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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part II

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See Part I for Background and my Ground rules for acquisition.

Results were very successful. Some highlights:

Ability to assemble an R/C craft that could launch conventionally, switch over to GPS autopilot, fly a course either to a target or a race track round trip and allow it to again be taken over by another user for terminal homing or landing. Some small autopilots and telemetry systems will squeeze into a .20 or .40 size sport plane, but anything goes once you reach a .40 or .60 sized trainer, medium sized sailplane, jet, and certainly any 1/4 to 1/3 scale models on up.

Many PC simulators for a variety of fixed wing and rotary wing R/C models.

Nose video cameras that could superimpose imagery over a heads-up cockpit display based on telemetry sent back from the bird. If the ground pilot was properly trained, it was possible to fly something onto the target just like the big boys.

Moderate to large piston engine-aircraft capable of moving substantive payload. In case a reader is thinking of tiny balsa wood items, I found piston engine craft at the larger end of the R/C spectrum at 13 foot wingspan and 70 pounds. On the lighter end, I could find electric helicopters, some of whom could out fly their gas powered competitors. All could, of course, mount video cameras.

Model jet engines producing 30 pounds of thrust from a 6 pound unit.  While there are jet kits, there are also excellent sites such as the United States Radio Controlled Jet Command (USRCJC) whose "sole interest is in flying Radio Controlled models of jet aircraft including those that are turbine-powered, piston engine, and electric ducted fans."

TX-RX (transmit-receive) units for R/C control that used synth (synthesizer) frequency generation so that users can select any frequency on-the-fly within the R/C band - beneficial in an RF confused area such as an urban or industrial area.

Availability of both analog and digital control channels that could respond to voltage, amplitude, pulse variations in order to control and monitor payload release and aircraft performance.

Smoke systems intended for demonstration flying are intriguing as a dispersal mechanism for other agents. Certain smoke pumps use one TX-RX channel to toggle on/off. More investigation is needed but the sprayer function is strong.

Conversations with one producer of high-end CNC machined landing gear systems (all machined from solid stock so as to dispense with weldments and seamed tubing in order to approximate the strength of the forgings of their big brothers), included a story that a military UAV producer had hard-landed a prototype using their gear set and had merely bent the strut back instead of breaking it off. That was one of many examples of superb R/C components that are already being harvested by mainline defense contractors. Dual use indeed.

Summary:

One of the things one learns from cruise missile defense is that merely disabling the warhead or the bird is not enough as the kinetic impact and secondary ignition of remaining fuel is often enough to substantially harm the target. Depending upon the intended use, it might not be necessary to create a conventional warhead for an R/C attack vehicle.

If the intent is to surveil or deliver/spray a payload, then an R/C aircraft can be launched, perform its mission, and subsequently be recovered -- if for no other reason than to forestall discovery of the means of an attack or that an attack had occurred. The cost of the systems is low enough and simple enough that it could be produced in a quantity that would satisfy the redundancy needs of groups like al Qaeda.

Initial results of my one-day field trip and a bit of follow-up research showed that it is feasible for a diligent and reasonably agile individual or small group to create a COTS hunter-killer and surveillance R/C model fleet, a poor man's Predator.

Did I mention R/C boats and submarines?

Follow-on Part III

Gordon Housworth



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Building a COTS (Commercial Off the Shelf Technology) cruise missile Part I

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A field trip to the 50th Annual Toledo Radio Control Exposition on 2 April with the goal of assembling a COTS fleet of attack and surveillance UAVs (Unmanned Aerial Vehicles) was a glowing success.

I am not an R/C pilot so I could start clean as would any other reasonably technically inclined individual. My ground rules were:

  • Could pay cash for everything
  • Could buy everything in-country and so not have to bring items across a border
  • Could buy all items in a population-dense environment not immediately likely to be surveilled
  • Could obtain PC-based simulators in order to covertly learn how to pilot either fixed wing or rotary wing aircraft, i.e., before I tried to fly a physical device
  • All essential components were either genuinely plug and play or already available in kitted form
  • Could obtain functional schematics and instructions for all installs/add-ons
  • Ability to install GPS autopilots with ground pilot override
  • Ability to install real-time video cameras and their RF links
  • Ability to install digital camera triggering
  • Ability to carry payloads (and either release, spray, or otherwise distribute the payload)
  • Option for stealth/noise abatement
  • Ability to do it at modest cost in comparison to anything a military unit would field and, labor costs aside, be within al Qaeda's frugal pocket book

Background:

I follow both the UAV and the micro-UAV (MAV or MUAV) segments and have been watching the deployment of what are called "back-able" as in backpack-able small UAVs for the marines and army. I was aware of Yamaha's superb RMAX commercial UAV helicopter, the latest in a series of fine AVs (Autonomous Vehicles) and am familiar with the collaborative work between R&D and computational science groups at NASA Ames Research Center. I was also aware of the PRC's effort to build its own version of the RMAX, called the "air robot."

If any reader is a follower of Japanese technology development, about the best we have is David Kahaner, now at ATIP (Asian Technology Information Program). Kahaner was writing on the control logic for the Yamaha R-50 (predecessor to the RMAX) back in the mid-90s, concluding that it was "An excellent case for "dual usage" technology."

I felt that it was time to see what a COTS assembly would produce as my assumption was that US homeland security might not be thinking asymmetrically as to what aerial threat profiles a perp could produce inside CONUS. (Remember that al Qaeda has had a focus on 'controlling the flight deck' and delivering a payload. The first attempt was converting twin engine passenger craft into 'crop dusters.' Only when that failed did al Qaeda shift to taking control of airliners.)

Results in Part II

Gordon Housworth



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Senate anthrax powder: State of the art

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My 4 Dec 2003 note has renewed relevance now that Amerithrax investigators are said to be "at a "critical" and "sensitive" stage and could unearth significant leads by early July."

Gary Matsumoto's article in Science magazine,
"Anthrax Powder: State of the Art?" drew together many threads -- especially over recent months with regards to nanoglass technology used in computer chip manufacture, specialty paints and pigments -- to paint a picture of supreme skill and manufacturing prowess in the making of the anthrax used in 2001 against the Senate office building.

[Note that while the article is subscription-based, it has been mirrored at sites such as url1 and url2.  Cryptome has html text version -- smaller than the pdf but no photos.]

Even by hardened WMD standards, the Senate weaponized anthrax was off the charts in lethality. As great a master as D.A. Henderson said, "It just didn’t have to be that good" to be lethal.

The problem was not just how lethal it was, how leading edge it was, who could make it (here or offshore), but how its lethality could be obscured, even denied, for so long.

Early in the investigation, the FBI voiced the view of a consensus of military and civilian biodefense specialists that only a sophisticated lab could have produced the material, that it was "weapons-grade" of exceptionally high spore concentration, uniform particle size, contained silica to reduce clumping, and was electrostatically charged to create an "energetic" aerosol.

Then the FBI about faced to the opinion that the material could have been made by a knowledgeable person or persons with run-of-the-mill lab equipment on a modest budget. Now the anthrax contained no additives, had large particles, agglomerates (lumps), substandard milling. The prince had turned into a toad.

The Armed Forces Institute of Pathology (AFIP), however, would not back off and reported that its mass spectrometry analysis found extraordinarily high silica counts in the anthrax.

Nonetheless, the Justice Department locked onto a "person of interest": Steven J. Hatfill, a virologist and physician who conducted Ebola research at Fort Detrick, Maryland (which houses the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases). Leaks to the media did everything but convict Hatfill as FBI and Justice pursued the idea that an individual or small group with limited means could have produced it.

One of the FBI’s most senior scientists, Dwight Adams, then makes the claim that the silica in the Senate anthrax had occurred naturally in the organism’s subsurface spore coat. That unfortunately contravenes the body of anthrax knowledge available to many microbiologists.

To support the small/rogue team hypothesis, the FBI charged a skilled team at Dugway Proving Ground, Utah, with the effort to produce a similarly high-grade anthrax without silica on a modest budget. No success as the Dugway effort only produced a coarse product that stuck together in little cakes.

The Senate anthrax is now revealed to be more advanced than any known weaponized product in US or Russian inventory -- it is the unclass, world-class state of the art in anthrax as it contains:

(1) Virulent Ames strain of anthrax

(2) Extraordinarily high spore concentration

(3) Uniform particle size

(4) Silica to reduce clumping

(5) Polymerized glass (nanoglass) coating to anchor the silica to the anthrax

(6) Electrostatic charge for "energetic" aerosol

It is now believed that this level of weaponization demands equipment worthy of a state-sponsored lab.

It is tantalizing that one of the few firms making "electrohydrodynamic" aerosols for inhalation drug therapy is BattellePharma, Battelle’s pharmaceutical division. Battelle also has a "national security division" that produces bioweapons, performs bioaerosol research, and manages certain US facilities. No "person of interest" has been found at Battelle.

There are now massive questions over the provenance of the Senate anthrax. If it was made in the US, then who, where, and why? If it was made offshore, or sanctioned from overseas, then a state of war should exist.

Gordon Housworth



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UK ammonium nitrate fertilizer device

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In reading British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids, once again, we have to be lucky every time and they only occasionally. All eight suspects are British nationals and while no religious affiliation had been released, a press statement did speak to the fact that "[We] in the police service know that the overwhelming majority of the Muslim community are law abiding and completely reject all forms of violence."  That is a UK police code phrase for Muslim suspects.

Add fuel oil to a thousand pounds of ammonium nitrate and it is ta redux of the Oklahoma City federal building, the Bali nightclub, and the Istanbul bank blast all over again.  If this group has modeled al Oaeda properly, there will be redundnacy, i.e., additional devices.

It will be interesting to see what security measures enter UK agribusinesses. In the US there are already growing rules for delivery of fertilizer, agrochemicals and fuel to farms, not to mention rules to prevent grain and food supply tampering. (Recreational pharmaceutical production has also added strictures to try to stem items like methamphetamine.)

British Arrest 8 in Anti-Terror Raids
By Michael McDonough
Associated Press
Tuesday, March 30, 2004; 6:33 AM

Gordon Housworth



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Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs

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With the phrase, "they go to school on us," in frequent usage in the 9/11 Commission hearings, why does it come as a surprise to some that al Qaeda would attempt to deploy "near-nuclear effect" FAE (fuel air explosives) and thermobaric weapons. One of my drumbeats is that all technology "has a glide slope to the desktop," i.e., it is only a matter of time before any technology, be it laser printing or thermobarics, is small enough and cheap enough to be widely manufactured and distributed. Yet, it still comes as a surprise to so many, which is, to me, a sure sign of underestimation and our failure to "go to school" on them.

The US used thermobaric devices in March 2002 against al Qaeda caves near Gardez, Afghanistan. The weapons are "conventional" in their materials and so do not have telltale signatures but have near-nuclear effects -- a near perfect terror weapon -- and in the case of FAEs they can be assembled in country (I had manuals for them dating from the 80s from open sources) and they do not have the design challenges -- yet -- of thermobarics. The only surprise is why it would take so long.  See Defense officials defend using new bomb.

While jurists and purists dance on the head of a pin discussing whether a two-stage device (FAE) or single stage (thermobaric) classify as a WMD, i.e., two stages do but one stage does not, it makes no difference to the victim or the terrorist. (But you will be relieved to know that our thermobarics are consistent with the laws of armed conflict and our treaty obligations.) Terrorists will take the path of least resistance and start with homemade FAEs and purchased thermobarics.

If you design your first stage burst and mix properly, any fuel tanker truck becomes an FAE -- and it has the benefit of having a built-in transport means. (It is possible that the Tunisian synagogue blast was a developmental step in that direction.) Should the terrorist be unwilling to build, they can buy on the black market (Soviet devices have been found with rebels in the DRC (Democratic Republic of Congo).

FAEs and thermobarics greatly redraft the tactical landscape as truck-barriers would have to have far greater perimeters and defensive strategies become far more complex as these weapons "go around walls." The blast effects are extraordinary, sustained, effective at a greater distance, and consume any breathable oxygen in the confined space and replace it with combustion gases. Lethality is assured.

As I noted in Nov 2001, "If you want to know anything substantive about Soviet tactical military operations, and especially areas of operations in Chechnya and Afghanistan, Lester Grau and Ali Jalali are your guys. As we consider digging anyone out of the underground sanctuaries of Afghanistan, be it natural limestone caves, irrigation tunnels, or purpose-made bunkers, it seemed wise to have a primer on the geography and the tools." Grau and Jalali’s "Underground Combat: Stereophonic Blasting, Tunnel Rats, and the Soviet-Afghan War" is still topical in employment. Just add significantly greater blast effects.

Put a thermobaric in a subway, especially an older, single tube system as the London Underground, and the effects would be profound. FYI, if you are doing research on thermobarics, there is a lot of incorrect reporting in 2001-2002 that they are two stage devices.

Experts fear terrorists are seeking fuel-air bombs
New Scientist
09:45 21 March 04
David Hambling

Some experts fear that terrorists are trying to develop thermobaric and fuel-air bombs which can be even more devastating than conventional devices...

The devices use a small charge to generate a cloud of explosive mixed with air. The main explosion is then detonated by a second charge (a fuel-air explosion), or by the explosive reacting spontaneously with air (a thermobaric explosion). The resulting shock wave is not as strong as a conventional blast, but it can do more damage as it is more sustained and, crucially, diminishes far more gradually with distance.

Gordon Housworth



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Conventional war and other mentalities overlooked the armored Humvee

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The Humvee and the A-10 Warthog, among other platforms, share great similarities: both unloved, beneath the radar of those envisioning grand engagements, lacking what we call a "high science-fiction coefficient" of embedded technology, almost never manufactured, and both nearly dropped from production and AF inventory.

The A-10 came to be recognized as a highly survivable "life-support system" for a remarkable 30 MM gun in which every "ugly," non-supersonic element was designed to keep pilot and gun intact over the kill box. It's design critical path is superb.

The Humvee is, I think, becoming the "mobile foxhole" and CP (command post) for mechanized infantry, especially in an urban setting. Its capacity, speed, traverse and ground clearance are fine but it has been thrust into the role of an armored car without the armor. The vehicle can carry substantial ordnance but if the bad guy gets off the first shot, it is imperiled.

Cold-War Thinking Prevented Vital Vehicle From Reaching Iraq describes a planning world in which massed tank battles in the central German plains held sway (along with the service ego of having the best toys and the manufacturers desire to provide them) had no place for an armored Humvee whereas 'low level' guerilla conflicts demand it. Now we see on-the-spot ingenuity of the GIs ad hoc armoring their 'personal transports,' much like GIs did in earlier wars (e.g., the hedgerow penetrators that allows tanks to go through a hedgerow, keeping the muzzle on the Germans, rather than going over it and exposing the tanks soft underbelly, and the decapitation deflectors on the front of a jeep that cut wires strung trails before they reached the occupants).

At the time, attention was devoted to the Army's Future Combat System, "which officials say will replace the 70-ton battle tank and should be able to do everything from high-end combat to peacekeeping. The system, which the Army hopes to field starting around 2010, will depend on unmanned surveillance planes, robotic sensors and human scouts to determine the enemy's whereabouts. Computers linked by wireless modems will then disseminate the data to troops -- who will spread out over the battlefield and attack simultaneously from several directions before the enemy can even get off a shot. Instead of armor, these new units will rely on better intelligence, munitions and speed to survive."

The armored Humvee, by contrast, was insignificant, yet the current production armored versions are performing well against most Iraqi threats.

Gordon Housworth



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"Nuclear attribution" or post-event forensics

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"Nuclear attribution," or post-event forensics, described in Addressing the Unthinkable, U.S. Revives Study of Fallout is a new form of nuclear deterrence and is the term for strike option determination by quickly identifying where the fissile materials came from, possibly who designed, and who exploded the device. It is a revival of a nearly lost scientific art of the cold war: fallout analysis. Call it a precursor step to second strike.

"As the terrorist threat rose in the 1990's, the government began to consider the quandary that would arise if a nuclear weapon exploded on American soil. In 1999, Dr. Davis, then head of the Defense Threat Reduction Agency at the Pentagon, began an effort to address the identification problem by financing research at the nation's weapons laboratories, many of them run by the Energy Department."

In order for deterrence to be viable, potential actors must know that it exists and believe it accurate -- or at least the sovereign states that harbor the actor must know it exists and is credible. It is easy to see the step where we extend preemption to say that you are guilty if you harbor, aid and abet. You are a willing coconspirator and will be held accountable. That is certainly the process that the British used under the Raj and in Central Asia (and which the Pakistanis are using now to force handover of al Qaeda operatives).

My assumption is that we are already at the implicit point of holding a harboring state responsible, but post-even forensics allows us to reduce the window of guilt and thereby increase the risk calculus of a sovereign state or entity that might be harboring or abetting a perpetrator.

Detection likely depends upon the provenance of the device, i.e., is the device drawn from, or diverted from, someone's nuclear stockpiles (for which classified sampling libraries will be brought into play) or is it a 'homebrew' never before seen or tested device. And if theft is involved, how does one define the thief and ultimate perp. They made not be one and the same and you would want to step on the entire supply chain as a matter of suppression as well as making an example for others.

"In a drill this year, dozens of federal experts in fallout analysis met at the Sandia laboratories in Albuquerque to study a simulated terrorist nuclear blast. Mr. Worlton said they were broken into teams and given radiological data from two old American nuclear tests, whose identities remained hidden, and were instructed to try to name them. Some teams succeeded."

An unfortunate sign of the times. As I have said before, better to have the FEBA (Forward Edge of the Battle Line) as far out in front as possible, and as deep into the supply chain as possible.

Gordon Housworth



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Apache back to Iraq with new tactics

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It is interesting to see the Apache returning to Iraq with the lessons of Vietnam relearned, i.e., the use of rapid maneuver and firing on the move over a battlespace that has hostile, massed ground fire. Just as armor works with mech infantry on the ground, the Apache will work with ground forces as well as with a Kiowa in a hunter-killer team. The Kiowa is a much slower helicopter so one can expect the Iraqis to exploit that differential in sorties outside of urban areas. Still, the duo will be able to operate in a much more autonomous manner than heretofore permitted. Also of note, the lessons learned by Apache helped cancel the Comanche program as it was realized that the newer craft would demand substantial overhaul in order to survive in such an environment. If we learned all those lessons from the Apache in Iraq and Kosovo, it was cheap at the price:

Heading Back to Iraq for Round 2
By MICHAEL R. GORDON
March 1, 2004
New York Times

FOOT HOOD, Tex. — During the American military's push to Baghdad last spring, attack helicopters from the 1-227 Aviation Battalion had one of the war's roughest missions. The unit's AH-64D Apache helicopters were sent deep into Iraqi territory searching for enemy armor only to run into a wall of small-arms and antiaircraft fire.

Of the 30 helicopters that took off on that mission March 23, 2003, largely without benefit of reconnaissance or support from warplanes, virtually all suffered some battle damage and one was shot down, its two pilots captured. That mission proved to be a shock to Army leaders, and the service has been rethinking its helicopter tactics ever since.

Snip

War is a process of constant adaptation… And the Americans have been adjusting. The First Cavalry's commander, Maj. Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, has studied British experience in counterinsurgency operations and taken American officers to Austin, Tex., to get a sense of what it is like to try to manage a large city, a skill set that the American troops who captured Baghdad had to learn on the fly.

The 1-227, however, has some unique experience to draw on — its own. While turnover is a fact of life in the military, more than 70 percent of the battalion have participated in the war in Iraq. The unit has also studied recent downings of American helicopters there to develop new tactics that it has practiced on training ranges in the United States.

Gordon Housworth



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List Introduction

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This list commences the public side of an impromptu list that started immediately after 11 September when colleagues were asking ‘What is Islam?’ What started as a brief history of Islam, the schism between Sunni and Shia, moderate and conservative, and their respective views towards the West morphed into a list on terrorism and infrastructure defense.
 
Save for a minority, there was an ‘information hole’ on interpreting current events. While that hole is much smaller now, I have continued to comment on events that strike my interest. I enjoy making people think, question their assumptions, and gain a window to global issues that make them more effective world citizens.
 
In the spirit of full disclosure, you should know that I write as a US national, holding US interests paramount, and am comfortable with a Geopolitik outlook. I lean to the opinion that, “We have no permanent allies, only permanent interests.” It is immaterial to me if a foreign state is secular or religious, and if religious, whether it is Jewish, Muslim, Hindu or Christian. I only measure the effect of their actions on US interests.
 
If the reader has strong loyalties, be it religious, tribal, cultural or geographic, that work to the opposite, then a gap will exist that no datum or argument will resolve.
 
I agree with Sir Harold Nicholson’s description of diplomacy as “the understanding that for intractable problems there are only adjustments and not solutions.” Americans are resistant to that idea and too often paint a scenario into black and white, seeking a single, lasting, and implicitly moral solution. Other than by force-of-arms, it’s difficult to find such a solution that works for diverse stakeholders, overcomes a history of accumulated slights and resentments, and engenders a negotiation process that’s not resented by one or more stakeholders.
 
Gordon Housworth


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