Saturday, February 11, 2017

More Illegal Wreck Salvaging — Japanese WWII Shipwrecks off Borneo

Remains of Rice Bowl Wreck

Last November, we posted about the wrecks of three Dutch World War IIship wrecks in the Java Sea that have apparently vanished.   The three ships; the HNLMS De Ruyter, HNLMS Java and HNLMS Kortenaer;  had been in waters 70 meters deep, 60 miles off the Indonesian coast.  Now, two of the three wrecks have disappeared, while a significant portion of the third is missing. Illegal scrappers operating grabs from barges are considered to be the likely culprits.

Now, the Guardian reports that the wrecks of three Japanese transport ships sunk off Borneo during World War II have been largely destroyed by a Chinese crane ship engaging in illegal scrapping. The ships; Kokusei Maru, Higane Maru and Hiyori Maru; were all within a kilometer of each other and have been popular dive sites in Malaysia's Sabah state. 

The Guardian reports: Scuba diver Monica Chin said local fishermen called her late last month to say a large Chinese vessel with workers on board was using a crane to tear apart the Japanese ships.

Photos and video footage taken by the fisherman and passed to the Guardian show a large ship with a giant crane for hoisting underwater material. Ship-tracking websites describe the vessel as a "grab dredger".

The looting of Australian, American, British, Dutch and Japanese warships for scrap metal in south-east Asian seas has caused outrage, with veterans and governments arguing that the vessels must be preserved as underwater war graves for sailors.

Locally, the three wrecks are known as Rice Bowl Wreck – named after its cargo of hundreds of bowls – Upside Down Wreck and Usukan Wreck. Now, two of the three ships are said to be effectively gone while the third, the Rice Bowl Wreck, was described as "heap of metal piled up into a ball".  The video below shows diving on the Rice Bowl Wreck before it was destroyed by the scrappers.

Scuba Diving Malaysia HD – Usukan Bay Rice Bowl Wreck with Borneo Dream

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Congress Forcing MDA to Choose Missile Defense Site It Does Not Want

Sometime in early 2017, and it could be any day now, one of the communities on the map below (designated by red dots) will get big news from the Missile Defense Agency (MDA). Congress mandated the MDA to choose a preferred location in case the United States decides to build an additional deployment site for the Ground-based Midcourse (GMD) System missile defense.

The site studies were on track to wrap up at the end of 2016. We've updated our fact sheet on it, posted here.

Fig. 1. Sites being studied as a potential third site for the GMD system: Fort Custer Training Center, near Battle Creek, MI.; Camp Ravenna Joint Military Training Center, near Akron, OH; and Fort Drum, NY. (Source: Google Earth)

There's no military requirement for an additional missile defense site. Nor was the idea of building a third site (in addition to the two existing ones in Alaska and California) the result of a rigorous study of what would best improve the system's ability to intercept ballistic missile threats to the homeland.

But you can count on Congress to run with this idea and push as hard as it can.

Fig. 2. Workers preparing an interceptor in Alaska (Source: Missile Defense Agency)

Every year since 2012, Congress has attempted to dedicate/earmark money to build such a site, despite Pentagon budgets that never included a dime for it. When asked, missile defense officials have said repeatedly that they have higher priorities for their next dollar. And they are skeptical about what starting this expensive project would do to their priorities in a constrained budget environment, including improving the reliability and effectiveness of the existing system. Improving reliability and effectiveness would be a good thing. The GMD system has been plagued with serious reliability problems and has a poor test record.

However, congressional delegations (with a few exceptions) from Michigan, New York and Ohio have crossed party lines and asked the Missile Defense Agency to support locating the site in their respective states. Their support appears to be largely driven by an interest in creating jobs. Each proposed site is in an economically depressed area, and many in the local communities are understandably eager for an infusion of federal cash to generate new job opportunities.

But is this an effective way to create jobs?

Let's talk about money. This would be an expensive project. The Congressional Budget Office estimated that a new site would cost at least $3.6 billion to build and operate over the first five years. This includes ground equipment ($1.2 billion); developing the site, building the facilities, and constructing the silos ($1 billion); the cost of buying 20 interceptors ($1.3 billion), and operations costs ($100 million). For the full complement of 60 interceptors, it would cost at least $2.6 billion more.

Note, however, that the interceptors would not be built at the new sites, and neither the $1.3 billion for the first 20 interceptors nor money for extra interceptors would be spent locally. For example, Raytheon builds the GMD system's kill vehicles in a facility outside Tucson, which it recently expanded to increase its capacity. The GMD interceptor's boosters are also produced primarily in Arizona, at Orbital ATK's facility outside of Phoenix.

So support for local industry and jobs for constituents may partially explain why Sen. John McCain, who usually provides a healthy dose of skepticism about defense expenditures, has endorsed the plan to build a third site.

Turning back to the potential sites in the Midwest, these above estimates indicate that under this plan, the Pentagon would spend at most about $2.3 billion in the local community. While that sounds enticing, studies show that military spending is not a particularly effective way to generate good paying jobs. Investing a comparable amount in clean energy technologies, health care or education is likely create a much larger number of jobs across all pay ranges than military spending.

The GMD site studies provided detailed information about what kinds of jobs would be created by building a new site. While it varies from site to site, the estimate is that construction, would generate 600 to 800 temporary jobs. A large fraction of those jobs, 15 to 50 percent, could be filled by workers from outside the region, depending on the skills of local residents.

After construction, the site would require an operations staff of 650 to 850 people. About 85 percent of the permanent staff jobs would be filled by workers from elsewhere due to the fact these positions demand specialized expertise.

The facility would indirectly generate a larger number of jobs, mainly low-to-median wage service jobs spurred by the economic activity. During construction, estimates range from 1,800 to 2,300 indirect jobs, while after the facility is completed, an estimated 300 to 400 indirect jobs would remain.

How does that compare to other types of investment?

Investing in wind projects would be a good bet—and both Michigan and New York are among the top 20 states for wind energy potential. As I noted a few years ago, a 2008 study by the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, which looked at the economic impact of building wind turbines in Colorado, estimated that developing 1,000 megawatts of wind-generated power would create 1,700 full-time equivalent jobs (including engineering and manufacturing jobs), and operation and maintenance would provide 300 permanent jobs in rural areas. In a 2013 report, Lawrence Livermore Laboratories calculated an average cost of building wind power to be $1,940 per kilowatt (and this cost is dropping). So these wind industry jobs would cost an initial outlay of around $2 billion, comparable to the investment in a third GMD site, and would continue to provide a return on investment.

For roughly the same amount of money, Hemlock Semiconductor, in Saginaw County, Michigan created 1,000 new jobs, spending $2.5 billion over five years on manufacturing facilities that produce materials for solar panels.

Building a third GMD missile defense site isn't the result of a considered study of priorities to strengthen U.S. security, nor is it a sensible next step to improve strategic missile defense capabilities. It is symptomatic of a broader problem with strategic missile defense: Congress is not providing adequate oversight nor the necessary skepticism.

Regardless, we expect Congress to continue to push for a new site anyway once a preferred site is selected. However, if Congress has an extra few billion dollars available for one of these locations, it is fair to ask that it be spent in a way that provides economic security for the chosen community and a much better return on investment.

Posted in: Missiles and Missile Defense Tags: Iran, missile defense, North Korea, nuclear weapons, nuclear weapons budget

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GAO-17-150, Defense Civil Support: DOD, HHS, and DHS Should Use Existing Coordination Mechanisms to Improve Their Pandemic Preparedness, February 10, 2017

What GAO Found

The Department of Defense (DOD) has developed guidance and plans to direct its efforts to provide assistance in support of civil authorities—in particular the Departments of Health and Human Services (HHS) and Homeland Security (DHS)—in the event of a domestic outbreak of a pandemic disease. For example, the Department of Defense Global Campaign Plan for Pandemic Influenza and Infectious Diseases 3551-13 provides guidance to DOD and the military services on planning and preparing for a pandemic outbreak. DOD's Strategy for Homeland Defense and Support to Civil Authorities states that DOD often is expected to play a prominent supporting role to primary federal agencies. DOD also assists those agencies in the preparedness, detection, and response to other non-pandemic viruses, such as the recent outbreak of the Zika virus.

Figure 1: Photograph of the Aedes aegypti Mosquito Responsible for Spreading the Zika Virus

Figure 1: Photograph of the i Aedes aegypti

Source: Department of Defense | GAO-17-150

HHS and DHS have plans to guide their response to a pandemic, but their plans do not explain how they would respond in a resource-constrained environment in which capabilities like those provided by DOD are limited. DOD coordinates with the agencies, but existing coordination mechanisms among HHS, DHS, and DOD could be used to improve preparedness. HHS's Pandemic Influenza Plan is the departmental blueprint for its preparedness and response to an influenza pandemic. DHS's National Response Framework is a national guide on how federal, state, and local governments are to respond to such incidents. DOD, HHS, and DHS have mechanisms—such as interagency working groups, liaison officers, and training exercises—to coordinate their response to a pandemic. For example, training exercises are critical in preparing these agencies to respond to an incident by providing opportunities to test plans, improve proficiency, and assess capabilities and readiness. These existing mechanisms provide the agencies opportunities to improve their preparedness and response to a pandemic. HHS and DHS plans do not specifically identify what resources would be needed to support a response to a pandemic in which demands exceeded federal resources. These officials stated that there would be no way of knowing in advance what resources would be required. HHS and DHS are in the process of updating their plans and thus have an opportunity to coordinate with each other and with DOD to determine the appropriate actions to take should DOD's support be limited.

Why GAO Did This Study

The U.S. Army estimates that if a severe infectious disease pandemic were to occur today, the number of U.S. fatalities could be almost twice the total number of battlefield fatalities in all of America's wars since the American Revolution in 1776. A pandemic occurs when an infectious agent emerges that can be efficiently transmitted between humans and has crossed international borders. DOD's day-to-day functioning and the military's readiness and operations abroad could be impaired if a large percentage of its personnel are sick or absent, and DOD's assistance to civil authorities might be limited.

House Report 114-102 included a provision for GAO to assess DOD's planning and coordination to support civil authorities during a pandemic. This report assesses the extent to which (1) DOD has guidance and plans for supporting civil authorities in the event of a domestic outbreak of a pandemic disease and (2) HHS and DHS have plans to respond to a pandemic if DOD support capabilities are limited, and they have mechanisms to coordinate their pandemic preparedness and response. GAO reviewed agency pandemic guidance and plans, interagency coordination mechanisms, and pandemic-related exercises and after-action reports.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that DOD, HHS, and DHS use existing coordination mechanisms to explore opportunities to improve preparedness and response to a pandemic if DOD's capabilities are limited. DOD, HHS, and DHS concurred with GAO's recommendations.

For more information, contact Joe Kirschbaum, at (202) 512-9971 or

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Friday, February 10, 2017

Pirates Kidnap 8 Crew from BBC Caribbean Off Nigeria

BBC Caribbean. Photo:
BBC Caribbean. Photo: MarineTraffic/F.YBANCOS

ReutersLAGOS, Feb 8 (Reuters) – Pirates have kidnapped seven Russians and one Ukrainian after attacking the cargo ship the BBC Caribbean off the coast of Nigeria, the Russian embassy said on its official Twitter account.

The embassy has asked Nigerian authorities to assist in locating the abducted people, it said late on Tuesday.

The Nigerian navy and police were not immediately available for comment.

The general cargo vessel BBC Caribbean is managed by Briese Schiffahrts.

"The armed pirates approached (the vessel) in a boat, captured the crew and left on the boat at the direction of the Nigerian shores," said Pavel Fedulov, the director of a Briese Schiffahrts subsidiary in St Petersburg, according to Russian news organisation RBC.

No firearms were used during the attack, he was quoted as saying.

Security experts class West Africa's waters, especially off Nigeria where most of the pirates originate, as some of the world's most dangerous, with attackers often targeting oil tankers as well as hostages to ransom.

As oil prices have dropped, pirate gangs have taken to abducting crew for ransom as a way to make more money.

Security analysts say the pirates have emerged from militant groups in Nigeria's oil-producing Niger Delta.

The Nigerian navy on Wednesday rescued an oil tanker, the MT Gaz Providence, and its 21 crew members from a separate pirate attack near Bonny Island, the navy said in a statement.

Another attack was also fended off by the navy south of Akassa in Delta state, where pirates twice tried to hijack the oil tanker MT Rio Spirit, the navy said.

The statement did not address the kidnapping of the crew members of BBC Caribbean. (Reporting by Angela Ukomadu; Additional reporting by Tife Owalabi in Yenagoa, Ulf Laessing in Lagos and Vladimir Soldatkin in Moscow; Writing by Paul Carsten; Editing by Alison Williams)

(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2017.

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Thursday, February 9, 2017

Caught Our Eyes: Crash Landing February 8, 2017 by Julie Stoner

Caught Our Eyes: Crash Landing

While browsing through the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog, the perfect timing and composition of this shot caught my eye. Seeing the final moment before the plane completes its flip and collides with the deck, I want to reach out and stop the accident from happening.

Douglas SBD "Dauntless" dive bomber balanced on nose after crash landing on carrier flight deck, June 21, 1943. Photo by U.S. Navy.

Douglas SBD “Dauntless” dive bomber balanced on nose after crash landing on carrier flight deck. Photo by U.S. Navy, 1943 June 21.

Luckily, the caption on the back of the photo assures the viewer that both the pilot and gunner were not hurt in the resulting crash.

The Douglas A-24 (Dauntless) light dive bomber. Photo by Office of War Information, 1942 or 1943.

The Douglas A-24 (Dauntless) light dive bomber. Photo by Office of War Information, 1942 or 1943.

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Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Declassified SAC History Indicates Massive Nuclear Strikes Planned Against Soviet Anti-Missile Sites During Cold War

Declassified SAC History Indicates Massive Nuclear Strikes Planned Against Soviet Anti-Missile Sites During Cold War

February 7, 2017


Missile Defenses Then and Now

A declassified Strategic Air Command History from 1968, recently cited in former SAC commander-in-chief Lee Butler's memoirs, sheds light on the role of anti-ballistic missile defenses in national policies and international relations. According to the SAC history, in the late 1960s, SAC targeted over 100 Minuteman missiles, over 10 percent of the ICBM forces, on Soviet ABM sites lest Soviets disrupt a U.S. nuclear strike in the event of the outbreak of general war. The assignment of large numbers of nuclear warheads against Soviet ABM sites would characterize Cold War U.S. nuclear planning.

Missile defense systems were divisive issues during the Cold War and have unsettled U.S.-Russian relations during the years that followed. Besides Russia's invasion of the Ukraine and the tensions over NATO enlargement, one reason why arms control talks with Russia and China have foundered is that both countries object to U.S. ballistic missile defense (BMD) programs. Moscow and Beijing see BMD as a threat that weakens their nuclear strike capabilities. For example, the Russians refuse to participate in follow-on New START talks unless missile defenses are an element of the negotiation, among other considerations.[i] Voicing historic Russian anxieties about missile defenses, President Putin has argued that U.S. programs undermine the strategic balance, the threat of mutual destruction that "ensured and guaranteed peace on the planet, sparing us from major military conflict over the last 70 years." When the Bush administration unilaterally withdrew from the ABM Treaty in 2002, Putin saw that as "major blow" to the strategic balance leaving him no recourse except to "improv[e] Russia's offensive missiles in order to improve the balance." [ii]

A roughly parallel situation existed in the late 1960s, but in reverse, when the U.S. military saw the Soviet Union's developing anti-ballistic missile (ABM) system as a potential threat to U.S. deterrence. The Soviet Union had been moving ahead in deploying a network of radars and nuclear-armed interceptors for destroying incoming missiles from different directions. From the Soviet perspective of those days, missile defense was "moral" while nuclear offense was "immoral." To offset a perceived Soviet advantage the U.S. government was trying to catch up, developing what became known successively, as Nike-X, Sentinel, and then Safeguard ABM systems. The emerging ABM competition could exacerbate the ICBM race that had begun in the late 1950s. An interest in avoiding that provided powerful impetus to Moscow for the strategic arms limitation talks that began in late 1969.

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-11-38-51-amNuclear Targeting

Whatever arms control diplomacy accomplished, the U.S. Air Force saw the Soviet ABM system as a threat to be destroyed if war broke out. U.S. nuclear plans during the Cold War posited massive attacks on ABM systems as opening moves in general nuclear war. This remained true after the ABM Treaty (1972) because it left the Soviets the option, which they implemented, of defending Moscow, the "National Command Authority," with a 100-interceptor anti-missile defense. In his recently published memoir, General Lee Butler recounted a briefing during 1991 on targeting plans against Soviet ABM complexes that he had received after he had become Commander-in-Chief of the Strategic Air Command and Director of the Joint Strategic Target Planning Staff:

I could hardly believe what I was hearing. Scores of thermonuclear war­heads raining down on the periphery of Moscow, creating a holocaust of destruction and radioactive debris whose effects were beyond calculation, locally or globally. Had I been more familiar with the voluminous Strategic Air Command histories, specifically page 300 of the now unclassified/FOIA edition covering January-­June, 1968, I would not have been caught so off­guard – it made quite clear the scope of attack planning going back to the dawn of the Moscow ABM system.

When General Butler received this briefing, 69 nuclear warheads alone would have rained down on the new Puskhino (Don 2N) ABM battle management radar, over and above the numbers of warheads slated against other missile defenses, according to former SAC officer and Princeton University research scholar Bruce Blair. The declassified SAC history (see page 300 of excerpt, transcript attached owing to poor quality of original) that General Butler cites shows how massive the earlier strike plans were (besides providing valuable background on the launch-on-warning posture). As of early 1968, more than a 100 Minuteman ICBMs and an unspecified number of Polaris missiles would have targeted the ABM system. Some of them could have hit the Dnestr "Hen House" early warning radars, deployed on the Soviet Union's periphery, for detecting incoming missiles. Others would have targeted the "Tallin" air defense system deploying SA-5 surface-to-air missiles located in Estonia. Most of the Minutemen may have targeted the ABM radars and interceptors surrounding Moscow, the Dunay "Dog House" and Try Add, which tracked incoming missiles and guided the "Galosh" ABM interceptors to their targets.[iii] As Butler observed, the impact of the detonations would have been "a holocaust of destruction and radioactive debris."

screen-shot-2017-02-06-at-11-38-29-amThat SAC was devoting 10 percent of its ICBM force to destroying Soviet ABMs indicated the high priority that it gave to that target system. Yet, U.S. strategic planners were well aware that counter-measures were available that would make it possible for U.S. Minutemen warheads to evade Soviet ABMs and strike military or urban-industrial target systems. Whatever U.S. planners thought of Soviet ABM capabilities at the time, it eventually became known that the Soviet ABM system of the late 1960s was "hopelessly inadequate" because it was geared to defending against only six or seven incoming ICBMs.[iv] At the same time that SAC was making its targeting plans against the Soviet ABM, Hans Bethe and Richard Garwin published a major article on "Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems" in the Scientific American (March 1968)  that explained in "general terms, using nonsecret information, the techniques an enemy could employ at no great cost to reduce the effectiveness of an ABM system." The techniques included decoys, chaff and jammers to confuse the adversary's radar and radar blackouts caused by a nuclear explosion. As well-known as those techniques were apparently U.S. war planners did not have enough confidence in them to re-assign the 100 Minutemen to another mission.

Missile Defenses: From Bush II to Obama

In 2007, the Federation of American Scientists' Hans M. Kristensen first brought this SAC history to light in a fascinating Web post that raised important questions about the role of missile defenses in nuclear strategy and the Bush administration's plans for a missile defense system in Eastern Europe. While President Obama continued the ballistic missile defense system based in Ft. Greely in Alaska, he canceled the Eastern European program leaving in its place as a part of his the Phased Adaptive Approach, a land-based version of the Aegis shipborne BMD system, ostensibly designed to protect U.S. forces deployed in Western Europe from a future Iranian missile threat. So far that has involved Aegis Ashore deployments in Romania and ground breaking for a similar installation in Poland. The Navy has plans to deploy hundreds of Aegis/SM-3 interceptors on ships in the coming years:

On the East Asian front, the United States and South Korea have agreed on plans to base an Army ballistic missile defense system, terminal high altitude area defense (THAAD), although it faces Korean domestic opposition. The Japanese Government has also expressed interest in deploying the system. An element in the Obama administration's support for THAAD in South Korea was its possible utility to strengthening the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty system by discouraging local interest in acquiring indigenous nuclear deterrents against the North.

How THAAD and Aegis fare in the new administration will probably depend on the balance between Secretary of Defense Mattis's priorities, strong Republican support for expanding missile defenses, and the new President's interest in accommodation with Russia. If missile defenses go forward, it is worth keeping in mind that the same types of countermeasures that have available since the 1960s are likely to render them ineffective. For example, with respect to possible THAAD deployments in South Korea, Jeffrey Lewis has argued that North Korea is developing its own capabilities against them. "There are many countermeasures available to North Korea to defeat missile defenses," such as the solid-fueled KN-11 missile, which could be used for submarine-launched ballistic missiles that could defeat THAAD if launched in salvo and behind the radars. [v] That would be the most costly one; exoatmospheric decoys would be far less expensive.

The Chinese and the Russian governments have respectively criticized THAAD in South Korea and Aegis Ashore in Romania and Poland. The U.S. has denied that these systems have any mission other than defense against Iran and North Korea, but Beijing has declared that the THAAD radar is a threat to its security interests, just as Putin has criticized Aegis deployments in Eastern Europe.[vi] In his recent speech Putin mentioned countermeasures: " weapons that are designed to penetrate ballistic missile defense systems," and Chinese military experts recognize their relevance to thwarting BMD.[vii] It is likely that military planners in Beijing and Moscow put U.S. missile defenses on their target lists just as SAC planners and their successors targeted Soviet and Russian ABMs. As Hans Kristensen put it, "all the major nuclear weapon states insist that they must hedge against an uncertain future and continue to adjust their strike plans against potential adversaries that have weapons of mass destruction." As long as such conditions obtain, the U.S.'s BMD systems may remain an element in the nuclear disarmament stalemate.

* Thanks to Frank von Hippel and Ted Postol for inspiring this posting and thanks to Jordan Pyers for the transcription.

[i] Heather Williams, "Russia Still Needs Arms Control," Arms Control Today, January/February 2016,

[ii] "Meeting with Heads of International News Agencies, June 17 2016, St Petersburg,"

[iii] For details on Soviet ABM defenses, see Stephen Zaloga, The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword (Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, 2002), 123, 125-126, and 163-169.

[iv] Ibid., 126.

[v] Jeffrey Lewis, "KN-11 and Thaad,",

[vi] Kingston Reif and Kelsey Davenport, "South Korea to Deploy U.S. Defense System," Arms Control Today, September 2016; Kingston Reif, "Romania Missile Defense Site Activated," Arms Control Today, June 2016,

[vii] Work on countermeasures began in the former Soviet Union during the 1950s, see Zaloga, The Kremlin's Nuclear Sword, at 123. For perspective on countermeasures and the missile defense debate generally, see Michael Krepon, "Ritualized Anxieties over BMD," Armscontrolwonk.com


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