The New Russian Base in Iran is a Strategic Asset for Moscow

by Stephen Bryen*

The new Russian base in Iran is a strategic asset for Moscow and may be a game changer in the power balance in the Middle East.  

The United States and Russia are competing for influence on a global basis.  In this game the Russians are operating from a position of substantial weakness when compared to US power and influence.  The Russian military, despite a rebuilding and modernization process underway, is still far short in both quality and quantity over the US military, which is a global force compared to Russia.  Furthermore, the Russian economy is in bad shape, making it difficult for the Russians to build out their forces even against a relatively modest plan backed by Russia’s government.  Even so, the Russians are bidding for power around their periphery and have expanded into the Middle East.  Here they face a dominant United States.


Russian Air Force Su-34

Washington, though, has experienced a number of setback as al-Qaeda, ISIS and related terrorists have gained a strong foothold in the Middle East and Africa. Having spent trillions of dollars and wasted thousands of lives, support for more wars in the Middle East is waning in America.  One of Washington’s latest gambits, to do a nuclear deal with Iran, has not shown any evidence of a political payback.  In fact the latest Russian move, to secure an agreement with Iran for use of an air base, is shaking up the Middle East.

Noje airbase, otherwise known as Hamadan Air Base, is located in western Iran in an isolated area. The base has two runways –one is 12,915 feet long; the other is 14,300 feet. Both runways are made of thick asphalt and are well maintained, even though the air base, which is strictly military, does not support Iran’s main fighter aircraft. The Russians are now using this airbase formally to carry out air operations in Syria where it is supporting Tu-22M3 strategic bombers and Su-34 twin-seat strike fighters. That was made possible by an agreement between Moscow and Tehran. Noje is now primarily a new Russian base in the Middle East.

tu-22m at mozdok

TU-22M3 Bombers at Mozdok Air Base in north Ossetia

There are some important advantages to Russia in having the Iranian base for its bombers and strike aircraft. Without the base in Iran, either Russia has to fly from its air base at Khmeimim in Syria or from airfields back in Russia. In fact, last year the same Tupolev bombers were flying from Mozdok air base in Russia. Mozdok, located in northern Ossetia, is more than 2,000 km from likely targets in Syria; Noje is less than 900 km. In all, the time to target has been reduced by more than 60% thanks to the Iranian base.

Why didn’t the Russians fly directly from its Syrian airbase and skip intermediary stops? Khmeimim’s runway cannot handle the Tupolev which is too heavy. The Tu-22M3 has en empty weight of 119,000 lbs. Other Russian bombers such as the Tu-95MS (empty weight of 198,000 lbs) and the Tu-160 (242,505 lbs empty weight) can’t currently fly from Khmeimim. The alternative, Damascus International Airport can support these aircraft, but here they are exposed to enemy mortars and ground attack, making placement of strategic bombers there unacceptable to the Russians.

There is another reason, according to press reports from Moscow, why the Iranian base carries an important advantage. The Russians apparently believe that the US-Saudi backed rebels are being tipped off about Russian long range air operations and are disbursing ahead of any Russian strikes. It is well known, and a frequent Washington complaint, that the Russians are attacking US-sponsored rebels more than ISIS. Thus the Russian worry is not unfounded. Since an air flight from Mozdok to targets in Syria is over 2,000 km, flight time is on the order of two hours or more ( to conserve fuel the planes are not flying at top speed over friendly territory). The flight from Iran is between 30 to 45 minutes tops. If, therefore, the US is warning the rebels of impending Russian air strikes, the time to get the message to them and to actually be able to move their forces out of harms way, is far less and maybe too short for finding effective cover.

The Russians are not the first to move strategic aircraft into the Middle East. The US has deployed B-1B Lancer bombers in Qatar which have been used to bomb targets in Afghanistan and Iraq and, after sending the B-1B bombers home last April, replaced them with B-52 bombers. The US strategic bomber deployment has been at least since the first Gulf War, on and off.

U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber takes off from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England

A U.S. Air Force B-52 bomber takes off from RAF Fairford in Gloucestershire, England, in this file photo taken March 23, 2003. REUTERS/DarrenStaples/Files

Perhaps the main thing that is new is that US sole power dominance in the Persian Gulf and Middle East is coming to an end. The Russians are now in the game, with assets in Syria and Iran, and growing influence (via Iran) in Iraq. What does this buy for Russia and Putin? For the Russians strategic posture and oil are closely linked, as for the United States. What is, perhaps, bizarre is that both Russia and the United States themselves are self-sufficient in oil, meaning that their attempts to control oil are more closely related to their effort to dominate elsewhere, namely in Europe and Asia. That is why the base in Iran makes strategic sense to Russian strategists and why Washington should be concerned.

The Russians are playing a hard-nosed poker game.  Looking ahead, and given the squandering of US resources and manpower in Iraq and Afghanistan,  the US should be strengthening its alliances in the Middle East with substantial strategic agreements with partners such as Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Israel that benefit US big picture interests.  The seeming inability for Washington to even grasp this idea is a stunning demonstration of the failure of national security policy as well as evidence that Washington is foolishly preoccupied with secondary issues and otherwise paralyzed.  You can’t engage in poker without playing the cards you have.

*Stephen Bryen was a senior Defense Department official and served as head of an international aerospace company in the United States.

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Why Cyber Security Fails

by Stephen Bryen


The Maginot Line approach to Cyber Security is a self-fulfilling prophecy of disaster.

Today there is a huge cyber security industry organized to try and stop cyber intrusions, information theft, and crippling attacks on the critical infrastructure including our defense systems.  The American government has spent hundreds of billions since the 1980’s to try and build defenses against cyber attacks.  But despite the effort, and the tens of thousands of experts who have worked hard to try and protect information systems, there is a record of failure for all to see.  If anything, Americans are less secure today than last year; and less secure last years then ten years ago.  When it comes to protecting cyber systems, we are in an exponential failure mode.  Why?

Here are the reasons why cyber security fails:

1. Today’s systems are hugely complex and rapidly changing and adapting.  Such complexity means that even with the best of intentions it is extremely difficult to cover all, or even most, of the potential vulnerabilities in operating systems, software, communications and networks. Virtually every modern system has been hacked successfully and repeatedly.

2. Modern hardware and software evolves and as new features, capabilities and functions are added, the old features, capabilities and functions generally are dragged along and remain built into the newest products.  Thus old weaknesses persist and remain lurking even while new vulnerabilities are added to the risk equation.

3. Most software and firmware contains a certain amount of community-developed open source code.  This has led to some notable system disasters such as the Heartbleed bug.  Community developed code may be very good, and most of it is free thereby attracting companies to make use of it. Often it also forms the de facto standard for functions such as communications and security, making it hard to avoid because of the need for compatibility across different platforms including different vintages of applications.  There is no formal policing system for community developed code efforts.  While the people involved often are well meaning, their operations are an easy target for a professional intelligence organization to penetrate.

4. Most operating systems and computer software, even custom built, are commercial or contain commercial elements.  While all large computer software design teams take into account security, it is never their first priority because it is not their customer’s priority.  The customer wants the solution and wants to spend as little as possible in many cases.  The customer also wants ease of use and minimal restrictions placed on any application, network or operating system.  Plug and Play today has a much broader meaning than originally intended: it is the ability to load and use a program with minimal learning curve and maximum payback in terms of achieving functionality.  It is not surprising, therefore, that software companies often are providing patches and updates to try and fix a long list of vulnerabilities in the code they have sold commercially.  All updates and patches usually come well after the vulnerability has already been exploited by the bad guys.  Worse yet, not everyone implements the changes needed in a timely manner, or even at all.

5. Most software companies are globalized.  This means that maintaining anything resembling internal security is extremely difficult.  Only the biggest players can afford to put in place security mechanisms and background checks to try and prevent a hostile organization from penetrating their development centers.  Once you drop below the level of the big guys, personnel security, compartmentalization and other techniques (such as protecting operating code by encrypting core elements) are rarely implemented.  Thus hostile organizations, foreign intelligence services, even rogue hackers find it very easy to penetrate development centers.

6. The US government among others has requested firms specializing in software, web based applications, mobile systems and encryption to create so-called back doors and other weaknesses that are supposedly only known to the US government and the company. Unfortunately there are people such as Edward Snowden who expose these government efforts from time to time.  Even without a Snowden, it is reasonable to assume that well financed foreign intelligence services will figure out where these back doors and gaps exist, meaning that they can join outfits like the NSA in exploiting them.

7. Nation states are investing billions to harvest information from IT systems and use it for improving their own defense systems, finding ways to weaken their adversaries, or simply to get rich.  Banks have been ripped off to the tune of billions, and mostly don’t report it.  Patents and trademarks, legal processes, confidential documents all have been stolen and used either to generate cash, duplicate the effort of the victims, or to create secret funds that can be used for nefarious purposes.  There is a huge criminal enterprise underneath government-run programs in different parts of the world, creating a new class of cyber rich government officials and hackers in a perfect storm of criminal activity, profiteering and use of information to intimidate or destroy rivals or competitors.  It is virtually impossible to stop well financed cyber hacking because it is persistent, deniable and has no consequences to the perpetrator.  Almost no one goes to jail for cyber exploits except a few braggarts who get caught.  Then the government who arrests them makes deals so they can benefit from the know how in their knowledge base.

8. The response to most intrusions and hacking is passive defense.  Wars can never be won with passive defense.  The Maginot Line approach to Cyber Security is a self-fulfilling prophecy of disaster.  All the adversary has to do is to keep trying.  The costs are small, risks are few and mostly non-existent, and rewards are great.  While the Pentagon has put together what it calls Plan X to go after hackers, there is no evidence to suggest we are doing that, the rule of engagement are secret (and it isn’t sure the rules exist), and the idea itself is flawed because it is based on the notion that you can successfully reverse cyber attack the source,  Unfortunately the source of the attack is the foreign government or organized crime network.  It is not the individual hacker or even hacker organization.  These can be replaced, reconfigured, relaunched and they can do their damage from their home country or elsewhere almost as easily. Thus trying to smash them is a furtive game with few tangible rewards.  An attacking organization that can reconstitute itself on demand is not the right target.  The target must be the real source -namely the sponsors.  The sponsors can be got at in only one way– by causing damage to them. This means that if, for example, a cyber organization in China steals F-35 fighter jet information from Lockheed, the answer is not to hit back and attack the cyber organization.  The answer is to attack China’s aerospace industry and disrupt it severely.  Maybe this can be done through a cyber mechanism; but the mechanism is not so important as the deed.  Swift retribution is the only way to let the adversary know that he will pay  each and every time he causes harm. Indeed it is utterly galling and a mark of failure that China is showing off its stealth jet –the Chengdu J-20–which is clearly a rip off of the F-35, and we are sitting on our hands.  World leaders and politicians, as well as military people, understand immediately. Either China has bested America by stealing her secrets, or they suspect a conspiracy between the US and China since it is unbelievable that the US would permit China to steal our technology.  But there it is, staring us in the face, and eroding our national security and out prestige.  How much prestige can the US surrender and not be regarded as the global chump, instead of the global peace keeper?

These are the reasons cyber security fails.  It cannot work as it is done today.  No amount of political blarney can keep covering up the escalating failure and the harm it is causing to our security, eroding our global markets, and putting our businesses, government, infrastructure and personal privacy at great risk.  We have to shed the Maginot Line mentality and change the game if we want to win the war.

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The Coming Collapse of NATO

by Stephen Bryen*

NATO is on its last legs. It has been on life support for years, but it could survive because, following the collapse of the Soviet Union, it could carry on unopposed. Taking advantage of the situation NATO did three things: (1) it expanded its membership to pick up many of the newly independent Eastern European states who wanted Alliance protection; (2) it got rid of much of its land-based armaments, especially mechanized equipment including tanks and armored personnel carriers, and it reduced overall troop strength considerably; (3) it engaged itself in non-core military-political activities (Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya) which were none of its business. Furthermore, NATO (led mainly by the United States) precipitated a crisis in the Ukraine by trying to line up Ukraine’s membership in the EU and in NATO. The results of this reckless policy are there for all to see.

NATO was created originally to do three (or more) things: (1) to prevent any Soviet attack on Western Europe; (2) to slow down and stop the expansion of Communist activity in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy and France; (3) to reintegrate (West) Germany in a security alliance to challenge Soviet control over East Germany (German Democratic Republic).

Bringing West Germany into NATO and militarizing the country was not always accepted among those who fought the Nazis.** To a degree it forced the Russians into a box, and gave them even more excuses to oppose any deal on reuniting Germany. Indeed, even in the early 1950s if not earlier, the Soviets (read Russians) had tabled the idea of an integrated Germany that they proposed should be disarmed. This was firmly opposed by the Eisenhower administration and became a non-starter. After an uprising in East Germany, that would be echoed down the years by another in Hungary and still another in Czechoslovakia, and growing dissension in Poland, the Soviets militarized East Germany, drew a hard line between the two states, and built a wall between them.

There things stood until the Soviet Union disintegrated. Its collapse was caused by four reasons: the losing war in Afghanistan which was causing tens of thousands of casualties; the terribly weak Russian domestic economy which was unable to deliver improvements to the way of life under Communism; serious corruption inside the Nomenklatura which fed a major leadership crisis; the failure of Soviet arms to function effectively. The technology failure can best be seen by Stinger missiles decimating the Soviet Air Force in Afghanistan, and the earlier triumph of Israeli jets, primarily American, against front line Soviet-supplied fighters and air defenses in 1982 over the Bekaa valley. With its military discredited and its leaders unable to set things onto any course that could find popular support, the regime surrendered after not much of an insurgency led by Boris Yeltsin.

NATO is not an automatic alliance. It is a collective security agreement that requires the approval of all members to respond to any attack on a NATO member.

There is a remarkable document (in multiple volumes) which are the diaries of Ivan Maisky. Maisky was Soviet Ambassador to London from 1932 until 1943 until he ran afoul of Stalin and Molotov. In the diary, brilliantly edited by Gabriel Gorodetsky, one can read how, before the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact of 1939, that the Russians kept pushing London and Paris to stand by their commitments to Czechoslovakia and urged the British and French to stand up to Hitler. When this didn’t happen, the Russians quickly cut a cynical deal with Hitler to carve up Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Finland and Romania. It would not be until Hitler turned the tables on the Russians and launched its invasion of Soviet territory in June, 1941 that the allies realized that Russian resistance to Hitler was essential or Hitler would have a free hand in the West.


The Maisky diary is terribly relevant to today because, like the NATO of today, England and France had treaty commitments to come to the defense of Czechoslovakia and Poland. As it turned out, they sold out the Czechs to get “peace in our time” and ended up declaring war when Germany invaded Poland. What would NATO do if Russia used some sort of salami tactic against Poland or Lithuania, for example? The chances are very strong, given the overall spineless leadership in Europe today, that Europe would not support an alliance move for military engagement. Instead it would push for something far short of that, just as has happened in Ukraine which, of course, is not a NATO member.

What happened in Ukraine also happened in Georgia. Whatever the actual cause or causes for Russia’s incursion on Georgian territory, NATO did nothing. In fact, it blamed the Georgians for the mess and washed its hands.

The truth is anytime NATO faces any confrontation that could lead to fighting against Russia, NATO is not interested at all, no matter what noises are coming from the United States. In this sense we can speak to the neutralization of Europe since the end of the Cold War, if not well before.

Today it is even worse. The current pool of European leaders are all weak and confused, unable even to deal with a security crisis caused by run-amok refugees who are destroying their liberal illusions. The case of Chancellor Angela Merkel is illustrative. Her bet on the refugees has destroyed her political credibility. The only reason her government so far survives is there is not a strong opposition candidate that can carry Germany beyond Merkel and her Christian Democratic Union. But a few more upheavals and it won’t matter and Merkel will be gone. She is the last strong voice for European Unity and NATO on the continent. Her loss will be an end to a history that has lasted since West Germany was created.

Some think, correctly it would appear, that NATO is only an American prop in a game that is largely between two superpowers, although since the end of the Cold War it is hard to think of Russia as any longer a superpower. Years ago, in a visit to France while he was still President and General Secretary of the Communist Party, Gorbachev told the French Prime Minister Francois Mitterand in 1987 that Russia was a banana Republic with nuclear weapons.

After the collapse of Soviet power in 1991 and the loss of many of its territories, Russian power significantly contracted not only in terms of political leadership but also in military terms. For more than a decade no new weapons were provided to Russia’s military; the size of the military was reduced; and Russia’s defenses started rusting away. No where was this better epitomized than Russian nuclear submarines in the port of Vladivostok and in the Kola Peninsula. There dozens of nuclear submarines presented a major hazard and even the United States volunteered to help the Russians clean up the mess.


Today President Putin is trying to rejuvenate Russia’s military forces. There are new air, land and naval weapons being introduced. But Russia is still a very long way from reaching a level that approximates its former strength or that could be enough to sustain a cross-border military operation in Europe for very long. Adding to the Russian conundrum is a lack of money to finance any military expansion or modernization. That is why Russia is buying so few new airplanes –the number is in the handfuls***, while the United States is planning to build more than two thousand F-35 stealth jets.

No one should minimize that Russia can cause a lot of trouble on its flanks. But that it could do more than that is very doubtful, and Putin probably knows better than most that any such gamble could turn out very badly for him and Russia.

Meanwhile, with a neutralizing Europe the United States has to be very careful not to push too hard. There are too many well meaning “experts” running around in the United States trying to gin up trouble with Russia. That could lead to a challenge that cannot be answered because Europe won’t support the United States or, even worse, refuse to take action and weaken American power fatally abroad.

Consequently, even in the best case NATO is on its last legs. Smart leaders will have to think up some form of new security system to replace it.


*Stephen Bryen is a former senior official in the US Defense Department and the author of a number of books including his latest, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Press, 2015)

**Nearing the end of the Roosevelt administration, Henry Morgenthau, then US Trasury Secretary, proposed a plan not too different from Stalin’s.

***The Russians have so far bought 48 Su-35 jets, its most advanced operational fighter.

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No One is Safe in France

No one is safe in France.  The latest murders, including a Normandy priest of 86 years of age, celebrated by ISIS, demonstrates without any doubt the complete incompetence of the French authorities at all levels.  It illustrates either the total disdain for its own citizens, or its inability to understand and act on the threat that is destabilizing French society.  This time the attack was on Catholic churches; previously there were attacks on synagogues, Jewish Kosher stores, and people in night clubs, as well as attacks at sporting events and national celebrations including the mass killing in Nice during a Bastille Day parade.

Why incompetent?

The murder of Priest Father Jacques Hamel could easily have been prevented.   How do we know this?  The press in Europe is reporting today that computer files found in the apartment of a convicted terrorist had this church on the list to be attacked.  That was around a year ago.  So you may ask, what was done?  The answer is, worse than nothing.

When any public or private institution is threatened typically you take two basic steps. The first is to try and eliminate or neutralize the source of the threat.  The second, failing the first step, is to to put strong security in place to protect the threatened sites.

Regarding perimeter security, this church was left entirely unprotected.  There were no guards. The two terrorists (there could be more, this is what we know about now) entered the church through an unlocked back door.  Why was the door unlocked?  Why didn’t the church have any protection.  Responsibility for this falls on the shoulders of the French authorities and, perhaps, on the church if the warnings were passed to them, which is not known at present.  Clearly the congregants in the Church, and those taken hostage, including nuns, had no inkling they were on a  hit list.

Next we come to at least the main terrorist.  Not only was he known to the police, but he had been previously arrested for terrorism and convicted.  It was his apartment that had the computer files that put this church, and others, on the hit list.  He was out of jail under a form of house arrest.  He was wearing an electronic tag and paroled to his parents.  But, under the terms of his release, he was allowed to do anything he wanted during the morning hours, meaning that his electronic tag was not monitored from 0830 until 1230 every day,  The attack at the church in the center of Saint Etienne du Rouvray took place around 10 am.

Why would the French judicial system parole a known terrorist?  Why would they disregard extremely worrisome intelligence and not provide decent protection to their citizens?

The pattern of consistent security failures in France includes far more than what happened in Saint Etienne du Rouvray.  In Nice, despite for-warnings of terrorism, the French police removed guards on the streets allowing a terrorist driving a heavy truck full of weapons to mow down people trapped in the crowds on the main street. Sandra Bertin, a local police officer in Nice, complained that the police who were there were only permitted to carry light weapons, namely small pistols. “The truck dodged the municipal police barrier. The team couldn’t stop it. You can’t burst the tires of a 19-tonner with a revolver. Then other municipal police in plainclothes in the crowd were confronted with it,” she said.  When she came to turn in her report of what she saw happen in Nice, she was asked to change her report.  She refused. The resulting contretemps has resulted in France’s Interior Minister, who is in overall charge of security, to threaten to sue Bertin.

Perhaps France’s Interior Minister can do better.  He can resign.

The lack of security in France is nothing new to France’s Jews who until recently have borne the brunt of France’s poor security environment.  Synagogues and Jewish schools and community centers have been attacked; Jews have been beat up and in some cases murdered on buses and in the metro or walking on the street; Kosher supermarkets have been shot up and many people killed –the list is a long one.  It is one of the reasons why Jews, who have an alternative, can leave France.  But for the rest of the people, that options is really not available.

In Europe right now ISIS and its Jihadi affiliates are waging war.  The Europeans overall don’t know what to do, and have been making a mess by not acting on intelligence, not protecting their borders, and refusing to understand the source of their collective problem.  Whether it is Germany, Belgium France or the UK the coddling of potential terrorists, the lack of connecting intelligence to action, and the weakness of law enforcement including the court system, is making it a sure thing that many more decent people will suffer and die.

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C’est dommage –He was a lone wolf!

by Stephen Bryen

The French think they are off the hook over the terrible terrorist incident in Nice.  No matter that the terrorist, Mohamed Lahouaiej Bouhlel, was known to the Nice police and had served time in jail.  And no matter that he is officially described as a French-Tunisian, when in fact he is a French citizen of Tunisian origin; none of this matters because he was a lone wolf!


What, one might ask, is a lone wolf?  The idea of a lone wolf is the latest excuse made by political leaders and law enforcement to “explain” why we should accept terrorist attacks as a normal part of life.  As the French Prime Minister, the same genius who bounded off to meet with Hezbollah in Lebanon, a known terrorist organization, Manuel Valls,  we have to live with terrorism.  It is the same excuse used by US law enforcement to explain mass killings in California at San Bernardino and in Florida at Orlando.  But it is an “excuse” that is inexcusable.

Americans and Europeans always want to import their cultural ideas when describing how other cultures think and behave.  That is one of the reasons why law enforcement is always outfoxed by terrorists.  They don’t behave the way you think about them.  You don’t need a Party Card or any formal organization to carry out terrorist acts.  We are dealing with a fanatical religious hatred that unites these criminals.  The degree of hatred and its depth are far outside any norm understood in the West.  Even the “nice” Muslims who may not think of themselves as fanatics dance in the streets when one of them kills innocent people, whether in France, the US, or Israel.  The mother of the killer who stabbed a little teenager to death in her bed considers her son, the murderer, a hero.  She is just one of tens of thousands with the same view.

So if you do not need to belong to a formal organization or have a party card, why is this disease spreading the way it is?

Part of the problem is the irresponsible owners of social media who give them the ability to proselytize without interference.  Every sort of violence and hatred is spewed out across social media and the West allows it to go on unabated.  It would seem that a first step is to destroy all access to social media by these fanatics and cut off their means of communication altogether.

The intelligence professionals will argue that doing this will cut off knowledge about ISIS, al-Qaeda and other radical Islamists.  That may be true, but it will also reduce the chances of radicalization.

The next thing to do is to expel all the radical preachers operating in the West.  If not expel, then jail for incitement.  If you take a look at the miserable record of Western countries, for example Great Britain, you will see that we are stumbling over our own concept of laws and rules.  But if we are at war, kick them out or put them in jail in solitary where they can’t recruit while incarcerated.

The third step is to stop importing refugees for now.  Importing refugees is dangerous for three reasons: the first is that some of them are fanatics and are hiding inside so-called legitimate refugee groups; the second is that they are carrying messages on how to carry out the Jihadi war; the third is that they are the spear tip of smuggling operations bringing in weapons and plans for attacks.

Anyone who thinks there are really lone wolf attacks does not understand the dimension of the threat to the West.  While President Obama may think that terrorism is not an existential threat to America, the fact is he is wrong.  Might the next attack be about hitting a serious target like a major government building, a military base (as at Ft. Hood, another so-called lone wolf operation), or a nuclear power plant?






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Don’t Replace the A-10, Build New Ones

If the Air Force wanted to be an honest broker, the Air Force would re-start manufacturing of the A-10 and replace the entire fleet.

by Stephen Bryen

The A-10 is a proven warrior, but it is getting old.  Even worse, the Air Force hates it.  They hate it because they don’t really favor the close support mission which is what the A-10 is all about.  In reality, if the Army was allowed to provide its own air cover, there would be no controversy over the A-10.  The Army would control the platform and would drive the requirements and improvements for the platform.  But in the bizarre and intellectually unfathomable Pentagon, things are often Topsy Turvy.


A-10 By SRA Greg L. Davis, USAF ( [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Air Force, as most folks know, tried to dump off the A-10 in favor the of F-35, or so they claimed.  If the idea was accepted it would mean using a $150 to $200 million airplane to do the job of an airplane that cost about $18 million when it was manufactured, and which costs a fraction to operate.  The F-35 is believed to cost $42,200 per hour to operate (when it is functioning, which is around 60% of the time at best).  The A-10 costs $17,716 per hour and has a decent availability rate.  In addition, the A-10 has high portability meaning it can operate far from home on austere airfields.  The F-35 will never be able to do this as it will need massive support because of its heavy technological baggage.

Originally the A-10 was designed to be used in Vietnam.  But it was sold to Congress on the ground that it could bust Russian armor in any confrontation in Europe. But, as the Israelis learned in 1973 in the Yom Kippur war, a close support mission against missiles and sophisticated gun emplacements is very costly.  The Israelis used A-4s to try and take out Egypt’s missile sites.  The A-4s were badly shot up and Israeli losses were heavy, amounting to some 50 planes lost and a large number damaged.  While the A-10 is more lethal than the A-4, and better protected, the overall picture is not conducive to using this sort of airplane in the early stages of a conflict against a well-equipped adversary.  Thus the A-10 was built for the wrong type of war.

But, happily, the A-10 turned out to be pretty good against poorly equipped enemies like al-Qaeda, the Taliban or ISIS.  That’s because it can pound them with bombs and its big 30 mm GAU-8 gun firing depleted uranium ammunition can destroy just about anything.

It turns out, thus, that the A-10 is ideally capable against terrorist type threats.

But it can be improved.  Better engines would make it quieter and perhaps reduce fuel burn and extend its range.  Better protection against ground fired missiles would make the plane more survivable.  And  improved electronics would make the platform easier to support.  The A-10’s were produced between 1972 and 1984, so the fleet is quite old. But there is no reason why a modern version of the A-10 could not be produced, cutting R&D costs to the minimum and focusing on manufacturing.

Indeed, if the Air Force wanted to be an honest broker, the Air Force would re-start manufacturing of the A-10 and replace the entire fleet.  With 3-D printing now available, producing the airplane, even with modifications, would be easy and the replacement rate can be relaxed, as the Air Force admits that the A-10 won’t be replaced until 2020 at the earliest.

The Air Force should re-start manufacturing now, and  in parallel sponsor an improved engine for the new platforms that can also be interchangeable on the old A-10s.  The Air Force should also consider putting laser-based infra-red protection on the A-10s because the MANPADS threat is growing as these weapons proliferate.

And the Air Force which is never happy except spending more money, could work out a UAV version of the A-10.  This would allow them to remove a lot of weight needed for pilot protection (such as the titanium cocoon that is on current planes) and have fun remotely shooting up ISIS, the Taliban, or whatever threat is out there.  Instead of blowing billions on an entirely new UAV killer platform, we already have one ready and waiting.

Building new A-10s ends the controversy and keeps these flying tanks on station and doing their job for the foreseeable future.

We don’t need an A-10 replacement.  We need new A-10s.



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Not the Time for NATO to Confront Russia

June 8, 2016


Some northern European countries, such as Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, spend almost nothing on defense and their armed forces are incapable of any serious defense of these countries. While NATO may think it has an obligation to defend them, doing so is non trivial because they lack the infrastructure even to support and feed NATO soldiers.  But don’t hold your breath: the chance of NATO coming to the aid of these countries in any real confrontation is close to nil. NATO state political leaders will do for them like it has done for Ukraine, that is to say, nothing much except to get them into deeper and deeper trouble.

A weak NATO is a liability and a danger.  If NATO is not going to be systematically strengthened, trying to claim it is a capable alliance capable of defending Europe is foolish and risky.  Nor is there any real prospect Europe will start to invest in its own defense.  For the most part, European air forces are shrinking, and land forces are tiny compared to what the Russians can muster.  The F-35, when it finally becomes available in 3 to 5 years, won’t help matters.  It is so expensive that there will be relatively few planes to confront Russia, assuming the F-35 performs anything near its advertised capabilities.

The Russians, meanwhile, are modernizing their forces and have demonstrated the ability to project power efficiently.  Their exercise in Syria has to be admired by military experts, notwithstanding political and moral issues.  Russian aircraft are state of the art, and Russia has invested heavily in sophisticated electronic jamming systems and countermeasures as well as air defenses  such as the S-300. S-400 and emerging S-500 systems.  Russian ground forces are also improving, with the introduction of the Armada tank and IFV now getting underway.

 (Above Photo) Armada Tanks on Parade: Not the Time for NATO to Confront Russia

The main constraint on the Russians is money.  They don’t have much, even though Russia is the world’s biggest oil producer.  The collapse in oil prices and sanctions because of the Ukraine, has taken its toll on Russia and it clearly affects what is available to spend on armaments.  So any real Russian build up is some years away, simple because the money isn’t there.

In fact, we don’t really know if the Russians, even under better economic conditions, will do that much to build up their own forces.  The Russian economy has only three money makers: oil (including natural gas), grain exports* and arms.  Russia clearly wants to build its arms export industry, because it brings in hard currency and underwrites the cost of local defense. Russian arms exports are starting to grow.  But a real conflict could collapse the Russian economy, stymie arms exports, and reorient Europe away from being on the far end of Russia’s gas pipelines.  It is hard to see this as an outcome that is good for Russia.

It is right for Western leaders to worry about threats to the underbelly of NATO –namely the new NATO acquisitions in the North, the Center and the South.  But it is not the right time to play a game of provocation escalation.  In fact, it makes more sense to try and lower the profile as much as possible, taking into account the elemental weakness of NATO.

We also must keep in mind that the deterioration in defense capabilities extends just as certainly to the United States.  For the most part, American forces are worn down and our brave troops are worn out.  We have not even taken care of what we have, and furtive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have drained our military and hurt our economy.  Investment in new systems is way down, troop numbers have been cut back, and equipment has not been repaired.  We can ill afford to act like the big time player we used to be.

In short, time to stop the rhetoric and reconsider what is in our best national interest and in the best interest of our allies and friends.  Pretensions otherwise can cause a self-fulfilling prophecy that we don’t need.


*Grain exports are currently greater than all arms sales from Russia combined.  This is a remarkable turnabout for a number of reasons including the absence of Communism and collective farms that destroyed Russia’s grain production capabilities and in spite of the loss of Ukraine, which was Russia’s breadbasket.  The Russian state is investing in agriculture modernization including beef and dairy production and setting up export hubs as well.

**Stephen Bryen is a defense and security technology expert and ran the Defense Department’s export control program as a Deputy Under Secretary of Defense and as head of the Defense Technology Security Administration.  

Home Made Carl Gustav Gun Used in Tel Aviv Killings by Terrorists Dressed As Ultra Orthodox Persons

by Stephen Bryen

Terrorists in Tel Aviv, dressed as ultra orthodox Jews,  have killed four Israelis, injured another very critically, and wounded another seven.  Two of the terrorists are reported captured, one shot and another is said to have escaped.  The shootings took place in a popular market area in an upscale neighborhood in Tel Aviv.

The gunmen reported used a home made version of the Carl Gustav gun.

These guns are cheap and are locally made.  Haaretz reported that there are shops in the West Bank, especially in Nablus, producing these weapons at near rock bottom prices. The typical gun sells for between $800 and $4500, depending on quality.  This is much cheaper than a Kalashnikov which can sell for $15,000.  Because they are made locally, and can be produced by any competent machine shop, they are a feature of the criminal and terrorist underground.

Producing the guns requires some innovation.  As Ha’aretz reports, ” They’re manufactured from weapons that were originally used in paintball ranges and were subsequently sent to be scrapped. However, weapons-makers in lathe shops affix a 9mm bore to them and fill them with ammunition, creating a deadly weapon.”

It is likely the terrorists hid the weapons under their garments.  How they got to the Tel Aviv market and how one apparently escaped is still uncertain.  The situation is fluid. This attack is consistent with threats coming from ISIS, but there are plenty of other ISIS-type groups on the Palestinian side capable of such an operation. Hamas has praised the killings and shooting.  The fact that the guns are being manufactured in the West Bank area suggests strongly that Hamas and ISIS has established a strong foothold there and can carry out operations, perhaps with plenty of local support.

The idea that leaving the West Bank on its own would make things better is a joke.  It would mean even more guns and greater danger to Israel and to its neighbors.

Similar dangers exist in Europe, and European authorities are increasingly worried about attacks this summer.  It is clear that the FBI is concerned that the US is also a target.  The latest publication of “lists” of people as targets is one indication of the high profile of the developing threat.  The fact that US borders are, for the most part, open and that Carol Gustav knock offs can easily be produced on US territory, means that what happened in Tel Aviv can happen in New York, Los Angeles of the District of Columbia.  Unlike Israel where there is a much higher security profile, Americans are sitting ducks for such an attack.





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Take Advantage of the Reserves for Innovation

by Stephen Bryen and Shoshana Bryen

Originally Published by Defense News 19 May 2016

With the establishment of the Defense Innovation Unit Experimental (DIUX), Secretary of Defense Ash Carter is putting a lot of effort into building a relationship with Silicon Valley, hoping some — but not too much — of the region’s entrepreneurial, cutting-edge methods rub off on the US military.

There are many good things to be said for Silicon Valley, its weather and its methods, but it is not known for its patriotism or its interest in national security. Indeed, it is known for its international workforce, which may be directly inimical to national security in certain cases. But mostly, the valley is known for its interest in profits, big multiples on investment and expanding markets.

After a slow start, Carter is doubling down on the bet by starting a second center in Boston.

Instead of “outposts” in locations that have little affinity for national defense requirements, the Defense Department would better exploit capabilities it already has but barely uses. That is, DoD should start redefining its use of the National Guard and reserves, where patriotism, national security, and scientific and technological “smarts” converge.

Over the past decade, the Guard and reserves in all services served in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere. While their service has put a considerable strain on the system, it has also exposed thousands of trained and dedicated soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines first-hand to problems that confront our fighting forces. When they return to their civilian occupations, they work in business and industry, in R&D, and in academia. They have skill sets that, if properly channeled, can be a bonanza for the Defense Department. Carter has approached this idea by creating a reserve unit specifically for DIUX, led by a Navy Reserve commander who is also an Apple vice president.

Thus far, however, while there are a few units focused on cyber security and intelligence, there is no direct path for converting military experience into products and technology for national security. We need a coordinated approach to the reserves and Guard that works for the 21st century.

1. Virtual Reserve High-Tech Units

Reserve units are largely constructed by geography but increasingly, we live in a virtual world based on the Internet, high-speed connectivity and Cloud systems. An engineer in Seattle can work with a counterpart in Texas and another in New Jersey with ease. And he can work from his office, from home, or on the road. The virtual model would be a terrific way to organize reserve units by providing secure platforms and secure Cloud connections to reservists investigating specific subjects or jointly working on specific projects. On top of creating collaboration among reservists, virtual high-tech units can also integrate the participation of national laboratories and contractors, creating a holistic approach to problem solving and engaging the best talent regardless of geography. Virtual reserve units don’t have to travel — they could log time spent, and the money and time saved can be wrapped into productive work.

Army IT 12 June 2015

2. Venture-backed Reserve Spinoff Enterprises

Reserve units will inevitably generate new products and intellectual property that can be turned over to a contractor or form the basis of a new enterprise that could be run by reservists. These will often be directly aligned with Pentagon requirements, and the military services or DoD will be an immediate customer, making them very attractive in venture capital circles. The Foreign Comparative Testing Program (FCT) already practices the principle. FCT will support a foreign technology if, in advance, a military service has agreed to buy it if it meets expectations after testing. If this can be done for foreign technology, why not for technology developed by American military reservists?

Venture capital companies can be invited to join into a DoD-approved consortium. In exchange for advice to reserve spinoff startup enterprises, venture capital companies would be given a chance to invest in these enterprises. DoD would ensure terms and conditions consistent with industry standards, ethical, and in DoD’s long-term interest.

3. Special Reservists

There are many patriots in industry with a lot to offer in the form of mentoring and leadership, as well as scientific and technical know-how. In past years, when the US mobilized it often recruited top executives, some of whom were put in uniform and served magnificently.

David Sarnoff, chairman and president of RCA, served in the Army at the start of World War II and was called up three times. He was commissioned a brigadier general in 1945, and performed many services of great wartime importance. He regarded becoming a general as the highlight of his life. When he died in 1971, he was buried with his general’s star, so much did he regard the honor afforded him.

David_Sarnoff_becomes_brigadier_general_1945(Above) David Sarnoff becomes a Brigadier General, 1945

More recently, Silicon Valley’s Bob Noyce (sometimes called the “statesman” of Silicon Valley) helped Stephen Bryen when he was director of the Defense Technology Security Agency. In 1982, Bryen visited Intel, which Noyce co-founded, to learn about Intel’s success in microprocessors. But in the wide-ranging discussions held there, Bryen asked Noyce to lend his expertise to help better protect the technology of the Minuteman ICBM program. This he did — as a volunteer — and his help was invaluable. While there was no formal program to support Noyce’s work, the idea of special reservists makes great sense because of what it can do for national security. If properly organized, special reservists can serve by helping evaluate projects and programs, giving valuable management advice and acting as mentors for reserve organizations.

robert noyce

(Above) Robert Noyce

4. National Registry

DoD should create a national registry of the specific expertise of currently serving reservists and retired members of the Guard and reserves. This would allow the Pentagon to enlist their support to cover specific needs, such as artificial intelligence for robots, making weapons smarter, improving intelligence gathering, enhancing cybersecurity, working with new materials such as nano particles, etc. In addition, a national registry could be expanded to include non-reserve experts and managers who are willing to volunteer their services to our country.

One reason the DIUX model is problematic is the security model of the America’s high-tech industry. Silicon Valley and Boston are filled with foreign nationals and much of the development work is outsourced — including to nationals of countries whose national aims may be different from ours, including China. For civilian applications that are nonsensitive this may be an acceptable paradigm — provided it does not shortchange American workers, but when it comes to security it is a nonstarter.

Hiring thousands of people and spending billions to mitigate the security weaknesses of Silicon Valley-produced electronics and software is not the best course of action for DoD. Instead, let’s use the reserves to power America’s innovation in defense systems and enhance the security of products and technology needed for national defense.


Stephen Bryen served as the first director of the Defense Technology Security Administration and is president of SDB Partners. Shoshana Bryen is the senior director of the Jewish Policy Center, a nonprofit organization, and editor of inFocus magazine.


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Evidence that the Egyptian Airbus was Terrorism

RT has posted the following report concerning the Egyptian airbus that disappeared today, May 19, 2016.

The Post confirms what aviation experts and political leaders already are saying: that the crash was a terrorist act.

Here is what RT reported dramatically today:

“The crew of the missing flight were threatened days before the incident, claims Sharif Mehera, a former EgyptAir pilot, who describes himself as a close friend of the captain of the Airbus A320 that disappeared.
“He told (LINK) LifeNews that someone wrote a menacing message on the hull of one of the planes.
“The message was in Arabic, and read: “the next murder will be the flight number SU-GCC,” Mehera said, adding that it was exactly the flight number of the missing plane and that all security services were aware of this incident.
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