Tag Archives: drones

Commentary—Did You Know — The Shadow War is Real

I was born in 1931. Then, a family radio was generally housed in a substantial piece of “furniture”. Ours was no different. It had doors, sat on legs and perched proudly in the living room. A Stromberg Carlson. For some reason we also had a smaller one that sat in our large dinette next to the kitchen.

I was eight and a half years old in September 1, 1939, and I heard that Hitler invaded Poland, but it made no great impression on me. Japan and China had long been at war, we saw that on the News Reels. That conflict was almost totally off my radar screen but for the group of Americans who flew fighter planes on behalf of the Chinese and were called the Flying Tigers. The nose sections of their planes were painted to resemble the teeth of shark. That hooked me.

From September 1939, the entire world rushed into what became a nearly 6 year war, and you had to be catatonic to be unaware that something was amiss even for an eight year old. Early on my world was not affected but for the refugee kids that I found myself having lunch with, under the watchful eye of my grandmother, in our kitchen during the school week.

The world was slow — much too slow — in responding to Hitler in Europe. And that was a flaw that would ultimately bring about the death of seven million people. Then I began to hear, as I headed off to sleep, the spirited conversations that seemed to always crop up over the weekend, when droves of my parent’s friends and relatives would descend into our living room to talk of the “phony war”. At the time the word and its meaning made no sense to me. The world in Europe was at war –there were thunderous declarations of war—but there were no overt hostilities. The French called this period the Drôle de guerre; and the Germans name was Sitzkrieg. . It was an eight-month period from the time war was declared by the UK and France against Germany on September 3rd 1939 to when Germany launched its invasion France and the Low Countries on May 10th 1940. During the phony war The Allies had created elaborate plans for numerous large-scale operations designed to end the German advancements, but it was too little and much too late. Thus, the phony war.

To me, none of this became frightening until the age of ten and half on December 7th and Pearl Harbor, and the induction into the army of an uncle I adored. The talk of a “phony war”, ceased and I never heard that expression again. There was talk of collaboration with Germany that involved not only the Baltic States, Poland, Hungry, Russia and, unthinkable to me, France. It wasn’t until last week that I had read of a “shadow war” for the first time and I was stumped again. This time, 79 years later, I had the internet and instant access to information but have come up with no hard definition. An example is the best method to describe this event.

On September 13th 2019, twenty some odd drones carrying deadly missals carried out a sophisticated, simultaneous attack on Saudi oil refineries and created an international disaster. (Please, see my previous blog and the use of drones in simultaneous attacks within New York City.) Almost immediately, the President of the United States announced that this nation (although not attacked) was “locked and loaded” and presumably ready to attack Iran. And on Monday, September 16th, the President said that the U.S. is prepared to respond to the attacks in Saudi Arabia. Have we become a surrogate for Saudis in an attack not aimed at the U.S? This sent me scurrying to one of my copies of our Constitution.

Article I, sometimes referred to as the War Power clause– vest in the Congress, not the President, the power to declare war. Toward the late afternoon of the 16th of September, although not attacked and with no consultation or consent of the Congress, this nation was aiming our military resources to trounce another nation who didn’t attack us. A commentator sarcastically wondered if the Saudis were anointed with the power conferred by Article I and not our own Congress. According to a report by MEMRI, the attack on the Saudi oil facilities “was an implementation of Iran’s explicit threats in recent months to target Saudi Arabia and the U.S. global economy”. It is also claimed by the Houthi rebels in Yemen, sponsored by Iran, that they are the actors who launched the drone attack against the oil refineries in Saudi Arabia, while the WSJ, on the 17th,  headlined that the “Saudi Oil Attack Originated In Iran, U.S. Says”. This is a perfect example of a—“shadow war”. Where one nation stands in– a surrogate for another — to further their common goals.

In the bitter conflict between Iran and Saudi Arabia, the “shadow” combatants would be the United States on one side (armed and attacking on behalf of the Saudis) and the Houthi rebels in Yemen (armed and supported by Iran) attacking the Saudis on behalf of Iran.

It’s obvious that Iran has missiles, it has a nuclear program on the front pages of the world’s headlines, it has tanks with which it threatens the world, and it has exported terrorist militias. Iran has spent $500 billion on its missile and nuclear armament programs. It has spent $350 billion on the regional wars in the Middle East–almost one trillion dollars, “but its economy is collapsing and withering. Its economy is stagnant, yet it continues to threaten the world.” It has Russia at its back. What is also so very disturbing is that the successful Iranian attack represented an “American technological failure”, as not a single cruise missile or drone was stopped or destroyed.

Although until now there are no signs that Russia would decisively side in the favor of Tehran, if Iran’s confrontation with Saudi Arabia would intensifies — meaning something more that economic support. And this weekend that conflict did intensify with the potential of a “shadow war” with the U.S. stepping in for Saudis. Our Secretary of State said that Iran’s attack at Saudi Arabia was an attack of war. Against whom? Will Russia find it necessary to step in for Iran?

I will be sitting by my Stromberg Carlson

P.S.   As I was about to type my name and post this blog, another thought came to mind. I had no clear recollection of my geography and of the borders separating Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Iran, so I went to the maps of the area. If the attacks on the Saudi oil facilities came from the Houthi militia in Yemen, the failure to intercept the missiles and drones, notwithstanding the millions spent by Saudi’s in defense, would be very upsetting. If, on the other hand, the attacks originated in Iran that would verge on a shattering statement of the U.S. capabilities in the Arabian Sea. Let me explain: 1. Houthi-controlled territory in Yemen is probably over 500 miles from where the attack on the oil refineries took place. Depending upon the size of the drone, that might well be beyond their range of operation. 2. If on the other hand they were launched from Iran and flew directly across the Arabian Sea, they would have had to fly, as some point, literally through the spread of the radar network of U.S. Navy. If that were true it would be calamitous for our operational ability to not only defend our own naval ships in case of an attack but to fulfill its overall operational mission. There is a third possibility. According to the NYT, the Saudis have recovered pristine circuit boards from one of the cruise missiles (picture of the missile published on the 19th September) that fell short of its target. The analysis now runs that the missiles were launched from Iran and programmed to fly around the northern Persian Gulf through Iraqi air space instead of directly across the Gulf, thus avoiding the U.S. Naval radar. In any of these scenarios, the question now for President Trump, in what has truly become his growing political separation from potential allies growing, will he, like President George W Bush heading into Iraq 16 years ago, find he is largely alone in any retaliating strike or serious sanctions. Or will his hesitation to act embolden Tehran?

Richard Allan,

The Editor

 

 

Commentary: To Drone or Not to Drone

If you log on to Amazon and type in the word “Drones”, you are given an arms-length list of items you can purchase– from games involving the use of drones to flying your own drone. If you have watched enough episodes of your favorite spy thriller, such as “Homeland”, you will see at least one short scene of two American pilots sitting behind what appears to be a mocked flight simulator, but in fact, it is a replica of the equipment utilized to fly armed drones that may be thousands of miles away from the control center. This was an accurate portrayal of reality: the targets were initially suspected high-level terrorists speeding in a car caravan across a remote desert area or in a hut in the middle of a village. Today, the target of armed drones goes beyond that limitation, but as I write this commentary, Pakistan’s caretaker Prime Minister Nasir-ul-Mulk, described the killing of Pakistan Taliban chief, Mullah Fazlullah, in a U.S. drone strike in Afghanistan as a “significant development in the fight against terrorism.”

And the American pilots presently controlling our armed drones, dressed not in a fighter pilot’s high altitude flight gear but in tailored non-flight uniforms, receive information from observers possibly thousands of miles away or by high power cameras attached to a drone. What has recently been reported is that many of those who pilot drones, far from harm’s way, have never seen combat because of the necessity of having combat trained men and women needed in the “real” battle zone.

Drones are low on the list of our daily vocabulary, but they are an integral part of our daily living to check the viability of utilities lines, to site checking long miles of above ground oil pipe lines to flying toy drones, as we did with model airplanes with tiny gas motors. Today, drones also play a decided role in one of our many ongoing wars. Most of which we are totally unaware of. The list of areas of the world that face drone warfare keeps expanding, as we sit basically ignorant of the government’s involvement with armed conflict from Islands in the pacific to the Mid-East and now being revealed in many parts of Africa.

For me, it was a quiet labor day weekend when I read an article by Rebecca Gordon that enticed me to go further to learn of our expanding use of this very singular weapon. My research led me to discover buried articles, describing the involvement of U.S. troops, arms and, most important, drones in Africa. Prior to the ultimately extensive revealing of the ambush of our troops in Nigeria, when four U.S. soldiers died in an October attack, if you were to give me a blank map of Africa, I would be hard-pressed to fill in eighty percent of the names of each nation-state. What surprised me was the extent of the use of drones beyond the Mid-East into Africa. The Pentagon’s Africa Command is presently building a facility named “Air Base 201” in Agadez, a town in Niger. Your taxpayer dollars will support this $110 million installation and will be the base of operation for MQ-9 Reaper armed drones. As reported by the US Air Force it will soon become the new centerpiece in an undeclared U.S. war in West Africa. The Air Force describes this drone as “…an armed, multi-mission, medium-altitude, long-endurance remotely piloted aircraft that is employed primarily against dynamic execution targets and secondarily as an intelligence collection asset. Given its significant loiter time, wide-range sensors, multi-mode communications suite, and precision weapons — it provides a unique capability to perform strike, coordination, and reconnaissance against high-value, fleeting, and time-sensitive targets. 
Reapers can also perform the following missions and tasks: intelligence, surveillance, reconnaissance, close air support, combat search and rescue, precision strike, buddy-lase, convoy/raid over watch, target development, and terminal air guidance. The MQ-9’s capabilities make it uniquely qualified to conduct irregular warfare operations in support of combatant commander objectives. “

What gave me pause was that this new base of drone operation is not the only base of U.S. involvement in that part of Africa. It turns out that the ambushed troops weren’t the only U.S. soldiers involved in firefights in Niger. The Pentagon has recently announced very quietly that there had been another clash in December of last year between Green Berets and a previously unknown group identified as ISIS-West Africa. This is not the only area of Africa that is subject to attacks. There have been at last count at least eight incidents, most of them in Somalia. Mz Gordan tells us, in her report, that U.S. drone strikes on Libya targets have increased under the present administration and, are usually launched from a secure non-combat base in Sicily. The new air base in Agadez, it is reported, will be able to strike targets in all these countries.

But this is not the end of the story, and what is missing from our daily sources of news is that the United States presently has another major drone base in Africa, in the tiny country of Djibouti which you will find on your map just across the Gulf of Aden and war ravaged Yemen. It is from that base that the U.S. has been pointing its strikes against targets in both Yemen and Somalia.

While looking at the newly created tariff trade war escalating between The United States and China, it is not surprising that the Chinese have recently established their first base in Africa in Djibouti, which is physically quite close to the US base of operation. China, as noted below, is also selling its attack drones to other countries.

The Times points out that this “approach (to the use of drones in combat)… for possible strikes in countries where Qaeda- or Islamic State-linked militants are operating, from Nigeria to the Philippines” is evolving. And under the Trump administration, it is no longer necessary that drone attack decisions only be made at the highest levels of government. “The requirement for having a “near certainty” of avoiding civilian casualties’ ― always something of an inter-governmental friction ― officially remains in place for now.” This march, Fox News (not a prime source of information for me) reported that the marines are planning to build a highly new and multipurpose drone, called the MUX, for Marine Air Ground Task Force Unmanned Aircraft System-Expeditionary. “The MUX will terrify enemies of the United States, and with good reason. The aircraft won’t be just big and powerful: it will also be ultra-smart. This could be a heavily armed drone that takes off, flies, avoids obstacles, adapts and lands by itself ― all without a human piloting it.”

The time for the widespread use of some form of military drone has arrived, not merely on the battle field by nation states but also by terrorist groups, and it appears that it is an underreported present threat world-wide. One report has stated that nine countries have used armed drones in combat: the United States, Israel, the United Kingdom, Pakistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Iran, Turkey, and Azerbaijan. Those are the ones that have reported their use, but we can safely guess that there are other countries that are in the process of developing the armed drone. And similar to the traditional piloted operated fighter, the military drone falls into categories dependent upon how high they fly, their armament and their endurance of flight. Not surprising is that the United States and Israel are the top sellers of military drones with China following closely behind. What did surprise me was that India and the UK are among the largest of the purchasers.

On 9/11, after leaving my law school and prior to catching the last subway out of Brooklyn to Manhattan, I spent an hour on a high floor in a Brooklyn apartment overlooking the East River toward a large heliport jutting out into the river in the Wall Street area of Manhattan. Within minutes private planes disappeared from the landing site and a number of combat army helicopters appeared. It was my assumption that they were going to be utilized to evacuate high level government personal from the City. The late, brilliant Ian Cuthbertson set me straight: What was feared was there would be a follow-up attack by small, comparatively slow one engine planes that could not be intercepted by fast moving fighter jets and, thus, the use of the slower attack helicopters.

Which brings me to today: attack drones are not the little toys, similar to those one can purchase on Amazon. They are large enough and capable of transporting a large assortment of weapons including rockets. Why not explosives? Why not steal, manufacture or have them purchased by Iranian agents from China and then innocuously shipped in multiple stripped down parts to the waiting terrorist in the U.S. They could then be secretly reassembled and armed with explosives to be flown under the radar screen at numerous soft targets in New York, Washington or any other high value targets. Not unreasonable and real.

Richard Allan,

The Editor