Personal and academic blog. Explores the borderlands between rhetoric, politics and intelligence.


Let the students pull the cart

During my time as a graduate student at both King's College London and the University of Copenhagen, I always was a bit puzzled why established academians wouldn't utilise the vast resource of student brainpower and work-eagerness that was tappable, right at their feet.

Usually, when you are a student, you choose courses on what you think is either a)interesting or b) can be beneficial to your future. This in turn means that in institutions with a high number of focused and bright students (KCL fitting the description best of the institutions I frequented), you will have a mass of devoted brains gathering around a subject that the professor is often himself deeply interested in.

Why not, more often, solicit papers to some or all of the students, to further your own research? Why not put a class of eager students in front of your own cart and let them pull you a bit, while showing them that their work is used for something other than just grading, and then - degrading in your basement till you have to move house at some point.

The Strauss Center at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs has done just that. Putting a number of MA students in a class and letting them research for an excellent report on the Hormuz Strait and it's strategic implications for oil flows out of the Gulf.

As a general introduction, with spats of in-depth analysis - it is a perfect example of open source collaboration. If I ever get a fat university position, I'd like to work with students in this way.

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Navies for all...activists

Navies have long been the very symbol of why it takes a nation-state to go to war. Traditionally, the logistics and manpower involved, as well as the more recent emphasis on ship-shore interface takes a heavy wallet. Furthermore, the strategy of sea-power is very much based on you protecting your sea lanes of communication or disrupting other states'. Clearly, any insurgency group or sub-state actor that wanted a punch for their pennies, would go for an army.

Or would they? Just as the Airforce's monopoly has been broken by fx LTTE's airforce and homemade UAV's, there are actually examples of sub-state groups that builds up a navy, when their objectives are at sea. LTTE is another good example, but this interesting article on Sea Shepherd from The New Yorker tells how activists were able to field a two-ship fleet with a helicopter to attack whalers in the Antarctic waters.

In the total opposite direction:

Sweden plans for a "old new" SIGINT ship - demonstrating classic nation-state capability, especially one of a neutral, self-dependent state that has to rely on its own intelligence in all aspects. Sweden has long been known for their strong SIGINT capabilities. As I came across once doing research, Denmark should actually also be able to send a SIGINT capable ship to sea (in the form of a STANDARD-FLEX type Flyvefisken class patrol-craft, equipped with the one available SIGINT/ELINT container), but I don't know if it ever happens.

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Nerding the Chinese subs to the surface

Over at Arms Control Wonk there is an intensely interesting post, dissecting the Chinese naval strategy for building missile-armed submarines (SSBNs) for nuclear deterrence against the US and Russia. Jeffrey Lewis, owner, ask the interesting question How Capable is the 094? as a part of an ongoing series on the Chinese submarine programme. Analysing his way through open source information on the subs, he draws a number of very interesting conclusions about how those subs can actually operate, how their patrol patterns would be, what targets they are intended for and so on.

But it gets really interesting when his thoughts are garnished by knowledgeable bloggers and geeks that contradict, support and all in all enlarges his thoughts.

This is a brilliant example of grassroot, web 2.0 technology driven Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) - and I love it.

Perhaps my knees gets wobbly over this sub dissection as I am myself nurture a nerdish complextion towards submarines and the strategic pictures they paint. I recently stubled over the ultimate naval strategy game package, consisting games such as Fleet Command, Sub Command and Dangerous Waters. These games are a million kilometres away from other computer games and they throw mud in the face of every decent 3D engineer who has toiled away to harness the fantastic powers of modern computers. They run in 3D, agreed, but you can tell how this is mostly an annoyance, a distraction from what the developers Sonalyst (and their nerdish constituency) really care about: Sensors. Instead of blazing around in 3D environments in a hectic tempo like any normal red-blooded computergame, you sit for hours in front of a 2D (albeit very realistic) depiction of a sonar waterfall. You check your various inputs, deploy towed arrays, drop sonarbuoys, listen, wait and listen some more. Even with time-acceleration it is ridiculous. Suddenly you get a confirmed contact and have those five minutes of nerve-riddled action. There is no way of smarting over that you enjoy games like these, but to anyone with the inclination, they prove a very addictive pass time.

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Diesel Subs are back, And you know they can never be wack

With the wit of the Fat Boys, the Diesel Subs are back. A lot of Danish Naval officers were cross when the Danish submarines were phased out and the obligation to buy the new Scandinavian Viking Sub project were scrapped. They are probably not gonna be happier when they read this article in the Defense Technology International, detailing how Diesel Subs are back in vogue, with a new focus on littoral warfare.

A thing that was discussed very much when the Danish subs were phased out, was that the loss of experience would be the biggest loss. If this trend continues, the Army/Navy high command and the politicians might have a chance to jump right back into the diesel sub before all the old submariners are retired.



Asia vs. Europe at sea

Last week Paul Kennedy wrote an interesting little blurp in the International Herald Tribune. It poses as a historical look on the rise and fall of navies, but is basically just the latest in a recent spur of opinion on the growing inconsistency between Asian/European naval development - as the nod to Gibson's classical book on the fall of the Roman Empire reveals.

While the increasing tension over sea-lanes, oil supplies, fishing rights etc. is making a lot of countries, with China at the fore, increase their naval capabilities, European countries (including Denmark, one should add) decreases their navies. The most eye-catching example is Great Britain, who has just been overtaken by France for the first time in 250 years when it comes to the number of major surface combatants.

The rise and fall of navies - International Herald Tribune



US Coast Guard stays ashore

When talking about naval capabilities, you usually differ between brown-water and blue-water capabilities. Brown water is a littoral navy, staying close to the coast, such as the Chinese or the Danish, whereas a blue water capable navy can roam the high seas for months, with whatever that takes of logistics, systems and manpower.

But time is running from the brown water navy. As globalisation means that conflicts will probably move away from the vicinity of the nation state and out into the rim of the sphere of influence. Both China and Denmark has taken steps to adjust to this, albeit in very different scales and ways.

The US Coast Guard has traditionally been the US Brown Water Navy, doing inspections and rescue missions close to home. But they have also seen the need of going blue, starting a large revision programme called Deepwater. However, now the money falters, they have outsourced the development to large corporations and things are generally coming to a halt, with battles in congress.



Chinese Carrier Killers

More on the Chinese naval development: Janes reports that the Chinese ups their missile capabilities, especially the anti-shipping part, that has long had a central role in the deterrence strategy towards Taiwan.

Not only does China want a carrier of some sort, they also want to be able to sink or damage the American carriers. This is a tough challenge that the russians also pondered - they came up with a "swarming" tactics, firing several tens or hundreds of cruise missiles from all angles at the same time, to overwhelm the anti-missile guns.

Now the Chinese have thought up a new concept, using a tactical ballistic missile (a rocket that launches vertically, but has less range than an intercontinental missile, such as those used for nuclear warheads) to hit carriers:

In Chinese terms, this is a Shashaojian - the assassin's mace - a 'silver bullet' weapon that would, literally, drop from the clear blue sky. A 2004 report by the US Office of Naval Intelligence made it plain that China was developing the capability to use its DF-21 tactical ballistic missiles (TBMs)against targets at sea. The DF-21 carries a single warhead of about 500/600 kg over a distance of 1,500 km to 2,000 km, or more. Designed as a nuclear delivery system, the DF-21 can also be fitted with a conventional payload. If made to work, such a weapon would be a 'carrier killer' without equal.



Chinese carrier development

One of my stranger fascinations is with Chinese naval developments. With an expanding economy and a largely brown-water navy (one that sails close to the coast), the Chinese will have to make a number of heavy decisions. Especially considering that they have the unsolved problem of Taiwan sitting right across the strait. I guess this is why there is such an attraction to following the Chinese People Liberation Army's Navy from the armchair.

The US Naval War College Review, Autumn 2006, Vol. 59, No. 4 brings an interesting and comprehensive article on the Chinese considerations over whether to get a carrier force, a must if you really want global, blue-water capabilities.