Stephen Bryen Speaks at ComDef 2016

StephenBryen speaking at  COMDEF 2016

Dr. Stephen Bryen, former senior Defense Department official and founder of the Defense Technology Security Administration, spoke at ComDef 2016 held at the Army Navy club in Arlington Virginia.

Dr. Bryen addressed the subject of International Companies in the US Defense Market.

“I think it is important to understand the barriers that make it difficult for international companies to find defense-related business in the United States,” Dr. Bryen told the audience that included many NATO and friendly country senior representatives. “When you see what you are up against you can adapt a strategy to fit your needs and then go on to be successful.”

“Some of the barriers are cultural,” Dr. Bryen said, but “others come from a lack of understanding of the competitive nature of the US market space.  International players need to prepare themselves correctly and approach the market in the right way, or they will be frustrated.  Two common mistakes,” Dr. Bryen said, ” are thinking that you can show up and win contracts on your own schedule instead of establishing yourself as a player who intends to stay in the American market, and thinking that you can find a political way to win a contract.”  Dr. Bryen pointed out that the American system works differently and foreign firms have to adjust properly to it or end up disappointed.

ComDef publishes the Common Defense Quarterly and hosts defense conferences in the United States and internationally.


Stephen Bryen is the author of the new study, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers), available through most book sellers.


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Iran Could Soon Dominate the Persian Gulf

by Stephen Bryen*

Russian sources are now confirming what the Iranians have already said, that Iran will sign a deal to buy Su-30’s from Russia. The result of this deal is that Iran can soon dominate the Persian Gulf, a radical change with seriously negative consequences for the oil producing countries, for those who depend on them, and for the United States. Downstream from the immediate regional impact is that Iran’s Sukhois will give them an answer to Israel’s air power.


SU-30 SM

There is a lot we do not know about the Su-30 deal: indeed there are so many variants of the Su-30 that it is likely that Iran will customize its purchase to meet its needs, just as the Indian and Chinese Air Forces came up with their own variations. Almost certainly the Iranians will want a plane that is equal or superior to the airplanes flown by their neighbors, most importantly Saudi Arabia. And they will want a plane that can challenge US carriers operating in the Gulf, which today are flying F-18G Growlers and F-18 E/F Super Hornets. Downstream Iran will want an aircraft that can contend with the F-35 and, perhaps, the F-22.

[Indian SU-30’s visited Saudi Arabia where they showed off their capability.]

su30mk manufactring at Irkut

SU-30 manufacturing at Irkut, one of two factories producing the Su-30

The most modern of the Su-30’s are close in performance to the latest Russian fighter, the Su-35. Russia has sent Su30SM’s to Syria along with Su-35’s. The SM is a new model, manufactured by Irkut in Russia, and first deployed in 2012. As Air Force Technology reports, “The multi-role Su-30SM can be deployed in counter-air strikes, counter-land and counter-sea missions. It can conduct electronic counter-countermeasures and early warning tasks. The aircraft also acts as a command-and-control platform within a fleet of combat aircraft performing joint missions.”

There are many choices for weapons, systems, radars, power plants and advanced cockpits for the Su-30, making it hard to be sure what the Russians are going to be willing to release to Iran, and the impact of what it sells in the region.

The Su-30 is regarded as an analogue to the F-15 (latest versions) and the F-18 (latest versions). It is an open question whether it can be effective against the F-22, which remains America’s most advanced (and most expensive) fighter; it probably could successfully challenge the F-35 provided it is equipped with the right long range missiles, the best radar, and top notch jammers.

indianpilots su30

Indian pilots Su-30 in background

India flies a variant of the Su-30. When India participated in US Red Flag exercises, one of India’s ground rules was that it would not turn on its radar because it did not want to expose its capability to the US or other Red Flag participants. The Indian Air Force Su-30’s are equipped with the Russian No. 11 BARS-R radar, which has a passive electronically scanned array. Even more modern radars are now appearing in the Su-35 and the forthcoming Su-50 stealth platforms, which likely have the capability to pick up the F-35, and maybe the F-22 at longer range.


NIIP N011M BARS Prototype.

Russia is now producing a number of long range air to air missiles and should be able to challenge the US reliance on beyond visual range (BVR) tactics. The Iranians are quite familiar with BVR. They were the only foreign country to receive the Navy’s F-14

iranian f-14

Iranian F-14’s

equipped with Phoenix air to air missiles (beginning in 1976 near the end of the Shah’s regime). Some Iranian F-14’s are still flying. The Iranians cloned the Phoenix missile (AIM-54) in 2013. Called the Fakour, these missiles may end up on the Su-30’s. They have a range of 100 miles. The missile’s seeker head is thought to be a knock-off of the Hawk SAM, a US ground launched air defense missile.


Iranian Fakour 90, a clone of the US Phoenix air to air missile.

One of the outstanding characteristics of the Su-30 is its maneuverability and range. Its maneuverability gives it an edge in close combat situations. Its range is enough for Iran to have good coverage of the Persian Gulf and sufficient range to hit local airfields in Saudi Arabia. Because it is a multirole platform, it can carry out everything from air intercept to ground attack roles, with both precision and “iron” bombs; it is a direct threat to US Navy assets operating in the Gulf, including US aircraft carriers. It manifestly changes the game because the US no longer will have air dominance in the Gulf, and Iranian power will be more readily felt by the other Gulf players, already deeply concerned about Iranian long and medium range missiles, and by the virtual likelihood of ongoing atomic and unconventional weapons research sponsored by the Iranian regime.

All of this raises a huge shadow over the Iran nuclear agreement. It is objectively a very bad deal for the following reasons: (1) uncertainty it will really stop or slow Iran’s atomic weapons development, some of which may be hidden and other components likely offshore; (2) permits Iran to develop its long range missiles; (3) permits Iran to develop WMD such as chemical and biological weapons; (4) arms Iran with the latest weapons denying the US and its allies airpower superiority.

Once these modern weapons are delivered, it gives the Iranians greater options to cause trouble in the Gulf, just as they have done recently by capturing two US RIB boats and

iranian unguided missile fired over US carrier

Iranian unguided missile fired near CVN-75

sequestering the crew, by hostile unguided missile launches over the bow of the US Aircraft Carrier Harry Truman (CVN-75) and by frequent efforts to humiliate the United States, the latest claims by Iran’s military leaders that the US is now subordinate to Iran in the Gulf. As the US has not responded in any concrete way to these threats, there will be more not less of them ahead.


Iran captures US Navy Sailors

Russian motives in supplying arms to Iran is probably more related to the sinking Russian economy than to any concrete political objective. When Iran was desperate and about to be routed in Syria, the Russians came to their rescue (and to the rescue of Assad and Hezbollah). That rescue seems to be working, but it has also freed up the Iranians and set up a situation that could lead to war with Israel. Israel won’t tolerate an Iranian presence on or near the Golan Heights, nor will they allow the supply of additional sophisticated long range rockets to Hezbollah. The Russians have to be very careful, for while the Russians have their latest airplanes in Syria, they don’t have enough air power to challenge Israel successfully, nor does Putin want that to happen. To some degree, the Russians face the risk of the tail wagging the dog. Iran has an immense capacity to cause trouble, and its behavior could well spin out of anyone’s control.

It would make sense for the United States and Israel to take up the issue of the supply of advanced arms to Iran with the Russians. But to have this dialogue and make it successful, the US must, above all, start acting like a real power. Running away from the Iranians in the Gulf is not just cowardice: it is hugely dangerous to peace and stability.


Stephen Bryen is the author of the new book, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers).  He served previously as a senior official in the Department of Defense.


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The Security Threat of the F-35

by Stephen Bryen*

The greatest modern air battle after the 1973 Yom Kippur war was the air battle over the Bekaa Valley in 1982. The outcome of that battle still influences strategic planning and weapons development in the United States and in Russia. One development that is critical to US programs is Beyond Visual Range (BVR) attack, which is the core idea of the F-22 and the F-35 “stealth” fighters. Likewise the Russians also drew important conclusions which they are now implementing in new aircraft such as the Su-35 and the developmental PAK T-50. So, nearly 34 years since the Bekaa “turkey shoot” happened, resulting in a decisive victory for US equipment and the Israeli Air Force, can we anticipate such victories in future? In short, does America have the qualitative edge?


Su-35 demonstrator #709 displays a mix of R-27 Alamo and R-77 Adder BVR missiles (KnAAPO). (Air Power Australia & Dr. Karlo Kopp)

Today’s US Air Force consists primarily of the following jet fighter interceptors: F-15, F-16 and the Navy/Marine F-18 super hornet. Added to this is a limited number of F-22 Stealth fighter bombers and, in the near future, the F-35 Joint Strike fighter. The US also has a supply of A-10 Warthogs, essentially close support and anti-armor planes that are currently in use against ISIS.

The Russian Air Force consists of MiG and Sukhoi jet fighters, led by the latest MiG and Sukhoi fighters, such as the Su-35. The Su-35 has just made an appearance in Syria where the Russians have deployed it to protect their bombing operations from Turkish or US interference. The Su-35 is every bit as good as anything the US or the Turks can put in the air, allowing the Russians to make a strong statement about how seriously they are approaching their mission in Syria.

Operation Mole Cricket 19 was the name of the combined Israel Air Force mission to destroy Syrian air defenses which were protecting an emerging Syrian Army advance in the Bekaa valley and in central Lebanon, and to take out any attempt by the Syrian Air Force to achieve control of the skies stretching from Damascus to Lebanon. While Mole Cricket was supposed to look like a tactical air battle, starting with the elimination of Syrian radars and ground-control systems, it soon became an exercise that smashed Syria’s air defense system composed of SA-2, SA-3 and SA-6 mobile ground to air missiles and jammed (and in some cases destroyed) Syrian command and control assets.

Sa-6 Syria

SA-6 Missiles in Syria

The air battle itself was big. In wave one, which was focused on killing Syrian radars, command and control and missiles, Israel deployed 96 fighter bombers including F-15’s and F-16’s. Simultaneously Israel provided air cover to Israeli troops using A-4 and Kfir, themselves supported by Israeli drones, electronic jamming systems and electronic counter measure aircraft. Wave 2 was composed of 92 F-15’s, F-16’s and Kfirs that fought the air to air battle against Syrian MiG 21’s, MiG 23’s, Su-20’s and MiG 25’s. Israel succeeded, for the first time, to kill four MiG 25’s, the high flying reconnaissance and jamming supersonic machine that up until then Israeli pilots could not catch. Overall the result of the exchange was devastating to the Syrians, losing some 82 aircraft. Israel lost no aircraft in the air to air battle, although two planes were hit by ground fire.

A year later the US sent Lieutenant-General John Chain, then deputy chief of staff for plans and operations, went to Israel to learn lessons from the battle.

The Russians were greatly alarmed. They saw the Israeli operation as a possible prelude to an American assault against Russian assets in Eastern Europe. From the Russian perspective the most important thing was to calm the waters and not give the American side any chance to launch an attack based on any provocation or refusal by the Soviets to cooperate. Covering their tracks and trying to reassure their Warsaw Pact allies, and their own public, the Russians claimed the Syrians had downed 67 Israel F-15’s and F-16’s. But mostly the Russians were anxious to get a deal and remove the thorn from their side as quickly as possible.

The US drew the conclusion that it had a qualitative advantage based on new technology in US fighters, especially look-down shoot down radars which created an instant operational advantage, and effective long range air to air missiles. It is this idea that resulted in subsequent improvements in US air to air missiles featuring the ability to launch attacks from any angle against an enemy aircraft. The short range Sidewinder was significantly improved with advances in its seeker to function in an “all aspect” or at least improved aspect configuration, and the introduction of anti-jamming circuitry so the missile would not be fooled by flares or other decoys. And longer range missiles, better than the AIM-7 sparrow emerged, particularly the Amraam (AIM-120) which is still in production.

The F-22 and the F-35 are highly sophisticated, and hugely expensive, evolutions of the air battle lessons learned from Mole Cricket 19.

The future US Air Force anticipates that the F-22 and the F-35 will provide cover for conventional F-15’s and F-16’s until they are phased out, and then will provide air superiority for the United States and its allies.

But is this so? Or have we perhaps not paid sufficient attention to Russia and to the 21st century battle requirements that could encourage the Russians, or any potential adversary, to think the US approach is outmoded or, at least, not good enough to allow the United States to have air dominance.

There are many top notch aviation experts who think that the US planners have lost track of strategic objectives in the F-35 program, leading to a dangerous situation that will emerge in the next five years and probably persist for the next 20 years. Put most simply, the US is coming to rely essentially on one airplane, the F-35, to carry the US Air Force and allied Air Forces forward and to act as a significant deterrent to the Russians and, in future, the Chinese.

The arguments center on the following main points:

1. the F-35 rests on its ability to deliver BVR weapons against an opposing air force, but without any proof that BVR will work as planned;
2. the F-35 uses a partially implemented stealth technology that is vulnerable to alternative or tweaked radars including L-Band radars that are appearing on Russian fighters and to other types of detection systems that can find stealth targets. These include advanced electro-optical sensors and new types of radio detection such as the Czech VERA passive sensor. While the US has bought the Czech company to keep it out of the hands of China and Russia, the cat is already out of the bag and VERA-like systems will certainly appear around Russia and China’s periphery.


VERA Passive Surveillance System can “see” Stealth

3. The F-35 (like the F-22) is susceptible to advanced jamming techniques, an area where the Russians are expending considerable effort;
4. Inside a dogfighting box, or within strike range of modern Russian fighter, the F-35 is a poor system that is non-competitive;
5. The cost of the F-35 is so staggering, both initial acquisition cost, sustainment costs and hourly operational cost, that the US Air Force will have trouble keeping these aircraft in the air, even if the Air Force solves the complex hardware and software issues that dog the platform. For allied countries it is virtually unaffordable, or the result is an air arm that is so small as to be irrelevant against a large, well equipped air force fielding modern platforms.

The lesson of the Bekaa demonstrated the value of American technology in the hands of a sophisticated air force when combined with a strategy and tactics that exploited the advantages in a systematic manner. But the Russians also learned a lesson, which they appear to have absorbed over the last thirty years. Russian operations in Syria (say what you want about Russian targeting techniques or disregard for civilian casualties) show a far great degree of pilot independence and initiative than was typical of the old Soviet centralized and managed combat approach. Some of this is because planes today have GPS, far better communications, and data links that feed information in and out continuously. Russian weapons are still a little behind the US in precision, and they are still fielding some old equipment. But the competence level and field availability of systems is far better, and is complimented by a new, formidable generation of air defense systems, such as the S-400. In fact, the Russians are able to generate and field new systems faster than the United States, continuously improve weapons, electronics and platforms, and to build systems at a fraction of the cost incurred in the US, Europe and Japan. All of this leads to the supposition that weapons costs in the West are out of control and the system inefficient. Indeed, the only real barrier to Russian power these days is the sad state of Russia’s state budget, not the state of the art.

With badly constrained allies who must depend on the United States, the US Air Force may not only have screwed itself, but is creating havoc among US friends abroad. This has many consequences: changing political alliances, searches for weapons that “make a difference” including WMD, and destabilization –all of which we are now beginning to see. The immediate issue is whether the US can overcome the heavy risk it has created under the banner of the F-35, and do something more with the equipment it now has to try and stay in the game.  Otherwise, the F-35 is a security threat for the US and its allies –just the opposite of what was intended.

F-35 JSF

F-35 flight test” by Andy Wolfe – This Image was released by the United States Navy

*Stephen Bryen is the author of the new study, Technology Security and National Power: Winners and Losers (Transaction Publishers).  The book is available in hard, soft and electronic format from most book sellers.

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Littoral Combat Ship: Not built for Survivability

by Stephen Bryen

The Littoral Combat Ship, or ships because there are two of them made by two different manufacturers, is a dog that will cost taxpayers nearly $40 billion, and even more in life cycle costs. Originally billed as the Navy’s “urban street fighter” the ship is not survivable against any vessel that is equipped with a cruise or anti-ship missile with a range greater than 5 kilometers. Iran has 67 patrol boats with Chinese missiles that can easily sink the LCS.

The LCS is the first ship that was not designed against a specific threat, or even against any contemporary threat. It is only after the ship was built that the Navy started to search for missions for it.

One consequence of the LCS is that the US Navy got rid of its mine hunting ships –all of them. A combination of helicopters and the LCS could take up the slack.

Unfortunately, the LCS mine hunting system is a proven failure and cannot perform the mission, and helicopters dragging sensors in the water are no substitute for mine hunting ships, since they cover only a narrow swath, can’t detect all types of mines, and even if they find them lack any ability to destroy them.

But it is even worse. The LCS lacks a decent gun. It is equipped with a Swedish 57mm short range gun that can fire for about 7 seconds before it has to be shut down because of a too-hot barrel.  The US Navy already got rid of the 57mm on its DDG-1000’s.

Ten years ago the Mexican Navy found out the gun was no good and dropped it in favor of the Oto Melara Super Rapid 76mm gun, which has long range and is effective against sea and air threats, as well as an excellent gun to support combat missions on shore, as Israel has demonstrated on a number of occasions. Now there is talk about putting the 76mm on the LCS, but so far it is all just talk.

In March 2012 Rear Admiral Samuel Perez reported that the ship was “ill suited for combat operations against anything” but small fast boats not armed with anti-ship missiles. Michael Gilmore, the Pentagon’s chief weapons tester, says the ship “is not expect to be survivable in that it is not expected to maintain mission capability after taking a significant hit in a combat environment.”


USS Independence LCS (won’t fit in many ports as it is too wide)

In response, a decision was made to cap the current number of LCS ships at 40 vessels. Separately the Navy is sponsoring an “upgrade variant” of the LCS –in other words, another ship without a mission that is “upgraded” from what the Navy has already got. Among the ideas the Navy is playing with is to put an “over the horizon” missile on the LCS. This is the surface Navy’s equivalent of the theory of the F-35 fighter — a BVR or beyond visual range missile to destroy enemy combatants.

When you think about it, it makes almost no sense (which won’t prevent the Navy from doing it, of course). As the Iranians have been demonstrating for the past five years in the Persian Gulf, speeding around in small, fast patrol boats with anti-ship missiles,


Iranian Navy C-14 China CAT fast patrol boat.

poses a big threat to American ships, and certainly to any claimed ability to protect oil and cargo shipped through the Gulf’s relatively narrow passageways. Fast patrol boats zig zagging around can close on a US navy ship fairly quickly in constrained areas. An over the horizon missile is unlikely to solve the problem. Instead of figuring ways to counter what the Navy calls the “swarming boat” problem, it looks as if the problem continues to worsen.

Just recently the Iranians released videos of Iranian UAV’s loitering over a US Aircraft Carrier in the Persian Gulf. Instead of chasing it away, or shooting it down (the Pentagon called the Iranian buzzing of the carrier “unprofessional”), our carrier and the task force that is with it, did absolutely nothing. So when day zero comes, and the Iranian UAV’s are pinpointing targets, it should come as no surprise that one of our carriers is hit, or an LCS is sunk.

You may ask why the LCS program wasn’t trashed? Or why the US is sitting on its hands when our ships are threatened? Or why we have not come up with practical answers to evolving threats?

One partial answer is that these programs are jobs programs. Another explanation is that no one wants to take responsibility for bad decisions and wasting taxpayers money. One wonders who the sailors are who will be stuck on these ships. One hopes they will never be sent in harm’s way.

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What Happened in Taiwan! Better Defense Cooperation is Needed

By Stephen Bryen

I have just returned from Taiwan where I served as an International Election Observer.  The result of the election was an historical victory for the opposition which has won the Presidency of the country and, for the first time since democracy came to Taiwan, captured control of the Taiwan parliament ( which is called the Legislative Yuan).


The International Election Observation Mission with representatives from North America, Europe and Asia.

In light of the landslide and significant change of power, it is important to consider Taiwan’s future in the region, and more broadly in the unfolding geopolitical competition between China and the United States. Above all we should look at the implications for the balance of power in the region and the defense needs of Taiwan.


The winning party is known as the Democratic Progressive Party or DPP.  While it is a green party, strongly focused on domestic issues, it is also a pro-independence party.  It is not soft on national security -to the contrary, it has a feisty regard for safeguarding Taiwan’s democracy and its social, intellectual, economic and political independence.  One symbol of this independence could be heard at the victory rally as the election results rolled in: more than 70% of the speakers spoke in the Taiwanese language, and not in Mandarin Chinese.  Hugely excited, the crowd cheered, “We are Taiwan” to the sound of drumbeats.
The message to China is loud and clear, and there is no way that China can miss the new Taiwan’s leadership direction.  Immediately China clamped down on Internet reporting of the Taiwan election, so the Chinese people are now deprived of one of the fruits of democracy, the ability to change leaders or, as Americans like to say, the ability to throw the bums out.  The bums rule in China with an iron fist.
new president

President Elect Dr. Tsai Ing-wen and her team give their first press conference.

Indeed it is the iron fist that in the long run will kill China, slowly for now, more rapidly in future, certainly inexorably.  The old idea, propagated by Chinese leaders, that democracy is incompatible with Chinese values, not only has been proven demonstrably false, but it also demeans China’s people, and people elsewhere who have been closely watching what has taken place in Taiwan.  Whether we mean mainland China, the Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia or Singapore, the message is clear: democratic self government is the future, meaning too that democracy must function in a free and fair environment where the rule of law prevails and where threats and thuggery is thwarted.
It is not surprising that some Chinese cities, Hong Kong of course, but also Shanghai sent delegations to Taiwan to learn from Taiwan’s democratic process.  There were others, even in our delegation, from well-established democracies such as Japan, to less certain partially democratic countries such as Malaysia, who also could see for themselves.  And when we know that some 5 million mainland Chinese are visiting Taiwan each year there is a lesson in that: that don’t come just to see Taiwan’s cities and towns: many are not as glorious and modern as some in China.  What is remarkable about Taiwan are not monuments or great industries (although Taiwan has both): it is the Taiwanese people who are what tourists from China encounter and learn from.
There is no shyness or reluctance on the island to celebrate free expression.  Debate is lively.  And new factors have entered the political scene both inside the DPP party and in a new, dynamic small party made up almost entirely of youth, even a hard rock heavy metal star who beat a competent and well established KMT party politician in the heart of what used to be KMT’s power base in the city of Taipei.
In fact, the youth in Taiwan are concerned,  of course, with a range of social issues including good jobs and fair pay.  But many are also troubled by too much dependence on China. Young businessmen and women do not want to be too dependent on China for trade, which is now accounting for 40% of Taiwan’s exports to the mainland. Not only are they subject to China’s business demands, but they see that dependence as a national security issue.  Taiwanese investment in China is over the top, in the billions, but it does not yield security and only makes Taiwan more vulnerable to manipulation.
Above all the region is changing as Chinese military power grows and threatens its neighbors.  Ironically, Taiwan, the most ostracized of countries which is considered an outcast by China and sometimes frowned on even by US officials and by bought-out “intellectuals” and academics is leading all of them with its high flying democracy and obstinate independent outlook.  As China becomes stronger, the nations on its periphery must unite and create better strategic ties.
In addition, all of China’s littoral and near littoral countries need to beef up their defense -Taiwan especially.
​For some time Taiwan’s defenses have weakened, partly because the US administration has slow-rolled Taiwan’s defense requests and partly due to the outgoing Ma administration that was anxious not to provoke China.  As a result, as China introduces new technology into its military in the form of accurate missiles, stealthy aircraft and advanced submarines, Taiwan has been left treading water.

Taiwan’s defense strategy has to be built around the following axioms: a defense system capable of turning back any military invasion of Taiwan or its outlying properties; a military capable of inflicting severe costs on China if it attempts to use force to intimidate Taiwan; its own military forces that are qualitatively equal or superior to China’s; and a robust ability to survive any preemptive attack aimed at a knock out blow against Taiwan.  One of the reasons submarines are so important to Taiwan’s security is that they are stealthy and almost certainly can survive a preemptive strike and and continue the fight if China attacks.


美國前國防部副部長布萊恩(Stephen Bryen)。(顏麟宇攝)

For the last 18 years the US has not delivered on Taiwan’s requests for submarines, a reasonable request which successive administrations have said they support, but instead have run the Taiwanese around in circles, either demanding billions of dollars to deliver a solution, or trying to shift the blame for non-execution of a submarine deal onto Taiwan​.  Taiwan did in fact dither because it was unprepared to shoulder the huge price the US wanted to extract, and because Taiwan lacked confidence that the price tag was indeed the final bill.  Cost inflation in defense programs is an increasing domestic issue in America: Taiwan’s leaders know that and resent being fleeced.
It is in the interest of the United States to assist Taiwan in being able to face down a Chinese threat, or survive one if it is launched.  I led a high level delegation to Taiwan that included former CIA head Jim Woolsey and retired commander of the North Atlantic fleet, Admiral Leon “Bud” Edney in 1996 when China threatened to annihilate Taiwan with missiles.  It took two weeks before the Clinton administration finally got up enough gumption to move a carrier task force near Taiwan.  That deployment turned the Chinese threat around and stood it on its head.  Since then American administrations have let China throw its weight around in the region without seriously standing up to them.  This worries serious national security experts in Taiwan, as it should.
Overall, the US has to reappraise its strategic posture and its “pivot” to Asia. Right now the pivot looks too ephemeral; it needs flesh and bones.  Some of that comes from military coordination, early warning systems, hot lines and whatever also is needed to bring together the friendly military assets in the region, Taiwan included not pushed off to the side. Above all, the US cannot, and likely will not, be able to pivot to Asia without a much higher level of defense coordination and mutual support at the military level than now exists.  A new policy from Washington is sorely needed.  Leaders in the United States need to step up.
We are right now living in the danger years, when American power is weaker than ever and China is rising.  We need to harness all available resources to weather the coming storm. Taiwan’s amazing election helps pave the way for change.
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Vetting Refugees: It Can Be Done

By Stephen Bryen

With the flood of refugees from the Middle East and North Africa overwhelming Europe, and with the Obama administration allowing large numbers to come to the United States, there is a justifiable fear that embedded in the ranks of the refugees are trained terrorists.

Until now, identifying embedded terrorists has been nearly an impossible challenge.  People have called for better “vetting,” but to “vet” means to look back at people’s history based on their documentation. For most people, certainly for most Syrians, there is no “back” – even a legitimate passport can’t be verified with Passport Control in Damascus. With whom would one check local police, employment or education records?

Then add other, practical, problems. How do you interview a refugee when you have few officials who speak Arabic?  And even if some know the language, how can a border control agent or a customs official determine whether the answers are truthful? How can the border control system deal with the extraordinary volume and process people who are disoriented, angry, and pressing to move on to more permanent quarters?

Government officials in Europe and the United States are under pressure to be accepting and flexible, not to ask too many questions, and not to delay the resettlement process.  The laxity of governments and their officials has helped accelerate the flow of refugees to an unprecedented degree. The inability to “vet” and the corresponding huge leap of faith by the government necessary to offer people entry is what drives so many Americans to hedge their welcome.

Is there any way to weed out the “bad guys” in circumstances that make normal vetting processes impossible?


Israel has actually developed a system that uses technology to help spot potential risks. The system was initially developed for airports, where a terrorist boarding an airplane is a distinct threat. The technology is essentially ancillary to the main Israeli approach, which is to interview passengers using highly trained agents who ask visitors many questions, listen to the answers, and then decide whether follow up is needed. But the technology exists and is used.

A company called Suspect Detection Systems developed a technology-based system that, early on, was tested by the Department of Homeland Security’s TSA with impressive results. But, as TSA was interested in an approach that would look for weapons or bombs and not as interested in a vetting technique, DHS never followed up.  Instead, DHS went after x-ray and sensor technology, with very mixed results.

The Israeli system is fast and is automated.  A suspect is run through the system and asked pre-recorded questions in his or her own language.  The system uses advanced algorithms and biometric sensors to assess whether the answers trigger a specific kind of response.

The method is based on stimulating a crowd of people with specific risk-related triggers to get a stimulated psycho-physical reaction (SPP).  The method postulates that a specific stimulus “trigger” will cause a terrorist to generate a SPP Reaction that is identifiably different than that of a non-terrorist, non-criminal SPP Reaction to the same stimulus.

This identifiable motivation is known as the “terrorist hunting–hunted syndrome” (THHS). In order to identify and isolate the terrorist, one needs to stimulate and detect the THHS. The technology utilizes existing and field-proven Galvanic Skin Response and Blood Volume Pulse psycho-physiological sensors to measure an examinee’s responses during the automated interviews.

The system is already in use in many countries and functions in many languages without difficulty.  Typically the subject sees certain “triggers” such as posted signs, a customs official, or some terrifying-looking machinery to create sufficient anxiety.

Based on extensive field experience accumulated in Israel, the only common characteristic to all suicide bombers and “effective terrorists” is their desire not to be caught by security authorities.

In the Department of Homeland Security test, 126 “meeters and greeters” were used to simulate a non-guilty group and another 33 police officers were set up as a Red Team who were supposedly smuggling IED components through an airport checkpoint.  Overall the system was able to correctly identify nearly 74% of the two teams correctly and “caught” 66.7% of the Red Team in the experiment.

The test was early in the design of the complete system and the system has been significantly improved as field experience has helped the designers sharpen the detection algorithms and improve the signage – the warnings – that create the SPP.  Today the system is close to 90 percent accurate.

What does this mean?  It actually means two things.  First, 90 percent of potential threats can be detected at the border or in refugee camps, whereas today the chances of finding any terrorist threat among refugees is close to zero.  Second, it means that such a functioning system will be a strong deterrent to terrorist organizations who may not want to risk having their guys caught.  Deterrence is a very important part of screening.

Most importantly, the system is non-invasive and does not require trained personnel or culturally alert officials, or even language capability.  All of that is built into the system.

In the search for answers about refugees, technology can help in finding threats to peace and security, as this Israeli technology proves.

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Happy New Year 2016


Best Wishes for a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year

Stephen Bryen

How to Defeat ISIS

by Stephen Bryen


It is still far from certain whether the effort to defeat and destroy ISIS can work. Serious problems divide the most immediately engaged parties, and even in the United States public opinion is split on what needs to be done. Wars, of course, are not decided so much by public opinion but by events. The United States was thoroughly isolationist in 1939, but Japan decided to attack at Pearl Harbor and changed everything. ISIS has been attacking the United States, so far not too successfully. Are we going to wait until something really bad happens?


When the United States entered the Second World War, we joined up with the British, the Free French, the Australians and others willing to be partners.

In the Middle East the United States also has partners such as Saudi Arabia, but so far these “partners” are willing to finance so-called rebels in Syria, but not much else. So the matter of “real” partners is still undecided.

To a large degree US policy in the Middle East has been so bad as to seriously undermine confidence among “partners.” The trashing of Israel and Egypt by the Obama adminisration, the deal with Iran that pulled the rug out from under Saudi Arabia, and the withdraw of troops from Iraq has made the US largely unwelcome these days, and for good reason.

Surprisingly, the Russians want to be our partner, but the Obama administration is not interested. Why?

On a personal level Obama has found himself seriously outclassed by Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin. Obama has had a hard time with forceful leaders. Either he grovels, as he did with China’s Xi Jinping, or he reacts with a brutal negativity as he has done with Israel’s Netanyahu and with Putin.

But personal angst is not the measure of a foreign policy, nor should it be.

One of the biggest overall blunders of the Obama administration, along with a number of equally bad leaders in Europe, has been the ridiculous, colonialist idea of “regime change” they have sponsored in Jordan, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Libya and, yes, Israel in the Middle East, and in the Ukraine on Russia’s border.

Consider Israel, a democratic country. Here the administration collaborating with the likes of George Soros and a number of far left organizations and think tanks, did everything they could to defeat Bibi Netanyahu and, having failed, continue to try and cause Israel and its government substantial trouble. This wrecking operation, at the end of the day, as blatant as it is, is just as bad as what was done in Egypt which destroyed Hosni Mubarak, in Libya, that destroyed Moammar Kadafi, and helped force out more than one government in Ukraine. Tampering this way is a form of aggression, plain and simple, and for the most part either it has failed (Egypt, Libya, Egypt) or has led to dire consequences (Ukraine). Got a question about Ukraine? Victoria Nuland, Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs was caught talking on her cell phone to the US ambassador in Kiev, trying to pick the next Ukrainian leaders. Unfortunately for her, the Russians recorded it and leaked the call. President Putin believes the Ukrainian trouble is the work of interference by the United States and NATO. He is at least partly right. Had the US and Europeans stayed out of Ukrainian politics it is unlikely the Ukrainians would have challenged the Russians, and the country might still be intact.

Recently Secretary of State John Kerry was in Moscow trying to work out a foundation toward a political agreement in Syria. He backed off the idea of forcing regime change (Assad must go as a precondition), which has sent the White House into a storm of semi-denials and curious explanations. Again the Russians might decide they are being two-timed by Obama. If so, a deal is far off.

The basis of a deal is one where a new government without Islamists can be brought into power after ISIS is destroyed, not before. Otherwise ISIS will go about destroying the new government, which will quickly fragment, and Syria will fall to ISIS, leaving both the Russians, the US and the Saudis holding the bag.

Every competent military expert understands that the only way to break ISIS is to defeat them with ground forces, as well as with air power. So far none of the players other than the Kurds, have challenged ISIS, and the Kurds have demonstrated that ISIS controlled territory can be liberated. Thus the question is, who will form the boots on the ground?

A number of political candidates want the US to do it. But without squeezing ISIS on all sides, a US intervention alone is not enough and will lead to many American casualties. So far at least, the Russians have not gotten themselves into the ground war, although they have let surrogates from Iran and Lebanon (Hezbollah) do some of the fighting along with Syrian forces. By what remains of the Syrian army is concentrated on defending what remains of Syrian territory, primarily protecting the main zones where Alawites are the majority.

Neither Iranian forces nor Hezbollah should be acceptable to the United States. This means that any sustainable deal has to bring in Russian soldiers in a coalition with Americans to fight a ground war against ISIS. What size expeditionary force is needed is a matter for military planners to decide, but roughly 50,000 Americans (or Americans and Europeans) and 50,000 Russians could probably defeat ISIS with enough heavy equipment to make sure that they can’t burrow in and sustain a fight. The defeat of ISIS would trigger execution of the political deal that must follow a military victory.

The current President and administration are almost certainly incapable and unwilling to carry out anything as bold as an East-West coalition to defeat terrorism. Nor do any of the Presidential candidates seem to have the vision needed to overcome old prejudices and pretensions. That is too bad because the very future of peace and security rides on courageous decisions and determined execution.

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MH370 was a Terrorist Operation, New Evidence


New evidence shows that flight MH370, the Malaysian airline heading toward Beijing on the night of March 8, 2014 and has yet to be found, lost electrical power hours before it stopped flying.  This is consistent with the theory that MH370 was not due to any deliberate manipulation of the aircraft by the pilot, or even by onboard terrorists physically in control of the plane. The entire electrical system was blown out.  Only an emergency beacon, which is located above the heads of the pilots in the cockpit ceiling, temporarily stopped operating and then switched to its own separately located backup power source.

This evidence results from work done in Australia by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau.

How would this happen?

The most likely theory is that there was an explosion in the plane.  The explosion was either in the forward cargo hold or in a seat in the first class section, or in the hands of a passenger probably in the first class section. The explosion caused a fire, which most likely was observed from an oil rig and reported, depressurizing the cabin, and knocking  the flight crew and passengers unconscious.

No cell Phone Calls

This scenario explains why there were absolutely no cell phone calls for help.  The crew and passengers were all unconscious or dead.

MH370, when the explosion took place, altered course and seemed to turn back toward Malaysia.  It was tracked by Malaysian primary radar.  The aircraft transponder, which would have provided much more information, was not working so the Air Traffic Control radar tracking system (secondary radar) did not pick it up.

Who claimed Responsibility?

All of this points to the fact that MH370 was a terrorist operation.  Only one group claimed responsibility –a Uighur organization, the East Turkestan Independence Movement (ETIM) also known as the Turkestan Islamic Party.

The Uighur heartland stretches from western China to Kyrgyzstan.  Uighur rebel Abdullah Mansour told Reuters from an undisclosed location that the intent [of the MH370 operation]  was to bring the Holy Fight to China.  “The fight against China is our Islamic responsibility and we have to fulfill it.”  More than half the passengers on MH370 were Chinese.


Uighur Man with Flight Training Claimed

At the time a Malay newspaper, Harian Metro, claimed there was one Uighur man on board Flight MH370.   According to that newspaper, the man took flight training in Sweden in 2005 and his intent may have been to blast open the cockpit door and take control of the aircraft.  If this is true, he did not get the chance to practice his piloting skills, because the plane was immediately depressurized and a fire started from the blast.

There has been no confirmation of this claim other than one person with the same name coming forward to say it was (obviously) not him.

There are plenty of other terrorist organizations in Malaysia including offshoots of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and many of them had been arrested.

There also are  Sh’ia terrorists operating in Malaysia which may explain why Massoud Sedaghtzadeh had fled Thailand and arrived in Kuala Lumpur on February 15, 2011 where he was arrested.

Massoud was part of an Iranian team who tried to kill Israeli diplomats in Bangkok the day before. Two of the team, one whose legs were blown off in a  related “work accident” were arrested. Two others, one man and one woman, escaped as did Massoud.  At the time of the disappearance of MH370 Massoud was appealing his extradition to Thailand.  One possible theory is that the “capture” of MH370 by a colleague of Massoud would have created a potential for a trade whereby the passengers on the plane would be released in exchange for Massoud and perhaps the two others under arrest in Bangkok.

The fact is we don’t know which terrorist did it, only that a terrorist almost certainly was involved.

So why then did the Malaysian government do just about everything it could to deflect any attention to a possible terrorist operation?  We can only speculate on motives, but if the government was contacted and urged to make a deal to get their passengers back, they may have tried to do so, only to find out later that the terrorists did not have the passengers in their control and that the plane was lost.  No government ever wants to admit it was duped, especially a government that was already in a lot of political trouble at home.

On March 15, 2014  Technology and Security published an essay that still explains the fate of the plane, now reinforced by the new evidence. It is reproduced below.

We can, therefore, say the following:

  1. MH370 was hit by a bomb blast, either in the hands of a terrorist on board the plane or located in the forward cargo hold just under the front section of the aircraft.
  2. This was a terrorist operation. Two prime candidates are (a) a Uighur organization which claimed responsibility or (b) an Iranian organization trying to spring terrorists incarcerated in Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok.
  3. If there was a plot to hijack the aircraft it failed because the bomb to gain access to the cockpit was too big.
  4. The Malaysian government may have been duped in a secret effort to get the passengers released.


My theory of What Happened to MH370

By Stephen Bryen

March 15, 2014

t is the middle of the night.  The cabin lights are dimmed, most of the passengers have dozed off.  A large “bang” is heard, rousing the passengers.  Within a second or two, oxygen masks drop from above.  Eerily, there is no message.  The flight attendants say nothing. All the lights are now out, the temperature has dropped, and the oxygen is not flowing through the tubes.  The plane at first ascends a few thousand feet from its established pathway, in fact well above its safe altitude. Then it begins to turn and almost doubles back on its original course.  But now it is descending slowly so that by the time it crosses back over the Malaysian mainland, it is down to around 10 to 15,000 feet above sea level.  It now seems to stabilize and hold its altitude, as it flies on.

Observers on oil rigs at first saw the plane, a great distance away, and there seemed to have been a fire.  But after some 15 seconds, the fire was out, probably blown out by the jetstream.

The plane can fly like this for many hours.  But the passengers all were made unconscious by the depressurization.  Some of them might remain alive, but none of them, including the flight crew staff, can function.

The pilots are both dead.  The transponder went off when the explosion in the cabin area happened.  We now know that the story that the transponder was off when the pilots made their last call to ATC (Air Traffic Control) was false.  The transponder went off after the call.

There were no cell phone calls.  This tells us unequivocally that everyone was unconscious or dead. Otherwise calls could have been made at any time as the plane flew on.  At the plane’s altitude over Malaysia, there is no doubt calls could be received.  But there weren’t any.

Years ago when I was learning to be a pilot my IP (Instructor Pilot) told me to take my hands off the stick and my feet off the rudder. “Just watch what happens,” he said, as I reluctantly let go of the yoke.  The plane flew on, in fact it was more level and stable than my piloting allowed it to be.  “An airplane wants to fly,” said the IP, “and it will fly if there is sufficient air speed.”

A wounded airplane, where the controls are mainly destroyed by a bomb, can still fly and can even seem to be on course.  Now when the plane was wounded, it could have turned sharply as the blast hit and the pilots grabbed or pulled at the controls.  But once the explosion was over and the pilots unable to do anything, the plane could go on for some time.  The evidence tells us the plane flew for some number of hours.

How far would it have gone?  If there was a rupture in the plane’s skin, as was probably the case, over time it would get bigger and incoming wind would eventually further damage the plane’s systems.

My guess is that there was a bomb on the plane.  Probably in one of the forward cabins.  Remember that the 9/11 hijackers and some of the wannabe hijackers, booked first or business class seats.  Whether there was any attempt to hijack the plane remains uncertain. It does not seem too likely, because some commotion in the plane’s cabin probably would have been detected.  The idea that sophisticated hijackers, or the pilot and copilot together, somehow flew the plane to a secret runway seems far fetched and unproven.

Eventually the plane will be located.  Probably it is deeply embedded in the ocean bottom.  It could have “landed” itself on the water and slowly drifted to the bottom, without breaking up.  That will make it hard to find.

Is such a self-landing possible?  With empty fuel tanks (no oil slicks) and gently descending, the plane could have put down safely, much like US Airways Flight 1549 that was brilliantly piloted to a safe landing on the Hudson river.  Readers will recall that the plane stayed afloat for some time as it drifted down the Hudson river.  There was no debris. Eventually it was stopped and salvaged.   Malaysian Airlines Flight MH-370, with no one conscious on board, could have laid on top of the waves and eventually filled with water and sank.

Without finding the airplane, it is impossible to demonstrate any theory.  No one so far is claiming to have blown up the plane or attempted to hijack it.  Military “primary” radars have not reported “seeing” the plane where it could have entered someone’s airspace. That does not prove it did not anyway happen.  A number of experts in Israel think it was an Iranian operation.  And Israeli air defense systems are on alert if in fact the plan is to use the plane as in a suicide attack on Israel, a replicate of 9/11. But right now there isn’t any convincing evidence for this kind of hijack.  And from the few facts we know –a plane at a very high altitude, calm pilots, and no cellular phone calls, points in a different direction.

There have been reports that some shoe bombs have been designed to blow up the cabin door of an aircraft.  Such a bomb might do a lot more damage, such as blowing out the windshields of the cockpit and depressurizing the aircraft.

Perhaps we will soon find out the answer to the mystery of the missing plane and lost passengers and crew.

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Russia Presents Its Evidence on ISIS oil and Turkey

After the Noise Dies Down, A Great Power Solution is Needed

by Stephen Bryen

The Russian government has launched a major campaign to discredit Turkey and the Turkish government and its President, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, asserting that ISIS is shipping oil from Syria and Iraq to Turkey where it is either used domestically or sold internationally at significant discounts over the trading price. The Russians are making clear that it is much more than an underground operation; it is a massive transfer of oil over three different routes that is supported by thousands of tanker trucks and protected in various ways by Erdoğan and his family.

According to the Russians, ISIS has been earning around $3 million per day in this trade which has been going on for years.

And, say the Russians, until recently the United States did nothing about the shipments of oil through Turkey, which funds ISIS fighters and buys weapons and supplies for them.

The Pentagon says it knows nothing about any of this, although since Thanksgiving the US Air Force has been undertaking some limited bombing of tanker trucks in Syria.

Of course it is impossible that US intelligence does not know what the Russians already have documented rather conclusively. The question here is whether the intelligence is being suppressed or doctored. There already is a major scandal in CENTCOM, headquartered in Florida, for misrepresenting critical intelligence on ISIS. Some 50 CENTCOM intelligence analysis say that CENTCOM deliberately misrepresented findings on ISIS and the al-Qaeda affiliate al Nusra, where CENTCOM was trying to show that these organizations had been weakened by US bombing. In fact they have grown stronger as the analysts and a number of senior military officials, claim. The Inspector General has launched a full investigation.

For sure, too, the US is protecting Turkey in a variety of ways including turning a blind eye to the unwarranted and vicious Turkish attacks on Kurds both inside and outside Turkey even though the Kurdish Peshmerga is the only significant ground fighting force against ISIS in both Iraq and Syria.

Washington can, of course, continue to minimize Turkey’s complicity with ISIS, but allowing this to go on undermines even more any chance to reach a settlement in Syria and any hope of stabilizing affairs in neighboring Iraq.

There are a number of objective conditions to achieve a settlement in Syria. The most important is to destroy ISIS and push them out of Syria’s territory. If ISIS remains in control of Syria’s oil fields and refineries and retains a powerful military force in Syria, then there is no way to achieve any political deal. ISIS is not interested and does not need deals.

The point that Obama and Kerry missed, perhaps conveniently for them, is that the Russian proposal to defeat ISIS makes sense if one wants to get a political settlement for Syria after ISIS is destroyed. Putin’s offer to join a coalition has been rejected by Washington that has tied any deal to getting rid of Assad as a precondition. The Russians, who believe that Washington is weak, uncertain, and unwilling see Washington’s rejection of their proposal as even more evidence that Washington’s crusade against ISIS is phoney.

Obama has outlined a peculiar, wispy plan to begin to achieve a political settlement in sectors of Syria, which he thinks will eventually lead to a broader deal. There is little reason to believe this is anything but an illusion on the part of the administration. If the administration wants to be serious it has to be able to convince the Russians that it controls non Jihadist elements sufficiently strong and suitably willing to cut a deal with the Alawite minority, with or without Assad. Putin does not seem to be wedded to Assad, but he is determined to keep Russia’s presence on Syria territory and to get a deal that is not unfavorable to Russia’s interests which emphasize stability in the region and give Russia a significant role in its future.

Israel and Jordan, who have so far been on the sidelines, also have some serious interest in the shape of a future settlement. Instead of Kerry going off to Israel to try and pursue some deal with the Palestinians while the Palestinian leader is encouraging their youth to murder Israelis, a more fruitful idea would be to be asking Israel, and Jordan’s king too, what they would accept as a workable outcome.

For Israel and Jordan this must mean no al-Qaeda and no ISIS. For Israel it also means no Iranians and no Hezbollah. The Russians are on board on al-Qaeda and on ISIS but not on Iran and Hezbollah, mostly because they need their foot soldiers. But a coalition to oust ISIS could very well be conditioned on getting the Iranians and Hezbollah out of Syria and making sure that ISIS and al-Qaeda are decisively defeated.

One solution that could make sense would be a Great Powers consortium (not the UN) to stabilize a political deal –meaning US and Russian troops working together on the ground in Syria. Such a solution would not only be good for the Middle East, but it could help the US and Europe mitigate some of Russia’s expansionist ambitions.

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