Posted by: jodyray | December 18, 2012

Vying for Power in the High North

The pool of nations scrambling to control the Arctic’s natural resources and ice-free shipping routes may soon grow. Jody Ray Bennett considers what impact emerging powers such as China might have not only on Arctic security, but also on how the international system will resolve future territorial disputes in the High North.

By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Security Watch


Just over two years ago, ISN’s Security Watch reported on the evolving geopolitical dynamics shaping the Arctic policies of the United States, Canada, Denmark and Russia. Since then, the High North has remained relatively free of geopolitical tensions. However, that might be about to change.

On 06 August 2012, Russia announced that it plans to build a string of naval infrastructure hubs along the Arctic’s Northern Sea Route. According to the report, Security Council chief Nikolai Patrushev confirmed that, “[A]uthorities have drafted a list of ‘key double-purpose sites in remote areas of the Arctic seas along the Northern Sea Route’ to enable ‘temporary stationing of Russian Navy warships and vessels operated by the Federal Security Service’s Border Guard Department'”.

A report picked up on the motive: “The logic behind Russia’s Arctic bases is seductive. The thinking goes like this: As global warming causes the northern polar ice to recede — and one day disappear during the summer months — nations like Russia, Canada, Norway and the United States will scramble for the bountiful deposits of oil, gas and minerals hidden beneath, sparking an Arctic resource war.”

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Posted by: jodyray | March 23, 2012

The Virtual Military

As the global military technology industry surges forward, both traditional and emerging powers are seeking new innovations in virtual training for the modern battlefield.

By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

While much of the international system remains mired in the economic doldrums, many global military powers continue to increase defense budgets focused upon the research and development of simulation technologies. As part of our week-long focus on the importance of games to international relations and security, today we consider how Russia, China and the United States are using virtual simulators to train its armed forces.

The Russian pre-Game

While the Russian defense establishment has yet to invest heavily in virtual training, it is certainly heading in this direction. In July 2011, Russia’s Chief of General Staff, General Nikolai Makarov, announced that by 2013 its armed forces would be using 3-D simulation and virtual training software. Makarov further stated that Russia’s virtual simulation and training software would be “comparable and in some aspects even superior to those implemented in countries with the most advanced military forces.”

A few months earlier, the Russian Defense Ministry awarded a contract to Germany’s Rheinmetall to develop physical and virtual training arenas for its armed forces at Mulion, located in the Volga region of Russia. One of Rheinmetall’s partnering contractors, JSCo Oboronservis, stated that, in addition to a robust physical training regime, the center will also incorporate Live, Virtual and Constructive (LVC) simulation elements. Russia is also set to complete a contract withTransas – a St Petersburg company headquartered in Cork, Ireland – to develop a battlefield simulator that allows for “3D simulation training for combat theaters.”

China warming up

Like Russia, the Chinese military establishment has yet to embrace 3-D or virtual simulation training on par with Western defense establishments. Traditionally, China has relied upon more on ‘real-time’ techniques that simulate military scenarios ranging from combat situations to nuclear fallout. However, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) has hired a private firm to develop software modeled on the US Army’s “America’s Army” and other Pentagon-funded games that target Middle Eastern and Southeast Asian adversaries. In the Chinese model, entitled Glorious Mission , the adversary was (unsurprisingly) changed to the United States’ Armed Forces. And while Glorious Mission was initially restricted to the Chinese military, it became available for public consumption in May 2011.

America leads the way

Yet Beijing and Moscow still have a long way to go before they make use of virtual technology on the same scale as Washington. Not only does US defense expenditure far outstrip that of its nearest rivals, investment in 3D simulation software to virtual training also accounts for a significant proportion of the defense budget. There has been an overspill of military simulation technologies into other markets, such as law enforcement or healthcare. Indeed, from a geopolitical and economic perspective, these are advantageous technologies for a superpower looking to reduce personnel numbers and downsize its physical presence in Afghanistan and Western Europe.

The demand for virtual technology has also provided a much welcome boost for the US defense sector. In February, for example, Lockheed Martin was awarded a five yearcontract valued at $94 million, to set up and upgrade virtual systems used for the US Air Force. Indeed many contractors have now expanded beyond the defense sector to provide virtual training platforms for civilian and law enforcement purposes.

The United States’ defense companies are, therefore, at the cutting edge of virtual technologies for the battlefield. This year, for example, the US Army will begin using a virtual simulator for dismounted soldiers. Instead of soldiers training through a virtual simulator ‘video game’, the Dismounted Soldier Training System includes a virtual monitor and headset that straps onto an army helmet. The helmet will also include body sensors to capture position that will be able to integrate nine soldiers at once for specific mission training. With the creation of the COMBATREDI system it is now also now possible for soldiers to create and teach a digital avatar. Soldiers using the application can not only specify a gender, race, facial features, and hair style for their digital characters, their avatars will be able to remember a soldier’s performance during physical training, reaction times, various role sensitivities, and skills.

In February the Pentagon also approved a $7 million dollar project entitled “Avatar” that aims to develop interfaces and algorithms that will enable a soldier to ‘partner’ with a semi-autonomous bi-pedal machine. The machine will act as the soldier’s surrogate in order to perform combat duties such as room clearing, sentry control and casualty recovery.

“The major benefits of using simulation include safety, cost-effectiveness and reducing environmental pressures. They also provide a repeatable training environment which is easy to assess. In a military environment, simulation can provide an environment where all arms can be brought together to train in a virtual world,” Trevor Nash, Editor of Military Training & Simulation News, told ISN Insights.

Words of warning

In an interesting aside, human rights groups have recently pondered some of the legal and ethical differences between physical and virtual military training. The International Committee of the Red Cross, for example, is concerned that virtual worlds and real war crimes could conceivably be linked. Accordingly, any training simulations that violate the Geneva Conventions could arguably be considered as a criminal offense even if events occurred in a virtual reality. Indeed, as virtual systems are increasingly used to teach, train, and challenge those who perform a military function, the legal and ethical ambiguities that surround virtual military training are likely to evolve and become even more complex.

While it remains to be seen just how effective these new virtual training technologies will be for the US military, the Pentagon is convinced that they are necessary to sustain and enhance an array of defense capabilities. Moreover, the United States is not alone, as Russia, China and other military powers continue to invest virtual training and simulation. And just as knowledge of Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology was, until quite recently, scarce, in coming years the role that virtual systems play in training simulation may evolve in a similar fashion. How this will impact upon moral or ethical debates remains to be seen.

Posted by: jodyray | December 29, 2011

Seychelles: An Open Invitation for China

The Republic of Seychelles has issued China with an open invitation to establish an anti-piracy base in the small island republic. If accepted, this invitation will have security and strategic consequences for the region.
By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

On December 3rd 2011, as part of a ‘goodwill’ trip to the Indian Ocean island nation of Seychelles, Chinese Defense Minister Liang Guanglie met with Seychelles President James Michel and announced a boost in military cooperation between the two states. It was the first time a Chinese defense minister had visited the islands in the nations’ 36 years of ‘uninterrupted partnership’.

During the trip, Michel announced that the island republic would officially invite China to establish a military base there to help with its ramping up of efforts to combat piracy. The Republic of Seychelles spans an archipelago of over 100 islands approximately 1,500 kilometers off the eastern coast of Africa, just north of the island nation of Madagascar. Despite efforts by the international community and the constant patrolling of warships, this region is still heavily affected by organized (and unorganized) piracy by non-state actors.

Foreign Affairs Minister of Seychelles, Jean-Paul Adam, stated, “Together, we need to increase our surveillance capacity in the Indian Ocean […] as Seychelles has a strategic position between Asia and Africa.” According to one report by Agence France-Presse, Seychelles and China signed on to a military cooperation agreement in 2004 which “has enabled some 50 Seychelles soldiers to be trained in China.” Adam reminded the media that China has already given two light aircraft to the Republic, with the visit by Liang signaling a renewed agreement with China for increased financial support, military equipment and further military training. Chinese media reiteratedSeychelles’ adherence to the One-China policy.

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Posted by: jodyray | December 1, 2011

Contractors to the Congo

While security and defense contracting in Africa is nothing new, the awarding of another multi-million dollar contract by the US State Department to a controversial private security operation is perhaps indicative of just how thinly stretched the US military is becoming. This does not bode well for either oversight or accountability.

By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

From the outsourcing of security functions to widespread mercenary activity, contracting on the African continent is nothing new. For decades the continent has been a playground for private third parties involved in everything from the training of militaries to the toppling of governments, to the legitimate and illicit arms trades. That an impressive volume of literature and documentary evidence exists on the private involvement of individuals and companies in the shaping of the African security economy speaks to this.

DynCorp’s contract

And so it follows: last June, DynCorp International – one of the “Big Three” armed security contractors that arrived in Iraq back in 2003 alongside Blackwater/Xe andTriple Canopy – announced that it had been awarded a State Department contract toprovide training to the military of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. While the details of the mission remain purposely ambiguous, the contract does specify that the task order was issued by the State Department’s Bureau of African Affairs, has a base time limit of one year with two additional option years and will focus on training junior to mid-level military personnel in functional areas such as communications, logistics and engineering.

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Posted by: jodyray | October 3, 2011

Saudi Security Force Ramps Up

Amid uprisings throughout the Middle East, Washington and Riyadh have quietly agreed to train a new force to fend off a potential uprising against the Saudi kingdom.


By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

On 10 March 2011, Saudi security analyst, Nawaf Obaid, wrote an article in Foreign Policy that proclaimed, “There Will Be No Uprising in Saudi Arabia”. The article sparked discussion – not only because Obaid has been accused of being an “indefatigable Washington gadfly” who works to provoke specific outcomes in US-Saudi relations – but because he boldly predicted such an outcome in the midst of unprecedented upheaval in the region: Saudi Arabia has yet to witness any substantial internal uprising.

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Posted by: jodyray | February 14, 2011

The Mean Green Military Machine

The US military – the world’s single biggest user of petrol – is intent on reducing its costly oil consumption without having to suffer major cuts to its force. How? The Department of Defense is committed to going “green”, making energy a strategic issue for the first time.

By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

Last October, the US Navy unveiled the first military vessel to run on “eco-friendly fuel.” The 49-foot command ship can carry up to 24 troops and runs entirely on a combination of algae-based fuel and diesel. As the Wired report notes, this came months after the US Military launched its “Green Hornet” jet in celebration of Earth Day – an “unmodified F/A-18 Super Hornet [using] a 50/50 blend of camelina-sourced biofuel and traditional JP-5 fuel.” In 2009, General Dynamics created a military ground vehicle based on hybrid technology.

All of this is part of a much greater plan for the Pentagon to reduce its oil consumption without having to sacrifice major cuts to its force size. Ironically, while the US Department of Energy remained silent, the US military was the first to warn that oil production could dip, causing massive shortages by 2015. As a Guardian report notes, “Future fuel supplies are of acute importance to the US military because it is believed to be the biggest single user of petrol in the world.”

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Posted by: jodyray | January 13, 2011

The Future of Private Forces

Despite a tarnished image, the private military security industry is thriving – and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future. In fact, these private companies continue to expand their reach beyond security and military matters into nearly every facet of government service.

Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Insights

A recent report from ProPublica, based on analysis of US Department of Labor statistics, showed that “more private contractors than soldiers were killed in Iraq and Afghanistan in recent months,” making 2010 the “first time in history that corporate casualties have outweighed military losses on America’s battlefields.”

The swelling numbers of contractor deaths could only result from the greatest foreign policy experiment in privatization in US history. These numbers call for a closer look at the changing role of private force and its impact on the industry.

Damage control

For years the private military and security industry has dealt with a troubled, tarnished image resulting from several high-profile abuses perpetrated in Iraq and Afghanistan over the last decade. As Blackwater quickly became the most recognized and controversial name in the industry, it long ago set out to rebrand its image, changing its name to Xe Services. More recently the entire industry appears to have felt the need for a new marketing strategy. For example, the industry’s trade union and lobbying group, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), changed its name to the International Stability Operations Association (ISOA).

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Posted by: jodyray | September 1, 2010

New Developments in Military Automation

As thousands of US soldiers leave the Iraqi battlefield, the US military ramps up efforts to increase unmanned and automated technologies, Jody Ray Bennett writes for ISN Security Watch.

By Jody Ray Bennett for ISN Security Watch

Last July, Piasecki Aircraft Corporation, with the help of Carnegie Mellon University, developed a navigation system that allows the full-sized helicopters to fly at low altitudes without a pilot. These new unmanned helicopters are the latest in automated military technology; where the predator drone UAV demonstrated a significant step in the development of unmanned – and lethal – military technologies, these helicopters can now be controlled remotely by nothing more than a pilot and computer.

In a press release from Helicopter Association International, such autonomous flight at low altitudes is an “unprecedented” innovation, and can be used for “future unmanned helicopters to evacuate wounded soldiers from contaminated or live-fire battlefields and to resupply forward military bases [as well as] aid to help both military and civilian pilots avoid obstacles, such as power lines, and select landing sites in unimproved areas such as emergency scenes, even when operating in low-light or low-visibility conditions.”

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Posted by: jodyray | August 30, 2010

In Afghanistan, Supplying US Military Is Big Business

Found here.

Kandahar, Afghanistan — Moving all the things 100,000 troops need to fight and survive in a hostile foreign land is never an easy task. In a landlocked, mountainous country the size of Texas, with few paved roads, it is even harder.

“I don’t think anyone has ever brought in this much equipment to a landlocked country that has only two major airports,” said Col. Gary Sheffer, acting commanding general of the U.S. Military’s Joint Sustainment Command in Afghanistan. “Without the road network, the railroad network, it’s a huge effort.”

And the effort has only grown more intense this summer. Sheffer and the 5,000 troops under his command are responsible for supplying all American forces in Afghanistan with everything from food and water to bullets and beds.

They are now on the front lines of President Barack Obama’s troop surge into southern Afghanistan that began this summer. Almost 100,000 U.S. troops are now in Afghanistan — up from about 40,000 when Obama first came into office. That increase has come in a short period of time, with 30,000 arriving in just the last eight months.

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Posted by: jodyray | August 25, 2010

Top Afghan Leaders Tied to Security Companies


Government leaders are closely linked to ownership of some of the major Afghan-owned security companies, an investigation by The Killid Group has revealed.

President Hamed Karzai has openly accused the companies of thefts, murders, kidnappings and cooperating with the enemy.

The investigation indicates that over 5,000 armed men have been working with security groups belonging to the president’s family members or people close to him.

We also learned that some members of the Northern Alliance, who initially started security companies, have moved into the logistics business – they pay security companies smaller sums to guard their convoys. Interviews with senior officials of six of the biggest companies confirm that the companies belong to such power-brokers.

President Karzai’s statements, we discovered, have had an impact on them – creating a rift between the owners. Some have stepped back and seemingly will end their activities; others have scoffed at the president’s remarks and believe he will be unable to shut down the firms.

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