ded reckoning

The Militaristic, Environmental, Telecom blog that doesn't know where it's going

23 March 2005

NOx, SOx, Rocks, Hg and Hot Air

A new rule from EPA was implemented in March that will finally help clean up all the grandfathered coal-fired power plants that did not have to get refitted with pollution control equipment under the Clean Air Act. This is long overdue and though it won't stop people saying Bush is out to rape the environment, it is a clear case of a good cost-benefit study showing there was no reason these plants should not install the scrubbers and bag houses they need to reduce SOx, NOx, and rocks (particulates):

Under the rule, sulfur dioxide pollution is expected to decline by 73 percent over the next decade, compared with 2003 levels, EPA officials said. Oxides of nitrogen are expected to drop by 61 percent. All told, the EPA calculated, the rule will prevent 17,000 premature deaths; 1.7 million lost workdays; 500,000 lost school days; 22,000 non-fatal heart attacks; and 12,300 hospital admissions annually by 2015.
While these pollutants have been going down for decades (and Tim Blair has warned us against this evil reduction in dimming) , the old, large coal-fired units operated mostly by The Southern Company, AEP, and TVA, among others, are contributors way outside of their power production capabilities. The original grandfathering (look here for some good background, but beware, you never know if you are reading science or politics in these debates) of these plants probably made sense in the 1980s when we thought they'd get decommissioned over the next few decades.

Interestingly, the new rule coincides with a new rule on mercury pollution that will take emissions down from 48 tons per year to 23 tons in 2018. As most mercury pollution comes from burning coal, this reduction goes hand in glove with the emission controls applied to the coal plants. But according to the enviro lobby, that 52% decrease is not good enough, especially since a Harvard study says we could save thousands of babies by making greater reductions, and the new rules rely on using trading schemes.

Never say "market based" around the Big Green lobby because they will tell you Bush is purposely enriching his friends while poisoning your children, but here, the science and the economics just don't add up. It seems that most mercury poisoning comes from eating fish, ocean fish specifically. US power plants contribute only 1% of Mercury pollution in the world.

So, the Harvard study that was brutally suppressed by the Bushies (before showing up in the Washington Post), claims that reducing our 1% by much greater than half will save hundreds of thousands of babies whose mothers eat too much tuna. (For an interesting expose on the exposure science, go here, though again, these guys are probably just right wing hacks employed by the energy industry) But then again, back to the famous Harvard study, which you have to wonder about when the researcher who wrote it says this:

Hammitt acknowledged "wide uncertainty" over calculating the benefits. "It could be ten times bigger, or ten times smaller," he said. "Part of the science underlying the subject is just not solid enough to specify things really precisely."
So, ignoring Chinese and Russian, Indian and other coal burning plants which spread most of the other 99% of the mercury (mostly into the Pacific, from which we get most of our tuna), and forcing some expensive, unproven technology into US service when the money could be spent better elsewhere is what the best approach we can take. Makes sense to me, but then again, I support building a bunch of new safe nukes to reduce pollution.

15 March 2005

Out-contracting the Defense Contractors

There is a lot more activity going on in using commercial technology adapted to military needs now that strictly military development programs are so expensive and take so long to yeild results. While "COTS" Commercial-off-the-shelf is a '90s concept is is getting much more attention now that there is a war on.

Some lads at the Navy Postgraduate School in Monterray are using their heads incoming up with an innovative use of Wimax as a military communications technology. Their idea is particularly relevant given the problems JTRS is having and with the (overly hyped) focus on Network Centric Warfare.

Doucet said Redline, which supplied the gear Guice and Munoz used in field tests for their thesis, was interested in the DOD market and would not discourage possible licensing discussions to incorporate the company's 802.16 waveforms and MAC into JTRS.

Another program showing what can be done quickly is the Joint Network Node (JNN) being deployed in Iraq with 3rd ID. This replacement for the Mobile Subscriber Equipment (MSE) which, as the name suggests, is a deployable version of the GSM cellular standard that the Army uses (I never used it, but heard about it during the first Gulf War, it was developed by the Brits and French and bought by the Army. Some kind of radio net used outside the usual tactical radio network at BN levels, at least that was how I saw it, but I could be wrong). Whatever it is, the replacement sounds very COTS to me:

JNN’s equipment includes 2651 and 3725 series routers, 2950 and 3750 Ethernet switches and VG248 gateway voice equipment from Cisco; Promina 400 broadband services delivery platforms from; HDX PBX switches from Redcom; and NetScreen 25 and 5XT firewalls from Juniper.

JNN was developed by General Dynamics, a traditional contractor but they put the system together in a few months, and it, "gives soldiers more mobile communications than MSE-Tritac did but not as much as the future Warfighter Information Network-Tactical (WIN-T)." WIN-T being one of the components of JTRS. Sounds like one of the 80% solutions that most procurment reformers like to talk about.

To top it all off, there are problems with the big government, big contractor JTRS and FCS programs. JTRS is meant to replace every radio with new Software Defined Radios that use commercial electronics and customized software. A good idea but one that is not going along too well, as the Army had to stop work on the first tranche of the system this past January. Fred Kaplan (a guy who is wrong about the military as much as he is right) writes about FCS here, and notes that it will fail without JTRS. Problems with FCS deserve a book, so I won't beat is down now.

Nonetheless, JTRS is a good solution that is being implement on a gigantic scale when is should be small scale, skunk-works type stuff, rather than out of a suffocating 1000 person program office, or whatever they use these days to manage it. Like, say, the Iridium phone with GPS (pdf) that the Marine Corps developed and depoloyed to Afghanistan and Iraq in less than a year. It basically provides handheld Satcom/Position Reporting to a squad in the field. Iridium being the commercially developed satellite cell phone system Motorola developed that failed economically just after putting their satellites in orbit. Of course, later they were rescued by the military buying their MOUs. I am sure there are squad leaders in the mountains of the Hindu Kush, happy to have good comm when they need it--as long as it doesn't cause their Company CO to micro-manage them at least.

But all this gets wrapped up neatly by the guys at StrategyPage with a recent article I noticed at Instapundit. The full link is here where troops and others are starting to notice how the poorly run, long drawn out big contractor programs take forever to get stuff to the field, while the off-the-shelf route delivers in spades. Lets hope this is an expanding trend, and not one where the defense contractors just jump on the bandwagon like they did with "military transformation," where things like the F-ayy-22 came from.

11 March 2005

Update: Iwo Jima

Happily, there's a ton more stuff that has turned up to honor the Iwo Jima 60th anniversary. Shortly after my post on the subject I noticed Clint Eastwood was in town at the Marine Memorial Club on Sutter Street to meet with some Iwo vets who were there. Mr. Eastwood is planning on a movie version of Flags of our Fathers, the James Bradley book about the Marines and Sailors who raised the flag over Suribachi. I've never read Bradley's book, but did read an op-ed he had one time and found it kind of off-base. It may be a great book, but he has sort of set himself up as a spokesman what he was never part of (the military, WWII, etc.), like Brokaw and Speilburgh have done. More power to them to tell other's stories, but leave the pontificating on it to the people who have been there. At least Mr. Eastwood is an Army vet.

Also, over at Marine Times, a great collection of
articles, pictures, and remembrances of Iwo Jima and the impact it had on the men and the war. As Philip Thompson says at the start, "It’s OK to say 60 years later: Iwo Jima was it. There’s never been anything like it. Hopefully, there never will be again". Amen.

The IHT (reprinted from the NYT, I see) also has a good, but short, remembrance article about veterans from both sides that showed up on Iwo for the 60th anniversary. Also, the second article in the series on the Marine Corps web site is up now.

Semper Fidelis to the fallen and the survivors.

10 March 2005

Cell phone war

No, it's not about Verizon Wireless vs. Cingular, but a good article about the use of cell phones among the terrorists in Iraq. Rowan Scarborough covers the use of phones for communications and IED attacks here. I've seen a few reports and articles on this before, but the article describes some very sophisticated techniques by the insurgents using various communications technologies and is the best overview yet of what they are doing:

Insurgents use other types of phones. In April, near the insurgent-heavy town of Latifiyah, an Army convoy was devastated by a series of IEDs. An investigation showed that bombs were ignited by satellite phones activated by another satellite phone, the Marine officer said.

Then there is this terrific photo from LGF. A great grunt's eye view of what they are up against (one of the few calls you want to miss). And remember, Iraq only got a cellular network after we invaded. Either the Mukbarat has been working on this stuff for a long time, as Scarborough says, or, as I have always thought, it made it's way there through Al Qaeda or Iran.

I think the Iraqis probably got a lot of Intel from Lebanon and did a lot of work on their own. Hezbollah is Shia, supported by Iran and would only be a favorite of Saddam because they are the only Arabs who put a serious hurt on Israel and got them to pull out of Lebanon. I remember seeing pictures of the plastic rocks Hezbollah was making to conceal large IEDs they would use against the Isrealis. As in Iraq, the tactics they used had far reaching implications on Isreali strategy and equipment (see the tank-based APCs they eventually developed in response, like the Achzarit).

Anthony Cordesman echoes this in the only reference I've seen to Hezbollah related to the war in Iraq. In an article in National Defense Magazine, Insurgents Learn to Exploit U.S. Military's Vulnerabilities, Cordesman says:

"Insurgents have been using a mix of crude and sophisticated IEDs, said Cordesman. “Hezbollah should be given credit for having first perfected the use of explosives in well-structured ambushes, although there is nothing new about such tactics,” he said. “Iraq has, however, provided a unique opportunity for insurgents and Islamist extremists to make extensive use of IEDs by exploiting that nation’s massive stocks of arms.”

As I said, the cell phone network is very new to Iraq so the skills to make remote detonated bombs, though probably fairly simple, had to come from somewhere, and Hezbollah combined with the Iraqi Secret Service combined with Al Qaeda is a potent recipe. Luckily, as with all technologies, not everything is bad news, and if you believe that information freedom will help Iraq, this article (found it originally on Instapundit) shows bears that out. In Iraq, text messages help track insurgents, which includes this sentence,

“Many, many people tell us about the terrorists with this,” al-Zobaidi said, tapping his black cell phone and thumbing down to show more messages

And to cap it off, the opening up of cell phone service is going about as you'd expect it to anywhere, up and up. Can't expect perfect service from a network that was deployed in about 6 months, but as with a lot of things in Iraq, anything is better than nothing, and this is just another nail in the coffin of the Baathists there. There is no way they can defeat a teenager with a cell phone. And just wait until the camera phones arrive!

08 March 2005

The Story of Two Marines

You may have seen earlier stories about the Company 1st Sgt with Kilo 3/1 who was wounded severely while fighting house-to-house in Fallujah. I've said before on this blog and to my friends, that I am continually surprised how few heroic stories are reported about our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan. You typically have to go to blogs (conservative ones at that-you won't read about them on troop-supporting lefty blogs) to read these stories or to the .mil web sites.

I'll now have to take that back a little since NPR did a great radio story on March 8th, about
1stSgt Brad Kasal and the Marine he saved. While it is wrapped up in a story about the two Marines ongoing rehabilitation at Bethesda Naval Hospital, they didn't skimp on the self-sacrifice and hard charging nature of Top Kasal. For those who understand how and Infantry Company works, it is even more amazing to me, since a Company Top will typically be in the rear in charge of admin matters for the Company.

Proving that a picture is worth a thousand words, I think the shot of Top Kasal being helped out the door of the house he was wounded in says it all. Still alive (with six or seven gun shot wounds, grenade blast wounds, etc.) and still carrying his sidearm with a straight trigger finger. Semper Fi, Marine.

07 March 2005

Environment and the Military from the Left Coast

Continuing on the environment vs. the military theme, I found another article about the impact of environmental regulations on the military. EE Publishing wrote had a series in 2003 titled Military Readiness and the Environment. The lead article describes the situation at Camp Pendleton, a favorite of mine when talking about the impact of the military on the environment. The writing seems pretty balanced and gives a good scientific overview of the species impacted, but the real issue is why is Pendleton so important? Could it be that since everything south of the base is now San Diego sprawl and everything north is Orange County sprawl, the only open land left is MCB. As they say:
The military has referred to the area as an "island of biodiversity," as suburban growth from metropolitan Los Angeles and San Diego push housing developments closer to the base's fence line. By 2020, an additional 1 million residents will live in the area, according to military estimates, leaving even less open space for training or for wildlife.

So, while environmentalists and politicians argue about whether Amtracs can land on the beach, or whether grunts can dig fighting holes, everybody else goes about their business building beach homes and golf courses. And the gnatcatchers live their lives on top of Mt. M----f---er, with nary a care in the world as 3/4 goes through the hard training needed to get them through another deployment to Iraq.

01 March 2005

Bomb those cows instead

Over the past few years I've read a few things about the closing down of Vieques in Puerto Rico due to constant pressure from locals along with celeb activists like RFK, JR. Vieques used to be the Navy and Marine Corps primary combined arms training area for east coast units getting ready to deploy until it was closed down. I'd like to see the story that tells us how much better off Vieques is now with more tourists and cruise ships than with a ARGs or CAGs coming through every year.

The Vieques story tentacles out to bump into all the other aspects of Environmental-Military relations and military training grounds from Hawaii to North Carolina. When the Marines discussed using the turtle nesting grounds around
Padre Island, TX for landing corridors it created a mini-enviro storm. Later when Eglin AFB in the Panhandle was chosen to replace Vieques , similarly uproars occurred. This little article in Marine Times on the Avon Park Bombing Range recent upping in status as a training base shows that this issue continues to have repercussions. The article is fairly low key, but the usual suspects of wetlands, endangered species, and road building come up. What is almost always forgotten in these debates about land use and what the military does, is that in almost every case the land is valuable from a natural perspective due to the use the military puts it to. And what is forgotten is that the real threat to the environment (as we will no doubt hear in the future of Vieques) is a growing population looking for land to build on.

The central spine of Florida, with Avon Park at the south end, is experiencing significant sprawl from Mt. Dora through Orlando, down to Winter Haven. I once worked with the Nature Conservancy on some land (the Disney Preserve, no less) they had bought south of Kissimmee. Most of the damage they were trying to repair was due to drainage canals dug to support cattle ranching, and the area was starting to get hemmed in by huge development driven by Disney World.

If anything, I think increased bombing at Avon Park will help reduce cattle ranching in the area and reduce surrounding lands attractiveness to developers. Central Florida wildlife and land should be more worried about a future where
this is the problem, not more military exercises. (And, by the way, since MSNBC can't seem to include a map-a simple matter in the WWW age, here is Perdido Key.)

Getting things done the Marine Corps Way

Another good article and recognition for one Marine sniper in Iraq. The Marine Times has the story of a recent foot patrol supported by Staff Sgt. Steve Reichert, scout-sniper with 2/2 in Lutafiyah, Iraq a small town in the Sunni triangle. While defense contractors and the transformation hangers-on tend to talk about RF jammers and foliage penetrating radar, this is a good story about how superior tactics, basic communications, and the force multiplier of a sniper team overwatch helps win our generations war. As SSGT Reichert tells it:

As the patrol moved toward the town, Reichert observed a dead animal located in the patrol’s path. It was then that he recalled his training in enemy tactics, techniques and procedures for improvised explosive devices and made radio contact to redirect the patrol. The patrol leader radioed back to Reichert and confirmed his suspicion that two wires were leading out of the dog carcass.

While this story (both the tactics and the bravery that resulted in a Bronze Star with V) are told weekly in Iraq, they rarely get told outside of the military press and in some corners of the CSM and other papers.

The tactics are what interest me the most, since am unsurprised at the kind of sacrifice you can see today in Iraq. Innovative, aggressive, and changing tactics are what will win against Al Qaida and the other terrorists out there and we're seeing them used more and more. This also dovetails with some of the tactics the Marine Corps Warfighting Lab is working on like Distributed Operations (I'll be putting together a post and links on DO soon). While not the only thing happening as a result of our collision with 4th Generation Warfare, it does show that the Army and Marines are learning organizations that remain the best way to deal with our war and justify some of the recent cuts big ticket items are facing in DODs budget.

Plus there is this, which is also moving things forward. Just happened to happen after Syria comes under serious pressure in Lebanon. Hmmm.

Helo Hero

Lots of missing news about all the deserved medals being given out for some really top people in the Terror War West (Iraq). Luckily Marine Times prints a lot of these and you can go on-line and read about this phrog bubba with a DFC (Marine air wing pukes use such crappy slang). Anyway, nothing like seeing a CH-46 come in for a beautiful medevac in the middle of a combat zone. From the article:

“Landing under enemy fire, he loaded casualties while the lead aircraft provided
suppressive fires,” his award citation reads. “He departed the zone while
returning fire and conducting evasive maneuvering en route. He made four
repeated trips in order to ensure the evacuation of all wounded personnel.”


“We were simply doing our job,” he told those gathered at the award ceremony. “We were at the right place and the right time, saving Marines. That is the true reward for me.”

What a badass. During the invasion in 2003, there was some great video on Fox News with Oliver North where the 46's were landing right in the middle of a firefight in Baghdad to drop off much needed ammo for some grunts. This may have been Capt. Espinoza's bird.

During my winter vacation to Kuwait in 1991 we were told that no helo medevacs would happen in the first 24 hours, so if we got popped or blown up, we'd have to be loaded on a HMMWV for a trip back through the double minefield belt. Glad to see the Marine Corps and the helo squadrons are taking this seriously and risking their balls for the grunts on the ground.

Semper Fi.