard. The largest component of these convoys is fuel. Fuel to power generators, trucks, tanks, and aircraft. Stepping around the question of increasing fuel efficiency of vehicles (<1mpg for M1A2 tanks?), what if soldiers had their own energy supplies? Hummers were hybrid?

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Alternative Taxonomy for PMCs?

R. Stanton Scott revisits Thomas Adams article in Parameters (Summer 1999) with his categorization of PMCs, but there is more to the taxonomy than services offered. In his foundational article, Adams describes three types of mercenaries.

Heavily weighted, the term of "mercenary" has come to be associated with Executive Outcomes and Sandline. Mercenaries are typically cast as individualistic, Rambo soldiers of fortune. With large corporations such as NorthrupGrumman (Vinnell) and CSC (DynCorp) behind some of the more prolific private military companies, another, more fluid taxonomy was required than Adams’ three baskets.

P.W. Singer, in Corporate Warriors, uses a spear analogy to describe how far or near the firms are from "implementation" in combat. Singer maintains the three general types of Adams with his own terms: Military Provider Firms, Military Consultant Firms, and Military Support Firms. His "tip of the spear" typology allows for granular shifting along an axis towards or away service offerings.

The singular x-axis plotting is inadequate, however. It ignore a substantial descriptor of the firms that I believe is crucial when understanding their participation in the state vs non-state structure: location of headquarters.

The institutionalized system of state and non-state relationships is interconnected with limitations on the civilian leadership of the private military company. The location of the HQ grants or prohibits legal action by legalist states, thereby promoting various actions by the principals of the PMC.

For example, an operation such as Tim Spicer’s Sandline (now defunct), based off-shore from the United Kingdom, provided relief from potential legal actions. When investigating Sandline in the Sri Leone affair, found that even if they could take action against his corporation, they were limited because of its location. (See Private Military Companies: Options for Regulations). This holds true when attempting to put pressure on the HQ host government (see Annex B of previous).

On the y-axis would be three marks, just like the x-axis. These three would indicate the nature of the state and indicate the personality of the firm. The first mark would be a Western industrialized state such as the United States, Britain, Germany, etc. These states have deeply ingrained civil-military relationships (or civil-society-military, but that’s a different discussion) and institutionalized legal and financial systems (sticks and carrots).

The second bucket would be weak states without the distinct civil-military relations and more permiable institutions. These would include Belarus, Israel, or others. Israel is an interesting inclusion mostly because of its military with too much control of the political process and willingness to provide services to those who will pay (also known as the "biting the hand that feds syndrome").

The last mark would be HQ’s in the outlaw states such as Afghanistan or North Korea. This is not to say NK has a PMC, but such a "corporate" entity would be by definition not independent and would be the tool of the state. These would either be better classified as pirates or state

This two dimensional plotting lends itself to the accountability question, to be discussed soon.

PMC publicity getting more negative

The friction between soldiers of the state and contract soldiers issimilar to that of information technology departments over
a decade ago. The difference between stuff of Dilbert cartoons and Marines vs Zapata Engineering is neither Dogbert nor Ratbert carry an M4.

Just as the airline industry was poaching US Air Force pilots in the seventies and eighties, the private military companies have been not so quietly doing the same today. From a USA Today article (courtesy

military explosives specialists can earn $250,000 a year or more
working for the private companies. In the military, an enlisted man
with 10 years’ experience can make more than $46,000.

The article goes further to mention the heat between contractors and soldiers working together. This problem is going to get worse before it gets better.